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While I have managed to knock a few items off the list, I also seem to have added a lot more.  The Verdan log is likely a lost cause at this point particularly.  Oh well, the list of items currently in progress has been updated to remove completed ones and add new ones.

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Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session XV

gray concrete building

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So far the battle could be qualified as either a stalemate, or one of attrition. Something was off about these mummies, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It didn’t help matters that this was the first time I had even seen mummies outside of some holo fiction, so I didn’t really have a baseline for comparison. Nonetheless, I kept getting this sensation in the back of my mind that something about this was familiar somehow. The fresh wrappings, nearly identical height and build, the lack of significant negative energy signature, and discharging electrical shocks definitely indicated something was up though.

At the moment, my leading theory was that this was some sort of illusion effect with that “shadow reality” stuff that Lindral mentioned. As such, I readied one of the psionic tattoos for dispelling from my right arm and threw (fired?) it at them with the intent to try to avoid hitting my teammates as best as I could. The crackling red energies swept over four of the things and caused them to stiffen and hesitate for a moment.

That wasn’t the response I had been expecting. I had been hoping that they would vanish from existence, but instead they seem to have frozen in place for a brief moment. So definitely undead or constructs of some sort then. The others were continuing to maintain the offensive with whatever weapons they possessed while Zin played defense. The door behind us was opening to let through psionic construct reinforcements at least. Strangely, as the mummies that had been stunned returned to action, they all raised their arms with eerie simultaneity.

Why did that make me feel so cross?

Assisting the others with grenades was having an effect, but these mummies were ridiculously durable for what should be desiccated flesh and bone. Another round of grenades did substantial damage to them at least and tore away a good deal of the bandages to reveal a lot of metal underneath where I would have expected organic remains. Was that armor? No, this was more substantial than that. This metal was structural even if it acted as armor. Perhaps these were some sort of mad science automatons in a manner similar to droids? No, something about the overall design was familiar on a level beyond that.

Wait a minute….

These were Type 17d Republic Medium Duty Security Droids! As I recalled, they were equipped with armored chassis, backup power, electrical discharge system (heavily insulated against each other), medium blaster systems on the right arm, net gun on the left arm, and rather basic tactical skills. That meant that the brief pause after the dispel was them switching over to droid brain control after severance of the central control signal.

And I had what I felt was a very good guess who gave these undead Republic battle droids….

(Vanatica) Damn it, these are Type 17d Republic Medium Duty Security Droids! Anyone have access to an EMP or an Ion Cannon?

(Jacob) What is an ion cannon?

(Felix) A cannon with an eye on it?

Sigh, I keep forgetting that these people have a very limited understanding of the technology of my universe and thus don’t know what I am referring to half the time. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after all the damn weirdness the others keep throwing out. Maybe I was spending too much time with the crew of the Dawnchaser and that was throwing off my expectations.

(Vanatica) It fires a blast of charged ions at the target. The sheer amount of electrical discharges that occur when it hits computer controlled equipment tends to render much of the electronics non-operable for a period of time. Not very effective against organics.

Meanwhile I was digging through my memory and using basic engineering rules-of-thumb to derive what weaknesses this particular model of droids was susceptible to beyond the standard ion cannons. The discharge system couldn’t be insulated for obvious reasons, so a big charge fed back in would burn it out. Sonic blasts and such will often shatter the cheap crystals used in droid blasters too. Net guns were hardly effective in tangled areas, underwater, and so on. This looked to be one of the heavier models and thus unable to swim, possessed poor balance, and was an even worse match against overly acrobatic Jedi and Sith than most droids already were.

Interesting that the power supplies had held out for so long under these conditions. The probe droid, with a power cell rated for decades, wasn’t able to remained powered for more than a couple hours. Yet these droids had to have been here for weeks at least and still had sufficient power to engage in combat. Perhaps the droids had been equipped with some sort of a protection against the energy drain of this place? If so, then that made recovery of these things as intact as possible a priority. Not to mention pulling their droid brains and reviewing their memories and programs for clues about Seras. But for any hope of not utterly trashing these things, I needed to get an ion cannon.

(Vanatica) Give me cover for a bit as I try to rig up some sort of countermeasure to these droids!

While I didn’t have an ion cannon on me (what the hell kind of oversight was that on my part?!), my shieldsuit was a small fortune in parts. Not to mention all the spare parts I had stashed away in various pouches. Using those to alter the blaster rifle to fire ion blasts was going to be a pain though in the amount of time I had. Jacob pulled back from the fighting as more psionic constructs entered the fray on our side. He suggested that it might be easier to modify his phaser to act as a sort of ion cannon than it would be to modify the blaster rifle. Not that I really understood how his phaser worked, or how he intended to interface the two sets of incompatible parts.

Still, with a lot of hurried arguments and painful shocks, we were able to set up something whereby my stuff generated a cloud of ions and once we mounted it to the phaser it somehow accelerated them as a tight beam. Between the phaser/ion cannon and our continuing reinforcements, we were quickly able to disabled all but three of the mummies – the “leader” and two others. Those seemed to be shielded by a negative energy field of some sort, but they were too few in number as the psionic constructs simply piled on top of them and pinned them down.

(Leader) I will break free and destroy you! None can stand before me! My Legions Shall March Again!

It was obvious that this wasn’t a droid speaking, but something else speaking through it. Possibly like a Rassan style Sith (I doubted this was a Sith though). If that droid could actually foam at the mouth, then this thing possessing it would have been doing so.

Ignoring it for the time being, I turned my attention to the other droids. My first action was to pull the power supplies on the two other still active droids so they no longer were a threat (even if they were pinned down). Looking at the power supplies, they appeared more or less standard, but were inscribed with all sorts of weird symbols. Even weirder, they were all showing 100% power reserve. Even with a normal active runtime of decades, a battle like this should at least show as a fractional drain, and the energy draining effect of this archive should have made it even worse. So obviously those symbols were doing something.

Zin looked them over and declared that the symbols were part of a rather small-scale enchantment – an electrical spell feeding a fairly standard power cell which then regulated the voltage and stabilized the current. In effect, this made it a perpetual power cell in his estimation.

That…. was potentially a game-changer. I was aware of perpetual motion power systems, but those were dependent on using the core of a dead star as a giant lightsaber crystal and thus had a mass measured in solar masses. This was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand. Pulling the power cells from the other droids netted me at least a total of six with similar enchantments. I was normally never really under much of a demand for power for most normal equipment, but the Fourth Generation Shieldsuit was a serious power hog. Nothing remotely portable I had discovered so far could sustain the power demands of that thing and I had been reliant on the hyperspace power broadcast system to not have to haul along an extension cord everywhere. Having a starship nearby wasting massive amounts of power projecting a hyper field just for my personal use had never been a popular position, but enough rest of the family saw enough value in the project to overrule the engineers.

This recharging enchantment suggested a compact solution was available though. Six normal power cells with the recharging enchantment wasn’t going to be sufficient to power that thing for more than a few seconds, but it was highly likely that a much more powerful enchantment could be made that could keep up with the power demand. Even if that cost a fortune in Obols, it’d still be worth every single one. Not that I could do anything about it at the moment though in the middle of a hostile environment. Still, that should help with keeping my current systems functional down here in the Archive.

Meanwhile, the lead droid was still making a nuisance of itself by issuing all sorts of threats and insults. I had heard this spiel before from numerous Sith and Faded and I wasn’t any more impressed with this pathetic attempt than any of those.

(Vanatica) Look, if you are going to engage in threatening behavior, then it pays to have some sort of card slashed up your sleeve. Did you actually have one or is this a whole bunch of of HoloSith posturing? Or is this another bad habit you picked up from that one that claims to be my sister?

(Leader) Sister? What is this nonsense?

I couldn’t help showing the exasperation with how dense this one was being. I pulled out a datapad and and displayed a picture of Seras’s face.

(Vanatica) Do not play stupid with me. I know this one has already visited this location. I have seen her visit in my dreams and her battle with your leader.

There were more incoherent threats from the lead droid in response. Sighing in frustration, I suddenly noted the presence of a new arrival behind us coming through the doorway we had entered earlier. This one looked human and alive at least.

(Vanatica) Alright, you’re new. Who are you?

(Theo) Name’s Theo. Town sent me to see what happened to you. Looks like you’re taking your time.

I was kinda surprised that if the town was that concerned, that the crew of the Dawnchaser hadn’t launched their own expedition to find us. Maybe that implied a higher amount of trust, or something else was going on with them that was keeping them occupied. Probably best to check up with them soon.

(Vanatica) Ehh, got stuck in a detour through a memory visitor center. That ate about a day.

(Theo) A memory victory center? Got to see all the people who visited before, stuck in a dream, or something? Or more like a VR vacation?

(Jacob) More like a library of a dead civilization.

Not sure the civilization was dead so much as they had “moved on”. Whatever that meant.

(Vanatica) This appears to be a library or museum structure that stores recordings of events as memories that can be visited via an astral translocation or some such thing. I still don’t fully understand the mechanics of it all.

(Theo) Oh, one of those.

(Felix) Do you usually just walk in on mad people exploring a forgotten dungeon of evil?

(Theo) No, usually I walk in after others are done stopping the mad people from doing something horrible with what they found in some lost or forgotten tomb, then make sure the mess is cleaned up, diffused, catalogued, and sent for processing. But that was then. Now, sure.

(Felix) Where exactly do you come from, and why are you hanging around here?

(Theo) That’s classified. And because I can’t get back.

(Felix) Classified? By whom? I mean, literally – we’ve probably never heard of anything related to it and wouldn’t care if we did.

(Theo) So, anyway. Do you need rescuing?

(Felix) Well, I don’t think so, but I could be mistaken.

(Jacob) We could use some help and one of us already died even if that is not bothering him too much.

I made a show of putting my boot on top of the restrained droid in a degrading manner.

(Vanatica) Unless you count the incessant and pointless posturing from a defeated opponent, then I think we are not in need of rescue. I also think Allandras’s death was his own damn fault and doesn’t reflect on us as a whole.

(Felix) In fact, we not only don’t need rescue, we’re going to rescue YOU! I insist we have to protect you! It’s dangerous to be here all alone!

(Theo) Uh, yeah. So was he hit with a confusion spell? Mass confusion get all of you maybe?

(Jacob) Anyway, the situation is that this facility is being corrupted by some people who are refusing to let go of this world despite their minds eroding from the energy they are using to hold on. We need to get them out, let the maintenance drones clean this back to what it is intended to do, anchor the library, and do something about bridging the people who used to live here back to this place.

(Theo) So, evict the squatters, let the construction team fix up the joint, and the residents back in. Ok. Sweep and clear, which of you has point?

(Vanatica) That would either be myself or Zin.

(Theo) Lead on. The faster you move, the less time they have to prepare a defense. And the sooner you can get back and get that guy to a shrink.

(Felix) I’m pretty sure they have had several eons to prepare defenses by now.

(Jacob) Problem is we have this robot still active and controlled by one of them…. not sure where he is actually. I do not like scanning these guys, they tend to fight back more than normal.

Oh well, there were more ways to get information than just scanning. I turned my attention back to the droid screaming obscenities at us.

(Vanatica) So, are you going to tell us anything of value about your companions? Or am I going to have to find inventive ways to strip you of everything of value in as imaginative way as I can think of and then perform an exorcism on what’s left to get your soul to finally get a clue to move on to wherever it is the rest of your civilization went?

(Leader) What of them? It is not as if they matter to me!

(Vanatica) Then you have no reason to protect them from me by withholding information.

It quickly became obvious that the idiot wasn’t too clear on the concept of being threatened – but neither was it very clear on “shutting up”. Different universe, same HoloSith tendencies.

First one was an artist named Rahsome who possessed and animated his artwork. The projections were difficult to damage or stop, but he could only manage one at a time. Second was Leradna who used statues, believed herself to be incredibly beautiful, and used mental powers of some sort. Third was one named Sar was a vitality drainer that reminded me of holos of vampires. Fourth was Blehreth the Fleshsucker. Not much was apparently left of that one, but supposedly was a very powerful pattern – enough so that if she touched someone, their flesh would flow into her and become a part of her. Sort of like a reverse bacta infection I suppose. Even more concerning though was that she tended to project her own memories and imaginings as a maze of memories and illusions, within which she lurked and ambushed people.

Fifth was Henbeth who was fascinated with soul-magic, and was trying to restore the species by transferring young souls from other species into artificial bodies of her own species. I had my doubts as to how effective a plan this could be, but supposedly this gave her a lot of minions animated by soul-echoes. Sixth was Chyris and her eternal quest to become a demon. Apparently the others kept telling her that it was far too late for that sort of thing since a demonic incarnation would not be enough to anchor her against ascension. Or so this one said. I wasn’t entirely clear on the mechanics of any of this and so decided to take it all with a grain of salt.

Vandmill was seventh and had a weird idea that lots of bodies would anchor him much better than one (which made little sense to me) and kept trying to incarnate as swarms of things. Even by the standards of the others, they thought his mind was blatantly broken. An eighth apparently kept erasing memories of themselves from everyone else with negative energy. To me that sounded vaguely like a Censor exploit of some sort, but wasn’t sure if this had any implications back home. Nor was I sure if my Censor blocking cloak would have any effect against such an ability.

(Felix) It might be easier to move the villagers than remove the villains.

Possibly, but this place seemed like something that would make a mess of things if left alone for too long. And we probably had a decent chance of clearing this place out if we were tactical in how we proceeded. At which point it occurred to me that since we now knew what was going on to some extent, it was probably a good idea to return to the surface and check in with the others. Especially since we have been missing for over twenty four hours now.

(Vanatica) Should we at least return topside for a bit just to report our findings so far? Since it has been more than twenty four hours since we vanished?

(Theo) Sure.

(Jacob) Yeah, it should not be that far and this way we can tell them what to look for if one is out right now. Or gets away.

I also had to expect that the ones hauling the Dawnchaser were getting annoyed with the delay so far. We could presumably pay them more to compensate, but local currency (particularly Obols) was not something we had in what I felt was large quantities either. Plus I didn’t want to lose the perpetual power cells in a fight later without stashing some away or getting a chance to study them some more.

We also worked the drag out the droid parts we had acquired along with our “captive”. We gave the villagers a report on our findings so far along with an estimate of how many dangers still remained inside. I did drop hits that this was costing us time and money to clear out since we had ongoing expenses and fees we needed to pay. My hope was to at least get them to help cover meals, other supplies, and the hauler’s delay fees, and they seemed to get the hint and offered to cover that. Apparently they were concerned we were going to charge much a higher price for the task of clearing the place out. I figured we were gaining substantial profits just from any loot and the knowledge we acquire.

Unfortunately, I doubt the remaining undead will allow us to continue to pick them off one at a time. Soon enough they were going to start working together to fight us and that was going to become a pain. With that in mind, I asked the villagers if there were any resources available nearby that was effective against undead.

According to them, there was a tree whose sap was incendiary. Something called huarstone absorbed and stored sunlight, releasing it slowly – but there were minor spells to get it to release a lot at once. Most of the usual charms and talismans were already in use, but I got the impression that a bit of diplomacy and negotiation might get us some of those. Ba’xt Spice was apparently good at disrupting spirit beings and purification.

It also occurred to me that the presence of Republic war-droids meant it was probably a good idea to get some ion blasters and ion grenades to use against them. That also presented some bigger concerns that perhaps the Republic (or some elements thereof) were quietly supporting Seras in generating a succession crisis. I motioned for Vanessa Soung to come over and tossed her a droid core when she got close enough.

(Vanatica) Looks like Seras has been here and has been sharing Type 17d Republic Medium Duty Security Droids with some of the locals.

(Vanessa) Well, that further reinforces the impression that we shouldn’t rely on possessing the technological advantage here.

(Vanatica) More importantly, I want to know who has been selling Seras Republic Security Droids.

(Vanessa) Well, we can track serial numbers, but the Galaxy is a big place. And that assumes she’s been buying them from our Republic and not from another timeline.

(Vanatica) True, but I want to see if there is an account trail that can be followed. If she’s smart, she’s set up multiple dummy accounts and aliases. But it is possible that we can find out who might be backing her.

(Vanessa) I’ll look into it then, but even with THELOS and our access to the banking systems, that is going to take some time. I’ll have the technicians dig through the memory records on the cores and see if anything of value can be found.

Well, I think we were going to have a substantial amount of time before we could do anything with that information even if we got it. After all, we were still stuck at the bottom of this gravity well with no way off yet. At some point that is going to become the next major concern, but until then I had more pertinent issues to worry about. Until we were ready to launch another assault of the Archive though, I was going to take a nap.

It hardly took any time for us to get clearance to land on Ascensa. Descending through the atmosphere was a sight to behold as the massive storms that still rocked the changing climate and arcs of lightning danced around us. The terraformers predicted that the storms would probably last another one to two centuries until a new equilibrium was achieved. Part of me wondered if our successors would find themselves so used to the constant rain that they’d be looking into ways to encourage the then stabilized system back to its current state.

We eventually broke through the cloud layer to where we could see the ground below and the city of Valareana in the distance. Shajan was watching excitedly from the other seat in the cockpit as we came in for a landing at the city. I made a few circles around the city at different angles just to let Shajan get the excitement out of her system. She particularly found the sight of the high speed trains that connected Valareana with other cities on the planet to be fascinating. Finally landing at one of the spaceports, I directed Shajan to follow me as we disembarked. Port security was already there to meet us and looked to have been briefed by THELOS on what to expect since they didn’t show any sign of surprise at my arrival.

There were some questions just to verify that I was who I obviously was. They wanted to do more scans and tests on Shajan though since she lacked any sort of a paper trail beyond the fact that I found her as an orphan on Nar Shadda. She was subjected to a quick weapon and bio scan, found to be clean and then released back into my custody for the time being. By that time a squad of Praetorian Guards had arrived to provide escort for us. I motioned that Shajan was to be considered part of my entourage and departed the spaceport.

Much of the city still remained inside the large arcology structure that had been initially lowered from orbit two decades ago. Carefully hidden shield generators throughout the structure served to divert much of the rain and act as walls against the stormy winds, but during days like today that never seemed to be quite enough and some rain still fell upon the exposed walkways and garden areas. Most people prefer the bright and hot summer sun, but I guess growing up on this world made me prefer the cool and dark rain.

As we walked along, crowds of people would stop to watch us pass by. Members of the family were not an uncommon sight in this city, but even then we were still a galactic novelty I suppose. You’d think they’d have more important things to do than to stand in the rain to watch me like some sort of spectacle though. I had hoped that the food stall selling xeubens was still open, but it looked like the place had been closed due to weather.

An annoying shame really.

Eventually we arrived at an elevator that could take us to the rail junction. Why they didn’t have a more direct connection to the spaceport was beyond me, but you’d think the priority was to facilitate transit of people and goods. Maybe it was one of those annoying things like putting all the goods people wanted at the back of the store so that customers had to pass all the other products to get to what they wanted and thus find themselves inclined buy something additional. Perhaps this was something similar and the goal was to slow down invaders or keep tourists spending money locally before they moved on to wherever else they were going.

Arriving at the rail junction, I saw that a train to the Praetorian Isles was already on standby at the special platform. Walking straight past the security checkpoint without stopping, I boarded the train and sat down on one of the luxury couches to await for the train to depart. I motioned for Shajan to head to the front of the car where an entertainment system had been set up so she could keep herself occupied. I simply leaned back into the couch and closed my eyes as I felt the water still dripping off my hair onto the cushions.

I was vaguely aware of someone sitting down on the couch opposite me loudly poking at a datapad.

(Valerie) You know, there are towels with which you can drive yourself off little one….

I opened my eyes to see Mother sitting across from me with a datapad in her lap. I couldn’t see a drop of water on her and wondered if that was because she had used those Hybrid powers of hers to keep herself dry. Was such a thing even a conscious effort on her part anymore or did it just come as naturally as blinking to her?

(Vanatica) Well, sometimes I think the cleaning crew needs to earn their salaries. I think they can afford to clean the cushions once in a while just because I feel like sitting for a bit. After all, that is what we pay them for, isn’t it?

(Valerie) Sigh, it isn’t proper to be messy just because you can’t be bothered to use a towel little one.

With that a towel was telekinetically flung into my lap. Biting back the frustration, I took the towel and ran it through my hair. At least I didn’t have ridiculously hair like Mother’s that hung past my knees. I found my own shoulder length hair to be enough of a hassle at times already so I couldn’t imagine how much of a pain that length had to be. Yet Mother treated her hair like a source of pride.

Now my hair was dry (or at least drier), but I could feel that it was an unkempt mess now. A droid appeared to take the towel from me and presented me with a hairbrush. I briefly thought of just dismissing the droid entirely, but decided that it was better to avoid yet another lecture from Mother about appearances. I took the brush and started working on my hair as another droid presented a mirror.

(Valerie) I’ve heard that you had an interesting adventure on Nar Shadda.

(Vanatica) Let me guess, the Hutts complained?

(Valerie) Not in so many words, but they did let me know that you had a bit of a tussle with a former Jedi mercenary while saving that Cleque boy. I do wish that you would find someone more suitable for a mate and not waste so much time on that one.

(Vanatica) I seem to recall stories that Great-Grandfather was not a fan of Father.

(Valerie) No, he wasn’t, but neither is Cleque like your father. I can understand, if not entirely condone, your desire to have some fun from time to time, but you are going to have to find a mate at some point and start your own family.

(Vanatica) I can take care of my own romances.

Mother was still annoyed that of the older children, I was the only one that was still “single”. The others all had their own relationships they were pursuing to various degrees of seriousness. Rumor even was circulating that Jax was considering proposing to that Kinsey girl at some point. Didn’t really know much about her given how secretive Jax was being though. Vadin joked that I was just waiting to find my own “lovable rogue” like Mother had and kept dodging when I tried to punch him in the face for it.

(Vanatica) If you want grandkids so badly, I’ll commission some parthenogenetic clones for you to dote over.

(Valerie) I would hardly call the results of one of your science experiments a proper continuation of the bloodline.

It wasn’t like the bloodline was in any danger of dying out, even if everyone in the Praetorian Soung family was killed the Varen Soung branch still numbered in the hundreds of proper Soungs and millions of “common” Soungs. That didn’t include all the descendants that didn’t carry the Soung name. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if half the Galaxy was a descendant of Victoria Soung. Extinction was hardly a likely event unless something threatened the entire Galaxy.

(Valerie) Mind the lightning dear….

I was still processing that statement when lightning struck the moving train and startled the hell out of me. None of the train’s systems were adversely affected by the lightning strike and we continued along the track towards home, but my heart was racing from the sudden burst of adrenaline. Annoyingly, Mother was still absently poking at her datapad with the only sign that she had even noticed the lightning being the warning she had given me. I had to wonder if I would have been nearly has startled had I not gotten that “forewarning” and if Mother had done that to set me off my game.

