The group made their way with care through a series of back alleys, heading towards one of Coruscant’s seedier entertainment districts. Rex was on guard and nervous the entire time with their traveling companions, but Malik and Serra seemed to know and trust these two. Still, he remained cautious; it’s what keeps a good soldier alive, after all. Soon, they arrived at a door that appeared to be the rear exit to an establishment of some sort. Jax stepped up to the door and knocked in a specific pattern. A moment later, a tiny window slid open in the door.
“Password?” came a rough voice.
“Coruscant has lovely sunsets,” Jax replied.
With a hiss, the door slid open, revealing a large, fat Besalisk.
“Jax, ya made it back I see.”
“Good to be home, Dex. Brought some friends.”
“Hmm… ya sure ‘bout that? One of ‘em looks like a blasted clone,” he growled.
“Why you disgusting-”
“Rex! Stop!” Malik ordered. Turning to the alien, he continued, “Dexter Jettster, Master Kenobi spoke often of you. He considered you a great friend.”
Dex smiled at this. “Obi-Wan was one of the best, as was his master, old Qui-Gon. Oh, the stories those two could tell… but all the same, what’s with this clone here?”
“He’s a fugitive like us,” Malik replied. “You really think Jax would’ve brought him here otherwise?”
“Suppose that’s true. Ah, but we’d better get indoors. Can’t risk those bucket-heads finding us.” He grinned at Rex. “No offense, ya understand.”
“Of course,” Rex grunted.
The group entered the building and found themselves in a dimly lit bar and lounge area. Malik could hear raucous laughter coming from the other side of the wall ahead of them, and surmised that they were in a VIP area of a bar or nightclub.
“Can I get ya a drink?” Dex asked, moving behind the bar area.
“None for me, thanks,” Malik replied. “Jax, mind if we chat for a bit?”
“I figured you’d want to,” he smirked.
The two men adjourned to a booth in the corner and sat across from each other. Malik flung his jacket on the seat next to him, and Jax turned sideways to prop up his legs on the bench.
“So, how’d you manage to survive Order 66?” Malik asked.
“I was lucky, even if there’s no such thing as luck. Was out running an errand for Master Drallig. When I returned, the attack on the Jedi Temple was already well underway. I couldn’t get in to help, as much as I wanted to. The clones spotted me before long, and I had to make a run for it. They chased me into this entertainment district, would’ve killed me if Laranth hadn’t saved my ass. She helped me go into hiding, change my clothes and appearance, and I’ve been hiding out here with her and Dex ever since. How bout you?”
“Serra and I managed to flee the Jedi Temple with Master Windu’s help. He got us to a secret hangar designed for emergency escapes. That’s the ship we used to come back here, got it hidden in a junkyard a ways from the Temple.”
“Awesome! So, Master Windu is-”
“He didn’t make it,” Malik sighed.
“Oh… damn. I had hoped he might survive…”
“Most every Jedi is dead, to my knowledge. Aside from you, the only other ones we’ve encountered are Topal Blut and Barriss Offee. Thanks for that, by the way. How’d you know Blut’s message was a trap?”
“Didn’t know for sure, but had a strong suspicion,” Jax replied. “It all seemed… a bit too perfect, know what I mean?”
“I do. We had that thought ourselves, but decided it was too important to pass up if it was legitimate.”
“I can understand that.”
“So are we safe here? You’re sure nobody tracked us?” Malik asked.
“Positive,” Jax said with a grin. “I took the most convoluted path possible to get here. Nobody knows about this place, I promise you that.”
“You always have been the over-thinker,” Malik chuckled.
By now, Serra had taken Dex up on his offer of a drink at the bar.
“Mind if I join you?” Laranth asked.
“Lemmie know if ya need anything else,” Dex said with a wink before sauntering off.
“So, Jax said your name is Laranth?”
“Indeed. Laranth Tarak,” she replied in her distinct Twi’leki accent.
“That was some impressive shooting out there. You’re quite the marksman… or markswoman, I guess.”
