My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 75

Sarah was onboard the moment that the Hawk touched down and lowered her ramp, striding through the ship. Carth met her in the main bay, leaving the ship to idle smoothly on the shuttle pad, moving straight to the holo communicator base. "The Republic fleet must have gotten that last message I sent. I've been holding a transmission from them since right before you called for a pickup. I'm pretty sure you're going to need to be a part of this discussion." He sighed, grimaced, and opened the channel. A bright, flickering image of an older woman in an Admiral's uniform appeared and then steadied.

"This is Admiral Forn Dodonna to the Ebon Hawk, do you read us?" Sarah could sense Carth's immediate recognition of the woman, he knew her well for all of his sudden click into parade rest. He respected her. He was used to working with her.

"Admiral Dodonna, this is Carth Onasi. We're receiving your transmission." Yes, they were. And this wasn't going to be good news, Sarah could sense it. She'd been forced to leave Bastila on her own since just before they'd arrived here, the chances of being noticed when they'd been trapped on the planet had been too much to risk. It had just been a handful of days, a week. She'd spent four times that bolstering Bastila, hopefully it had been enough. Or Bastila was playing, waiting for her to come get her, unwilling to tip her hand before everything fell into place. Sarah wasn't sure, and everything she got through the bond was fuzzy, disconcerting, unclear. The Star Forge was throwing off interference, a lot of it. And to see if it was purposeful would mean opening up to it, and Sarah refused to.

"Carth, I'm glad to see you're still alive. We've begun our assault on the Star Forge but we're taking heavy losses. How did the Sith ever manage to build something of this scope?" The woman's relief was not feigned, and Sarah stepped up beside Carth, weighing the Admiral's response when she would have appeared in the transmission. No recognition, and that went both ways. But someone else there did recognize her... Vandar was with the Admiral. He was here. Of course he was expecting her, they were all here. At the Star Forge, exactly as he'd planned it.

"The Star Forge wasn't constructed by the Sith, Admiral. We don't have time for me to fully explain, but that space station is far older than you can imagine." Carth stated, shaking his head. And he was right, all of the details were immaterial at that moment. There wasn't enough time to indulge in them.

"Maybe we should pull the fleet back and retreat. I don't know if we have the firepower to go up against this alien technology." Dodonna sighed, and Sarah wanted to reach through the transmission to grab her and shake the silly right out of her. Pull back? Retreat? If the fleets quailed, Sarah had failed. Malak would still stand. All of this would have been for nothing, and worse yet, they'd lost Bastila to him. They would lock themselves into a losing, grinding, bloody war of attrition. She wouldn't play that game. She wouldn't become the target that would leave her. She wouldn't put Carth through that. If you fall, come for me. There would be no need to come for him...he was right there. Dustil was only meters away. The Star Forge was in front of her. If the Republic didn't have the resolve to do this their way, she would be forced to do it her way. She wasn't leaving.

"You can't do that, Admiral. The Star Forge is a factory of immense power. It's been churning out the capital ships, snub fighters, and assault droids that have powered the Sith war effort. You have to destroy the Star Forge now, or you'll be fighting an unending wave of reinforcements." Carth gave word to the desperation she felt, hiding it behind an expressionless face. This was a person he knew, he was the better choice to lay the cards down on the table for them.

"Then I guess we have no choice, but it isn't going to be easy. I can't even get our capital ships into position to start bombarding the Star Forge, the Sith fleet is too well organized. It's like they can guess our every move and counter our every strategy..." Dodonna began, and Sarah frowned. Surely Dodonna had to recognize a Jedi's battle meditation at play? She'd been using it for months but didn't see it when it was turned against her? Or was she just skirting the obvious? Come on, Vandar. Time to step in. I know you're there. And I know you can sense Bastila. I know you see me.

"That's something I need to discuss with Master Vandar. I know he's there with you now." Sarah jumped into the discussion, taking the need of a response from Carth. He'd done his job, he'd convinced his Admiral of the dire need to stand here. To stand now.

"I am here, Sarah." He stepped into the transmission, staring at her. So many questions, and now she understood why. But he'd just have to keep guessing, she wasn't going to come out and tell him that she knew who she was, that she knew what he'd done. Let him stew. "I sense Bastila's battle meditation coming from the Star Forge."

"Yes. We lost her. I need to get on the Star Forge to go get her, to stop her. She has not been held by Malak for long. I can, in the very least, distract her." And I'm the only one who can, Vandar. You know it. I know it. She knows it.

He nodded slowly, gazing between her and Dodonna. "If Bastila is using her power to augment the Sith, then Malak's fleet is invincible." He stated firmly to the Admiral. "We need to stop her. Yes, Sarah, you need to go after Bastila. I will send the squadron of Jedi Knights to help you get a toehold on the station. Their small ships and the Ebon Hawk should be able to fly through the Sith blockade and dock on the Star Forge. They should be able to keep a running distraction with the Sith defenders and give you an opening to get to Bastila. Deal with her and that should allow the Admiral to move her capital ships into position for a final assault on the Star Forge itself."

"Understood, Master Vandar." Good, good. All still on the same page. Sarah could deal with this...