(Valerie) You need to learn to relax little one, and no, I didn’t do that to annoy you.

(Vanatica) I thought the newest cloak was able to block telepathy….

(Valerie) That it does. However, after twenty five years, I have gotten very good at reading my children. It isn’t that hard to guess what you are thinking, little one. You need to stop thinking of everything being a dig at your lack of superhuman talents and just focus on being yourself. Obsession with power is not a trait becoming of Varen.

And yet I live in a society set up by my parents that highly prizes those very abilities. Real power in the Protectorate lay with those with Force and Codex powers or those immune to the Censor. While the policies in and of themselves made sense, the very fact that those policies locked me out of some of the critical levers of power was irritating to say the least. I still couldn’t issue orders to the Vailo Units of the Grenkay Corps directly for that very reason. I had to rely on the compliance of Aunt Virstris for that.

I both possessed immense power and yet also lacked any. To say that this was a frustrating state of affairs was an understatement. Looking to Mother for sympathy was an exercise in futility given that she was one of the most powerful individuals in the Galaxy that wasn’t stark raving mad. All she did was given assertions that I shouldn’t worry about such things so much. Father at least was better since he could remember a time when he didn’t possess such abilities, but he was prone to telling me I wasn’t appreciating the downsides of such things.

The train arrived at the Praetorian Isles with our car stopping at the residence. The weather screens seemed to be doing a better job here than back at Valareana as it was keeping the rain at bay. I again motioned for Shajan to follow me as I had instructed her earlier as we walked out into the main lawn.

I saw Father out on the lawn playing some sort of game with my youngest sister Caryn. When he saw us, he motioned for Caryn to wait as he walked over to hug me. Caryn, seeing me too, ran up and hugged my leg. I patted her on the head as Father began to speak.

(Kira) How’s my favorite firstborn?

(Vanatica) I’m your only firstborn.

(Kira) Not true given the multiverse. In theory I have infinite firstborns and of them all, you are my favorite!

(Caryn) What about me?

(Kira) Well, you’re my favorite ninth born of course!

It was then that Father noted the presence of Shajan behind me. He knelt down to look her in the eye.

(Kira) And who might you be?

(Shajan) Shajan, sir.

(Kira) No need for such formalities. You can just call me Master Soung. Mind if I examine you for a moment?

Shajan looked to me for guidance and I gestured that it was safe. With that Father then placed his hand on the right side of Shajan’s face while he waved a finger from his left hand in front of her in some odd motions. This went on for a couple of minutes before Father tussled her hair and gave her a piece of candy from one of his pockets.

(Kira) Well Shajan, you are a very lucky little girl. It is good that my daughter found you. We’ll ensure that you get a loving home and a proper education. Now, why don’t you run along and play with Caryn for a bit? We’ll be having dinner shortly and you can eat to your heart’s content!

(Shajan) Ok!

With that Shajan and Caryn ran off together towards the flower gardens.

(Vanatica) What’d you sense?

(Kira) I’ll have to run some more tests to be sure, but I think she’s an untrained hybrid. Not a particularly powerful or talented one though. Not like your Mother.

Oh Force damn it all. It seemed random street urchins had more luck than I did in these matters. My frustration must have been apparent on my face.

(Kira) Oh, don’t get that look on your face. It was probably that limited talent of hers that got you to pay the slightest bit of attention to her and what has probably kept her alive all this time. Now she’ll have to live a life of constant discipline and training if she wants to maintain her sanity.

(Vanatica) Well, ready for another apprentice then?

(Kira) I’m getting too old for that sort of thing. Especially since she is so young. I’d probably farm out the job to Achi or Destal to handle.

(Jax) She’ll need to be sponsored though.

I hadn’t seen Jax approach and was caught off guard. At least I didn’t jump like I did with regards to that lightning strike in front of Mother. Interesting that Father didn’t warn me while Mother did.

(Kira) True enough. Tradition indicates that the one who found her gets to sponsor her.

Ugh, Varen tradition meant that whoever found a new “inductee” had to sponsor said inductee and frequently this meant adoption. While that wouldn’t make Shajan a Praetorian Soung with regards to inheritance laws and claim rights, it did mean that she would get increased status once she became an adult. Mint, Darius, and all of the other apprentices of Mother and Father thus got wear the Soung crest and claim many privileges not available to others. It also meant that at least on paper, I was to become Shajan’s legal guardian and thus responsible for her care.

(Vanatica) Let someone else adopt her. That had been my intention from the beginning. Katlyn sponsors a charity for placing orphans in loving homes which is exactly what this is.

(Jax) Come on. It’s not like you’d actually be taking care of the day-to-day stuff. That would be Achi or Destal’s job, not yours. You’d just show up as the sponsor on the paperwork.

(Vanatica) Which means having to attend more meetings, arrange schools, allowances, and spend time with her on holidays.

(Jax) Yes, and we’ve all done it ourselves. I’ve got two in the system right now. Sponsoring apprenticeships a part of being Varen. You should take pride in that you found a hybrid as your first. Besides, acting like a human being and socializing once in a while isn’t going to kill you.

Part of me really wanted to smash my fist into Jax’s smug face for that, but I figured that I’d miss or that Father would block me. Thus far I had managed to avoid such entanglements and I was going to be annoyed if all of that came to an abrupt halt just because I showed compassion towards a street urchin. I was all for having another hybrid indebted to the family, but I was not nearly so keen to have one tied to me.

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session XIV

red candle

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Well, out of the eleven major undead haunting this archive, we just dealt with one of them. That left ten more to deal with, plus whatever number of regular minor undead were still about. Admittedly, it was via annoying them into moving on into the afterlife, reincarnating, or whatever it was that these things did.

(Allandras) I prefer to think of it as our dance was so wonderful, that there was nothing left for her in this life.

(Vanatica) I wouldn’t be bragging about your dancing skills since you apparently died in the process.

(Allandras) How many of you can say that you danced yourself to death, and not be exaggerating?

(Jacob) I would rather not say that at any point.

(Felix) I’m with him?

(Vanatica) Most of us know when yo quit while we’re still ahead…. and alive.

(Allandras) Then you don’t know the freedom of dancing. Why look, it freed me from the restraints of a physical body.

And yet it was those same restraints that so many Sith ghosts tried to regain through various means. Death was the great equalizer since it claimed everyone eventually. Some just were more obstinate about it than others. I had no desire for immortality and thought those who sought it were driven more by terror than any sort of higher goal. I was fine with the idea of extending the lifespan of myself and those around me by a couple centuries, but there needed to be a time when the young took over from the old.

(Vanatica) Yes, a feat that has been accomplished by every prince and pauper since the dawn of time. Dying is a feat even the most imcompetent manage to pull off.

(Allandras) Ah, but so few of them die and live to tell the tale of it.

(Felix) Eh, with resucitation, it happens a lot.

(Vanatica) Not impressed, my deceased great-grandfather likes to hang around and visit his great-grandchildren.

Not that I could ever see him doing it though since I lacked the required sensitivity with the Force to perceive such things. Did make me wonder if there was a spell that could make that happen or if the Obols could either. Something to experiment with another time.

(Allandras) Which means he did not have a good exit strategy.

(Felix) I…. what?

(Vanatica) And you? You’re still here. Where’s your exit strategy in action?

(Allandras) Well, often a window. Sometimes a door. A fast horse. Sometimes a bit of teleportation. Stealth magic. Some charms against scrying. And one against pregnancy.

I refused the acknowledge the insinuated activities that led to the need for such means of escape.

(Vanatica) And yet none of those were able to save you were they?

(Allandras) oh, they saved me many times. Many times.

(Vanatica) Not enough times apparently.

(Allandras) Oh, being dead. I doubt it’s permanent. There are worse things. Like marriage for instance. Only being with one woman for the rest of your days. Children sucking the adventure and lust of life out of a beautiful woman. Being bound to one place.

(Jacob) Ok, so if you think you will get this fixed…. how? I mean, you are some type of energy being now.

(Vanatica) Usual method is to possess a clone of yourself. Although that can only be done a few times before your pattern degrades so much you can no longer think straight or maintain the body for more than a few hours.

(Allandras) Likely, dancing. I danced my way in, I should be able to find a way to dance my way out.

(Jacob) Yeah, that sounds right. Energy beings usually possess people when they want to interact with physical beings. Possessing a clone of your old self would likely, but how do you stop the clone from being an independent person?

(Vanatica) Simple, you clone a body and don’t install any memories or personality into it or wake it up.

Pretty certain there wasn’t a body left to clone though. It was possible there were bits of hair or skin back on his wagon, but we didn’t have the equipment to grow a clone anyway. This did bring up the question of what to do with Allandras’s stuff now that he was dead. None of us were aware of him having a will, and despite his assertions otherwise I didn’t think the dead had much claim to property either. Oh well, we can just set his stuff aside for a period of time until no claimants come forward and then divide up his possessions as appropriate.

Turning back to the matter at hand of the remaining undead, we started examining what else was in the room we had just cleared out of the undead dancer. The slab with monsters depicted on it was still running wild with psionic energies. Other murals depicted a portal and a black hole. Other items of interest were what appeared to be a bookcase and a door bound with a massive chain. Meanwhile, Jacob once again pulled out that tricorder thing and began narrating his findings.

It looks like the psionic energies are coming from a system that could be used to imprint psionic effects on someone as glyphs on their skin, giving them access to various disciplines. At the moment it’s running randomly, and the energy is just discharging unless channeled. The control system are available, but hard to translate. I may have some ideas though.

I was busy examining that bookshelf and was disappointed to find that it wasn’t a bookshelf but one of those bas-reliefs in motion things indicative of a gate to the memory system of the archive. I was not keen to enter the memory archives again so soon after departing even if this “door” was access to a completely different section of the system.

(Jacob) So, do we want to try channeling it into something to help stop the other spirits? Like perhaps some sort of protection from their abilities or give you bunch the ability to detect them on your own?

(Vanatica) Possibly, how much variety does the system support? If there are only a dozen or so effects, there may not be much of value to any of them for our purposes.

(Jacob) Hard to tell. It also looks like the monster slab is layered with a number of sealing spells on top of the original framework.

(Vanatica) I wonder if this is the source of the weird monsters that keep attacking people.

(Jacob) I think it is a maintenance system and those are supposed to be repair drones.

At this point Zin and I moved over to the monster slab to better ascertain what it was doing and what if might have been for originally. I was learning more about this kind of stuff from Lindral at least. Together we were able to piece together that the sealing spells were definitely not original and were designed to prevent anything from coming out unless someone touched the slab to activate it. Anything that did come out would also be corrupted, replacing its original objectives with obedience to anyone who fits a particular set of criteria, starting with “being undead”.

Lovely.

Well, if the undead corrupted this system to their own purposes, then it stood to reason that reinstating the original directives might help us out. I wasn’t sure how to go about that though. None of my training so far included “dispelling” I think was the term Lindral used. Nor did it look like there were symbols or foci that I could smash either. I asked if any of the others had brilliant suggestions.

(Jacob) Could always try using Obols.

I don’t know why I kept forgetting about those. You’d think I’d be considering that option a lot more than I seem to just because of how versatile they are. Perhaps it was a hording instinct trying to make me gather as many of them as possible by only using them in dire emergencies.

With no one objecting to the idea, I pulled out a Death Obol and voiced a desire to disrupt the seals on the slab. The Obol faded from my hand as it gathered additional black energy from the air like it had turned into a tiny black hole – and the seal on the slab went inactive for a few moments – enough time for three creatures to emerge. Two appeared vaguely humanoid and made out of crystal and…. I guess this was ectoplasm? Those two went straight to work cleaning and repairing things. The remaining one was far more detailed and seemingly spoke to us all telepathically.

(Construct) Maintenance and defense has been suppressed for a considerable period. Misguided holdout entities are using the entropic cascade systems to maintain a hold in the physical realm. Repair Crew?

There was a definite overtone of “Pest Control” to that statement of “Repair Crew”.

(Vanatica) Yes, we are working to clear out the holdouts and are in need of guidance or assistance.

(Construct) In what form? Do you need temporary psiartifacts?

(Vanatica) Information and directions on how to access still functional capabilities of this facility. Which I believe includes that system over there (as I gestured to the gylph system discharging psionic energies randomly.

(Construct) Correct. Such psiartifacts are limited use, but a wide variety are available.

(Vanatica) Are the options limited to whatever was selected when this facility was constructed, or is it more open-ended than that?

If all the options were relating to construction of this place, then it probably wasn’t going to be of much use.

(Construct) Several thousand discipline patterns are available in the library. Adding more does call for special skills and considerable time.

Ehhh….. That was far too many to quickly browse through for something relevant.

(Vanatica) Anyone have thoughts as to what to request?

(Zin) Something to get rid of the suppression more long term?

(Jacob) Ok, is there a setting for cleaning interference from these systems so we can get the maintenance systems running without spending Obols?

(Allandras) What about making me solid again?

(Construct) Psionic dispelling is available. Making you solid again will require a higher-order manipulation than can be imbued in a temporary artifact. Do any of you have the capacity to channel and direct effects of that level?

I was nowhere close to being that powerful and I still had reservations that such a feat was even possible. Still, browsing through the available selection of effects, the ones that seemed most valuable at the moment where dispel psionics, a psionic healing effect, and something that seemed to be described as a short range teleport. Which was as frustrating as dealing with droid technicians after an EMP. The idea that someone could walk into a room, have someone push some buttons, and suddenly I gain the ability to reliably teleport. This was something even Mother and Father avoided attempting except in extreme emergencies, and yet here it was as an option at the proverbial buffet table!

At least I could store thirty levels of psionic effects. I wasn’t sure I understood why that was the limit, but the construct assured me that this was the case. Still, with these kind of resources at our disposal it simply became a matter of throwing dispels at the sealing spells until they finally failed. Within moments of that, squads of constructs poured through and began cleaning up, doing basic repairs, cleaning up outside the entrance (including removing corpses), improving access to the surface, and assembling a backup group to assist us. The constructs did note that the stronger manifestations were more limited in duration.

I did the constructs what the purpose was behind the murals for the library and the black hole. According to them, the “Library” area was an accessway to the main archives, albeit starting off in the “technical reference” section rather than the main “course of history across millions of years” course. That was potentially useful, but I’d rather clean out the undead first before taking another jaunt through the Archive. The “Black Hole” was apparently one of the primary negative-energy taps (or would that be sinks?). That was only to be accessed for repairs.

(Vanatica) Is this a situation that warrants repairs?

(Construct) The negative energy taps are functioning correctly. Since the holdouts are relying on them to sustain their own existence, it is likely that they have been keeping them in repair whenever self-maintenance failed.

With all of that out of the way, it was time to proceed through the door to the next section of the Archive. Through it we found a relatively plain chamber, although the four large metallic statues are more ornate. Each one was shrouded in some sort of black ooze. The room had also been extensively redecorated – there were at least a dozen sarcophagi about, the walls had been covered with disturbing symbols, runes, and the occasional nauseating picture. The smell was foul and there were several relatively recent bodies about. Most prominent however was a skeletal figure holding a barbed hook/harpoon sitting in a chair with a pile of hearts before it. The whole decor was worse than even the most delusional Holo-Sith and struck me as downright tacky with trying to advertise the “I AM SO EVIL” nonsense.

I never thought I would say that at least Holo-Sith had taste.

(Skeleton, with glowing red eyes and dark fire pouring through it) WHO DARES INTRUDE?!

(Felix) Dammit, I knew we should have knocked!

I found it impossible to take this one seriously and I had dealt with some pretty damn silly Sith and Faded in my life. I couldn’t help but to posture myself to since I had to believe that my profile was far more impressive than that of a creature that’s been hiding from its own mortality for hundreds of thousands of years in a hole in the ground.

(Vanatica) I am Vanatica Nyla Soung, Varen Sith and Firstborn to the Praetors of the Second Sith Protectorate!

(Skeleton) You are ephemeral! Do you seek to be worthy of Eternity?

(Vanatica) Seek to be worthy of Eternity? Please, on the day I was born a celebration was begun for all in the galaxies to visit! That party is still going on to this day! Empires that had existed for trillions of years know of my name and all but the most ignorant can recognize me ON SIGHT! How many people alive today even know who the hell you are?! I am the Heir Presumptive to an empire that spans galaxies, that has brought the endless Sith and Faded wars to heel! The sheer amount of troops, ships, and advanced weapons at my disposal could destroy the stars themselves! I move planets and stars at a whim and can construct them to my liking if I so chose! And every time I have fought the one named Seras Keldav, she is the one that has run!

(Skeleton) And yet I see only a little power in you, along with youth and mortality! Come young woman! Learn of Eternity, as the one you call “Seras” failed to do!

I don’t know if being undead made it impossible to intimidate them or if this one was so detached from reality (and taste) as to not comprehend what I was saying. I decided there was no better way to respond to its offer than to utterly ignore it and proceed to talk about slaying it right in front of it. I pulled out my lightsaber and let the bright red glow add to the menacing air I tried to radiate.

(Vanatica) So I am guessing this one is going to lure us into trying to attack it while we then get ambushed by the ones in the sarcophagi. Grenades?

(Felix) I expect anything willing to live in a place this gaudy can’t possibly conceive of the very concept of subtlety. That said, I also like grenades!

(Vanatica) I must admit, it is incredibly tacky! Like the old holos really!

I don’t know if ignoring it while talking about its taste in decor and how we were going to destroy it was making it annoyed, but it was in the process of rising from the chair. I pulled out my rifle and and readied to fire a series of grenades at the skeleton.

(Vanatica) I know you’ve been doing this for an eternity, but that probably makes you really good at it, so hold still!

The first blast definitely made a mess of things, but didn’t instantly clear the room like I had hoped. At least the room was big enough for me to unload grenade rounds without too much issue.

(Felix) This room isn’t big enough for both of your egos!

It didn’t surprise me at all that the sarcophagi were already beginning to open. Meanwhile the door behind us was opening to allow a batch of construct-backups in. Everyone opened fire upon the skeleton and the mummy-like things that shambled out of the sarcophagi. It feels like I was just doing this on a starship….

(Felix) Weird, these mummies are wrapped in fairly fresh cloth, although there are bloodstains.

(Zin) These things are surprisingly identical-looking for bodies and seem quite heavy for dried up corpses. The wrappings vary, but they are all the same height, same shape, and such. Perhaps they are constructs of some sort?

(Allandras) There’s not a lot of negative energy with them unless it is very well shielded.

I had to wonder more if they were illusions as opposed to constructs. Lindral had spoken of arcane illusions that can seemingly interact with reality as opposed to the purely mental illusions that Sith can generate. I wasn’t sure I believed such tales yet, but it would explain why the mummies were proving to be resistant to weapons fire. The mummies proceeded to attack us with bludgeoning attacks. The main skeleton was pointing a hooked shaped stick at us that fired a crackling electrical blast as well. Zin was blocking much of the attacks against us though, which was an impressive feat to behold.

Something about this situation was bothering me though. The observations of Zin, Allandras, and Felix were definitely concerning, and I had to agree that something was not as it seemed. The way the skeleton was sitting here seemingly waiting for us struck me as odd too. Given that these things had managed to survive for hundreds of thousands of years, this struck me as too direct a confrontation. Which is why I had to suspect an illusion or some other form of deception.

Next time I got a free moment, I was going to throw one of those psionic dispels and see what happens.

With the conversation with Matthieu out of the way for the time being and still about ten minutes left until we docked, I decided it was time to look into my other passenger. I found her be fussed over by another medical droid that was busily attempting to run some scans on her while the girl munched on a protein bar from the ship’s rations in a rather messy fashion. I made sure to kneel down to her eye level as she looked at me with wide eyes.

(Vanatica) Alright, little one, what is your name?

(Shajan, meekly) Shajan.

(Vanatica) And Shajan, do you know who I am?

(Shajan) Vanatica Soung?

(Vanatica) Good, that means I don’t have to explain the obvious. Now, needless to say, I will make sure you are given proper medical care, food, and an education. I will also ensure that you are entered into the adoption program where we will find parents to take care of you. But for now, I need you to do as I say and be good while I have to talk to some important people. Do you understand?

She once again nodded meekly at me. I then gave her a quick crash course in proper etiquette so she didn’t do something really embarrassing in front of others. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any decent clothing for a child of her age on board and so I ended up having the droids using a blanket to make a crude dress for the time being. I directed the medical droid to give her a quick bath before we docked so at least she didn’t smell.

We docked with the Trust’s mobile headquarters at the outer edge of the Nal Hutta system. I disembarked while droids carried Matthieu out on a stretcher to take to the medical bay. Director Fal Kurst was already waiting for us in the docking bay and seemed to be not in the least surprised to see me. Kurst had the look of a stereotypical Republic patrician, but unlike so many of those he actually seemed to have maintained an earnestness that was so rare for someone with his background. I suspected that was why he and Matthieu got along so well.

I also noted the sleek black lines of the Chevalier docking in the open spot next to my own ship. Arguably one of the fastest ships in the galaxies, the Chevalier was a Trust special project whose full capabilities were not clear, but well exceeded most anything else of the same weight class. I had to suspect the Trust was using Censor-banned technology in its construction, but I was never allowed a detailed enough look at its guts to verify that beyond supposition. Its computer (also named the Chevalier) did give THELOS a run for his money in terms of initiative and critical thinking, although I felt THELOS was superior when his whole system was taken into account.

Part of me would love to see how the Dawnstar would perform in a side-by-side comparison with the Chevalier when construction was finally completed. As I had instructed, Shajan was following behind to my right as was the proper place given the current social dynamics of the situation.

(Kurst) Ah, welcome Lady Vanatica. It has been a long time. Far too long in fact.

(Vanatica) Hello, Director Kurst, it has been far too long. I must admit I didn’t think the Trust ventured this far into Hutt territory though.

(Kurst) Please, you can call me Fal. And you’re quite right, we try to avoid heading into hostile territory like this, but circumstances dictated otherwise and Matthieu volunteered for the mission.

I, for one, didn’t think Matthieu would ever not volunteer for a mission regardless of how dangerous it was so long as he thought there was a chance of it helping people. It was one of his most endearing and yet intensely frustrating qualities.

(Vanatica) Heading back to Republic space then until hostilities with the crime syndicates dies down again?

(Kurst) Actually, I was hoping to take a detour through Protectorate space since it was closer. Although with your government’s permission of course.

(Vanatica) I granted your organization free passage through our space and directed our security forces to cooperate with your efforts. That hasn’t changed.

(Kurst) Ah, the way Matthieu described your last encounter with him, I feared you might have revoked said cooperation.

