"I have a question, Bastila." And every time Sarah started a conversation with that line, Bastila looked as if there were a thousand other predicaments she'd rather be in, a thousand other places she'd rather be. How was Sarah supposed to find her way when this was the reception every question brought her?
"Yes?" And her answers always had that scrambling for answers before the question was even asked feeling.
"I had a dream last night." Sarah moved through the knee high grass, leaving no trace behind her. And yes, there was that stare from Bastila, wary, guarded, uncertain. Afraid. "It was different. Clearer. I'm certain this was mine, not Revan's. I...remembered a name."
Bastila glanced around, pursing her lips. "Whose?" She finally asked, and Sarah did not miss the fact that her hand dropped, too close to her lightsaber hilt for comfort. Why did she do this? Why was she afraid of this?
"Mundi Ayala. She was here on Dantooine with me. A tall woman, blonde. Was wearing a Republic Navy uniform..."
Bastila looked puzzled for a long moment, that was not what she'd been expecting Sarah to ask...or remember. "Carth would be a better one to ask that of, but yes, I know of Captain Ayala. She was very involved with the Revanchists, you would have certainly known her, but then, Revan would have known her as well. A very strong captain, commanded one of the Revanchist fleets... chances are high that Carth served with or under her at some point during the War. She was not a Jedi, so I had no contact with her." She shrugged, and seemed honestly confused. "I don't know why you would remember her, out of everybody you knew. An interesting question." But not apparently one that Bastila wanted to ponder, she picked up the pace, forcing Sarah to hop to keep up with her.
They came to the site just at mid-morning, drawn towards the flutters of darkness in the force around it. And, when Sarah focused, she could sense death. Very recent death. A force user, one she had known...before.
"I feel it as well." The younger Jedi murmured, a furrow engraved between her brows. "We should be wary."
Well, that went without saying. Sarah was suddenly very, very thankful that she did carry a lightsaber, instead of vibroblades. She was also carrying a pistol, just in case... "Don't worry, I'm not in any hurry to leave Carth alone again." It was meant to be a rather lame joke, but Bastila seemed to take it at face value, the line between her brows smoothing out.
"Good." Bastila answered, moving around the featureless, grass covered hump in the prairie. There was a gate indented into the opposite side of it, and Sarah stared at the interlocking, black metal segments. It looked unpleasantly like a prison...and it breathed malign energy. "You think it's unlocked?"
"Oh, they're always unlocked...until you get in." Sarah noted, and Bastila merely stared back at her. The girl really needed to relax. Or take the stick out of her ass. Life was hard enough without a little levity to smooth the way. That was one of the points she enjoyed about Carth, even when things got bad, he could crack a smile, crack a joke. He could make her take a breath when she needed one the most. She missed him...
"Stop that." Bastila growled. "You saw him yesterday. You'll see him tomorrow, after we defeat whatever that is...in there. And escape the unlocked door locking behind us."
"Am I that obvious?" Sarah followed her up to the doors, not at all surprised when they slid open all by themselves. Any thought that Bastila was going to have the opportunity to answer that faded immediately, Sarah was expecting darkness...but the space beyond was lit. And occupied by what looked unpleasantly like a small torture droid, standing in the center of the stone room. And all too visible, a body... Nemo. It was as if he'd been born, grown in her mind, and been snatched away from her in an instant. He'd... been there for her, many times in her foggy past. She understood that implicitly, and now, he lay dead before her. A stranger, a friend, a brother under arms...
"Sarah. No. You must control your emotions, giving into them is letting them drive you...not the other way around. If you destroy it, we may never find what we came here for."
Well, Bastila had half of it correct, and Sarah was willing to bite her tongue and bide her time with the rest of it. The Council had sent an elderly man out here, alone, to make certain that her visions were correct. And he'd died out here, alone. The very idea was rage inducing...
The droid in the center emitted a raucous scream of noise, and Sarah instinctively ignited her lightsaber, holding it in a guard position in front of her, stepping out of Bastila's larger apron and opening up fighting space between the two of them. But it still did not move...and oddly, in Sarah's cynical view, the route to retreat remained open behind them. But something had killed Nemo here, she wouldn't become complacent.
There was an expectant pause, and the droid produced an even more disturbing array of gnashing sounds. But it still hadn't moved, hadn't threatened...
