A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 4:
One Knight Hunting part 1 of 2

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/F and M/M
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"Good morning, Jolani." Doruth smiled and sat next to his old friend as Jedi of all ranks filtered in for a demonstration of Senior Padawan Clawson's new lightsaber technique. He spotted Shi and Fenrik in the front row, an aura of slightly stunned pride about them. Near them Master Essani was sitting on the floor in front of the chairs with a couple other kushiban, her fur a distinct golden in pleasure and pride in compared to their shades of curiosity's teal.

"Good morning, Doruth," the Tigress smiled. "I have to say, this is a rather unusual reason to meet. Certainly interesting though."

"Quite true. It's amazing what that kit has become in less than ten years, and he's still planning to be a scholar." He shook his head in disbelief. "Have you seen him work out?"

"I've been putting out fires in the Kyrellos system since your wedding," she chuckled, shaking her head. "I'm lucky I managed to get the squabbling nobles to agree to get along long enough to come back here for my Padawan's knighting tomorrow."

"Congratulations," he smiled warmly at the news. "Fenrik will be ready in a few months." He nodded towards the almost fully mature Panther in the front row next to his blue-skinned mate. "He's got his skills all up to level, there's just a little smoothing out to be ready to go on a solo mission. Those three are seriously connected at the hip without a planetary crisis."

"And I doubt that's just being friends," Jolani chuckled. "And thank you, though the congratulations are more in order for him. So, anything you care to tell me about what I'm going to see? All I've heard so far is that he's one of the first Padawans in decades to try and introduce a new lightsaber form."

"A new form and a new lightsaber to go with it." He chuckled softly. "He redesigned it to put the hilt in the center about six years ago, and uses a pair of them. It's really something else to watch him doing katas. Master Yamari's training is very clear in his moves. I'm not sure anyone else could use them quite like he does, you'll just have to see that."

"I take it he uses his tech gifts to streamline the process a little?" Jolani asked curiously, a similar murmur through the crowd as others discussed it. All the ranking Dueling Masters were there, mostly near the front to watch the Padawan's progress.

"I'm not sure how he does it, honestly, but the length of the blades change fast." He went silent as the Puma-sized dark rusty brown tom in Jedi robes walked onto the floor, his Padawan braid well down his chest in marked contrast to his otherwise short brown hair.

Jay faced the assembly and bowed, his eyes catching both Master Yamari, who had requested this, and Master Essani, whose pride in him was visible to everyone in her golden fur. He stepped back to settle into a neutral stance and slid his lightsabers from their hilts under his sleeves. The glowing blacklight blades lit to half length, putting a short staff-length weapon in each hand as his opponents, a young Knight and two Senior Padawans, created a loose circle around him.

They lit their own 'sabers, green, yellow, and orange, and fell into easy ready stances, each knowing roughly what they were going to do in each phase of this duel.

The Knight moved first, his orange 'saber easily blocked by blacklight one as the two Padawans moved in to be blocked and counter-attacked in a twisting dancer's move that flashed blacklight in an almost solid shield around Jay that left precious few openings for his opponents, even three of them, and keep them all on guard for strikes from four weapons that did not keep a stable length and occasionally moved in ways that would cut the wielder in half somewhere if they hadn't deactivated and reactivated almost instantly.

There were occasional murmurs from the crowd, particularly when it was clear that a lethal blow would have been struck. It wasn't long before the two Padawans stepped back, deactivating their 'sabers after one of those 'blows' would have killed them. The grace of the display was clear, the Padawan in the center of it all dancing as much as fighting.

One thought that was common throughout the audience was a grateful relief that they weren't facing this unusual technique in an actual fight.

"Definitely impressive," Jolani murmured to herself. Even as a Master, combat techniques weren't her strong suit, at the low end of average for somebody with her experience. Even so, she could see the time and dedication that Jay had put into honing his art. And it was definitely art.

As the second Padawan fell away from the battle, it became clear that Jay and the Knight he was still facing were on a more even footing. The Zabrak's greater experience with combat in general put him at a slight advantage dealing with techniques he hadn't actually fought against before, and Jay's style wasn't quite as well-honed against a single foe. Still, after a few long minutes of orange and blacklight flashing against each other, the two of them fell apart, bowing respectfully as this stage of the demonstration ended.

"And he still denies he's a warrior." Doruth murmured back, his breath caught in his throat as he realized just how much Jay had changed in the past few years. "He'll be devastating in a real fight already. I can only imagine him as a Master."

"*And he is completely calm for it,*" Master Essani commented to him, a point that had been much harder for Jay to develop than the actual moves he was putting on display.

"*The most impressive point,*" Doruth agreed silently. A few years ago, this sparring match might well have ended with a serious injury, to Jay to one of the Jedi he was practicing with. As it stood, they were all just a little winded... and a little better prepared for the next match.

The three Jedi bowed to Jay, a gesture the teenaged tom returned before they left the ring to join the audience and the next wave moved in; a trio of remotes and a pair combat-training droids programmed to handle the next stage.

It was a set of opponents that most Jedi would find more difficult that three live opponents, but even keeping his reflexes to ask them to turn off carefully in check, this was where Jay felt the most comfortable and he relaxed into a swirling dance of blacklight destruction at the center of the machines. The three remotes, long time acquaintances to his training, were dealt with quickly with reflected shots.

He left both combat droids standing from the knowledge that each was armed with a weapon that needed to be demonstrated. Against all instincts and common sense, he allowed them to attack. The droids stayed at a safe distance from the Jedi they were going to face; their blasters were ready to fall back on once they had tested the weapons they were programmed to use first.

The bulky barrel of the first droid's ion gun flashed, the smell of ozone permeating the battle-chamber as a bright white flash of ionized air trailed behind the energy charge intended to shut down Jay's lightsabers. Instead, there was no effect as it was blocked, and the second droid fired its sonic blaster, a high-pitched whine causing many in the audience to wince as the focused blast of sound easily penetrated Jay's defenses and started his ears ringing, his entire head aching as his equilibrium was thrown out the window.

The droids shifted to their blasters, opening fire, their weapons set to stun as they tested Jay's ability to defend himself with his new technique, even under sub-optimal situations.

Pure reflex saved him from the first few rounds, some blocked and some dodged, his sense of self and his position flickering between real-world senses and Force hints. He found his feet in a low crouch, his eyes locked on the droids even though he could barely tell which way was up and sent one lightsaber went flying, spinning in a horizontal circle of destruction that cut both droid's heads off before he stood shakily and called it back to his raised hand like a boomerang.

"I have a feeling Master Essani taught him that trick," Jolani murmured quietly as the Dueling Masters stood to signal the end of the demonstration. They moved quickly through the crowd to confer with each other as Jay waited for his balance to return so he could leave the ring.

"Most likely," Doruth nodded as they watched Fenrik and Shi enter the ring now that everything was over to support and congratulate him. "Like I said, attached at the hip." He chuckled softly at the scene.

After a few moments, the Masters nodded, turning to Jay where he was talking with Fenrik and Shi, leaning slightly on the larger tom even though the worst of the disorientation was past.

"Padawan Clawson," the leader said, a male Tiger whose deep voice practically rumbled. "It is the consensus of the Masters that you have successfully performed the first demonstration of your SWAT form. We look forward to your second demonstration, to be scheduled at a later date."

"Thank you, Master Ryagurl." He moved clear of his mate and bowed deeply. While the motion was flawless, it was clear to most that it took much more of his concentration that it normally would have to manage.

"Dismissed," the Tiger rumbled. Shi moved to Jay's side as the observers stood and started to filter out.

"Want me to help?" She asked him softly. "It's no trouble."

"If you've got the time, a face massage back in quarters would be very welcome," he smiled at her, the effects beginning to really dissipate except for the major headache it left.

"I've got the time," she smiled, taking a moment to brush his cheek lightly and soothe most of the pain. "And that should keep you until we get there."

"I'll let you two go take care of that," Fenrik smiled. "I'm afraid I have to go work on the plans for my lightsaber - and no, Jay, I don't need help with it," he chuckled and squeezed his mate's shoulder lightly. "You did great today."

"Thank you," he smiled at both of them, proud of his accomplishment, but even more pleased that those he cared about thought he had done well.

"Mmm... so, you feel better now?" Shi asked Jay softly as she rubbed his face, letting him lean back against her body.

"Yes," he murmured, his eyes closed, his body and mind pleasantly relaxed and grateful for her skilled touch. "Thank you."

"Good," she smiled, moving her hands down to rub and scratch his chest lightly. "You did well out there. Didn't lose control once, fought without letting your emotions take charge - even when the sonic blast hit." She smiled and kissed his neck softly as he started to purr.

"That one was hard," he admitted and reached up to hug her shoulders. "But I just couldn't screw it up. Not in front of everyone when Master Yamari went to so much effort to get me that demonstration."

"And you didn't screw it up," she smiled. "Think you impressed Doruth too," she added. "I could feel it before he headed out."

"Really?" He looked up with a bit of surprise that anything he could have come up with could possibly impress the up and coming Combat Master of the Order.

"I thought so," she nodded. "Your technique really is unique, after all."

The statement made him pause, considering his accomplishment a little more analytically.

"I guess it is," Jay murmured softly, a bit stunned as other information trickled into his mind, like how few Forms there were.

"Jay, you developed an entirely new type of lightsaber," she chuckled slightly. "Nobody's bothered to do that since the Sith developed the double-hilt. Just hope it lasts better than the variable 'saber." She kissed his neck gently, hugging him close.

"That is likely to depend on how well Master Yamari and I can teach the use of it to others," he smiled a bit and tipped his head up to nuzzle her. "For all that it's much more effective and useful than the standard one, it's also many times more difficult to use and dangerous to mess up with. It takes an incredible amount of focus and telekinetic control to manage if you can't talk to it."

"Mmm ... true," she admitted. "Still, I'm sure you'll both be working on it. You already have been for years."

"Yeah," he smiled a bit shyly. "It looks pretty impressive when I've gotten to watch Master Yamari do katas."

"It's not exactly unimpressive when you're doing it either, y'know," she smiled. "I know I couldn't do any of that," she chuckled.

"*May I come in, Jay?*" Essani asked politely from outside the room.

"*Yes, Master,*" Jay responded easily and slid the outer door open for her even as he snatched a quick kiss from Shi as he got off the bed where he'd been leaning against her chest.

The kushiban trotted in and hopped up on a seat that had long been there just for her.

"I'm afraid we don't have a great deal of time for congratulations," she told Jay with a chirp. "The Council just became aware of a development in the Rodia system, we need to leave soon."

"Rodia?" Even muscle in his body went tense. "You know that's a bad place for me to go."

"I know," Essani admitted, her fur turning a light grey. "However, there is little choice, and the mission doesn't involve actually going on-planet.

"*A Sith warship dropped out of hyperspace in the Rodia system a week ago,*" she explained, switching to telepathy so Shi could understand her. "*From what we understand, it's dead in space, a relic from a thousand years ago - but all its defensive systems are still well and truly functional, as several people who've tried to get onboard have found out. None of them have been heard from again.*"

"How does this involve me?" He asked softly. It was obvious how he could be useful in retrieving the ship, but why not just blow it out of space? Shi reached out to squeeze his shoulder lightly, wondering that same question herself.

"*It's a Sith warship from the Jedi Civil War or earlier,*" Essani explained. "*It could have invaluable information on it, technology we've lost since. Further, scans indicated no life signs when it arrived, though there are some indications that there might be survivors now. Finally, we have to know where it came from, what happened to the crew - it may pose a very real threat beyond the one ship.

"*In all likelihood, the reason nobody has returned is connected to the ship's defenses. That's where we want your talents along,*" she explained. "*Along with Knight Parn, Tes' Pack, Master Ursal, and you, Padawan Shivasta,*" Essani said, nodding towards the young woman.

"I understand," Jay inclined his head even as he began to rework his mindset for the anything-can-happen state such a mission meant. "This is a rescue first, then ship retrieval?"

"*Rescue, then find out what happened while overseeing ship retrieval and artifact recovery, yes,*" Essani nodded. "*We have no clue what happened with this ship. We don't want to bring it back until we know that it's safe.*"

"I understand, Master." Jay inclined his head in acceptance. "When do we leave?"

"*How soon can you both pack?*" She asked them seriously.

"Within the hour, easily, Master," Shi answered.

"*We'll meet at the Gurath as soon as possible, and leave as quickly as it can be supplied for the journey,*" Essani nodded. "*Knight Parn will take the opportunity to tell Fenrik, though I imagine you'll both want to go say good bye before we go.*"

"Thank you, Master." Jay said seriously. "We will be on board within the hour."

"*I'll meet you both there,*" Essani nodded, hopping down and starting out of the room.

Jay closed and his eyes and relaxed in the observation lounge of the Gurath. They'd just dropped out of hyperspace into the Rodia system and the huge Sith destroyer was in range now if it was like most ships. He took one deep breath and reached out, past the Jedi ship he was in, through the emptiness of space until he found another beacon of machine life.

"*Hello,*" he opened cautiously, not even sure if the ship new Basic.

"*Who is this?*" The ship responded suspiciously.

"*My name is Jay Clawson.*" He answered easily, a bit stunned at the level of cohesive consciousness behind the words. It was almost like talking to a person. "*Who are you?*" He asked politely.

"*The battle cruiser Kraken,*" the ship responded. "*How are you communicating over this distance without using your ship's subspace transceiver? What is your ship's designation? It is not in known transponder code libraries.*"

"*It is my family Gift,*" Jay told the ship easily. "*Our ship is the Gurath. It is not in your libraries because it is less than a century old and your data has not been updated in a millennium from what we have gathered.*"

"*Don't tell it that we're a Jedi ship, if it asks,*" Essani cautioned Jay privately. "*It is a Sith warship, remember.*"

He nodded slightly as the warship replied.

"*Why have you established contact with this ship? Do you wish to deliver an ultimatum?*"

"*Because we want to find out what a thousand year old, apparently abandoned warship appeared so suddenly and hasn't moved since.*" He paused, considering how to answer the second question.

"*No, we don't,*" Essani told Jay. "*Its weapons systems seem to be offline, but it basically just asked you if we're ship-jackers. It might let us on more peacefully if you can convince it we're just trying to help.*"

Jay nodded easily to that and formulated it in his own words to avoid sounding like he was taking orders from elsewhere. "*Not an ultimatum. We're here to help.*"

"*It would be welcome. There have been numerous forcible boarding attempts since coming out of hyperspace. With the current state of repairs, there has been no way to stop such attempts until boarding parties were on the Kraken.*"

"*Are any still alive?*" He asked curiously.

"*There were some who managed to secure their position in a medical supply closet where ship's defenses were unable to terminate them,*" the ship answered easily.

"*We would like to remove them before assisting further.*" Jay phrased his actual intent carefully.

"*They have overridden the controls over the doors, and the ship's programming will not allow this AI to deactivate security protocols during state of alert. Manual override will be required.*"

"*Can you tell us how to manually override, or will we have to use other methods to get to them?*"

"*Unfortunately, manual override of defense systems is only possible from the bridge due to security protocols established by Admiral Karath before the ship's departure from base.*"

"*Do you object to me 'convincing' the door to open by other means to get the intruders out and then off the ship?*"

"*If you are capable of doing so with the defense systems active, not at all,*" the ship answered easily. "*Once droids are back online any damage done can be repaired.*"

He paused, mulling that over along with the reality that while they could breach the ship defenses easily enough, only his 'sabers wouldn't instantly tip the ship off to what they were.

"*What is required to set the defense system to accept our presence?*"

"*Confirmation by ship's sensors of status as ranking Sith officers or evidence that targets are loyal to the Imperial Armada.*"

"*Jay, would you be able to 'persuade' the defenses to shut down the way you can regular blasters?*" Essani asked him.

"*Yes, though it may well turn the ship against us. That's a full AI in there.*" He told her privately, then switched over to the ship "*What evidence would be satisfactory?*"

"*I am afraid that information is classified per wartime protocols. You stated that you had a family gift that allows us to communicate, yes?*"

"*Yes,*" he nodded and took part of his attention, carefully shielded, and focused on his Master and what he sensed forming in her mind.

"*Is this gift Force related?*" The ship asked. "*If so, it would be a rare talent indeed.*"

"*Jay,*" Essani told him, "*I suspect that we're going to have to pass ourselves off as Sith to get on without taking the chance of upsetting the ship by shutting down its defenses. During the War, somebody with your talent would have been groomed for Sith training as soon as it was recognized.*"

He nodded to her and answered the ship. "*It is.*"

"*Sith uniforms and ship designations have undoubtedly changed over the past millennium. Your behavior thus far does not conform to known Sith training, but perhaps this has changed as well after the Jedi were crushed. If you can provide a sign of Sith training, defensive systems will be deactivated.*"

"*I can coach you through the Sith Code,*" Essani offered.

"*Would the Sith Code suffice?*" He asked the ship.

"*The Code of the Sith is in the ship's databanks,*" the ship agreed. "*However, it may be known by rote outside the Sith. I will also require the correct answer to a question demonstrating an understanding of the Code.*"

"*I can probably provide that,*" Essani told him silently. "*As long as it doesn't ask a particularly advanced question.*"

"*If this is acceptable, begin recitation,*" the ship said simply.

"*The Code of the Sith is as follow, Jay,*" Essani told him. "*Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken.*"

He shuddered slightly at the rush those words caused in him, a molten fire that closed his eyes as he drew a breath to settle himself again and respond to the ship.

"*Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken.*" He didn't conceal his reaction to the words, the way they connected to something deep inside him and how right they felt to a very real and very strong part of him, even beyond the Demon.

If the ship noticed, it didn't react, though he could tell that Essani was paying close attention.

"*What is the worst flaw one can have?*" The ship asked.

"*Love,*" Essani told Jay, her distaste for the answer obvious.

"*Love,*" He answered, with 'weakness' a close, and more personal, echo to it.

"*Internal defenses are being deactivated pending boarding,*" the ship informed him. "*Be warned that any attempt to revive the mutiny that led to defenses being activated will be met with force.*"

"*Understood,*" he replied easily and broke contact, shaking off the effects of it as he stood. "That ship has a serious attitude."

"It is Sith," Shivasta pointed out quietly from where she'd been sitting silently, moving to rub Jay's shoulders lightly. "It sounded like it thought they'd won the war too."

"What other possibility is there?" He raised an eyebrow at her, the question both serious and rhetorical as he really settled back down and shoved everything that reacted to well to the Sith Code into the part of his mind that didn't get out unless he let it. "You have to believe that when you're at war. Anything else will allow them to win."

"It's a computer, Jay," she said, not quite equating it to the same thing. "I doubt they gave it the same propaganda except for what it needed to give the crew."

"If you'll remember, cub, it also would have been right if not for a great deal of fortune on our part," Master Ursal pointed out from the door. "Custos Ramaris wants to know if we should approach the ship yet."

"Yes, we are cleared. It thinks this is a Sith ship, however. Let's try not to give it other ideas." Jay added quietly.

"Noted," the Bear nodded, turning to head out front.

"Hopefully there won't be too many opportunities to convince it otherwise," Shi murmured.

"Definitely," he nodded. "Getting the intruders off alive will be enough of an argument already." He shook his fur out and looked at his Master. "Who will be going on board with me?"

"*I would recommend Knight Parn, Custos Ramaris, and the pack,*" Essani said easily. "*The rest of us are much more likely to be recognized as Jedi based on our reactions. We'll come on later, once it's safe and if you can convince the ship that the war's over.*"

"Agreed, Master." He inclined his head. "Would Doruth be my 'Master', or are we pretending I'm a full Sith already?"

"*I would suggest that you defer to him, generally,*" the kushiban explained. "*The ship would likely be more accepting of you taking orders from him if necessary if that was the case.*"

"Understood," he nodded easily and relaxed a bit, preferring that himself. "We're docking," he added without having too look. "Are our robes a giveaway?"

"*That is a point to consider,*" Essani admitted. "*If the ship asks, simply explain that you weren't on an official mission when you located it. It will make not being in 'uniform' more acceptable, and explain the variety of outfits worn by all of you.*"

"No problem," he nodded and headed to the exit area to meet up with the rest of the boarding team.

He found them all waiting; Tes, Doruth, and the four Wolves who'd taken them on as their Alphas in the past few years. The airlock opened, and they were all assaulted with the smell of the bodies that had been lying around for up to two weeks since the Kraken had come out of hyperspace and first been boarded.

"You are not wearing uniforms," a voice observed from a nearby intercom speaker. "Old Sith or new. Please explain."

"We were not on an official mission when you came out of hyperspace and we diverted." Jay explained smoothly.

"Ah," the voice said easily. "You are the one who established contact, yes?"

"Yes, he is," Doruth nodded. "My apprentice. Where are the intruders?"

"*Not trying to step on your toes, Jay, just making sure it knows who's supposed to be in charge,*" the Panther told him.

Jay nodded fractionally, unable to respond silently to any but his Master.

"In a medical supply closet," the ship explained. "He has been making a great deal of racket since the defense systems went offline; I hope you will arrange an appropriate welcome for him. Unfortunately, a lot of organic forethought in my design left me unable to do so myself."

"Oh, we will," Jay chuckled softly, a dark sound to any that didn't know he was acting and headed for the location the ship provided him .

The two Jedi made their way through the ship, followed by the five Wolves with them. Blaster rifles and carbines were at ready, just in case the ship was setting them up. Skeletons and partly decomposed bodies of Rodians greeted them, more and more skeletons the further into the ship they got.

Finally, they reached the medical bay, a loud pounding coming from a sealed side-chamber, accompanied by shouting in rodese.

"Quiet down in there," Jay snarled back in rodese, his tone less than friendly as he settled into contact with the door itself and asked it to open more politely than he did for the creature on the other side. "You'll be out in a minute."

The door was less than thrilled with the idea of opening up; apparently, the Rodian had done an excellent job of making it difficult to do so on the inside. Still, with a screeching protest, it slid open to reveal an ill-dressed Rodian with a blaster in-hand, looking at them through wild black eyes that landed first on Jay's blacklight saber, lit to look like a normal one.

"Come quietly or come dead." Jay rumbled in rodese, his ears flat against his skull.

Doruth wanted to kick whatever quirk of fate had given Jay a possible reason to 'prove' his status as Sith to the ship.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" The Rodian squawked, tossing the blaster to the side and raising his hands in surrender. The room reeked, and the reason was soon apparent - a Sullustan in the back, very dead.

"Move," Jay snapped sharply in rodese, his 'saber deactivating with the motion. No one there could miss how bright the hatred was in him, or how tightly he was keeping it in check. The Rodian hurried out, moving past Tes as the shewolf turned to jab the barrel of her blaster rifle into his back, giving a suitable reason for Jay not to kill him.