I was nowhere near that petty. I also had no illusions that Matthieu was “mine” either since I was already well aware of his polyamorous ways. The fact that he was open, respectful, and discreet about it is why I tolerated it. I just had issues when Matthieu flirted with others in front of me. That was just a bit too unseemly.

It was then that Kurst noted Shajan’s presence behind me.

(Kurst) And might I ask who this young lady is?

(Vanatica) This is Shajan. I picked her up off the streets of Nar Shadda during my investigation there when I found her trying to sell a broken crystal shard for food.

(Kurst) Well then, I must say you are quite lucky indeed young Shajan to have caught the eye of someone so illustrious.

It took some encouragement to coax a proper greeting out of Shajan, who seemed more confused about what all was going on than anything. I can’t imagine this made any sense to a street urchin barely old enough for kindergarten.

(Kurst) With that out of the way, how can we be of service to you today? After all, you did help in the rescue of Matthieu and for that we do owe you our gratitude.

(Vanatica) I was pursuing an investigation into Sital Preed’s business, in particular a new smuggling route that is causing my people some amount of trouble. Since that didn’t get completed due to my having to rescue Matthieu, I was hoping that I might trouble you for any information you might have acquired instead. And if it wouldn’t be too much of a bother, would it be possible for young Shajan here to be given a proper meal beyond some packaged rations?

With that Kurst waved over one of the technicians that was already poking at the Chevalier with various instruments.

(Kurst) Why certainly, I will have the staff whip something scrumptious up. And perhaps we might be able to find some better clothes than that for her as well.

Once Shajan had been shuffled off, Kurst turned to me again and spoke in a much quieter tone like he was subconsciously trying to avoid Preed overhearing us.

(Kurst) As for Preed, we were in the midst of tracking down his network of slavers that had been preying on the unfortunate. Matthieu had in fact managed to install a subspace relay tap into their computer systems so that we might listen in on their communications and read their files. I believe Chevalier has already been hard at work breaking into their systems?

(Chevalier) Indeed I have, but I have been encountering difficulties when it comes to some new security measures they’ve installed that I am unfamiliar with. I took the initiative and enlisted the assistance of THELOS in trying to crack their systems. I hope this was not out of line.

(Kurst) Not at all. It is our sworn mission to support law and order wherever we can. The Protectorate does share our goals, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on priorities. No offense.

That was a sly way of insinuating that the Protectorate was suffering from the same issues as the Republic in Kurst’s eyes in that we ended up focusing too much on the large scale issues and subsequently let smaller scale issues that impacted the lives of individuals fly under the radar. It was a valid criticism, but so long as we still had to deal with rogue Sith factions, RDF remnants, and the Codifier Republic getting aggressive, we just didn’t have the resources to hunt down every corrupt bureaucrat or corporate executive that wasn’t behaving themselves. Still, I didn’t care for the subtle accusation that we didn’t seem to care, although that wasn’t polite to acknowledge.

(Vanatica) None taken. We don’t always have the luxury of focusing resources on every issue that crosses us. We appreciate the help.

With that THELOS chimed in over my shield suit’s speakers.

(THELOS) I must admit that the security precautions in place on the computer systems are surprisingly…. complex and I can see why Chevalier has been struggling. At the moment I have access to active memory and communications, but it appears that any attempts I make to access any files are triggering system alerts. Thus far I have managed to reset those flags before supervisory systems notice the faults, but I am hesitant to push further without observing the system in action.

This puzzled me. While I was certain that various groups were now encrypting their most critical files with keys that were absurdly long in an attempt to keep our computers at bay, this sounded like a non-standard computer system of some sort if THELOS couldn’t leverage access to active memory to gain full control of the system. Who was designing non-standard systems and why did a mediocre crime boss have such a thing?

(Vanatica) What about references to Angels Fall?

(Kurst) Angels Fall?

(Vanatica) That’s the new smuggling route that we’re trying to chase down. Supposedly it partly goes through the Dead Zones.

(Kurst) The Dead Zones? That’s an unusual route to be taking for smuggling.

(Vanatica) Indeed, which is one of the reasons why it has caught our attention.

(THELOS) I can’t get any details on the route beyond what is in active memory currently at the moment. I have noted the reference id associated with that though and will note anything that becomes accessible. However, I do have what appears to be an access point: the Kreolt System.

That wasn’t a system I recognized offhand. It certainly wasn’t anywhere in Protectorate space and it wasn’t any of the other systems in the galaxies whose name I knew for various reasons.

(Kurst) The Kreolt System? Now that is an interesting development.

(Vanatica) You know of it then?

(Kurst) Yes, it is on the far edge of Republic space from here. From what I understand from my contacts in the Senate, there has been trouble with rogue Sith in the region making a nuisance of themselves. I hadn’t put too much stock into it since that was so far from what has traditionally been Sith space.

With that THELOS immediately used my suit to project a galactic map with different sections colored to represent political boundaries. He then indicated the Kreolt System via a blinking white dot. Sure enough, the system was along the Republic border against the Dead Zones and was far from anything remotely resembling Sith Space. The system was so far from anything of strategic importance that it was no wonder I hadn’t heard of it. What the hell anyone thought was worth smuggling in that section of the galaxy was beyond me.

Even more annoying was the fact that the system was blatantly outside of Protectorate jurisdiction. So I couldn’t simply take a carrier battle group there and start interdicting all vessels going through the area in hopes of getting a relevant flight plan or suspicious cargo. In theory I could take one of the courier ships and go sniffing around, but that was likely to raise more than a few eyebrows and antagonize the Republic to no end. As much as I hated to admit it, I was going to have to request the cooperation of the Republic on this one.

That meant trying to negotiating for assistance from either the Senate, the Republic Navy, or the Jedi and each had their own pros and cons in my opinion. A number of Senators were amongst the most hostile to the rise of the Soungs and weren’t particularly happy with either in particular. That stunt I pulled with the Blue Guards during my last visit with the Supreme Chancellor had not done me any favors either. On the other hand, it would be the most “official” method of requesting access and ensure the fewest number of bureaucrats attempting to make life difficult.

The Republic Navy, or more specifically the JLA, would be more pragmatic about cooperation, but were probably going to be highly skeptical about Soung interest in such a remote system. I think they’d rather investigate whatever was going on themselves and then submit a highly redacted report to me afterwards that ultimately told me very little.

The Jedi Council was potentially the best and the worst options simultaneously. The Jedi were notorious for writing blank checks in the spirit of cooperation and whatever their precognition assured them was the proper course of action. However, that same precognition also made it intensely difficult to get their attention focused on anything that they didn’t deem precognitively relevant. They always made an exception for meeting with Mother and Father, but that I thought was the respect they felt due to equals. In theory as a highly ranked diplomatic envoy of a foreign power, I should be accorded similar respect, but on more than one occasion I’ve received a message from Aunt Telera indicating that the Jedi Council didn’t have time to review my requests and instead forwarded it to some desk jockey.

(Vanatica) Well, this is going to be a pain of a lead to follow up on. I shall see if I can get the assistance of the Jedi Council in this matter. Unfortunately, I have a family engagement I must attend first.

(Kurst) Let me engage with my contacts and see if I can arrange something. There are some people who definitely owe me favors.

We ended up back in Protectorate space within an hour, and Kurst was kind enough to take a detour through the Alderaan system as the Trust’s ship returned to Republic space a couple hours after that. I gave my regards to Kurst and Matthieu (along with further promises of cooperation) and then loaded back into the courier ship with Shajan in tow. As we entered orbit around Ascensa, I found myself not looking forward to the next inevitable confrontation with Mother. Nonetheless, the recent revelation of Tosa’s abdication wasn’t something that could simply be ignored or swept under the rug.

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session XIII

library university books students

Photo by Tamás Mészáros on Pexels.com

The maps we were given both an immense help and a tactical headache. There were far too many branching hallways and blind corners that typified the worst aspects of fighting in an enclosed space. Even worse were the notes about it not necessarily being accurate in some areas meaning that relying on it to determine if our flanks were secure was a good way to end up dead.

It also looked like my power-cells were not being unduly drained during my presence in this memory. That was good as it meant that when we finally exited this memory we didn’t have to immediately leave so that I could swap out to fresh ones. Still made me wish for the convenience of having the wireless power system, but if I had that I’d also have access to the Fourth Generation Shieldsuit. Can’t have everything I suppose. And I had my doubts as to whether I could sustain such a technology given the issues we’ve already experienced with repulsor bikes and such.

Still, there was one question that I needed to ask the technical support crew.

(Vanatica) Do you have any records of a previous visit by a young woman of my species. Her hair would have been white and she would have been carrying a weapon similar to this.

I pulled out my lightsaber for demonstration purposes and once again became slightly annoyed that no one recognized what a technological miracle I simply carried around like it was a normal thing. The sheer expense that went into mass producing crystals made up of layers of matter and antimatter was to my knowledge a feat no one else in galactic history had accomplished. Allandras was the only one that seemed to notice this and he was mostly concerned about pilfering the crystals for later sale.

(Kyrcanir) Some! The woman you refer to was seriously misguided! She showed little interest in the actual Archive – although her reopening access to the surface was not unwelcome since it’s interesting to have visitors – but a considerable interest in the dozen or so remaining holdouts, who’s patterns have degraded so far that they are quite insane and not at all informative. Why she would wish to consult destructive madmen who’s brains are long since dust and exist only as recorded patterns linked (badly) to their spirits over a sensible source is hard to make out! She seemed quite irrational.

I briefly considered mentioning that this was fairly normal behavior on some level back home with people hunting down ancient Jedi and Sith holocrons. Half the time the spirits of those Force users were still linked to the holocrons and as such would make an appearance themselves. Whether one considered this smart or not was an open discussion, but one could not deny the value in holocron collecting. Even if it was to keep them out of the hands of someone stupid.

(Vanatica) Her irrationality has perplexed us all for some time now. She doesn’t seem to be fitting the normal patterns of madness amongst our kind.

Part of me did wonder if Seras was caught up in some sort of Recursion blindspot that we hadn’t documented before. What exactly that entailed and how I might exploit it was far from certain, but my time with Lindral was making it increasingly clear that Seras could be a lot more dangerous than she had been if she simply used the resources of the Anomaly a bit more intelligently. Instead it looked like she was simply picking up one or two additional tricks and ignoring almost everything else.

(Kyrcanir) In her conversations with one of the “Resistors”, Seras learned a badly-crippled version of certain magical fields. She also refused to give up her notion that those magical fields were a manifestation of the…. Force and Codex I think it was. So she is using those talents to tap and channel the energy – a quick and easy, but very limited approach. She apparently believed that she destroyed the Resistor she was interacting with due to her foresight showing her that her interacting with him would result in her gaining…. I believe it was called “Sith Sorcery” and the Resistor being destroyed. She may well have been right about that if her actions led to your expedition.

Suddenly a lot of little details made sense. If Seras actually believed that this was all variations of Sith Sorcery, then her inability to fully make use of the potential of true magic was understandable. It also suggested that continuing to learn magic would potentially allow me to gain a major advantage over Seras in the future. She probably was not going to be using things like Obols and various magical artifacts to the full extent she theoretically could. Which meant it continued to behoove me to gain as much access to whatever knowledge on the Anomaly was available.

(Vanatica) Is it possible to set up a remote link for later queries?

(Kyrcanir) Hmm, that would be difficult to set up, but not impossible. It may well be easier to simply come visit from time to time instead.

If I had more resources at my disposal, I’d simply dig up the entire complex and have it hauled off to somewhere more convenient for my purposes. Although I imagine they would frown on that one. I had also considered schemes whereby I might try to export the contents of the Archive to some sort of data format I could hook up to THELOS, but I simply couldn’t think of any method whereby to convert between the two formats beyond dumping a lot of Obols on what amounted to a wish. I wasn’t sure I was ready to be dropping Obols for that kind of expense at this stage. Still, there were more methods of gaining access to large amounts of resources to use in solving problems.

(Vanatica) Do you have any insight in how I might construct a gate that can reach my home galaxy with any sort of precision? The best attempts I’ve been able to make thus far cannot do any better than hitting the right universe after numerous failed attempts. And even then the exit side of the gate is so far from anything meaningful as to be near worthless.

(Kyrcanir) Ah, the “constantly shifting through dimensions” problem. The simplest first step is to create something alive that can hold a gate. If it’s alive, it will have its own, personal, stable reality link – so if you have a living structure to work out of, it negates the first (and quickest) level of shifting. Secondary shifts as realms come in and out of phase call for more power and occasional maintenance. The really long-term shifts can occasionally be gotten around with really high order magic, but for the most part it’s not worth fighting them. If universe #37 will be out of reach within three thousand years…. just finish up with whatever you were doing there before then.

Drat, that more or less negated any technological advantages I thought I possessed with subspace tunnel technology doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Worse, I wasn’t aware of any species back home that generated actual gates. Unless you counted monotalents that shunted in (or out) mass/energy. We did have seed samples of the “Hippyverse Space Trees” (was never a fan of that name) though that constantly shunted in hydrogen for star formation. Whether or not that would suffice for this purpose was another matter.

On the other hand, we had reports of that castle or fortress was utilizing technology that wouldn’t ordinarily work in this region. There were also reports that the fortress was “alive” on some level. Since this likely meant it was maintaining a specific reality overlay around itself that we might learn something from studying how it was constructed on how to create our own reality overlays and eliminate some of the “shifting” problem that way. Oh well, more things to look into later once we have a base set up somewhere my technology had a better chance of working consistently.

(Vanatica) What information do you have regarding the nature or origin of the Anomaly?

(Kyrcanir) The Anomaly, as you call it, predates our arrival by an unknown amount – possibly trillions of years.

That was a bit of a shock. That easily outpaced the Final Empire in terms of duration although it seemed the Anomaly didn’t have anything approaching a continuous Anomaly-wide government for that entire time. If there was such a thing as “Anomaly-wide” anyways. I also had to wonder about the maintenance systems in place that could keep a place like this functioning well enough for sapients to survive for all that time. Presuming maintenance meant anything when dealing with a Tier IV universe. For all I really knew, it was simply the laws of physics that maintained this place in a “pristine” condition and those hills eating infrastructure and turning it all into forests was simply a natural consequence of those physics. How exactly would I tell the difference?

(Kyrcanir) It apparently “likes” to take in refugees – a higher than would be expected number of overlays and “random” gates open to such situations and there’s some evidence that it encourages rescues by it’s own inhabitants – although that may just be because most civilizations are made up of social creatures. It definitely encourages life and survival on its surface. At least one of its major functions is to expose sapient beings to many realities, encouraging cross-dimensional linking and powers. This eventually encourages higher-dimensional ascension, although that may be a side effect of the “make it easier to get powers” function.

Well, that definitely suggested some sort of guiding intelligence at work (or really weird physics). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the ascension stuff though. I knew that was a thing the Final Empire claimed to be pursuing, but they hardly seemed to be making any progress on that front despite a head start of hundreds of billions of years. Plus I wasn’t sure what I thought of entire species effectively going extinct due to this process either. Not that I condoned the idea of turning oneself into an undead monstrosity to avoid that fate, but I had to wonder if there wasn’t some sort of middle path. And am I being “unenlightened” when my primary goal of gaining these powers and accessing new technologies is to haul it back home for the betterment of my family and the Protectorate as opposed to some sort of abstract goal like becoming a higher dimensional being or whatever ascension means? I wasn’t sure, but figured this was a topic better left for diary musings that historians could debate over.

(Vanatica) Alright, any indications in your records that my reality has had prior interactions with the Anomaly?

(Kyrcanir) Hmm, that universe, or at least the probability cluster, has had prior interactions. It became a major part of the cycle during “The Great Burning” event, and has had regular contact ever since. It has not, however, been reached all that often, since it seems to be manifesting in a well off the beaten path as it were.

I knew of the Great Burning and that it involved a lot of destruction that led to the end of the Wraith Empire. Beyond that I never really understood what was the cause of it all. I remember making inquiries about it previously, but I can’t seem to recall the answers. Which probably meant the Censor was involved on some level. I do seem to recall that it was a massive radiation storm originating from another galaxy that hammered the Galaxy for a hundred thousand years and sterilized a good fraction of it to create the Dead Zones.

Hmm, that did mean there was a significant potential for finding areas on the Anomaly that might have buried Wraith artifacts. That could be immensely valuable to look into at some point when I had more resources, manpower, and time at my disposal. Even more, those refugees probably had faced the same issues I was regarding mixing our technology with the new capacities the Anomaly made possible. I did get a list of rough locations for where cities and such used to be located dating from that time period. I’ll ask the ships in orbit to try and do some ground penetrating radar scans and such to see if they can pick up anything unusual in those areas.

It wasn’t entirely clear though based on the differences between my calendar and the Kyrcanir’s what dates the Anomaly was present in my universe. Of course, it seemed like it was entirely possible that it appeared in a different timeline every time it connected with our “probability cluster” as the Kyrcanir called it. Perhaps this meant there was some actual sense to Grandmother Lessa’s rambling about the Lost Sound Clan. Not that I imagined there was much of any real revelation to be had from that discovery. After all these millennia, I had more genetic material in common with the average street rat on Coruscant than I would have with some isolated branch of the Soung family that’s been stuck here for twenty millennia or so.

(Kyrcanir) Hmm, it looks like there was a relatively recent problem with a species called the Yeveetha though.

Oh damn it all. That was not what I wanted to hear. Such a species loose on the Anomaly would potentially run rampant through such a nigh infinite biosphere like this one. We had planetary sterilization weapons at our disposal and we still had problems cleaning out infestations. Not that the Censor was of any help in that regard. The blasted thing considered the Yeveetha (and the ecosystems they occupied) living things to be protected even though the Yeveetha would systematically exterminate every other sapient species if given the chance.

On the other hand, the way that was stated led me to believe that the Yeveetha had been contained somehow here on the Anomaly. I’ll need to look into that at some point.

(Vanatica) Alright, and last major question for the time being: do you have any records on an ancient mage named Lindral?

The ghostly form of Lindral then appeared next to me and put her hand on my cheek.

(Lindral) Aww, I get the impression that you don’t entirely trust me!

(Vanatica) Let’s consider it a common motif in my home universe to beware of ancient ghosts offering secrets of great power in exchange for “favors”.

Lindral then retracted her hand and tapped her chin as if contemplating what I had just said. I felt the gesture was highly patronizing and that it was intended to be that way.

(Lindral) Hmm, a wise policy I suppose. Not very fun though!

I don’t know if the Kyrcanir staff could see Lindral and thus were waiting for her to finish, or if this was one of those subjective time things going on. But Lindral’s ghostly form sat on one of the desks where one of the Kyrcanir were working and the one I had been speaking to proceeding to speak again.

(Kyrcanir) Hmm, judging from the memory-fragment you carry, she is extremely recent by our standards – less than three millennia ago – but there is a low-level link between the fragments that will make it possible to locate them. If you seek information on the current locations, that should be easy enough to grant.

I jotted down those locations on the maps we had been collecting. Not that I was sure how valuable a memory of a paper map was going to be once we left this memory, but all of my computer interfaces were non-functional and I couldn’t communicate with THELOS either. That kinda made me wonder just how any of my computer controlled equipment was managing to function at all, but decided that was a topic for later discussion.

(Vanatica) While that is useful. I was hoping for a bit more information about her as a person. She has an annoying tendency to be enigmatic and speak mostly in riddles. That tends to make me hesitant to entirely trust her.

(Kyrcanir) Ah. One sec…. It looks like “Lindral”, as you call this individual, is a soul fragment of a fairly powerful scholar-mage named Orbas. In particular, Lindral is the Familiar fragment. As for Orbas, it looks like about halfway through his career he went insane during a quest to become a “god”. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, this process involved a large number of lives being sacrificed and other unethical behaviors. This eventually brought the attention of a group of adventurers that killed Orbas and scattered his remains and soul.

(Lindral) Yeah…. kinda had a hand in that one. Finding adventurers willing and actually potent enough to finish the job was a real pain. Let’s just say that Orbas’s conscience caught up with him.

She must have seen the look on my face upon hearing of a number of the atrocities Orbas committed.

(Lindral) Hey, I was embodied into a cat during that timeframe! I do suspect that his externalizing my aspect was what led to his going off the deep end though. Not going to say that was one of his smartest moves.

(Vanatica) And yet you and he are fundamentally the same person.

(Lindral) Aspects of the same person, there is a difference. And I was not the dominant aspect by any measure. Now, it would behoove you to ensure that the remaining fragments of Orbas reintegrated under my dominion as opposed to one of the less savory aspects of Orbas. My offer to grant you all of my knowledge in exchange still stands. Well, most of it, since I really am not keen on sharing some of the worst things Orbas learned during his “experiments”.

(Kyrcanir) Unfortunately, I am unable to provide much detail regarding the current status of the other fragments beyond a simple location. Updates since our ascension have been a bit sparse and usually entails someone coming to visit us.

Ugh, it seems I’ve gotten myself in a heavily externalized therapy session for the sorcerer version of a Sith. That was presuming that what I’ve been told by Lindral was actually true and that she could be trusted. Which was far from certain by any measure. I already had to deal with one crazy sorceress in Seras.

(Lindral) Needless to say, since time is subjective here and the threat to you and your friends has ended, we can spend some time getting in some training for you.

(Kyrcanir) I would not recommend spending more than spending a subjective decade or so on any one visit though – and taking a few days in reality to readjust is recommended per subjective year.

(Lindral) Then it’s settled then! Your friends will likely spend several months studying various magical texts and whatnot. So that gives us plenty of time to try and move your training to the next level.

What followed was months of what amounted to a flashback to my days of being tutored by my various instructors my parents had hired. I was never a fan of this particular power dynamic and Lindral seemed to revel in it. She kept going over all sorts of arcane lore and rules of thumb that hardly amounted to anything resembling theory. At times it seemed like learning how magic worked was a lot like studying trivia for a game holo as opposed to actually learning anything useful. Lindral insisted that this was because magic could take many forms depending on the user and learning all those forms was critical to knowing how to counter everything.

Finally the time came when the others were ready to depart back for the real world again. We ended up back in the altar room we had started in a day ago, even if it seemed like it took us months. I couldn’t raise anyone outside on the radio however and it looks like the droids had been pulled back from the archive. That probably was because of the issues with power supplies caused by the negative energies of the archive.

On an interesting side-note, it looked like a number of items the others had found managed to leave the memory-scape with us. We had acquired a number of additional Obols, several pieces of that weird crystal technology of the Kyrcanir, various other weird bits, a significant stack of books, and a not insubstantial sum of minor coinage. Allandras was claiming ownership of much of it, but I think when push came to shove that the rest of us were willing to force him to share the spoils despite his protests otherwise.