Again, an expectant wait, and then it produced another string of noises that sounded...almost...like something that Sarah had heard before.
"I think the droid is trying to communicate with us by cycling through a variety of languages. Each time it spoke, it was using a very different alien dialect. The droid can probably understand us. The only problem is that it might not have been programmed with the phenomes of a dialect we can understand." Bastila tended to talk too much when she got nervous, and Sarah glanced at her, swallowing back the 'duh' response that statement might have deserved under different circumstances.
"I can reproduce any of the languages spoken by the slaves of the Builders." It finally produced something that Sarah's mind made sense of, a strangly, glubglubby string of syllables that incited resentment and amusement from somewhere deep in her soul. Whatever spoke this language naturally was not one of her favored races... but she understood them.
"Hey, I understand that one." But it was apparently entirely too much to ask for her to actually place it. And, understanding what had been said really didn't fill her with comfort... slaves? Never a good thing, all the more reason to take this thing apart, piece by piece.
"I recognize this language as well. It is an archaic variant of the Selkath dialect spoken on Manaan. But why would a droid on Dantooine be programmed to speak ancient Selkath?" Bastila mused, and Sarah merely sighed. It was rather like traveling with a droid programmed to impress a new master...overblown and over-talkative. Selkath...Manaan. A vision of a brilliantly clear day, a sharp breeze...horizon to horizon ocean...so very blue. She'd been to Manaan. Lovely planet. Truly annoying indigenous sentient race...the Selkath. There was a certain dark amusement in the realization that this droid apparently considered them a slave race... Maybe it wasn't as bad as it had first appeared. She moved cautiously towards Nemo's motionless body, every sense on high alert, but the droid seemed less than impressed by her progress. Instead it seemed more than happy to keep right along with the conversation it was having with Bastila, as edifying as that was...
"Communication was vital to ensure that the slaves constructed this temple according to the wishes of the Builders. But you are not of the slave species. You are like the one that came before." It thrummed, content, while Sarah rested her hand on the elder Jedi's back. He was still, empty. Dead, and he'd been that way for quite awhile.
"Why did you kill him?" She demanded, finally getting to hear exactly what Carth described as her 'nocturnal growl'. It was probably fruitless to argue with it or accuse it, programming was programming, but she was coldly furious. The very need to see if they could get information out of it before she hacked it up and made it into metallic/ceramic confetti only infuriated her more. Bastila's calm, methodical response only infuriated her more.
"I am not programmed for combat. I did not harm the one who failed. The temple's own protections will destroy those who seek knowledge of the Star Forge if they are deemed unworthy."
And that was the truth. She sadly patted Nemo's back and stood, aware that there was nothing she could do for him...and all she was doing was jeopardizing what they'd come here for. Time to pull her shit together and get things done, now.
"What are you? Why are you here?" She asked, knowing if she let Bastila start again, they could be here for hours. The very air here was heavy, oppressive, and she felt trapped, targeted, walking on a thin edge.
It was as if she'd been dropped in cold water after a drinking binge, and everything snapped back into focus. How much longer was she going to have to live with this feeling that things just slid and caught in ways that just weren't right? It seemed like only he could hold them at bay. Only he could pick her up, and make the jangle in her head settle down.
"I am the Overseer. The Builders programmed me to enforce discipline among the slaves while this monument to the power of the Star Forge was constructed. At project completion, all slaves were executed. I was reprogrammed to serve should a Builder return in search of knowledge of the Star Forge."
Ugh. Sarah had never been very fond of droids like this, she felt an empty gap of understanding behind its responses, but no one was ever forthright enough to program them to just come out and say, 'Hell, I don't know!' "How long have you been here?" She asked, hoping that concrete questions like that one, the kind that her own mind found to be the most acceptable, would work here.
"My chronological circuits have marked over ten full revolutions of this system's outermost planet around the sun since the Builders left." It returned smugly, and Sarah couldn't remember enough about Dantooine and the system to piece that answer together...
"Ten revolutions would take more than 20,000 years. If this is true, then this droid would be 5,000 years older than the Republic itself! There must be some sort of mistake." Bastila said, moving away from Sarah, closer to the droid than Sarah happened to appreciate. Nothing was going to blur Sarah's mind to the fact that a Jedi lay dead here...and Bastila wasn't going to be joining him in that. Even if she was foolish enough to get so close...
