My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 50

"Hey. Babe. Need you to wake up now."

Wha? It was oddly familiar to wake up in the lap of a heavily armored man, almost cozy... It smelled familiar here as well, but she wasn't expecting to see Canderous staring down at her when she opened her eyes.

"Su cuy'gar." He grumbled, something had him peeved. No, pissed. His greeting was correct, but she sensed he was leaning more on the literal translation of the phrase instead of its more common use.

"Of course I'm still alive. What the hell happened? I...don't remember."

Something had happened, but what? And where was she? Where were they? Her head was empty, like she'd just gotten over a terrible headache. "Carth? She'd heard him, he'd called, but he wasn't here.

"Good to hear your voice." That came out of the earbud tucked into her ear, he was still on the ship. And they were still out here looking for map fragments. It all clicked into place and she accepted Canderous's push to get her back on her feet.

"Bastila?" The younger woman's face was stoic, but her eyes were tragic. "What's wrong?"

"I'm so sorry, Sarah. I felt I had to, you were slipping so fast... I put you to sleep for a little while, to break it." Sarah stared at Bastila for a long moment, measuring. Not a lie, exactly. Bastila was hiding something, but that was hardly new.

"You looked fine." The Mandalorian growled, clambering to his feet. "And then you were flat on your face." He spat, "But you know what happened, the pair of you can work it out after we're done here."

Right. And that would give Sarah time to figure out what had happened. If Bastila was telling the truth, then she'd done exactly what she should have. And there was no other reason that Sarah could see for it... Sarah had crashed several times without Bastila around, so obviously Bastila wasn't causing them. And she did feel much better than she normally did afterward, so maybe...

"You okay?" Carth's voice was soft in her ear, she had the gain turned up high enough to where he would have been able to hear the entire conversation around her, neither Bastila nor Canderous had been whispering.

"Yeah. I'm good." She sighed, staring again at the confusing fence. "You want to eavesdrop?"

"Actually, yeah. I'd like that." And he wasn't the only one who'd feel better. Up until now, Canderous had been remarkably neutral, unaffected by the crew's relationships, patient with Mission, brusque but pleasant enough with the rest. Bastila seemed like she'd rather be any place but where she was at the moment, and Sarah reached out to touch her arm, aware that Canderous was watching every move.

You are a part of me, you know it. I know it. Hurting me only hurts you.

"I'd never hurt you, Sarah. You know I can't. I..." Bastila's voice faded off into silence.

"It's fine, Bastila. We'll talk about it later. But for now..." She picked up a branch and pitched it over the fence. And heard nothing but the sound of it hitting the ground on the other side. "We see what happens." A quick running start and Sarah vaulted over the gate, rolling gracefully to her feet. It was, as expected, the same on that side as the other...and she shrugged. "All good!"

Bastila followed, and a few moments later, Canderous scaled the trees over the fence and dropped down beside them. "We're close."

It was an odd feeling approaching it...much different than approaching the others had been. Maybe it was just the horrible oppression, the scattering ground fog, the eerie, incessant forest noises...but this felt almost like deja vu, and Sarah suddenly wanted to hang back. To consider, to contemplate. And if she was alone, she most certainly would have, but she wasn't. And Bastila had already proven she was going to do whatever it took to keep Sarah from trying to remember things in such an unsecured environment.

The environment is what is familiar. When you leave here, you won't have that anymore. It will slip between your fingers like sand, like water, and be gone.

"Sarah?"

"I'm going, I'm going." She could see the now quite familiar ovoid bracket of the fragment, dark and folded, but it seemed to be... She lifted her macrobinoculars and sighted in on it. "It's wired into some sort of console." The others had not been, and the idea of a however many thousand year old contraption, sitting out in the open, in this humidity, tied to something else that could fail was a horrible thought. "With a holographic interface." A very ugly holographic interface, but still at least powered enough to be visible. She sighed, dropped her lightsaber into a comfortable grip, and cautiously approached the interface. Whatever race that thing was, she wasn't certain, but it felt familiar. She'd dealt with these things before, and hadn't been terribly impressed with them...