I did begin to wonder if there was more to the possible variations of crystal technology that worked back home than what we knew about. With the Censor, it wasn’t really possible to tell if something didn’t exist because the technology was unworkable or if because that technology could be used to destroy planets and thus was banned. It may be worthwhile to compile a list of crystal technologies and see if any of them work back home (or at least on Itaint).

We stacked it all in a corner out of the way and started (or continued) or exploration of the archive. At least this time we had a map at our disposal. Not that the Kyrcanir could vouch for it being accurate in places were the undead were holding up. Still, it at least gave us something of an idea of where to go next.

(Zin) There is a large rock blocking the path ahead. It will take considerable effort to move it along.

(Vanatica) Let me have a try.

The rock was quite large and did block the passage quite thoroughly. Still it didn’t seem to be supernatural on any level. A quick swipe of the lightsaber confirmed that it cut readily enough. A few more quick swipes sheared off a chunk of rock that I then caught and tossed out of the way behind me. Had this stupid rock been out in the open, it would have been easy to simply slice it to pieces like a melon, but since I only had access to the portion visible through the archway I had to get creative with my slicing to make this work.

Soon enough I had an opening carved out and a large pile of rocks radiating considerable heat. Checking my power cells, it didn’t appear that the effort had drained things too badly. If I had to guess, it was because the bulk of the energy came from the cosmological constant as opposed to the power cell itself. At least this gave Zin enough leverage to break up the remaining pieces and move them out of the way and thus give us a clear path forward.

The passageway was obviously carved, whether by magic, psionics, or some form of mundane technology instead of by hand. Various collections of seeming junk such as statues, pottery, and various other oddities were shoved into the various side-niches. Most of that appeared to be fairly recent. Eventually the passageway opened up to a fairly good sized cave. This chamber showed obvious signs of blasting. Evidently the passageway hadn’t quite hit the blatant door made of some sort of highly reflective metal and bore an inscription. It was flanked by a pair of decorative pillars. Here, amongst the loose rubble were traces of recent movement. At least someone had managed to get this far and milled about. Everything was still, but there was a looming sense of dread.

Jacob pulled out that tricorder again.

(Jacob) Hmm, no signs of undead so far. They must be further in AUGH!

Mummified hands had burst forth from ground and had grabbed Jacob by the ankles. All around the chamber even more undead mummies (or whatever these were) starting rising from the ground. Watching them shamble forth towards us, I didn’t see much in the way of any sort of coordination. Oddly enough, there was no smell of death and decay strangely enough. At least the mob was moving quite slowly.

(Vanatica) I’ll cut Jacob free if the rest of you provide cover.

(Zin) Understood.

My first swipe failed to hit anything because Jacob kept squirming around and I was paranoid about amputating one of his legs if I was careless.

(Vanatica) Hold still damn it!

(Jacob) It’s invading my mind with strange sigils which radiate blackness!

Zin had to block several attacks at me from mummies while Jacob tried to assist me with that phaser weapon of his. I finally got a clean shot at one of the arms holding down Jacob and thus freed that leg. Allandras did something that caused a significant number of the undead to explode in a burst of fire while another group of undead seemed to be struggling with something on the floor holding their feet.

(Allandras) Alright, I got rid of a quarter and held up another, you guys going to do anything?

I had to struggle to repress the urge to pay him back with a grenade shot to his face. Ignoring him for the time being, I finally managed to get a clean shot on the remaining arm holding Jacob’s leg after a quick shove to him pulled the arm taunt. Now that Jacob was free, the need to keep fighting in such a poor tactical position was no longer necessary.

(Vanatica) Fall back to the passageway. I’ll use grenades to take care of the rest.

There was a semi-organized retreat at that point. Once we got to a fairly good chokepoint, it was a simple matter to ready the rifle and start unloading grenade rounds liberally throughout the room. That took down the undead swarm with relative ease, but I couldn’t help feeling that better organization and tactics on their part could have made that whole situation a lot more dangerous than it had actually been.

Heading back in the peer over the blasted remains, I noted that most of the bodies were local types, but there were a few exotic specimens I hadn’t seen before. Most appeared to have been originally slain via knife-blows to the chest. At a guess, I figured these all to be adventurers that had been a lot less cautious and well-armed.

(Vanatica) That could have gone better.

(Jacob) Yeah.

(Vanatica) Want to give scanning for undead another go?

(Jacob) Sure one more try then.

Part of me wondered if this meant the tricorders were fallible after all, or if the undead hadn’t actually existed in that location previously and just sort of spontaneously generated. The knife wounds suggested these weren’t just generic corpses materialized out of nothing, but so far the tricorder had been downright mystical in its ability to pull accurate information out of the void. More observation was warranted I guess.

(Vanatica) Are we likely to be fighting the same undead corpses again as they simply reassemble themselves? Or are we actually making progress by destroying these things?

(Jacob) Hmm, looks like these are permanently destroyed. They weren’t even under control particularly and were pretty mindless.

(Zin) There are necromantic energies flowing through the area however. Anyone who dies will likely rise as a zombie given a few days. Similarly, the area is quite sterile.

(Vanatica) Alright, I think we need to go with room by room clean out procedures.

(Allandras) Hmm, sponges, bleach, hot water, extra buckets…..

It was hard to tell if Allandras was being sarcastic or really was that ignorant of tactics. I decided it was best to assume someone else might well be ignorant of such basics as well and adjust.

(Vanatica) Get to the next room, do not enter, scan for enemies, grenade into dust regardless of results, rinse and repeat.

(Allandras) And I loot anything of value to be sold later.

He was really beginning to try my patience.

Now that we had access to the door itself, we could see that it was covered with various inscriptions in that language of the Kyrcanir. I got to work attempting to translate while the others did their own things.

(Jacob) Hmm, compacted matter infused with negative energy that reduces orbital radii. Allows them to resist most directed energy, and makes the molecular bonds very difficult to break since most energy applied will simply get negated.

That was weird. I mean, it made some sort of sense from a physics perspective, even if the physics I was normally aware of wouldn’t actually allow someone to do that. Had to wonder how many other applications could be made by combining magic with an advanced understanding of physics. Maybe some of those Itaint projects could be expedited substantially if I could simply remove the guesswork from the process and simply alter mass, energy, space, time, and information to my desires? This meant I really need to see how much of this could be made to function back home and how feasible it was to construct reality overlays.

Sadly, the inscription was another issue. While I was able to read it, the syntax and grammar was rather recursive in written form compared to the spoken form I encountered back in the memory sequence. That meant whenever I thought I was getting close to a translation, I’d stumble upon a character or mark that changed the entire meaning of a section I thought I was done with. I was about halfway through all the characters when Allandras glanced at it all and spoke.

(Allandras) Negative Entropic Cascade Nexus. Warning: Class Four Necromantic Hazard. Contamination Potential. Exercise Caution. Blood Link required for access.

(Vanatica) Oh, Force damn it all….

Part of me was upset at being so casually outdone by Allandras and part of me was annoyed by the meaning of the warning. This probably meant there were significant negative energies behind this door above and beyond the levels we had already been dealing with. And I knew enough from my studies with Lindral to be wary of anything that mentioned a “blood link”. At a guess, it was wanting proof of bloodline from one of the maintenance families or something.

(Vanatica) Any idea whose bloodline it needs or what lies beyond the door?

(Jacob) According to the map, we’re at the main door. It should open into the outer monitoring and control area, but that was all put on automatic ages ago. Evidently people have been getting in by offering blood sacrifices though. Of course, they likely got it all wrong; they obviously weren’t too clear on what they were doing.

Hell, that could even be said about even a hybrid like Seras. At the moment, I wasn’t sure if that also applied to us or not either.

I looked over the inscription again and suddenly something clicked. This was set up to link to those who pass through it and drain off any excess necromantic energies they got infused with on their way out. It basically acted like a decontamination station of sorts. Judging from the way it was written, the link would fade in a few months if one got killed inside though, thus allowing one to become undead and come out again. Probably not a design feature as I imagined the designers figured no one would stay in there that long – or not take any bodies out. Probably wouldn’t open until we all donated a drop of blood. Hmm, offering someone else’s blood would also work I suppose since I doubt any of the designers thought about such an idiotic loophole.

Jacob already pricked his finger and pressed the resulted blood against the door. I pulled out one of the ceramic knives from my belt, removed the gauntlet on my left hand and nicked my fingertip. Once a drop of blood began flowing, I pressed the blood against the door. Out of habit I took out a tube of bacta cream and applied a droplet to the cut on my finger to no avail. It took me a moment to realize that the bacta was probably dead in this environment and thus useless. Annoyed, I applied a bandage and put the gauntlet back on over my hand; flexing it to adjust the fit so the bandage didn’t rub annoyingly on the inside of the gauntlet.

Probably should have cut my pinky instead of my index finger.

Allandras provided his own blood sample and Jacob ended up supplying one for Zin, since to the best of our knowledge, Zin didn’t have blood. That got the doors open and the room beyond had many neatly arranged opalescent crystal slabs, across which stage symbols of pulsing, radiant, darkness crawled. The door to the far left had been wedged open, it revealed a large chamber with crimson lights crawling across the floor, illuminating lines of symbols and text. There was an intrusion there though – an obviously out-of-place stone structure – that someone had plopped down in the middle of the floor.

Directly ahead there was a door depicting a massive chain, rising from what looked like a range of mountains into the heavens. To the left there was a wall where a crystal slab had been carved with intricate depictions of various monsters. To the right was a depiction of a portal, a depiction of a book surrounded by the same symbols we saw at the archive doors. Even further to the right was a heavy slab of metal showing what looked like the accretion disk around a black hole.

(Jacob) There is something quite powerful in the crypt feeding on whatever is going on with the floor. Some of the symbols of the floor say things like “Exhalation Niger Lung”, “Vortex of Time”, “Psychic Avalanche”, “Postponement”, “Nightfall Wave”, and “Psychic Physician”. Although each name is followed by rows of symbols, which spread across the floor in strange curves. Sort of like a cursive style – all with a single line, each symbol leading into the next.

Ugh. Many in the family (especially Mother) loved to write in such cursive texts. Vatasha seemed to make it an art form in and of itself. I just found the whole mess illegible for anything beyond signatures. There was a reason why all text displayed on a computer was not in a cursive script: it made everything easier to read. And a computer display that no one could read was of no value to anyone. It didn’t help that the Aurebesh script was notorious for being nigh impossible to write cursively and legibly at the same time. Vatasha insisted my complaints were due to being left-handed and that a right-to-left script would be easier for me to work with. I still don’t see how that affected my ability to read other people’s poor penmanship.

Back to the matter at hand, the symbols on the floor were actually sliding across like a scrolling stock ticker towards the crystal slab marked with the depictions of various monsters. Once in a while the script appeared to repeat itself. That was ominous, but I didn’t have enough understanding of the technology to really say what it was doing. We did know that the undead were using the Anchor System’s negative energy to anchor themselves. This was also supposed to be a supply or tool room of some sort. Sadly, while I figured fixing the Anchor System would solve the problem in one fell swoop, I had no idea of how to go about that and destroying it sounded like it would have bad consequences. And attempting to short it all out against the cosmological constant would likely destroy several kilometers of terrain. That still didn’t actually tell me which statue, pillar, or set of inscriptions was the Anchor System.

(Allandras) I think this is a psychic variant of a Hearthstone. A sort of “scroll rack” of various psychic disciplines. Currently running randomly and it seems like something is feeding on it. However, we might be able to use some of the power if we can trace out the appropriate symbols for what we want. I might be able to use it to increase my storage capacity for more looting!

I was about ready to smack him, but I noticed at this point that the stone slab depicting monsters was now solid black and beginning to ripple with things pushing through it. Figuring this was something setting up to attack us, I ran next to the slab and powered on my lightsaber. I then held the blade across the width of the statue in the hopes that whatever did come through would promptly be bisected.

(Vanatica) If we can disable the feed to the undead tap, we might be able to impair their ability to sustain themselves.

(Allandras) Oh, I could look for ones that allow me to make psychic objects, so that I can make those in addition to my magical crafts!

(Vanatica) Focus!

(Jacob) So one needs to trace out the appropriate symbols on the floor in order to activate the system.

(Allandras) If you’re going to dance, you need to know the steps. I don’t want one whose only purpose is to attract predators.

I had no idea what he was talking about anymore. Here we were, deep in a crypt full of hostile undead, enemies spawning around us, and he wanted to dance. At least the first…. whatever sliced itself in half against my blade. Looking back at Allandras, I saw him with a flowing mist that formed up into a slender form – a female canid type, made of little more than fog, but flowing towards him in a graceful dance – the symbols of fog flowing down her skin and into the floor, where they became a complex web of symbols and steps.

(Allandras) Ah, dancing with the spirits. It’s like being back with the family.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that. Unfortunately, I was too busy making sure we weren’t attacked by monsters to force Allandras to focus on the matter at hand as opposed to his desire to dance.

(Allandras) A beautiful woman, a dance of love, a gentle mist about. Truly, will be an epic tale, though not for all ears. Since the steps are outlined, I will take my place.

(Vanatica) Maybe I am gutting the wrong target.

(Jacob) I think this dance has something to do with “warp cosmos”.

As Allandras began dancing, he faded into a creature of swirling mist.

(Jacob) Um…. what does this have to do with “warp cosmos?”

(Vanatica) My question is what does this have to do with our larger objective of clearing out this place?

(Allandras) Well, a good dance can change your view of the universe.

(Vanatica) Doubtful, most such events tend to just bore me to tears.

(Allandras) Then you’re dancing with the wrong women.

I was now really tempted to slice him in half instead of these damned monsters. Not that I was certain my lightsaber would do anything against fog. More importantly, if that was the form one of the undead was taking, it stood to reason that he was now an undead as well since his current state was so similar from a visual perspective.

(Mist) You… you seek to join me in the eternal gyre? Then so shall it be!

(Allandras) Well, I’m not so sure about commitment like that. A dance is a dance. Eternal is a bit much for just one dance though.

(Mist) Why not? No one had innocently join me before. Some have pled for favors, others have offered battle, but you were the first to join in. So it shall be! And here, fed by the endless power-cascade of the Taps, the part need never fade.

(Jacob) It looks like the dance he joined was “Bend Reality”. Specifically it was “Transform into a Spectre”.

To the best of my limited understanding, that wasn’t going to be fixable with the resources we had. I suppose it might be possible to try cloning his original body and then seeing if he can possess it, but I didn’t have high hopes of that working. First, he didn’t seem to be a classic Force ghost per se and we didn’t have someone that could teach him the appropriate technique either. And secondly, the medical facilities for actually generating a clone were not available down here on the Anomaly.

(Allandras) Ah, but there’s more fun to be had then just this party. I can sense your boredom with it. I’m Romani, for us, the road is home. We travel, we explore, we dance the paths between the worlds. Come join me, travel, and see something new.

(Mist) But there is only one destination remaining, and I have refused that path for many ages! I shall not renounce what is MYSELF for that journey!

(Allandras) Oh, that is so mistaken. There is a brand new world through those doors over there, and many more besides. Don’t give up, just for forth.

(Mist) That way is shut. Only here between the worlds, can we endure as once we were.

(Jacob) This thing has been using the excessive energies of the “tool room”, where people could pick up temporary psionic disciplines, to stave off the final death for an enormous length of time. Probably can no longer exist outside, but does have access to plenty of psionic disciplines.

To me, this seemed like a a really powered-up Force ghost. Definitely undead, but relatively safe if not disturbed. This wasn’t much left of this one’s mind either beyond the desire not to move on. In many ways it seemed like undeath was as damaging to the mind as the Dark Side or Fading. And judging by how damaged this one’s mind was, she was as much a lost cause as some of the worst cases of Sith and Faded like Lecrouss. Seems to be a general trend with immortality and obsession.

(Vanatica) In essence, she refuses to move on and has degraded to becoming little more than the desire to not move on. We can’t convince her and the only way forward would be to force the issue by removing the system that keeps her here unnaturally.

(Jacob) If she has been reduced by all of this, what she really needs is to temporarily restore enough that she can be rational and show her what is actually on the other side of the one door left to her. I am sure this strategy will work. Does anyone have the right effects available for those two tricks with a few of us helping here?

I was fairly certain that my meager curative magicks would not suffice. However, I had to wager that a few Obols could accomplish much of what Jacob was proposing. I also figured that my Dawn spell, while not particularly powerful, had to help at least somewhat. Luckily, I had several of those prepared. Not that I was anticipating this particular situation for using them though.

With a bit of coordination, we used a few Obols and Jacob did “something” to boost that. I discreetly threw in a Dawn casting to assist as well. Allandras continued to do his weird attempt to persuade this undead that dancing alone in a crypt for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years just to avoid moving on to the afterlife or another plane of existence was getting a bit excessive.

Suddenly there was an immense energy discharge. Probably all the power she had stored away going up as it lost the link to her. Allandras then went into another dance that caused all of that energy to swirl around him and even seemed to flow into him somehow. Probably him enacting another one of those psychic disciplines via interpretive dance or whatever one would call what he was doing. Still, that seemed to have made the undead mist dancer vanish and presumably move on to wherever it was she had been avoiding.

However, it looked like Allandras was still an undead mist creature himself now. I had somewhat figured that particular effect was tied to the dancer and that her departing would end it. Looks like that assumption was wrong though. I was going to be really annoyed if the first undead we’ve finally dealt with ended up getting replaced immediately by a party member doing something stupid. Not counting Allandras, we had another ten major undead left to deal with.

At least a quick search of the tool room afterwards revealed a stash of around two hundred Obols to add to our collection out of the deal.  And I had to admit that this was the first time I had seen someone dance so poorly that they died from it.

Matthieu Cleque definitely looked worse for wear. His blue skin was covered in numerous bruises and he was bleeding from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Even worse, he was breathing poorly and wasn’t wearing his breath mask. The pollution in the air of War Shadda was more than enough to make someone like me ill and I could eventually adapt given time. A Tiven like Matthieu was not going to be so lucky as those lungs of his just sucked all the toxins out of the air and dumped them straight into his bloodstream. I had to suspect the only reason he was even standing was because of the two bouncers holding him up by the arms for presentation to Preed.

What Matthieu was doing here, I didn’t know, but it was easy to guess. He was former Republic Special Forces that has since gone independent to work for a mysterious private organization that specialized in dealing with low level crimes that the various security forces were too busy deal with. Cases I knew he had dealt with included murder, arson, low level government corruption, and corporate malpractice. Presumably he was here following up on a missing person’s case and had stupidly gotten in over his head.

I had encountered Matthieu numerous times in my career, and will admit that some of those interactions had been…. sensual. It did annoy me that my relationship with Matthieu had apparently become public knowledge, but I had doubts that Matthieu had been anything but discreet. And while that relationship could be described as little more than a series of one night affairs over a period of years, I was not going to be pleased if Matthieu got himself killed. Still, it did annoy me that my mission here was getting badly derailed because of this and that Tosa had foreseen it.

(Vanatica) You wandered into the den of a mediocre crime boss and didn’t have an escape plan prepared?

(Matthieu) Hey, you know me. Never know when to let things go.

(Preed) Mediocre?! Princess, I am going to have to….

I turned towards Preed and raised my voice as I cut him off.

(Vanatica) Be quiet! Mommy and Daddy are talking now!

I turned my attention back to Matthieu. I pulled a breath mask from my belt and tossed it to him whereupon one of the goons restraining him caught it. I made sure to shoot that goon a glare that informed him just how little tolerance I had for defiance right now.

(Vanatica) Put that on him now! I will be annoyed if I have to rush things simply because you can’t be properly trained!

Immediately that goon and his friend worked to put the breath mask on Matthieu much to the consternation of Preed. I didn’t give him time to countermand my order though.

(Vanatica) And now I have to waste my time saving your sorry rear. I have other things I wanted to do today that didn’t include you.

(Matthieu) Well, you aren’t really under any obligation to do anything.

(Vanatica) Perhaps, but then Damian will complain. Then I’ll have to try to ignore him and that will leads to things escalating to Mother. I’d rather avoid that headache if I could.

By this point the breath mask was on Matthieu’s face and I could see that the infusion of pure oxygen was helping him. While he would need medical treatment later, that should help his stamina enough to make himself useful when the time came. Matthieu clearly understood my line of thinking as he made a slight nod my direction. With that out of the way, I turned my attention back to Preed.

(Vanatica) So, how much will you pay for me to take him off your hands?

Preed straightened himself up at that and reclined into a position whose body language suggested he thought he had the upper hand in this.

(Preed) Pay you to take him? Not going to happen. This golmeck was snooping around my private business and has been harassing my men. That’s going to cost him. If you want him, that’s going to cost you too. Your Protectorate has made itself a pain for my business and I am to recoup some of that with this latest windfall.

I walked up to the table Preed was seated at and propped my foot on top of it so that I could rest my arm on my knee as I leaned in towards Preed.

(Vanatica) I don’t think you understand the situation. If you thought the Protectorate was bad news before, you obviously have forgotten what happens to those that draw the ire of the Sith.

I leaned a little more of my weight onto the leg propped on the table and thus caused the table to slide along the floor until it was pressing uncomfortably against Preed’s large gut. Several of the goons started rushing forward to Preed’s rescue, but were halted by a brief gesture from him.

(Preed) You’re not Sith, princess. You’re just a kid with some fancy toys and an inflated sense of self-worth that comes with being a spoiled brat. And the Protectorate isn’t the only one with Sith on the payroll.

With that a seemingly nondescript goon to my right flung his hand out at me and I was sent flying across the room via a telekinetic blast. I collided with numerous tables and chairs before coming to a stop on top of a pile of broken furniture. The one that had flung me across the room was walking towards me with a pair of lightsabers drawn. Behind him, I saw that Matthieu had taken the opportunity to break free of the guards and was fighting them valiantly, but was likely to be overpowered again soon. Still, that bought me at least some time. I made the gesture to extend the armored hood over my head and face again as I used the flight systems to flip over onto one of the tables behind me.

(Vanatica) THELOS, I am going to need some support.

(THELOS) Lady Vanatica, I have four combat droids on the rooftop ready to enter the building immediately. I also have another twenty on board the courier ship and have begun a rapid descent to initiate a combat drop. I am also detecting another ship closing in on your location rapidly. My preliminary analysis indicates that it is the Chevalier.

I heard THELOS, but didn’t have time to respond as that Sith began throwing furniture and lightning at me. The shields were holding against that onslaught, but it was difficult to retaliate effectively, which was probably the Sith’s intention with these tactics. I did hear the droids drop in through the skylight and add their firepower to the fight. Presumably they were focusing on the regular thugs and assisting Matthieu first, but it was hard to see from my viewpoint.