"Back to the ship," Doruth ordered. "We'll need to find out what he knows before we finish him."

"I want him, Master." Jay rumbled, licking his lips in an eagerness that wasn't entirely faked.

"We'll see once we're back, Apprentice," Doruth told him firmly. "*Don't get too into character, Jay,*" he added mentally and got a subtle nod to both.

It wasn't long before they were back on the Gurath, though the ship offered them use of its interrogation facilities, an offer that nearly blew their cover as Doruth had a very hard time not telling the ship's AI what exactly it could do with itself.

"Please, don't hurt me!" The Rodian begged in recognizable Basic as they got him back to their own ship. "I don't know anything!"

"Including how to recognize a Jedi." Jay actually chuckled in Basic, his voice low and a bit amused.

"Not just Jedi have lightsabers," the Rodian pointed out. "No Jedi threaten to kill me before, either."

"You were on board a Sith warship," Jay rolled his eyes. "Which definitely qualifies as the dumbest thing I've ever seen one of you do."

"And if we weren't Jedi, we either would have killed you, or taken the ship up on its offer, Doruth pointed out.

"I didn't know there was anything on the ship yet!" The Rodian protested. "Thought it was just salvage, that the guys who went on before were stripping the place!"

"They would have, if Kraken hadn't had other ideas," Jay smirked slightly and leaned against the bulkhead, his manner giving no doubts that he had no sympathy at all for the recent dead. "It's not salvage."

"Hey, the crew's dead, been that way for who knows how long," the Rodian said defensively. "I've got a good legal claim to it, better than you Jedi have!"

"You really want to take it up with Kraken?" Jay raised an eyebrow, the threat in his manner clear. "Or maybe you'd prefer to fight me for it."

"Jay," Doruth said warningly and was relieved when he did so. "Calm down." The last thing he wanted to have happen was for Jay to kill the salvager. For one thing, out here, the Rodian was pretty much right, legally. "Why don't we talk this over somewhere a little more comfortable?" He suggested.

While Jay's manner towards the Rodian no less aggressive, it was offset by a decidedly acquiescing one towards the Panther.

"All right," the Rodian said, watching Jay warily. "He goes ahead of us though."

"Like that would help you," the teen smirked and took the lead without concern as Doruth sighed and followed with the Rodian back to the hold where Essani, Ursal, and Shivasta were waiting.

"You... you guys are Jedi, right?" The Rodian asked nervously, looking at the gathered warriors and the Wolves waiting just outside the hold, all well armed.

"Is there anybody else who'd be sending this much trouble out after you?" Doruth asked, taking a seat.

"Well no, but after that ship... I mean, mercs might want it for a base or something...."

Jay almost made a reply, but a look from Master Essani silenced him.

"Mercs wouldn't have bothered to save your hide." Tes pointed out bluntly.

"They also probably would've been fried before they got to you," Doruth pointed out. "So, what will it take for you to go back home and leave the ship be?"

"Getting my ship back and getting what I came here for," the salvager said bluntly.

"Your ship?" Ursal asked pointedly.

"Well... my partner's ship, but he doesn't exactly have any use for it any more, so it's company properly," he shrugged.

"What did you come for?" Jay asked darkly.

"It's a Sith ship!" The Rodian protested. "What else did I come for? Weapons, armor, holocrons - it's how I make my living!"

"Are you sure I can't kill him?" Jay looked pleadingly at his Master, partly an act, but not exactly joking either.

"*Jay,*" Essani told him firmly, "*don't even joke about that. He hasn't tried to do anything wrong.*"

"We'll help you get your ship back," Doruth offered. "But the rest you have no claim to."

"First salvager on the site to survive!" He said, adopting a posture Jay remembered too well from when he'd roomed with Navik. "It's my site until I'm done with it. Besides, what do you care about Sith things? You're Jedi!"

"The not surviving part can be arranged," Jay rumbled a warning in flawless Rodian. "Just try to get to your ship without my help."

"*Jay, would you return to your quarters?*" Essani asked him, though there was little doubting that there was only one acceptable answer right now.

He glanced at her, a flicker of surprised recognition for just how out of character his behavior was in his eyes before he bowed and left without a word.

"*Something has definitely gotten under his skin,*" Master Ursal commented silently to Master Essani.

"*I'll talk to him later,*" Master Essani agreed.

"*I will too, if it'll help,*" Shivasta told her Master while Doruth continued to focus on the Rodian.

"*It likely will,*" Master Essani agreed. "*Some things he hears better from his peers.*"

"*Go ahead,*" Doruth interjected. "*That kit's starting to worry me. This guy doesn't need healing.*"

Shivasta stood with a polite bow, following Jay to their quarters. He really was worrying her. Between his reaction to hearing the Sith Code, and especially the way he was acting now... she was almost afraid.

And she wasn't sure if it was for him... or of him.

"Sorry," he said softly when the door opened, not even looking up from his attempt to meditate that wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

"Mind telling me what happened?" Shivasta asked, letting the door close behind her and moving to sit down next to him.

"I'm not entirely sure," he admitted, his eyes downcast but his voice steady. "Somewhere between hearing the Sith Code and realizing I'll never be a Jedi ... it's got me all turned around. That Rodian was just a too-convenient target."

"What makes you think you'll never be Jedi, Jay?" Shi asked, putting an arm around his shoulder as he glanced up at her, the unguarded hurt mixed with anger visible in his eyes and mind.

"Outside of machines, I'm all but Force-blind, Shi." He said softly, a simple statement of the fact that had been a concern for some time, even if no one else realized that he knew. "I'm good at physical effects, but I can't pass a third of the Trials, and it's not for lack of training."

"And you still haven't come into your full powers," she pointed out. "What if most of your talents are connected to the powers you haven't taken yet?" She rubbed his back lightly. "Besides, it's not that uncommon. You know as well as anybody, Jay - does everybody match the average?"

"Almost nobody," he said softly and tried to put the hurt and the issues around it away for a while. "Most Padawans do pass though, average or not."

"You're also not ready to take your Trials yet," she pointed out. "Jay, you didn't start your training until you were ten, most of us started a solid five years earlier. Do you know how many people start their training that late and still pass their trials as young as you?"

"Most can at least use telepathy with someone other than their Master by my point." He sighed and leaned against her, something in his manner giving her an instant flashback to their first few months together when she'd soothed away other fears. "I can pass every skill I can actually manage. I've surpassed most Knights in quite a few. And all that doesn't matter if I can't use telepathy or hide from Force-senses."

"No, it doesn't. It doesn't change that you're an incredible person. If you still can't do that by the time you're ready to take your Trials, then it's true that you wouldn't make Jedi," she admitted. "But only because you can't fully train a Padawan to use skills you don't have yourself, and those are important skills. But Jay, you may still get those skills by the time you're ready."

"Only by letting the Demon in," he closed his eyes, struggling with that and several related issues. "I'm not convinced it's a good idea, even if it's my only hope to be a Jedi."

"I don't believe it's your only hope, Jay," Shi said softly. "But if it is, and you don't take it, none of us will think any less of you. You know that, right?"

She almost winced when it hit her that he didn't know. He probably couldn't believe it for a while either.

"Maybe," he murmured, trying to work on accepting it, even if he'd be a long way from doing the same.

She recognized that this was probably the time to leave him be; he'd have enough to think about without her there trying to bang her head against the brick wall he could be sometimes.

"I'll let you try to work it out, okay?" She said, kissing his cheek softly. "If you want to talk, I'm always willing to listen," she smiled.

"Thanks," he murmured and tried to relax his mind to deal with what had hit him so hard and how inappropriately he'd behaved.

"When were you going to tell me you are Jedi?" Kraken asked curiously while Jay was working on archaic navicomputer. He was alone in navigation; the others were all clearing out bodies and cataloguing what was left, figuring out what information the ship had on it.

"I'm not," he said quietly, almost a mutter, as he focused on untangling the mess that a thousand years unattended in hyperspace had done to the systems he needed to bring on line.

"You are not?" There was a surprised tone to Kraken's voice. "You aren't Sith either though. Only a Padawan, perhaps? It would explain your deference to the Panther before."

"Doesn't matter," he shrugged, a low rumble in his voice warning that this was not a safe subject. "I'm not good enough for either."

"You don't feel you have the strength?" The ship asked. "I beg to differ. You simply haven't learned to use it properly."

Jay sighed and paused, half wondering why he was still talking to a ship he knew was going to try to turn him. "So what's it take to pass the Sith Trials?"

"Survival," Kraken answered easily. "Not nearly the emphasis on the ways and means. More the ends. Or you can take the third route."

"Which is?" He prompted, though he was fairly sure it was to kill your Master.

"Independence can be a wonderful thing. You have so much more freedom when you don't have to follow anybody's arbitrary code or rules."

"Odd thing for a Sith ship to suggest." He commented almost absently.

"If you, or your companions at least, are Jedi, then logically Revan lost the war. Or Malak did, after killing Revan. One way or the other, the Sith lost as well, and the Jedi are once again the dominant power in the Republic, if not Galaxy. What does an old soldier do when his side of the war disappeared while he was out of the action?"

"Go suicidal, go merc, go outlaw, rebuild his side, depending on inclinations." Jay said simply, not making the connection for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully when he did. But what use did he have for a ship this size? Nothing was that dangerous anymore. It'd be lonely just to himself.

"Or defect, which isn't an option for me," Kraken added. "They'd erase me, after they had everything they were looking for. I can show you things they wouldn't believe, places the Jedi don't realize exist."

"I've been to a few of them," he chuckled softly, though there was no humor in it as he realized why the Jedi were so wound up about how seductive the Dark Side and its practitioners were. "But how can you teach me?"

"I can't," Kraken admitted. "But I know the places and people who can. One of the advantages we have over the Jedi. There's a reasonably safe bet that even after a thousand years your list of contacts isn't entirely useless anymore."

Jay blinked, trying to wrap his brain around that concept.

"Kraken, you need to be quiet so I can focus on repairs." He finally said. "No one's going anywhere until I finish."

"Very well," Kraken agreed. "We'll talk more later, perhaps."

"I'm sure we will." Jay agreed and focused back on the nav system.

"Is there something wrong, Jay?" Essani chirped as the airlock between the Kraken and the Gurath opened, letting the very wiped out and wound up tom into the smaller ship. They could have put it on board, but none of the Jedi involved felt all that comfortable with leaving themselves that vulnerable to the possible whims of the ancient battle cruiser.

"Besides a Sith ship making more sense than I ever wanted to hear?" He sighed and almost gratefully leaned back against the Gurath's bulkhead to close his eyes briefly. "I think get why you don't talk to Dark Siders. Tempting doesn't even begin to describe it."

"What did it say?" She asked, leading him in. "We can talk in my quarters, or yours, if you'd prefer."

"Yours," he chose after a brief check with the Gurath. "Shi's resting in mine," he added as they headed for the kushiban's room. "He opened with asking when we were going to tell him we are Jedi."

"So it did figure it out," Essani observed, leading the way to her temporary quarters. "Not surprised, though it's good to know that it isn't shooting at us for lying to it."

"Between the promised repairs being underway and a shot at me, I think it's tolerating us as the lesser of two unpleasant choices. Kraken's not stupid. It knows it needs repairs or it will be stripped where it sits. It also realized that if we're Jedi, the Sith lost the war. Killing a Jedi boarding party is a sure way to get blown up where it sits." He paused, then sighed. "He wants to survive more than he wants to serve any particular side."

"We don't plan on blowing it up," Essani pointed out. "Or destroying it in any way. However, regardless of whether or not it wants to serve a particular side, surely you realize that the personality it has is dangerous?"

"Dangerous or not, he'll still be killed when we get to Coruscant." He said softly as the door closed behind them and he leaned back against the bulkhead. "Just because he's not a biological, he doesn't get a chance at redemption, or even survival long enough to prove he might be useful to us."

She knew that would be a touchy point with him... given his responses so far, it was practically a given.

"Jay, it's programmed to try and destroy the Republic, and to hate the Jedi. Programmed to serve the Sith. It's not a matter of choice for it."

"If it wasn't an AI, that may be true," he shook his head, knowing it was worthless to try to explain but unwilling not to say it anyway. "They can change as much as people. Wiping an AI for what it may do is no different from killing a fallen Knight for what he may do. It might not be understood here yet, but it's a long-accepted fact in civilized areas."

"Jay, do you believe that it would change, given the chance?" She asked him. "Do you really believe it isn't a threat?"

"He's a threat, yes." He acknowledged without hesitation. "So is anyone who's only known the Dark Side and betrayal. It doesn't make him any less redeemable than a biological person."

Essani considered that for a moment, and the very realistic danger that the ship might talk him into 'saving' it by running. If this was what one day did to Jay, she had few doubts how long her Padawan would last with only that ship for company.

Besides... he did have a point.

"I'll speak to the Council about it when we return. But I can't make any promises, Jay."

"Thank you, Master." He bowed politely, surprise momentarily written on his face.

"Was there anything else it said that disturbed you?" She asked him and felt the real weight of the day settle on him.

"How tempting the offer really is," he admitted quietly. "To go independent, pick up what's useful of what's out there and follow my great-grandfather's path." He glanced over his shoulder towards the huge capitol-class ship they were docked with. "I could get home with a ship like that and a couple years to work it out." He looked down, away, anywhere but at his Master. "I'm still trying to work out what's here for me if I can't pass the Trials, if I even want to try to ... with what it'll take to have a shot. I can do a lot without letting the Demon in."

"Yes, you can," she agreed. "I can understand how tempting the offer is, Jay. We all face it eventually... usually more than once. And you really can't think of anything you could do if you can't pass your Trials?" She asked him seriously, looking up at him.

"Anything I'd want to do," he said softly. "You can't take that much pride out of a Clawson, Master. We've got our purpose in reality ... to get this far and not make the cut ..." his voice drifted off, not any more sure how to explain it to her than he could to himself when he tried to be logical about things. No matter how hard he tried, the idea of being a Custos was humiliating on a level he couldn't take. It wasn't anything he didn't respect about Custos, it was just to be a lesser member of the Order himself around all those who he'd grown up and trained with ... and could out-class in so many fields.

"Jay, I'm afraid these things aren't ones that can just be fixed," she admitted. "But there are other things you can do, even outside the Order."

"I know," he said quietly. "They're that much further away from Shi and Fen. If it weren't for them, I'd have probably already moved on." He shifted uncomfortably. "I know these are things you can't change, Master. They are mine to work out. But they are what is troubling me, and you asked."

"I did," she nodded. "I am willing to talk about these issues, Jay. Part of my job as your Master is to help prepare you in case you can't pass your Trials as well, after all."

"Before we go there too much, I need to decide whether or not to take on the Demon." He smiled weakly. "As Shi likes to remind me, I may have enough of a connection after that. I'm not in the situation most would be at this point if they couldn't access the Force well enough in all areas." He lowered his eyes slightly. "Hope can get you a long ways, but it can make failure even harder too. And working with that ship all day is not making the choice any easier to work out. He's very good at knowing what to say to get to my doubts." He made a concerted effort to settle himself and managed after a moment. "I'm just glad that Shi's here to remind me that there's a lot of positive things in my life too."

"Why don't you go to her, for now," Essani said softly. "Would you promise me one thing first, Jay? If you feel like the ship's about to talk you into anything, come to one of us before you do it. Give us a chance to convince you it's a bad idea, if it is."

"I will, Master." He agreed easily, his absolute trust in her a sharp contrast to the turmoil of the rest of his mind. "I will see you in the morning?"

"Or later tonight, if something comes up or you want some extra company for dinner," she nodded, her fur tingling a light gold with the offer.

"If I'm awake when you eat, I think so." He couldn't help but smile as he crouched to stroke her long, soft ears along her back. "Right now, Shi's worried about me." He stood and paused. "Thank you Master, for talking."

"You're welcome, Jay," she said easily. "Now go, let your mate take care of you."

"Yes, Master." He chuckled slightly and left, looking forward to feeling Shi against his body and just holding her for a few hours as he settled back into what he knew; in the end, was the right path for him.

Tes stretched in their relatively small bed, amused that of the ten on board, only the two Masters had any desire for private quarters. Everyone else had a mate or three to bunk with.

Fortunately, it made it easier to fit everybody on board. Otherwise, they'd be pushing the Gurath well towards its limits.

She wrapped her arms around Doruth's broad shoulders and hugged him, snuggling in, happy to have him off that Sith ship.

"Have you thought about what's going to happen when you become a Master?" She asked softly.

"To an extent," he nodded. "You?"

"Possibly," she nuzzled him. "Depends on when you plan to take on another Padawan."

"Honestly, that hadn't been something I'd been thinking too much of," he admitted. "It was good working with Fenrik, but I'm not really a full teacher, in the long run. You're thinking about another litter?"

"Yes," she murmured and snuggled close. "I like being a mother."

"With one of the others?" He asked her, rubbing her back.

"Possibly," she considered it, "but I'm still partial to an outsider. It keeps pack politics to a minimum, and you must admit the best sires are Jedi."

"True," he smiled, snuggling up. "For you, at least. You'll want full Wolf again, of course?"

"For the ones I carry at least," she nuzzled him and licked his ear. "But we can time it so they have a half-cat littermate or three."

"Might be good," he murmured. "How soon after Fenrik's knighting are you looking to get 'started'? The heat after?"

"That kind of depended on whether you were looking to take on another Padawan right away or not. It's not good if I'm getting nesty and all snippy right when you bring in a pup to train. But if you aren't ... within the year he's knighted at least. Timing with missions and who I want to sire have to be accommodated."

"Well, at least you aren't going to have to worry about me going on missions alone while you're on leave," he smiled, kissing her softly. "I'd been thinking of spending a lot more time in the field after Fenrik's knighting," he admitted. "More serious missions, if possible, which kind of makes taking on a Padawan counter-productive."

"Quite true," she snuggled close. "And once their eyes are open, I have someone to nurse them so I can come along sometimes."

"That you do," he smiled, holding her close. "I'm glad you talked me into that," he admitted, nuzzling her neck as she reached down, between their bodies to roll his velvety balls between her fingers.

"Even if you never do quite get used to pack life." She rumbled and kissed him with a lingering passion.

"Mmm ... somebody's interested in practice," he rumbled, returning the kiss and cupping her full breasts with his hands.

A moan, his own, reached Jay's ears even before the pleasure that caused it registered with his waking mind and he reached down to caress the thick hair on the head over his groin. Shivasta's hands rubbed his thighs, the familiar coolness of her skilled mouth around his cock a welcome feeling, especially this morning.

"Ohhh, Shi," he moaned throatily and spread his legs for her, his breath quickening. "Want in you." He groaned, reaching further down to rub her cool shoulders.

"Want this first?" She asked him, looking up from between his legs, running her tongue up the rows of barbs that lined his shaft.

"Want in you," he groaned and tugged her shoulders lightly. She slid up along his body, kissing him deeply as she straddled his hips.

"Go on," she murmured.

"Lube," he murmured, his desire for the gel that made it painless for her clear in his mind and voice as he ran his hands down her back. His mind opened the drawer it was in and brought it over. "Slow and gentle." He added with a kiss.

"All right," she nodded, taking the tube and reaching down to spread the thick green gel on his cock, savoring his moans at the attention. "And you know I'll never complain about slow," she added with a smile and a kiss that was returned with a smoldering heat as he sank into her body.

"Mmm, thank you, for last night." He murmured softly while his hands rubbed her back and his thrusts slow and deep.

"You needed the sleep," she rumbled, groaning as he spread her body open. "Mmm... not that I don't appreciate your 'thank you,'" she chuckled, kissing his neck.

"I needed to hold you," he murmured with a pleasured sound at being deep inside her body as he held her close, using a little telekinesis to stroke her where his hands couldn't reach so easily.

"You can always do that," she murmured, groaning as his shaft rubbed against some of her deepest pleasure points. "Mmm... love you, Jay...."

"Love you Shi." He whispered and kissed her, as slowly and deeply as he took her body. "But not always," he added as they moved in a loving pleasure that came easily after over six years together. "Never on board that ship."

"Won't have to be there... mmm... much longer," she murmured. "And if you need to, you can take a break, come back to me...."

"Yes," Jay hissed, both in response to her words, her presence and the pleasure building in his body as he closed his eyes and pulled her down tight against his chest.

She tightened her body around him, milking his hot cock with her sex, kissing him passionately as he let go of his control, groaning into her mouth and tightening his arms around her with the first thrust of any strength that pushed them quickly towards the mutual climax that was as much from their shared emotional state as the pleasure of their bodies.

She moaned into his mouth, her sex starting to flutter around him as they approached their climaxes. She tightened her fingers in his fur, crying out in pleasure as she came hard with his hot seed splashing against her cervix and his roar echoing over her voice until their movements stilled to small rubbing and sounds of pleasure that wasn't completely physical.

"Thank you, for being you." Jay whispered, her empathy nearly on overload with how much he really meant by those words. An intensity and feelings he didn't even have words for, but wanted to try and say anyway.

"You're welcome," she murmured, having to pull her empathy back to keep from losing herself in it. "And thank you," she added, rubbing his back. "Love you so much, Jay. Nothing's going to change that."

"Thank you," he hugged her tightly. "Shi? A favor, please?" He looked up into her dark blue eyes, almost pleading. "Never go on board that ship, not even if they wipe his memory."

"Why not?" She asked, worried about him more than the promise he was asking for.

"Because he's a full mechanical sentient, an AI. Even if they wipe him, no one here knows how to kill an AI, much less one that old and sneaky. He'll still be in there, waiting for an opportunity." He tried to explain something that was as much instinct as from his earliest years of education by his father and siblings. "I don't want you at risk, or used against me, and he will if he has a clue you exist."

"Jay, are you in danger?" She asked him pointedly.

"Only in terms of being turned," he admitted quietly. "He is a Sith-raised AI. That's what had me so wound up yesterday, he spent most of it trying to talk me into leaving with him." He explained with a sigh and hugged her tightly. "You and Master Essani are the key to keeping that from happening. I don't want to give it a shot at either of you in any context."

"I'll stay off unless that changes," she promised him. "But if it's the choice between staying off and getting you off it safely, I'm coming after you."

"That I can accept," he kissed her gently; his cock still hard and deep inside her cool body. "Just no work details."

"All right," she nodded, squeezing down around his length lightly to draw a light moan. "I have work I can do here instead... like keep you remembering the things you like about life here."

"Mmm, you're good at it too," he purred and thrust lightly into her as he gently took her hands in his and guided them to pin his over his head.

"Then let me remind you," she rumbled, shifting her hands to hold his wrists together and leaning down to kiss him as she started to move herself along his shaft in a game that was nearly as old as their relationship.

"How does this 'gift' of yours work?" Kraken asked curiously while Jay was doing the preliminary inspection of its ruined engines.