“Thank you,” she replied with a giggle.
“What’s your background, if you don’t mind me asking? Bounty hunter? Smuggler?”
“No, I am actually a former Jedi myself.”
“Yes. I broke from the Order some years ago, before the Clone War started. There were just too many things the Council demanded that I could not reconcile with my view of the Force.”
“I can understand that,” Serra replied with a sigh.
“So for the last several years, I have worked with a group known as the Gray Paladins. We are former Jedi that are still dedicated to the Force, yet we do not answer to the Jedi Council. Most of us even go as far as to refuse to use a lightsaber, and even to rely on the Force itself as little as possible.”
“Interesting… I take it that your marksmanship capabilities are no coincidence then?” Serra inquired.
“Quite true. While most Paladins try not to use the Force so directly, I personally make use of the Force in the form of my shooting prowess. I am able to make shots that are considered impossible for even the best mercenaries in the galaxy. My awareness, prediction, and reaction capabilities are second to none when I am drawing on the Force with my all,” Laranth replied proudly.
“Impressive, though I will need to see a demonstration,” Serra laughed. “I take it the Gray Paladins weren’t targeted by Order 66?”
“No, but it is only a matter of time. All the Paladins I am aware of have gone deep underground into Coruscant’s underworld. I was to join them myself, but I became sidetracked in saving Jax from Order 66. We have been hiding out together since then.”
“Will the two of you join the other Paladins?”
“I have tried to convince him to join me, but he has since refused. He has such a sense of justice, and still wants to do good, even if he must conceal his true nature. I admire him for it, though his stubbornness does infuriate me sometimes,” Laranth giggled. After a few moments of silence, she continued, “May I ask you a… personal question?”
“Sure,” Serra replied, cocking her eyebrow.
“Please forgive me if I overstep my bounds, but I could not help but notice the way you and Malik looked at each other during our journey here. Is there… something going on between you two?”
Serra blushed in amusement, unable to speak for a moment.
“Again, I apologize if I have embarrassed you. I sometimes cannot help but notice these things. We Twi’leks are quite… attune to these sorts of emotions,” Laranth said.
“Don’t worry about it, no embarrassment. But yeah, you could say there’s something going on between Malik and me. He’s my husband.”
“Your husband?!” Laranth whispered. “But I thought Jedi were not allowed to marry, let alone fall in love?”
“True enough, but he and I have had strong feelings for each other for quite some time, even back before we were knighted. We always seemed to bring out the best in each other, balance each other out, ya know?”
“Indeed, I know the feeling.”
“After the fall of the Order, there was no more Jedi Council, and we had to make our own path in the galaxy. Laranth, it wasn’t just physical attraction between us, though there’s plenty of that too. No, we are truly, deeply in love. So much so that we managed to conquer one of the primary weaknesses the Council always spoke of in regards to singular love: the fear of loss.”
“How do you mean?” Laranth asked.
“Well… we don’t want to lose each other, but we know we probably will, sooner or later. It’s just the nature of what the galaxy has become. We accept that. In the meantime, we’re going to spend what life we do have left together, doing as much to help the galaxy as we can,” Serra explained.
“Oh my, that’s so romantic,” Laranth gasped.
As the women talked, Rex sat alone on the other side of the bar, cleaning and inspecting his weapons and equipment. After a few minutes, a glass slid across the bar to him.
“On the house, friend,” Dex said.
“Um… thank you,” Rex replied. “Sorry about… what I nearly said out there.”
“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t exactly on my best behavior myself.”
“Still, I was out of line. It’s just… the last Besalisk I met was a Jedi General named Pong Krell who turned for the Separatists. Tricked my men into fighting their fellow clones, just to see how much he could get away with before being discovered.”
“I hope ya put an end to him,” Dex said, clearly displeased.
“One of my men did. Executed him before he could do any more damage.”
“So what brings you here, Dex? Last I heard you were operating in CoCo Town.”