"I hate to ask you this after all you've done, Carth, but the Jedi may need all the help they can get. Will you fly the knight with you to the Star Forge? Get her into the position she needs to be in for this to work?" The Admiral asked and Sarah snorted aloud. The idea that Carth would not be there was inconceivable. The thought that he would not be the one to fly her in was enough to make her rethink the idea of going at all... She still had supporters. She could do this her own way, without the Republic.

"Don't worry, Admiral. The Ebon Hawk and her crew are gonna see this through to the end." Carth was so earnest, so filled with resolve. He understood everything that was at stake. He understood more than his Admiral. He even understood more than Vandar did now. He was with Sarah, come what may.

"And may the force be with you." Vandar offered and Sarah let the smile that wanted to be free cross her features. When had it not been with her? For good, bad, or indifferent, it had always been there with her. It was why she had risen so high and fallen so far.

The transmission ended and she nodded at Carth. It was time to get this started. "Let's go." She meant for it to come out just as strong and filled with resolve as he had managed during his discussion with Dodonna and she was surprised when her voice broke on the last syllable. Things had gone from the future to the now all so suddenly... He simply chuckled in reply, gathering her up into his arms and burying his face in her hair. "You got this, Babe." He whispered, letting her go a moment later. "I gotta go fly. You go get ready. Get Dustil ready. This is what we came for."

Yes, this was indeed what they had come for. Not even she could put it off now. "I couldn't do it without you." As hard and painful as it had been, he was everything in her life...short as that was. Without him, she would have never made it this far.

"No. No goodbyes, Sarah. No shit. Not here. Not now." He dismissed her with a flick of his fingers, moving towards the cockpit. "I owe you a fancy dinner on Coruscant." He yelled from the pilot's seat. "And you are going to hold me to that, you hear me?"

"I hear you."

"I can't hear you!"

"The hell you can't...my mic is still open." She muttered, glancing around. Get ready? Get Dustil ready? He made it sound like that was some sort of a chore, something to hold her attention. Canderous was busy, reloading, checking his gear, but she and Dustil would go in with the clothes on their backs and the lightsabers at their sides. The freighter lifted off, the engines catching in that quick snap she had become used to and she felt Carth drop effortlessly back into his force awareness.

"We're flying into heavy fire and flak. I need you all to sit down and buckle up." He snapped over the ship's comm and she took the nearest bench seat, buckling up. Dustil took the one immediately next to her, also buckling up and closing his eyes. Canderous merely grunted and grabbed the nearest jump rung. Mission and Zaalbar sat on the bench across the bay, oddly silent. But what was there to say?

I'm coming, Bastila. I'm coming, Alek.

The ship began to maneuver, weaving and diving in ways it had never been designed to manage, but they were following a squadron of Jedi piloted single manned fighters through the largest fleet blockade any of them had ever experienced. If Carth wasn't up to that task, this was going to be short. Very short.

There is no peace. But there was the focus that passion brought when it became louder than anything else around her. That was where she was going to find her 'peace'. Her silence. The ability to sit with Mission's terrified eyes on her and not crack. To be the master that Dustil deserved, that he was going to need. To be the master that Bastila deserved and was going to need. To be the friend that Alek deserved, and was going to get whether he wanted it or not. And to be the General that the Republic deserved, once again...whether they were willing to forgive or not.

"Through the blockade. Picking up flak."

Almost there. She wrapped her fingers around the quick release buckle, seeing Dustil mirror her motion. She had no idea what they were going to dock to. "Stay in the pilot's seat until I give you the clear."

"I'm coming with you." Carth snapped back and she snorted. He was, and he was supposed to, up until a certain point that she was not allowed to see yet. She would face Malak alone. Carth...Carth would just be something that Malak would use against her. Something for her to beat herself silly trying to protect and keep safe. But he still needed to be on the Star Forge. Along for the ride, however short his was fated to be.

"Yes, darling, you are. I'm worried that with me includes running like hell in the opposite direction if that docking bay is swarming with Sith screaming for my blood." She wasn't too proud for a tactical withdrawal and another docking attempt elsewhere...

"Gotcha. Coming in now. Looks clear enough."

"Good. I need you ready to go as soon as possible." She unbuckled, heading for the ramp, shadowed by Dustil and Canderous. It was time to go get this done, finally. She smacked the iris controls before the Hawk even touched the bay floor, she needed to see this, feel this, before they were committed.

Honey, I'm home.

As promised, the bay was clear. And the Star Forge was silent, watchful. So that was how it was going to play...

Three people ran into the bay, and Sarah identified them immediately as Jedi. Good, good. At least some of their support had landed intact. The two males, one human and one twi'lek, took guard at the door while the third, the female, approached, shouting over the engines. "You're Sarah? You and your team are our main insertion to go in and get Bastila? I was told that you'd trained for this..." Her voice faded off and Sarah could only imagine what she was thinking. Exactly how could Sarah have trained for this?

"That is correct. Carth, we are go." The Hawk's engines died and she could sense Carth rushing to get the last of his gear on, his steps growing louder as he came on quickly. Sarah could sense the younger Jedi's anxiety, the woman wanted her to go and go now, but it was simple. She wasn't going without Carth, and he wasn't coming without armor and weapons. The woman could just fret and worry about losing an element of surprise that they probably had never had. Sarah could not hide forever, could not hide from Malak.. the Star Forge, Bastila.


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