"There is no mistake. The Builders constructed my chronological circuitry using the technology of the Star Forge itself. My calculations are infallible." Oh, and Sarah truly despised egotistical droids. It took a truly warped mind to program that into one, which meant one was never certain what else had been programmed into one of them.
"Who are these Builders you keep talking about?" It was a pale joy, a sentient might have realized the veiled insult in Sarah's question...if these 'Builders' were so great, then the likes of Sarah should know exactly who they were. She wasn't expecting the droid to get it, and indeed, it didn't seem to.
"The Builders are the great masters of the galaxy, the conquerors of all worlds, the rulers of the infinite empire and the creators of the Star Forge."
Sarah sighed, nodding to herself. Conquerors of all worlds, except for any that Sarah apparently had any experience with...including Dantooine itself. But there was one bright, shining, bated phrase in that response... creators of the Star Forge.
"These Builders must have been an extinct people, though it is strange that there is no record of their existence. Even the archives at the Jedi Academy make no mention of them. In the years before the Republic, the Hutts were a dominant force in the galaxy but they never constructed an empire. In fact, I know of no species that would fit with this information." Bastila mused, and Sarah nodded at her. At least Bastila's recall of her training, her education, was still intact. And it sounded as if she'd paid plenty of attention in her classes. Sarah was not as certain that she had.
"The empire is infinite and everlasting. None can stand against their might and the power of the Star Forge." The droid parroted, and Sarah scrunched her face up at it. It was an exercise in futility to argue with a droid's programming...but she couldn't hold back a subtle jab...more for her own benefit, for Bastila's benefit...although the younger woman looked much more entranced than annoyed.
"Have you seen a Builder recently?" She asked sweetly, and Bastila gave her a slightly amused glance in response but remained silent. And too close to the droid.
"I have been here since the completion of this monument. In all this time, no Builder has returned to seek information on the Star Forge." It replied, and Sarah contemplated the answer. In other words, no. And that had been a long, long time if its responses were to be believed.
"What is the Star Forge?" She asked. The Republic was working under the assumption that somehow, the Star Forge was what was able to allow the Sith to produce their endless fleets...either directly or indirectly. The general belief was that it was a shipyard, a production facility, hidden somewhere in the depths of space. But that was an assumption, it could be completely wrong. They could be going after something entirely unrelated to that. They could be chasing the wrong thing altogether.
"The Star Forge is the glory of the Builders, the apex of their infinite empire. It is a machine of infinite might, a tool of unstoppable conquest." Quite an impressive non-answer, and Sarah tried to focus through her own internal doubts, her anger. There were answers here, to dismiss them completely out of hand reflected badly upon her.
"But what is it? What does it do?" Sometimes the blunt, direct way worked the best with this sort of programming. Often they were set to respond to soldier proof basic questions. They might be getting too deep.
"The Star Forge is the glory of the Builders, the apex of their infinite empire. It is a machine of infinite might, a tool of unstoppable conquest."
"The droid is obviously not programmed with the information we seek. The Star Forge sounds like some sort of weapon, perhaps. In fact, it could be anything." Bastila glanced at Sarah, obviously frustrated. They were close, Sarah could sense it. So very, very close.
"Could it have been a weapons plant or factory?" It dawned on Sarah that she'd never even asked Bastila what she thought it was.
"Maybe. That might explain how the Sith were able to amass a fleet so quickly. But I suspect that the Star Forge is much more than a mere factory. Maybe the droid has more information we can use. It seems to respond to you; perhaps you should ask it something else."
It seems to respond to you... Oddly yes. Except for the time that Bastila had insulted its owners, it seemed almost to ignore her. But it responded to every twitch that Sarah had made.
"Where can we find the Star Forge?"
"Now that the slaves are gone, my purpose is to aid those who seek the knowledge of the Star Forge...if they are worthy. The ones who came before you, the ones like you, not Builders but not slaves, sought knowledge of the Star Forge and its origins. They proved themselves worthy. They uncovered the secrets of the Star Forge locked beyond the sealed door behind me. But there was another recently who failed to unlock the secrets and paid the ultimate price."