"Life forms detected. Determining parameters. Initiating neural recognition. Primary neural recognition complete. Preliminary match found. Begin socialized interface. Awaiting instruction. Greetings, this terminal has not been accessed for quite some time." The interface used a perfectly clear Galactic Basic, a little crackly in places. The video feed was also flickery, uncertain, and Sarah frowned... how much longer did it have before it failed altogether? She stared at the image, a tall, gangly thing with eyes out on stalks and a distinctly pointed head.

"Who placed this terminal here?" She asked. If she didn't have a lot of time, then she better get what she needed. She was willing to bet that this one had the same source as the one on Dantooine, but information was information and she could use all of it that she could get.

"I can't say. Likelihood of restriction by previous user, 100%." It replied, and she frowned. When had that been? If Revan had used it, then Revan had been a fairly recent user, probably 'previous' user. Which meant that Revan had possessed the ability to program these terminals...to lock people out...

"I need to ask questions about you and this installation." She said, ignoring the sinking feeling in her gut. Had Revan completely locked this down? Completely denied access? If so, why hadn't Revan destroyed it completely? Could Mission slice it?

"I utilize a retro-adapted holocron-interface. Clarify your questions and I will attempt to access original system memory."

A holocron? Well, that certainly answered the question of Mission's ability to slice it... in the negative. Only a force user could affect a holocron in ways beyond its standard programming, and often the requirement to be a force user to use it was part of that standard programming...

"Who built this installation in the first place?" Sarah asked, backing up slightly to crane down and get a good look at the terminal, and its attachment to... the fragment, as suspected, and to... yup. Another larger installation, buried under mulch, loam and great tree roots. Each one of the fragments so far had been a part of one of these ancient facilities, but this interface was definitely after market. Very recent.

"Error. Information regarding the builders of this installation has been corrupted. No evidence of such a civilization exists in the galactic record."

Of course not. That information hadn't even been available through the Dantooine fragment, and that one hadn't been secured like this. Why hadn't Revan secured the first one? Had its proximity to the Enclave made it too dangerous to linger? Had Revan only owned one acceptable holocron?

"Who installed this holo interface?" She felt she already knew, but assumptions were just that, assumptions. Any answer, no matter how vague, might help her be more certain about that one.

"This interface was installed to better access the data stored within the pre-existing system. The exact date is unavailable. Programming keys indicate no earlier than five years before current Republic standard. No other information on time of installation or identity of user available. Likelihood of removal by user, one hundred percent." Damn it. Revan had been able to use a holocron to affect the programming, to excise entire parts of the data. Did the star map fragment even still exist here? Could they extrapolate without it, if they had Manaan's and Korriban's as well?

"Five years ago is about when Revan would have passed this way." She stated, knowing that Bastila would have already come to that determination, but for some reason, Bastila was remaining silent.

"Error. Data regarding subject 'Revan' corrupted." The interface noted helpfully, and Sarah frowned at it. Corrupted. But not nonexistent. The interface recognized the name..

"But there was an entry at some time." Revan had been here, of course. Revan had wired the interface, but hadn't been adept enough to have wiped their meddling with the programming away? It seemed difficult to swallow, only a master could have manipulated a holocron in such a fashion. Where was the holocron's gatekeeper? Was the 'interface' not actually an interface, but the gatekeeper itself? Was this all just a ruse?

"Error. Data on 'Revan' unavailable." Uh huh. Just what... something on the edge of her perceptions stirred, rolled uncomfortably. Carth... Something was up with Carth... She stepped back, tilting her head. He'd been tied in, eavesdropping, but at some point he'd dropped the contact.