“Yeah, but war tends to affect things. Business started gettin’ bad, regulars stopped coming as much…”
“So, no truth to the rumors that you salted your food with addictive spices to guarantee repeat visitors?” Rex asked wryly.
“HAH! I knew that rumor was flyin’ about the galaxy! But naw, people kept coming back for my cooking, plain and simple. Anyway, when business trickled off, I couldn’t make the rent payments in CoCo Town and had to relocate. The rent’s easier to make around here, though the, er, clientele leaves quite a bit to be desired. Still, it’s a perfectly inconspicuous place for Jax and Laranth to hide out from those blasted clones.” Dex took a sip of his drink, continuing, “So, what is up with the clones? They’ve all turned military police on us, branded the Jedi as traitors. You appear to be the only one who hasn’t. What gives?”
“Order 66… Jax mentioned that once or twice, but I dunno what it means.”
“It’s a secret protocol implanted within every single clone trooper, ordering them to turn against the Jedi. Each clone is implanted with a computer chip at birth to ensure they will not hesitate to obey this order, or any order given directly by Chancellor Palpatine. The only way I was able to resist was by discovering my inhibitor chip some time ago and removing it.”
“Yikes… maybe I’ve been too hard on ‘em,” Dex said.
“Hard to say. It’s impossible to know how any of the clones feel about Order 66 and the formation of the Empire. Opinions weren’t part of our programming.”
“Suppose that’s true…”
By this time, Serra and Laranth had made their way to the corner, joining Malik and Jax in their booth.
“Jax, I must say, I’ve learned some interesting things in chatting with Serra here. It seems that she and Malik are married. What do you think? Isn’t that interesting, Jax?”
Malik and Serra glanced at each other, hearing a tone in her voice.
“Um, yeah. That certainly is… interesting,” he replied. “Malik? Married, eh?”
“Guilty as charged,” Serra giggled, throwing her arms around her husband and kissing his cheek affectionately.
“I know what you’re thinking, but at least hear us out, Jax,” Malik said, holding up a hand. “We’ve thought this through a great deal.”
“I can imagine it wasn’t too hard a decision, what with there not being a Council to punish your actions anymore,” Jax snorted.
“Jax!” Laranth admonished him.
“Just telling it like it is.”
“If you must know, we believe this to be the will of the Force,” Serra said. “We meditated endlessly about this before making a decision, and every time we tried to pull back, we felt a nudge in the opposite direction. The Force was telling us we are meant to be together.”
“Jax, Serra told me they have even conquered the fear of loss,” Laranth said.
Jax sat in silence for a moment before eying Malik. “If true, that’s quite an accomplishment. But you’ll have to forgive my continued skepticism.”
“I understand,” Malik replied.
“Malik, I think you’ll want to know about the group Laranth is involved in,” Serra said, changing the subject. “She’s a Gray Paladin.”
“Gray Paladin? You’re Force sensitive?” he asked.
“Indeed I am,” replied the Twi’lek woman. “I broke from the Jedi Order some years ago, as I could no longer follow the ways of the Council. We Paladins view the Force as something to simply be a part of our everyday lives, rather than a way of life unto itself. Many of our members have refused to use lightsabers, instead honing their skills with conventional blasters and martial arts.”
“She’s been boasting of her shooting skills, but I don’t believe it until I see a demonstration,” Serra giggled.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Jax said with a grin.
“It’s actually great that we’ve encountered you, Laranth,” Malik said. “Serra and I have been… contacted by a former Jedi that many considered a Gray: Qui-Gon Jinn.”
“Qui-Gon Jinn? But he’s dead!” Laranth said.
“Very much so. But in his life, he trained in secret and somehow discovered a way to retain his consciousness after death. He contacted us, feeling our turmoil and conflict over our decision to marry,” Serra replied.
“At his suggestion, Serra and I have been studying some of the practices and teachings of the Gray Jedi. He feels that we could do a lot of good in this new galaxy with such practices,” Malik agreed.