"The droid must be talking about poor Nemo. The Council sent him here to investigate...and it cost him his life." Bastila said, and Sarah stared at her silently. Why had they sent him here? Alone? It made no sense, and it raised the warm tendrils of rage in her stomach. Except that wasn't supposed to be there, was it? But was there any other correct answer to the death of an old man, someone who should have never been out here in the first place? Bastila sounded sad, mournful, but for the life of her, Sarah couldn't incite that same feeling in herself.
"Did you kill that Jedi over there? She ground out, feeling Bastila's attention lock on her.
"I am not programmed for combat. I did not harm the one who failed. The temple's own protections will destroy those who seek knowledge of the Star Forge if they are deemed unworthy." It responded levelly, unmoving and oblivious. Sarah sighed, and reined in her anger. It was being useful, and it had more answers than she did. Hacking it into itty bitty pieces sounded like a great idea, but it would accomplish little and harm much.
"How can I prove myself worthy?" Fine. She'd play its game...for now. Too much was riding on this for her to do otherwise, her own safety, Bastila's safety... Carth's. Everybody.
"Enter the proving grounds to the east and west. Within them, those who understand the will of the Builders can unlock their secrets and open the doors. But those who fail will be destroyed by the power of the temple itself. More than this, I am not programmed to say."
Sarah nodded, stepping slowly away from it. There were indeed two doors, one to the east, one to the west, and she skirted the droid.
"Revan and Malak unlocked the sealed door and uncovered the secrets to the Star Forge. Now Malak is using the Star Forge to fuel his conquest of the Republic. We have to find out what they uncovered. We have to find a way to learn more about the Star Forge! The Republic is depending on us, Sarah." Bastila exclaimed, and Sarah nodded. Had she been this enthusiastic when she'd been Bastila's age? Losing those memories seemed to be a blow to whatever empathy she could have gotten from looking back at her own experiences. She was lamed by their lack, or maybe she had always just been this detached? I feel broken. Less than I am supposed to be. Unfulfilled. Empty.
"Then let's go, Bastila. Time to see if we're worthy."
Silly question. Of course I am.
The huge, ominous door opened before her, exposing another wing...and... She hit the floor, rolling, well before her eyes accustomed themselves to the gloom inside. It was gone in an instant, a flash of blinding light...fire...heat...passed over her now prone form.
"Fire!" Bastila yelled, and Sarah growled in response.
"Duh! It has a flamethrower!" She warned, hopping to her feet and moving away from Bastila to flank it. It appeared to be exactly the same as the droid in the main hall...with the marked difference of hostility and a ready ability to set Sarah on fire. Damnable robes...
The robes were an annoyance, but the sound of a lightsaber, her lightsaber, igniting in echo with Bastila's, was a glory. A wonder. Her soul sang and thrilled to it. It all clicked together perfectly, and she surged in. This wasn't training, this wasn't play. This could hurt, and it brought that immediate clarity and focus she yearned for. She knew how to do this. And she knew how to weave it in with another, fighting alongside her. She had no doubts this was what she had been. What she was meant to be. What she still was.
Bastila was obviously trying to take the brunt of the fight, and while Sarah appreciated the gesture, she didn't need that kind of care. This, she had down pat. Everything else in her life, no.
It wasn't a quick fight, whoever had built this thing to cull the unworthy had pretty high standards for what they must have considered to be 'worthy'. After awhile, it became obvious that Bastila couldn't take the brunt by herself, that only their seemingly innate ability to fight together would bring it down. We are bound.
Her grip on reality frayed, shifted, but she pushed through it. Not here. Not now. Again, it came when she simply did not have the luxury to study it. And by the time this fight was over, it would be gone.
She snapped back into perfect clarity in a second, when Bastila stepped just slightly wrong. It wasn't even a slip, not even a bobble. Just a less than optimum foot placement, her blade too low to compensate. Her speed, just a hair off... Not going to recover in time...
Sarah launched herself in the air, steadying the hilt in both fists, driving her weight down on top of it. Her eyes were closed, she landed on instinct. Gut. The Force. Whatever. There was a loud grinding noise, a squeal, and then...pure silence.
