My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 55

Three nervous Republic soldiers were waiting for Sarah when she arrived at the bay early the next morning, and Hazen was one of them. He looked less than pleased, and Sarah knew exactly why. He'd been hoping for Canderous, he got her. And she'd arrived in clothes, not armor...not a weapon in sight, her lightsaber hilt tucked invisibly away under the tail of her shirt. It would be difficult to look less competent if she tried.

A tiny submersible bobbed in the waves in front of him, and she eyed it for a long moment. Very tiny. Very, very tiny. Picking this up on sonar would be difficult indeed. It would have a return much like a shark. They were certainly up to no good here, but that didn't matter. This would get her down to where she needed to be and that was all that counted.

"Don't worry." She headed him off before he could even get started. "I'm better than I look and I am most certainly armed. What am I doing?"

He sighed, obviously less than convinced. "The sub is programmed to take you right to where you need to go. It will take you right to the site...after that, it's up to you. I assume you have communication abilities."

She pulled out the holoprojector, cradling it in her palm and extending her hand to him. It was high quality, top of the line, and it showed. "Linked to a T3 unit on my ship. Standard ship to personnel earbud as well, but I'm expecting some interference on that channel." Yes, they looked scruffy but they had better than decent equipment.

"Right." He answered dubiously, but grabbed the loop on the sub's hatch and pulled it open. "There you go."

She hopped across the open space of water, landing just behind the hatch, before he even managed to shift his weight to give her a hand across it, and glanced inside. Teensy tiny... they wanted Canderous, but she doubted if he'd even really fit in it. But she would. She settled into the seat, glancing at the controls. They were, as stated, all locked in to a single path, no deviation. She was at the mercy of that programming...

Doesn't matter. It's where you're going.

She nodded, wrapping her fingers around the hatch lock and pulling it from Hazen's still uncertain grip, letting the hatch drop securely into its seals and locking it securely. It began to pressurize, and dropped like a rock into the murky blue green depths, falling until the engines engaged.

"Go ahead, Hawk." She stated firmly. The Republic soldiers had to know that her own crew would be watching over her, talking to her. "How do I look?"

"Coming in loud and clear." Bastila's voice was supremely calm and unconcerned. "We have a good fix on your position and your channel."

Things were quiet, things were good for about ten minutes, the gentle thrum of the sub's silenced propellers vibrating through its frame. Suddenly, her perspective changed, altered...she felt every muscle lock into readiness, she was being attacked by something out there, something she couldn't see, but could definitely sense.

"No!" She hissed, throwing every single ounce of her weight, her will, her gift, behind that single thought. "You go away! Stop!"

There was a flurry of bubbles and something huge and orange passed mere centimeters over the top of the sub, shaking it violently in its wake. Sarah had a brief understanding of teeth, many, great teeth and a buffet of outrage and anger hit her.

"No!" She wasn't about to back down to what definitely seemed like a vastly huge, semi sentient, firaxian shark. She was not going to end this way after everything she'd been through already. Eaten by fish was not something she was going to let happen. Was this what the trouble was down here? Certainly looked like it could be...

"What the hell was that?" Bastila's cool was completely blown, her voice startled and high. "And is it coming back for more?"

Sarah peered through the front view-port, unfurling her perceptions. Now that she had felt it, sensed it, it should be easy to track. "It's moving away." For now. But for now seemed to be long enough, she could see the dull gleam of lights appear out of the gloom.

"What...what was that? It's aware, I mean..."

"Really, really big shark. I see the base coming up. Oh." Even from the outside, through the murk, the damage was obvious. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the center of the complex she was passing over, view-ports shattered, a tumble of wreckage strewn across the pale sand. And sharks. Everywhere. "Looks like there's a lot of damage here. Definitely some breaches and flooding of the structure."

"Be careful, Sarah. I don't like how this feels." Bastila breathed. "What I sensed through you was a shark? You're certain?"

"Yes." It had withdrawn to a good distance away, but Sarah was certain. "Only a shark about the same size as the Ebon Hawk. It's even orange." Sarah could feel Bastila's trepidation, her concern, vibrating through the bond.

"Not funny." The younger woman mumbled. "If you're not exaggerating, is it possible that it has caused the damage you see? Has it attacked the base?"

Ordinarily, Sarah would have dismissed that idea out of hand...surely the base had been designed to take a certain level of abuse. But then, there was abuse, and then there was that. "It's a possibility." But under it all, she felt...

"No. Sarah. No. No. No." Bastila's voice had dropped, deepened, grown commanding and stern. "I'm not there to pick you up if you drop. You're on your own right now. Don't chase that."