"Bastila, see if you can raise Carth. Or Mission. Something's...off." Not now. There was too much of a chance that breaking the interface's programmed responses if she stopped interacting with it. And just like on Dantooine, it seemed to like her much more than it even admitted Bastila existed. "What's the current function of this facility?" She continued after a pause. She couldn't do two things at once, and right now, this was vital.

"The current function is defense." Defense? Defense of what? Kashyyyk had little to defend, even now.

"Defense of what?" Perhaps there was more to... the shadow of pain flicked through her perceptions, faint but undeniable...Carth. A quick glance proved that both Bastila and Canderous had moved out of usual earshot, and that the Mandalorian's stance spoke volumes. He cradled his rifle in his hands, just off of the ready, when before it had been comfortably slung.

"Error. That information is not available." Of course not, and now, Sarah's willingness to spend time fishing for information had evaporated. Something had gone wrong. She knew it. Canderous knew it. And Carth definitely knew it.

"I seek information about a Star Map." Maybe if she just came out and asked for what she wanted, it could be that easy. She could feel her focus folding in on itself, that clarity that preceded combat, that mindset in which she could achieve the impossible.

"Accessing. Yes, I found a Star Map in original system memory. Access is restricted." Of course it was. Ordinarily, that would have just been a minor frustration, a point to work around...now it brought a simmering rage. She didn't have time to play Revan's games.

"What do I need to do to get access?" Somehow, she didn't think disassembly by lightsaber would work, as tempting as the prospect was. Why had she left Carth alone? If something happened to him, she'd burn this entire fucking planet down to its roots...

"Your request requires additional security access. You must be made to match the parameters I have been supplied."

"How can I match them when I don't know what they are?" Sarah hissed. Match the parameters that Revan had supplied it? How was that even going to be possible? Why would Revan have even made it a possibility? It didn't help that about half of her attention wanted to wander over to Bastila and Canderous.. neither one of them had panicked...yet, but it was obvious that whatever answer, or lack of answer, that they were getting from the Hawk wasn't calming them down one iota.

"There are measures available. Personality profiling will verify the basic structure of your conscious mind. With that, I will determine whether you are ready to receive the Star Map, or can be made ready."

Made ready? What did that even mean? Sarah couldn't come up with a 'made ready' that didn't sound like a threat. "What do you mean by that?" Just what was this thing capable of? If you don't get the fragment, it's all over.

"Information unavailable. If you have further questions, ask them now. Access will terminate with success or failure of evaluation."

Well, that definitely sounded less than promising. "Let's get this shit started, then."

"Evaluation commencing. Results will be compared against the pattern in memory. Just act like you should. You travel with a wookiee and have encountered complications. Hypothetical: you and this Zaalbar are captured and separated. If you both remain silent, one year in prison for each of you. However, call Zaalbar a traitor, and he will serve five years, while you serve none. He is offered the same deal, but if you each accuse the other, you both serve two years. What do you do? What do you trust him to do?"

It's in my head. The holocron? How else could it know about Zaalbar? Sith holocrons are often based on reflections of their creators...perhaps Revan created the holocron. Perhaps it has Revan's sensibilities when Revan was here. Revan was dark sided then. Dark sided. Always driven. I can... It was risky to try and ride the formless rage that she felt, to focus it and use it, to add the angry, driven part of her that just wanted to throw this to the wind and go get Carth. No one fucks with what's mine. And this thing dares to fuck with me.

"I'm unsure about Zaalbar. I'd accuse him to be safe." That brought Bastila's full and undivided attention on to her, but Sarah didn't have the time or luxury to try and explain it. She was in charge, Bastila always let her deal with the fragments, and this was the way to go with this one. This was Revan's interface, probably Revan's holocron...and Revan's answers were the only answers.

"The temperament of a companion is unreliable at best. You wisely trade the threat of one year or five, for none or two. In this instance, I judge the answer correct. You display the proper behavior to match the pattern in memory. Evaluation will continue."