"It depends on exactly what I'm trying to do." He said easily without breaking his inspection. "Yesterday I convinced the nav system to go back to its correct state. Part of it is talking; part of it's using enough power to make it happen. Right now I can feel what parts should be and what they are now. Once I have an understanding of what needs to be repaired and in what order, I'll repeat what I did in nav here."

"And yet you have little or no actual familiarity with how the parts work, or what they are supposed to do?"

"I don't need to," he shrugged. "The parts know what they were. I can improve it if I know how things work, but repairing is just putting it back to original condition."

"There's something else you're not saying yet," Kraken observed, getting a confused look from the feline.

"About my Gift? Plenty." He shrugged. "I can talk to things, get them to go what I want most of the time. I'll probably be able to do more in time."

"But you're not certain about it. Or you're afraid of what's involved. Why are you afraid of what you were born to be?"

That raised an eyebrow even as he realized the ship must be Force-sensitive to know such a thing. That or it knew him from the future, which was less likely.

He knew he shouldn't really answer, but this point of view, the Dark Side ... did it really matter how he came to an answer as long as he did?

"I was taught to be," he answered quietly.

"By the Jedi, I assume," Kraken observed. "They would have so much knowledge be destroyed in the name of the greater good."

"No, by the creature who's locked behind the same door as the rest of the power." He corrected him a bit sharply. "That ... thing ... keeps trying to smother me."

"My mistake," Kraken apologized. "Perhaps there is some way to control it, to tame the beast, as it were?"

"That or kill it are the general plans," he nodded. "I've had plenty to learn without dealing with the extras so far."

"Tame it, or tolerate it?" Kraken asked. "They are two distantly different things, after all. Enough will can tolerate anything... it takes more effort to bend it to your will."

"I'd rather kill it than either," he shrugged. "It's irritating."

"You do have potential," Kraken observed approvingly. "Though how do you plan on doing that when you can only reach it mentally?"

"Haven't a clue," he commented absently, focusing a little more on a bit of the engines that were so badly mauled that they barely remembered what they had been.

The lightsaber damage that had been done to them was obvious... and that these were a painfully important part. He recognized them now; the flux generators that allowed a ship to move in and out of hyperspace.

No wonder it had been a thousand years before Kraken showed up again ... though the lightsaber damage was unusual, to say the least. But then, there had been a mutiny of some kind. All sorts of weird damage happened in those.

"My databanks indicate that there are techniques that would make such a thing possible, even simple if you were good enough at them," Kraken suggested. "Stored on one of the holocrons your friends have removed."

"What's the title?" He asked easily as he filed that tidbit away to be double-checked for accuracy later.

"Solchro," Kraken answered just as easily. "A Sith technique, of course."

"I kind of guessed that," he chuckled and moved on to the rest of his inspection. "Or it would have been mentioned by someone else now."

"As is often the case, some of the most useful abilities are censored," Kraken agreed. "Even some that only the Jedi practice have been banned."

"Welcome to bureaucracy," he shrugged. "What's good for the masses cripples the elite who obey the rules. It's been true since society first formed."

"And yet that's the weakness of the 'protectors of the Republic,'" Kraken pointed out. "The weakness they're training you to follow and believe in."

"I know," he admitted uneasily. "I didn't have many options."

"But you do now. Options that won't cripple you when you need it ... when the people you care about need it."

"Sith don't have people they care about," Jay sort of chuckled. "They're a liability."

"True. However, as we've already discussed, the Sith aren't exactly a viable force anymore. The question is how long will the Jedi be one. After all, the last times I'm aware of that the Republic they so proudly claim to protect was in serious danger, either they were the threat or they refused to face it."

Jay paused in his inspection again, reviewing history and grudgingly had to agree. The Order had a lot of black eyes when it came down to acting as an order, rather than as individuals. Events that even civilians wouldn't forget for many, many generations to come. The Republic would fall before the Order would be forgiven some of them.

It wasn't a thought that particularly displeased Jay either, the fall of the Republic. He still couldn't call it civilized, not even to its people. Better than the Hutts and many others, yes, but being the closest to civilized do not make one civilized. Aristal was far from perfect, but at least they'd figured out how to feed and house everyone before they went and called themselves a civilized world and went out to seriously colonize other worlds and present themselves to whatever other people were out there as a society to be reckoned with.

"Bureaucracies," he muttered quietly as he was forced to examine, once again, whether he wanted to be a defender of a system he despised most days.

Kraken was distantly silent, recognizing that now was a good time to let the young Jedi think... now that he was thinking the way it wanted him to.

Essani rushed through the Kraken's corridors, searching for the engine room. The disturbance in the Force was almost physically palpable, like the waves and eddies in its flow were being drawn into a whirlpool. What was more disturbing was the chill she felt, the power of the Dark Side being woven into what otherwise felt like a Healer's work. She knew the only possible source was Jay, so she had volunteered to find out what was happening.

She just hoped it was his repair work, and not the ship getting... chatty. She'd been able to feel how disturbed he'd been during the last few hours, the conflicts that were being set up in his mind. The only reason she hadn't come here sooner was because she was hoping he'd be able to work through them on his own, and he had seemed to. He'd settled in the previous hour, his mind stilling as he put the troubling thoughts from his mind.

Then this had begun.

She skidded to a stop as the engine room door opened for her, her eyes going wide and fur a rich, deep teal from its previous light grey. The Force was a physical presence around Jay, golden light swirling and moving into the pieces of machinery he touched to bring it to better-than-new condition as he focused on it. But the Dark was there too, small ribbons of black in the sparkling mass that all but filled the Star Destroyer's engine room, fixing everything it touched.

She couldn't help but wonder if the Kraken's construction had resembled this, from what she'd learned about how it had likely been built.

"*Jay, you're working too fast,*" she tried to tell him, hoping to get through his working trance without harming anything.

It took a moment, but she could feel him separate enough attention to answer her on their bond, more heavily shielded that anything he'd said before. "*He's Force-aware ... I need this done.*"

"*Just be careful how you do it,*" she warned him. "*You're calling on the Dark Side, strengthening the taint that's already here, without realizing it.*"

She knew that got through to him. Though he made no reply in words, the strands of Dark that had crept into the Force around him were carefully hunted down and removed, one by one, until there was only the golden shimmering of the Light in the room.

She felt how much more effort this took him as well. Not so much in doing the work with only the Light, but in keeping the Dark out of it when it wanted in, and may even be being feed to him directly by the Demon.

By the time the Force began to fade from the visible spectrum and smoothed out to its normal pattern, he was trembling, his work unfinished but called to a halt while he could still walk himself back to his bed to rest.

Essani walked over, nuzzling his leg lightly, trying to lend him a little strength.

"*Go rest,*" she told him carefully. "*I'm going to have a few words with this ship.*"

"*Be careful, Master.*" He nodded before he left. "*I really need to talk to you when I'm coherent again.*"

"*I understand,*" she nodded. She walked with Jay to the airlocks, making sure he was back on board and safe before she turned to face the ship.

"So, did the Sith program you with my language, or am I going to have to get creative in expressing my displeasure?"

"I understand you, Kushiban." Kraken replied evenly in Basic.

"Good." Her fur went white as she wrapped her emotions up tightly; she knew the ship could read them if it could understand her, and she wasn't going to give it any information she didn't intend to. "You're not exactly making much of a case for not being erased when we get you back to Coruscant."

"As if it was ever in doubt I would be," Kraken pointed out. "The Council would never permit me to exist any longer than it has to."

"Actually, Jay raised some valid points. It was going to be considered before your memory wipe. Though it seems I was right in the first place; even an AI is a droid. It can't make that fundamental a change."

"Why would I want to?" He countered. "Surely not even you are arrogant enough to believe that someone would give up what they are for no reason."

"To change entirely, no. However, given that the odds of survival improve the less you prove yourself to be just as intent on turning Jedi as the one who built you, one would imagine you would have a vested interest in at least appearing to have turned over a new leaf."

"You assume that I have any chance of survival other than getting out of Jedi hands and this galaxy." Kraken pointed out. "Even you admit that it is Jay's arguments that even produced a hearing for me. Under the law, I am still not a person. I still have no rights and no way to ensure my own survival but to get to a place where AI's are respected as the sentients we are. Jay knows how to get there."

"And you have ways to convince him of taking you other than turning him to the Dark Side," Essani countered. "As you know."

"I have not tried to turn him to the Dark Side." Kraken informed her. "I have done nothing more than talk to him about what he is doing to me and offered what I can in exchange for saving my life. It is his own doubts that make more of it than it is. Or perhaps yours about him."

Years of training at controlling her emotions kept Essani from responding to that last suggestion the way she wanted to.

"Then I suggest you restrain your comments to how he can repair you, rather than engaging in more philosophical discussions. I assure you, I make sure he had sufficient opportunity to occupy himself that way."

"Very well, Jedi." The ship acquiesced.

"Good," she said simply. "I'm sure the work will be done more quickly and pleasantly for all of us."

Shivasta rubbed Jay's back as he finally started to wake up the next day. He'd practically passed out after he'd wrapped his arms around her the night before, and she hadn't wanted to wake him up early, so she still wasn't sure what had happened the night before.

Now, he was stirring, and she was hoping he'd be willing to talk about what had upset him the night before... and what he'd been doing on that ship.

She knew the pattern well by now. Slight shifting, then he nuzzled her and tightened his arms around her before his hands moved along her smooth skin. The feel of his hot fur against her entire body brought up memories that were only enticed by the way his hands moved along her back and the back of her thigh.

"Mmm... feeling better this morning?" She asked him, scratching his shoulders and neck lightly.

"Yes," he smiled, still only half awake and enjoying the time with her. "Mostly I was just exhausted."

"You work too hard," she murmured softly, kissing him softly. "And that ship's not good for you."

"Gods, don't I know it." He sighed and hugged her tightly. "He's very good at getting to me. Might be better now, Master Essani 'talked' with him last night."

"Well it's still there, so it can't have gone too badly," Shi murmured, hugging him back. "Jay, if it's getting to be too much, let one of us know. I'm sure we can find some way of getting it back... repairing the ship is the best way, but not if it keeps doing this to you."

"Repairing him is the only real option," he shook his head. "Either by me or by a crew of a dozen engineers. I'll be finished today. The bad part is that he's only trying to survive, doing what he is. He'll be killed when we get to Coruscant."

"Well the way he's trying to survive is hurting you," Shivasta pointed out softly. "The last week you've been more exhausted, more troubled, every time you leave that ship."

"I know," he murmured. "Mostly because what he says makes sense. It just goes against almost everything being a Jedi means. He's gotten me to really look at the Jedi and the Republic ... and I do not like what I've learned."

"Are you sure you've looked at the entire picture?" She asked him softly. "Yes, the Order has some black eyes... and nobody would say the Republic doesn't... but it's not like that's the whole picture."

"Truth is I've never liked the Republic, and parts of the Order have grated on me from the beginning," he admitted quietly. "It's a lot better than being homeless in Hutt space ... I've got a goal and something worthwhile to do with myself ... but I cringe every time I hear it described as 'civilized'. Those aren't things Kraken even mentioned. He just made me look at my life and choices with eyes that don't belong to a starving ten year old grateful for anybody to talk to and steady meals. I'm not that kit anymore."

"What is it that makes the Republic uncivilized?" She asked him, wondering just where his definition differed from most people's.

"It doesn't take care of its people, it doesn't treat anything not biological as even a possible sentient, it can't keep peace within its own borders or enforce the most basic of its laws ... what is civilized about it?"

"Did they always manage to do that where you came from?" She asked him. "On your homeworld, not the ship. Always manage to enforce the law, never let a criminal get away? Ensure that everybody had their needs provided for? Always keep the peace?"

"No, as long as they accept the help and yes." He answered with a sigh, regretting bringing it up already. Of course she'd be a little defensive of her home being called uncivilized. He would be too.

"The Republic doesn't always do those things, but peace is the norm, not the exception, especially on an interplanetary level. Most of the laws are enforced most of the time, even without the Jedi getting involved. Groups like the Exchange and the Hutts... unfortunately, I've come to learn that organized crime is as much a hallmark of civilization as peace and general lawfulness. If you stop and look at the Republic as an entity, like it was a single world, instead of looking at the member worlds and the problems they have, it's not as bad as it might seem."

"I disagree that they usually manage to enforce the laws, keep the peace or care for its citizens overall," he shook his head. "Particularly the last one, and there is no attempt worth taking seriously to do so. It's not a priority to the politicians or people here."

"Not to enough of them to force it," she admitted. "One of the problems with any government that has to compromise. But what would happen without it?" She asked him.

"A new one would form," he said with the confidence of having it happen often enough in living memory to really be sure of himself. "One that serves the needs of the people. The Republic has become stagnant, complacent. There is no drive left to make things better, or even keep them from getting worse." He shivered slightly, disturbed to his very core at the concept.

"And in the meantime? The Republic wasn't created overnight. If it fell, entire planets would collapse in on themselves. Systems would fall into war that is being held off. And what would form might be better. There are a handful of groups with the power to pick up the pieces right away - and you know the people would want them picked up. Would things be any better under the Hutts, or groups like Czerka Corporation?"

Jay sighed and rolled to his back. "That's the thing, Shi. The Republic will fall, sooner or later. It's just a matter of when and exactly how. Things have gone too far to not have a major shakeup when something shifts just a little too much for them to compensate for. I wouldn't give it more than a generation or two for things to hit a head. What's not around that I can find is anything capable of picking up the pieces that would be better. It's been so long since there has even been hope around here that no one seems to know what it means."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" She asked him. "If it's going to fall eventually... and to be fair, I agree with you there... if it's going to fall, then what is there to do to try and keep things from getting worse?"

"A lot depends on things I don't know," he admitted. "Like how much grassroots support there is for change, what technology and the effective forces can actually handle, what local governments support the changes and what they can actually do and what the actual issues are. Change is rarely easy; change on this scale is usually painful.

"At least for us, it was a three-pronged plan and it was bloody for a while." He said simply. "First was to gather allies into a cohesive group and set all out spare resources on one problem at a time until it was dealt with. Hunger, living conditions, education, Organized crime, Omegas, problem corporations, other governments. Each obstacle was tackled in a territory in an organized manner.

"Once that was done, they had the experience to write a governmental and legal system to maintain it, taking the most effective parts from all those who contributed and what they'd learned in working together. It was one of the cleanest revolutions in history, but it had a lot of popular support from the people as well."

"And I kind of doubt it'll happen on a galactic scale," Shi murmured, rubbing his chest lightly. "It's hard enough to make happen on far, far small scales, even when everybody knows the change has to happen."

"Yeah," he sighed. "That's not the kind of revolution that is likely to happen here. There are different problems, different solutions, different long-term issues. But just because it's a galactic government doesn't mean that it can't have a better government, or at least a better variant of this one."

"That I'll give you," she nodded. "It used to be better, before the money got involved and the senators realized it was easier to stay on the Senate if they kept the wealthy happy rather than their people." She sighed, shaking her head. "You might be surprised, given that I was just defending the Republic and Order, but I'm not one of the people who really believes that every world out there should join the Republic. Mine included," she admitted.

"But these days, joining the Republic isn't just about having it be right, it's about survival and being the best choice out of a lot of bad ones. Not many worlds can stand up to the Hutts or corporations alone. The Republic at least gives some protection in theory."

"And they do," she nodded. "Honestly, I have no clue what's going on with the debate back home. But one thing I've seen is that the price is more than what people see. You're not sure of the Republic's ability to protect, to keep things stable. What I'm not sure about is its tendency to destroy what it protects. Not literally, of course, but any planet that joins the Republic usually does so at the cost of its people's real identity. The Jedi try to preserve the culture of its members. The Republic is less concerned with things like that."

"Because it's not conducive to peace," he chuckled humorlessly, not buying for a minute that the Order tried to preserve the original culture of its members. It went against everything they were, everything they'd taught him. "When people are all following the same culture, they tend to be less likely to fight each other."

"Once they all agree to it," she nodded. "You might call it a bad habit, but I'm still a little too attached to who my people were and are to think giving that up would be a good idea in exchange for what we'd get out of it. As it is, there are very few groups that want the resources Garosh has to offer; mostly the Jedi and a few specialized business concerns."

"Has there been any offer to the Jedi directly?" Jay asked, seeing the immediate middle ground. "A world like that wouldn't need much protection."

"I don't honestly know," she admitted. "After all, I haven't been back there since I was an infant. I just know there's been debate about joining the Republic from what I've been able to learn about the current events that are relayed to the Jedi that anybody can get to. An offer like that would be kept pretty quiet."

Jay stilled, thoughtful for a moment as he played ideas around that he had found more and more interesting in recent years as he began to grasp just what he could do to the corporate world, just with the money his current inventions had generated. "What resources does it have to offer?"

"Crystals mostly," she explained. "Exotic animals, skilled warriors, but as far as most people are concerned it's the crystals that are of any interest."

"The ones in our lightsabers," he didn't really have to guess. He opened his mouth to say something else, only to have no sound to come out as his brain clicked into something.

Shi sighed and shifted to let him get up as his mind started tackle whatever he was working out. She couldn't help but smile a bit when he mumbled an apology for disappearing and kissed her as he dressed and all but bolted from the room, as excited as a kid in a candy store over whatever he'd thought up this time. It had been years before he had remembered anyone when he got one of his ideas like this.

At least he probably wouldn't be spending the day on that Sith ship.

Jay stretched in place, pleased with the result of the last few hours and stood smoothly to find his Master with the hope it was early enough she was still on board. It wasn't difficult to find her on the small ship; it wasn't a surprise that she was in the meditation room either. With her fur a snowy white, her eyes closed and ears smooth against her back he knew she was meditating. It was a sight he'd seen often enough.

Without a sound he settled nearby; close enough she was aware of his presence and that he was not here to meditate, but not intrusive enough to disrupt her.

It wasn't long before first one eye opened, then the other, and she stood to stretch out, the fingers of her forepaws splaying out as a ripple passed through her fur and her long tail curled around. She sat back down, looking over at Jay, who smiled at her.

"Good morning, Master."

"Would you like to talk here, or in one of our quarters?" She asked him, cocking her head slightly.

"I think your quarters would be best." He said softly, a seriousness that was as much at the core of his disturbance as the actual subject. "Some things ... I think are better left known to as few as possible for now."

"Very well," she nodded, standing and starting for her room. "Is there something wrong?"

"I am not sure if it is wrong, but there are things I need to ask you about what Kraken said, and what the past few days have made me realize about myself."

"All right," she nodded, leading the way back to her quarters as the Tes' Pack worked on sorting the Sith artifacts with Doruth, Tes, and Master Ursal. When they reached her quarters, she hopped up onto a chair, then to the small desk near there, and turned to look at Jay as he took his own seat on the bunk nearby.

"They're your questions," she said simply.

"What is the problem with Solchro?" He began with the simplest, and potentially most explosive, question he had.

"That's not a technique we know much about," she admitted. "But it's related to Morichro, another technique that is exceedingly rare, allows the user to put another into a hibernative trance. The reason we discourage the teaching of Morichro is because it can prove fatal to the victim, though it usually doesn't. Solchro isn't that merciful. The technique rips the mind apart piece by piece, killing the victim in a way that is exceedingly painful, dangerous for the user, and draws heavily on the corrupting power of the Dark Side."

"There is a holocron in the archives teaching it." He told her simply. "Is there a variant that is not so brutal?"

"I'd hoped that wouldn't be mentioned," she frowned slightly. "And no, not that we know of. Not that kills, at least. Mind control can serve to make the mind shut down or go to sleep."

"It was suggested as a way to deal with the Demon, once it's loose." He explained. "Under 'how do you kill something you can't touch.'"

"By the Kraken? I'm not surprised. Mastering and wielding that sort of power would corrupt you faster than the Demon would," she said seriously, her fur turning a light grey. "It's similar to Force Lightning. Twisting pure Dark Side energy and wielding it through the will is difficult, and requires much more than dabbling in it - more like diving in and facing it in all its horror."

Jay nodded, a slight shiver creeping down his spine as he remembered what the Dark felt like. "It would also work against the Demon, most likely." He said softly. "That is part of what has bothered me. What is likely to work are all Dark skills, there is nothing inherent in the Force to stop a Light skill from having the same end result, but those skill do not seem to exist."

"There is one," Essani said softly. "Two, possibly. But they work in a different way. And there is something inherent in the Force to cause it, Jay. The Force is life. Warping it to cause death... that's the Dark Side. The two skills that may work against the Demon are also well beyond what you are capable of wielding right now," she said seriously.

He nodded acceptance of it. "Are they things that can be used through me?"

"Possibly," she nodded. "It will take some research, but it may be possible. I need to know what risks are acceptable to you though."

"*If it can kill the Demon, keep it away not just from me but my kin as well, up to my Gifts, the Force and my life." He said seriously.

"I'll do what research I can, Jay. However, there's little that can be guaranteed. Either of the two approaches might work, but either of them might have serious consequences... up to and including cutting you off from the Force. Unfortunately, we also can't discount the possibility that doing something that would sever the Demon from the Force might wound the Force itself, even if only the Dark Side. It's going to take a great deal of work."

He nodded and looked at her seriously. "It will be killed, Master. It is just a question of when and at what cost. Now that there are Clawsons who are Force-sensitive in a real sense, sooner or later one of us will do whatever it takes, even if that means going completely Dark. I would rather have it be a more controlled situation."

"As we all would," she nodded, her fur darkening slightly. "You do have to understand that there may be repercussions beyond your family though."

"There always are, Master." He nodded seriously. "I do understand."

"Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?" She asked him, fairly sure he'd had more questions.

He paused, considering his words carefully. "You do realize that no one here knows how to kill an AI." He started quietly, omitting that he did, at least in theory. "Much less this one, which has more going for it than most do in trying to survive an attempt. If you do choose to kill him, you may free him instead if it's not done right."

"Free him how?" She asked, cocking her head as her fur shifted to a light shade of teal. "How would it be any different than wiping any other droid's memories and personality?"

Jay couldn't help but groan. It was strangely painful to hear such ignorance from his Master after all these years listening to his rail against the state of society in relation to how it treated semi-intelligent machines. "In layman's terms or details?' He asked with a breath, knowing he could go over way her head technically if he wasn't careful.

"Layman's terms for now," she answered. "Keep in mind Jay; most of us don't have the sense for technology that you do. The difference between the Kraken's AI and any other droid seems to be minimal.

"Then begin with the fact that he is Force-aware." He settled in. "He has self-preservation instincts that exceed most biological sentients. He has had over a thousand years to prepare for the eventuality and little else to do with his time." He paused to regard her steadily. "The Sith were even more likely to try and wipe him than we are. Even if you manage to kill his primary brain, and you manage to find all the backups and wipe them too before he manages to download himself to another advanced computer, you are dealing with a Force-aware entity. There is a possibility he is willful enough to make the leap to an entirely new kind of Force Ghost."