Interesting. What was that, exactly? It was a dull throb that incited panic, invited insanity. No, Bastila was correct, that was nowhere she wanted or needed to go, and she shut it down, folding her senses back in around herself. It was not the fragment, therefore it was not vital that she understood it. And she was out here alone, if she crashed again, there was no one to deal with it. There was too much riding on this to indulge her curiosity, her desire to comprehend questions like that one. "Coming into their bay now." She sighed. Hopefully it was intact enough for her to find an environmental suit, they had to have those here. Without one, all she could do was sit over the top of the fragment and stare at it through the view screen. And that wasn't a safe option either, she could feel the fragment. But she could also feel the malign presence of that very large shark, very close to the fragment. Had the fragment driven it to this? There had been a darkness in each of the sites, each had been in a ruin of a lost culture.

She stared at the sensor readings, according to the sub, there was an atmosphere out there. She could feel the sub bobbing on waves...there must be something other than water out there. She sighed, digging a rebreather and mask from the emergency gear in the bin next to her and fitting it tightly over her face before she toggled the sub's seals. It popped open to silence, no gush of water, and she pushed it all of the way open and stood up. Just an empty, quiet bay. Too quiet. Too empty.

"I'm in the bay. There's nothing here." She stated, hopping to the deck and warily gripping the lightsaber hilt. The very air babbled with silence, a baited, waiting vacuum.

"Understood. Sarah..."

"I love you too, Bastila. And things will be just fine." She strode to the door out, warily pushing the button to open it, more than half expecting a gush of water to knock her down. Nothing, just an empty hallway. But she could hear dripping, and the floor was wet. She glanced at the rebreather's readout, it happily claimed that the air was breathable, some smoke contamination, a little thin, but she chose not to trust it completely. Something just felt desperately wrong here, the bay was intact. This hallway as well. The damage was not completely catastrophic... She came out of the hallway into a wider portion, roughly five paces away from three Selkath, their dark mottled skins an effective camouflage in the uncertain light. She stopped, tilting her head...processing. The Selkath were not generally hostile sorts, they prided themselves on their unyielding and hardheaded love of order, laws and neutrality. But everything in her screamed that these three were an issue, and the only concrete thought her mind latched onto as she unthinkingly ignited the lightsaber was that the Selkath produced a natural neurotoxic coating on their usually retracted claws. The thought of being attacked by one in that manner should seem hilarious, but it didn't down here in the dripping quiet.

"Hey." It was just her imagination, just the constant hammering of the massive shark outside against her mental defenses... they weren't really going to...

Yes, they were, with claws out and dripping. She ducked under the first swipe, clearing her way with the lightsaber and immediately dropping into her combat form. She'd figure out the how and the why later, right now she had to make certain that there was going to be a later.

We tend to flee after. Well, it certainly looked like Manaan was just going to be the same. She'd just killed three of one of the least violent races she knew of...because they'd attacked her. Who'd believe it?

"Um, Bastila?"

"Yeah?"

"Looks like we're going to be leaving Manaan in a hurry."

"Understood."

She rested her palms against one of the corpses, closing her eyes and centering herself. It had been insane, driven insane by... The shark outside. That ceaseless babble had torn apart its sanity, its intelligence, everything, reducing it just an animal. A rather large animal with poison coated claws. How many could there be? Why were they even here...if this was a hush hush Republic base to poach kolto, why would Selkath even be involved? So many questions, so few answers.

It turned out that there were lots of Selkath, all of them insane, and Sarah felt her own well-being begin to fray. No, not fray, shift. Change. This was not too much for what she had been once to handle, but was too much for what she had become. She needed herself back, needed what she had lost. She'd survived the War. Survived Malachor V. She was up to this challenge, she just had to let herself be...herself. No nest of crazy fish was her better, her equal. She was better than that. More than that. All she needed to keep in mind was that they stood between her and what she'd come here for. "What's going on, Sarah?" Bastila had the tone that Sarah had become all too familiar with, the knife edged concern and more than a little disapproval. Except... Bastila wasn't here right now. She couldn't pull a dirty trick and slam Sarah to sleep. And even if she could, she'd just end up killing Sarah by poisonous killer fishy people proxy. It felt like she'd slipped a leash she hadn't even really grasped that she had wrapped around her throat. Free...free...it seemed like the more Selkath she plowed through, the better her dance became, the freer she felt. This was right. This was what she was meant to be. And just beyond it all, the call of the fragment, more compelling than even the mental cacophony from the great shark outside. She just had to get to it. And that meant getting through crazy Selkath...