“So what exactly does a Gray Jedi believe? I thought Grays were just rogues who went against the Council at every opportunity,” Jax wondered.
“That’s what the term Gray has come to mean in the modern Jedi Order, but in reality a Gray Jedi is one who answers only to the will of the Force,” Serra replied.
“I can relate to that,” Laranth said with a grin.
“Ultimately, a Gray Jedi accepts that both the Light and the Dark Sides will always exist, and that the Dark Side can never be completely destroyed. They consider it their purpose to keep the balance, not aligning with either side, yet still helping the Light whenever possible and ensuring that the Dark does not flourish,” said Malik. “We don’t like everything we’ve read about them, but some of their principles are quite sound.”
“I suppose knowledge is rarely a bad thing,” Jax agreed.
“So what’s our plan?” Serra asked. “We can hide out here for now, but sooner or later, the Empire will find us. We need to make it back to our ship and off this planet.”
“Hmm… won’t be easy. Patrols have been stepped up as is, so you won’t be able to travel on foot,” Jax replied. “Where did you say your ship was?”
“In a junkyard a little ways from the Jedi Temple,” Malik said.
“I think I can help ya there,” Dex chimed in, pulling up a couple of chairs for Rex and himself.
“How’s that?” Malik asked.
“I do some mechanical repairs on the side, and I know the junkyard you’re talkin’ about. I go there a lot of mornings before I open the diner to look for spare parts to use.”
“That’s great, but how does that help us?” Serra pressed.
“Because I got a truck with a large, enclosed cargo area. It’s big enough to hide several people in,” Dex chuckled.
“So… you’d be willing to smuggle us back to our ship?” Malik asked.
“Of course! It’s the least I can do for you Jedi! If I’da done it for Obi-Wan, I’ll do it for you.”
“That’s very kind of you. Thank you,” Serra said.
“Now, we’ll want to get an early start in the morning to avoid unnecessary attention, so ya should all probably get some rest. Got a few rooms with basic amenities on the second floor. Lemmie know if ya need anything else.”
“Thanks, Dex!” Malik said, adjourning with Serra to find their sleeping quarters for the night.
Dex saw Rex heading back over to the bar with his equipment.
“Ya doin’ alright?” he asked the clone. “Been awful quiet.”
“Just thinking. My entire existence has changed in the last week,” Rex replied.
“True enough. Got your whole life ahead of ya, but what to do with it? I know exactly what ya mean…” Dex sighed, taking a seat next to him. “I know you’ve had a rough life so far-”
“Comes with the territory,” Rex quipped.
“All the same, I think a soldier like you oughta be welcomed home as a hero, not just thought of as a genetic replication meant to do our bidding,” Dex continued. “It’s gotta be a lonely existence, bein’ a clone trooper.”
“Yeah, but I always had my brothers.”
“Well sure, but that’s not what I meant. It had to be awful… lonely, if ya catch my meaning,” Dex chuckled with a wink.
Rex cocked his eyebrows, realizing what Dex was getting at. “Yeah… that’s true. We clones aren’t exactly allowed to fraternize… with anyone. We have one job.”
“Had one job, in your case,” Dex reminded him. “Nothin’ says you can’t find a nice woman to share your bed with ya. I mean, what are they gonna do? Arrest ya?! They’ll do worse than that if they catch ya regardless!”
“True!” Rex laughed.
“Listen, I happen to be friends with some stunning ladies, sweet and trustworthy too. They’re great at keepin’ the anonymity of their clients. If you’d like, I’ll ask one to come to your room. Ya interested? They make for great company,” Dex said, elbowing Rex playfully.
“I… appreciate the offer, but I’m not ready for that just yet.”
“Ah, it wouldn’t be anything serious or long-term, what with you leavin’ tomorrow. Just a nice warm pretty thing to spend the night with.”
“Thank you, Dex. I’m floored by the gesture, I really am. It’s just… I need to find myself, find out what I want in a woman before I start diving in, so to speak. Make sense?”
