THAT WHICH DOES NOT KILL US

 

A veteran Mandalorian clone and an undercover Jedi are intercepted by Imperial forces during a botched smuggling mission and taken to the infamous prison on Dathomir. Unknown to everyone at the facility, a deadly virus outbreak that could threaten the entire galaxy is spreading within its very walls. If the heroes can survive the cold vacuum of space, imprisonment, torture, zombies, and the dark side, they just might make it out alive. That is, if they don't kill each other first.

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

Rann Fealome/Mentoc Bastarson – A Jedi masquerading as smuggler in order to elude both capture by the Empire and his Mandalorian allies.

Lucas McCoy – Mandalorian general, clone, and bounty hunter. Right hand man to Mandalore Dose Ordo.

Inquisitor Olof – Imperial inquisitor and dark side adept under Emperor Palpatine.

Lord Hethrir – Persecutor of Justice for the Empire and former apprentice of Darth Vader.

Vinzel Haylon – Warden of Dathomir Prison.

Sirion – Dark Jedi and former acquaintance of Lucas McCoy.

Dose Ordo – Mandalore the Bold. Leader of clan Ordo.

Tannis Naast – Mandalorian general and Lucas McCoy’s closest friend.

Jaster, Zack’ry, Jadin, Llege, Aeraun, and Amaru – Mandalorian warriors of clan Ordo. Citizens of Ordo Keldab.

 

PART I

 

A twinkle winked over the Naboo system as the Mandalorian marked cargo vessel emerged from hyperspace. Neither Lucas, nor Mentoc particularly enjoyed piloting cargo transports, they were typically under powered, under armed, clunky and simply dull. However, supplies don’t ship themselves.

 

"I told you it wouldn't be hard to work out a deal with the royal family to reduce our cost of living a bit." Mentoc said through his RIS vocabulator.

 

Mentoc watched the General's helmet tilt slightly as he began to speak.”Just how did you manage to get them to trade so willingly with us?" Rasped the faceless green mask.

 

Mentoc had found it interesting how, when surrounded by faceless figures, the mind began to assign facial expressions to the masks.  Lucas' helmet tilted slightly as he said that, turning to let his face appear in the corner of his visor, rather than the HUD.  With General McCoy, he'd learned that the tilt is a sign of interest, but the turn meant an undertone of suspicion. Mentoc was finally getting used to this, and the masks even started to take on the personalities of those who wore them. General Naast's mask never half tilted, his always took full faced turns of the head, and often seemed to be looking many directions at once, Mand'alor Ordo often appeared to listen with subtle nods, seeming to let his visor do the staring, while his eyes saw to other matters. He often wondered how the others were looking at his own mask, or if a second thought was even given to it after so many years.

 

"I've done a lot of favors for a lot of folks, Ori'Vod. I've always taken care of The Naboo, and they always take care of me." Mentoc said leaning back in his seat a little.”I suppose my gift was not blasters, as it was yours. I've always been a talker."

 

"I noticed that." Lucas said, with the closest thing to a smirk as can be produced by a T-visor. They both took a quiet chuckle at the comment.

 

After a moment passed, Mentoc's mask rose a bit, while he idly prepped the ship systems to enter atmosphere.”I appreciate the company Ori'Vod, but you didn't have to come along on a cargo pickup. There's probably more interesting tasks back home."

 

"As a matter of coincidence, I have some business on Naboo too." Lucas said directly.

 

"I thought you were carrying a bit much firepower for a supply pick up. Looking to break in those new toys you got?"  Mentoc gestured towards the two rifles, extra carbine, and strange shaped pistol laying next to his seat.

 

"Something like that." Returned Lucas, giving a forward tilt of his helmet, which read like half smile.”A contact tells me there's a prisoner being taken into custody at Theed Palace."

 

"Sounds kind of like they already got him then?" Mentoc said curiously.

 

"This particular prisoner has a long history of vanishing from custody. Specifically from Nabooian custody."

 

"So, you're counting on him escaping again?"

 

Lucas nodded.

 

"What's his name?"

 

"It won't matter soon."

 

The ship made its way into the docking hanger with little other discussion.  The royal greeters saw to the shipping orders and droids began loading the ship with various foods and materials.

 

"I'll leave you to talk with the Royals. I have some contacts to visit. Keep com contact to a minimum and stand by, I'll be in touch when we are ready to leave." Mentoc responded with the appropriate salute and watched him leave the hanger.  Mentoc turned his attention to the chief greeter, one of the Queens handmaidens. He pulled off his helmet letting a rain of blue hair fall about his head.”Greetings Master Fealome." She said as the two began to walk the familiar halls of Theed Palace.

 

Rann sat in his quarters, looking at his armor stacked in the storage closet. It felt good to take off Mentoc for a bit. A wash of relaxation rolled over his mind. Mentoc Bastarson wasn’t simply a false name. Mentoc has his own voice, his own mannerisms, his own personality, his own poise, physicality and fighting style. Donning the face of Mentoc requires Rann to almost forget himself.  "Perhaps I should have just gotten into acting." He murmured to himself.

 

His relaxation was to be short lived however.  He hadn't planned on General McCoy. Rann knew exactly who the criminal he was here for is. Now he had to be in two places at once. After his meeting with the Queen, passing along imperial intel that Mentoc had "borrowed" so that she could pass it along to the underground and the rebellion, he was to be taken into custody and then allowed to escape, and to get off world at his own leisure, as Mentoc bringing supplies home to Lok. Now, things were difficult. He prepared his water processor with some leaves and spices, then filled his container with a warm tea and made his way to the Queen's chambers.”Going to just have to see how this one plays out" he thought to himself.

 

Later that night, in Theed's best sleaziest bar and flop house, General Lucas McCoy sat by himself, with several empty tables around him as people avoided the imposing green figure. The criminal element on Naboo, and particularly in Theed was so little that only the very best or very worst had a tendency to operate there, and both extremes knew to steer clear of people like Lucas. He held out a small holoprojector.

 

"Give me Procurator of Justice, Lord Hethrir. Clearance Epsilon." He said to the commlink, an invisible sneer in his voice. He hated the pretentious hoops of the higher echelons of the Empire, such as having to say every flowery word of every title they held.

 

"This is Lord Hethrir. What have you to report?"

 

"I spoke with a Naboo senator in his office, he confirmed that the prisoner at Theed Palace is in fact Rann Fealome."

 

"I trust, the senator is not permanently damaged."

 

"He will be better in no time." Lucas smiled under his mask.”That which does not kill us..."

 

Lord Hethrir smiled in approval.”I have issued order that no ship may leave or enter Naboo space, for 20 standard hours. I'll await your report."

 

"And I'll await payment." The image flickered out and Lucas left, tapping a few buttons on his gauntlet.  Elsewhere a handful of small droids deployed from the ship in the palace hanger, creeping into the outskirts surrounding the system. The net was placed, now it was simply a waiting game.

 

Night on Naboo had an interesting way of settling in. Between the city lights, the starlight, the light of nearby Rori, and the vast sum of water that made up the planet offering a reflective shimmer, it never got to be truly black at night, simply a bit "bluer". Rann loved it, which was fortunate because currently he was in the thick of Naboo's night, sneaking about in the wilderness outside Theed, following the river from the great waterfall into a forested area.

 

He had to alter his plan. The meeting with the queen went as intended, as did his false arrest, and escape. That was mostly just paperwork anyway. Knowing that Lucas would be looking for him though, he couldn’t stay at the palace in fear of endangering any of the royals or civilians. Also, as usual when word of his "escape" gets out, imperial investigations will make an appearance as well which wouldn’t be a problem if he could immediately leave as Mentoc.  So now he had to actually play the part of the escapee, hope he wasn’t found by Lucas, or at least not killed, get back to the palace, become Mentoc again and hopefully leave without a hitch. Sounded pretty easy. Rann sighed.

 

Lucas on the other hand, found the night time air on Naboo sticky and annoying, a fog began to roll in slowing his speed as he cut through the woods on his speeder bike.”Bastarson, where are you?" He spoke to his comm. Only static replied.”Strange." He drove further out, following the tracking pulses of the seeker droids. One of the droids began to signal rapidly with ‘match identified’ on the HUD.  The hunter cross referenced the position and started to move in. The target was a few kilometers out, deeper into the woods.  As he drew as he drew in closer the signal dropped.

 

Rann examined the two halves of the spherical droid husk on the ground, "That's not good." He said to himself.  "Wonder how many of these he sent. Or how far off he is." Rann continued deeper into the woods a bit, keeping his lightsaber in hand with one eye out for more droids and another for anyone in green armor. The Jedi waved the blade a bit, using it to light his way and cut through the foliage.

 

Lucas could hear a faint hum in the distance, he increased the audio receptors of his helmet a bit and analyzed the sounds. He knew exactly what that sound of hum and occasional hiss was. He tapped a few buttons on the speeder console, calling off the searcher droids, removing their feedback from his HUD displays, secured all of his weapons into place and moved in on foot, stealthily cutting his way through the fog. His footsteps made almost no sound as they hit the grass beneath.

 

Rann however, wasn’t listening for footsteps.  He turned to a cloud of fog and pointed the blue blade.  "You don’t want to do this." He said, reaching out and letting a wave of presence roll from him, parting the fog enough to reveal a silhouette within.

 

"Actually, I really do." Rasped a voice back the shadow in the fog.

 

"Fair enough. I don’t want to do it then."

 

"Yeah..life is hard like that sometimes." He leveled his rifle and fired a burst of shots at him, intentionally outside as Rann reflexively caught them with the lightsaber blade in a circular motion. Lucas kept the spray up slowly stepping in slowly setting the pattern of blaster screeches and buzzes over the undertone of the saber hum.

 

 Abruptly, the sounds changed.

 

Lucas pulled the oddly marked pistol from his belt and the blaster sounds were replaced with loud rips of a slug thrower. Rann felt a sudden disturbance as the first slug hit his saber blade. Without thinking he spun to the side, the first slug turned off his saber blade, the second hit his thigh like a tiny dense fist, tearing into his utility belt.  Lucas smiled as the hum stopped, followed by a wincing sigh of pain. The cortosis weaved slug rounds were well worth the extra credits they cost, but sadly to maintain the weave they were too round and fired too slow to be particularly debilitating.  He collapsed his stock in, making his rifle a big more manageable, firing blaster bolts into the fog, firing a cortosis slug every time he heard a snap-hiss or saw a blue blade.

 

Rann rolled a bit, using the overgrown tree bases for cover, trying to fight his reflexes to deflect the slugs, but not wanted to leave his saber off.”This is a guy who loves his work" Rann thought to himself. He rolled putting his back to the tree stump looking for options as Lucas closed in, wary of getting too close to the pinned Jedi.

 

Suddenly a snap hiss fired off again Lucas' pistol hand followed it instinctively; he was already firing before he realized the saber was moving. As the blade shut off again on impact with the slug, Lucas felt a tug at his rifle. Suddenly reacting to the figure of Rann abandoning any notion of graceful combat and charging him lightsaber-less.  The rifle slipped from his grip against the unseen force tug, but the armored figure still managed to pull off a pistol whip as the Jedi slammed into him at unnatural speed, pulling his legs out from under him, sending them into a nearby tree.

 

Rann made a move for the gun, still ringing a bit from the pistol smack, Lucas' other hand came across in a punch catching the Jedi's side. Rann did his best to keep the pistol hand down with one hand, reaching out with one hand summoning his thrown lightsaber back to his other.  Lucas heard the telltale snap of the lightsaber singing to life and mustered his strength in one motion to toss the Jedi off of him. Rann rolled to the side securing the hilt in his hand and swung it across his front, now on his back. Lucas rose to his feet, taking a quick flinch back as the lightsaber swiped wildly. A crash and snap was heard as he saw sparks fly in his peripheral.