I needed to do something to throw the Sith off his attack pattern. Extending out my left hand, I held the gesture that began charging a blaster shot and held it. As power continued to be fed into the charge, the field began to warp and extend into a whip-like structure. As plasma began to leak from the end of the whip, the charged ions generated electrical arcs back along the length of the whip. With that at the ready, I swung the whip in a wide arc that made it hard to outright miss the Sith as it sliced through furniture. He dodged that easily by leaping backwards, but that gave me a moment’s respite to move to the attack.

I flew forward as I donned the shield on my right arm and pulled out a lightsaber with my left. I thrust at the Sith with the lightsaber, but he spun to the side to neatly avoid my attack and hit me with another telekinetic blast that flung me back across the room. At least this time I was prepared for it as the flight systems struggled to counter the kinetic energy imparted to me. Amazingly, we were stalemated with me hanging in mid-air unable to fly any closer to him and he was unable to push me away any further.

This one had some skill and was obviously smart enough to use tactics that countered my own. He wasn’t just relying on power and precognition like so many do. He was actively trying to keep me as far away as possible and limiting my opportunities to use my technological advantage effectively. Was he a Varen Sith? He wasn’t one I recognized, but then again, it was impossible to know every one of them these days.

Eager to break the stalemate, I threw up both of my hands and fired a rapid series of blaster bolts at the Sith. That forced him to drop one of his hands he was using to telekinetically blast me as he deflected those shots with one of his lightsabers. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he also used his remaining hand not to push me backwards still, but to impart a significant sideways velocity to my flight as I surged forward again. Not prepared for the rapid and unexpected acceleration, I smashed through a series of booth tables, a wall, and then landed with a roll in what was presumably the kitchen.

This wasn’t good.

I was running out of technological tricks to throw at this guy and I couldn’t get close enough to use the Vailo martial art techniques specifically designed to deal with Force users. The only saving grace in all of this was that my defenses were keeping this at a draw where neither of us could effectively harm the other. It probably came down to whose backup made the difference first. Mine was probably closer, but his were going to be a lot more numerous.

Dislodging myself from the metal counters, I saw the Sith standing at the hole in the wall patiently waiting for me to get up. His weapons were drawn and ready, but he didn’t seem to be eager to out and out attack me. Very odd behavior for a Sith.

(Vanatica) What’s the deal? Some sort of twisted honor code?

(Sith) Just doing what I am paid for. It’s nothing personal.

What he was paid for? Was he really just doing his best to protect Preed and thus delaying me to give Preed enough time to escape? I mean, that made sense, but it wasn’t behavior I would have expected from a Sith. Jedi don’t go for protecting mediocre crime lords either. Where did Preed get the kind of money necessary to hire someone this professional and talented?

(Vanatica) So the goal is to keep me busy until your boss gets away then?

(Sith) That and to keep you from getting too nosy with poking around in places you shouldn’t. I’m well aware that you would love to get access to the records here if given the chance. I can’t let that happen.

So much for the idea of offering to let Preed go for an end to the hostilities and using the truce to find some useful information before leaving. Further fighting was just going to cause more property damage and more annoying complaints from the Hutts later. I figured my best option right now was to take Matthieu and withdraw for now. Perhaps an opportunity to learn more about “Angels Fall” will present itself later.

(Vanatica) Since further hostilities seem to be pointless….

(Sith) My thoughts exactly.

(Vanatica) I’ll offer a deal then: I take Matthieu and leave without further hostilities. That’ll save us both a great deal of trouble and corpses.

(Sith) Hmm, I’ll allow it. It gets him out of my hair and allows me to declare that I did my job by driving off one of the legendary Soungs. At the very least, it’ll look good on my resume even if my boss isn’t happy with letting Cleque go free.

That certainly wasn’t a reputation I wanted becoming widely known, but I didn’t have any soldiers available nor did I have enough droids to force the issue. Even if I had a Mark II rifle, firing it in the midst of a city-moon was going too far. I was going to have to find out more about this Sith and keep an eye on him. He could be trouble further down the line. Maybe Jax could have a “talk” with him later.

With a truce agreed to, I stepped out of the kitchen to the main dance floor where I saw Matthieu standing over a half dozen unconscious goons looking worse for wear as the four combat droids buzzed around him in a defensive formation. He was definitely in need of medical attention as he tried to brush it all off with a smile and wave towards me. I grabbed him around the waist.

(Vanatica) Come on, we’re getting out of here.

(Matthieu) Already? I was just beginning to have fun with teaching them a new dance style. One where they bounced their face against the floor instead of their feet.

(Vanatica) Save the bravado for someone who would actually be impressed by it.

With that I flew up through the skylight while holding onto Matthieu. The courier ship was circling just above the rooftop in a holding pattern and immediately lowered the boarding ramp. I flew inside the ship and the ramp closed behind us once all the droids had finished boarding as well. I then heard the engines engage to take us far away from here.

I set Matthieu down on one of the couches and examined him for any new serious injuries that needed medical attention. All I found though were lots of bruises and some minor bleeding. Given the way he was wheezing when breathing, I figured he had some broken ribs. He probably had a concussion too, but I didn’t have enough medical training for that sort of diagnosis. A medical droid took over things for me on that end and began making the usual series of complaints doctors do. Not to be outdone, I added my own to the mix.

(Vanatica) Well, you just cost me a lead in an important investigation. You’re lucky I felt sorry enough for you to save your ass.

(Matthieu) Aw, you do care.

(Vanatica) Enough to throw you out the airlock. What the hell is a Tiven like yourself doing on Nar Shadda of all places? It hurts my lungs just looking at the air and I don’t have your problems.

(Matthieu) I had an environmental suit, but they took it when they caught me.

(Medical Droid) Well thankfully, I have extensive medical files on Tiven anatomy and biochemistry. We should have you back to full health in no time. THELOS is already increasing the oxygen concentration to thirty percent and double cycling the air filtration to make your stay aboard this ship as pleasant as possible.

(Matthieu) Well the, thank you THELOS.

(THELOS) It is my pleasure Master Cleque. It is always nice to have you visit.

(Matthieu) And my ship?

(THELOS) I have been in communications with the Chevalier for some time now. It is providing escort for us as we proceed to rendezvous with Trust’s Mobile Unit on the outskirts of the Nal Hutta system. We should be docking within thirty minutes.

Well, I guess that meant I was going to be saying hello to Kurst and Marlene then. They were always friendly, but never really seemed comfortable around me.

(Matthieu) So what were you doing in Preed’s place anyway?  Doesn’t seem like the sort of ritzy establishment one would expect to find the Firstborn of the Soungs.

(Vanatica) I could ask you the same thing, but I figure you were following up on a missing person’s case.

(Matthieu) Something like that. Did Preed kill one of your agents or something?

(Vanatica) I was hoping to get some information on a new smuggling route he’s apparently operating called Angels Fall.

(Matthieu) Then perhaps we can do each other a favor. I’ve got an unrestricted remote tap on his computer systems installed before they caught me. If you can get THELOS to break through the encryption on the data, I’ll give you access to all the information you want from the system.

(THELOS) I would be more than happy to assist in this matter, Master Cleque.

Unrestricted access to Preed’s computers could allow us to utterly dismantle a significant portion of the slave trade business. It wouldn’t stop it entirely, but it would be a large enough bust that the remaining players would learn to be a bit more respectful of the laws of the Protectorate and the Republic. It would also be a nice feather in my cap to present to Mother and Father.

(Vanatica) Indeed, that would be a nice gift for me.

I leaned in and gave him a kiss as the medical droid complained about my blocking its attempts to treat Matthieu. Breaking the kiss, I stepped back and gave Matthieu my best accusatory tone.

(Vanatica) Now, what’s this I’ve been hearing about you spending time with my sister then?

(Matthieu) Now that I can explain! Nothing happened! She just helped me with an investigation and lent me some equipment for this job.

(Vanatica) Uh-huh, then let’s get the story out of the way before you have to share it in front of your compatriots.

Not that I expected Matthieu had done anything improper with Tosa, but I definitely wanted him to share all the details of his encounter with her.  Putting him on the defensive so that he willingly spat out everything about it just to satisfy me was all part of the plan.  Hopefully he’ll be able to follow through with he claim to being able to provide access to Preed’s computers.

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session XII

Meeting up with the others, we quickly decided that attempting to fight off the hordes of undead was deeply counterproductive. That left heading towards the temple ahead of the undead to try and get what secrets we could and hopefully establish a more defensible position. While the others moved about the ruined streets, I flew overhead to provide some scouting. It was from there I noted a statue or automaton made of some sort of crystal that seemed to be blocking the way forward into the temple. Probably one of those golem things Lindral told me about. It didn’t seem to be actively hostile, as it paid me no heed when I landed in front of it at the main gate. I turned to check on the progress when suddenly the thing spoke.

(Golem) What was, endures beyond – but that lies not within the archive, and so one can pass here only into the present. The many which are one await, but not for you. I serve to prevent those who are unready from attempting this road, for in unreadiness they will greatly delay themselves.

By this point the others had arrived next to me and I relayed what the golem had said.

(Vanatica) Should we present ourselves to the golem for testing our readiness?

(Felix) Please tell me we don’t have to present our hearts to be weighed against a feather!

That made little sense. Either there was some context I was missing or there was some sort of metaphorical meaning to it all.

(Vanatica) Is that a test only for mice or something?

(Jacob) No, it is the ancient Egyptian test for passing into the afterlife. If the person had guilt or something, it would weigh down the heart. Apparently when you are a ghost your heart only has weight if you are guilty.

I recall Mother’s first apprentice Mint telling tales of Egypt. What little she was able to say sounded like it came from stories for children and poorly remembered history lessons. She did say that the most notable thing about the place she could recall was stone pyramids and a statue of a cat person.

(Vanatica) Ah, Egypt. I seem to recall Mint speaking of it. That is the place with the stone pyramids, right?

(Jacob) Yes, they built many of those as tombs for their rulers.

Not unlike the practice of many Sith as various points in galactic history. Right now the most common practice was for Sith to immolate themselves in a plasma fire in some sort of attempt to discard the “crude matter” and turn into luminous beings. At least when they didn’t detonate violently in combat.

(Vanatica) That would imply that you can Felix share a planet’s history in both your universes.

(Jacob) Yes, it does…. hmm….

And that Mint came from a similar planet. Now that could just be a form of parallel cultural evolution and translation convention, but they all seemed to be referring to the same place. Yet, I could not reconcile any two of them as being from the same universe despite the similarities given the blatant differences in physics between the three universes. Did this imply that there were alternates of Coruscant, Alderaan, Corellia, and Mandalor out there experiencing very different histories beyond what the Tier II multiverse entailed? We already knew there were versions of Ben across the Tier IV multiverse, so perhaps the same thing applied?

Oh well, more time to ponder that when I am not trying to outrun an undead army in a flashback scenario. I positioned myself in front of the golem in an effort to be presented for readiness.

(Golem) What do you seek?

(Vanatica) I seek the knowledge that was foretold to me lies within.

(Golem) You would delay yourself for eons.

(Vanatica) I have journeyed to eons past to this place and time.

Great, another one wanting to play the riddle game. Usually automatons could be counted on to not play these games since they were always a bit too literal minded. That the province of elderly hermits, poets, and elected politicians. At least Jacob was trying to determine what exactly the golem was looking for.

(Jacob) It’s looking at age. Vanatica has only had a few hundred lifetimes, which is grossly insufficient.

Wait…. what?!

(Vanatica) Wait, what the hell does THAT mean? I am fairly sure I am only twenty five years old.

He ignored my question and instead kept scanning.

(Jacob) I apparently have had only a dozen lifetimes. Felix is running about several thousand and thus qualifies as “young adult”. Allandras is showing slightly older than Felix. Zin shows up as an adult however.

The only being I knew of that fit that kind of description was the Final Empress, but she was going through countless versions of the same person (or holocrons pilfered from the multiverse, it wasn’t quite clear what was going on there) and may or may not qualify as a single person. Perhaps souls that become part of the Force after death get recycled back into the living somehow? Such turnover could potentially explain the occasional lapses in the Censor if a sufficient fraction lives a life free from the horrors of a particular superweapon design. But if that was the case, then why were certain big items I am not allowed to know about still on the banned list? Did those weapons take out sufficient quantities of stars and planets with their associated energy beings that they haven’t had a chance to cycle through yet since star and planet formation is so much slower than organic life?

And what did this say regarding the nature of the relationship between parents and child? Or the issues with bodies incompatible with the soul causing premature aging and degeneration? Or the apparent correlation between memory and aging? In all, this raised far more questions than I could even pause to consider right now.

(Jacob) That is an interesting scan, but I have no idea what it has to do with anything.

(Vanatica) I suspect it is running with the “age equals wisdom” fallacy. As to how it is deriving those ages for each of us is beyond me.

(Golem) The essence of being passes from one life to another. Influence grows. Bonds are formed. Unity approaches across the eons. You are too young.

I could just about make that statement fit any religion or philosophy I could recall off the top of my head, including the Force itself.

(Vanatica) Well, I was under the impression that the essence of the living became one with the Force upon death and there they stayed. Still, that doesn’t help us here. Do you want to make a go of it Zin?

(Felix, snickering) These guys believe in life after death or nonsense like that. Reincarnies!

I resisted the urge to point out that we’ve seen actual ghosts already. And the memories we were exploring contained things that were pretty blatantly undead. Now, admittedly, I had never seen things like the ghost of my great-grandfather, but that was due to the lack of Force talent as opposed to him not existing. Family members would frequently point to where he was appearing and pass along him saying “hello” and such. As a child I would even have waved back in the indicated direction. For all I knew, he was appearing right next to me this very moment and I just couldn’t see him.

(Golem, referring to Zin) You may pass.

(Zin) Can I take attendants?

(Golem) If they are of sufficient age.

(Vanatica) Probably only Allandras and Felix then. Unless we decide to force entry.

(Jacob) You sure you want to walk into something that only allows someone who has reincarnated many times? Seems risky to me.

So did waiting here for the hordes of undead to overrun us once they figured out the roads and barriers in their way. Still, relatively mindless undead shambling about the ground weren’t a huge threat to me with my flight capabilities.

(Vanatica) I am against it too. But if Zin and the others wish to go on, I am not going to stop them. I can look for other ways to occupy my time.

(Zin) Breaking up the party is probably not a good plan.

(Vanatica) It says going in would “set us back” and it apparently wishes to protect us. But we also know that whatever was originally in there is not fully represented in the archive.

(Jacob) So normally it would set us back by going through, but now it is not working as this thing was programmed for and has undead on the other side. Perhaps ask it if it knows about the undead things?

(Vanatica) Excellent point. (As I turned to the golem) We have evidence that there is one of these undead creatures inside due to a malfunction.

With that I presented a holo-recording of one of the undead running about. I would have preferred using an image showing the creature from my dream about Seras, but there was no way I possessed to generate such an image. Hopefully this would suffice for now.

(Golem) The holdouts still infest the support structure. They exploit the archive-anchor to remain in one lifetime and refuse the call. They cannot be…. Error.

(Felix) I think we broke the tech support robot.

(Vanatica) Sigh, I hate poorly programmed automatons. A good droid would respond by looking doubtful when presented with a perceived absurdity.

(Golem) Do you possess an Obol of Opaline Crystal? One of Black Gold or Stars would also do.

(Jacob) I think we have one of those.

I had to rummage around the coin purse a bit before I found one matching the description given by the golem. Once I found one, I pulled it out and began to hand it to the golem.

(Golem) I cannot use it – but if one of you would ask that I be shown what future the temple has, it may resolve this issue.

Ok, now that was an interesting tidbit to find out. Was that because it was a memory, an automaton, some combination of the two, or something else? Perhaps it would be a smart idea to try and see if a droid can use an Obol. That could potentially generate a whole new line of inquiries and technologies.

(Vanatica) Ah, very well then. I ask that this one be shown the future of this temple!

There was a brief pause before the golem spoke again.

(Golem) Ah, I have been archived in the final hours, and the city is long past. There is nothing here that will harm you, but merely the last voices and the end of memory. You may pass.

With that it stepped aside to let us pass within the temple.

(Vanatica) Well, that was unexpectedly reasonable.

(Jacob) Yep, let’s go.

Inside the temple was both solemn and unexpectedly cozy. There were a few canids here – three older individuals and a couple of young adults, but the grand chamber (rather cathedreal-like with a sphere of something really hard to look at near the end) is otherwise deserted. The rooms to the side however…. some are old, closed, and dusty, but the rest are arranged as comfortable lounges, pleasant rooms, small libraries, and other facilities. Very high quality, apparently maintained by more crystal automatons. The Canids were down by the sphere, with one of the younger ones apparently about to finish a book.

(Canid) Well, young visitors! It has been quite some time! Were you seeking something in particular, or just looking for new experiences?

(Jacob) We are trying to stop some undead anchored here from harassing the local countryside.

(Vanatica) To be more exact, we were initially investigating from a future where a malfunction of this facility was driving undead monstrosities to terrorize the countryside. Needless to say, we found the matter to be more complicated than we initially presumed.

(Felix) I think they said, “The way is shut, it is held by the Dead, and the Dead keep it.”

(Canid) Ah! The last holdouts…. Since they actually exist, rather than simply being a memory structure serving as a touchstone, you’ll want to return to reality and the lower levels where they can actually be dealt with. They have been most persistent in their refusal of the call – but they delude themselves in thinking that the way is shut. Did you wish to pursue them immediately? The archive will remain either way, unless some truly remarkable techniques of destruction are employed.

(Zin) I would not mind gathering some info from the Library if practical. While we are in here, is time moving at the same rate in reality?

(Jacob) Yeah, how much time is passing while we are in here? Do we have time to research what they might be capable of?

(Canid) A visit to the archive always lasts for one minimal cycle – what you refer to as a day. The subjective time spent here is unimportant. There are several ways to exit; from this point the simplest is to simply step through the memory of the nexus here (indicating the sphere). It is, after all, the end of the memories in the archive as it was and is the final destination of the Kyrcanir within this realm.

(Jacob) What are Kyrcanir?

(Canid) Kyrcanir? Oh, merely our name for ourselves during the final years. It is difficult to remember what will and will not be apparent on this level when working through a memory-touchstone.

Some less ambiguous signs indicating what each room was and more signs posted on how to leave would have been nice. What would have happened in that first memory sequence if Allandras hadn’t happened to know how to construct crude magical gates was also a major issue in my books. And I was not exactly pleased with being stuck inside a memory construct for hours or days. Although this one was claiming that was all subjective time of some sort. Not sure how that interacts with the whole aging process thing either.

Under normal circumstances this was an important enough find that back home I’d excavate the whole damned archive and catalogue every stone inside it for information. The potential information stored here regarding the Anomaly, the technology (or magic, or psionics, or whatever one wanted to call it) of the Kyrcanir, knowledge of the different species that might be found, extinct cultures, and their apparent ascension would be enormous. The lost forms of artwork, literature, and music alone could be worth an Emperor’s ransom. I could send a million archeologists to this place and still not expect to have everything catalogued in their lifetimes.

Plus there was the intriguing fact that this place was operating however many millennia later despite however many overlay changes in the Anomaly itself over that same timeframe in this area. It made me curious as to just how it was managing to pull that off and if that effect could be duplicated for my own purposes. Or perhaps there actually was a technology that worked most everywhere. Although I suppose that soul-engine, psychic star, or whatever one wanted to call it might be generating an overlay effect on its own.

Still, that meant little so long as the place was occupied by hostile undead entities. Afterwards though, it would be fair game to try and acquire as much information as possible from the archive for later exploitation.

(Vanatica) While I am sure the information here can be of immense value even if just from a historical perspective, I think the undead are the more pressing concern. As such, any information on how to more effectively deal with them?

(Canid) The are very old for undead – old even by the standards of the truly dead – and can resist the call only with the energies of the Archive support. They are skilled and powerful, but will try to avoid any direct confrontation because they are also extremely fragile. The energies you refer to as “sacred” or “holy” will be most disruptive, but even simple violence will suffice quite quickly. At the moment…. there are eleven left.

(Vanatica) Can any of us actually do holy or sacred energies? I am still working on the basics of arcane.

(Canid) Obols of Life can generate such effects. If you have no such abilities personally. Be watchful of illusions and summonings. They will seek to avoid direct confrontation.

(Felix) I don’t care what they do, as long as they aren’t randomly bothering other people. They need to run for office first!

I had no idea what Felix was on about. We already knew these things were assaulting the countryside and making a mess of things in general. While I had a poor opinion of elected officials as a basic rule (or voters for that matter), I hardly believed these undead were appropriate candidates for such roles.

(Vanatica) While I think we can learn much of value here, can anyone else think of something immediately pertinent to the problem of the undead we need to ask about before dealing with them?

(Jacob) How are they anchored here and is that a possible weakness?

(Canid) The archive uses the stored memories to provide an anchor and balances the incoming energies with a negative energy sink. They – like all undead – use the pull of negative energies to balance the pull of passing onwards. Disrupting the balance will send them onwards and major, rapid changes to what little is left of their bodies can unbalance them. The energies of Life and Creation are quickest, but almost any form of physical violence or major energy discharges will work; they just need to target whatever is left of their real bodies rather than whatever they may be puppeting.

(Felix) Ah, so they’re just using some kind of external technology to not quite die. It’s like those guys who got all cybered up. Magic is just science you don’t understand yet anyway. I don’t really understand any science, so science is magic to me and magic must therefore be science.

Personally, to me the difference between technology and magic is that magic requires the active participation of a living creature of some sort, whereas technology just simply happens once set up regardless of whether anyone is participates any further or not. Ignorance does not render everything magical, and willful ignorance is just another flavor of idiocy.

Still, time to start asking about things like maps and such to try and get a handle on the scale of the job ahead of us. We probably need to check in with the surface once we leave this memory. Those back on the surface will probably worried that they haven’t heard from us in a day.

I exited hyperspace just outside the Nal Hutta system. Even with Nar Shadda on the far side of Nal Hutta, it was easy to see all the traffic coming and going from the ecumenopolis. The sickly greenish-yellow haze of the moon and the planet told me everything I needed to know about the air quality I could expect to find once I landed.

(Vanatica) THELOS, did you find anything regarding Cruest Miguel or Angels Fall?

(THELOS) Yes Lady Vanatica, there are currently over fifteen million Cruest Miguels in my database both current and past. The number of records for “Angels Fall” number well into the trillions.

(Vanatica) Not very helpful there THELOS.

(THELOS) I am aware of that and I have been working on utilizing my recent algorithm updates to try to narrow down the search. For instance, there are only three hundred and twelve Cruest Miguels with ties to Nar Shadda and only one of those has any notable criminal record with the Protectorate legal system.

That was exactly the sort of link a precognitive would expect me to find. The algorithm updates for THELOS statistical analysis functions were quickly paying off with this kind of thing. It would have taken a team of investigators weeks to narrow it down this much and THELOS did it in a matter of hours.