“I suppose so,” Dex said, standing to head to his quarters. “Still, if you change your mind…”
As the two disappeared up the stairs, Laranth and Jax sat alone in the quiet lounge.
“Are we ever going to talk about this?” Laranth asked, breaking the silence.
“What’s there to talk about?”
“Jax, you know damn well what there is to talk about! Are you really going to pretend that there is not something between us? Something greater than mere friendship?”
“I couldn’t deny that if I tried, but you know I can’t act on something like that.”
“Why not? Today, we met two Jedi who not only fell in love, but also married! And they are stronger in the Force than ever! Yet you still will not admit your feelings for me?!”
“There is no more Jedi Order, Jax! I know not what the future holds for me, but I know that I wish for you to be a part of it… no matter what.”
“I… I cant.” Jax stood with a sigh. “We need to get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Jax,” Laranth whispered, wiping away a tear.
Barriss Offee sat alone in her quarters, deep in meditation. Though it was better than prison, this was hardly the life she had imagined when she’d agreed to serve the Empire.
How could he do this? How could he pass me over like that? We had a deal! I help him, and he makes me his apprentice… that’s what he promised! This isn’t fair… I hate him.
“As well you should, Barriss Offee,” came a voice from behind her.
Barriss turned with a start. “Emperor Palpatine! Forgive me, I just-”
“You would do well to remember that none of your thoughts or feelings can be hidden from me, young lady,” he chuckled. “Make no mistake, we are quite satisfied in our choice of Grand Inquisitor. Still, your hate makes you powerful. You can grow stronger, if you will but embrace it.”
“Please, teach me. Allow me to be your apprentice. I will do whatever you ask!”
“I already have my apprentice, and he is far more powerful than you. There are always only two; this is how the Sith have survived undetected for millennia. As much as I wish to see Exar Kun’s Sith Empire rise again, I shall not break the Rule of Two.”
“Then I am nothing…”
“Only if you allow yourself to be nothing. We still have need of your strength, Barriss Offee. We have found our leader of the Inquisitorius, but must recruit other members as well. If you are agreeable, Lord Vader wishes to grant you a place on this team. You will answer only to the Grand Inquisitor, Lord Vader, and myself. Your purpose shall be to hunt down and eradicate the last survivors of the traitorous Jedi Order. Is this what you wish?”
“More than ever,” she replied.
“Good. Henceforth, you are no longer to be known as Barriss Offee. You are now the First Sister of the Inquisitorius.”
“Thank you, my Emperor.”
“Come, First Sister. We have much to discuss.”
Palpatine led the way down a series of hallways, arriving with Offee in a conference room. Vader and Blut were hunched over a holomap of Coruscant.
“Welcome, my Master,” said Vader. “I see that she has chosen the wise course of action.”
“Indeed she has. She will serve us as the First Sister of the Inquisitorius, answering directly to our Grand Inquisitor,” Palpatine replied. “What news have we from the streets?”
“Our scouts have managed to track the traitors to somewhere in this entertainment district,” Blut said. “Still, their movements were erratic enough that we were unable to ascertain their precise location. Most likely they are somewhere in hiding.”
“If we cannot track them, could we try to look for their ship?” Offee asked.
“It is doubtful that their ship would be in the area,” Blut replied. “Malik Ran is intelligent enough to know that we would track them, and Jax Pavan is resourceful enough to evade our scouts. They will not return to their ship unless they can do so undetected.”
“Hmm… do we know when they arrived on Coruscant?” Offee asked.
“I do not know, but it could not have been very long ago,” said Blut. “After all, it was only two days ago that we sent out my distress signal.”
“So, it is safe to say that they would have landed close enough to the Jedi Temple to make their way there on foot, yet far enough away to avoid attracting attention,” Offee surmised. “Bring up the security recordings from this morning. Perhaps we will see some clue of their arrival.”