 

"That was my pistol wasn’t it?" He sneered.  He tossed a kick down at Rann and threw the useless handle down at him.

 

Rann recoiled nd swept a trip behind Lucas's knee, sending him down as well.

 

"Yeah, it was" he said, both of them began to rise to their feet. Rann managed to get up first and sliced a two handed chop , which glanced off of Lucas' beskar gauntlet.

 

"Gah, that’s right...you guys have those."

 

The hunter produced a vibroblade from his belt and slashed as Rann recovered from the strike. The Jedi stepped back a bit and tried to give way, bringing one hand to his wrist to stop the blow from pushing in as the tip pierced in his skin somewhat. Rann deactivated the lightsaber in his other hand and clenched it tight.

 

he stepped back pulling Lucas's arm causing his weight to shift towards him as he slammed the pommel of his lightsaber hilt into the center of the T-visor of Lucas' mask.

 

 His vision suddenly filled with HUD malfunctions and a network of cracks and breaks to the duraplast-glass of the visor.  He flailed for a moment trying to see through the chaos of the shattered visor and the stunning blow of his helmet against his head. He immediately threw the vibroblade and in one motion tugged his helmet off in two hands, swinging it as a weapon at the last place he saw the Jedi.  He felt the  impact against his helmet, but was quickly disappointed to see a smashed tree.

 

He brushed the bits of his mask out of his eyes and looked around. He didn’t see Rann, but he did hear his speeder bike zooming in the distance.

 

Lucas cleared enough of the debris from his visor so that he could put his helmet back on, and started to examine the scene of the fight, noticing a few of the cortosis slugs, and some bits of items that fell out of Rann's damaged utility belt, including several bits of dried up leaves. He took a few of the leaves and gathered his belongings, then started the long trudge back to Theed.

 

Just outside the city Lucas found his speeder bike, idle with a note.

 

That last one could have been your head.  Hope you'll pay me the same courtesy should we meet again. - Rann Fealome

 

 Mentoc greeted Lucas as he rode into the hanger and loaded his bike back up.

 

"Everything ok boss? I tried to contact you, but this blasted fog cut down our comm range."

 

"Just fly" He said shortly as he entered the ship.

 

"Sure thing" He slipped in quickly, making sure his mask was secure, doing his best to conceal any wear from the fight in his movements.

 

As the two skimmed through hyperspace back to Lok, Mentoc awkwardly tried to mitigate the intensity from Lucas.

 

"You know Ori'vod, you should really try to relax a bit." Mentoc offered his beverage container.  "Here, Alderaanian leaf tea. Some of the best." Lucas waved away the container as he offered, until the scent filled his nostrils, immediately making him think of the scent of the little leaves in that pile.

 

"Where did you get that?" He asked, head tilted in, with that same slight twist.

 

"In Theed, a merchant was selling it with all sorts of other ‘exotic goods’. Why?"

 

"Nothing."

 

He settled back into his seat and watched hyperspace, contemplating the scent of the tea and the note in his pocket.

 

PART II

Space is cold.

 

It wouldn’t seem as cold to a man with skin.

 

One of the complications of McCoy’s cloning process. Most humanoid species have several lays of skin. Clones however, grow from organs first, then bones and muscles, and then skin and hair over them.

 

It disturbed most people. It didn’t really bother Lucas. Not anymore.

 

General Lucas McCoy sat unmasked at the pilot‘s chair of his grandfather‘s AEG-77 Vigo, lifting the ship from the Theed spaceport into the planet‘s atmosphere.

 

Mentoc came up the elevator towards the rear of the bridge. As he sat back down he brought his RIS helmet to face McCoy, "Cargo is secure…" He paused.”…where is your helmet?"

 

"Long story." replied McCoy.

 

"I see." Mentoc could tell that Lucas’ pride was hurt. The ship was large, but not that large. He thought better of any further small talk for the time being.

 

As the blue atmosphere of Naboo gave way to the twinkling blackness of space, the familiar shadow of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer settled over the ship’s hull.

 

"Well that’s not good…" Both men said in unison.

 

McCoy’s hands flew across the ship’s controls, readying the hyper drive. He pulled the engage lever back with his gloved hand, only to hear a faint droning throughout the ship’s frame. The hyper drive engine was malfunctioning, or disabled.

 

"Stall them." Lucas ordered, unbuckling his safety-web and bolting for the elevator door. As he descended to the lower floor housing the Legendary I’s engines, an aroma hit his nose that he was familiar with. Letting it distract him for a moment, he turned the corner to the lower room that Mentoc had been using as his quarters on the mission. The scent was that of tea, brewing on the floor next to his make-shift cot.

 

"Unidentified vessel, identify yourself." The hailing officer of the Star Destroyer Arbiter commanded.

 

"Uhm, yeah, he had to go take care of something…" quibbled Mentoc.

 

"What? Who is this? Transmit your cargo manifest immediately!"

 

"Get right on that chief-" Mentoc cut the transmission and turned on the internal comm throughout the ship.”McCoy they‘re still here."

 

Lucas unclipped one of the pouches of his utility belt, letting a few of the Jedi’s dry leaves fall into his hand. Tea…

 

"Mentoc. Come down here. I need…your help."

 

"Uhm, alright." Mentoc pulled over the bridge’s LE repair droid in front of the holo-projector left the Imperial commander to his confused looks.

 

When he arrived on the engine deck, the elevator doors opened to reveal a smoke filled, dark hallway. The flashing red warning lights of the floor provided the only light visible with his RIS helmet. As he walked slowly down the hallway, he noticed a section of piping missing from the wall, a steady billow of steam pouring from the opening. Something in the force screamed out at him. The impact of a blunt object hit him in the back of the head, knocking his helmet clean off and into the opposite bulkhead. He fell to the ground, catching himself with his hands on the grating, his long blue hair spilling over his shoulders. Lucas stepped in from around the corner hallway, a long metal pipe held in his right hand. His eyes had narrowed to a glare as he stared down at the Jedi. Neither man spoke nor moved for a moment.

 

"I realize what this looks like," began Rann Fealome, "but I can explain."

 

A glint of rage filled Lucas McCoy’s eyes as he raised the pipe to strike again. Rann raised his hands to the armored man and pushed with the force, knocking Lucas down the hallway into the transparasteel wall of the engine compartment.

 

Lucas spoke as they both got to their feet, "I should have known better."

 

"Look I don’t know what sort of issues you have with people like me but this is excessive."

 

"You have no idea what the Jedi have done to my people." McCoy slammed his fist down on the panel next to him and sealed himself in the elevator compartment next to him. An alarm sounded as the engine compartment opened.

 

Lucas strode up to the bridge, and entered in the commands into the ship’s computer to jettison the engines. As he did so he noticed his LE repair droid attempting to communicate with an Imperial officer via holocomm. He switched off the feed and resumed his work. Finalizing the codes, a loud groan sounded throughout the inside of the cabin. From the side view ports, Lucas could see the engines drifting away towards the hull of the other ship nearby.

 

"This should get interesting." He had the credits to buy the Empire off, and vanquishing the Jedi mark was far more important at the moment. Any second now he would see the cold, crystallized, lifeless body floating into space. Any moment.

 

A familiar crack-hiss sounded from behind him and the smell of burning metal along with it. McCoy turned to see the blue blade of a light saber jutting out from the doorway leading to the deck’s below.

 

The arc of the blade finished carving and out of the hole stepped Rann, still alive.”That was not necessary." He said, leaping onto the bridge.”Now that Star Destroyer is going to get fed up with us really soon, and either blast us or board us. Probably the first one."

 

"Can only board us if there’s enough of the ship left to pull in." said McCoy, drawing his pistol and letting loose a barrage of fire towards the Jedi. Rann deflected the bolts all around the cabin, several hitting the ship’s life support and artificial gravity systems. The former of which activated the distress beacon onboard the ship. Lucas leveled his gauntlet at Rann, igniting his flame thrower. The flames spread over the Jedi, licking at his armor and robes. He reached out with the force to form a protective barrier, shielding himself from McCoy’s attack, but just as he did Lucas leapt towards him with vibroblade drawn. Rann met the attack with his blade, but the beskar iron in McCoy’s gauntlet prevented a clean cut. Lucas lurched forward with his armored leg and kicked, knocking Rann against the opposite wall. He reached in his hip pouch with his left hand and drew a thermal detonator, engaging the firing mechanism and rolled the orb on the floor under Rann’s feet. With a burst of force energy, Rann sent the detonator flying over McCoy’s shoulder to land on the pilot’s controls at the front of the bridge.

 

The two men had just a moment to look at each other before the explosion shattered the front view port, all but instantly depressurizing the cabin. Rann force jumped through the hole he created into the elevator shaft to the floor below. Lucas slammed his chest to the grated floor as the air was sucked from his lungs. The grate under his gloved fingers wrenched loose, giving McCoy only seconds to fire off the grappling lanyard in his bracer before being sucked out into open space. The hook found it’s mark around the edge of the freshly cut metal. Dangling like an angler on a line, McCoy worked both hands one over the other trying to escape the cold vacuum of space, to no avail. With no air to breathe, his strength all but left him.

 

Suddenly he felt a sharp tug on the line. He looked up to see Ran Fealome, the man he had been trying to kill, pulling the cord with both feet braced on either side of the opening. When they were both close enough, he reached his force wielding hand towards McCoy, fingers outstretched.

 

"Come on McCoy. Don’t let your pride kill you this time."

 

"You know nothing about me jetii!"

 

"I’m not just some Jedi you bitter old bastard, I’m Mentoc! I helped you to build clan Ordo's city, Ordo Keldab! We might even be considered friends to some."

 

Outside the front view port the hangar of the ISD gaped like the maw of the pit of Carkoon itself.

 

PART III

The next few moments seemed to go by like seconds for Lucas, mainly due to blacking out a bit. Nothing makes a person appreciate a breath of air like having it ripped from ones lungs. The sounds, smells, and sights of chaos made it harder to recollect himself. Upon realizing he was back on the bridge of Legendary I, he immediately grabbed the floor and looked to the shattered viewport, now covered by the massive emergency shielders. He didn't remember them closing, however that brought his attention to the control station, where Rann was hurriedly kit bashing panels and arguing with the LE droid.

 

"Just scramble them or something." He bickered.”I need a minute to think of something."

 

The droid pushed a few buttons and then looked at him with a silent shrug, then tilted his head as if suddenly reminded of something. Rann stared at him for a moment.

 

"Well?" He was cut short by a sudden jolt of pain. Lucas grabbed his hair arched him back, pounding his side with several heavy punches.  Rann finally managed to catch the striking hand by the wrist; his other hand grabbed a loose heavy power cable from the console wreckage and forced the live end into McCoy's torso, a loud snap-pop sending him sprawling back a few meters as Rann leaned onto the pilot seat to support himself.

 

"Are we really doing this right now?!" Rann called, still panting for breath.

 

"No time like the present." Replied Lucas coldly. He was still recovering from his "space walk", but was doing his best to conceal his fatigue. They walked a slow paced circle as they spoke, each step keeping the other in line.

 

"I'm trying to get us out of this."

 

"I didn't ask for your help. Step away from my cockpit. Way I see it, you have about a two minutes to finish what you started on Naboo, short of that you can hope The Empire saves you from me."

 

"I estimate a minute and forty-five seconds, sir." The droid chimed in. The booth looked at it for a moment.

 

"You think they are going to just let you walk away?"

 

"Why not? I'm on contract to bring you in."

 

"We have a cargo bay full of off the book supply shipments."

 

"You never said those were illegal."

 

"Nor did I say they were legal.

 

"Doesn't matter. I can pay them off."