(Vanatica) Alright, give me a run down on our new friend.

(THELOS) Small time smuggler who has a substantial criminal record in the Republic for smuggling illicit medical supplies, counterfeiting, theft of military hardware, and public drunkenness. His Protectorate record is for the crime of sapient trafficking. He was caught by Protectorate authorities and imprisoned after his “shipment” was rescued. He broke out of prison and is currently wanted by both the Protectorate and Republic. Currently believed to be hiding on Nar Shadda and is known to frequent a tavern called “The Rancor’s Stench”.

(Vanatica) Lovely name for an establishment.

(THELOS) The reviews I have on file are not particularly flattering of the food either.

(Vanatica) Cute, let’s dock at the closest orbital way-station to that tavern.

The ship was broadcasting a fairly generic Protectorate transponder code as opposed to one signifying my presence on board. As such, my current plan was to introduce myself to port security as a SHIELD Investigator here to follow up on leads in an investigation. That should keep my profile significantly lower than normal and allow me to move around with only minimal oversight from the “authorities”. At least, what passed for authorities here since the Hutts and the crime syndicates run everything.

The various criminal syndicates have learned to give Protectorate agents a wide berth since the Protectorate tended to turn a blind eye to most of their smuggling operations. That still led to friction when it came to things like the slave trade, theft, murder, espionage, and their protection rackets. It was an uneasy truce, but one both sides respected. As such, running around the hub of the various crime syndicates of the Galaxy as an anonymous Protectorate agent was a lot easier than as the Firstborn of the Soungs.

As such, I had THELOS start generating a false ID for me to use. Since any real checks to verify that ID would ultimately end up as a subspace network query to THELOS, that should make it hard for the authorities to cry foul on. Not that port security on Nar Shadda was particularly dedicated towards verifying much of anything, but it pays to be careful. As I came in for a landing on the orbital way-station THELOS indicated, I had the wolf hood on my shieldsuit extend over my face. That still made me distinctive enough to allow someone to determine I was at least closely associated with the Praetorian family, but that wasn’t going to let them specifically ID me.

Mother had always been better at this sort of thing. Of course, she had been specifically trained for infiltration, sabotage, espionage, and assassination. Apparently she didn’t feel it necessary to share that training with any of us.

Once on the security way-station, I disembarked and met with the trio of security personnel that came to inspect me and my ship in a mockup of a customs check. A quintet of droids left the ship and took up formation around me. The lead security officer (I had no idea what rank he thought he had) was the first to speak.

(Officer) Please state your name and business.

(Vanatica) Second Sith Protectorate Special Investigator Kivas Marni, I am here to follow up on a missing person report.

(Officer) You do understand that the Protectorate has no authority here?

(Vanatica) Yes, although that does not preclude me from pursuing an investigation.

(Officer) Very well. We will place a security detail around your ship as per the standard agreement with the Protectorate. You will be responsible for your own personal security though.

The droids around me made a point of visibly moving to make a point of reinforcing their presence in the eyes of the security personnel. The officer in charge at least had enough discipline to act like he didn’t notice them. Moving past them, I boarded the elevator for the surface along with a few dozen other passengers who all gave me a wide berth in the elevator car. A number of them were quietly trying to speculate about me without my overhearing, but the shieldsuit made that difficult for them.

(Passenger #1) I hear that those agents of theirs are super droids using secret technology to mimic humanoid appearance.

(Passenger #2) Bah, they’re all clones of the Praetors operated by remote.

I had heard thousands of such theories and to my knowledge they were all complete nonsense. Although I couldn’t rule out some sort of secret Censor provoking technology I wasn’t privy to. I did know there were clones of Mother and Father out there at least and had even met a pair of them. One clone of Father was making a nuisance of himself amongst the Jedi and there was that alternate timeline counterpart clone…. thing of Mother that was running around doing assassination jobs for hire. She had apparently nearly killed Father before I was born, but my memory of her was an assassination attempt on Aunt Dorothy when I was a small child. I hadn’t seen Mother act so savage in combat before or since, but she apparently put the fear of the Soungs in her alternate as she hasn’t shown her face since.

Finally reaching the moon’s surface, I was immediately grateful for the air filtration on my shieldsuit as the area was visibly polluted even on the scale of a single street. The Force would let me adjust to the pollution in a matter of days or weeks, but I really didn’t want to go through the acclimation period nor have to suffer the burning sensation in my lungs, sinuses, and eyes for even a few hours if I could avoid it.

The street was a busy place of street vendors, crowds, and towering skyscrapers reaching up into the green sky. Immediately various vendors began attempting to sell me their wares, but I ignored them as I worked my way through the crowd towards the location of the tavern THELOS was directing me towards. The sheer number of beggars, homeless, infirm, and orphaned was depressing to see and really made me want to simply conquer the place so that I could implement proper social programs, but war with the Hutt would be highly counterproductive with all the security threats the Protectorate faced already. Still, I made a point to hand out Sith Marks to those I saw. At the very least it could buy them a decent meal.

One malnourished orphan did try to sell me a purported Sith holocron. It was easy to see from the color and cracked appearance that it either was a really bad forgery or so degraded as to be near worthless but the young girl kept an ever hopeful look in her eyes. I made a show of inspecting it anyway and gave the child a bigger handful of Marks and a passcode that she could use to get onto my ship. Later I would put her in touch with one of the charities that Katlyn sponsored. From there she would get food, medical care, education, and a home of sorts. I sent her off with a gentle pat on the head and one of the droids to escort her to the ship. THELOS could take care of her till I got back.

Even with all the resources at our disposal, there were always too many.

Along the way to the tavern I also acquired a data crystal shard, a good luck charm, various bits of scrap, and a copper sword that caught my eye. All of it was likely worthless, but Father had taught me that it was always a good idea to buy minor little things that caught my eye. Even if only to put a little extra money in the pockets of the less fortunate. He also claimed that the way the Force worked that such little things could be immensely useful even to someone without his specific abilities. I still had my doubts, but the sentiment was one that died hard.

I finally reached the “Rancor’s Stench” entered through the front door whereupon the entire noisy establishment went silent. Everyone was staring right at me as I made a quick scan of all the faces in the establishment. Not finding the face I was looking for, I went up to the bartender and sat down on one of the barstools. He looked at me with a glance that indicated I was not the most surprising thing he had seen today.

(Bartender) We don’t usually get people of your caliber in here. Most would consider it a bit reckless to be wandering around in an establishment like this with your credentials.

(Vanatica) Good for me then that I am not simply wandering around and am here looking for information.

(Bartender) Suit yourself, but information is going to cost ya. Both directly, and for damages.

(Vanatica) Damages?

(Bartender) Well, I don’t think that some of my customers will take kindly to Protectorate agents waltzing in here and asking questions. Any damages that might be incurred based on that I am going to have to ask you to pay for.

With that a chair was smashed over my head, although the armor made it such that I barely felt that as little more than a light shove. Spinning around on the barstool, I saw three drunk ruffians arrayed against me with various weapons at the ready.

(Vanatica) Fair enough I suppose.

Hooking my right leg into the legs of the barstool next to me, I flung it into the face of one of the ruffians with a swift kick motion. That knocked him off his feet and onto the ground with a bleeding face. The second one ran at me with a makeshift club that I caught in my hand as I rammed my other fist into his gut with enough force to make future attempts to breath very painful. He collapsed holding his stomach and gasping for air. The third was bouncing around and moving his arms in an exaggerated manner while making noises that I presumed he picked up from a martial art holo.

Finally getting off the barstool, I caught his roundhouse kick at the ankle and smashed my elbow into the side of his knee with a bone snapping crack that made every one else there wince. I was still holding his ankle (now at a rather awkward and painful looking angle to the rest of his leg) as he attempted to break free of my grasp and fall at the same time. I wasn’t going to give him the option as I spun in place and pulled him along into the spin before I swung him down on top of one of the tables which promptly collapsed under the impact. A quick survey of the room told me that no one else was keen to make a go of it.

Retaking my seat in front of the bartender, I dropped several hundred Marks on the bar.

(Vanatica) That should cover the chair, the table, and cleaning up the blood. But I am not paying for their medical bills. Now we can negotiate about the information.

This whole time the bartender didn’t react beyond acting like I had done nothing more than spilled something on my shirt as he took the money I offered and pocketed it.

(Vanatica) I am looking for one smuggler named Cruest Miguel. I was told I could find him here.

As he continued to so no reaction beyond acting concerned about a non-existent spot on the bar, I pulled out ten thousand Marks and laid it on the bar. He glanced at it, then me, then discreetly pocketed the money.

(Bartender) Behind you on the floor. He’s the one gasping for air and trying to crawl away.

Spinning around yet again, I took a long hard look at the one the bartender mentioned. THELOS immediately displayed a mug shot for comparison and it took several seconds of me comparing before I could detect the makeup that was disguising his face. I reached down, grabbed him by the collar and held him before my face just to get a good look and verify that I wasn’t being deceived. THELOS by this point had a thermal profile of his face scanned and confirmed this was Cruest. I still found the disguise quite convincing even with a mugshot to compare with. Oh well, at least I had the one Tosa told me to find. Now to ask him some questions.

(Vanatica) Excuse us.

I dragged Cruest behind me as I exited the tavern. Once outside, I kicked on the flight systems and flew the two of us to an unoccupied balcony high above the street we were just on. From there, I made a point of showing him just how high up we were before throwing him back to the floor of the balcony.

(Cruest) You bunch saved the girls, what more do you want from me?!

(Vanatica) You broke out of prison and that tends to annoy us. Prisoners shouldn’t be letting themselves out before we say they are allowed to go. There are rules about that sort of thing after all.

(Cruest) And you followed me here for that?! I thought the Protectorate had bigger priorities than hunting me down!

(Vanatica) Quite true, and I am not here for you, but to get some information you have that is important to me.

(Cruest) And why should I share information with the Protectorate?!

(Vanatica) Because we are very high up and I don’t like it when people get obstinate with me.

He was still gasping for air, but somehow managed to work up enough force in his lungs to spit at me. Eager to make a point now, I grabbed him by the neck and lifted him over the railing to let his feet dangle over the quarter kilometer fall below. Much of the defiant look in his eyes wilted at that, but he still tried mask it with a bit of bravado.

(Cruest) If you kill me, you won’t get your information!

I decided he needed to see just who he was spitting at. With a quick flick of my head, the wolf hood retracted to show Cruest my face. The look of recognition was as plain on his face as a supernova. That recognition swiftly turned to alarm and then panic as he struggled against my grip on his neck. I tightened my grip further to reinforce there was no escape from this situation and had the wolf hood extend over my face again before the burning sensation in my eyes became evident.

(Vanatica) Now, I do not like it when low life scum like yourself waste my time. I also really dislike it when such individuals feel the urge to spit at me. You have five seconds to make yourself useful to me before I decide I’ve wasted enough time with you and go for a quick solution to my problems.

(Cruest) I’ll talk!

I threw him to the balcony floor again and pulled out my lightsaber whereupon I held it to his throat.

(Vanatica) I want to know about Angels Fall.

There was a brief look a recognition and fear in his eyes when I mentioned that. When he looked like he was reconsidering his offer to talk, I gave him a light burn on the side of his neck to reinforce my point.

(Cruest) I don’t know much, I swear.

(Vanatica) Then tell me what you do know.

(Cruest) It’s the name of a new smuggling route through the Dead Zones.

That didn’t make any sense. The Dead Zones were called that because all life on that side of the Galaxy was sterilized long ago by a massive radiation burst from a nearby galaxy. There was nothing there except dead systems and long decayed ruins. There was nothing to smuggle to or from. Well, except for potential Wraith artifacts, but that was going to likely be so Censor prohibited as to prevent smugglers even bothering. So either someone Censor-Immune was involved, or there was something else going on.

(Vanatica) What’s the route?

(Cruest) I don’t know. Only a few of Sital Preed’s most trusted pilots are allowed to know the details. I just hear them talk about it from time to time.

Sital Preed, now there was a name I’d learned to despise over the years. While technically slavery was illegal in the Protectorate, I had always held a more nuanced view given that there were idiots that blatantly deserved to be punished with a lifetime of demeaning hard labor for their transgressions against society. However, most slaves in the Galaxy came from predatory lending practices, kidnappings, being born into it, and as spoils of war that usually had done nothing personally to deserve such treatment. Sital Preed was a slave trader who dealth with slaves in the second category and usually had a hand in forcing his “merchandise” into slavery in the first place. While he had enough sense to operate outside Protectorate and Republic jurisdiction, that didn’t mean he hadn’t earned our ire when he pushed the boundaries from time to time.

Unfortunately, he was also a moderate level crime boss that had the protection of the Hutts and thus simply killing him or making him mysteriously appear in Protectorate space was frowned upon. Of course, that sort of thing worked both ways and thus Sital Preed wouldn’t dare harm me if he had any sense of self-preservation.

(Vanatica) THELOS, I need the location of Sital Preed.

(THELOS) I’m already ahead of you, Lady Vanatica. Sital Preed is currently at a nightclub called the Blue Kul-Trandice. Records indicate there is an ongoing disruption at that location that started a few minutes ago.

Why did I have a feeling that whatever was going on there had some sort of connection to what I was doing? Sigh, best to head that way then. I left Cruest to his own devices (or lack of them) on the balcony while I flew off in the direction THELOS had indicated. I was about a third of the way there (and wondering what a Kul-Trandice was) when THELOS chimed in again.

(THELOS) Lady Vanatica, I must inform you that due to the limitations of this ship’s power systems, you will be out of range of the power broadcasting system when you reach the Blue Kul-Trandice.

Damn it all. There were times I had to wonder if hauling around an extension cord was any less convenient than this broadcast system. I briefly weighed the pros and cons of continuing without external power, but ultimately decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

(Vanatica) As soon as the little girl I sent you is onboard, take-off and try to discreetly circle around the nightclub at a distance where the broadcast system will operate. Also prepare in case I need a rapid departure.

(THELOS) Understood. I already have the child onboard and am beginning launch sequence.

I eventually came to a landing on an adjacent rooftop. The music inside was loud enough to make my chest hurt from here and the bright flashing lights were doing me any favors either. I noted that THELOS quickly started generating a counterwave that at least would protect my hearing, but that level of sound was still going to vibrate everything in my shieldsuit (including me) regardless of what was done. Well, short of surrounding myself with a vacuum, but that hadn’t been a feature I thought I would have needed.

Nonetheless, it looked like the reports of a commotion were accurate. The bouncers were sealing the exits and ordering the people lined up outside seeking entrance to leave. THELOS also noted the sound of blasterfire coming from inside the nightclub. They probably weren’t going to be happy with me simply showing up at the front door demanding entrance. Still, it looked like the rooftop was not being guarded yet, but I had to wonder who in their right mind would install a skylight on Nar Shadda. It wasn’t like there was a pretty view to look at.

Oh well, it served my purposes at least. A quick hop over the street got me onto the nightclub’s rooftop without any of the street level guards noticing. Now I could actually feel the music well enough to sing along through my boots. Peering through the skylight to the dance floor below. The flashing lights and the vibration in my eyeballs didn’t help matters, but I could see Sital Preed casually lounging in a booth flanked by a pair of guards with weapons drawn. Preed seemed to be conversing with someone out of my line of sight. It looked like whatever fighting had been going on had ceased already.

I was caught off guard by the club that came to my masked face. Luckily the hood of the shieldsuit took the brunt of the damage and I was able to simply catch the second swing with one hand. With that in hand, it was a simpler matter of leverage to bend the attacker’s arm backwards at the elbow. Not giving him a moment to complete screaming in pain, I grasped the back of his head with my other hand and rammed his face into the skylight. The first time his head bounced off the glass. The second time the glass cracked with substantial amounts of blood. The third time it shattered entirely. Figuring my presence was already common knowledge at this point, I threw his unconscious body through the hole in the skylight onto the booth table Preed was seated at.

The bouncer landed with a thud, and my feet planting into his back broke his spine and the table. Preed was desperately trying to hide his shock at my arrival and his guards fired their blasters at me, but the shields simply bounced the shots. Preed immediately began shouting for his guards to cease firing as he glared at me.

(Preed) So the Protectorate sent along one of their agents to assist then? Well, you can tell your bosses to mind their own damned business and get out of here before I add you to the recycling too.

I made the neck motion to cause the hood to automatically retract and show my face. Numerous gasps came from around the room. Preed recovered faster than anyone else.

(Vanatica) It’s been awhile, Preed.

(Preed) So the princess herself has come to rescue her lover boy! And here I was about to have my men dump his body in the trash!

Not sure who he was talking about, I turned around to find Matthieu Cleque being held up by a pair of bouncers. From the look of things, he had been roughed up pretty hard and was bruised and bleeding. This must be what Tosa had been referring to when she told me to say hello to Matthieu.

Force damn all those annoying precognitives….

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session XI

aerial photography of ancient tomb

Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

A closer investigation of the abandoned buildings revealed them to be fairly sophisticated – although exactly what controlled which functions was open to doubt. There was a resemblance to what I could recognize as crystal technology, but little in the way of actual circuitry. The buildings were old, but fairly well maintained. A lot of places looked like they had been closed up – and a few had been adapted for creatures of a different species. Almost all the looters appeared to be of different species than the main one we’d been investigating and some were completely unfamiliar.

(Jacob) Ok, crystal tech is a pain. Give me bio-neural gel packs over crystals any day.

This sentiment coming from the man whose technology seemed to operate more on wish fulfillment than any sort of coherent physical principles. And even then I suspected that subconscious fears and desires were behind at least half of the spectacular malfunctions he’s told me about. Still, I wasn’t going to argue that my universe’s technology didn’t have downsides like the ease with which one could destroy planets or stars.

(Vanatica) Eh, it has advantages, but this form of it is completely unknown to me. I suspect that this is the last days of the species before the Anomaly became incompatible with their technology. They then went into hibernation or something.

(Jacob) Or they could just be giving up for some other reason.

That was a frankly alien mindset to contemplate. I found it hard to imagine a species willingly “giving up” and embracing voluntary extinction. That pretty much went counter to how life operated. Sure, species and even entire ecosystems went extinct all the time, but all of them fought against the change and simply lost the battle as others took their place. Individuals and even some fairly large cults would frequently self-destruct, but that hardly rose to the level of an entire species unless something else was going on to reduce numbers drastically.

(Vanatica) Too shallow a gene pool perhaps.

The looters didn’t seem too friendly. They were grabbing various crystals, occasional stashes of obols, and any other handy equipment with a focus on the higher-tech or more expensive stuff. Most of them were fairly heavily armed. There were a few individuals or the target species amongst them however. This might at least present an opportunity to see if things acquired in this memory sequence could be pulled into the real world. Still, this was the most peaceful collapse of society I had seen.

(Vanatica) Can your tricorder come up with any good looting opportunities that the pillagers have overlooked?

(Jacob) Strange energy readings, large caches of obols, or something else?

(Vanatica) Any of those work. Obols would definitely be valuable to see if we can recover. The weird technology probably less so, but that isn’t a certainty given that we’ve already found talismans and charm that work for all of us.

(Jacob) Ok, trying for strange energy first since that is more interesting to find…. Hmm, really weird readings, especially concentrated around the areas with the digging and the larger structures towards the center of town. Quite a lot of smaller sources, a fair number of which are recognizable as dimensional links – whether “birthrights” or artificial. Several of the city builder species seem to show multiple links. Whatever is going on towards the center of town is too complex to read, but the stuff at the evacuations is primarily focused on imprinting psychic energies onto matter.

(Vanatica) How about I go look at the main dig site then while some of you look into those dimensional links? Artificial dimensional links could be quite valuable to learn how to duplicate.

(Felix) Ok, but what do we want here? I guess we can try getting some of their artifacts.

(Vanatica) There is some sort of narrative at play here in this memory, but I can’t tell what exactly.

Well, beyond the obvious of this being an ending of an age transition.

(Felix) It may be more literal for them than for us.

(Jacob) Towards the center I am detecting something that reads a bit like a star – but it’s purely mental. It definitely has a pull towards itself.

A fake star acting as a repository for souls or brain-backups until the Anomaly move back into alignment again perhaps? I really needed to move in and get a closer visual of whatever that was. Getting closer was a problem though as the streets became more active the closer I got. Protests and riots seemed to be the order of the day amongst those who remained. I got ambushed by a group including three of the canids demanding that we help break into the shielded area and rescue some of the brainwashed victims.

(Jacob) Brainwashed how?

The response to that was various explanations that included, but wasn’t limited to: brains eaten, false beliefs in transcendence, indoctrination into being used as power sources, enslavement, and dozens of other variants on the theme.

(Jacob) Ok, that would be the psychic star I detected. How do we free them?

(Vanatica) A bit too much variation to that to be taken too seriously. Sounds like conspiracy theory fodder to me.

(Leader) We need to break through the wards, storm the “temples” (that word did not seem to translate well), and drag the “brainwashed” people away to be deprogrammed.

At which point another argument broke out over whether it was programming, hypnotism, mind control, or naivety that was the root cause of the disliked behavior in their brethren. I saw no reason to involve ourselves in the process beyond what was required of the narrative and that was not particularly clear on what was going on. It was easy to see though that the rioters were going to be on the losing end of whatever fight did break out though since in our time the city was gone and all that remained was that mysterious temple.

I decided to leave the idiotic arguments to others to work out and stop wasting my time with this nonsense. Engaging the flight systems, I flew up into the air over the rioters and immediately saw that the city center was protected by a spherical shield. A few quick tests demonstrated that the shield was at least locally absorptive; energy was not reflected and there was no damaging backwash. I noted a group of avians in military garb on a nearby rooftop that was watching proceedings and taking notes. They glanced at me briefly, but took no action and returned to their observations.

Simply pushing on the shield yielded some progress, but the necessary level of force needed to get through completely exceeded the maximum thrust of my flight systems. I might be able to do it at ground level using the flight systems and the power assist in combination to push through, but I would rather avoid being in reach of the rioters. I settled on simply circling around at various heights and angles to try and get a good look at the interior on all of my sensor pickups. How sensors worked and yet THELOS didn’t was an open question for later experimentation.

The interior looked to be calmer and more organized than outside. The construction of the underground vaults was in its final stages by my estimation and it looked like a lot of them were being sealed. The lower levels were mostly support and the upper levels appeared to be a set of halls or archives oddly reminiscent of a museum. There didn’t seem to actually be that many people moving around though.

At a loss as to what else to do, I elected to get the attention of one of the people inside the shield and see if I could get them to talk to me. At first I tried shouting to no avail. I also got no response from radio, hyperspace, and subspace signals either. Not that I was expecting much from those, but it was worth a try. At a loss for anything else, I attempted to use a flashing light to get the attention of one of the workers. He looked at me, attempted to use a gadget of some sort, got frustrated, and then drew symbols in the air. At which point the air around me began to vibrate with what I presumed was his voice.