The group watched as a video appeared on the wall taken from an Imperial gunship on its patrol that morning. Soon, the ship passed over an industrial sector near the Jedi Temple. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but something caught Vader’s attention after a few minutes.
“There. That junkyard.”
“Zooming in,” said Offee. “I don’t see anything.”
“I have frequented that junkyard on many occasions, finding spare parts to repair or modify my equipment,” Vader said. “I visited there even up to the day of Order 66, and am intimately familiar with its layout. All is as it was… save for that object there.”
“Ah yes, it appears to be the ship that blasted its way out of the Jedi Temple the night of Order 66,” Palpatine smirked. “You believe it to be their ship?”
“It must be. That ship is of Jedi design, a true relic from the early days of the Order. I would not be surprised for Master Yoda to have hidden it beneath the Temple for centuries,” Vader replied.
“Then let’s destroy it!” Offee said with glee. “We destroy it, we cut off their escape route!”
“A most interesting suggestion, First Sister. What say you, Grand Inquisitor?” Palpatine cackled.
“Such action would be unwise,” Blut replied. “Yes, their immediate escape route would be gone, but they would simply go further into hiding until such time as they could procure another means of escape. Courscant is vast and many shady individuals would be more than happy to assist a group of fugitives… for the right price. No, if we wish to accomplish our goal of hunting down the traitors, we must lure them out.”
“The Grand Inquisitor is correct,” Vader said. “We must bring them into the open before destroying their ship.”
“I shall handle it personally, Lord Vader,” Blut said.
“No. You and I must depart at once. First Sister, you shall take command of this operation. Double the patrols around the junkyard. Have them alert you of any movement in the area. You shall take an elite troop of clones and lie in wait for the Jedi. Once they are exposed, you may destroy their ship if the opportunity to do so arises. Still, remain focused. Your goal is their capture or extermination, not merely the destruction of a ship. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Lord Vader,” Offee replied with a grin. “I will be victorious.”
“I hope so, First Sister, for your sake. You are both dismissed.”
As Blut and Offee departed, Palpatine turned to Vader.
“How are we progressing on our other project, my apprentice?”
“Quite well, my Master. The explosives Offee planted leveled the Jedi Temple to the ground. Our construction teams are ready. From the rubble of the Jedi Order, the Imperial Palace will rise.”
“Ok, get in,” Dex said, opening the back of his speeder truck.
“You’re sure they won’t suspect anything?” Malik asked.
“Positive. I go to that junkyard pretty often. The patrols in that area know who I am and what I do there, so they won’t think any of this suspicious.”
After Malik, Serra, Rex, Laranth, and Jax had secured themselves in the cargo hold, Dex slammed the door shut. After climbing into the driver’s seat, he slid open a small window, allowing him to see into the hold.
“Keep quiet, ya understand? They won’t suspect me, but any funny sounds’ll warrant an inspection, got it?”
“Understood,” Malik replied.
Dex shifted the truck into gear and got underway, the morning sun just beginning to peek over the horizon in the distance.
“Patrol five, this is First Sister. Any sign of them?”
The clone waved the truck down, indicating for it to slow. As it stopped, he sauntered up to the driver’s side window.
“Mornin’!” called a large Besalisk.
“Dex? Hey, good to see you!” the clone said upon recognizing the driver. “What are you doing here?”
“Ah, just came to do some salvaging. Ya know me, I’m a sucker for a good scavenge,” Dex replied.
“True enough. Let me see your ID; it’s protocol, after all.”
“Sure, here ya go.”
After inspecting the ID card, the clone scanned it into his logbook and handed it back to Dex.
“Alright, you’re clear. You be careful out there, old man!”
“Always am!” Dex called back as he drove into the junkyard.
“Patrol five, any news?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. Just an old man come to scavenge for spare parts; I’ve seen him here a lot before.”
Meanwhile, Dex continued his normal route through the junkyard, slowly making his way towards the ship.
“Nice going, Dex,” Malik whispered through the window.
“Like you ever doubted me,” he chuckled.