 

"It's not going to work that way, General. We aren't dealing with petty officers. If you're after me, then you're dealing with Inquisitors. They'll use those goods and us being in blocked space as an excuse to bring you in, and then they are going to be asking a lot of questions about Ordo Keldab, what you know, what you have, and what they can take."

 

The ship shook from an unknown impact. Lucas' battle damaged helmet rolled by his foot, with one motion he scooped it up and secured it to his head. Eyes fixed to Rann's through the shattered visor.

 

"One minute left, jetii."

 

"68 seconds, sir." The droid corrected.

 

Rann let an exasperated sigh and quickly tossed a gesture, knocking the droid to the console. Lucas capitalized on the moment and dove at him. Rann let instinct take over and lept forward, a full flip over the Mandalorian, landing back to his back. He counter stepped with each of Lucas' steps as he spun to find him, buying him enough time to reach out with the force into the debris to pull something to his hand to defend himself with. To his surprise, the random piece of metal hurling to his hand happened to be his own lightsaber. In the same instant, Lucas slammed his back into Rann's staggering him forward. The Jedi stumbled around the deck and spun just in time to see Lucas pulling a pistol from the littered ground. It was impossible to tell at this point if it was one of his own or Mentoc's, nor did it matter. Blaster fire rained across the deck as Rann did his best to block them while dashing around the confined arena.

 

The further damage to the ship caused the room to fill with a white smoke and the smell of burning. The scent of melted durasteel and charred chemicals filled the room. Rann seemed to vanish in the smoke. As Lucas moved his pistol across his view, a blaster bolt zipped through the wall of smoke, narrowly missing him

 

“Did that jetii just shoot at me?” He thought, somewhat amused at how desperate his opponent had become. The more fire poured in, now a hail of fire as he dove for cover baffled.

 

The next sound was the familiar hiss of a lightsaber popping to life, then a screech of pain.”Stormtroopers." Lucas murmured.

 

"Sounds like our time is up McCoy!" He heard Rann shout over the commotion. He could see the blue glow in the chaotic fog now as the Jedi moved to hallway that the troopers were boarding through. Lucas leveled his pistol. Either by Rann's force use, the open entry way from the boarders, or from fires finally starting to settle the smoke was thinning. Lucas could see Rann backing the lead members of the boarding party into the path. The Jedi's focus was forward, on the onslaught of fire.

 

It'd be an easy to shot to end this whole thing now. In his mind Rann's words echoed as he thought on Lord Hethrir's eventual reaction to all this. His finger stayed on the trigger.”Fight and probably die. Or end it, turn him in...and be at the mercy of the Imperial Procurator." A glint in the piles of junk caught his eye. Mentoc's helmet, a blast score on the eye almost making seem to wink at him. He gritted his teeth.”Dammit, Bastarson."

 

Lucas ran into the fray spraying blaster fire into the invading troopers, the two held the corridor pressing in. The boarding party had not been prepared for their combined efforts. Moments later the 20 man party had been hewn down and blasted. Rann used the force to push the pieces of the door back together as Lucas set to re-welding it together.

 

"You have any sort of plan?" Lucas asked sharply.

 

"Well, assuming there’s a full staff on board...a standard Imperial II Star Destroyer has a crew of about 37,085 and a compliment of 9,700 troops. And we just took out...20."

 

"We could try to take the hanger, possibly get on a TIE or a transport." Lucas thought aloud.

 

Rann shrugged.”Or at least make enough chaos that we can hide somewhere, lay low and smuggle our way out."

 

 "I say we try to jump a ship."

 

"Who's going to disable the tractor beams?"

 

Suddenly sparks started to appear again on the door as a fusion cutter started to work against it. Rann activated his lightsaber and rammed it through the makeshift door in the same spot. The two could hear a muffled scream on the other side as the cutter fell.

 

"We're going to just have to play this by ear." Rann said.

 

"This doesn't change anything." Lucas said as he grabbed a pair of E-11's off the fallen troopers.”When this is over, if we get out of here you still have a lot to answer for."

 

Rann rolled his eyes a bit.”Just worry about staying alive for now. You can be stubborn and unreasonable later." With that he opened his palm and exhaled, launching the pieces of the blast door into the crowd of troopers behind it then leapt into the chaos. He managed to strike down three of the troopers who still stood before the others were able to react. They leveled their carbines at the Jedi, unaware of Lucas double fisting his firearms from the ship. A barrage of blasts hammered the Stormtroopers as they scrambled to assess the situation.

 

Alert sirens sounded as the hanger went into lockdown.

 

"Only about 9,670 to go!" Rann shouted as he moved near the side of the ship for cover.

 

"Talk less. Stab more!"

 

The oversized blast doors slid open to reveal a sea of white armor. Rann dashed forward to grab their attention he fought blankly, each motion occurring in the moment as he let his lightsaber shield him from the blaster fire raining down. Lucas wrapped one arm around a fallen Stormtrooper and secured him as a human shield. The Mandalorian charged, the corpse pulsed in his arm every time a blaster bolt sunk in it. Once he closed the distance he pitched the body into a group and auto-fired his two carbines into the crowd. He never stopped moving forward, when a trooper was too near he was met with a crack to the helmet from the carbine or was viciously trampled.

 

Rann slid behind the lines and slashed the panel to the blast door then force pulled it down like a massive guillotine. The pair quickly dispatched the remaining Stormtroopers and looked at each other.

 

"You ok?" Rann said catching his breath.

 

"I'm fine. You’re the one bleeding."

 

"That's from before they showed up." Rann glared.

 

From the other side of the door, they could hear officers barking commands, at troopers exchanging panicked plans.

 

"We are going to need another squad at the main entrance, that Jedi disabled the door!"

 

"Jedi? I'm not going in, no one said anything about that."

 

"You need to get faster old man. I'm pulling your slack." Rann said as he readied himself at the door.

 

"What fight were you watching?" Lucas growled.”I've taked care of at least double the number you waved that sparkler at."

 

A moment passed.

 

"It’s too quiet." Lucas said.

 

Rann nodded.  They both heard a faint beeping sound. Then both exchanged looks as they realized what it was.

 

"RUN!"

 

The two dove back towards the ship just as the whole door was blasted in by a series of charges. Black smoke filled the room, leaving the pair with ringing ears. As they shook it off the only sound to follow was a series of metallic clanks and bounces.

 

"I can't see them" Called out Lucas.

 

"They aren’t in here!" Rann shouted through the fog.

 

A series of pops and blasts sent them for cover again, but there was not the big blast they expected. Only a funny smell.

 

"What is that?" Rann shouted as he coughed.

 

"Gas bombs." Lucas choked.  Vision started to blur for them as the gagging continued.

 

The last words they heard from one another was "Dammit, Bastarson" and "Dammit, McCoy".

 

Sometime later, Lucas found himself in that fuzzy state of realizing that he is still breathing yet again. He looked over to see Rann in a holding cell across from him in binders. He then realized he was in the same state.

 

"Why aren't we dead?" he asked.

 

"I told you, we're dealing with Inquisitors. They aren't giving us the easy way out." Rann said with an un-nerving calm.

 

"Gentlemen. You're awake." Came the smarmy voice of an imperial officer. Spectacular stunt my friends, but all for naught."

 

"Where are you taking us?" Lucas snapped.

 

"If i had to guess" Rann replied.”Dathomir."

 

The officer smiled.”Such a clever boy, Fealome. You'll be happy to know that Warden Haylon and Inquisitor Olof have prepared a warm welcome. They even made sure that you will have the same cell that you called home on your first visit, Jedi. With of course, a more security locks this time."

 

Rann and Lucas exchanged looks.

 

"Great."

 

PART IV

Warden Haylon and Inquisitor Olof stood in the hanger eagerly as the prison transport eased in. Prisoners come through the Dathomir prison often that such a craft was a mundane sight, but these were special guests deserving of a special welcome. Triple the normal, already impressive, Stormtrooper compliment were present and only two prisoners were present on the fifty man transport.

 

Special guests indeed.

 

Rann and Lucas were led down the boarding ramp, binders in a number of choice positions, both men battered and beaten from their own battles and their ensuing capture. Rann strode at a brisker pace, preferring not to have the guards hands on him. Lucas wore an obvious sneer towards his captors, occasionally slowing just so they would grab him so he could toss his should free of them, the stubborn clone wanting to make the simple act of walking as difficult for th captors as possible.

 

Olof couldn’t conceal a smile as he and the warden moved to meet them.

 

"Ah, The Pride of Naboo returns. Welcome home Fealome." He said playfully, taking the packs of confiscated personal effects the guards handed over.  He looked to Lucas, still grinning delightfully.  Both men were bald, but Olof’s face though scarred several times still looked more human than what remained of the Mandalorian’s visage. It wasn’t pretty to start with and the repeated battles of the last hours hadn’t helped.

 

"I don’t believe that we have had the pleasure." He said, tilting up his chin, examining Lucas’ starmap of facial imperfections. Lucas stared back, counting the inches he would need to bite off his finger.

 

"I’ll start his processing for you then." Said Warden Haylon, two large dark troopers at either side of him.  "While I do that, begin suppressing Fealome before he starts getting any ideas.  I’ll have his previous data sent to you.” He looked at Lucas as the dark troopers took custody of him from the guards.”Until we need otherwise, cover that." A trooper forced a large sack over Lucas’ head as they drug him away.

 

 

PART V

"The last transmission from General McCoy was that they were preparing to take off from Theed." Jadin reported from the master terminal in the great hall of Ordo Keldab, the outpost that clan Ordo called home.

 

"Was that before or after the imperial blockade formed on Naboo?" Dose asked looking over Jadin and Zach'ry's shoulders, both intently reading through the databanks. Jaster stood nearby thoughtfully considering the information as it scrolled by.

 

"Looks like it was sent just a few hours after the blockade officially formed." Said Zach'ry pointing at a time stamp.

 

"So Lucas and Bastarson tried to run an imperial blockade on a simple supply pickup?" Jaster thought aloud.

 

"Well they lifted off shortly after, maybe he didn’t know it was there until it was too late." Jadin added.

 

"That's unlikely." Came Llege's voice flatly from across the room. He and Amaru sat across from each other, half listening to the conversation and half playing sabaac. A sizeable pile of credits and Amaru's gaffi stick piled on the table between them.”Not even McCoy could miss a blockade that big."

 

"Agreed." Said Dose.”Wait, what's that? Looks like another transmission was attempted."

 

Jadin attempted to replay it, but just some sounds of screeching and buzzing came through. occasionally a voice making indistinguishable sounds, strange hums, crackles, thuds and then nothing.”Maybe it was jammed?"

 

Jaster shook his head.”No, that wasn't a jam. That sounds more like the transmitter was damaged." He reached over Zach'ry and hit a few keys, bringing up new file and toyed with its accesses.”That is where the transmissions started getting jammed, several minutes later."

 

Jadin nodded in agreement.”Yeah, that’s imperial encoding."

 

"That doesn't make sense." Llege said.”They would have been jammed well before being assualted or boarded." He turned a moment, interrupted by Amaru's play.”Dammit, I hate this game." Llege knocked the credits off the table with a gesture and walked to the others, leaving Amaru chuckling silently.”So what you're saying is something happened to the ship before they reached the blockade?"

 

Jaster nodded.”I'd say something happened in the ship. There’s not much coming through that transmission I doubt it was even anything they meant to send, but listen. No blaster fire or anything, no system warning screeches."

 

"None that got through anyway." Said Dose, trying to make out the feedback.  "There is no way to be sure what is or isn’t in that sound. But you're right. It has nothing to do with the imperials at that point."

 

A moment later Aeraun stormed through the main doors.”Where's McCoy?" He fumed.

 

"We're trying to sort that out right now actually." Zach'ry said back.