(Worker) You’re unusual! What are you?

(Vanatica) I am what is known as a human. I am curious to know what it is you are building here. Where I come from, we are having issues with a similar facility that was left hidden for possibly millennia and I was hoping you might provide insight as to what is going wrong with it.

It was probably wise to treat this as if I was part of the memory as opposed to someone from the future as that would likely break whatever “logic” this place was built on. Hopefully the narrative would adapt to accommodate the sleight of logic and start providing useful information.

(Worker) Well… It’s an archive! Sort of a memorial, a guide for the next species, and a library! And I suppose, given enough time…. the support systems might start to fail, and that could cause all kinds of problems if they started leaking extradimensional energies. And I suppose some of those nutcases out there might try to use it to anchor themselves, but they’re all nuts to start with!

Alright, so this facility was intended to spawn nightmarish horrors and was supposed to act more like a museum or archive instead. I could see insane conspiracy theorists doing something stupid in an effort to stop the fictional menace and thus causing all sorts of trouble down the line. That was how conspiracy theorists tended to operate when they weren’t isolating themselves in online echo chambers. My grandmother was a significant exception to that with her insane (if weirdly accurate) prophecies, but she was a wholly different problem entirely. It never was a good idea to indulge that Soung family talent for precognition any more than one had to.

(Vanatica) The one I am having troubles with is generating nightmarish horrors that run off, capture townspeople, and then haul them back to the underground passages. Not being familiar with the technology, I thought it prudent to consult with experts about how to resolve or fix it. That line of questioning brought me here.

(Worker) Shouldn’t be doing THAT unless the deathside feed is spilling or someone decided to try to use it as a soul-anchor! It wasn’t made for that!

(Vanatica) Alright, any suggestions on how to possibly fix this if that is the case? Or how to break the soul anchor link if that is what is happening?

His stance changed to indicate deep thought as he pondered my question. Just as it looked like he was about to answer it, the entire scene shifted and it felt like the narrative advanced an indeterminate amount of time. The city was now significantly smaller and more ruinous. A much bigger swathe of the area had been “eaten” by that hill-thing, the crypts/temple/archive/museum was now buried, and the city was mostly silent. There was digging near the location of the archive, there were signs of a considerable battle – mostly with that avian species to judge by the still identifiable corpses laying about – and the only canids left seem to be near the archive. There were obvious avian patrols, but they were staying well back. That probably had to do with the twitching corpses on the ground.

I wasn’t sure which annoyed me more – the sudden threat of undead horrors attacking everything in sight or the fact that the person I had been asking questions of vanished with the change in narrative. As I evaluated the reanimating corpses, the skeletal remains of the canid species looked familiar for some reason. It wasn’t just because it was their skeleton by default loosely resembled their appearance, this was more specific than that. Like I had seen skeletons of this appearance before somewhere.

There were twelve of them gathered in a circle chanting: elaborately dressed and subtly inhuman skeletons each bathed in a blue flame that seemed to draw in all heat from the room. Arranged in a series of pews behind them were dozens of humanoids in ceremonial outfits all kneeling in prayer. The only light same from the chilling blue flames in sconces along the walls and from the skeletons at the head of the hall. After several minutes, the skeletons fell apart as their bones were drawn to the center of the circle and merged together to form a single eldritch abomination of a floating undead skeleton with six arms and bone wings.

FORCE DAMN IT ALL!!!

This was the location from my dream where Seras met that undead creature and those cultists. Which meant that dream wasn’t another paranoid fever dream borne out of my own anxieties and instead was an indicator that I was supposed to be doing something about this place. Even here on the Anomaly I couldn’t escape that nonsense that seemingly takes all volition out of any action I take. This also meant I had to try and determine what it was I was supposed to be doing here and if I was trying to prevent that vision from coming to pass or if I was performing cleanup of Seras’s mess. Plus there was the fact that Seras apparently had the loyalty of a magical death worshipping cult at her disposal in addition to those damnable Tal’darim.

Next thing I’ll find out is that she has gained the services of a galaxy eating unicorn or some such monstrosity beyond all reason.

Looking around some more, I noted that those canids still in the area appeared distinctly unhealthy and zoomed in views on them left me with the impression that they should be dead already. The corpses were already climbing to their feet too. I wasn’t too clear on the rules for these undead and how one would go about defeating them since I could argue the magic or psionics empowering them could very well keep them mobile even as clouds of bone dust. There had to be some limit, otherwise undead would have overrun the entire Anomaly already. I just hope that I can find those limitations before I get seriously injured or killed during what amounts to a flashback.

We took control of the planet quickly enough once Seras vacated the premises. According to the others, while I was battling Treihl and Tosa was battling Seras, they had been engaged in a fight with several of Seras’s more powerful allies led by Emilhan Deuvex. She had been Father’s third apprentice after Darius and Casemi and had been missing for five years now. Why she was working with Seras was unknown, but according to the others, this wasn’t just a clone or alternate timeline counterpart. Deuvex had always struck me as a bit too sadistic for her own good though and I can’t imagine that Codex training helped with that. So my guess was that Deuvex was going full Faded.

She and the other minions all promptly vanished roughly a few moments after Seras had retreated. All of them disappeared in a flash of blue light that didn’t match any known phenomena to date. Even more concerning though was the reports that the enemy fleet in orbit vanished in a roughly similar fashion, although there was more of a delay as individual ships vanished one after another leaving only the Starbreaker hanging in orbit. I was contemplating why Seras would abandon such a valuable prize when Jax threw his communicator into the wall with enough force to shatter it into a million pieces in a barely contained rage.

(Jax) SHE TRICKED US! IT WAS A PLOY TO KILL US ALL IN A SINGLE SWOOP!

(Vadin) I sense no danger, so obviously the trap failed.

Jax then made a grand gesture of pointing dramatically at the enormous battle station in orbit.

(Jax) IT’S A HOLLOW SHELL! ALL THAT WAS INSIDE WAS A SPACEFIELD EXPLOSIVE DESIGNED TO TURN THE SYSTEM TO SUBATOMIC PLASMA!

Those took the radiation of an antimatter detonation and used that to generate a repulsive spacefield blast that could easily tear apart atoms. I had launched a few experiments on Itaint with using variants of the technology to compact hypermatter power systems, but to date had only found numerous ways to vaporize lots of experimental equipment. I had also had similar luck with regards to systems that tried to stabilize second and third generation matter for experimental purposes.

(Vanatica) Then why are we still alive? It obviously didn’t work.

(Myra) I am going to guess our countermeasures did their job then.

(Vanatica) Countermeasures?

(Maryn) Don’t ask. Just be glad that they worked.

It is really getting hard to keep up with this game of superweapons and countermeasures when apparently I am forbidden from knowing what’s on half the damned list. And I had to imagine those technologies had millions of other uses beyond blowing stuff up spectacularly. There were days I liked the Censor because it inadvertently gave me an advantage over most everyone via my utilization of forbidden technology, but then there were days I really got frustrated with how much it prevented me from doing what I wished.

(Katlyn) So this was a trap set to lure us and a significant fleet here to be destroyed?

(Vadin) Probably yes, although I suspect Seras would have preferred we had assaulted this place later rather than sooner to give her more time to gather undead Sith under her banner.

(Katlyn) How many of our secrets could Seras be presumed to have acquired if she has Deuvex on her side?

(Maryn) Not a lot that isn’t common knowledge amongst the JLA, the Grenkay, the Codifiers, the Rakata, and the remnants of the RDF. She’d be able to confirm Itaint’s existence though.

(Myra) That alone won’t give her access.

I had to believe that Seras was pretty certain of Itaint’s existence long before Deuvex entered the picture. That or Deuvex had been working with Seras for longer than we realized. That meant it was probably time to revisit the defenses with regards to repelling infiltration by a Hybrid. Part of me also had to presume that the alliance of convenience with Treihl was an attempt to hijack THELOS and get him to divulge critical information.

(Katlyn) We need to run a headcount of all Force and Codex users on our registries and see if anyone else has been MIA for a while now. Plus there are all those “extras” running about that don’t fit into our tracking.

(Vadin) I’ve got THELOS working on that now. It’s going to take even him some time to compile that data, let alone coax it from uncooperative systems.

(Katlyn) Are we certain she isn’t receiving support from Nere, Vi, or the Therus clones? Or the Republic for that matter?

(Jax) There’s been no evidence to support that so far. Although I wouldn’t rule out any of them taking advantage of the chaos Seras might cause.

(Vanatica) You could say that about pretty much all the other powers of the five galaxies. Hell, even the Final Empire would qualify under that scenario.

Jax gave me an annoyed look for that one. I didn’t care though as I boarded one of the transports and motioned to the soldiers on board that I wanted some privacy. I went to the communications system and THELOS went ahead and entered my personal access code. With that out of the way, I punched in the code to call Mother. I figured there was roughly a fifty percent chance she would be “busy” and put me on hold, but I was prepared to enter in the emergency override. I was in a mood to force the issue right now. As the call went through, I noticed that the other family members had gathered behind me to watch or participate. Not that I had told them all of the details of my encounter with Tosa.

Moments later Mother’s holographic image appeared in the center of the room. I don’t know if it was good genetics, her Hybrid powers, or some memory-offloading trickery but she still only looked to be in her thirties despite being two decades older than that. She had a pleased and knowing look on her face that anticipated she knew I was going to call.

(Valerie) Ah, I see the bunch of you had a successful campaign! We can celebrate back home when you all get back!

Here she was acting like it was no big deal that we took a massive fleet on a major offensive operation that was likely to provoke a number of the independent Sith factions. Of course, given the Mother was a Hybrid, she probably not only foresaw this chain of events, but probably even counted on us acting this way. Which always infuriated me when she played these precognitive games with us and especially me. Before I had a chance to speak my mind, Vadin interrupted me from behind.

(Vadin) We’ll be glad too as soon as we get done with a few minor loose ends here. Although I imagine Darius isn’t too happy right now.

(Valerie) I will handle Darius and his objections. Plus I am sure that the commanders can handle things without the bunch of you supervising.

I hadn’t wanted to bring this up in front of the others just yet, but they had a right to know this information since it affected us all anyways.

(Vanatica) Mother….

Mother turned to look at me quizzically and then got that look that indicated she knew an argument was incoming.

(Valerie) Yes, daughter?

(Vanatica) When were you going to inform us that Tosa has abdicated?

The gasps I heard from behind told me that at least some of the others weren’t aware of this factoid. So I hadn’t been the only one.

(Valerie) Just because your sister is being obstinate does not mean she has abdicated her responsibilities. In time she’ll learn that what is best is for….

(Vanatica) For what?! For you to decide not only everything, but also to limit who knows what so that we each go running off based on our own flawed perceptions of reality?! Does that make it easier for you to project our futures?!

(Valerie) And what would you prefer?

(Vanatica) I would prefer actually being told that the succession is a lot less secure than I had been led to believe! I would also prefer being told what I am supposed to be doing and why instead of simply being kept in the dark so that I can be manipulated like a damned puppet! Just how much of this was an attempt to force Tosa to come back by allowing us to get in over our heads?!

(Vadin) Vanatica, I don’t think you are being quite fair here….

I turned and shot him a glare that made him wilt faster than ice on a cytherean class world. More than a few of the others chuckled at that, but refused to voice an opinion when I turned to them. Turning back to the holographic projection of Mother, I saw her rubbing her temples and running through one of those meditations meant to calm oneself.

(Valerie) Look, I am not going to argue over this, but even I don’t have that level of foresight nor would I endanger any of you like that. I knew the bunch of you were planning something, that this plan would benefit the family, and that none of you would be seriously harmed. All of that training we gave you was to help you stand on your own and not rely on us to hold your hands. I also believe that Tosa is critical to your futures since your Father and I won’t be around forever. And today the bunch of you just demonstrated to the galaxies that the new generation is ready to take the reins. Trust me, more than a few major players stood up and took notice. You should be proud of that.

(Katlyn) We’ll be heading home soon then, Aunt Valerie.

(Vanatica) Actually, I have a few errands to run before I return home.

Mother gave me a weird look and then sighed in frustration.

(Valerie) Very well then. I will direct the staff to have a nice celebration ready for you all a week from now. If you need anything, let me know.

With that the holographic interface shutdown and it was just us on Korriban again. I was still fuming a bit from Mother refusing to engage with me in argument, but had to suspect she’d rather do it in private away from the others. Part of me had to wonder how much the party next week was an attempt to do just that. The precognitives and probability analysts around me kept saying I didn’t fully appreciate the limits to their abilities, but it was hard to listen to that given how often I was prevented from stealing cookies as a small child before I had even fully conceived of a plan to do so.

(Katlyn) At least she didn’t ask for grandchildren or grand nieces and nephews this time. That is always a good way to start some real fireworks.

Ugh, not that topic again. Mother was always hinting that she wanted grandchildren, and she seemed particularly interested in me providing some since I was the oldest. When I pointed out that at my age she was still chasing Father around the Galaxy and not having a family, she responded with that being different somehow.

(Vanatica) If she wants some that badly, I can commission Sagramore to make a pair of parthenogenetic clones for Mother to obsess over.

(Vatasha) I don’t think I am ready to be an aunt. Especially not to some science experiments you’ve created just to annoy Mother.

(Katlyn) I think we have enough family issues what with alternate timeline family members making a nuisance of themselves. Not to mention the clones of Uncle Kira and Aunt Valerie running about.

With that I asked for THELOS to have a ship readied for my little trip Tosa recommended. He found a diplomatic courier ship on one of the command ships in orbit and arranged for it to be delivered to my coordinates. As I awaited the delivery, Katlyn came up to me.

(Katlyn) So Tosa is still looking out for everyone even while on this walkabout?

(Vanatica) She hasn’t abandoned us if that is what you are asking. She just feels that she has more important things to do than to adhere to Mother’s plans for the future. Tosa also made of point of putting the fear of the Soungs into Seras today. Seras won’t be back for a while until she’s had a chance to lick her wounds. That gives us an opportunity in the meantime.

Already I could see a bright light separating from one of the ships in orbit. The motions of that light quickly revealed it was heading our direction and the actual shape of the ship grew distinct as it swiftly came in for a landing next to us.

(Katlyn) An opportunity to do what exactly?

(Vanatica) I don’t know and I am beginning to wonder if she really does either. She’s given me a clue as to where I am to head next and I am going to follow up on it.

Now that the ship had landed, I began to stroll up the ramp to get inside. There probably was no crew onboard this ship save for some standard issue droids which meant I had to pilot it myself. Probably better this way.

(Katlyn) Let me get the others real quick. I am certain all of us will come along. Especially if Tosa is involved.

(Vanatica) No, I need to do this alone.

(Katlyn) Sigh, so now you’re off on a walkabout as well….

I turned to specifically catch her eye. Looking at her, I recalled Tosa’s assertion that Katlyn should be the other Praetor alongside myself and had to wonder just how much Tosa was foreseeing and how much she was simply trying to make sense of a very confusing future. Which made trying to judge Katlyn’s role in all of this even harder to discern.

(Vanatica) This should just be a quick trip to Nar Shadda and back. I just need to find someone, ask them some questions, and maybe run into an old friend along the way. I’ll be back home in time for the party. In the meantime, take care of you and everyone else. After all, Tosa said she named you as her replacement to Mother.

Before Katlyn had a chance to formulate a response to that revelation, I finished climbing the ramp and closed it behind me. Once in the cockpit, I ran a quick pre-flight check and then took off for orbit. I briefly pondered heading to the nearest Protectorate world so that I could use the gate system as a shortcut, but ultimately decided that it was simpler and almost as fast to take the direct route via the normal hyperspace lanes. Plus that had the added benefit of anonymizing just who this courier ship was couriering. Nar Shadda wasn’t exactly the best place for a Soung to be walking about alone. Hell, it wasn’t the best place for anyone to be wandering around alone either.

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session X

grayscale photography of trees

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When awareness finally returned, the first thing I sensed was shouting all around us – at first, guttural and unintelligible, but soon became orderly shouts and barked orders. Sight came next and showed a narrow pass between peaks, walled with rock, and apparently the result of some ancient upheaval splitting the stone of the mountain range. I noted a succession of hurried fortifications being set up to block passage bu some sort of jackal-like humanoids.

Interestingly, we seemed to have picked up fur, uniforms, and a variety of rank insignia. I also had mobile ears which caused a number of peculiar sensations. Felix seemed to be dressed in a suit of some sort of power armor, Zin was with the engineering corps, and Allandras and Jacob were members of some sort of specialist corps. As for myself, I seemed to be a member of the command staff.

And male….

Which was confusing to say the least. This definitely didn’t seem to be a dream. Nor did this feel like an illusion since the sensory feedback seemed to line up with how I might expect such a body to feel like after some adjustments. And from what I could tell, the sensory feedback had too much fidelity for this to be one of those remote puppet systems that the Final Empire was so fond of. So that suggested some sort of soul transference or something else equally elaborate, but my guess was some sort of memory simulation.

Having a look around, I noted a situation table that suggested whatever group we were with was now under siege from a considerably larger group trying to force the pass. The weaponry seemed to all be short-range lightning guns, lava ball launchers, and an ice cannon of some sort. It all seemed to be more of that mad science technology that Intimoda was using. From the grim determination, desperation, and very mixed equipment, it looked like we had a fairly classic final defense – and from the commentary, a war of extermination. At least two other species apparently wanted to wipe this one out.

In all, the tactical was strong, but the strategic situation was doomed. They’d blatantly been driven back to some final, geographically-protected settlements and had nowhere else to go. The attackers seemed to be a massive four-legged species with shoulder tentacles and hide plates vaguely like a rhinoceros crossed with an octopus and another species that seemed like monkey-cats.

Overall, I had to guess that there were other routes through the mountains that could be assaulted, and with the superior manpower of the enemy, this position would eventually be overrun as it couldn’t defend all possible routes simultaneously. At best, one would be able to stall in this scenario. And for all the debatable value of the current defensive position, it also looked like it precluded any opportunities to retreat further since it made it ridiculously easy for the attackers to keep everyone bottled up in the mountains.

(Jacob) This is probably the final trap. We should not let ourselves get too pulled in. Actually fighting could get us just as screwed as if we drank the wine in the last room or used the special bandages.

I wasn’t sure I agreed with that assessment. Something about this whole scenario we were dumped in didn’t feel like a trap. Not enough information to make a good prediction though.

(Vanatica) Well, this was poor planning on someone’s part. If this is a memory, the only way to progress forward through the dungeon may be to proceed playing out the memory.

(Jacob) Looks like this door is a pain. Let’s backtrack and try another.

(Vanatica) Not sure we can.

I didn’t recall a door on this side of “reality” as we seemingly just appeared here in whatever roles we happened to be assigned.

(Felix) The way is shut! It is held by the Dead, and the Dead keep it!

(Vanatica) An apt line I suppose.

(Jacob) Computer, end program!

I had to look oddly at Jacob for that one for a moment before I realized he figured this was one of those weird holodecks he kept talking about. I could only shake my head and sigh since there was absolutely no reason to believe that Federation technology would be anywhere on the Anomaly beyond whatever he was carrying on his person. Not that I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on some of it to see just how much I could make work within my own reality.

(Jacob) Sorry, had to try. I would have worked back home.

(Vanatica) You know, at times I am fascinated and horrified by the purported technology of your universe.

(Jacob) It is really nice most of the time. I really miss the holodeck. I never went for war simulations though.

(Vanatica) Alright, can anyone tell if this is an illusion, a memory we’re playing through, or some sort of trap? Or even a dream?

Unfortunately, my own spellcasting abilities were not up to the task of trying to determine much of anything at the moment as I was still learning the process of preparing and storing spells for later casting. So at the moment I was dependent upon the others and my own wits to get through this.

(Allandras) Yes. I can think of a dozen people who can. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

He was real lucky we weren’t on a Star Destroyer, cause I would be really tempted to space him out the airlock right now. At least Jacob was being useful with that tricorder of his.

(Jacob) There’s definitely a narrative structure here; events can be modified, but the overall course of events is almost impossible to change.

(Zin) These are racial memories. They are, to some extent, drawing energy from us – especially if and when we suffer injuries. It wouldn’t be a good idea to die here – but on the upside, minor “injuries” should result in nothing but a bit of fatigue and resource expenditures should not carry over between narratives.

Just wonderful, so this thing was feeding on us. That only reinforced my belief we needed to figure out what this was and escape at the first opportunity.

(Jacob) So we have to survive and there are no pre-made escape routes. We will have to make our own.

(Vanatica) Well, we’re in a hopeless defensive position, unable to escape, and any injuries we experience will only further fuel this nightmare and death would be permanent.

(Jacob) So there is a narrative here. We only need to survive till it ends and try to wiggle it a bit such that we are not killed by the end of it. I wonder if this is focused on an individual?

If there was a racial memory narrative in play here then most obviously, a fairly sizeable group got away, or this would not have been recorded. They somehow made it to the Anomaly. Ergo, at some point, the sequence must end in a gate of some kind and anyone left behind no longer contributed to the memory sequence. As such, constructing a gate here is probably not just the way out, but much easier than normal either back home or in the Anomaly proper.

(Vanatica) Who is good at making gates amongst us?

(Felix) Not really me….

(Allandras) Uh, well, sort of?

Well, there was a statement of affirmation I wanted to stick my life on. At least Zin sounded more confident when announced he would assist Allandras. Felix volunteered to lead the soldiers and attempt to stall the invading forces for as long as possible. That left Jacob and I to try and rig up traps and explosions to best support Felix. The local science (or magic, or mad science, or whatever one wanted to call this) was not very compatible with my technical expertise for generating large explosions. Which ultimately left me defaulting back to basic chemistry tricks for making large bangs on demand.

Under those limitations, I had to resort to such tactics as using explosives to triggers rock falls and such as opposed to more dramatic molten craters. We ended up making a few other traps and alterations to the terrain to better support the generation of choke points, but it quickly became apparent this whole charade was doomed. I found myself wishing for access to a few hundred thousand droids or even my Mark II Rifle, but no such options were available. I briefly pondered seeing how far I could push the narrative by trying to instigate infighting between the two enemy factions, but lacked any visible means of leveraging such anxieties if they even existed as all.

Our preparations were not helped any when Felix fired an errant shot into our semi-prepared landslide and triggered it earlier than we had planned, thus partially burying not only the front line of the enemy but also a number of own troops. While certainly disruptive, I would have preferred something a bit more biased in terms of who it disrupted. Still, that did buy us a bit of time to try and regroup while the attackers cleared another path through.