Turning to their new friends, Malik continued, “You didn’t have to come here, Jax. This could turn dangerous; you two have done enough for us.”
“Save it, Malik. We’re making sure you get off this planet in one piece.”
“It is the least we can do,” Laranth agreed.
“Ok, ship’s about a hundred meters away. I’m gonna pull off here,” Dex said from the cab.
“Looks like this is goodbye,” Serra said, giving a quick hug to Laranth. “You guys be safe. If you ever need anything, look us up.”
“We will,” the Twi’lek replied.
“They’ve got to be somewhere,” Offee muttered, scanning the junkyard from a rooftop with her electrobinoculars.
“Maybe they’ve decided to stay in hiding a while longer?” one of the clones suggested.
“No, they’re close. I can feel their presence.”
Though the checkpoint below had cleared the truck a moment ago, Offee decided to take one more look. Tracing the path through the junkyard, she saw that the truck had pulled off to the side near a large pile of scrap. At first, nothing seemed amiss, but then she saw that the Jedi ship was hidden just around the bend from where the truck was parked. Zooming in on the vehicle, she saw a large Besalisk walk around the truck and lift up the door to the cargo hold. A moment later, a young man, a dark-haired woman, and an unmasked clone soldier exited from within.
“It’s them! All troops converge on the truck! GO GO GO!”
The soldiers below began to enter the junkyard from all sides, knowing they could cut off the fugitives with proper timing. Looking to join the fight, Offee and her elite troop of soldiers blasted down on their jetpacks.
“Time to end this,” Offee said with a grin.
“There they go,” Jax said, watching the trio head off towards their ship.
“You think they’ll be alright out there?” Laranth asked.
“No doubt. Malik and Serra are two of the best, and we all know what Rex is capable of.”
“True,” Laranth giggled. After watching a moment, something in the distance caught her eye. “Jax… do you see that? On the top of that building.”
“Huh… looks like… jetpacks! It’s an ambush!”
As soon as he had spoken, a group of clone soldiers appeared on the pile of junk surrounding the ship and opened fire on Malik, Serra, and Rex. The two Jedi sprung their lightsabers from their hiding spots and formed a shield around Rex, deflecting any blaster bolts that came their way. Rex did the best he could to pick off enemies from a distance, but there were just too many.
“We must help them! They will be cut down in moments!” Laranth said.
“Agreed. Dex, stay in the truck! Be ready for a quick getaway!”
Drawing on the Force, Jax and Laranth sprinted at top speed towards their friends. Jax took the lead to deflect any blaster shots that came their way, but the soldiers were primarily focused on the trio near the ship. Soon, the two of them arrived to help, forming another layer of protection.
“Fancy meeting you like this!” Malik quipped.
“We can hold out for a bit while you get to your ship!” Jax said.
“Got it! Serra, get the ship powered up; we’ll cover you!”
Serra broke off from the group, flipping through the air and deflecting shots as she sprinted to the ship. Once she was on board, Malik and Jax took up defensive positions to allow Rex and Laranth the best opportunities to return fire. Rex did well to take out several sentries on the piles of scrap surrounding them, but soon his eyes widened at what was about to happen.
“Repeater rifle! Incoming!” he warned.
A trooper with a DC-15A blaster now stood atop the scrap heap. Planting his blaster on a turret, he opened fire on the group, trying to eradicate them in mere seconds. As Jax and Malik prepared to defend, Laranth suddenly jumped in front of them, firing off shots from her twin DL-44 blasters so quick that the remaining three were blinded from the muzzle flash. When Jax, Malik, and Rex looked up, they saw that Laranth had neutralized the threat by blasting the incoming blaster bolts with her own, then downing the trooper above.
“Woah…” Malik gasped.
“I warned you not to underestimate her,” Jax grinned.