 

Llege shook his head.”Where ever Lucas is, he probably got what he deserved for letting Lady Chyna and her fruity entourage move into our outpost."

 

Dose sighed.”We need some people to go find Lucas and Mentoc." No one immediately responded.”The rest of you will come with me to see what's going on with Chyna and her harem."

 

Llege stepped forward.”I volunteer to lead this mission. If only just to get away from them for a bit and to punch Lucas in the mouth when we find him."

 

Moments later, Jaster was inputting coordinates to the Naboo system in his gunship crewed by Llege, Zach'ry, Jadin, Aeraun and Amaru.”Alright." Jaster said from the pilot seat.”Let's bring our boys home." A sudden rush of bright light over took the viewports as they leapt into hyperspace to investigate the last known whereabouts of their comrades.

 

 

PART VI

Day one.

 

Pain has a curious effect on ones time and focus. It can make an unpleasant task appear desirable in comparison. It can make a lengthy process seem to fly by, or it can make something short last an agonizingly long time. It, like music and math, is a universal language. Olof considered himself a specialist in it, and he made sure to keep a well versed staff. It was the closest thing they got to playing games being stationed on Dathomir.

 

Lucas’ first day, was something of a sampler and research project. After a few "extractions" they discovered the unique quality of his biology and, as usual procedure, experimented with what things hurt it the most. Shocks, heat, hooks, blades and even darker methods were all sampled on him for hours on end.  Eventually he felt himself, semi conscious being drug down a hall and tossed in a small dank room. The impact of the floor was a welcome sensation as he pulled himself to a wall, to his surprise, he saw a similarly semi conscious Rann Fealome sitting on the poorly provided "bedding".

 

"They didn’t even ask any questions." Lucas said weakly.

 

"They never do on the first day." Rann rasped back.”They just toy with you the first day, making a profile. Gives you plenty of time to stew over it and come up with more to tell them the next day."

 

The prisoners worked their way to their feet. They struggled to stand as if infants taking their first steps. Rann leaned against the wall, looking out the tiny but heavily barred window, contemplating the starlight.  Lucas started to pace, testing himself to push through. As soft as his skin was, the Mandalorian was like old Kashyyykian tree roots under that skin: just plain tough.

 

"This doesn’t make sense." He muttered, starting to find his voice again.”Why would they put us together?"

 

"We’re just in processing." Rann said absently. The starlight revealed how unnaturally pale the Jedi was now.”If things haven’t changed from my first visit, we will be stored here between sessions for about a week, after that we’ll probably taken to separate cells. Well, you will be anyway. The rules are a little different for me."

 

Lucas silently considered the statement. His eyes followed the network of fresh cuts and burns on the Jedi’s shoulders and back.”So what’s stopping you from jetti-ing this door open?"

 

"It’s a bit complicated." Rann turned from the window, his eyes shimmered strangely. He seemed like a ghost of himself, Lucas could almost feel an icy sensation exuding from him.”There are a few factors at work. First, they use a suppressor agent. I’ll spare the details, suffice to say that connection to The Force is largely biological. The agent they’ll keep me on sort of makes those micro organisms intoxicated. It’s not that I can’t tap into it…just that that aspect has been numbed, the focus it would take to move that rock outside would be like moving a starship, and then once I had it, id likely drop it."

 

Lucas half chuckled.”So, they made your "force-bugs" drunk?"

 

"Something like that." He struggled to smile back, the only hint of familiarity in his face.”It gets worse though. Olof knows exactly what he’s doing. I can still sense...too much"

 

"That’s good isn’t it?" Lucas was more interested in just keeping Rann talking than he was in hearing him discuss the inside of strange Jedi perceptions, it’d have sounded like madness to him even outside of a cell.

 

"No." He replied flatly.”I can see the face of everyone who has been in this room. I can see the blood on the walls, I can hear the screams, can feel the desperation. The darkness here is staggering. The amount of focus it takes to keep that out has me stifled more than an inability to move items."

 

Rann’s voice was chilling as he spoke, Lucas shaped the information as best he could, the best comparison in the moment he could find was to imaging being haunted by the bloody corpses and ghosts of all those he’d seen in battle. Shambling and bloody, with no weapons availing driven by pain.

 

"Have you ever dealt with that before?" Lucas asked, stepping towards the fey zabrak.

 

Rann nodded.”Yes. I’ve been deep down this road before." He stopped, unable or unwilling to say more. Lucas grabbed Rann’s hair and a horn forcefully, motivating the Jedi the only way that he has ever really known. He violently twisted Rann’s face to his with a sneer.

 

"If you’ve handled it before, then snap out of it!" He barked giving the pale Jedi several open hand strikes on his head.

 

Rann was so awash in the dark stupor that his mind far from aware of what was right in front of him. He struggled a moment struggling to focus against the series of smack on his head. He grunted and reflexively threw a knee up into Lucas’ torture worn flesh.  He winced hard, releasing Rann’s hair as they both fell to the ground in pain. Neither stood.

 

"What the hell was that for?" Rann muttered.

 

"I was trying to help." Lucas said, clutching his side.”Mentoc always wore a proverb on his armor. I train in a hell worse than any my enemy can muster. Thus no enemy can find my limit. I don’t care what face you had when you wore it: If you wore it, you live up to it."

 

Rann considered the words, and the truth of them.”And the punch to the face?"

 

"I’ve just wanted to do that for a while. Plus you were starting to sound like a woman, or a Jedi…it all sounds the same to me. Jedi-woman."

 

"…Kicked your arse." Rann said.

 

Lucas let out a sound similar to a growl.”You’re lucky I can’t stand up." There was a pause, then both men chuckled.

 

Lucas squinted up at the ceiling.”So how are we getting out of here, Jedi? They said you got out once before."

 

"I haven’t figured that out yet." Rann sighed.”Last time was…different." He said evasively.

 

"It’s going to be a long week then." Lucas said, feeling fatigue taking over.

 

Rann focused his thoughts on quieting the darkness around him, remembering old lessons and practices.

 

"I can’t stand up either."

 

"I know."

 

PART VII

Day four.

 

"Your reports revealed something very interesting about you, General McCoy."

 

Inquisitor Olof spoke from a console out of the restrained Lucas’ vision. He was bound to the operation table, various tools littered around him, some bloody from use, other still pristine.

 

"I’m sure you already knew, so it is of course no surprise to you. From your face and skin I had thought perhaps we discovered a formerly unseen species. I had looked forward to squeezing all the details of your home world from you. Imagine my disappointment to learn that you’re simply a clone."

 

The Inquisitor walked from the console into Lucas’ line of sight as he continued.”You find yourself in a strange happenstance. Due to the imperial ban on cloning, you are like living, breathing contraband." He chuckled a bit at the thought. Lucas said nothing, longing to have any of the surrounding instruments of pain in hand to turn on its master.

 

"I rather like clones though. A clone is not unlike a droid, except that rather than metal you’re made out of meat. Otherwise, most of the same principals apply. You’re built based on codes and programs, can be upgraded and downgraded and when something goes bad it’s just a matter of replacing a faulty part."

 

He strode towards the silent Darktrooper standing watch, contemplating the droid.”Essentially you are artificial, an imitation of true life. However, you are useful in ways that a droid is not. As our specialists unlock your "codes", we can apply to you certain things that cannot be tested on droids. Piece by piece your very make up will be decoded, and then our work can truly begin."

 

The Mandalorian’s thought process was quickly interrupted by the sensation of an oversized needle thrusting from the center of the table into his spine. He tried to thrash against the bindings at the sudden pain, but to no avail. The feeling of sparks from the needle inside his body caused him to twist and convulse. The pain was such that he wasn’t sure how long the needle was in by the time it retracted itself leaving him panting.

 

"That sample should be enough for our Blackwing scientists to work with until our next session." Olof said, keying at the datapad. "Warden Haylon would like to discuss some matters with you involving a certain outpost on Lok, however. So, you’ll be spending the rest of the day with him, and to make sure you are as forthright as possible…" He grabbed a nearby syringe and injected the contents into Lucas’ bare shoulder.

 

The dark troopers forcefully transferred his bindings and drug him to the warden’s chambers. As he was escorted, Lucas could faintly hear Olof speaking just before the door shut, "Master Fealome, welcome back. Place him there." The hiss of the closing blast door silenced the discussion for the Mandalorian.

 

"You do turn up in the most unexpected places, Fealome." Olof said, ignoring the new set of dark troopers as they forcibly planted him into the seat.

 

The zabrak tried his best to smile.”What fun would it be If you knew where to look?"

 

"Indeed." Olof spoke plainly as he prepared a few of his tools and unspeakable chemicles.”In all of our discussions since your return, there is something I've just been eager to learn from you-"

 

"Look, you just have to know how to treat a lady, it’s nothing I can teach you outright..." Rann's playful quip was met with brutal manhandling from the troopers as Olof quickly turned and swiped the Jedi's face hard with a chemical treated surgical knife. A small stream of blood immediately began to spill along his cheek.

 

"This is no game, Jedi." The Inquisitor's eyes intensified.”I want to know how you managed to vanish under the eyes of our guards on your last stay here. It's been quite a point of discussion ever since."

 

"You might as well just kill me now. You have no leverage to use, except my own life...which you have no intention of sparing."

 

Olof chuckled.”So eager to die are you? What’s become of you, Master Fealome?"

 

"I've had a bad week." Rann growled.”So are we doing this? How's it going to be? My own lightsaber, perhaps throw some lightening around? Or just a good old fashioned firing squad?"

 

"I'm going to offer you a way out." Olof said smoothly.”The empire could have use of you. You would of course have to go through a certain "orientation", but anything beats sitting in your cell listening to the screams of those who came before you as you wait to die. All you need do is tell me how you escaped, and... kill the clone who you currently share a processing cell with to demonstrate your willingness to cooperate."

 

Rann said nothing, he simply swallowed and kept his thoughts silent.

 

"You have until the end of the week to decide." Olof took one of his twisted tools in hand.”We have also taken an extra precaution this time. A beacon chip has been put into you, should you leave the area of the transmitter it will detonate. So consider any future attempts to vanish very carefully."  Olof could sense Rann's reactions, tinges of fear, surprise and hate seeped out despite his attempt to keep them stifled.”Enough talk though, we have much to do still." The Inquisitor began to ply his cruel trade on the Jedi, unflinching as he cut.

 

That night, both prisoners were tossed back into their cell. They lay on the ground for moments, neither of them speaking or moving. They both were given much to think about in the day’s sessions. The only interruption to the silence was when the door was opened long enough for two containers of some sort of liquid food to be tossed in, and then the slam of it closing again. Lucas started to crawl towards it, neither of them having eaten anything to speak of since their capture. Rann stopped him.

 

"Don’t." He said, as he pulled himself to his feet.”The food is drugged. It’s one of the ways they keep inmates docile and cooperative."

 

"So we are supposed to just starve then?" Lucas asked, still eyeing the strange green mess.

 

Rann grabbed both bowls and moved to the small window.”Trust me."

 

Lucas sat up and watched him suspiciously. The Jedi tore some strips of his already tattered garments and dipped them in the gruel, then tied them to the bars. He took the remaining liquid and poured it onto the base of the window, out onto the wall and some drizzled on the inside, down to the floor. Lucas sighed, unsure what to make of the situation. He only knew that with each day that passed, hope seemed a bleaker notion.

 

 

PART VIII

Day six.

 

Lucas had taken to not sleeping, partially because it helped numb the pain and partially because he liked the curious looks from his captors when they found him staring at them exactly where they left him the night before. The day before, Olof injected a stimulant to reduce the effects of his duress, and in a day or so would probably result in quite a downer crash, but for now he was awake and focused simply looking at the bars and trying to ignore the chill of Dathomir’s morning dank, pouring in the small gridded window.