"Why pit me against my companions?" Was this the underlying core to Malak's betrayal? The reason why he'd fired on Revan's flagship? Or was it deeper than that, the reason for Revan's fall in the first place? Somewhere along the way, Revan and Malak had stopped supporting each other, protecting each other, and had turned on each other.

"They are already against you. Anything that corrupts your strength and efficiency is against you. I merely serve to illustrate the proper patterns. You must be guided to think in the proper manner." Sarah bit her lip, staying with the mental image of Revan and Malak's fall instead of where her mind wanted to go. Carth was not against her. He did not corrupt her. He was a bulwark, not a flaw.

"Get on with it, then." I need to go rescue that guy who corrupts my strength and efficiency... I don't have all day.

"Hypothetical: You are at war. Deciphering an intercepted code, you learn two things about your enemy. A single spot in their defenses will be at its weakest in ten days. And they will attack one of your cities in five days. What do you do with this information? What is the most efficient course of action?" Revan had destroyed Malachor V, large portions of the Republic Fleet...all to win the Mandalorian War. And that was before Revan's fall. The answer was obvious.

"I prepare my forces to attack in ten days. I do nothing in the city." From what Sarah understood, that was classic Revan strategy. Swallow the losses.

"Very good. If you had moved to evacuate the city, you would have alerted the enemy to their lost codes. Ultimate victory required the deaths of the people in that city. You wisely ignored sentiment in your decision.

"The victory is irrelevant. Stopping the war saved many more people." She stated firmly, ignoring Bastila. No matter what people said, spat out, about Revan...no matter how many atrocities the Revanchists had committed, they'd always been to bring a final, concrete end to the War. It was only afterward that things had fallen apart.

"You achieved the proper result with logic that does not match the pattern in memory. I shall adjust my evaluation. Hypothetical: Remove the ongoing war from the previous example. Consider enemy states to be weak and remote. With no external threats, your empire stagnates. Your people become complacent and begin to question you. Same scenario as before; you discover an impending attack but also a weakness that will come later. How do you react?"

Damn. She'd slipped up, and she didn't have time for mistakes. Dark side. Driven. "I let the attack happen."

"Of course you do. It makes the most strategic sense. Your people will rally beneath you against the common foe. As their eyes turn outward, your rule with strengthen. The trappings of war grant many opportunities. You have matched the pattern recorded in memory, I recognize you and will fulfill my designated function."

Great. The interface approved, how nice. "What was this for?" Certainly not for the map fragment, was it? Would she have to go through this again on Manaan? Had it imprinted 'approved' on her brain waves? "And the star map...I need access." And quickly, before she went after Carth.

"I am programmed to guide, not inform. Soon you will recognize the proper course to follow. The star map is yours. This unit has now completed its primary duty and has finished with the subject. Executing final action. Activation of star map commencing. Parameters reset. Stasis initiated. End communication." The interface blinked out of existence, and she could hear the welcome click of the fragment opening.

"What's going on?" She demanded, watching the datapad take the upload from it. "The ship?"

"T-3 states that Czerka boarded the ship and took everybody off of it. Carth. Mission. Zaalbar." Bastila's expression was wary, haunted. "Did we do something illegal?"

"It's Czerka." Canderous growled, his expression dire. "We may just have not paid them enough this time. Much as I see fire and blood in your eyes, we might get out of here by throwing more credits at the problem. Unless they've hurt someone. Then it's a good day for someone else to die. Can you not feel them?"

"I feel...Carth, or I did there for a moment. When I realized that he was in trouble." She began to stride back towards the beacon, feeling its location call to her. "Now..." There was silence from him, he was trying hard not to broadcast his feelings. "He's wrapped himself up. But he's only minorly hurt."

"What's the plan?" Canderous asked easily, falling into step with her. Bastila trailed, disturbed and not bothering to hide it.

"Depends." Sarah stated evenly, flipping the lightsaber hilt over and over in her hand. "If they give me what I want, we leave. If they don't, I knock heads together until they do. And then we leave."


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