With a slight break in the assault, Rex took the opportunity to board the Middle Way and assist Serra with takeoff. Meanwhile, Laranth began to pick off the troops surrounding the ship with frightening precision, whittling down their numbers to more manageable levels. Jax and Malik continued their defensive tactics, deflecting blaster bolts whenever they could. As they busied themselves with the soldiers, Malik sensed an incoming threat.
Jax barely had time to defend against one of Barriss Offee’s lightsabers being flung through the air at him. The three stepped back as the former Jedi landed from her flight, separating them from their ship.
“Nowhere else to run. Surrender, and your deaths will be quick,” she seethed.
“Screw you,” Laranth spat.
Before Offee could reply, Jax and Malik leapt into action, attacking her from both sides. She defended with her dual lightsabers as best she could, thinking at first that only these two would be credible threats. However, Laranth noticed that the clones surrounding the area had pulled back a bit, not wanting to catch Offee in the crossfire of continuing their assault. She waited for an opportunity to catch her off-guard, and soon found what she needed. Malik surprised everyone by striking Offee with a blast of Force Lightning, forcing her back as she defended with her lightsaber.
In a flash, Laranth fired a precision shot from one of her blasters at Offee, aiming directly for her chest. The former Jedi was taken aback by this action, yet still managed to deflect the blaster bolt into the dirt. This was exactly the action Laranth had desired her to take, and had already fired off another blast in anticipation of Offee’s block, striking her in the hand.
“Ah!” Offee yelped in pain.
“Now! Go!” Laranth said, turning to fire on the clones surrounding them.
The three easily made it around Offee and began sprinting towards the Middle Way. Laranth continued to provide cover fire and Jax made sure nothing struck Malik in the back. With her injured hand, Offee knew she would not be able to continue the pursuit of the fugitives, and instead decided to bring out her contingency plan.
“Lieutenant? Ready the RPS-6,” she spoke into her comlink.
Dex sat hunched in his truck, just trying to keep his head down. Though he could probably have made it out unseen with the clones focused on the Jedi, it would also have meant leaving Jax and Laranth behind. No way was he doing that. Peering out the windshield, he saw that the pair had managed to get Serra and Rex aboard their ship and were escorting Malik.
“It won’t be long… hurry up,” Dex muttered.
As the trio sprinted towards their ship, Dex saw a pair of clones out of the corner of his eye. They stood on the edge of the area where the ship was parked, preparing a large piece of equipment of some sort. Dex squinted, trying to see what they were up to, when it hit him at last: they were preparing a rocket launcher.
“They won’t stand a chance if their ship takes a hit from that!” Dex realized. With a heavy sigh, he shifted his truck into gear. “I must be mad… but then, this is still better than what the Empire’ll do to me after all this.”
Dex slammed the throttle forward and sped into the firefight, aiming to run the clones over with his truck. As he approached, his heart sank at seeing that they would be able to fire long before he could reach them. Seeing no other alternative, he altered course and placed himself between the clones and the ship. While he had a fleeting thought of jumping out and making a run for it, the clones had already fired a rocket straight at his truck. Dex smiled and gave one last belly laugh before the projectile struck.
“NO!!!” Laranth screamed, seeing Dex’s truck go up in flames. “You bastards, I’ll kill you!!!”
“Laranth, no!” Jax cried, pulling her to cover.
“Let me go, Jax!”
“He’s gone, Laranth! We’ve got to get out of here, or his sacrifice is for nothing!”
“Jax! Laranth! Get on board!” Malik screamed from the boarding ramp.
After a moment’s hesitation, the pair sprinted the remaining way to the ship, boarding the ramp just as the clones had resumed their assault.
“Serra, get us in the air!” Malik shouted.
The thrusters roared and the ship lurched. Moments later, they were rocketing through the atmosphere towards outer space.
“Shit,” Offee muttered. “That’s twice… never again.”
“Ma’am? What now?” a clone asked.
“Get our air patrols after them, and tell the orbital units to be ready; they’re going to make a run for it.”
“One more thing: get me any available photographs of those five. I’m going to have every bounty hunter in the galaxy after them…”