 

Rann had also been silent for the past two nights other than the occasional murmur, drifting in and out of sleep. When awake he would set and close his eyes, seeming to focus on something far off until some sort of strain seemed to overtake him, and then he would wretch in pain and eventually collapse.

 

Lucas let himself get lost in his thoughts, what was going on back home, how he would get out of this, IF he would get out this. He was brought back to the present at the sound of a small but gruesome Snap sound. He turned to see Rann at the window…having loosened the gruel soaked strips he coiled along the bars. The putrid mess had attracted the attention of several varieties of native bugs. The snap having been the sound of the Jedi popping one of the larger bugs shells, killing it in his hands.

 

"What are you doing?" Lucas asked blankly.

 

Rann answered by taking a bite out of the bug and forcing it down.”Breakfast.  Come on."

 

The Mandalorian moved closer and examined the window. The clothing tatters now mildewed with the sick gruel had proven irresistible for the rouges gallery of flies, beetles, hopbugs, and worms.  That collection of bugs then proved irresistible to a few spiders and small lizards.

 

"Clever." He said with a slight sneer.”Disgusting, but clever."

 

Rann smiled back weakly.”Well, there is an old saying about beggars and choosers. Dig in, it’s at least safer then what they are trying to feed us here." The Jedi forced down a few more clearly trying not to focus on the task, but hunger having the better of him.

 

Lucas grabbed the biggest and slimiest he could find from the mound bugs. He was no less hungry, nor any less excited about the prospect, but he had no intention of letting a tea sipping Jedi appear to have a stronger stomach than him.”So what now?" he asked as they choked down the bugs.

 

"It's hard to say." Rann looked up, standing this close Lucas could see how beaten the Jedi was. His eyes seemed fixed on things that weren’t there...his breath was hard and he looked as if he was constantly struggling to keep something away.”Our week is almost up, and judging from our difference in wardrobe, it would seem like you are going into normal confinement, and I'm likely up for execution."

 

In all that had gone on, Lucas hadn't taken notice that the guards had changed him into a standard prison jumpsuit but Rann still wore the tatters of the clothes he had been wearing when they brought him in: His boots, the loose pants, and part of a shredded top now hanging around his waistline.  "So they didn't even waste a uniform on you." He said grimly.

 

Rann give a nod of confirmation as he grabbed a large fearsome talon beetle easily as big as both fists.”That's the message they wanted to convey. This place is filled with little psychological barbs. the windows and doors in this processing cell for example. Bars. Windows. The cells in the main facility are all energy barriers." The Jedi killed it and began to pry off one of its large jagged mandibles.

 

"So?" Lucas said flatly as he grabbed another bug and cracked its shell in his hands before taking another gruesome bite.

 

"Energy cells are hopeless, if you touch it you're at least going to get zapped and at worst incinerated." Rann said, examining the sharp edge of the talon.”But bars...bars put the idea in your head that maybe you could bend them. Maybe you could break them. We can see out this window, can feel the air from outside. Freedom is being dangled in front of us. It's to make us discover hopelessness on our own and to make us squirm on the hook."

 

Lucas gave a slight snarl at the feel of pointy legs and chitinous shell in his throat.”You're imagining things. They probably use bars here because bars don't disappear when there’s a power outage from the damn storms. It's been raining for 3 days now. Freedom is freezing me to the floor, so I'd be more than happy to see some nice warm energy doors." He stopped short and started to gag, followed by harsh coughing and eventually throwing up a strange black bile.

 

"Careful, the Dathomiri stinkbugs are pretty hard to keep down." Rann sat into his meditative position with the mandible still in hand.

 

The Mandalorian staggered to his feet and to the window, splashing rainwater into his face.”No, it’s not that. It's this stuff they've been injecting into me." He showed Rann his forearms, his nearly transparent skin revealed a network of sickly black veins and other revolting discolorations.”They kept mentioning something called Blackwing, and I could over hear them talking about how it's having "unique" reactions to me. Though, I should be thankful, It looked worse yesterday." He sunk against the window and watched the scenery. An AT-ST trotted like a domesticated beast in front of the strange purplish horizon, watchtower searchlights idly sweeping and the occasional howl or roar from the distant forests.

 

"I hate this place." He finally said as he turned back to see Rann wincing in pain, struggling against himself. He looked like he was trying to pull a deeply buried thorn out of himself, or perhaps a slug round.”What the hell are you doing?"

 

The Jedi's breath quickened.”I think I've got." He managed to gasp out then plunged the sharp knifelike mandible into his side, cutting a crude gash, clutching his teeth. He focused harder able to feel his tenuous connection to the force barely grab a tiny object, then with a burst of blood and gore it launched out of the wound, ripping its way through his body and out. To Lucas it looked as if Rann had been shot by an unseen attacker, Rann finally collapsed, blood trickling from the gash. He panted hard, barely able to move. Lucas quickly ripped the thick sleeve from his uniform and some of the remaining tatters of Rann's own tunic to field dress the wound as he lay there.

 

"Believe it or not," Rann murmured after a moment.”Things are actually working out pretty well." Lucas kept pressure on the wound with both hands.”Mind telling me what the blazes you're doing?"

 

Rann reached out weakly and picked up a small bloody chip with a faintly blinking light.”This is chip tracks where I am, and can be detonated if they don't like where I am. Escape would have been impossible if i hadn't found it." He sat up and tucked the chip down into his boot.

 

"That's well and good, but how are you going to keep them from knowing you dug it out of you?" Lucas asked skeptically.

 

"You're going to help me with that, and it's going to buy me a few more days before an execution" Rann said as he handed Lucas the now bloody mandible.

 

Lucas looked at the makeshift blade curiously.”What do you want me to do?"

 

"Just, let this be..." Rann sat up a little.”...Our final battle."

 

Lucas' curious look was met with a sudden uppercut to his jaw, lying onto his back as Rann raised to his feet. Lucas stayed down, and in a combination of confusion and rage Lucas jabbed the bug claw into Rann's leg, then grabbed his other ankle pulling the Jedi down hard to the ground. Rann's boot extended once into the clone's jaw then raised and the heel came down bouncing his head to the floor. McCoy twisted the mandible and pulled it out as he rolled out of reach, both men very weakly climbed to their feet.  Lucas was pretty sure he knew what the Jedi was up to with this plan, but wasn’t entirely certain. He couldn't deny however that he had really wanted to rough someone up over the past few days.

 

Rann stepped in as Lucas swiped the crude blade across the Jedi's torso, a trail of red soon following, retribution quickly took the form of punches across the face and a heavy body blow. Lucas caught one of Rann's arms by the wrist, but his other kept burying itself into his kidney. The Mandalorian gritted himself against the blows and finally leaned back then smashed a headbutt into the zabrak, sprawling him fully around and into the prison bars. Lucas took another slash across Rann's back. He gave a groan of pain then stepped back, catching Lucas' head and tugging it over his shoulder forward, and pulled slamming the top of his head into the bars leaving a bit of blackened blood. He spun on his heels and slammed his back into the cage door hard and paused.

 

Lucas sprawled away. Rann stopped at seeing the blood on his body, he had forgotten that McCoy's less than fully formed skin couldn’t take that kind of trauma, least of all after the weeks treatment. In the moment that the Jedi paused, he suddenly felt himself raised off the ground and his shoulders slammed to the hard floor. Enraged, Lucas was over him and plunged the mandible into Rann's shoulder and drug a ragged cut across his chest.

 

Rann roared out and threw his elbow out knocking Lucas clear, he rolled o the bug tusk still in his chest. They rose, both completely inflamed with rage. The two warriors stood bloody and beaten breathing heavily.

 

"So, Pretty sure that should cover up the other wound." Rann gasped. Lucas looked down the hall way to Rann. Then realized he was looking down a hallway. Then Rann caught on. The two visually followed their respective trails of blood on the floor several meters to their cell door, flat on the ground, then at each other.

 

"No way." Lucas said blankly.

 

Rann shared the same puzzled bloody look.”I agree."

 

"So...do we run?" Lucas asked.

 

Rann's eyes darted around the area.”Not sure, I hadn't counted on this."

 

Before either of them had realized what happened, The sounds of heavy clanking feet and whirring servo motors prefaced four massive dark troopers sprinting out of the shadows. The Jedi and Mandalorian found themselves immediately and promptly tackled and pinned by a pair of droids each.  They struggled vainly for moments, simply waiting for one of the droids masters to find their way.

 

"This is the last time we are going to see each other before we get put into our respective confinements-" Rann's words were cut short.

 

Lucas spoke over him.”If you get out of here, I don't expect you to come back for me. But get word to Ordo Keldab of what happened, you owe us that much."

 

"You're such a drama queen." Rann said against the cold pressure of the droids restraint.”When we get out of here, we'll sort all that out. For now just worry about keeping your head on your shoulders, and keeping your eyes open for the opportune moment."

 

It wasn't long after that Inquisitor Olof and Warden Haylon arrived on the scene with a troop of guards.”Most impressive, gentlemen." Olof said with a chuckle.

 

"This is a mess." Haylon said as he looked over the carnage.

 

Olof examined the door, the bugs, the talon beetle mandible knife and simply smiled.”Fealome, there may be hope for you yet."  

 

"Take the clone to holding." Haylon instructed, then corrected "To the med bay, then to holding."

 

The Inquisitor stepped back to the droids. Get the Jedi cleaned up and take him to facility 12. I'd like to speak with him before we make his final arrangements.

 

Both Jedi and Mandalorian were taken away to their respective fates. By the time morning came around the next day, Lucas was in a warm energy barrier cellblock, surrounded by other prisoners and Rann was being dragged over the coals by Inquisitor Olof. Rann still kept a smug smile through it all, a rough little prick in his foot kept his spirits high, and reminding him that freedom was hidden right in his boot. It was just a matter of waiting for the right moment.

 

 

PART IX

Day seven.

 

McCoy couldn’t decide what was worse. The Jedi’s rambling, or the incessant hum of this new, electrified cell.

 

It must have finally been dawn. Lucas could see the faintest rays of sunlight coming from around the corner of the cell block’s entrance. He still hadn’t slept. It didn’t help that there had been alarms going off all night. The cell was part of a dozen or so back to back. His was roughly the middle of the bundle.

 

"I never thought this day would come," said a familiar voice from the next cell.

 

“Damn,” he sighed.

 

"The force has been good to me this day. It has brought me the man who betrayed me and murdered my master, so that I may finally kill him. "

 

McCoy stood to face Sirion, a Jedi and former acquaintance. The last time they had seen each other, the bounty hunter was turning him over to Imperial custody.

 

“Look-“ McCoy began to speak, but was suddenly unable. It was a familiar, unnerving feeling of an invisible vice clamping down on his wind pipe. He raised his eyes to meet those of the Jedi in the cell next to him.

 

“That’s right. Enough time spent in this place and everything just seems to get…darker.” He glared.

 

McCoy’s knees buckled, and he struggled for any scrap of air. Somehow or another, a patrol noticed the interaction and the security shields in both rooms flickered off. It didn’t matter that he had been the one attacked, they came in and drug out both men, swinging away with their stun batons.

 

As far as Lucas was concerned, he had done Sirion a favor by killing his bastard of a mentor, Craysom Kerzeck. Craysom had been instrumental in Lucas’ death in the Death Watch Bunker, and then even had another clone commissioned to fight against the re-formed clan Ordo. When Lucas finally managed to track them down, he made sure to take his time with killing the Jedi. He had never really had an issue with Sirion, but a Jedi trainee still fetches a nice Imperial bounty.

 

Apparently, he was still angry about it. “Fate has brought us together Lucas McCoy, and I will have my vengeance!” One guard then struck Sirion with a blow to the throat, though he continued to swear at the Mandalorian the coughing and gasping.