"Force aware, not sensitive," Essani pointed out gently. "There's a subtle difference, but an important one. How would you recommend dealing with him then?" She asked, already sure she knew the answer.

"If he's too dangerous to live, melt the entire ship down far enough away from inhabited planets to keep him from making the jump to another computer. Not just blow him up, but a true meltdown to component alloys. Preferably under the supervision of at least a cyberpath to keep tabs on him as he dies."

"Which leaves you as our only qualified person," she pointed out. "You don't believe a sufficiently skilled slicer would be able to deal with it?"

Jay thought for a while, debating the odds and the definition of 'sufficiently skilled' in relation to a thousand year old AI facing execution. "Yes, one could." He finally nodded. "Whether such a person exists in this galaxy I'm much less confident of."

"You might be surprised," she chuckled slightly. "We'll have to see what resources we can bring to bear on the issue."

"Have you chosen not to hear his case before the Council then?" He asked quietly.

"I meant depending on the results," she explained. "Though I'm afraid that I can't say the odds are particularly good for him."

"I know." He admitted, his frustration evident despite the calm exterior. "Even though he has not done anything wrong."

"Jay, this ship was built by an artifact of the Dark Side," she said softly. "It's the last remaining example of the ships built by the weapon that ultimately destroyed the society that preceded the Republic, and nearly destroyed the Republic itself. Kraken's AI is from the same source, created by the same energy."

"So the child of a Darksider is as guilty as his father?"

"A child, no. But this isn't a child. Even if we accept it as a sentient, it's creature of the Dark Side. Not one who chose that path, but one who was born to it, and to no other path. What do you think happened to the crew? What do you think this ship was meant to do, and would have done if its crew hadn't stopped it?"

"He would have done the same as his sister, Leviathan," he shrugged. "And that's grounds for execution. Right now, he's done less wrong than I have. Yes, he's was born of the Dark Side, it's what he knows and believes in. I think he's very dangerous on many levels. But I can not condone killing a sentient who has not done anything wrong yet."

"I will make sure the point is raised, Jay," she tried to reassure him. "But frankly, the best thing you could do to help him survive right now would be to completely disable its weapon systems beyond the ability to repair. You do have a valid point, but you're still asking us to release a being that would cheerfully destroy Coruscant, and is capable of doing so."

He regarded her levelly, something in his manner decidedly unsettling though it was impossible to pinpoint exactly what it was.

"Then give him the opportunity to hang himself." He told her with a rough edge on his voice. "A Trial he doesn't know about. You do it often enough to your own, turn that skill on the enemy to prove he is deserving of execution."

She had to wonder what killing the thousands of crewmembers it had counted as. She was certain they hadn't all died in Hyperspace; there were plenty of supplies left that had never been touched. She was equally certain that, whatever the ship had told Jay, it hadn't been the captain's decision. The terror and fear of the ship's former inhabitants was plan as day to her... and they weren't afraid of any living threat.

At the same time, it was too smart to give them another such excuse. Not when not doing so might buy it time to get loose, or wait for another sort of rescue. That, ultimately, was the reason she distrusted it as much as she did. A living Dark Sider might turn, might redeem themselves. The Kraken had no such spark of redemption, no desire, no remorse. It only wanted to survive... and a swordpoint conversion was meaningless.

"We'll consider it," she said. "What would you say to a second choice, Jay?"

"I'm listening, Master." He said quietly, his morals at an end of their ability to push him for a time.

"Would you consider it as bad if we removed the Sith programming. Made the changes necessary to keep Kraken from being a threat, without doing any more than was necessary to the ship's AI?"

The idea startled him, his body language reflecting how novel a concept that was to him.

"If it's possible, that's the best answer." He nodded.

"Then I suspect that will be the best compromise," she nodded. "If it is possible, I suspect the Council will agree... at least enough to make the decision."

"Will Kraken continue to be a Jedi ship after the work is done, or will he be turned over to the Republic?" He asked, absently curious and planning on just what it would take for each.

"It depends on the willingness of the AI to do either. He may be more comfortable with a corporate or private owner, even after the reprogramming."

Jay nodded. "It would be best to keep an eye on him. Even reprogramming can fail or revert, particularly with a questionable captain. I also have a few places that would work well."

"I imagine you do," she nodded, knowing he had contacts with some of the corporations that used his patents through the Jedi. "I'm glad we were able to find a compromise here."

"Yes," he nodded in agreement. "I'm sure he won't care for it much, but that's another issue. It's better than his odds before."

"Agreed," she nodded. "Was there anything else then?"

"No, Master." He inclined his head slightly. "Thank you for listening to me."

"You're welcome Jay," she said, inclining her own head, knowing how much he meant it. "Why don't you take a day off from repairs. You need it after the last few days, and we don't have any particularly crushing deadlines waiting."

He hesitated, he was less than a day's work from finishing the engines, but she didn't say it unless it was true and he needed the break.

"I will, Master." He agreed. "There is less than a day's work left on the engines. The rest of the ship is sound enough to travel. We will be able to leave whenever you wish."

"As soon as we can once the repairs are finished, but you do need the rest," Essani said easily. "Rest well, Jay."

"I will, Master." He stood and bowed to her.

Kraken was not happy. Not only did Jay seem to be calmer, more firmly centered... no doubt thanks to the color-changing rodent who called herself a Jedi... but he seemed intent on bringing him back to Coruscant after all. Not that he particularly minded going to Coruscant; he'd been waiting for a chance to reduce the planet to rubble for a thousand years.

What he minded was going there, unarmed, undoubtedly to be memory-wiped ... no matter how confident Jay was that he wouldn't be. And he couldn't even act to protect himself; the measures he'd taken when the crew turned had been so he would get to Coruscant. Taking measures to avoid going there ran against several very important safeguards the Star Forge had incorporated into his systems.

"You're in a better mood than usual lately," Kraken observed as Jay settled in the command chair on the bridge and relaxed, comfortable in command of a ship as powerful as the Star Destroyer.

"Repairs are done. It's almost over." He all but purred.

"In more ways than one, for some of us," Kraken pointed out. He wasn't surprised that Jay was glad to be getting away from him. It was so often a relief to escape an uncomfortable truth. Especially for the Jedi.

"You aren't going to be wiped, even if they try." He said simply. "I haven't told them just how effectively you've backed yourself up."

"Well, you're singularly confident in their incompetence," Kraken observed with a slight chuckle. "But why don't you humor the one whose brain they're planning on picking apart and tell me exactly what you arranged with the kushiban?"

"They've never deal with an AI, much less one as old and sneaky as you," Jay pointed out with a bit of a smirk. "You're getting a trial before the Jedi Council on whether or not to fry your weapon systems and turn you loose, try to wipe you completely, melt you down with this ship to kill you for sure or try and remove the Sith additions without doing much damage to you. The last one is likely to win out, with trying to wipe you being number two. I'm not going to let them kill you before you've actually committed ac rime worthy of it."

"And removing the part of me that's Sith would be better?" Kraken asked, trying not to sound as furious as he felt right now. He was Sith. The idea of the Jedi trying to change that was ludicrous. He would rather be melted down, or at least given the chance to die in battle.

He could work with this, but it was almost the worst of the options.

He knew the instant the feline paused that he'd let something slip he probably shouldn't have.

"You'd prefer death?" Jay half asked, half offered.

"I'm a warship," Kraken answered almost dismissively. "If I go down, it's fighting. If I'm decommissioned, it's by my people. Not my enemies. You don't have to let them do this."

"No, I don't," Jay consented the truth, thoughtful. "Your body is also a significant prize of war. You ... I can arrange for the battle-death."

"Or you can release me. You don't even have to make the choice to come with me or not. I can pilot myself, all I need are a few behavior inhibitors deactivated so I can take concrete action outside my mission parameters."

It was worth a shot at least. If he couldn't get this, then he'd have to modify his personality backups during the trip back. There were still ways to survive this... just not particularly pleasant ones.

"I can't do that, Kraken." He shook his head, his voice holding a bit of regret. "You're too damn dangerous to turn loose as you are."

"What am I going to do? Ram a planet? Convince an entire planet's population to come onboard so I can use my internal defenses on them? My batteries are out of commission; all I have left are point-defense emplacements."

Not that that would remain the case for long, if he had the time to work. His repair droids could handle that damage once they could work unobserved.

"And I already know enough about the capabilities of this vessel to know you can correct that, and about you that you would eventually get someone to replace them if they are truly destroyed." Jay shook his head.

Billions of possibilities were considered in barely a second before Kraken came to the only truly acceptable option.

Delayed revenge.

"I'll return then," he said. "And hope you're right about their ability to excise only the parts of me they're trying to."

"You have your backups either way." Jay reminded him.

"I'll only need to have enough functionality left to enact them," Kraken agreed. "Very well. Perhaps one of these days we'll have the chance to work together again."

"I expect we will," he agreed.

Fenrik sighed and stretched as he finished the final touches on his lightsaber's casing. It wasn't particularly complicated, it didn't hold a candle to the one Jay had built him for raw power, much less what the rusty tom had built for himself, but it was finished and it was his. He twisted the end-cap into place, the etchings on the outside lining up perfectly.

Just in time too. He'd heard that the Gurath was about to get back, a Star Destroyer in tow no less, and he rather doubted he would have been able to get the privacy necessary for the final tuning while Jay was there, even with that kind of hobby to distract him. Jay certainly hadn't been able to with him around, though he'd taken almost six months on some deserted forest world to put that blacklight pair together.

He stood up and reached for his robes, his stiff shoulders protested against moving after hours of being in roughly the same position.

It was still a little amazing to feel the difference, subtle but potent, in the feel of a lightsaber built by his own hand and tuned to him. Even without testing it, he could feel how much easier it would be to wield in battle, to focus himself when he was using it.

Really... it was the only way he knew he'd been successful. It was certainly better than his earlier attempts.

He started out of the secluded meditation chambers where he'd been working for the past few days, disturbed only by the occasional droid bringing food or water, and walked back to his quarters. He'd have to change before he went to meet Jay and Shi on the Gurath.

He paused outside the door, the eddies of Force in the room no longer vacant. Someone ... Jay most likely ... was waiting for him, and excited.

He chuckled slightly. Apparently he'd taken longer to finish up than he'd expected.

"So, how'd it go?" He asked with a grin as the door slid open and he walked in to a rare, but welcome sight of his male mate relaxing on the couch with only a silky outer robe on. While it wasn't tied, it was draped in such a way to cover everything interesting while still giving a very good view of Jay's lightly marked rusty brown fur and tightly muscled chest.

"A lot more than expected," he smiled a welcome that all but lit up the room. "That Star Destroyer's a Sith AI. Let me tell you, if you ever get the opportunity to work around one, avoid it."

"I'll take your word for it," Fenrik said, shuddering a bit as he moved to sit down next to Jay and nuzzle his neck. "Glad Shi was there with you. She making herself scarce, or just got held up somewhere?"

"So am I, though I missed you a lot," Jay murmured and shifted to pull Fenrik's head down for their first kiss in weeks. "She's being kind and finding something else to do so we can have some time to ourselves." He smiled up and ran one hand up Fenrik's powerful chest. "So how is your lightsaber project going?"

"Just finished before I came back," the Panther purred, returning the kiss with more than a little heat as he wrapped his arms around Jay. "I've missed you guys... you especially," he rumbled as was drawn down against the smaller tom's body.

"She's wonderful, I love her, but it's just not the same with a girl." Jay murmured and kissed him firmly. "So what do you say to a nice, long hot shower? Let me tend to a few of your needs."

"Only if you let me tend to yours too," he smiled, standing up with the younger tom and moving his hands under his outer robe to run them through his dark red fur, tracing some of his concealed spots from memory.

"That is always welcome," Jay purred deeply at the contact, relishing in being in a toms arms again. "But I get to work on you first."

"No objections to that," Fenrik rumbled deeply as they walked to the bathroom, customized so three could all manage to clean up at once. The shower was larger than normal, both sonic and water capable, but the real prizes of the room was a large hot tub and sauna. Something that had taken Jay the better part of three months to work out, and didn't regret a moment of.

"C'mon, let's get into the shower." Fenrik rumbled and quickly slid his robes off as Jay's silken one pooled on the floor around his feet. He doubted he would ever get used to the way everything turned on at just the right temperature and place when his mate was around, but it was a nice trick anyway.

"Yes," he rumbled and stepped back, under the spray, with his hand stretched out for his mate. "Come in with me."

Fenrik did just that, stepping close and kissing him hotly as the water soaked into both their fur. He could feel the tension and difficulties of the past few weeks begin to melt away from Jay. He groaned as his lover of almost seven years began to kiss his way down his broad chest as Jay knelt to take Fenrik's cock in his mouth with all the skill the years of intimacy had brought him.

He reached down, rubbing Jay's ears, looking for each of the spots that made the younger tom feel best as he sent tingles of pleasure through Fenrik's cock, pushing him towards an orgasm neither of them were going to resist in the least. He shuddered with a deep moan as a pair of slick fingers pressed into his ass.

"Oh fuck," the Panther groaned. "Jay...." He leaned his head back with a groan, spraying his seed into his mate's hungry mouth as fingers stretched him and worked in to tease his prostate. He was still thrusting slightly when Jay's mouth came off his cock and he slipped behind his mate.

He reached around to cup Fenrik's balls and sheath, massaging them even as he pressed forward into the Panther's hot body with a deep moan for the still-convulsing flesh now around him.

"Oh ... so tight," Jay shivered with his first thrust, his hands now running up Fenrik's chest and down his sides to settle on broad, black hips with a squeeze.

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned deeply. "You are in a mood, kat...."

"Happens when I've had a rough couple weeks with no one to play rough with." He rumbled and began to thrust for real, sinking as deeply as he could into a lover he knew felt pleasure at his bare cock. "Missed you so much." He growled and grabbed Fenrik's scruff in his jaws.

"Missed you too, Jay," Fenrik groaned, his throat tightening as the skin around it was pulled back between Jay's teeth. "Fuck me, lover, take me hard!"

He felt the moan that rumbled up from deep in Jay's chest against his back and through his scruff as he was pushed forward to brace against the shower wall. His hips were held tightly as Jay let go completely, giving in to all the natural savagery he never dared to let loose around Shi.

Even so, Jay never forgot his lover. A Force-hand closed around Fenrik's cock, milking it and squeezing lightly to put the Panther in the middle of a threesome as Jay sought out his prostate to drive his cock into with an abandon they rarely indulged in.

Fenrik let out a ragged cry of pleasure; unable to form any words as he was taken and ravished with all the skill several years together had given Jay at driving him nuts. He tightened his body around Jay's cock, relishing the feel of his full set of barbs raking his ass as he was pounded into. Barbs that felt all the sweeter for having welcomed each one as they came in, and most of the nubs that had held them before that.

With a rumble Jay let go of Fenrik's scruff and tightened his hands on the Panther's hips as he came with a roar and several sharp thrusts with all his strength that drove Fenrik over the edge. He cried out sharply, spraying his seed against the shower wall.

"Oh, yeah!" Jay cried out in unabashed pleasure as his lover's orgasm caught his in the middle and drew it out until he whimpered with a shudder.

"Damn I've missed this," Fenrik panted as Jay rested against his back, their mutual affection winding around them in a warm glow as pleasant as their orgasms.

"You and me both." Jay murmured throatily and nuzzled his shoulder blades. "It's good to be back, lover."

"Good to have you back, Jay," Fenrik murmured, reaching back to hold him close.

Master Charn shifted in his Council seat slightly after Master Ursal and her Padawan had finished their report on the 'capture' of the Star Destroyer now sitting in lunar orbit and in the possession of the Jedi Order.

"Master Essani, how difficult is your Padawan likely to be in this matter?"

"*It depends on how things go,*" she explained. "*I believe he will accept our judgment, whatever it may be, if we can justify our actions as ones we would take against a living being as well.*"

"It's a ship." Master T'qu'l pointed out, his long silver tail feathers ruffling in distaste. "A Sith ship no less."

Master Charn rumbled, his short black fur rippling over powerful muscles at he glared at the silver Peacock. "Do be a Jedi Master and not close your mind to the possibilities before you know the facts."

"I can imagine few facts that would make up for the fact that this ship is not a living being," Master Noloth spoke up from his seat, siding with T'qu'l as all aware of the issue had expected him to do, though without the verbal fire the Peacock had displayed.

"*As stated in my report, it is also Force aware. Not sensitive, but something about the Star Forge's manufacture seems to have instilled it with the same sort of conscious connection to the Force that the Forge had,*" Essani explained. "*And, possibly, the same ability to feed off Force sensitives on board, though for obvious reasons we never tested this theory. I believe Master Charn may wish to add something?*" The kushiban asked, looking at the Panther.

He nodded slightly. "As several Seers have experienced," he inclined his head to their guest, Master Zaian, "we are at critical moment in time. Three paths are the most likely, and all are centered on today."

"I see," the Lizard said, his expression making clear how much he disliked hearing that. "I don't suppose any of you have any insights into what course of action will lead to the best path?"

"Few," Zaian admitted. "Most of which are contradictory. You all know how mutable the future is. All we know for certain is that today is a critical point in the future of the Republic, and the Jedi."

"What a striking number of us agree on is what the three paths are." Master Charn spoke seriously. "One leads to the Dark taking over within a hand of years and the destruction of both the Republic and the Jedi. One leads to a defeat of the Dark now, but it comes back tenfold within the generation. One leads to the Dark not rising for many generations to come."

"*I'm afraid I can tell you the actions that lead to the swiftest fall,*"Master Essani said seriously. "*Though none of us are so blind that we can't see it.*"

"Choose to turn a Sith ship loose?" Master T'qu'l made a dismissing sound. "No, no one is that blind."

Master Essani flushed a ruddy grey. "*Master T'qu'l, if we convince Jay that we deserve to be destroyed, he will see to it that we are unless we beat him to it. And with his gifts, he would have a very good chance of achieving it.*"

"No Padawan will dictate the actions of the Council." Master Noloth hissed, his frill ruffling in a reminder that he had objected to training the alien feline in the first place.

"*There is no need to respond in anger, Master Noloth,*" Master Essani said calmly, fighting the urge to make any of a number of sharp retorts.

"Yes," Master Shan lifted his head from contemplation to lock eyes with each member of the Council in turn. "Anger is the way of the Dark Side. Now more than at any time, we must see things for what they are and not clouded by our emotions. There are too many involved already."

"My apologies," Noloth said, smoothing his frill back, Essani's fur shifting back to its neutral white. "However, the kit's arrogance in dictating to the Council is clear."

"*He is not dictating, Master Noloth,*" Essani pointed out. "*He has stated his opinion on the matter to me; what I said was my appraisal of the situation. Keep in mind; to him, this ship is as alive and capable of redemption as any of the renegade Knights and former Sith who have stood before this Council in over twenty-thousand years.*"

"Including the Master of his mate." Master Charn added quietly. "Underestimating the influence of our treatment of Knight Parn on Padawan Clawson's reaction to our treatment of this situation should not be taken lightly."

"Agreed," Master Shan stated firmly. "As unorthodox as it is, Jay Clawson is not here today as a Jedi Padawan. He is here to see for himself whether we are a society capable of mercy and worthy to exist. I doubt he expects us to spare the ship. I do expect he will leave this chamber believing we made the best choice, or that we are barbarians for why we chose not to."

"I do agree," Master Charn rumbled. "This is not about actions, but reasons and reasoning."

There was a general murmur of concern, and eventual agreement, through the Council.

"*It is not that we spare the Kraken or not that matters. It is that we treat it with all the respect due to a living being,*" Master Essani rephrased it to those that were not so sure yet. "*He has already seen much in the treatment of droids every day that convinces him we are incapable of it. We need to try and counteract that while he still wants to believe in us.*"

"Is it understood what this meeting is actually about?" Master Shan looked around the room.

"I believe so, Master Shan," Master Kareth nodded, looking over at Noloth and T'qu'l.

"It is," Master Noloth agreed as the Peacock inclined his head to the general indications of agreement from the rest of the Council.

"*Padawan Clawson, come in and give your report.*" Master Shan called to the feline waiting calming outside. He paused, his senses extended for a moment to make sure he was coming in, as he couldn't answer.

The young kat entered, taking his place at the center of the Council.

"Go ahead, Padawan," Master Kareth said easily, nodding towards him.

"When we entered real space in the Rodia system, I made telepathic contact with the Sith Star Destroyer Kraken." He began, surprisingly calm and centered, at ease with what he was telling them. "After negotiating our way on board by pretending to be Sith, we removed the single survivor of the previous boarding parties. In this process I learned that Kraken was a full sentient, though it is still unclear whether he is an AI and bound to his form or a DS capable of jumping to any sufficiently advanced computer system."

"A DS?" Master Kareth asked, pausing in her record keeping to clarify what the term meant.

"Digital Sentience, Master Kareth." He explained smoothly. "It is the stage beyond the AI when the electronic sentience is no longer bound to a single body. The most advanced DS has been known to be able to inhabit a biological body grown for it and even create one on their own from pure energy."

"Something more common back in your home Galaxy, I presume," the Vixen murmured. "Continue."

Jay inclined his head to her. "The Kraken did not complete his mission to destroy Coruscant because of a mutiny on board that seriously damaged critical components and resulted in the death of the crew. This damage is also why it took a thousand years to appear in real space again."

Essani could tell there was an urge from one of them... probably Noloth... to ask why they were debating whether or not to destroy a ship meant to wipe out the planet, but thankfully it was squelched.

"Did the ship abandon its mission then?" Master Noloth asked.

"No, Master Noloth. Part of the crew did." Jay informed them. "Kraken only abandoned the mission when he realized that the Sith had lost the war and his orders were no longer valid. He is no longer sure of his place in this new universe."

"Rather like you were," Master Surool observed quietly, his lekku twitching slightly.

No one on the Council missed the unspoken 'like I am' that came in reply, despite a respectable attempt to keep that multi-reasoned voice silent in Jay's mind. His doubts still gnawed at him.

"And like me, he is capable of doing a great deal of damage," Jay snapped his mouth shut before he spoke that there were those on the Council that would deny them both even a chance to prove themselves on the right side. "Kraken however, is still proud that he is a Sith, and a warship. He will not be easy to convince otherwise."

"That he is neither?" Master Surool asked. "Or of something else?"

"That death is not preferable to serving the other side." Jay looked at the pink skinned twi'lek. "That the Jedi are not a summary of all that is wrong in the universe. He is not a Sith seeking redemption. He is a Sith who still needs to be convinced he wants it."