A large view-port loomed in the shadowed darkness, and she leaned against it...staring, feeling. The complex was fairly well lit, and there, just now becoming visible... She snorted in unsurprised mirth. A kolto harvester perched on the edge of the rift, churning the kolto rich water from the depths. Illegal harvesting on a neutral world, it would be a disaster if the Manaan government discovered this.

Hypocrites. Smug, stupid little hypocrites.

And above the harvester, above the rift, she felt the source of the enraged presence that permeated everything around her. "Yes. I know you're there. You know I'm here. We've met."

"Everything okay, Sarah? Can I get a sitrep? Something? Anything?" Bastila demanded in her ear, and Sarah smiled. Squeaky clean little jedi, guardian of the Republic, was not going to like this one.

"Clandestine Republic kolto processing operation on a neutral world. Currently under attack by immensely large, force aware, semi sentient, pissed off indigenous life form. And it's not too particular about what it's driving crazy." The Selkath here had not been spared, and by the grating babble just on the edge of her perceptions, a human would not be immune to it either.

"You're kidding." But by the exasperation in Bastila's voice, she wasn't expecting Sarah to retract those words. "Manaan is the only source of kolto! If something happens to it, to our ability to export it... the Sith will..." She sputtered into silence. "Can you do anything?"

"I'll do my best." The Sith couldn't... the Sith weren't... Reality hazed around her and she slid down the wall, sitting on the floor. The Sith weren't what? It had been so long since she'd been alone, it was refreshing to just take a deep breath without someone watching, studying, weighing her. The Sith were not...

The Sith are not the Sith.

Why, why were things like this? Nonsense. Half formed concepts. Truths which were falsehoods. Empty. Adrift. Lost. If it wasn't for Carth, this would be intolerable.

That's why he has been given to you. And you have been given to him.

And she just had to get her ass in gear, get the the fragment, and get him off of here. She'd just massacred her way through several Selkath, they would think nothing of putting the entire crew in jail for that. And the Republic could do nothing, the Order could do nothing.

Stop the harvester. Destroy it.

Straightforward. She liked that. Keep heading for the fragment, the shark, the kolto harvester, and cut down everything that got in her way.

A body, the first she'd seen since arriving...and she froze in her tracks, using the rosy shine of the lightsaber as a light source to illuminate it more closely. It couldn't be. It really couldn't be. Her eyes, her mind, had to be playing tricks on her. "Oh." She breathed in disbelief. "Oh."

"Sarah? Sarah, what's wrong? You feel...bad."

"Carth? I need to talk to Carth." She wanted out of here. Her head felt like it was going to explode...like she was going to explode. It was too much to lay on him, but she couldn't handle this alone. Not without...whatever that was that stirred in her soul.

"Babe?" His voice, concerned...a lifeline. A much needed infusion of sanity. She slid down the wall across from the body, staring at it in transfixed fascination. She shouldn't tell him, it was too much...

"They've been eating them."

"What? Who's been eating what? Sarah, do I need to come get you?"

Yes. No... he'd have to run the shark gauntlet to get here. She had managed to turn the shark away from herself, but she couldn't guarantee that she could turn it away from another sub. "The Selkath here, they've gone mad. They've been eating Republic soldiers."

Silence. Utter, dead, complete silence. If it weren't for the occasional pops on the frequency, she would have sworn she'd lost the signal. "She can't be left there, Carth. She can't..." Bastila's voice, bashful, tiny, so far away. "We have to go get her."

"No. You can't. That shark isn't gone..."

"Fuck." Carth snapped, "Sarah..."

"I just needed to hear your voice." To know he was there waiting for her on the other side of this. She stood up, turning her back on the mangled corpse, took a deep breath and steeled her nerves. You're a Jedi, even if you don't remember it. You went to War, even if you don't remember it. You survived Malachor V, even if you don't remember it. This is unpleasant, regrettable, but you are equal to it.

"I'm here." His voice was both supportive and exasperated. Yes, he was there...which was not here.

"I got this." She said, pushing onwards...towards the fragment.

More devastation, blood splashed walls, sodden corpses, but Sarah let the siren's call of the fragment pull her forward, closing her mind to the carnage. The way finally ended at a pressure hatch, environmental suit lockers right beside it, and Sarah rifled the lockers until she found one that would fit her. She settled into it, checked the seals, and stepped into the airlock. Outside...water... shark...and the fragment. Although the lightsaber would function underwater, the suit was so horribly bulky that she would have no chance of wielding it. She'd just have to depend on the suit's defenses and her own abilities to confront the sharks without relying on the weapon.