 

Warden Haylon was approaching swiftly with guards carrying two full sets of shackles. “It seems that even in this facility on the outer rim you have found one of your fans, General. It must be that shining personality.” He looked between the two prisoners as they were fitted with their binders. “Take that one down to the Blackwing lab, and McCoy back to his usual suite. The doctor’s have more tests for him today.”

 

“I dunno, doc, I’ve been feeling a lot better. I think I’ll skip my checkup today.”

 

“Charming, to the last. Take them away.”

 

It was now an all-too-familiar trek down to the lower levels of the main facility. Lucas could find his way back out blindfolded. This worked out well, considering he was always blindfolded whenever he was transported to or from the lab.

 

There was a great deal of commotion on this particular walk; squads of troops hustling by at a steady pace, doctors and scientists murmuring over their charts and datapads. McCoy couldn’t pick up everything being said due to the sack over his head, but several words stood out.

 

“Virus…containment…Blackwing…outbreak…catastrophic.”

 

Whatever it is, it didn’t sound pleasant.

 

The doors to the lab hissed up and Lucas was once again strapped to the table by his arms and legs. The intensity of the operating lights burned his eyes as the blindfold was ripped off of his head. As his vision returned, he could see the technicians at work around the room. Some he recognized, others were new. One with a mask approached, adjusting his fingers in his gloves.

 

“General.” The man opened the front of McCoy’s shirt, revealing his sinewy and skin-less torso. “No matter how many times we see eachother, I am amazed each visit. A normal man would not be able to tolerate the pain of missing the outer dermis, but you…you seem to be fueled by it.”

 

“You get used to it.” Lucas sneared, as the doctor fastened various tubes up to his neck and arms.

 

“These surgical patches. They are for lacerations, are they not?” The Mandalorian did not answer. “Brilliant really. Graft bits of animal or synthetic hide over areas of high contact. The wrists, shoulders, forehead, chin, hips. Otherwise you might bleed out from something as simple as a handshake. Why oh why did you not finish the cloning process?”

 

“Had a bad dream.”

 

“Well, whatever the case, your service to the Empire is invaluable.”

 

McCoy looked at the man. “Service?”

 

“Your blood, General. Though the intent for the Blackwing virus has been a failure initially, we have found through you a way to prevent further outbreak.”

 

“I’m not interested in helping.”

 

“That’s too bad. After today’s session we will have enough of your blood to complete the Emperor’s cure, and then you’ll be of no more use to us.”

 

McCoy’s eyes narrowed even further than normal. “What about my blood?”

 

“The virus is unable to combine with your synthetic blood, the blood of a clone. Since cloning has been outlawed since the formation of the Empire, there’s just not many around or we might have tested them sooner.” The doctor removed the tubes, presumably having finished extracting his samples.

“Grow your own.”

 

“Well we would, but having you here is much faster than funding and staffing a new cloning facility.” He removed his mask and pressed a small button on his collar. “Guard, we are finished with the patient. Take him downstairs to join the rest of the test subjects.”

 

The doors opened again and several guards wheeled a metal gurney into the room. The doctor handed one of them a pouch containing some stims. “Take these to the watch officer down in the testing level. The duration of the inoculation is undetermined as of yet, so it will need to be reapplied every other day.”

 

Once Lucas had been transplanted to the gurney, they began to wheel him outside. He was not bagged, which was not good. If they bag you, they don’t want you to be able to find your way out. If they don’t bag you…you’re not ever going to be getting back out.

 

He examined the guards as they descended in the lift, four white-armored shock troops, and another at the front with a pauldron, his helmet crooked in his arm. In his other hand were those stims. McCoy needed to get back to Ordo Keldab with at least one of those for testing and duplication, in case the virus ever came to Ordo’s territory. That plan hinged on his ability to escape. The lift door opened to reveal the damp and industrial bowels of the facility, a stark change from the sterile rooms above. The muffled sounds of groaning and screaming could be heard faintly echoing down the long, dark hallways. A long ago image of the mines of the Death Watch Bunker flashed through McCoy’s head, but he quickly shook it off.

 

“Another one for you.” Said the officer to another uniformed Imperial. “Oh and here, these are from the lab upstairs.”

 

“We have quite enough.” He looked at the gurney. “What is it?”

 

“How should I know? You want it over here?” They wheeled Lucas into what looked like an observation room with a single chair in the center. It might have once been a different color, but nearly every inch of it was stained with fresh blood. His heart rate quickened, and if he had any hair on his body, the ones of the back of his neck would have been standing straight up. Somehow this situation had just gone from bad, to worse.

 

The binders on the chair where they seated him sealed shut electronically. The lights flickering from red, to green, signifying the lock. McCoy began to tug violently at his restraints as the guards left the room. When the door closed behind them, he knew it was over. Any minute now, some sort of gas, current or creature would be released into this small room and he would experience the hands of death again. The wall groaned, and a dark hallway appeared from behind a thick door. There were different sounds and lights from the other end. Something mechanical, perhaps a droid, and the rest biological. There were moans, not of pain, but something else accompanied by the slow shuffle of shackled feet.

 

What entered the room then, was something that the aged Mandalorian had never seen before in all his years of traveling the galaxy. Its flesh hung from its bones, and there was no life in its bloodshot eyes. Dark stains of blood covered its tattered clothing and its horrific, twisted face. Close behind was another, three in all, followed by a torture droid herding them along.

 

Almost on cue, the lights in the room went out. The security doors all opened and the clamps around his wrist sprung open, and McCoy leapt from the chair into the darkness. The tiny lights from the droid provided just enough to see the humanoids around him. He grabbed at the droid’s arm holding the cylindrical cutting tool, and pulled until it came lose, sparking and smoking in the darkness. The sparks seemed to frighten the creatures, who backed away from the droid. Lucas, now armed with a crude weapon, made quick work of the zombies, and turned toward the door just in time to see the guards and officers sprint past. He bolted into the hall and lodged the droid arm in at the base of the lagging officer’s skull, severing his spine. He dropped do the ground with a thud. As the red emergency backup lights hummed to life, several stormtroopers turned to see the battered and bloody image of a man who looked like he had been to hell and back. The shirt McCoy’s torn prison jumpsuit hung of of his waist, his bare chest and shoulders pulsing from the amount of adrenaline coursing through his exposed veins. He kicked his foot at the holster of the corpse below, and the officer’s pistol shot into his open hand. The troopers drew their carbines and opened fire. The low light decreased their accuracy against the single target, but Lucas was no novice. He ducked behind a bulkhead and opened fire on one of the troops, striking his mark in the softer, side part of his armor.

 

The other troops, noticing their comrade fall, slowly retreated down the hall. They were unaware that they were backing into a half a dozen groaning, drooling undead. The cries from the men were shrill, and Lucas almost felt guilty for not finishing them himself as he ran by, severing the head of the nearest zombie with a heavy chop as he dove between the feast. At the end of the hall Lucas came upon the final officer. He furiously slammed his hands down on the keypad that operated the lift.

 

“Out of order,” he said dryly. The officer spun, terrified.

 

“You’ll never get out of here. We’re both doomed.” The officer pulled his own pistol, trembling, and raised it to his head. He had fired and hit the ground before Lucas could even move.

 

The screaming from behind him had ceased, and Lucas knew he would have company soon. He leaned down, and pulled the pouch of stims from the corpse’s hand, strapping it to his thigh. He grabbed the smoking blaster from the dead officer’s other hand and jammed the tip into the crack of the lift door. It was slow work, but effective. Enough of the door was now held open by the blaster that Lucas could squeeze through the crack. Just in time, too, as an outstretched hand reached in the lift tube after him. As he began to climb, Lucas kicked the gun free, the doors slamming shut and pinching the outstretched arm off above the elbow. As he began his climb in the darkness, the facility groaned. An explosion from below shook the walls and everything within them. The main lights flickered back on, and then off again.

 

McCoy sighed, and used a strip of his tattered sleeve to tie the droid arm to his back. “I’m too old for this.” He said, as he slowly began his ascent.

 

PART X

Day nine.

 

Something was wrong.

 

Rann's eyes opened in the dark, though he couldn't tell the difference. He blinked a few times, finding the same darkness either way. He was shivering, barely breathing, exhausted, hungry, and as close to death as one can be while being aware of it. His memory was a blur, the battered Jedi struggled to remember how he got in what felt like a metal coffin, and what the small items in his hands were. Rann began to mumble to himself in a hoarse, parched whisper.

 

"Where are you, Fealome?" He squirmed a bit, feeling the cold metal and wash of air over him.”In some sort of duct. Still on Dathomir. Still in prison...again."

 

"Why and how?" He asked himself.”I don't know...this was all your idea."

 

Rann squeezed his hands, having already forgotten about the items in his grasp. His fingers moved along the smooth metal until it found a sharp tip.

 

"Needles." Upon identifying them a few stinging pains on his arms floating to his attention.

 

"Tranquilizer. How long have I been here?" His hands fumbled around, strewn around his body were empty syringes. He counted them one at a time as he found the discarded needles.

 

 "One day, two days, three days, four days, and two unused." His mind slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together as his memory returned.”Plus about four or five days of Olof trying to break and turn me. Failing that lead up to an execution…I hate this place."

 

"So what happened next?" Rann asked himself, unsure if he was thinking or speaking to himself. “As far as I can tell, I haven’t been executed…though this very well could be hell..."

 

 "No, this all started in the lab. They were doing final scans before the execution. They removed the binders and were transferring me to a table. I swung at a guard, and dove behind a console. Then I pulled that uncomfortable exploding tracker chip out of my boot, tampered with it a little and threw it. The blast destroyed most of the equipment and the dark troops and scientists didn’t do too well with it. I grabbed these tranq's out of a supply cabinet and ran.

 

Rann chuckled as he relived the terrible plan in his mind.”So, why the tranquilizers?"

 

"I had to hide. Even if i got out of the lab, and managed to get out of the main structure I'd never get past the yard and the gate. I sealed myself in the area, took the clothes off of one of the lab techs, and the detonators from the fallen troops and blasted the hell out of any walls in the rooms that led to adjoining areas, possibly to an exit, or simply a makeshift window hole. More guards were going to be there any second, as well as Olof or Haylon."

 

"So, you randomly blasted walls for an exit and dressed as a tech to be able to blend in as you traversed rooms? That still doesn’t resolve the issue about the gates and yard if you managed such."

 

 "No that’s a terrible plan. I just wanted them to think that I tried something like that. I went back into the opened supply closet, and shut the door, which sealed me in. Then i climbed a rack, pulled a vent off of the duct near the ceiling, climbed in and replaced the vent from the inside. It was then just a matter of shooting up some tranquilizer and crawling through the ducts as far as i could until i passed out, while they examined the blasts and searched for someone wearing a lab coat who matched my description."

 

"Why the tranquilizers?" Rann asked.

 

"Because once they were unable to find said zabrak in a lab coat, they would be led to the conclusion that we either escaped, or were still here somewhere. In order to find out if we are still here, they would scan for life forms...and so we needed to not show signs of life. Hence the empty needles, and repeated doses of this stuff."

 

"Wouldn't Olof be able to sense us?" He asked, still skeptical of his own story.

 

"Nah, there’s so much tranq in my system that it’s a wonder we alive, not to mention the suppressor agent he’s been using on my midichlorians, probably haven’t been able to even blip his radar.

 

Rann smiled. "The suppression agent! That's the reason for hiding in here so long..."

 

"If you are in here, he can't keep adding to the dosage. You tranqed yourself in hiding so that they couldn’t find you while you let it run its course out of your system. Crafty bastard. Though, I'm not sure how much of this stuff is a lethal dose though, or how many times I can put myself under. Probably why I'm talking to myself too...I imagine loopy borderline insanity would be a side effect."