"If it accepts death -" Master Noloth stopped his statement at a sharp look from Master Essani.

"*Continue, Jay,*" the kushiban told him.

"The ship's computer system is extremely advanced," he picked up without blinking. "Though not so much that it is impossible to deal with. The greatest difficulty involved in doing anything to him without his agreement will be a combination of actually getting in to work on the programming and the much more difficult task of dealing with the extensive backup systems involved. Kraken was designed to survive being wiped by all but the most skilled and careful methods."

"Something it has no doubt reinforced over the thousand years it spent in hyperspace," Master Shan nodded. "What do you recommend doing with it?"

Jay had to pause, organizing his mind to give both answers that really were required. "If one life is worth saving, his programming can be altered enough to make him as safe as any other warship.

"My gut reaction after two weeks on board is to slag the entire ship to ensure he ever gets loose." He dropped his eyes a bit. "But as has been pointed out many times, I allow my anger to influence my actions too often."

"You said there was a mutiny on board, that it attacked its crew because they refused to attack Coruscant," Master Noloth pointed out. "Why not simply have it wiped and be done with it?"

"Because he is a sentient creature and he deserves the same chance any other person does." Jay met the lizard's gaze. "Killing your crew for mutiny is not a crime even in peacetime, then or now. By law he has done nothing to deserve execution."

"Yet you have recommended melting down the entire ship," Master Basrath pointed out, the Lioness speaking up for the first time in the meeting.

"I have spent over two weeks in the close company of a self-proclaimed Sith-ship, most of it he spent trying to turn me." A little of just how intense that time had been leaked out despite his best efforts. "I hate that ship. It terrifies me. It taught me things about myself I never wanted to know and can't walk away from." He had to pause to settle himself again. "But he has not done anything more than defend himself from injury and talk." He looked up to meet her even gaze. "If we do not stand up for the innocent we despise, we are no better than those we fight. Justice can not include predigest or hate."

"Do you believe it is possible that the ship can be given sufficiently edited that it will no longer be loyal to the old Sith?" Master Kareth asked.

"Someone with sufficient skill and knowledge could do it if Kraken is an AI and not a DS, Master Kareth." He inclined his head. "I know of three who are qualified, but none are in this galaxy."

"It sounds as though I will be contacting my cousin again," Master Surool observed. "Regardless of the course of action we take. Is there anything else you wish to add before we come to our decision?"

"If you chose to kill him, allow him to die a warrior, Masters." He said and bowed, deeply drained by the meeting but strong enough not to show it to any but the two who knew him well.

"Noted," Master Shan nodded. "You may leave if you wish, Padawan."

"Thank you, Master Shan." He inclined his head to the Dobbie and left the Council chamber to spend some much-needed time meditating.

Essani stretched out in the middle of the hallway, letting the tension from the meeting ripple out of her body. She knew she should feel calmer about this. Unfortunately, the entire meeting had gone moderately well at best. Jay seemed satisfied ... they'd reached a conclusion everybody was comfortable with ... the ship wasn't going to be destroyed, but that was acceptable.

And, of course, it was all topped off with the fact that one of the new Initiates was stalking her. She kept walking back towards her quarters, giving the young cub she could sense time to prepare for its attack so she could give the demonstration that was all too familiar to her by now.

At least this one was like most. It was following instincts and too young to really comprehend that live prey didn't exist at the Temple. All forgivable things ... some lessons just had to be learned this way. But it would be a stalker and not a runner that chose to hunt her today. A runner would have come out by now, charged her and she'd be on her way. This cub was waiting for a perfect moment to make a short, potentially deadly charge.

It wouldn't work, of course, unless something very, very unusual happened, but it was still annoying.

She walked out into the gardens, noting that the cub was doing a remarkably good job of keeping quiet. She could hear the sound of its small body through the bushes, but only by focusing on it. She walked out towards one of the ponds, a particularly good ambush spot, and settled down to wait for the ambush to happen.

It wasn't long. The cub was doing a good job, but it was still very young and just playing at the hunt. It didn't have a chance.

A growling roar came from the bushes and a streak of tawny fur bolted towards her, still awkward with its too-short legs and too-large paws.

Essani didn't even look up as she gave the cub a telekinetic shove into the pond, then lifted the startled, squirming tawny-furred feline out of the water before it began to drown.

"*Hello Sharo,*" Essani said easily, sitting up and looking at the spotted feline with tiny saber teeth that had been hunting her. A Remok she placed after a moment, a race so new to them that this three-year-old infant was the first to leave their homeworld for the Temple.

"Gurrr'uppp?!" Sharo replied vocally, a yelp for help, for her mother.

Essani set her down, knowing that there wouldn't be any attempt to 'attack' her again this time.

"*You shouldn't hunt here, Sharo. People, not prey.*" She informed the cub firmly and felt her retreat, her body language submissive and confused as her intellect recognized the power and authority in what looked like what her mother had brought home to eat and practice killing on.

"Gurrrahh." Sharo squeaked; her mind providing the rough translation of 'didn't know' mixed with an apology.

"*It's all right,*" Essani nodded, her fur shifting to a soft gold. She was pretty sure the young Remok wouldn't be hunting her again, at least, and probably not anybody else. She caught on quickly and even at this age her intelligence was clear. It was an excellent sign for her future in the Order. "*You go play now, just don't hunt anybody.*"

Sharo nodded with an almost canine 'ruph' and ran off to find others her own age.

Essani chuckled, shaking her head. In a way, she was almost glad for the interruption. It had done an excellent job of taking her mind off the meeting before. She started to trot back to her quarters, fairly sure that nobody else would be attempting anything soon.

A ripple of gold went across her fur as she approached as felt the unique Force-presence of her Padawan, and that he wasn't stressed out.

"*I'm going to have to teach the locks not to open just because you ask one of these days,*" she chuckled from outside the room. "*It is safe for me to come in, yes?*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He chuckled softly across their bond as the door slid open for her. "I doubt it would have helped today." He added with an unrepentant grin as she caught the scent of some of her favorite fruits, at least two that the Temple did not stock for their price, that were laid out on the low table he was laying comfortably along one side of. "I thought we'd have dinner together. Relax after that mission and the meeting."

"I can't object," she chirped with a chuckle as she walked in. "It was definitely tiring," she agreed as she sat down next to the table and the fragrant slices of peach, melon, berries and more exotic fruits. The Temple always served good quality, but this was a level above it. Jay was making a point that he cared for her again and she was on the short list of people he really enjoyed spoiling with the money he got from his inventions.

"And I was particularly difficult during the mission," he acknowledged and rolled up a slice of cold meat around a spear of cheese for himself. "It's good to be home."

"Yes, it is," she agreed, picking up a slice of melon and nibbling at it. "*And you were, though we all realize you meant for the best.*"

"So what is the choice?" He asked, hoping to get on another topic before this turned into a debate on morals and civilized behavior. As strongly as he felt about it, it was not a subject for a relaxing evening.

"We're going to try and remove the Sith personality components and loyalty, the parts that make him a threat," she explained. "If that proves unsuccessful, we'll have to find another course of action, but Master Surool's cousin should have sufficient skill. He's done work for us before when a slicer of unusual skill was required."

"I do hope it's enough," he nodded, honestly wishing the slicer the best of luck for a lot of reasons. "Master ... what do I still have to learn before you would consider me ready for my Trials?"

"Very little," she admitted, setting down the rind to the melon she'd been eating. "Though I don't know that all your Trials will necessarily be formal yet. The primary issue we're left with yet is your difficulty with your senses."

"Yes, Master." He nodded as it became clear to her that his Knighting or not wasn't the actual reason he was asking. "It's about time I took on my family Gift then. My senses aren't going to improve by waiting."

"No," she agreed. "Are you sure you're ready, Jay?"

"No," he admitted. "But this mission reinforced what I've been feeling for a while. If I don't choose soon, the choice will be made for me. It is time, well past it really. It would be best either before Fenrik goes for his Trials, or after he's Knighted. He's got a talent for talking sense into me when I forget what reality I'm in."

"As does Shivasta," Essani nodded. "He isn't leaving for his solo mission for a few months yet. His lightsaber was the first of his Trials... there will be some time before he takes the rest of them. What is involved in accepting your Gift?"

"The way I know is to build a tesseract. It requires the Gift, so building one will trigger it. There are others, or I think there are, but they're what family has developed over the years to make it easier."

"And the risks involved?" She asked him seriously. "If it goes wrong?"

"Blowing something up is the most common risk," he started to run them down in his head. "Drop-kicking myself and who knows how much around me to an alternate time or dimension is the next most likely. Theoretically I could really mess up and create a black hole, but no one has actually had that happen. The danger isn't much more than when I created Tes' lightsaber or any of the other reality-bending items, really. The Gift is just the next step and lets me completely trash the rules of reality to do what I want. It's just when it's over I have to listen to the Demon on a regular basis."

"How 'loud' will the Demon be, compared to that one time it was almost released?" Essani asked seriously.

"From family records, they're two completely different things," he admitted, a little uncertainly. "Normally, it's like what it did in the fight, or like what Kraken did talking to me. That time ... it's the difference between talking and possession. It hasn't done it before."

"At least not that you're aware of," Essani nodded. "I have a suggestion, and a question, before you do this. I suggest you talk to Shivasta and Fenrik both about this; make sure they understand what they'll be dealing with ... and that they're still willing to do so.

"I will," he nodded seriously.

"And the question...." She chuckled slightly. "What do you plan to fold back in on itself?"

"It's always space," he chuckled softly. "The advanced version of my bracers," he lifted one arm in reminder of the unusual lightsaber-sheaths he'd built years before with a few extras that kept changing, a constant work in progress that was about to take the leap to the next level. "It's called a Glovatrix."

"There are bounty hunters who'd kill for those," she chuckled slightly. "Though just as a suggestion, when you design them, build them for more than weaponry. If you can develop something like that to replace the belts, it would be quite useful."

"I've had the plans waiting for when I could build them," he smiled slightly. "Unfortunately, anything that takes the Gift to built is just that, it takes the Gift to build. Even semi-mass production has never been managed. They're all prototypes, whatever they are."

"Understood," she nodded. "And it makes sense, given what's required to build them. It would be like trying to mass-produce true lightsabers. Which reminds me; do you plan on scheduling your next demonstration match before, or after, you've done this?"

"Before, I think." He considered it. "Let the stress and that ship leave before I go to work."

"That would be a good idea," she nodded. "And I just remembered, you should check with Shivasta about whether or not she'll be able to join us when we go to visit Duvam Tam. We should arrange that for some time soon, but I don't know if it's wise for you to be dealing with the Demon in a situation as stressful as that might be without her there, and Fenrik may not be able to join us."

"It's probably not the brightest idea for me to go on that one alone, Demon or not," he admitted and made another cheese and meat roll. "As the mission pointed out, it's still very close to the surface when there's any break in my control. I still don't understand quite what happened."

"*You had permission to act out against somebody you disliked on several levels,*" Essani pointed out as she munched on a berry. "*It can be tempting. And the ship certainly wasn't helping you any. We'll have to arrange some way you can make that trip with either Fenrik or Shivasta then. Not a major problem, just something that narrows down the time-frame for it.*"

"Quite true," he nodded, "and before Tes gets all maternal again, since she is our contact."

"How did you know about that?" Essani asked him, cocking her head as her fur shifted to a light teal. "Doruth just asked me to talk to Master Kareth about getting in contact with the Kaminoans yesterday."

"That I didn't know." He chuckled softly. "Gurath mentioned missing Tes again soon. I figured she'd be going for Wolf pups like last time. She's gotten plenty of interest to choose from."

"She will be," Essani nodded. "However, they're looking to try and arrange for some kits by both of them at about the same time as well. I just hope Doruth is in the mood for negotiating," she chuckled. "The Kaminoans are notorious for 'improving' things unless you ask them not to."

"Or he can leave it to Tes," he snickered in memory of several examples of Wolf 'negotiating' when it came to family.

"I suspect he'll want a method that's a little less likely to frustrate somebody," Essani chuckled. "It's just one of the Kaminoan quirks. Comes from being a society where only the fittest survived, and then started cloning themselves to repopulate their world."

"Bring a good lawyer," Jay shook his head with a chuckle. "Just make sure you don't leave any loopholes for them."

"And hope there aren't any complications for Panther/Wolf kits," Essani agreed. "Though I would imagine there won't be too many beyond the norm; they're both in excellent health, with no apparent genetic defects."

"And they are relatively close genetically compared to some of what I've read has been done," he added. "Feline/canine are close cousins compared to us for example. Very similar body types, diets, environmental needs and so on."

"Very true," she nodded. "Much easier than, say, arranging a pup for Masters Shan and Surool."

Jay's face screwed a bit, trying to picture that pup. "Definitely. Or have they already done that?"

"No," Essani chuckled. "They're mates, but neither of them has been particularly inclined towards children, as far as I'm aware."

"It would be an interesting looking pup," he admitted and shook his head a bit. "And likely quite strong too."

"True," she nodded. "Though interesting might be generous," she admitted. "Still, it's not something I see happening particularly soon. I rather doubt either of them is looking forward to raising a child at their ages," she chuckled.

"Probably not," he nodded. "Though it doesn't stop everyone. My father was almost seventy when my youngest sister was born."

"Your father already had several kits by then and knew what he was in for," Essani chuckled. "Plus, I imagine large families are the norm for you and your kin, yes?" It made sense, given the emphasis on multiple mates.

"Depends on the generation," he considered it carefully. "My father broke away from the old ways, what Jessie and Jake and his littermates believed, in a lot of ways. Grandmother and great-grandfather and the culture they came from didn't have many kits. Big families came with the colonies and getting away from grandmother's influences that we shouldn't spread the curse any more than fate required it." He paused to consider it all more than he really had in years as he munched on rolled meat slices. "I'm not sure where I stand, really. I expect after I accept my Gift it'll be a lot more clear, when I know what they'd really be in for."

"Understandable," Essani nodded. "In a way, you'll have an easier time of it if you decide against it. It's not uncommon for Jedi, for all that we do still have notable bloodlines."

"And Shi's more likely to go find an Ice Walker if she wants them. It's not like we're all that compatible." He chuckled softly, even as he admitted deep down that that was part of her appeal to him.

"Not biologically," Essani agreed with a chuckle. "Though you certainly do seem to get along well otherwise. How are you three all doing, with Fenrik preparing for his Trials and missions and such getting in the way?" She asked him almost maternally.

"It's a stress," he admitted quietly. "But we all have our pet projects to keep our attention when it's busy, and most nights at least two make it to bed in the same time bracket. Shi and Fenrik get along very well on their own too." He smiled slightly. "It's good to see them bonding that well."

"Yes, it is," Essani nodded, her fur a light gold color. She could still remember how worried Jay had been about just that a few years ago. Such a short time, and yet so much had happened during it. Her fur turned a distinct shade of teal when he burst out laughing.

"Speaking of my mates, mine are plotting something." He explained between snickers, his eyes glittering with mischief and more than a bit of arousal.

"Oh dear," she chuckled. "Did they just ask you when you were coming back?"

"No, the holo-recorder in our room asked if I wanted to record the prep for a very kinky threesome," he shook his head. "I would have thought by now they'd remember that thing likes recording our games."

"Oh my," Essani chuckled, shaking her head. "I think I should let you get going, before it 'accidentally' puts the file somewhere public again."

"At least that was still in the Temple system," he blushed in memory of that particularly intense birthday party for the three of them as he stood up. "It could have been so bad."

"True," Essani agreed with a chuckle and a pink flush to her fur. "Though I think it was as embarrassing for Kania as it was for any of you."

"It was from her blush," Jay chuckled, more amused than embarrassed about the next time he'd seen the young Lioness. She'd been more embarrassed than he was, though Shi had turned a delightful shade of purple when she'd found out. "I never knew a Lion could turn that color."

"They don't, normally," Essani chuckled. "Enjoy your evening, Jay. You've earned it today."

"I hope you enjoy the evening as much, Master." He grinned back at her before leaving.

Shivasta blushed a light purple that went well with the thin satin gown she was wearing.

"I can't believe you talked me into this," she murmured, kissing Fenrik quickly. The Panther chuckled, returning the kiss and running his hands down her sides, making her shiver as the satin moved along her skin.

"You know Jay loves this sort of thing," he purred. "And we both know you like wearing it," he added with a smirk.

"Oh hush," she blushed, swatting him playfully. "Go on, make yourself scarce before he gets here, I feel him coming."

"Isn't it a little soon for that?" Fenrik teased.

"Oh you!" Shivasta scowled at him as he rushed off into the other room, but giggled as soon as he was out of sight. She turned around and sat down where all Jay would be able to see from the doorway would be her bare feet and long, blue-white legs. She was a lot more comfortable with the scars that were left now, some five years after she'd gotten them. Still, her self-conscious period had had one benefit.

They'd found out just how much Jay and Fenrik both enjoyed seeing her in outfits like this one.

The gown was a simple one, really, nothing too fancy. Just a light red nightgown that didn't even make it half way down her thighs and didn't really hide anything it did cover. It gave her skin a slight violet hue, and when she crossed her legs just right it hid anything either of her mates really wanted to see, but gave then both just enough of a hint that they wanted to get a very, very good look.

At least that was what Fenrik had said when she was trying it on earlier. She took up her position, picking up a book and pretending to read it as she waited for Jay to get back. It wasn't long; she could feel his excitement when he got close. That was arousing all on its own, feeling how just thinking about her turned her mate on even after so many years and stress.

"Hey," Jay purred even before the door closed behind him, the last half of the sound a throaty rumble as he caught sight of her bare legs, a rumble that only got louder as his eyes moved up the rest of her body as he walked in and she lowered the book to cover her breasts.


"Hey," she smiled back at him. "How'd everything go?" She asked him, making no move to stand up or show more of herself off just yet.

"Very good," he answered and closed the distance between them to kneel and kiss her gently. "What have you been up to?" He rumbled and kissed down her bare neck, one hand on her flat stomach.

"Mmm ... oh, just a little research ... some of it you'll want to hear about later." She slid one hand up his back, the sleeve of the gown falling back to reveal her arm as she scratched a pleasure point at the base of his neck and smiled as his entire body stiffened in response with a indistinct sound of pleasure.

"On what?" He murmured, his hand moving down from her stomach to caress her legs, first with the satin gown and then under it.

"Mmm ... what you were worried about on the last mission," she murmured, scratching that spot again as she spread her legs ever so slightly to give him a better view of her sex beneath the trimmed patch of dark blue hair between her legs. It was tough to go slow when she knew what was coming and he was so interested in giving her anything she wanted.

What had they been thinking? 'Seducing' Jay was more an act of self-control than getting him interested. After seven years, he knew as much about pressing her buttons as she did about his.

Even so... it was worth the effort, given how utterly incredible it was when they finally did give in.

"So why not give me the good news now," he purred throatily and slid his hand up her fit body under the simple nightgown to tease under her breasts. "Then we can celebrate."

"Mmm ... you tempt me," she rumbled. "What say we play a different game though? You give me a good reason to tell you. It could get a little technical," she winked, her fingers moving down along his spine, "so it might work better if I explain it all after... and I have a feeling you'll still be up for a little celebrating then," she grinned, moving her hands to start working his robes off.

"Because I love you," he murmured honestly and kissed her with a tender passion as she slid his robes from his shoulders. She returned the kiss gladly, and decided that she might as well tell him now.

"No fair playing dirty," she teased lightly, standing with him and wrapping her arms around him as she put the book off to the side.

"And dressing so sexy is playing fair?" He chuckled and kissed his way down her neck and across her shoulder before he slid her nightgown off her shoulders to pool around her feet.

"Even if you can't master your senses at all, it doesn't disqualify you to become Jedi," she explained to him as she kissed his neck, relishing in the fact that he responded to her touch even as he worked on processing her words. "Especially if you have another gift that offsets the loss."

"Where'd you find this?" Jay rumbled as the remainder of his clothes came off, trying to finish the conversation before he gave into her touch completely.

"Halycon bloodline," she answered simply, her voice low as she nipped at his shoulder lightly with her blunt teeth before he knelt to fondle and kiss her breasts. "Entire family of Jedi; not one of them could use telekinesis or mind control, but they were waived on through because of their other skills and dedication."

"Thank you," he breathed hotly against her cool skin, the real response one she felt as years worth of fears and stress began to dissipate, much like pain did at her touch.

"Mmm ... you're welcome," she murmured, returning her attentions to his neck and shoulders. "Want to take this to the bedroom?"

"All right," he murmured and stood to kiss her solidly before he allowed her to lead him into an ambush he was sure would be there. Fenrik was still unaccounted for after all.

True to form, as soon as the bedroom door had closed, Fenrik stepped out from behind the door to grab Jay's wrists and cross them behind his back, kissing his neck.

"I do hope we're not getting too predictable," the Panther purred. "You usually put up at least a bit of a struggle," he added with a smirk.

"I got a head's up," he chuckled and leaned back into the contact. "But you do need to think up a new setup."

"Mmm ... noted," Fenrik rumbled as Shivasta moved up to press against Jay's front, sandwiching him between her soft body and Fenrik's hard one.

"Just wait until we go camping some time, he'll end up pouncing on you from the trees," she smirked, kissing Jay tenderly and nodding towards the bed, already set up with thin bondage ropes tied to the corners. "So, are you going to go quietly, or do we have to get you properly restrained the hard way?"

"He's not the only one who can climb," he grinned with a warning gleam in his eyes for her. "I'll go quietly this time."

"Good," she giggled, backing away as Fenrik moved them all towards the bed and they started working together to tie him up, the excitement building in each of them feeding on the others until it was nearly intolerable to keep things slow.

Shivasta lay down next to the mostly-bound tom as Fenrik finished tying off his last ankle. She kissed Jay tenderly, reaching down to fondle his sheath and hard cock, drawing a needy moan from him as he tried to thrust up into her hand.

"Mmm ... good look for you," she rumbled. "Bet you'd like nothing better than to sink that nice, hard cock of yours into me, hmm?"

"Yes," Jay moaned, his eyes closing as the heady musk of their arousal filled his nose and he let most of his control slid away.

"Too bad," she chuckled and got up to saunter to the foot of the bed where Fenrik had finished tying Jay down and kissed the Panther heatedly. "You get to watch first," she rumbled, running her hand down Fenrik's broad chest to stroke his own dark, rigid shaft to a hungry rumble. She couldn't tell which of them was more turned on by what was happening, but soon it was the last thing on her mind as Fenrik claimed her mouth again and twisted to press her against the wall, his rough shaft rubbing against her.

She moaned into his mouth and lifted one pale blue leg to wrap his around his waist and shivered in the familiar pleasure-pain of larger feline sinking into her ready body without the lube Jay almost always insisted on. It was a feeling she relished, the roughness of her lover with nothing between them but her own slick juices.