She opened her eyes to an expanse of dark gray surrounding her. No, that was the floor, just two centimeters away from the tip of her nose. She'd come uncomfortably close to face planting herself into an unforgiving surface, her lengthening bangs brushing against it. Her toes were hooked behind where the droid's legs protruded from its body and she was suspended along its back, her hands at her belly...the vibrating thrum of the still active lightsaber alive in her grip. It was a precarious position, and one she wasn't sure how to gracefully extricate herself from. Once the threat had ended, her ability to move, react, with beyond human agility had fled with it. She deactivated the lightsaber, hearing Bastila's approach.
"Take my hand." The younger woman offered, "I'll give you a pull up."
Given little choice, Sarah accepted the pull, and rolled away, coming less than gracefully up to her feet. "I...don't understand." She muttered. "I..." Had just leaped five meters from a standing start, landed blind, inverted, on the back of a moving target, ramming a three centimeter wide blade through a weak point that same width. But she couldn't get up from where that had left her without help, or some ungainly flopping.
"Just saved my life." Bastila soothed, resting her fingers against Sarah's shoulders. "And that was an amazing move. The recovery afterward, well... we'll work on that later."
"Uh huh." Sarah muttered. Her robes were singed, scorched...the smell of burning hair heavy in the air. A quick glance at Bastila, and a furtive check of the growth on her head and face proved that the majority of the smell must come from their robes.
There was a computer panel in the back of the room, and Sarah approached it warily, hilt still grasped in her hand. It hummed and throbbed as she approached, the screen flickering to life when she stood in front of it. Characters, words, began to scroll across it, but she had never seen their like before.
"Can you slice it?" Bastila asked, and Sarah shrugged a negative.
"I don't think even Mission could." She finally admitted. She had rarely run into a language, a form of communication, that she didn't know...until she'd come here. But Revan and Malak had gotten through this. And the droid in the main hall had been desperate to be understood... She pressed a button, only to get more completely incomprehensible words. "I don't know, Bastila." She admitted, leaning in close and puzzling over the screen. "Maybe it's like the droid. Maybe it can figure out our language, if we give it enough of a sample..."
The screen went suddenly dark, the whirring silenced, and for one terrible moment, Sarah thought it had died completely. I've broken it. By the stare on Bastila's face, it was obvious she was not the only one thinking that. The fate of the Republic rested on an ancient piece of alien workmanship...? "I swear, I didn't touch it."
The screen flared to life again, but gave her another string of babble. Was this just a repeat of what they'd been through before, a cycling through of languages? "None of these are even close to Aurebesh or High Galactic." She could read quite a few languages, decipher numerous symbologies, but not nearly as many as she could speak.
It beeped, then emitted a cascade of tones... one echoed by the datapad hanging at her waist. There was silence for a moment, then the same tone repeated, again to be answered by her datapad. She picked it up, turning it over in her hands...its screen was live, showing the same intriguing characters as the ancient computer was displaying. "Well, we're either getting somewhere, or it has corrupted my datapad." She stated, and Bastila nodded. Just a moment later, a slot opened in the front of the computer, and Sarah grimaced painfully. If this failed... Well, then, it failed. She slid the datapad into it and steeled herself for the disaster. More whirring, a loud and ominous click, and Aurebesh characters appeared on the screen. Unfortunately, they still appeared to be gibberish... Hrsiki? Jsoofs oiuwn so h itasoo'khf?
"Damn." She breathed, and sighed in disgust when it ejected the datapad from the reader. Still not much closer than they had been before...
"DATA INTERPRETATION COMPLETE LANGUAGE ANALYSIS COMPLETE. CONTINUE."
Bastila crowed in delight, clapping her on the shoulder. "You did it!"
Sarah doubted that, but was willing to take the credit if Bastila was going to give it to her.
INTERROGATIVE: INDENTIFY THE THREE PRIMARY LIFEGIVING SEED WORLD TYPES:
"You have got to be kidding me." Sarah grumbled. There had to be some mistranslation. A mistake. Answering this proved her worthiness? Or was this just flotsam, a point of interest? Destroying the droid had been a challenge. This was just a joke.
"It can't be that easy, Sarah."
"No. It can't. But nothing seems to be any...deeper...than that." Maybe that was it, exactly. Not the time to over-think it. Just answer the damn question. "Grasslands, Oceanic, Arboreal." She stated, choosing each of them in turn.
PLANETARY SEED CONDUCIVE TO LIFE. BREAKING LIFE SEAL
And there was silence, she could hear her own heartbeat. She could hear Bastila breathing. But nothing else at all. That seemed to be it, for this side. "So we attempt to prove our worthiness by taking on the other side?"