 

The Jedi crawled a bit further down the dark tunnel drawing near a vent and a little light. He outstretched his hand and for the first time in recent weeks he felt the force respond to him fully, though he then become more aware of a dark presence looming close. The vent bent and pulled inwards towards him opening the way out.

 

"Oh, yeah. We're doing this."

 

Things were grim. Four storm troopers and the guard captain of the cellblock sat in a heavily barricaded control room. Rather, what was left of the control room. The lights were dim, panels were destroyed and blood was everywhere. It was a hopeless scene.

 

"Do you think that the distress signal got out?" One of the troopers asked finally to break the silence.

 

The captain looked up. “Hard to say. The auxiliary generators are waning; half the facility is without power at all. The systems have been worsening, and I have no idea when exactly we lost communications." He followed the statement with an apologetic look, not having intended to sound so bleak.

 

"I think the bigger worry isn’t if the higher ups get word...its whether or not they will bother to look for survivors, or just flatten this whole area." Another trooper chimed in, sinking the mood of the scene further.

 

The captain stood up.”I’m sure someone will find us..." His words were cut off by a clank of metal when a vent fell from a duct over their heads. Everyone reeled and pulled weapons in surprise. By the time they realized what they were looking at, the blurred figure of Rann had already pounced the guard captain to the ground from the duct. The Jedi pummeled him with a series of punches to the face. The troopers all turned their blasters, only to have them leap from their hands as he gestured one hand at them. Rann outstretched his other, sending all four of them against the wall hard, rendering them unconscious.

 

"I really missed being able to do that." Rann said to himself with a chuckle as he looked at his handiwork, then gathered up a blaster and one of somewhat spent utility belts. He stopped as he realized the disarray of the room.”What happened here?" He murmured to himself, then started taking down the barricade so he could leave the room.

 

Rann stepped into the hall to find his escape plan had taken a drastic turn. The lights were dim and inconsistent, and the smell of death hung thick in the air. Small electrical fires flickered and the comm system emitted a perpetual faint but haunting buzz sound.

 

"I hate this place." muttered the Jedi as he carefully and curiously made his way through the halls. “Now...if I were a surly Mandalorian clone with a poor sense of humor, where would I be?"

 

Rann stopped and closed his eyes, his feelings opened to his surroundings. Fear, dread, suffering and death hung in the force. Rann saw images of people ripping one another apart with bare hands and teeth, sickening displays of chaos...prisoners and guards desperately and brutally fighting each other, then shambling disfigured shadows overtaking the scene. He struggled to keep his focus, scrambling mentally to figure out what he was seeing.

 

Suddenly, his visions were interrupted by feelings of immediate danger. His eyes shot open in time to see what used to be a prisoner. The man’s eyes were sunk and it oozed freely from tears all over its body. Its limbs were twisted and when he moved it was more like he was being drug than walking by his own accord. It lunged at Rann stiffly letting out a guttural moan.

 

Rann shifted on his feet and the claw like hand swing by in a wide miss, then he sunk the butt of the blaster rifle into things sternum and then to the back of its head with a gruesome ‘crack’ sound. Unfazed, the rotten body clawed at the floor to find its way up, simply accepting the heads new position. Rann stepped back from it only to hear more moans behind him. He spun to see three more emerging from a nearby room, and even more turning the corner at the end of the hall. They were dressed in prisoner jumpsuits and imperial uniforms.

 

"Are you serious?" The zabrak sighed and fired the blaster down the hall with the fewest ambling corpses. The creatures, undead as best that can be presumed, didn’t fall easily. Rann found the blaster to be of minimal use. The blasts burnt holes into the bodies, but didn’t do enough real damage to stop them. Rann tossed the blaster and grabbed a large, heavy length of pipe from the debris near him and grinned.

 

"That’ll about do it." He said, testing its weight in his hands. The first shambler that got in range was leveled by heavy swipe of the pole. Rann could feel its jaw loosen on the impact. He stomped down on the fallen creatures head while he positioned himself for the next one. He let the force guide his motions. The pipe was no lightsaber, but at the moment it would suffice. A few brutal swings and steps and the Jedi had managed his way down the hall.

 

 Traversing the prison was a slow process. The sporadic-at-best power made certain areas impassable, and there was of course the countless walking corpses roaming the facility. The trusty pipe he had been carrying was dinged and thoroughly bloodied before he found any sign of a living person. Screams and sounds of fighting could be heard from a chamber in the level’s processing area. Rann quickened his pace towards the sounds. Another corpse was clawing at the loose door trying to find his way in. Rann took the metal pole in hand like a javelin and hurled it, feeling the force guide and accelerate his throw. It whirred, and within an instant skewered the creatures head to the durasteel wall with a sickening crunch and thud and a slight whistle of the bottom end vibrating from the impact. Rann strode to the door, then stopped to admire his throw. The body’s head was gruesomely impaled and pinned, a few movements working their way out of its body before it just hung lifelessly.

 

"You just don’t see that kind of precision these days." He smiled playfully.”I just get tired of being so damn good sometimes." The Jedi then turned his attention to the door, focusing until he could feel the components holding it in place start to break free. With a gesture it slowly drug open making a rough metal on metal screech.

 

The zabrak stopped and tilted his head curiously at the unexpected sight. Littering the ground were the bleeding bodies of three lab technicians all with various torture implements and medical tools crudely used on them. The lead scientist was strapped into one of the torture tables. Standing over him, bleeding and battered, was Lucas McCoy.

 

Lucas still wore his prison jumpsuit, though it seemed worse for wear as if he’d been through countless battles. A blaster rifle was sling on his back along with a bloodied droid arm, and a pistol handle was hanging over the top of his waistband. There was a strap of syringes around his thigh, and on his right arm he wore what appeared to be the hollowed out arm of a dark trooper.

 

Rann walked in just in time to see Lucas twist the doctor’s wrist until it snapped cruelly, the screams didn’t faze the Mandalorian. He was so intent on his work that he didn’t notice Rann enter.

 

"I told you how to open door!" The doctor struggled to get out.

 

Lucas grabbed the pistol from his belt and ruthlessly brought the butt down on his face. “It didn’t work. Where is it?" The clone was enraged beyond reason, taking delight in returning the torture he had endured back onto his captors.

 

"If the clearances aren’t working, it must be due to the outage." The man begged. Lucas grabbed the nearest instrument, a long surgical needle, and rammed it into the side of his neck as he strode back to the security door he had been trying to get opened. He furiously punched codes into the half functional pad. Failing that, he took a heavy pipe and wedged it into door and tried to pry it open, occasionally punching it with the droids arm over his own.

 

 "Umm…there are zombies outside." Rann finally said.

 

Lucas spun quickly with a growl, then blinked a moment somewhat in disbelief.”You? They said you escaped days ago. The hell are you doing back?"

 

"Well I was actually in the vents, talking to myself and living on kimogila-sized doses of tranq. It’s a long story. What’d I miss?"

 

 Lucas continued to struggle with the door. “There was a blast earlier. It caused a few outages."

 

"That was me." Rann said, remembering the spectacular burst from the slave tracker chip.

 

"Before everything could get back online there was a riot in one of the grids. The whole detention area was a warzone as it spread. It seemed the majority of the troops were elsewhere." The door finally begin to give way slightly, he took it in both hands and tried to force it as he recounted the events.”Turns out the empire was experimenting on a failed project here, something called Blackwing. They were interested in me because it turned out my synthetic blood is largely immune to carrying it. It spread like a virus through the facility, as imperials and prisoners alike became infected, they turned into these monsters. There’s not many left who haven’t changed. Speaking of which-" He grabbed Rann’s arm, and plucked one of the syringes strapped to his thigh and forcibly injected it.

 

"Gah...what is that?" Rann said, clutching at the needle.

 

Lucas tossed it aside.”I swiped this stuff from the lab during the outbreak. It’s the closest thing to an antidote that they were able to develop. It neutralizes the stuff, and will make you immune to further infection, but only for a day. Maybe two."

 

"Well then we should probably get out of here- What the hell are you doing anyway?" Rann finally pulled Lucas aside and waved his hand at the door, it smoothly raised up.”It goes up." He said, rolling his eyes.

 

Lucas sneered slightly but darted inside with little regard for the comment. Rann peeked in after him.

 

The room was a large storage locker. Lucas knew exactly what he was looking for, he stormed the supply stock, knocking aside boxes and random odds and ends until he found a shelf with piece of his green armor lying in a neat pile. He held up the helmet, face to face with it and let a deep sigh of relief, then put it over his head. He wasted no time throwing off his ragtag gear and donning his Mandalorian armor. The feel of it was so familiar that it was almost strange to experience again. The past few weeks had been the longest he had spent outside of his gear that he could pull from recent memory. He rotated his shoulders and flexed his neck, then scooped the blaster back up. He walked past Rann who was picking through the supplies, and directly to the man strapped to the table. Lucas brought his face directly over the doctor and simply stared. His visor was still largely missing from the fight on Naboo, making him appear even more like a madman. His dark eyes and the top of a twisted sneer was visible through the empty T-visor.

 

"Look at me." he rasped, forcing his former captor’s gaze to his own and forced the barrel of the blaster into the bottom of his jaw. The man tried to reply but nothing came out, and Lucas’ face was the last thing he saw before the Mandalorian squeezed the trigger, sending a blaster bolt through his head.

 

Rann was more or less unaware of the exchange. He felt like a sense of responsibility to at least say something, but a sense of urgency for the situation at hand held a higher command of his attention. The Jedi knew the empire well enough to know that upon receiving the distress call, there would be no rescue, but rather a blockade and a bombardment to make sure the catastrophe contained.  Rann gathered what useful supplies he could into satchels; rations, tools, all-temp cloaks, lights, power packs, anything he could scavenge. Lucas stroke back in, almost with a skip in his step and started gathering weapons.

 

"So how are we getting out of here? Are the main gates still up?" Rann asked.

 

Lucas evaluated the blasters on hand. “The lower floors are a death trap, there are hundreds of those things down there, and they are working their way up."

 

"Well how did you get up here?"

 

Lucas pointed to the lift. “The turbolifts were all disabled, so I got inside one of the shafts and closed it off. Then I started climbing. Was looking for this storage area for my armor when I got distracted in the lab." He pulled an antenna from his gauntlet console as they spoke, scanning for any active signals.

 

A glimmer in the corner caught Lucas’ eye, he moved aside some of the gear and picked it up.”This look like anything you could use?" He tossed Rann the long metal handle.

 

Rann examined what appeared to be an oversized, long-handled lightsaber. As he toyed with it, a familiar snap hiss sound filled the air as a purple blade emitted from the gold chromed handle. "It’ll do. Though I wonder..." He toyed the buttons further and a second blade leapt out of the bottom, burning slightly into the ground. The Jedi turned it horizontally.

 

"I like this." He said with a smile and deactivated it.

 

Lucas rolled his eyes at the gimmicky toy. "We still need a plan."

 

"Agreed. So the ground floors are swamped with... zombies... and we don’t know the status of the main gate. So we can’t go down."

 

The transmitter in Lucas’ armor faintly chimed in, as if on cue.

 

"Transport, this is Inquisitor Olof. We have made our way to the roof, it is momentarily secure. What is your ETA?"

 

 Lucas looked up. "We can go up, then we could borrow Olof’s ride."

 

"That we could do." Rann said back. "The lift tubes will probably be faster."

 

 Lucas nodded. As the pair approached the lift, a loud bang echoed through it. They looked at each other.

 

"It was probably nothing," said Rann.

 

Another bang rang out. Lucas leveled his blaster.”That’s pretty loud for nothing. Whatever it is, it’s getting closer."