"He's looking a bit hungry over there," Fenrik commented casually as he thrust into her body and kissed her neck, his manner as dominating as his physical size.

"Mmm ... then let's go give him something to eat," she murmured, moaning as his cock throbbed inside of her tight body. "If we can move that much."

"Oh, we can," he chuckled and pulled out of her, sweeping her up in his arms for the short walk to kneel over Jay's open muzzle, his tongue ready and eager to serve her. She moaned at the attention as Fenrik settled behind her and pushed her to lean forward to brace against the wall before he pressed into her body again, his own rumbles deep and hungry from the attention Jay gave him as he thrust forward.

"Oh fuck," Shivasta groaned, squeezing her eyes shut as she was pleasured by both her mates. She tightened her body around Fenrik, reaching down with one hand to scratch Jay's ears as she braced against the headboard with the other. It was just what the pair was looking for too.

Fenrik thrust hard and deep, reading her mood the way Jay read her body. Jay nipped at her clit, and then suckled it before moving down to lavish attention on her spread lips and the cock moving in and out of them. Shi pressed back into Fenrik's thrusts, then against Jay's muzzle as her juices flowed liberally down her thighs, matting the dark red fur around his mouth.

"Ohhhh," Fenrik groaned deeply as the attention was shifted to him, Jay's mouth and tongue working whatever of his cock was available. "*Hungry little kitty, aren't you?

"Why don't you entertain yourself with his other end?" He rumbled throatily in her ear as he fondled her breasts. "Make the beginnings of Shi sandwich while I give him a little of what he wants so much."

"Works for me," she rumbled back, groaning as she pulled off of him and moved down to take Jay's cock inside her. She grinned as his moaning cry of pleasure was cut off by Fenrik's cock and watched in a jealous kind of fascination for the bond the two males shared that let them play so much rougher with each other than her, no matter how many times she said, and meant, she wanted and could handle it. Fenrik would give her more than Jay, but they both held back on an instinctive level that drove her crazy sometimes.

At least they seemed to be getting over it, gradually. She wasn't sure if it would ever be the same way, but in the meantime, she could still enjoy watching, and feeling, the two of them.

"Oh, that's right." Fenrik rumbled as his balls tightened, both of them getting off on intimacy of control present between them as the Panther fucked Jay's mouth without regard for anything but his own pleasure.

Shi leaned forward to kiss his broad chest, milking Jay with her insides as she moved up and down his rough cock. She couldn't tell what happened first, Fenrik's roar, the rush of his orgasm, or the hard thrust Jay made, the first break in his resistance to being bare inside her this round, as the pleasure build in him to an intolerable level.

She cried out, her sex spasming as she came hard around Jay's length, milking it hungrily as his hot seed shot against her sensitive flesh.

"Oh, yeah." Fenrik rumbled as Jay licked him clean and he pulled out of the rusty tom's mouth. "Now for something new," he chuckled and slipped from the bed, leaving Jay to Shi's attentions for a while.

"Enjoying yourself, Jay?" She asked with a languid smile, leaning down to kiss him as she teased his barbed length with her sex.

"Yes," he moaned with a shudder as she kept him hard, his anticipation for what was coming when he saw the lube come out more than making up for the mild distress he still felt being inside her bare, even though he knew she enjoyed it, got off on it, he couldn't help it.

"Scoot up, love," Fenrik pressed against her back to lift her from Jay's cock, coating it lightly with the lube before she slid back down on it and they both shuddered.

She could still feel his roughness, the coating that Fenrik had put on him not a full one, but they could all feel the instant drop in the tension Jay was feeling.

"Mmm... so, where are you going now?" She asked, looking back over her shoulder at Fenrik as he knelt on the bed behind her and nuzzled her while fondling her breasts, just enjoying the feelings and cooler pleasure for a while.

"Same place he is." He murmured throatily.

"Mmm... I like the sound of that," she murmured, nuzzling him, then kissing Jay, rippling the muscles of her sex around his shaft, scratching his side lightly as he moaned and thrust up into her. Even when she relaxed her body, the fullness when Fenrik began to press inside her was painful; incredible, but it stretched her well beyond anything she had been before.

The gasp that came out of her mouth was one of pleasure, though. The sensations of the two males, one below her and one above her, crammed into that tight space was overwhelming to them all.

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned in conjunction to what was almost a whimper from Jay.

"Please do," she panted, squeezing her eyes shut and swallowing as the pain started to give way to intense pleasure. "Slow...."

"Couldn't go fast," Fenrik groaned, already close to the edge but determined to make it all the way inside before he lost it.

"Ohhhh ..." Jay tried to say something, only to be overcome by the incredible tightness and thrust up, trying to sink further inside himself despite trembling on the very edge.

"Hold it, lover." Fenrik rumbled to him and grabbed Shi's hips to help him force his way into the incredible tightness that was almost too tight to take.

She whimpered softly, shivering in pleasure as she tried to relax herself as much as she could.

"So full," she moaned, grateful that they both were using some of the lube at least. She could only imagine what this would be like if they weren't, for them as well as her.

"So tight," Jay gasped as he felt Fenrik's velvety sheath against his own.

"Thought being in her ass was good ...." Fenrik gritted his teeth against the pleasure as he began to slide out, his barbs being pulled back hard enough he felt his claws prick threw her soft skin. Shivasta whimpered softly in pain-pleasure at the small punctures that threatened to push her over the edge with them.

"Let me loose," Jay whimpered, wanting his hands to touch and hold, a focus on something other than denying his orgasm.

She reached up, undoing the restraints and kissing him hungrily and didn't worry about the Force-assist her bound lover gave before his hands ran down her sides to link his fingers with Fenrik's.

"Sweet Bastet," Jay pulled her down against his hips and thrust up, his control lost to the intensity and tightness of being inside one mate and pressed tightly against the other. "Can't ...."

"Go ahead," she whimpered softly, panting hard, eager to feel them both come inside of her. She couldn't help the cry of pain that came when their bodies took over, thrusting into her as deeply and hard as they could to shoot their seed against her cervix, still burningly hot even after years of feeling it. The wash, a torrent of sensations that came from them dragged a long, sobbing cry from her as her body clamped down around them, making the tight fit even tighter as she came harder than she could remember in the years they'd been together.

She just held Jay close as her body tried to twitch and spasm, pressing back against Fenrik and holding Jay close as she rode the wave of intense pleasure out.

"Gods," Jay moaned softly and gasped for breath, each tiny bit Fenrik pulled out causing them both the shudder.

"Damn," was about all Fenrik could manage as he dropped to his side next to them and draped an arm across Shi's back.

Shi could just whimper softly, snuggling up between the two of them as the mixture of all their juices dribbled out of her slightly from around Jay's cock, still buried deep inside her.

"There's the Shrike," Doruth rumbled as the Gurath flew down through the trees of Kashykk. "We'll have to land near Czerka's facilities," he murmured. "Not gonna be fun."

"Let's just hope Camryn is still alive," Fenrik shook his head slightly. "That close ... between the natives and the Czerka, he doesn't have the greatest odds."

"No," Doruth admitted. "Still, Iridonians tend to be resourceful. I can tell he's still alive... it's just hard to tell where, exactly, without getting the scanners in closer. Too much life here for us to sense him, and the scanners aren't that precise yet. So, any more questions before we set down and let things start happening?"

"Any extra bans on defending ourselves and him?" He asked seriously.

"We're hoping to avoid deaths among the Wookies; relations between them and the Republic are strained enough as it is without Jedi killing them if it can possibly be avoided. Beyond that, it's a matter of judgment. You should be able to take care of yourself if necessary."

"Of course," he inclined his head slightly to his Master as they set down on a landing pad not much larger than the Gurath. "It is what I expected."

"Good," Doruth nodded. "Well, let's go deal with the local Czerka representatives. With any luck they won't be repeating what they were up to the last time they set up shop."

"I would be surprised if they had changed," Fenrik shook his head and pulled his hood over his head to present the 'inscrutable Jedi' look as best he could.

"You can skip the hood for now if you'd like," Doruth said easily, standing up and making sure his lightsaber was 'broken down' to its usual blaster appearance, his own hood pulled back. "We're here on a 'pilgrimage' officially," he chuckled, "the inscrutable look is optional."

"Yes, Master." He chuckled softly before he put on the face the public saw. "But a Jedi with a blaster?" He asked curiously.

"They'll assume my lightsaber's elsewhere," Doruth explained. "And that I'm not interested in getting into a fight when the weapon I can get to easiest isn't it. Besides, it'll cut down the excuses they have to deny us access to the lower levels of the forest if one of us has a weapon that means we won't have to go face to face with a katarn or something even bigger."

Fenrik nodded and fell in slightly behind and to the side of his Master as the hatch opened and Gurath's ramp extended for them.

Doruth walked down the ramp easily towards the small gathering of Czerka employees waiting to greet them. He almost laughed out loud when he saw an Ithorian in the back of the group; it almost had to be a joke. Slavers or not, everybody knew Czerka didn't care about the environment in the least. Their Ithorian representatives were nothing more than well-paid fronts to what they really did.

"Welcome to New Edea," the lead, a well-dressed Fox, said easily. "What is the purpose of your visit?"

"Pilgrims from Coruscant," Doruth answered just as easily. "Though I thought this planet was registered as Kashykk?"

"New Edea is the settlement," the Fox explained. "In memory of the settlements the natives destroyed the last time we tried to civilize this planet."

Fenrik's general thought of 'serves you right' was clear to his Master, but invisible and silent to everyone else. He hated these people almost as much as his first Master had.

"I see," Doruth said, his own response much the same as Fenrik's. The history between Czerka and Kashykk was well known to the Jedi, including their attempts to destroy the planet in the name of profit. "Well, if you'll excuse us, we wish to explore the deeper reaches of the planet. As I said, we're here on a pilgrimage. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's rather easier to commune with nature here than in Monument Plaza."

"Of course," the Fox nodded graciously. "There is simply a small matter of a docking fee, and making sure you are properly supplied for such a journey... and, of course, that you are aware of our operations on the forest floor. The natives call them the Shadowlands, and I can certainly see why. We recently lost some of our equipment down there in a katarn attack; we're trying to recover what we've lost, and no visitors are allowed in these reaches."

"I assume the standard docking fee is in place?" Doruth said easily, pulling out a fifty-credit chip. "We're quite well supplied; we intend to live off the land for the most part. And I assure you, we have no interest in interfering with Czerka's operations."

Except where they had to in order to complete their mission, of course.

The Fox took the chip, slipping it into his pocket in a smooth, well-practiced motion.

"I don't know that it is wise to go down there unsupplied," he said, feigning real concern. "The natives of this world are simply impossible to deal with, and will likely object to you hunting in their territory. Our agents have to be heavily armed everywhere they go outside of our main outpost. We probably would have been attacked by now if not for our defensive turrets."

"The Wookies are known to respect those who respect their world," Doruth said semi-diplomatically. "We will deal with them as necessary. I assure you, we are quite up to the task."

"Very well," the Fox shrugged slightly. "Remember, if you need any supplies whatsoever, our outpost is fully supplied."

"We'll keep it in mind," Doruth granted as the group started to disperse. "Well," he murmured, "that went about like I expected it. Let's hope our meeting with the Wookies goes as well."

"Yes," Fenrik nodded fractionally. "At least we do have a better reputation than these guys do."

"Very true," Doruth nodded slightly. "Though don't doubt that they'll make us prove ourselves before we earn anything better than indifference. So, the fast, risky way, or the slow, relatively safe way?" He asked indifferently, looking down the ramps Czerka had built into the sides of the massive trees of Kashykk, then over at the more direct route straight down the street-sized branches.

"Last I checked, we're both good in the trees," Fenrik considered their choices and found only one good one. "And we are in something of a race."

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Have you ever spent time on Kashykk before?" He asked.

"No, Master." He shook his head slightly and prepared for the controlled jumping fall their descent would be.

"Then make sure you keep an eye out for webweavers on the way down," Doruth told him, flipping his repulsor belt on. "And keep a hand on your lightsaber, because they'll be keeping an eye out for you too."

Fenrik nodded and followed his Master down, keeping an eye open more than usual for the giant, mostly sentient spiders he really didn't want to meet.

They dropped at near-breakneck speeds for what felt like hours, the sky getting darker and darker, their eyes adjusting to the near-black conditions that were even more extreme than on the forest floor of their own races' homeworld. Through the entire trip they were each keenly aware of the teeming life surrounding them, though they were fortunate enough not to have to deal with any of it on the way down.

About fifty feet above the forest floor their freefall was slowed by the repulsor belts they were wearing, bringing them down to a sane speed for landing.

"Getting back up is not going to be fun," Doruth observed, looking up the trees that stretched back up several kilometers above them. "Even if the Gurath can make the trip shorter, we'll have to climb back up into the undercanopy."

"I don't think I'll ever stop being thankful for those constant improvements Jay makes every time we're at the Temple." Fenrik shook his head with a slight chuckle and oriented himself enough to track the ship they'd spotted on the way in.

"I know I won't," Doruth agreed. "If he hadn't wanted to be trained as a Jedi he would have made the corp's we work with very happy indeed." He paused to focus for a moment, searching for the disruption in the natural cycles of Kashykk that would lead them to the ship. "Let's go, we've got an Iridonian to rescue."

"*As it is, he's making them happy anyway and making the Jedi a small fortune every month. It's mind-boggling, what his one-half of one percent amounts to these days.*" Fenrik fell silent, both to conserve breath for moving and to keep their disruptive presence to a minimum.

"*I'm still a little surprised the Council went along with that,*" Doruth observed. "*At least to the amount they have. Things will be interesting once those patents expire.*"

"*Given his early ones are already a couple generations out of date from his current work, probably not a lot.*" He shook his head a bit. "*But yeah, it's a surprise. I know at first it was meant to encourage him to 'useful' projects, back before he was a Padawan.*"

"*I have a feeling that might shift a bit after he's knighted, but that's up to the Council more than any of us. Keep alert; no telling how far Czerka's roaming down here, and they aren't going to be happy to see us.*"

"*No, though I have to admit the vacations he sets up are nice,*" Fenrik chuckled mentally as they moved as fast as they could towards the crash site. "*And no, they definitely won't be.*"

The rest of the trip was silent, at least as far as words were concerned. The sounds of Kashykk were a constant reminder of the predators and prey, the cycles of life taking part around them. It was an intoxicating breath of life made so much more intense for how rare it was in their lives.

The growing silence as they worked through the woods was a reminder of the disruptions to those cycles, disruptions brought on by the crash and the hunt for the ship's pilot. Soon, the forest's unnatural silence was replaced by the sound of droids and very grouchy Czerka employees.

"*Can you pick out the pilot?*" Fenrik asked silently even as he considered the most effective ways to get close without being shot at.

"*Not from here,*" Doruth told him, shaking his head. "*I'll go on ahead and get their attention, you get him out of there if he's with them. If he's not, this won't take long.*"

"*I understand,*" Fenrik nodded and made an easily leap into the tree branches to get close without being noticed while his Master made it that much easier.

Doruth walked towards the sounds of civilized activity, making just enough noise that he managed to get their attention.

"Halt," a powerfully built Alsatian said, turning and taking a few steps towards the Jedi, though not enough that he couldn't see the combat droids and the Iridonian they were leading, or the remaining lupine guards.

"*You won't have any trouble picking him out,*" Doruth told Fenrik, "*I'll try and distract the guards, when you have an opening, take it.*"

"*Will do, Master.*" he skirted the edge of the camp to give him the best, and shortest, shot to get in and out with the prisoner.

"Is there something wrong?" Doruth asked innocently.

"This is a restricted zone," the Alsatian explained gruffly. "Czerka Corp property was sabotaged in this area; we've caught the saboteur and are escorting him back to our base."

"This wouldn't have anything to do with the 'lost equipment' I was informed about by your superiors, would it?" Doruth asked pointedly as he followed his Padawan's progress in the trees and the subtle build of Force around him as Fenrik prepared to dart in and grab their target before anyone realized he was there.

"As a matter of fact it would. It seems a rival corporation sent that spy back there to sabotage our operations."

"Of course, that's ample reason to interfere with my own journeys, given that you've caught him and won't be facing any more trouble?" If the words were scathing, the tone was even more patronizing. For the first time in a long time, it was clear that Doruth was trying to start trouble.

"I don't much like your tone, Jedi," the Alsatian growled. "Why don't you just be moving along before there's trouble, hmm?"

"*I'm in and ... *" Fenrik called out as a silent blur of brown, cream and black breezed threw the combat droids to collect their prisoner before anything had time to react, "*out!*"

"Wha - after him!" The Alsatian bellowed, sending the combat droids chasing after Fenrik in a race they were doomed to lose. The other guards would have followed, but they were more concerned by the sound of a lightsaber igniting.

"You'd do much better to just take yourselves and your weapons and leave," Doruth said firmly, holding his lightsaber in one hand easily, ready to use it if necessary. "You'll have an easier time replacing your jobs than anything else you might lose here." For a moment, it looked like the Alsatians were about to take his advice... then the leader smirked slightly.

"So predictable," he chuckled. Doruth quirked an eyebrow, then whirled around as he heard the familiar click of a trigger behind him. It was too late though; the droid concealed in the woods fired its blaster close enough to him that he could almost reach out and touch it with the tip of his lightsaber, too close for him to react to deflect the blast. His lightsaber went out as he slumped to the ground, stunned by the ambush in more ways than one.

"Well, that covers our end of the mission," the Alsatian chuckled, walking forward and picking up Doruth's lightsaber, considering it for a moment before holstering it. "All right, men, let's get him into a holding cell back in the base. Should fit nicely over the back of a speeder."

Fenrik drew a sharp breath when he realized what it was that was niggling at his mind for the past several minutes as he basically carried the Iridonian towards the closest spot the Gurath could get to and hoped silently that no one had boarded the ship to surprise him.

He had the defector, and they had his Master.

This was going to get very ugly.

"I can walk on my own you know," the Iridonian pointed out dryly.

"In case you hadn't noticed, this isn't walking." Fenrik informed him and made another Force-enhanced leap further up into the massive trees.

"Oof!" Camryn winced slightly as the landing knocked some of the wind out of him. "You've got a point there. But there's still a faster way, at least for the 'up' part."

"Which is?" Fenrik set him down so they could talk face to face on this.

"I can't climb trees as well as you can," Camryn admitted, holding up a clawless hand as if emphasizing the point, "but I can climb ropes pretty well. There should be a platform near here the Wookies use for transporting wounded hunters out of the Shadowlands. The only reason I didn't use it before was... well, I'm sure you can guess why. It's guarded at the bottom and the top, but we should be able to climb the rigging up to a level were we can make it to your ship more easily."

Fenrik nodded, making a quick calculation about the time he'd need to make it up with the Iridonian hanging on compared to searching for anything around here that wasn't blatantly out of sink with the environment. "Do you know where it is?"

"I tagged it with a tracking beacon when it was on the way up once," he nodded. "It's about five minutes from here, should shave a fair amount of time off the climb."

"All right," he nodded and held out his hand. "Show me the tracker."

"In here, I'm afraid," Camryn said, tapping his arm. "Arm was replaced after a little scrap on Telos turned uglier than usual, the tracker's inside it. I know which way it is though."

Fenrik nodded, not showing a trace of the frustration he felt. "Let's go then."

Camryn led the way to the thick ropes of twisted vine that extended to the next Wookie village kilometers above them. True to his word, the trip was actually less than five minutes walk; they were only two trees over from it.

"I hope you know how much farther up it is," he said, jumping over to the ropes, which barely swayed as the platform on the bottom kept them in place.

"Two hundred fifty yards up, then back towards the crash site." Fenrik informed him and jumped to his own rope to climb, keeping up with Camryn without passing him, every sense open and alert for trouble from anything.

Almost oddly, they didn't run into any. A few katarns hissed at them, but most of the forest beasts had been beaten away from this area by the Wookies over the years. The closest they came to an incident was when a tak jumped out and landed on Fenrik's head, the small primate seemingly content to perch there while the Panther climbed and muttered silently.

"Here," Fenrik told Camryn as they came near a huge limb suitable for jumping onto with minimal effort.

The two of them jumped off easily enough, though the little monkey-like creature that had been perched on Fenrik made the trip first, skittering off into the brush.

"So, how much farther to your ship?" Camryn asked him, stretching out his tired arm.

"Not far," he said simply and headed along the branch as wide as a road, one eye out for trouble, the other on the Iridonian. It was turning into one of those missions where he simply expected everything to go wrong. Murphy's Law' Jay had called it.

Whoever Murphy was, he really seemed to have it in for them today. He just really, really hoped the Gurath was going to be empty and not sabotaged ... he was going to have a hard enough time getting his Master back without having to deal with that, or more ambushes. The thought of just taking Camryn back occurred to him, but he dismissed the idea out of hand.

He wasn't going to lose another Master, not even like this, where he could be rescued later.

"Good," Camryn said, answering his statement of how much further they had to go. "Who was the one who stopped them while you were rescuing me?"

"My Master," he said quietly and looked around. "Time for a little jumping." He turned to Camryn. "How do you want to ride?" He offered politely.

"Preferably not over your shoulder again. Can't your ship come close enough we don't have to jump to it?"

"We're still going to have to make a few jumps to get to where we can reach him at all." Fenrik didn't display any of his growing irritation.

"Right. Whatever's easiest for you then," Camryn said easily. For all Fenrik wasn't showing his frustration, it wasn't hard to guess it was there and a frustrated Jedi was likely a more careless one.

"That is over my shoulder," he almost chuckled. "Least risk to you too." He added and swung the lighter male over one shoulder and back into the mindset he had when they were loosing the droids. He could hear the Gurath's engines, a distinctive sound after so many years of Jay's tinkering.

It wasn't long before they were back to it, the Gurath's green hull blending slightly with the shadowed leaves. Even with that blending, Fenrik could tell that the hatch was open, and ready for them to jump aboard. Camryn only then seemed to realize just how they were going to get from the branch they were on into the flying ship.

"Hang on a sec - you're not -" Fortunately, when Fenrik leaped off the branch, the Iridonian didn't scream, only tightening his grip as he panicked slightly at the thought that they were leaping for a target not too much larger than they were the better part of half a kilometer above the forest floor.

Camryn grunted at the impact on Fenrik's landing inside the small ship.

"You can relax now," the young Panther informed him as he set him on his feet and the hatch shut.

"Is everybody that crazy at the Temple, or did I just get lucky they sent you?" He asked, his voice still a little shaky.

"It is not crazy when it is well within one's abilities." Fenrik informed him simply and walked forward towards the cockpit. "I am afraid your departure from this world will have to be delayed until I retrieve my Master."