"That's a plan."
They passed back out into the main hall, but the first droid still seemed quite content to leave them alone. Had Nemo passed these tests, only to fall here...so close to it? Had he fled one of the side rooms? She didn't remember if he'd been an impressive combatant and it seemed disrespectful to ask Bastila that, here. He'd been...paternal. Caring, she'd known him for years...
"What are you trying to remember?"
"I'm sorry, Sarah. Yes, you knew him. Yes, you were pretty close. By the time I started my training seriously, he was getting too old to... he shouldn't have been out here by himself."
He shouldn't have been out here, at all. Now, she understood exactly how Carth felt about the task he'd been given, about his trepidations with following Bastila. Foolish decisions, things hidden, lives lost needlessly. She set her jaw, another thing to file under later, when she had time. Now, she had a job to do.
"Ready?" She asked, standing just beyond the door. Bastila nodded, Sarah stepped forward, the door whooshed open and...there was fire. "Surprise, surprise." She laughed, bounding into the room, Bastila on her heels. It was just the same as the first one, except this time, they knew where to hit it and it became a competition to get it down before Bastila landed the killing blow...a competition that Sarah lost.
"Computer." Bastila chuckled, and Sarah grimaced, moving over to it. Yep, just the same. Same, same, same...until it reached the question. "Three primary death giving seed world types." Well, that sounded a little more dire than the first one... but still a dubious challenge at best. "I'm going with...Desert. Volcanic. And...Barren!"
"You're enjoying this too much." Bastila accused with a slight smile, her eyes locked on the screen.
PLANETARY SEED CONDUCIVE TO DEATH. BREAKING DEATH SEAL.
And still nothing. She waited, she felt, she sensed...before she shrugged and spun to stride back into the main hall, back to the droid still waiting placidly for their return.
"You have proven yourself worthy, the sealed door is open. If you wish to learn the secrets of the Star Forge, you must pass through the door beyond."
At its words, the final door opened...with no fire, exposing just another large, dim, silent room. Sarah strode down its length, every nerve on high alert, Bastila's presence at her back a comfort. Sitting at the very end of the room, something...black. For some reason, her mind conjured the idea of a tightly folded flower bud, except this gleamed with a dull, metallic sheen. It clicked open as she drew near, the petals opening outwards. The ball within rose, levitated, and the space was flooded with light, color...an expanding globe of teal lights, and an image of a bright galaxy unfurling within it. It was beautiful... and it stirred sluggish memories deep in her soul. But were they her memories? Or just a transfer from a long dead Revan?
"This, this must be what Revan and Malak found when they entered this temple. This must be where their journey down the dark side began. This is a map, some sort of intergalactic navigation chart. Revan and Malak must have used this to lead them to the Star Forge. We could use this map to follow their path and find the Star Forge ourselves. But we must be wary, they may have laid traps or concealed what they found." Bastila's voice was small, awed, almost swallowed in the large room
"Any idea what the Star Forge is, now?" There were so many ideas, but nothing was a certainty. And the idea that they were chasing shadows, smoke, probably going to risk their lives for something this ephemeral didn't sit well with her.
"I...don't know, but Revan and Malak were very interested in finding it. It must be a tool of some type. Or maybe a weapon. Perhaps the Council can tell us more. But I think this map may be the key to finding the Star Forge, whatever it is. See this world here? This looks like Korriban, a Sith world. And if that's Korriban,...then this is Kashyyyk. And Tatooine...and here's Manaan. But there are pieces missing; incomplete hyperspace coordinates, corrupted data... but there doesn't seem to be anything indicating where the Star Forge itself might be."
"Perhaps those worlds have more clues?" They had to. Somehow, somewhere, Revan and Malak had made sense out of this. And had fallen doing so...
"I was thinking that, too. This map can't take us to the Star Forge, but I know that Revan and Malak visited Korriban at least once. Perhaps they discovered something more there. They may have found something on each of the other worlds that completed this map. Maybe if we find all of the places, they will lead us to the Star Forge...and some way to destroy it. We must inform the Council of what we have discovered. They must decide our next course of action, although I suspect our task has just begun." Bastila sighed, "Let's go, Sarah. Get you back to Carth while I make this report."