Water filled the chamber and Sarah stepped out onto the sea floor. The large helmet blocked all of her peripheral vision, she'd just have to sense them coming. The suit had a sonic emitter which should hold them at bay, but it wasn't constantly active. The thought of something that big sneaking up behind her was terrible...

"I'm out of the complex. Headed for the fragment."

Carth made a pained noise and she grimaced at the sound. Nothing was worse than waiting, listening, hoping, but being unable to do anything at all about what was going on. Bastila was silent for a long moment before she replied with a sharp, "Understood."

Can't go for the fragment first. She'll be on me in an instant. Have to do what I promised her I would do. Stop the harvester. Destroy it.

How? The thing was immense, a hulking mass in the turbid gloom. Even if she resorted to the lightsaber, it would take forever to dismantle it. She moved to the control bank, scrutinizing it carefully. There had to be that, right there. A whole list of what not to do, or elses, a guide list of what exactly to do when one had destruction on their mind.

'Operator warning: Hydrolium fuel unstable at 4 million sangens. Explosive rupture will occur.' Well, that sounded quite promising. There would be safety measures to prevent that, of course, but now Sarah knew what she had to achieve to get the job done.

She could feel the vast shark gliding closer, rising up from the Rift to move noiselessly up behind her. "Yes, yes, I feel you back there. Just wait a minute." She muttered, studying the readouts and the fuel canister controls. "You eat me and I can't get this done for you."

"Sarah?" She'd rarely heard Carth sound quite that concerned before. "Are you okay? Really?"

"Just discussing life and such with a very large shark. We're getting along brilliantly at the moment, however..." If she shifted enough fuel back and forth between the canisters, the agitation in the self oxidizing fuel would cause the reaction she was looking for. "And...boooooom!"

"WHAT?!" Carth's outraged yell was drowned out by the dull vibrating thud of the fuel cells exploding in a cascade reaction through the harvester. Sand and chunks of seagrass flowed around Sarah, eddying and swirling.

"Boom." She repeated with a chuckle, waiting for the debris to settle. Yes, that had most certainly done the job. It would take years to build another one, and she intended to be long gone well before that was even an option. Now, all she had to do was head for the fragment. It was calling, whispering, beckoning, now louder than everything else. The shark was no longer a problem, Sarah could feel it, but it was just background noise...much like the pops and whines from the collapsing kolto harvester superstructure.

She made her bounding, hopping way to the fragment...they'd completely uncovered it at some time during the harvester's construction, and Sarah's stomach fell. If they'd damaged it, if they'd accessed it, the idea made her want to scream. It was too damned precious for this!

The fragment sat in solitary glory, tightly closed, encircled by lights. She approached it warily, had they come this far just to find that this link in the puzzle was gone? This kolto harvester and the construction for it were fairly new, started after Revan's visit. None of this would have been here when Revan and Malak had come, it would have just been ocean floor for miles.

Come on, come on.

She lumbered up to it, grinning when it unlocked and furled open, the beauty of the display bright and wonderful in the water. Had it opened to the construction crew?

No. It waited for you.

Why? Was it from the marks that Revan was supposed to have left on her soul? It seemed unlikely, the more time had passed, the less she felt those. There were no more visions, she'd found the fragments by simply following the force, exactly as Revan must have. Why had the Enclave Council not realized that was all it would take? Why had they insisted that she be the one to go with Bastila? And why Bastila? It made no damned sense...

"Sarah?" Speaking of Bastila...

"I have the data. I want a pickup here...on the surface." The last thing that Sarah wanted to do was go to Ahto City and face Selkath after this. Let the Enclave deal with the fallout, she wasn't going to be the one to explain what had happened. She'd done her job here and that was all that counted. She just had to retrace her steps through that abattoir, get back in the sub, change its programmed route back and go home to the Hawk.

It was a plan. It was a good plan. But she could sense it wasn't going to work the moment she stepped through the pressure door back into the complex. There had been nothing alive when she'd passed through, but now she sensed life. She sensed the Force, flowing, moving, singing and warning. Whoever it was, they weren't good enough to hide from her... She dismounted the environmental suit in a hurry, palming the lightsaber hilt. "Bastila?"

"What?"

"I have company. Sith, I'd say." Well, sort of. Something in her gut found that idea a little amusing, but it was definitely more than one force user... More than one meant she needed to have the confrontation in a close area, she had to bunch them up and stack them... if they could surround her, they had the upper hand. Why, why hadn't she built another lightsaber? She was a damned idiot, always assuming that Bastila would be there...