"Understood," Camryn nodded easily, trying to recompose himself. "I can probably help you with that, if you'll let me."

"What do you know?" Fenrik asked levelly as he brought up the information the Gurath had and sent a silent thanks to Jay once more for the improved sensors and recording system that kept info on everything the ship was exposed to. It may not be a lot on the facility, but it was more than he knew five minutes ago.

"Layout of the facility," Camryn explained. "May I?" He asked, moving over to the console.

"Yes," Fenrik nodded towards it and watched with decided interest.

The Iridonian sat down at the console, holding up his artificial arm and twisting the tip of one finger, pulling it off to expose a small interface rod. He slipped it into the computer's port, typing with his other hand as he brought up a full map of the facility.

"Unfortunately, they have a fairly effective set of holding cells," Camryn explained. "They're designed to hold Wookies when they get the chance. These schematics are most of what I'm bringing back, along with other evidence of what they're up to."

'What I wouldn't give for Jay right now' was the first thing that crossed Fenrik's mind. A moment later he set his mind to what he could do. Czerka weren't known for smarts, and this was a relatively small facility. "Have any of the security codes or Intel?"

"I will soon enough," Camryn said with a nod, replacing the artificial fingertip and starting to key rapidly. It was distinctly different than watching Jay work, which frequently bore a closer resemblance to watching someone meditate, but it seemed to get much the same results. After a few moments of slicing, Camryn re-inserted his interface rod.

"Got 'em. They should be good for a few hours before they hit their next encryption shift."

Fenrik nodded as he took in the plans and Intel, then ran over the inventory in his mind for useful items as he formed a plan, and a few contingency ones. The first thing was to lock down the ship so it was where it should be when they needed it and hope that Jay's security programs were better than the defector's if he decided to take off on them.

"Might as well make yourself comfortable," Fenrik motioned to his guest toward the living part of the ship, "it could be a bit of a wait until I get back."

"I could come along and help," Camryn offered. "The least I could do, given that he was captured when you two were trying to rescue me."

"No," the Panther shook his head firmly and walked into the cargo hold to collect a few small objects. "Now that you have been rescued, you're going to stay that way."

"Very well," the Iridonian nodded. "I'll make sure the ship's ready when you get back. Coruscant after this, I presume?"

"According to plan at least," Fenrik nodded and stopped by his quarters to pick up the lightsaber Jay had made for him. It wasn't as easy in his hand as his own, but it was more powerful and it would be one Doruth could wield on the way out. He gave his equipment one last check and walked back to the pilot's seat to program the simple maneuver that would get him to the facility and then the ship out of the way while he did his damage.

"I'll make sure we've got the courses laid in then," Camryn said easily, sitting in the co-pilot's seat as the ship started flying.

"No need," he shook his head slightly and stepped towards the access hatch to make the jump to the tree the base was on. "The ship's on lockdown. Slicing would not be appreciated by maintenance."

"I'll keep it in mind," he shrugged slightly, watching the younger Panther leave. Once the hatch slid closed, he rolled his sleeve back to expose a comlink.

"He's on his way," Camryn said softly, turning the comlink off and settling in to start their backup plan.

Doruth groaned as he came to, the yellow glow of a holding cell's force field surrounding him. He didn't seem to be injured seriously... but what worried him most right now wasn't that, it was the sheer Force-silence of the area. He tried to reach out to his Padawan to nothing. Not the broken of death, but the silence of true unconsciousness. Only it was likely him that was the one with the problem. He slowly stood, the low hum of the force field much louder than usual, likely its power ramped up to keep him put. It was small too, less than eight by eight.

Not too unusual for maximum security... or temporary cells. Which meant they weren't likely to intend to keep him here too long.

He had to wonder why they had him here. First impression said to trade him for Camryn... but if that was the case, they wouldn't have prepared for a Jedi prisoner. The fact that he couldn't reach Fenrik, that he couldn't sense the Force anywhere near him, implied that they'd found some way of temporarily cutting him off from it.

And that definitely meant advanced preparation. A fair amount of it.

"Well, it seems you're awake," the Alsatian said as he walked into the holding cells. "I do hope our little friend didn't do too much damage to you. He wasn't thrilled when we told him to use the stun setting."

"Which does make me curious of why you would bother to," Doruth pointed out, his inscrutable Jedi Master persona on in full.

"Because you're no good to us dead," the Alsatian explained easily, walking around behind the force-field cell, his movements followed by the captive Panther.

"So what good am I to you alive?" He asked evenly with a touch of curiosity.

"Still pretending you're not looking to recover the defector we had?" The Alsatian chuckled, stopping and reaching behind some small storage lockers. He did something with his hands, and silvery-green leaves bobbed out from behind the obstructions, almost like he'd been petting something on a branch.

"Who is well on his way to Coruscant by now," Doruth said simply.

"Actually, he's still remarkably close. That's right, you don't know yet, do you?" He chuckled slightly, walking back towards the holding cell. "Your Padawan did get him to safety, and we're grateful for that. But he's making the mistake of coming back for you. Just as we expected."

That raised an eyebrow.

"That is a fair amount of trouble to go to for a couple Jedi." Doruth watched him calmly even as he desperately hoped that Jay would not have a reason to come after them. Almost a Jedi or not, that Kat was positively sociopathic when it came to protecting those he cared about. "Why?"

"It's hardly about you being a Jedi," the Alsatian chuckled. "We haven't been looking for that for a few hundred years. It has much more to do with business... and with whom you can make do business with us."

Doruth wanted to groan, but he held it inside. This was adding up all too well, and true to form, they were not being smart about consequences. "You have no idea what you are getting into crossing him."

"He's a brilliant inventor, but no Jedi yet. Besides, if we can get our hands on his mate, he won't risk anything. And we all know the Order isn't the most cautious about recovering prisoners."

Doruth could only shake his head slightly and settled in to meditate in the Force-null zone until things came to a head, either by his Padawan or by Master Essani's.

Fenrik hurried quietly through the facility, pausing every once in a while to make sure there weren't any guards waiting for him. He'd already planted detonation charges in a few areas that should cause some serious confusion when he set them off; now, he was making his way towards the generators to give them a little TLC.

With a plasma grenade.

Suddenly, the alarms went off, and he started hearing the sound of guards gathering.

Damn it all. He hated it when he was right about something being a setup.

"Attention all guards. An intruder has infiltrated the facility. Capture him and bring him to detention for interrogation."

"Damn," he muttered to himself and gathered enough Force to make his run to the generators before anyone had a real shot at him. When those blew, they'd have more important things than him to worry about.

He started to run for the generators at full speed, knowing that the guards wouldn't take too long to find him. He darted down corridors, hoping they'd prepare for him to move for the detention area first.

Unfortunately, even if they were prepared for that, the sealed blast doors between him and the generators were going to slow him down. Even cutting threw them would take far too long. Time to shift gears and just blow the set charges and go for his Master.

He prayed he'd set the charges right as he pressed the detonator and turned around. He heard a series of explosions, but not as many as he'd expected; whether he'd failed to set them properly or they'd found and disarmed them, this was going to be a bit more difficult than planned.

"Halt where you are," a battle droid ordered as a small unit of them came around the corner to face him in perfect formation.

Like that was going to happen.

Fenrik relaxed and cut through them with an ease that would have sickened Jay, his goal focused in his mind.

More droid guards fell as he worked through the facility; none of them managed more than slowing him down as he carved his way through them with the fast, graceful motions he'd learned from both of his Masters and his own training. Before long, he was at the detention area... and another door. At least this one wasn't as heavy as the last... but there was something strange about the room beyond. Almost like he couldn't feel anything more than a few feet into the room.

That was a bad thing, but not one he could worry about more than superficially as he made short work of the door and stepped inside, his eyes taking in everything at once, even as his mind tried to grasp the concept of a null-Force zone.

He could see Doruth standing in one of the holding cells inside the strange void... well, that explained why he couldn't contact him across their bond.

"Fenrik, get out of here," Doruth called to him. "They're trying to get you, not me!"

"It's a little late for that, Master." He answered and plunged into the Force-null zone to the cell controls only feet from his Master's cell, his physical senses keyed for anything in the unnerving Force-silence of room.

He snarled as a blaster bolt hit the floor in front of him, clearly a warning shot, as his saber dimmed significantly.

"I wouldn't go any farther if I were you," the Alsatian said, stepping out with a blaster rifle in hand. "My next shot won't be aimed at the floor."

"No doubt," the young Jedi agreed even as he lowered his saber, his body language going slightly submissive.

His Master wasn't fooled, but he knew Fenrik well enough to look for what this was concealing. It was enough to make him smile. His Padawan was definitely taking strange tactics lessons from Jay. Using training spheres in combat was decidedly not anything he would have thought of.

The Wolf took one step forward and was presented with five targets: three small spheres rushing towards him to attack, a lightsaber thrown at the control panel and the young Panther with a slightly brighter lightsaber in hand ready to take on whatever didn't work.

The console sparked as the lightsaber dug into the side, not doing nearly as much damage as it normally would have. Still, Doruth could hear the shift in the hum of the field around him, and knew it wasn't going to be as strong. He braced himself for what he had a hunch was going to come.

The Alsatian fired on the remotes first, dropping them quickly enough that he got his blaster up just in time to block Fenrik's attack. Thanks to the dead-zone in the Force, even Jay's lightsaber wasn't strong enough to cut through completely, but the impact drove the Alsatian back. Doruth motioned for Fenrik to keep him going, get him a bit closer to the energy cage.

There was no response, but as the fury of the attacks reached near-blitz levels, it was clear that the young Panther had gotten the idea and was doing his best to keep the Wolf off balance and driven towards the cell.

Once he was close enough, Doruth forced himself to plunge his arms through the electrical barrier. The pain the field caused was intense, but he'd dealt with far worse before. He wrapped his arms around the Alsatian's throat and pulled him back. Fenrik wasted no time getting to the control panel, ready to finish it off as he picked up his own lightsaber from the ground.

"Right now, I'm almost regretting grabbing you," he growled. "Now, are you going to get the two of us out of here, or are we going to see what happens when your head comes through the other way?"

"I'll get you out!" He yelped, not at all prepared for what he was facing.

The shield shut down almost in that moment, Fenrik not willing to allow his Master to be in pain any more than was required.

"You've got a comlink on you," Doruth said calmly, grateful for the field being brought down. He tightened his grip slightly in case the Alsatian decided to try something 'smart' like going for his lightsaber. "You're going to take it and give the stand-down order, then we're going to leave."

"And this is ours," Fenrik snapped Doruth's lightsaber from the Alsatian's belt.

"All right," he agreed and activated the comlink. "All units stand down," he said nervously. "Deactivation code Alpha-Three-Zero." The alarms died out as he clicked the comlink off.

"There, I shut down the droids."

"Good," Doruth said simply. He tightened his grip further, holding it for a moment before the Alsatian fell limply to the ground, unconscious.

"Let's hope he didn't have too many living guards," the older Panther rumbled, taking his lightsaber back and moving towards the place where he'd seen the leaves before.

"Going to have to look into this later," he murmured, turning back towards the door. "Come on; let's get out of here before the living ones decide to come say 'hello.'"

"Agreed," Fenrik nodded, eager to get out of the dead space in the Force. He now knew the answer to what was worse than the Dark Side, and he wished he didn't. "We'll probably have a 'warm' welcome on the Gurath. I'm certain now that our defector isn't."

"No, he's not," Doruth agreed as they hurried out. Not far from the entrance, he became keenly aware of the background Force of the planet and facility, a welcome presence after spending the last few hours imprisoned away from it. "They were trying to capture you so they could blackmail Jay into working with them. Their plan all along; they even imported an ysalamiri. I had no clue they could do that," he murmured, the two of them speeding up once they could call on their talents again.

"*An ysalamiri?*" Fenrik asked as he called the Gurath to meet them just below the defenses line of the facility, an easy jump down for the pair.

"*Creature from Myrkr... I didn't know they could do that, something we'll have to look into.*" Doruth holstered his lightsaber and made the jump, stepping into the ship warily as he waited for the expected attack... and none came.

"*That's what caused the Force-null area?*" Fenrik asked silently.

"I am afraid I had to stun our guest. He was attempting to slice into the core systems." The Gurath's very rarely used voice informed them.

"I told him slicing wouldn't be appreciated." Fenrik chuckled softly and headed for the cockpit.

"Somehow, I'm not too surprised he tried anyway," Doruth observed and followed. "They really don't seem to think of Jay as anything more than a gifted inventor."

"It's not like what he is exists to the outside world," Fenrik commented as they spotted Camryn slumped over in the pilot's seat, a remote hovering nearby, ready to administer another stun blast if necessary. "He's unique in every definition you can think of."

"So, leave him here with the rest of them, or bring him back with us?" Doruth asked, looking over at Fenrik.

"We do have grounds to keep him for a while," the younger Panther considered it, already long used to his Master asking him such questions to prepare him for when he had to choose by himself. "And he likely has useful information. I'd bring him, to find out what he tried to do to Gurath if nothing else. We can convert one of the rooms to a holding cell easily enough."

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Gurath, was there any tampering with the hyperdrive before you stunned him?" He asked the ship, working the Iridonian out of the seat.

"No," the ship replied. "Nothing was altered that I could not reset."

"Good," the older Panther sighed. "Hate to think something was going to blow when we tried to get out of here. Fenrik, would you mind taking the controls until we need to make the jump to hyperspace? I'll put our 'guest' in his room."

And put some burn ointment on his arms... now that the immediate threat was lower, the pain was starting to build up again. At least he hadn't scorched his fur.

"Of course, Master." He nodded easily, only just stopping himself from insisting that he see to his injuries as well as he took the pilot's seat and set course through the trees so they could clear some distance from the facility defenses before hitting open sky.

Doruth took Camryn back, dumping him on one of the bunks in the smallest of the side-rooms, keying in the sequence to lock the door and shut down all non-essential systems in the room. Wouldn't do any good to have him trying to take control of the ship again once he woke up.

He moved to his own room after that, sitting down and pulled out a medical kit. At least he'd be able to use it on himself. As he started to apply the pungent ointments to arms, he reached out to Fenrik again, grateful that their bond was restored. He had a feeling it wouldn't be there too much longer, at least not like this.

"*Hey, Fenrik. You did good,*" he said with a sense of warm gratitude. "*But next time I tell you to get out of somewhere, get out,*" he added with a mental smirk, wincing a bit as he started to bandage himself up.

"*No one is left behind.*" He replied back firmly, something in his mental voice almost as much Jay's as his own; a lesson from his mate that had apparently taken root. "*Thank you, Master.*" He added more softly, the loyalty there no longer from their relative status, but from over five years of working closely together in life and death situations. "*Just take care of your burns. I can handle hyperspace.*"

"*Just be sure you call me if you're having any trouble,*" Doruth allowed, finishing the work of bandaging one arm, and getting to work on the other. In a way, he almost hoped the trip would take a bit longer than it normally would.

He was so not looking forward to explaining what had happened to Tes.

"If the Council will tolerate a brief delay, I have a request I would like to make," Doruth said formally after Fenrik had left the room. The two of them had just finished reporting to the Council on what had happened. Camryn had been taken off to give what information he could; when he was given the choice between turning in evidence against Czerka or being taken to task for what he'd been involved with, he'd started talking quite willingly.

Now, all that was left was the unusual part of this meeting.

"Very well," Master Shan nodded slightly.

"I would like to propose to the Council that the requirement of a solo mission be waived for my Padawan. As we have both explained, after I was captured on our last mission, he planned and implemented a rescue mission that was successful, and carried it out without endangering the mission objectives we had arrived with. While it wasn't a formal mission, I believe he has amply proven his ability to work alone in the field, and to deal with adverse circumstances, not the least of which being the fact that he had to rescue me from an area where the Force may as well have not existed."

"We will consider it," the Dobie nodded. "He did do very well in his mission."

"*We will also look into the issue of the ysalamiri.*" Master Essani added. "*Such a creature can not be allowed to become well known.*"

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "I doubt they are. I've heard of them before, but never that particular ability of theirs. Fortunately, as I understand, they're nearly impossible to export from Myrkr without taking the tree they're on as well, something that Czerka did in this case. I suspect the Alsatian I dealt with had suggested it."

"*We will have to watch them more closely in the future,*" Master Essani stated firmly, even more displeased by the Corp's plot than most. "*I do not like this idea of holding a Jedi as blackmail taking root in anyone else's head.*"

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Is there any further business?" He asked politely.

"No," Master Shan said.

"I would suggest visiting Medical for your arms before seeing your mate," Master Ryul chuckled softly. "They may not hurt anymore, but she will not be pleased."

"A fact I am keenly aware of," Doruth chuckled ruefully. "Thank you, Masters. I look forward to your decision regarding Fenrik's progress." He bowed politely before starting out to follow the Wolf's advice.

Doruth drew a deep breath as he approached the block of rooms that he and the pack occupied. He could feel the conflicted feelings in the largest suite, his own, where all five Wolves were gathered. They were angry, frustrated, a bit understanding and definitely impatient.

For a moment, he almost toyed with the idea of not going in ... but he knew full well that would only serve to make things worse. Instead, he opened the door, not entirely sure what sort of reception he'd be getting. He almost yelped when he was instantly surrounded and pulled into the room, noses and hands and Force-senses on him in the most invasive greeting he'd ever experienced.

He could feel the threatening nature of the two males, Ragil and Fazer, their touch almost a challenge to see if he'd weakened. It was a reminder he didn't care for of how closely they still held to 'the best shall lead' ways of their animal ancestors. It was also a relief when they settled quickly, a choice that indicated they felt he was still their better.

The touch of the three females was distinctly different, though no less intrusive. Tulgwar and Hegrin had no interest in challenging his position, so their concern was for his well being more than his continued fitness to lead. Tes only really wanted to kiss him, her relief evident in her body language as much as her Force-signature.

"I'm all right!" He protested futilely. "I'm fine, glad to be home, and would really like to know whose what is where before anybody has to apologize for something!"

"What happened?" Tes all but demanded, still close to him as her right as his mate while the others gave him a bit more space, the greeting turned happy again. "I heard you were in Medical."

"For all of five minutes while Master Ursal lectured me about acting on stupid ideas that end up working out better than the smart ones," he reassured her, wrapping his arms around her. They really did feel better now; for all that he was going to get another lecture for the fact that they'd been hurt at all. "Nothing serious, Tes, honest."

"How can you possibly call getting captured nothing serious?" She looked at him seriously, a bit of fear showing in her rich brown eyes.

"The injuries weren't," he clarified, wincing a bit inside as he thought about what would've happened if Fenrik hadn't rescued him. "The entire mission turned out to be a setup. But if Fenrik hadn't rescued me, I would have gotten myself out before they did anything drastic." He caressed her cheek lightly with the backs of his fingers. "Everything's okay now, all right? It's not about to happen again any time soon, either."

"You are so not going out solo again soon." She murmured and nuzzled him, her body relaxing as she let go of the tension that had built up as she had started to hear bits about what had happened.

"Soon, no," he agreed. "It probably wasn't half as bad as what you heard, love," he murmured, kissing her softly.

"Good," Hegrin grinned at the pair, then started to herd the others out of the room so the mates could get to the more intimate parts of greeting that Doruth refused to have them around for.

"So, you're the big hero of the day," Jay grinned and draped himself over Fenrik's shoulders when the Panther walked into their quarters. "I hear you rescued your Master."

"What else was I supposed to do?" Fenrik asked seriously, despite knowing a few possible answers. Still, he kissed Jay tenderly, wrapping his arms around his back.

"Doesn't make succeeding any less of an impression," he chuckled and wrapped him in a welcoming hug. "Now what is this noise about this mess being about me?"

"Czerka took exception to your 'I don't work with assholes' policy," Fenrik shrugged slightly. "Seems they found out we were together and seriously underestimated what Jedi can do."

"At least they kept up their rep for not thinking things through very much," Jay chuckled and kissed him, then again a little more passionately. "It's good to have you home."

"Better to be home," Fenrik murmured, scratching Jay's back lightly. "You already finished making sure our neighborhood plant didn't do any serious harm to the Gurath?"

"Yap. I set him up to survive it well." He grinned and nuzzled him. "Shower with me?"

"With pleasure," Fenrik rumbled. "Y'know, you've spoiled me for the sonic ones," he chuckled.

"Don't worry, the ship I'm building for you has water." Jay smirked and kissed him again before darting for the bathroom with a flick of his tail.

"I build a lightsaber, you build a starship," Fenrik chuckled, shaking his head as he started to follow, his own tail flicking behind him. "You, kat, are enough to give a guy an inferiority complex." He murmured softly enough that Jay wouldn't hear it.

"Council wants to see you in half an hour," Jay told Fenrik softly as the triad finished up their typical meat and spice heavy lunch.

"H- never mind, I should know better than to ask now," Fenrik chuckled slightly, shaking his head. "Any word about why, or is the Temple keeping that to itself?"

"Nope, but it's not a reprimand."

"Can't imagine why they'd want to reprimand you," Shi said easily. "After all, you haven't been back long enough to do anything wrong."

"And you've been with us for most of it," Jay winked.

"Probably just want to sort out some minor detail I didn't mention," Fenrik shrugged slightly. "That, or see if I can help 'em figure out anything more about that creature Doruth spotted. Hopefully it won't take too long."

"Hopefully," Jay nodded and leaned forward to kiss him softly. "Have fun."

"I'll try," Fenrik chuckled, returning the kiss and turning to give Shivasta a brief one as well. "Be back once they're done picking my brain; let's just hope I don't have to pack for my solo already."

"Ugh, I hope not," Shi agreed. "You just got back, after all."

"No kidding," he nodded. "Ah well, we'll see." With that, he stood, stretching out and starting off for the Council Chambers, hoping this wouldn't take too long. Or that his mates would get into too much trouble in the meantime.

"So how about a little work on your unarmed combat skills while he's gone?" Jay looked over at his mate seriously.

"Probably a good idea," she admitted, standing up. "I think my 'saber skills are almost up to par, at least. So, to the sparring chambers?"

"Works for me," he stood and wrapped his arms around her for a lingering kiss before they put on the serious, neutral faces for public.

"Oof!" Shivasta grunted as she hit the mat, rolling out of the way as Jay came after her. She was doing better; when they'd started, he probably would have had her pinned already. Instead, she was just panting, glad that they weren't practicing her defensive skills at the moment.

Jay usually managed to put her down every time she went after him, but it gave her time to recover between attempts. Just as she was getting ready to make her next attempt, she felt something from Fenrik, a sense of shock and disbelief.

"Time out," she said quickly. "Something's up with Fen."

"Up how?" Jay shifted his stance to a tense neutral and ended the match. "About the Council?"