 

Scratches and clangs grew louder, as if some sort of animal was climbing up the shaft. Both watched, standing ready. A gurgled growl prefaced another undead prisoner leaping out of the shaft. He was different than the others though, more malicious. What was left of his eyes had a strange glow.

 

Lucas snarled beneath his helmet. "Oh…Hi Sirion."

 

Rann tilted his head.”Friend of yours?"

 

"You could say that. I’ll handle this."

 

"Be my guest."

 

Lucas stepped forward at his former cellmate, only to be met by what felt like a massive invisible hand gripping his body and throwing him against one of the tables with a crash.

 

"You still got this?" Came Rann’s voice.

 

The Jedi was met with similar treatment as a wave of the force passed through the room, showing him with debris. Rann was hammered to the ground by heavy metal tossed on him.

 

Lucas sat up first shaking off the blows, While Rann dug his way out from under the various tables and consoles. The empowered corpse shambled towards Lucas with the closest thing to a grin its twisted mouth could make. The former dark Jedi’s limbs crackled faintly with energy. Lucas swiped at its face with his blaster while it clawed against his armor. The Mandalorian scrambled back, trying to get back to his feet. He stopped suddenly, feeling a hard compression on his throat, his lungs and heart felt as if they were being squeezed by frozen hand. He clenched his teeth hard, and his limbs flailed to line up his blaster. What used to be Sirion stood still, its eyes rolled up as the power emanated from its body.  Lucas fired wildly, struggling against the grasp. Numerous shots burnt through the wretched creature’s body, leaving an equally wretched stench, the grip loosened while it fell back, awkwardly finding its way back up. Lucas took deep breaths, getting to his feet.

 

"Little help?" He gasped.

 

Rann shook his head, a small stream of blood over his markings.” Sorry, had a generator to the head and all."

 

Lucas took a few more shots to keep distance. In a surprising display of agility, the corpse leapt back and bound over the room’s obstacles tackling Rann. Rann caught the creature by the wrists as it took him down. They struggled furiously, wrestling for control as Lucas ran around the tables. Waves of heat and dark energies pulsated from the corpse, Lucas and Rann struggled against it, the debris blew about with chaotic abandon and crackling bolts randomly popped throughout.  The Jedi strained to keep hold of the creature through the burning heat of it was releasing. Lucas was forced to drop down to avoid the crackling metal storm, gripping himself to the floor in an effort to hold his ground against the dark maelstrom.  

 

"Whats he doing?" Shouted the Mandalorian.

 

Rann clenched his teeth, still keeping it at bay by the wrists, it took all of his focus to fight back the searing force. “Winning, it would seem!" He managed to blurt out.

 

A burst fired volley from Lucas’ rifle caused Rann to flinch away, and the creatures head to contort violently as it was pelted by the heavy fire, turned almost horizontal with a crunching sound. The flying debris dropped suddenly as it struggled to right itself. Lucas capitalized on the lulled moment, he ran into the melee and smashed the stock of his rifle into the corpses outstretched elbow, its arm dangled uselessly. He then proceeded to pound its head with the rifle furiously. Rann, still holding it by one wrist spun around and flung the it, smashing it roughly into the wall. The Jedi drew the long hafted lightsaber and hurdled after the body, igniting the purple blade in mid flight. The former late Sirion rose to its feet only to go back down as its leg severed at the knee upon Rann’s landing. Lucas lined up his gauntlet and launched a heavy grappling spike, minus the line. The spiked rocket found its mark in the corpses chest and drug it back into the turbolift shaft, pinning it to the back wall. It tossed and twitched trying to recover its bearings, furiously snarling. Lucas saw the creature meet his gaze again, and the familiar grip began to over take him again.

 

"Make him ...stop...hate this...Jedi cheating," he managed to gasp out with some choice Mandalorian curses, wildly firing at the pinned creature.

 

Rann outstretched his hand and closed his eyes, straining.

 

"Literally...anything other than what...you’re doing...would...help!" Lucas choked, dragging himself forward on the ground while fumbling at his belt. He pulled a handful of large pellets from his pouch and flung them wildly at the zombie. They hit and popped with small bursts of corrosive acid, sizzling the flesh on its torso and face. Lucas gasped deep, able to feel himself draw breath again as the creature screamed, the smell of its cooking flesh making him wince a little. He turned to see Rann close his fist on the outstretched hand, followed by a deep metal on metal moan overhead. The sounds of rhythmic crashes grew nearer. The former Sirion looked up to see the lift barreling down the shaft towards it. Rann and Lucas watched as it fell, violently scraping the corpse off the wall and continuing to the lower floors and ending in an echoed smash into the bottom. They looked down the shaft.

 

"Crushed by a turbolift." Rann said. “Rough way to go."

 

Lucas looked at him a moment, still sneering. “You think it’s dead?"

 

"Well...technically-" Rann started with a smile.

 

Lucas cut him short.”I know, I know...it was technically already dead when it attacked us. I hate you."

 

"Well, I don’t know exactly how dead it is at this point. I’ve never fought a wild rampaging dark side zombie before." He picked up the ropes and hooks and resumed preparing for the climb.”But, that notwithstanding, we still have a shuttle to catch."

 

From the roof, Olof could see the full extent of the carnage. A mob of undead was rampaging the grounds.  Troopers were being mauled, a few AT-STs fired into the crowds in an attempt to keep them corralled in the gates. The various facilities were filled with who knows how many more, there were fires lighting otherwise dark buildings and a heavy scent of death everywhere.

 

"Suffice to say, the experiment was a failure." He said to himself.

 

He could hear the howling of TIE bombers in the distance. They were establishing a perimeter, and waiting for the command to incinerate the area. Olof had hoped that his station was one of enough importance that the strike was being held until he was extracted, but he also knew that when it came to containment, The Empire was nothing if not thorough. The sounds of repulsorlifts rose above the chaos, growing louder. Olof gave a relieved smile before he turned to see his transport lower onto roof.

 

The boarding ramp hissed open as a shaken imperial pilot stepped out to meet the Inquisitor.

 

"Sir. We may have trouble getting out of here. I was given clearance from the outpost, but the blockade command ship did not acknowledge. If we try to take off, we could be met with resistance." The pilot said quickly.

 

Olof looked down over the macabre scene on the ground once more.”I have no intention of staying. I’ll take our chances on getting out of here, with any luck we can at least get back to the outpost. Then I can resolve this matter with the command vessel."

 

Before the pilot could respond a blaster bolt burned into his chest and sent him tumbling lifelessly off the ramp. Olof spun quickly to see Lucas McCoy standing by an open maintenance hatch with his blaster leveled. Rann wasn’t far behind, pulling himself out of the hatch.

 

"Tell me you didn’t just shoot the damn pilot." He said as he rose.

 

Lucas spoke to Olof as much as to Rann.”I wanted to make sure they don’t leave without saying goodbye."

 

"And I wanted to make sure there’s someone can fly the transport." The Jedi grumbled back.

 

"Gentlemen," Olof said with an irritated sneer while producing a hilt from his belt. “I really don’t have time for this." The familiar handle released a blue blade.

 

Rann perked up as he turned on both ends of his new saber. “Hey, that’s mine." He leaned to Lucas, "I’ll get this, when he’s clear get the shuttle ready."

 

The Mandalorian didn’t move.”You see to the ship, I’m not letting him out of my sight."

 

"I hate you." Rann whispered, as McCoy drew his pistol and squared off with the Inquisitor.

 

The three figures paced one another on the rooftop. Loud bursts of proton bombs in the distance offered no distraction to the warriors from their standoff. Olof moved first with a dash to Lucas, he was intercepted by Rann, who caught the saber short with his own.  The two were locked into melee, giving Lucas the opportunity to fire into the clash. Olof knew in an outright duel he was outmatched. Keeping both of Rann’s blades at bay required all of his focus, almost forgetting about the Mandalorian until a shot landed in his shoulder, causing him to stagger back. The Inquisitor reflexively grabbed the burn with his empty hand, which opened up his torso to a heavy kick from Rann. The robed figure tumbled into the durasteel roof hard, it was a struggle for the momentum to not take him off the roof fully. He reached for the dropped lightsaber, but found only Rann’s boot pinning it and a purple lightsaber tip towards his face. Rann opened his free hand, and the hilt leapt to its master in response.

 

Rann regarded Olof. For a moment, the Jedi had an uncharacteristically dire expression. Rann processed his feelings, then the look melted into a familiar smile, accompanied by the sound of his lightsaber deactivating.  He turned and strode to the transport.

 

"Let’s fly McCoy." He shouted.

 

Lucas watched Rann board the craft. His visor then hovered back to Olof gasping and clutching at his wound on the ground. Lucas stood over him wordlessly, then grabbed the collar of his robe and drug him forcefully to the edge. With a rough shove, the Inquisitor was sent over the edge, headlong into the burning courtyard. The Mandalorian turned away as Olof plummeted down into a mob of walking corpses.

 

"Please tell me you said something epic like, ‘watch that first step’ or ‘well, I hate to let you go but…’. No? Anything”? Rann asked as he quickly toggled switches to get the craft off the ground.

 

Lucas didn’t answer. He simply sat in the seat. “No. Let’s just get out of here."

 

“Bummer.” Rann spun the craft around, but not before the bombers began to cleanse the area.

 

The rooftop went up in a spectacular blaze. Both passengers were tossed hard. Rann only maintained tenuous control of the vessel. The fireball was all they could see through the view port. The ringing in their ears kept them from hearing the loud TIE howls near them, and when the fire cleared all they could see was the hexagonal canopy window of a TIE bomber. Both crafts tried to pull out, but it was too late. The hulls slammed together, ricocheting both completely out of control.

 

"We are going to have to bail out!" Yelled Rann as they spun wildly, end over end through the air. Lucas nodded and blasted out the cockpit viewport, the natural tumble of the ship dumped them out into a free fall. Rann grabbed Lucas and focused on slowing the decent. The altitude wasn’t high enough to give him much time to affect the drop. It was enough to cushion them, but luck was on their side. Just as they braced for the impact of hard ground, they splashed hard into a dark, Dathomri lake.

 

Several moments later, the pair drug themselves to the bank drenched and coughing.  Despite the fatigue, the battles, wounds, and all that they had endured, they smiled. In the distance they could see the prison in flames. Fireballs and TIE bombers lit the night sky in a strangely beautiful display. The towers collapsed on themselves, and in time all that remained was a smoldering husk.

 

 Lucas was the first to break the silence. He grabbed a fistful of rocks and threw them in the direction of the prison.”Burn!" He yelled towards the prison. He followed the exclamation with loud scornful laughter that echoed through the trees. He took a deep satisfied breath then noticed Rann settled by the lake, splashing his face.

 

"You really pulled through back there, jetii." McCoy said, fiddling with a busted homing beacon from his belt.

 

Rann pulled himself up and secured what remained of his bags.”We aren’t out of it yet." He pointed into the deep blackness of the Dathomir wilderness.”There isn’t much civilization on this planet, and The Empire made sure to build the prison far from any of it."

 

Lucas’ face reverted to the standard sneer.” You couldn’t just let me have a moment could you?"

 

Rann’s face reverted to his standard smile.”Also, the excess of security and walls in the prison aren’t to keep us in. They are there to keep Dathomir out. There’s bad stuff out here."

 

A low growl and roar punctuated his statement, followed by the heavy echoing steps of a large creature. Rann gave Lucas a pat on the shoulder, and then marched into the darkness. Lucas gave a deep sigh and followed.

 

Unknown to the two survivors, outside the planet’s atmosphere, a Mandalorian gunship broke out of hyperspace and began to descend upon a faint signal coming from the surface.

 

"Y'know, there's a lesson somewhere in this. What's that old saying?"

 

"Rann," McCoy said, "I hate you."