"Understood. Sarah, you can take them. You are equal to, better than anything that would be here on Manaan. Even if it's something that Malak sent."

The funny thing was, Sarah believed her. That wasn't just a vain attempt to comfort her, Bastila completely and totally meant it. Never before had Sarah truly grasped just what the younger woman thought of her until that moment. What had she been?

She wasn't the trapped one...they were the ones trapped in here with her. She was the one doing the hunting. Maybe she could rectify that missing lightsaber problem with a trophy taken from one of them. It wouldn't be as fine as one she'd make for herself, but it was better than an empty hand.

There were three of them, and two were merely cannon fodder. The tall man in the front was not...he seemed oddly familiar. She'd seen him. She'd seen him recently, since she'd left the hospital. He'd been on the Endar Spire, one of the boarding crew that had brought the ship down. Carth's ship...

"Nice goatee." She greeted pleasantly, and he spun into a fairly competent guard position. "Adds to the badass look." The badass look he was working entirely too hard on...goatee, black gear, red lightsaber. He was like a bald Sith poster boy.

He wishes. He's just a fake. And he doesn't even know he's just a fake.

"At last, my search is over! I was beginning to fear that someone else had killed you and deprived me of the pleasure." He didn't even have the correct accent... he was a wannabe. A soliloquy spouting wannabe. "You may have defeated the pathetic bounty hunter my Master sent after you, but you are no match for me! I have studied at the foot of the Dark Lord himself!"

No, no you haven't. You only think you have. But that did answer one lurking question... Malak knew. He'd known from pretty much the very beginning if he'd sent the assassin on Tatooine against them. That clenched it, she and Carth were not taking anybody to Korriban with them.

"You're Malak's apprentice?" Sarah snorted at the very thought. She'd expected better...more. This was almost laughable. She felt no real threat from any of these men, Bastila had been so right. "Can't say I'm impressed."

"Your words mean nothing to me...unless you wish to beg for your life." That was not an idea that Sarah was going to dignify with an answer, hopefully a raised brow and a lifted lip would be answer enough... "No? Then I shall try to make this both quick and painful." He finished, igniting his lightsaber. Sarah followed suit, turning on his backup first. They wouldn't know what had hit them, and she needed them gone in a hurry. Even though they didn't feel impressive, she'd like two fewer lightsabers going on in this fight. Even an idiot could manage a killing blow in this situation...

She cut around, pinning the two young Sith between her and their master, pushing them off balance and using them as shields. She just had to keep them moving, keep them turning... the first was open and vulnerable before she had him where she wanted him but she took the lunge anyway, catching his lightsaber out of the air as he fell. One down, two to go, and now she had a lightsaber in both hands. The new one was a tad too long, but she could work with it. You are outclassed, buddy.

And he knew it. She could see doubt, an unpleasant surprise, rise in his dark eyes. It was thrilling to watch it come, thrilling to carry through out of the lunge and scissor the other man in half with one graceful sweep.

"Insert nice speech here." She growled, dropping her center of balance and sucking her navel in, tightening muscles under her skin. It was like breathing, only more intrinsic to her soul instead of simply her body. This was what she was, what she had been forged to be. She'd worked at it for years, combining that drive with an undeniable gift. And he wasn't going to even last long enough to give her the chance to fully embrace it, he zigged, she zagged hard, and it was over.

"Bastila. I am clear. Heading for sub and pickup right now." She scooped up his lightsaber from the floor, and dropped the other. Leave them here and let the authorities pin this carnage on them... Win, win.

She bolted down the hallways, gathering speed with every stride. Now that it was over, she just wanted out of here. She wanted to go home. "We're on our way, Sarah. Rendezvous when your signal is on the surface."

Good. Good. She made it to the bay and hopped across to the sub, pulling its hatch close and looking at its programming. It had never been programmed for a return trip at all, only to bring her here. She could manually pilot it from here on out, straight for the surface. The sharks had dispersed when she cleared the bay, her trip to the surface was completely unmolested. It was just a moment to trigger the sub's original programming, to return it to the bay, and she popped the hatch, standing on the seat. She could see the Hawk coming in fast and low, gleaming in the midday light. It was only noon. Just half a day gone...

Somehow Carth managed to position over the tiny sub and cut down on the engine backwash to where Sarah didn't even have to struggle to catch the line that Canderous tossed at her from the belly hatch. A few moments later and she was back on board, the Mandalorian clapping her on the back.

"We're good, let's get the hell out of here." She said, grinning at Canderous and heading into the ship. Four down, one to go...


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