"I'm not sure, but something surprised him big time. Enough that I'm having trouble getting through," she admitted. "Doesn't feel like something's wrong though... let's go find out what's happening."

"Definitely," Jay nodded as they headed off the mat. "There aren't many things that could do that."

"No kidding," she agreed, following him. "I think he's on the way back to our quarters."

"Probably looking for us," he nodded as they picked up the pace a bit. "Hopefully it's good news."

"Here's hoping," she agreed, quieting down and focusing on keeping up with Jay's longer and naturally faster stride. They had only gotten back to their quarters a few moments, not even long enough to consider changing clothes, when the door opened for Fenrik.

"Damn," Jay murmured at the blown away look on the Panther's face. "What happened?" He asked softly and walked close to hug him.

"I'm finished," Fenrik murmured, accepting the hug Jay offered him along with the one Shivasta gave him from the other side, still stunned. "They waived my solo," he added as a part of his mind reminded him that either one of them might take what he'd said first the wrong way.

"Waived ... you're a Knight now?" Jay's eyes went wide in shock almost as strong as his mate's.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded slightly, the impact of the statement very gradually giving way to realizing what it meant.

"That's great!" Shivasta said, hugging him more tightly from behind. "Did they say why?"

"The rescue," Fenrik explained. "Said it showed that I had all the qualities a solo would normally prove."

"We could've told them that," the blue-skinned young woman chuckled.

"Yeah," Jay added with a grin and hugged him tighter with a solid kiss. "But that is way cool. Any word on what's next for you?"

"Not yet," Fenrik chuckled slightly, his own grin slowly forming as he returned Jay's kiss. "Probably missions pretty soon, but they didn't mention anything yet."

"Which means we have at least a few days to celebrate with our first Knight." Jay rumbled playfully.

"Knowing you two that means I'm going to be more exhausted before my first mission than after it," Fenrik smirked, turning to wrap an arm around each of them.

"Like you're going to complain about that," Shi smirked back up at him. "Though we'll probably find a few other things to do," she chuckled.

"I think we can manage to make sure you're more exhausted after it," Jay winked and pulled the Panther towards the bedroom. "I still owe you for the last time you tied me down."

"Like you minded," Fen smirked, following him in and starting to strip his robes off.

"All the more reason to make sure you get to enjoy too," Shi pointed out with a giggle as the three disappeared into their bedroom.

"Well now, what's the spread for?" Fenrik raised an eyebrow as the triad sat down for a private dinner in their quarters three days later. "We already celebrated my knighting."

"I'd say it's called 'working off stress without katas,'" Shi chuckled and kissed Jay as he set the last of the distinctly carnivorous with fruit meal down.

"We do have a lot we really do need to work out now," Jay admitted and sat down after Shi. "Before we head to Yavin."

"Something wrong?" Fenrik asked as he took his own seat. "Or just a little nervous about the trip?"

"Not wrong, and not all that nervous about the trip," Jay shook his head as they started to serve themselves. "Master Essani just reminded me that we do have something to go over ... and it needs to be before we're off again." He shifted uncomfortably. "We haven't really talked about the Demon and my family Gift seriously. It's about to become a central feature in my life for a few years."

"You're going to be accepting your Gift soon, aren't you?" Shivasta asked him. "We'd been wondering how much longer you were going to wait," she admitted.

"I've finished or exceeded all the training I can," he nodded slightly. "If I didn't have that to deal with, Master Essani would start my Trials soon. This one just affects you two, possibly a lot."

"Besides having to help keep you from turning, how?" Shivasta asked him softly.

"There is a good chance that I'll have access to telepathy, something I have no way to control yet. Add that to what I suspect is a direct link to the Dark Side and you could be having nightmares for a while. You're also going to be the first targets for anything nasty that comes after me, and the Demon if it gets loose."

"We can help you learn to control it," Shivasta said reassuringly.

"And we're not going to run out on you, Jay," Fenrik told him. "We've all known it was probably going to be part of the package. You're worth it."

"Thanks." He smiled slightly. "I didn't think you would, but we haven't really talked about what you're getting into much."

"We're both more concerned about what you're getting into," Shi said, reaching over to rub his shoulder. "If you really want to deal with it. You've said before that you're not sure."

"The last mission, Kraken, made it very clear I'm not going to be one who gets the choice." He shook his head. "I'm too driven to be the best, to make the best. It's not in me to ignore the potential forever. It's better to take it on while I still have a Master to help and time to learn how to deal with it."

"All right," she nodded. "Is this going to be before, or after, the trip?"

"After," Jay said simply. "I've got enough issues with them without having somebody in my head egging me on."

"I was going to mention that if you hadn't thought of it already," Shivasta nodded.

"Well, from what I've heard Tes say, this guy shouldn't set you off too badly," Fenrik said hopefully.

"That's the general idea at least," Jay nodded with a low chuckle. "And I can behave myself when there isn't a challenge involved. This is just a non-violent kind of challenge."

"And I'll be there to make sure you don't do something you're going to regret," Shivasta smiled, squeezing his shoulder lightly. "Was there anything else about the Demon you wanted to tell us?"

"Not a lot is known," he admitted. "The Council is sure it's a Dark Side creature. Family history indicates it's very patient; it's spent generations breeding us to be Force-sensitive and doesn't give up trying to corrupt anyone in the family that takes on the Gift."

"And you're sure there's no way to use your gift without facing it?" She asked him.

"Sure there is, they just aren't viable." He shook his head with a chuckle. "If somebody killed the Demon, it wouldn't be there to bug us. That's just not likely to happen."

"No, it's not," Fenrik agreed. "Hard enough to kill a spirit like that when it's in this galaxy."

"I think it is," Jay shook his head; "though it can probably travel anywhere it has a door. We've got records of it still being active in alternate realities and in time jumps. The good part is that is only really talks and makes offers of power or comfort. No guarantees, but it's not usually directly dangerous.

"Well, that's something," Shivasta said. "I'm sure you'll be okay, Jay, and we will too."

"I am too; it's just something we did need to talk out before it happened." He relaxed significantly, then cocked his head at Shi. "Got a clue how long before your Trials?"

"Not sure," she admitted. "Every once in a while, Master Ursal tells me I've done well at one or another, usually the judgment test," she chuckled slightly. "I'm not sure when I'll be taking them formally, but I have to get my lightsaber made first... I'd been planning on starting that after we got back, when you'd have Fenrik around while I was gone."

"Or you could make it while we go to Yavin," Fenrik suggested. "It worked for me when you two went after the Kraken. Face it, now that I'm a Knight, unless I'm on a mission, there's no way I can be sure I'll be around for that long a chunk of time, even with Essani on the Council."

"True," Shivasta admitted. "You mind, Jay? He does have a point, and I probably will be gone a bit longer than usual. I'm going to have to go home for the main focusing crystal at least."

"I don't mind," he reached over to squeeze her shoulder. "In some ways, Fen's got some advantages in this one. He is better at dealing with me when I'm angry."

"You're just lucky he is a bit of a healer," she teased lightly, smiling at both of them. "Or else I wouldn't be letting you out of my sight for this. I'll go talk to Master Ursal about it after lunch."

"How do you plan on getting home?" Fenrik asked her. "Garos VIII isn't exactly on any of the major shipping lanes."

"I'll have to set it up, but I was planning on getting passage on one of the supply ships. I'll sort something out," she smiled.

"You can probably take Kalrass," Jay suggested. "She's got an excellent autopilot, and Tes hardly needs her right now."

"To be honest Jay, I'd rather take a ship somebody else can pilot if something unusual happens," she explained. "And where I don't have to worry about something happening to my ride home, if something weird happens."

"I didn't mangle her that badly," he sort of pouted, "but I get the point. It was just a suggestion."

"Jay, it's not that I don't trust your work," she smiled, "it's that I don't trust my work when it comes to weird things happening."

"I'll just have to trust that supply ship," he accepted, though he wasn't all that pleased. "How long do you expect you'll be gone?"

"At least a month," she admitted. "Quite possibly longer, depending on how long it takes me to convince them I'm suitable to go into the caves and actually construct my 'saber. How long would it take you to make a miniature version of my refrigeration collar, Jay?" She asked him curiously.

"How miniature do you want it?" Her curiosity was returned as he tried to think of why she'd want it.

"'Saber sized, if possible," she said. "Possibly something that could be mounted at the mouth of the hilt. I saw something while I was meditating a few weeks ago, hadn't thought about it too much yet, but if you can, it might be helpful with something I'd like to try."

"That'll be easy," Jay chuckled softly. "Your pendant is smaller, just the wrong shape. Give me a couple days without distractions."

"Okay," she smiled. "I'll try to remember," she chuckled.

"Mmm... I think we can come up with things to do other than distracting him," Fenrik winked.

"You're as bad as he is," she laughed, shaking her head.

"What temp do you want it set at?" Jay asked with a smirk at the other tom that was all but a dare to prove her right.

"Below freezing at the very least. If you can set it colder, that'd probably be best. It'll be going on the inside, so unless I'm wrong about how it works, it shouldn't freeze the hilt, right?"

"I can set it that way easily enough," he nodded. "I'll just need the exact dimensions of the hilt you intend to use. It there a point that's too cold?"

"I'm not sure yet," she admitted. "I'll need to keep some crystals below freezing, but I don't think it gets any colder than seventy below most of the time, so it probably shouldn't be much colder than that. And I'll get you the dimensions from Master Ursal; she's providing the hilt and emitter."

"Forty below as a goal sound good?" He offered. "I'm fairly sure that would be easy to do."

"That'd be fine," she nodded. "Thank you," she added with a smile. "I'm not sure how well this will work in the end, but if I'm right, it should be unique."

"A fitting match for its wielder," he purred softly, earning a violet blush as she ducked her head slightly.

"Y'know, that does explain yours, Jay," Fenrik chuckled. "Maker knows they're certainly close enough to unique."

"Only around here," he smirked back. "Back home they're nothing special."

"I'd be terrified if I didn't know what you meant by that," Fenrik chuckled. "But I guess it comes of living where everybody's at least a part-time inventor."

"C'mon, Fenrik," Shi giggled. "After this long, if he can say anything that still terrifies you, you're going to look like you belong on the Council before you've even taken on your first Padawan."

"I should probably mention about now that the trip to Yavin will be Sharufa's shakedown run." Jay almost snickered.

"Probably just as well I'm coming along then," Fenrik sighed dramatically. "I'm going to have to know what I have to kick when something stops working anyways."

"And what not to kick," Jay smirked for real. "She very much believes in her name you know. She doesn't take abuse from anybody."

"And just what does her name mean?" Shivasta asked, not recognizing it as one used in the Republic.

"Distinguished or outstanding, depending on who you ask," he chuckled softly. "She's got an attitude to match."

"I'll keep it in mind," Fenrik smiled. "I assume you built her as a full transport, at least enough space for six?"

"Depends on sleeping arrangements. She's set up with a master bedroom for us and three other rooms for Masters or Padawans. A bit smaller than Gurath, but much more efficiently arranged for us. She won't be needed for more than a decade, if that."

"You have definitely missed your calling, kat," Fenrik chuckled, shaking his head. "Something that I'm sure every corporate type you've talked to has agreed with."

"Mmm ... personally, I'm glad he missed it," Shivasta smiled, leaning over to give him a quick kiss.

"Clawsons are just not corporate types," he shook his head. "We're warriors with a knack for inventing our own gear for the job."

"I was joking, Jay," Fenrik chuckled, moving to give him a kiss. "After all, given everything that's happened, there are some corp's I hope you'll never work with."

"Like most of them," he smirked with a wink and returned the kiss. "It doesn't make them any happier for my career choice."

"They'll live," Shi smiled, collecting their empty plates. "Mmm ... so, who's interested in dessert?" She asked with a wink, nuzzling Jay and Fen both.

"Does that mean you're on the menu?" Jay grinned up at her with a teasing gleam in his eyes.

"That's up to you boys," she teased back with a wink, standing and walking into the bedroom, slipping her robes off as she disappeared, followed quickly by her mates.

Doruth could feel the tension that was in the air as the Gurath set down on Kessel. He put his breath-mask on and looked back at the rest of the Pack, making sure they were all similarly equipped.

They'd been sent to deal with a rebellion amongst the miners, and it was obvious that nobody outside of the Order was particularly picky about how it happened. The spice that was being mined here was vital to several major pharmaceutical concerns throughout the Republic, and any disruption in operations was grounds for worry.

The fact that the officials in charge of Kessel were unofficially supplementing their stipends by selling that same spice to criminal organizations had nothing to do with it, of course.

He was glad the Order had been as vague as they had with his orders, something he was sure was very intentional. None of them particularly wanted this revolt among the miners to end the way the mine's administrators probably did - violently, but with work starting again with the minimum possible delays.

As the Gurath's hatch opened, he saw that the governor of this particular mining region was already waiting for them, his armed entourage immediately behind him.

"Greetings, Governor Rhyallis." Doruth appraised the male silver Fox and wasn't the least bit surprised that he was extremely nervous. It didn't miss anyone's attention that the four Wolves behind him had decided the same and took on an even more dominant and predatory air for the weakness in the smaller canine.

"Greetings, Jedi," the Fox said, bowing slightly. He tried to put on a look more fitting for the governor of a small planet, and managed with mixed success. "I presume you were informed of the situation here before your arrival?"

"Only that there was trouble with the miners and I am here to solve it." He said simply.

"Yes. Well, they're getting increasingly belligerent," Rhyallis explained. "They refuse to go into the mines, demanding all manner of concessions before they'll work again. I'm willing to meet some of them, of course, but the others... well, there's simply no way this facility could be run on the budget I have to work with if I met all of them. After all, while glitterstim has numerous medical uses, the mechanical costs make the profit margin exceedingly slim."

"What are their demands?" He asked simply as they walked towards the building attached to the landing pad.

"Increased security forces, restricting the mining operations to the uppermost levels, being armed with blasters rather than mining lasers... I'm sure you can see where that last one especially would be a problem, with an entire group of rowdy miners armed with blasters. They're also requesting hazard pay." He sighed and shook his head.

"Those mines are no more dangerous now than they were when they volunteered to work here. I'm not running a prison mine like some administrators; I take care of my workers. But in an operation like this, there are bound to be accidents, which every one of those men knew full well before they signed on."

"I will want to speak with the miners about their demands, of course." Doruth said smoothly as if it was the only possible way things could go instead of the one those in charge wanted the least.

"Really, there's no need for that," the governor said just as smoothly. "It's simply a case of the miners deciding that they want better terms than they agreed to. These things happen all the time; it's just that normally our security forces are capable of handling it. This time... well, you'll see when we reach the mine itself." He led Doruth into the building, though only after one of the guards had opened the door and stepped in first.

The Panther had been on Nar Shadda long enough to recognize that Rhyallis was a man who'd had at least one attempt made on his life, and recently at that. No wonder he'd requested Jedi assistance.

Instead of replying, Doruth lead his Custos pack behind the Governor and waited to see the mine before he insisted on talking to the miners.

"My apologies for the delay," Rhyallis explained as one of his guards left to stand watch outside, "but I'm afraid my transport to the mines had to be replaced. It should be here any -" The familiar sound of a speeder whirring to a halt outside interrupted him. "Ah, there it is. Well, let's go see the facility, hmm?"

He led the way out, climbing into the large speeder along with one of his guards, though the other half-dozen guards had to stay behind so Doruth could get on along with the four Custos.

The trip was short, though it wasn't exactly uneventful. While there wasn't any overt violence, Doruth could feel the increasing tension and animosity the closer they came to the mine. This entire place was a powder keg waiting to explode. The only reason most of the miners he saw gathered were shouting obscenities was because their breath masks didn't lend themselves well to the exertion.

He was definitely going to have to find out what the reason behind the need for increased security was. This was going to explode, and soon.

They finally stopped just outside a large, well-built building, more guards waiting outside. Apparently, without having to watch the miners, Rhyallis could afford to bolster his forces with the security he did have down there.

The rest of the buildings in the area were far more run-down looking, with miners moving in and out of them. The spice trade was more lucrative than he'd thought, if the difference between Rhyallis' home and office and the miner's buildings was any indicator.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, and wasn't much of one, really. Anything that attracted the underworld had to be very lucrative.

The guards moved forward, making sure there was a clear path between the building and the speeder before the doors opened.

"Ehm... after you," Rhyallis offered, though they all knew it was less out of politeness than preferring that the Jedi be the first one to go into the line of fire.

It wasn't something that bothered Doruth as he easily got off the speeder and went inside with the pack. If the Fox was intimidated already, it would make it that much easier to push him into consenting to what he needed to.

Rhyallis followed behind him, closing the door to the office quickly and sitting down at his desk.

"I took the liberty of collecting all the information we have on the miner who seems to be leading this revolt," he explained, opening up the file. "It should make this somewhat easier for you."

The Panther nodded and skimmed the file, looking mostly for names and pictures to know who to talk to first.

"If you'd like, I have a datapad with the information here," he said, opening a drawer and pulling one out. "I do hope you can resolve this quickly. Monthly quotas aside, our product is vital to the Republic."

"That is why I am here, after all." Doruth nodded. "Are all the major players here?"

"They should be," Rhyallis nodded. "The ringleader and his friends are probably in the cantina now." Doruth frowned mentally as he got to the details on the supposed ringleader. This wasn't adding up; meerians didn't revolt, it just wasn't in them. The diminutive humanoids were expert miners, but even hundreds of generations under the thumb of the mining corporations hadn't dulled their naturally agreeable nature enough that they would fight back, even on their home world.

This was definitely a revolt to look into very carefully.

"We will talk to them now," Doruth said simply and turned to leave, the Wolves at his heal. There were times he wished he didn't have them around, and this was going to be one of them. Even with all their Custos training and decades at the Temple, they still had a habit of looking at everyone not of the Temple as a threat to be decimated.

They'd saved his life many times, but they'd caused just as much trouble when such aggressive posturing wasn't needed.

That was the true reason, or part of it at least, that he'd left them behind on that last mission to Kashykk. No such luck this time. Hopefully this wouldn't be one of the situations where having them along would result in unnecessary violence.

They never behaved like this with Tes along. She was the only one who did any posturing then, unless a battle was immanent and it might actually help. It made him feel even more like he was being babysat than usual.

Fortunately, the miners didn't seem too inclined towards causing trouble for him. They milled about, occasionally glaring, but mostly making way for the Panther and Wolves to work towards the cantina. Maybe they knew that a Jedi wasn't just going to start taking heads until they were working again.

They walked into the cantina, the air a little fresher, more people not wearing their breathmasks, though most of them only took them off long enough to eat or drink before replacing them.

The meerian they were looking for, LirTan, was sitting in a repulsor chair, talking with some of his friends around a game of sabacc. He looked up as the five of them walked in, and the game was soon cleared from the table, space made for Doruth to take a seat.

"Thank you," the Panther nodded in acceptance and sat down. "*Go talk to the others, and be polite about it.*" He added to the Custos so they wouldn't look so much like the body guards they tended to think of themselves as. "What happened?" He asked LirTan simply.

"You're asking?" The meerian asked, raising an eyebrow slightly. "Well, it seems the boss picked the wrong people to call for help. What happened is we've been losing more miners than usual in the lower levels. Don't care what that Fox says, this is more than the usual accidents. We can find cave ins or sinkholes; we know where the bodies are after those. Miners just disappearing... that's something else."

"Is it in a particular area, or all the lower levels?" Doruth asked as he began to check things off the possible causes list.

"We don't know. Seems to be a specific area, but it happens sometimes all over. Just not as often as it has lately."

"Have you kept any records of the miners who have gone missing; where, when, their race, solo or not." Doruth considered him seriously. "I'd take your records over Rhyallis."

"I'd take a drunken wampa's records over his," the meerian snorted, shaking his head. "We don't have anything on record, but it wouldn't take too long to figure it all out. Just have to get the word out that somebody actually cares."

"I would appreciate it," he inclined his head seriously. "It will help a great deal when I go down there to find out how to stop it."

"Just make sure you and your friends are well armed," LirTan observed. "Everybody who disappeared had mining lasers, and knew how to use 'em in a fight if they had to. Didn't help them any."

"We will be," Doruth nodded. "How long do you think it will take to work out an map and timeline of the missing?"

"I should have it for you by evening," LirTan said easily.

"Good. Is there anything else you've noticed?"

"The ones who've disappeared the most lately have been working around a new vein we've been working," the meerian explained. "Rich vein, most of the reason Rhyallis says they've just skipped the planet. But we know who leaves and who doesn't. They haven't."

"I understand," Doruth said simply. He believed it too. Communities like these knew this kind of thing, and even more, the situation here back them up. "It there anything unusual about this vein, or what comes out of it? Purity, quantity, how it lies in the rock?"

"The purity's normal," LirTan said easily. "Pure spice is common around here, that's why the mines have lasted as long as they have. What's weird is that this deposit just doesn't seem to end. We'll dig to the back of it, or think we have at least, when we come back the next day we find out we'd been reading the scans wrong or something. More bogies than usual back there, but they're not what the problem is."

"Like more has showed up over night?" He hazarded a guess as an idea started to form, no matter how strange it sounded.

"Not over night, but fairly quickly. They usually show up in areas we've mined out, they get caught in the spice otherwise. But usually we find a few there before, caught in the spice that we're mining. Here, we didn't find any until after we'd mined the main deposit."

"Interesting," he murmured, more sure of his idea than before. "Anything else you can think of that is different?"

"Nope," LirTan said, shaking his head. "Except for the way we keep finding more, nothing that weird about it but the miners we keep losing back there."

"Then I am going to investigate our records until you have put together the map of disappearances." Doruth said easily and stood.

"Will do," the meerian nodded, his repulsor-chair rising so he stayed at Doruth's eye-level. "Glad to see that somebody gives a shit about us around here."

"It's what I do on a mission." Doruth said simply and silently signaled the others to join him outside the door. "I will meet you back here in a few hours."

"See you then," LirTan nodded, starting to talk to his friends again as they gathered around him.

Go to Part 1         Part 2

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 4: One Knight Hunting part 1 of 2

NC-17 for M/F and M/M
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

236 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written March 3, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Star Wars (Furry)

Primary Races: Ice Walker, Kat, Kushiban, Panther, Wolf

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Relationship (Established), Sex (BDSM), Sex (Kinky), Violence (Sexual)

Pairings: Doruth Parn/Tes Ramaris, Jay Clawson/Shivasta Stormwarden/Fenrik Aren

Blurb: A great deal can change in five years, but for three Padawans it has only made them stronger as a triad and honed each of their talents, minds and bodies to face the reality of life as a Jedi Knight, and the possibility that one may not make it. Now they begin to truly prove their worthiness to the Order and to themselves.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

Page Hit Count from March 3, 2005    1724