Meanwhile Allandras and Zin were struggling to get a significant gate going. Since in theory we had either had over ten thousand or only five to worry about, this made any further discussions of success dependent on what our goal ultimately was. While it would have been nice to evacuate everyone (if only for the bragging points), the only real concern in my mind were those of us who weren’t memories. Allandras was hesitant though since he wanted to “loot” the people as slaves to work for him, but I had to doubt how effective such a plan would actually be.

Ignoring his protests, we stormed the portal and then everything faded to black.

I abruptly found myself standing in the midst of Lindral’s library instead of the battlefield. At first I thought this a weird coincidence that the library was somehow part of the racial memories we were exploring, but I caught sight of Lindral on top of a column thumbing through a book looking very much as I recalled her appearing the last time I was here. The general state of partial ruin was also indicative that this wasn’t a memory sequence from the distant past, but a decidedly more modern venue.

(Lindral, looking up from her book to glance at me) Ah good, about time you arrived. It was a bit of a trick to insert this sequence into the narrative, but I do take pride in my work.

(Vanatica) So you interrupted the memory thing to bring me here?

(Lindral) Oh no. I simply inserted a bit of…. code into the subroutine that caused it to shunt your conscious mind here once it finished with the first memory sequence. When you leave here, your mind will be shunted over to the next memory sequence lined up for you.

(Vanatica) So the others are already exploring that sequence then while I’m here? What if they get ahead of me by moving on to the next sequence without me?

(Lindral) Oh give me some credit. In this memory structures the passage of time is entirely subjective. From the perspective of your friends, you will all enter the next memory sequence almost instantly, you’ll just have experienced about a day or so in here that doesn’t correlate to a specific timeframe by their reference.

I think I understood what she meant, even if I had no clue about how she actually did it. That seemed to be the crux of the training so far – forcing me to learn and think about concepts that didn’t neatly fit into my understanding of physics and reality. Only by learning to cast aside such notions could I hope to truly master the arcane arts.

(Vanatica) I take it you have a particular lesson in mind that you summoned me here to the Library?

With that she snapped the book she was reading shut with a sigh and then leapt to the ground in front of me.

(Lindral) I can’t be calling you here for some company then? Oh well, you are right, I do have another lesson for you. This one will probably come in handy based on the challenges I foresee in your immediate future. We’re going to teach you your first real spells, how to prepare them ahead of time, and how to cast them afterwards with but a few words and gestures.

(Vanatica) Didn’t we already cover this with the lessons involving Prestidigitation?

(Lindral) Yes and no. Casting Prestidigitation on the fly with no pressure to perform is one thing, casting a more complicated spell in the midst of combat is much harder and quite possibly impossible. Which is why most sorcerers learn to prepare the bulk of the spell ahead of time and then finish the last bit when they need to actually use the spell. Much more efficient that way if not quite as flexible. And to that end I have prepared your spellbook. Or at least a mnemonic construct that will enable you to transcribe your own spellbook in the real world.

With that she made a wave of her hands that caused a bunch of glowing symbols to leap out of dozens of books around us and coalesced into a single ball of violet light. Moments later the violet light transformed into a silver-leaf bound book that floated in front of me. I grasped it and immediately started leafing through the pages. From the look of things, there were twenty-four spells scribed inside with half taking half a page each and the other half took a page each.

(Lindral) The spells that take half a page are cantrips or Level-0 spells similar in power and complexity to Prestidigitation. The others are Level-1 spells that are roughly twice the power and/or complexity of the Level-0 spells. All of them are from the Conjuration school of spells though. That is a limitation based on how the Library has fragmented between the pieces of myself.

That explained why the spells are seemed to have a lot of symbology in common between them. I still didn’t have sufficient understanding of the base language to really derive what each one did though.

(Lindral) Benign Transposition swaps two willing creatures within medium range. Hearthfire produces a smokeless campfire that lasts for twenty-four hours with no fuel. Lesser Orb Of Cold is a minor cold-beam attack. Wall of Smoke makes a thick wall of choking smoke, and Web Bolt is basically “tangle them up in a sticky net”. Cure Light Wounds is a basic healing spell roughly on par with the berries your tree friend produces. Dawn mimics any positive energy Level-0 spell whereas Nightfall does the same for negative energy. Generator will recharge electrical devices and your power-cells when cast. Mage Armor will generate a shell of force around you that will deflect incoming attacks like armor. Unseen Servant will summon forth a bit of animated force and give it a limited mind that can be given limited instructions to perform tasks. And Summon Monster I will call forth a friendly creature for roughly half a minute that will follow directions or assist in battle.

Quite a few of those were horrifying to consider the implications of. I could mutter a few words and get ranged teleportation, power a vehicle, create a sourceless ball of heat and light for a day, project cold, or even summon things from across the Multiverse to serve me. Not to mention things like creating a semi-conscious telekinetic force to serve my whims for hours at a time. And yet all of this was simple exercises for novices. What did this imply about the even more powerful spell Lindral implied existed? Just how much power could a sapient project this way with enough training?

(Lindral) As for the Level-0 spells we have some more variety. Air Helm gives you a few moments of breathing time. Animate Teddy Bear gives a child’s toy a dim mind and animation. It draws power from the child, so it stays animated as long as the child cares for it. Blaze feeds a big shot of oxygen into something that’s burning. Conjured micro-elementals are about thumb-sized, and not very bright, but can do small things. Summoned rats are good for fetching keys, pulling wires through pipes, and so on. Create Element makes about a cubic foot of rock, earth, water, air, or fire. Drawthread shoots a sticky thread up to twenty meters and pulls up to ten kilograms or so back to you. Seance is a Seance which you are probably familiar with from your Grandmother although this has fewer drawbacks. Spice produces a bit of kitchen stuff – a little salt, or pepper, or whatever. Stabilize keeps someone from losing more health if they’ve been mortally wounded with a touch.

Even more insane feats that can be accomplished with only a few weeks of practice. I did think that I needed to use the Animate Teddy Bear on one of Caryn’s favorite toys for her birthday in two month though, presuming I could actually get off this Anomaly in time to make it to the party. It wasn’t a given that I could make it off within a year even. Which is one of the reasons why I needed to figure out how Seras had managed to come and go. It was obvious on so many levels that she’s visited the Anomaly before and left. Unfortunately, my interactions with Intimoda suggested the quickest way would be to be able to cast Level-5 spells on demand and figure out the issues with targeting.

Still, this did raise questions about Seras and her magical talents we’ve seen her display so far. Already I was going to be able to pull off feats that would significantly give me a leg up on most any Sith, Jedi, Codifier, or Faded I crossed in battle even though I only had access to spells from the Conjuration school of magic. And yet our battles with Seras were not nearly as lopsided as they could have been if she had anywhere near this level of versatility and power. Did that mean that these powers weren’t nearly as accessible back home? Or was there something else going on with Seras that artificially constrained her?

Maybe being a Hybrid was a limiting factor on Seras’s ability to master magic. Mother and Father both have said that mastering the Force and Codex was harder than it would have been to master either alone, even if it did grant them a lot more ease in attempting the larger stunts safely and repeatedly. Perhaps there was something similar to the Dark Side or Fading that was limiting Seras more than she realized. Lindral hadn’t mentioned anything like that, but it could be she was misleading me or this was a side effect of being a human from my universe when attempting to tap into forces other than ourselves. I was about to ask Lindral about this when she began speaking.

(Lindral) Now that it appears that the implications of some of these spells have sunk in, let’s begin the process of learning how to prepare them and then cast them later. I’ll be adjusting how subjective time flows in here to help the process since otherwise this would take weeks or months to master.

To say that the following timeskips were confusing and disorienting would have been an understatement. Eventually though, Lindral was satisfied with my progress and then suggested a number of spells for me to prepare in case the next memory sequence had any more surprises that some magic might be able to assist with. Once she was happy with my selection and preparation of spells, Lindral made a wave of her hand and sent me back to the next memory sequence with the promise that I’ll return again.

When sensation returned, it appeared to be twilight out. We were in the midst of a large city that looked to be fairly well maintained but quite obviously old. From what I could see, this city was no where near capacity and only contained a few people who were mostly the jackal-like species we had seen earlier. The busiest places were a few temple temple-like structures. Little of their mad science technology was in evidence though. There were guards and maintenance workers, but they seemed to be made of shadowy semi-transparent material.

The stars overhead drifted gradually and moved in straight lines rather than circles. Either we were precisely on a planetary equator, or this was the Anomaly. One segment of the city was being methodically devoured by a moving hill. Another section had a major excavation project of some sort going on. I did, however, see signs of looting, some graffiti, and symbols of various colors probably being used to mark territory.

At least I was a female human again. I didn’t have access to a mirror, but my face felt like mine at least and I was wearing the shieldsuit or something at least resembling it since THELOS was still unresponsive to my queries. So this was possibly another memory sequence of some sort or even another layer of the Library that Lindral was subjecting me to for whatever arcane reason.

(Jacob) Ok, this looks like a different memory, and another battle…. great.

(Vanatica) So we/they were not the first to evacuate to the Anomaly it seems. Perhaps the hills are a natural part of the “maintenance” of this place that resets regions back to a natural state at the beginning of a new cycle? I suspect the city was leveled back to woodlands and the excavations are to make the dungeon we are now exploring.

By this point I recognized enough of the landscape to get my bearings. If this truly was a memory of the past of the same location, that raised opportunities to potentially knowledge of the past to our benefit in the future.

(Vanatica) Anyone have any indication of information of stuff that we can either loot or collect to make our lives easier back in our normal lives? Like clues to the dungeon layout, buried artifacts, or possible motives behind the dungeon?

Out came the tricorder again as Jacob proceeded to attempt to scan the hill eating buildings and leaving trees behind.

(Jacob) Looks like it breaks down the mass it consumes into particles, replaces said mass with plants and landscape generated from the particles according to some sort of pattern. It doesn’t appear to be a very fast process though, it is creeping along at a glacial speed. In many ways it is a living replicator.

So definitely a living automation system of some sort that recycles the terrain to make way for new arrivals. That does make me wonder about beneath the surface cleanup though as obviously the dungeon was left behind while the rest of the city was replaced. Did that mean that there is some alternate source of metals and stone that isn’t mined from the ground? Or perhaps that there are mines that stretch for hundreds of kilometers deep below the surface in order to reach ever deeper veins of metals? But that would require a level of infrastructure that was plainly not in evidence around here to dig that far down. For that matter, what would happen if one dug deep enough on the Anomaly? Would I eventually run into some sort of floor perhaps? I’ll have to have a look at some point when I wasn’t stuck in a racial memory of a civilization’s decline.

I also figured those hills performing terraforming operations would be of immense value back home for assisting with Soung terraforming operations. It wouldn’t be able to replace the massive amounts of droids and terraforming staff needed for the process, but it certainly could help speed up the construction of various ecosystems that otherwise would take decades to complete. Hell, two and a half decades later we’re still trying to get some of the ecosystems self-sufficient on Ascensa and that was with the presumed help fo Alderaan itself encouraging things. I wasn’t sure how I would go about procuring one of those, or even if there was some sort of defense mechanism that would then make my life very difficult on the Anomaly. Of course, I can’t be the first one to consider such ideas. Someone has to have been curious enough to try such things already. Best to learn from their mistakes first instead of making them myself.

(Vanatica) I guess at the moment we need to poke through the ruins and the excavation for clues of the narrative we’re to follow. Unless we’re supposed to be chasing after the hills that generates forests.

I got the sense that these were the final days of this species or civilization. Except this time there was no panic, little fear, and overall there was a sense of general calm. The desperate struggle for survival that was playing out in the first narrative was nowhere in evidence now. The people were gathering with purpose – but they were neither attempting to escape not fighting their fate. There was danger here, however, as the ancient systems of the city wound down and members of other species looted and pillaged, apparently not understanding whatever was going on with the primary species.

It was also obvious that the species maintained some “mad science” talents, but they also drew upon the many powers of the Manifold and the birthrights it made available. If I had to guess, at least some of the primary species were planning to turn themselves into liches, or some other type of undead monstrosities. Or perhaps even all of the above with a touch of the stories Mint would sometimes shared about an Earth scientist named Frankenstein.

Nonetheless, we were going to have to do some scouting around to figure out more about the exact narrative we were supposed to follow. And it would be worth our while to see if items procured from this memory could be taken outside of the memory sequence entirely. After all, we have been able to retrieve items from our own dreams. So would a memory sequence potentially be any different from that?

Seras was easily just as shocked as I was by the timely arrival of Tosa. I struggled to my feet while a million questions raced through my mind to ask Tosa. Once I was on my feet, Tosa tossed a small empty bag at me that was obviously made of the vampiric moss fabric. I was about to ask what it was for when Seras instead spoke first.

(Seras) So the prodigal chimera deigns to show her face finally. I was going to deal with you later.

(Tosa) Give it up Seras. Your window of opportunity with Vanatica is rapidly closing and you know it.

(Seras) You seem pretty confident that I’ll fail for someone that’s been loafing around the galaxies for a couple years.

(Tosa) I’m more powerful than you and I’ve been trained by the most powerful Hybrids in either of our galaxies. You can’t beat me and I won’t let you kill Vanatica while she is still vulnerable.

Seras pulled out a white double bladed lightsaber and gave it an intimidating twirl through the air while white lightning arced across her arms. Tosa in turn pulled out her own pair of pink lightsabers and held them in a reverse grip stance I had never seen before. The light from the opposing lightsabers gave a menacing under-glow to both of them that subtly reinforced the feeling of immense powers colliding together.

(Seras) Oh, I have mastered ancient secrets lost to the past that make even your Hybrid powers pale in comparison, sister. We can settle this now and leave our dear sister to have fun with a new friend of mine.

With that they both vanished from my perception save for the hypersonic shockwaves and occasional glimpses of clashing lightsabers and blaster fire in the pitch blackness that surrounded me. THELOS began switching my visual feed through various frequencies in an attempt to provide me some sort of visual of my surroundings before finally settling on UV with my suit providing illumination in the same wavelength. That didn’t give me a lot of range to see into the depths around me, but it was sufficient to allow me to note that several dozen ancient looking Sith war-droids were shambling my direction with weapons of various sorts at the ready. Now that I could see them it became easier to note the sound of grinding metal against stone as ancient droid mechanisms struggled to operate smoothly.

I raised my right arm and cupped my hand into the gesture that told the automatic systems of my shieldsuit to start feeding power to the crystals in my gauntlet to form a blaster bolt. Aiming at the lead droid, I twitched my fingers in the well practiced move that signaled I wished to fire. That larger than normal blaster bolt impacted the lead droid and easily blew the torso in half. Raising both hands now, I proceeded to fire a volley of shots at all of the droids coming at me and made short work of them. Return fire came back at me and bounced harmlessly off my shields. A number of droids even managed to make it to melee range in an attempt to grapple me, but all they managed to accomplish was to ineffectually melt themselves against the shields.

I had just finished ramming my fist through the power supply of one of the larger ones that was taking longer than usual to render itself inoperable when suddenly my left arm locked up. At first thinking something had managed to finally grab ahold of me, I noticed that the power assist hardware in the arm was locked into position instead of following my movements.

(Vanatica) THELOS, need diagnostics on left arm.

(THELOS) Understood Lady Vanatica. Initiating…. Init…. Init…. inininininininininininin….

At this point real concern began to enter my mind as the voice of THELOS began to garble incomprehensibly. My HUD began to flash a number of nonsensical gibberish and I felt increasing resistance from the power assist against all of my movements. Then a hauntingly mechanical and yet deeply malevolent voice crackled through the speaker system in the place of THELOS’s

(Voice) What an intriguing setup…. We just need to purge it of the unnecessary parts first.

With that my hood retracted to expose my face and the left hand grabbed my face with a vice-like grip and began to attempt to crush my skull between its fingers. I struggled against the power assistance, but did not have the strength to overpower it, only slow it down ever so slightly.

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] EMERGENCY – P.A. PID feedback control has failed hardware failsafe!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] EMERGENCY – Primary supervisory control is offline/unresponsive to watchdog 1A987B!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] INFORMATION – Firmware has initiated comparison of active memory against ROM backups.

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] WARNING – Comparision of active memory versus ROM has detected errors on critical control systems!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] EMERGENCY – Hardwired safeties are now initiating an emergency shutdown of all control/power systems! THIS CAN NOT BE ABORTED!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] INFORMATION – Power and controls are now offline!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] INFORMATION – Initiating power restart from ROM controls.

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] WARNING – ROM controls are unable to support active systems!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] EMERGENCY – Corruption of primary supervisory control still detected after restart!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] EMERGENCY – Initiating emergency escalation to THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243 for assistance!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] EMERGENCY – Notification of corruption of primary supervisory control of REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 received!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] WARNING – Initiating emergency remote shutdown of REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 control/power systems!

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] INFORMATION – Request received from THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243 for emergency remote shutdown of control/power systems.

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] WARNING – Restart already in progress! Remote request Ignored!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] INFORMATION – Remote shutdown of REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 failed. Restart already in progress!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] INFORMATION – Request slaving of command functions of REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA-243 to THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243.

[REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01] INFORMATION – Request for slaving of command functions to THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243 received and acknowledged.

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] INFORMATION – Receipt of remote command functionality for REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 acknowledged.

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] INFORMATION – Running diagnostics on REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 primary supervisory control.

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] EMERGENCY – Subject: Vanatica Nyla Soung – Probable fatal scenario detected!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] EMERGENCY – Detection of remote intrusion attempt from REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01!

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] EMERGENCY – Initiating emergency escalation to THELOS-ITAINT-CORE.

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] WARNING – Quarantine procedures against remote intrusion attempt are now in progress.

[THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243] INFORMATION – All command and communications functions not pertinent to communications with REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 and THELOS-ITAINT-CORE have been rerouted to THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-245!

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] INFORMATION – Receipt of emergency escalation request from THELOS-REGIONAL-NODE-243. Slaving entire remote command protocol stack to CORE COMMAND.

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] INFORMATION – Virtualized instance of REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 command from ROM backup has been started. Slaving REMOTE-UNIT-VANATICA01 to virtual instance.

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] WARNING – Closed loop control delay with remote unit exceeds 150 ms. Performance degradation is anticipated.

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] INFORMATION – Running multiple concurrent high speed simulations of combat environment. Average of projections and models of Vanatica’s anticipated actions will be fed into closed loop control system to counter control delay.

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] INFORMATION – Analysis of remote intrusion attempt indicates probable Rassan Sith attack – Confidence 95+%.

[THELOS-ITAINT-CORE-MOON-C] INFORMATION – Beginning countermeasures against remote intrusion attempt.

Before I even had so much as a chance to yell for help, all systems on my shieldsuit abruptly shutdown. I could suddenly feel the weight of all the equipment built into the suit plus the armor as the power assist ceased functioning. This did mean, however, that I had control of my hand again and thus was no longer in danger of getting my skull crushed.

The HUD briefly flashed messages about a hardware initiated shutdown before even more logging messages scrolled by far faster than I could even hope to read. Attacks from the droids around me kept coming and the shields were offline due to whatever was wrong with THELOS. The armor was holding, but this was painful and it was difficult to see what was going on around me well enough to try and fight back. I managed to break out of the melee for a few seconds at least when suddenly everything came back online and I could see again.

(THELOS) My apologies Lady Vanatica. It appears that a Rassan Sith has attempted to penetrate my systems and knocked local resources offline.

A Rassan type Sith? Was that whose tomb this was? Did that mean it was still alive on some level then? Or was this simply ancient automatic systems following old programming with no guiding sapience behind it all? I also had a twinge of worry since we never were able to test the full anti-Rassan capabilities of THELOS before. It was possible that the defenses were not going to hold under that kind of pressure.

(Vanatica) Status?

(THELOS) Intrusion has been successfully repelled and all shieldsuit command functions are being handled via one of my main cores while I restage the local command systems from backups. I must inform you that due to transmission delays I cannot guarantee the level of performance I strive to provide until local command systems are back online. In the meantime, I have taken the initiative and launched a counter-assault against the Rassan’s own systems.

I was fairly sure that I had never programmed in that level of functionality into THELOS. I couldn’t think of anyone on the THELOS sysadmin team that would have done that too. Perhaps there were more consequences to letting those adaptive algorithms run on a massive computer system outside the reach of the Censor than we had initially thought. Nonetheless, that was working in my favor at the moment and I couldn’t simply demand a complete shutdown pending diagnostics in the midst of a fight with a Sith either.

I used my lightsaber to make quick work of the remaining droids as the once again operable shields rendered almost all attacks against me useless. I did note a slight sluggishness to the power assist responsiveness, but since commands were being sent to Itaint and back that was to be expected I suppose. That kind of real-time bandwidth would normally cost a fortune even most planetary governments would balk at, but there were benefits to having constructed or upgraded the subspace communications grid across a significant fraction of the Galaxy.

It was also clear that THELOS was making progress in his attacks against the enemy droids as their actions became increasingly erratic and thus made them even easier for me to dispatch. I was not anticipating the giant mechanical leg that stomped most of the remaining droids into scrap. As more of it came into view from the shrouding darkness, I saw before me a war-droid approximately ten meters in height looming in front of me brandishing a massive axe that would have made a Glaive Sith blush. Spotlights on the shoulders turned on and focused on my position like a laser as it continued to stomp forward.

(Rassan) Impudent cleeg-rat! You think to challenge the power of the mighty Darth Treihl?! I will destroy you and take your technology for myself!

That axe swung down at me far faster than I anticipated and I instinctively dodged to the right. The shields activated on cue to block the attack, but the axe still managed to slide through them and swipe my arm. The armor held thankfully, but the sudden impact did knock me off my feet and I could feel the power assist work to keep my arm from bending in unnatural ways. Rolling back to my feet, I saw that part of the axe was glowing a faint red from where it had sliced through the shields.

That probably was indicative of the axe being made of a material resistant to lightsaber level spacefields. I also wouldn’t put it past a paranoid Rassan Sith to make most of his body structure out of that same material. That probably made him nigh invulnerable to most of my weapons outside of a sustained attack to a single point and there was no way he’d stay still long enough for me to do that.

Cursing the fact that Vadin told me I wasn’t going to need the Mark II Rifle, I worked to get as much distance between myself and Treihl as possible. Moving about the room and thus letting those spotlights of his swivel about as he attempted to track me allowed THELOS to compile a rough map of the chamber I found myself trapped in with Treihl. While the walls were too far in the distant dark to get a read, he was able to detect a number of massive columns spaced at regular intervals. The increased distance gave me a chance to read Treihl’s movements as he swung wildly at me while I flew around columns.

It quickly became easy to see that while Treihl was far faster than he looked, he still was quite massive and physically dense just from the way he had to wind up his attacks and provide appropriate counterweights. That made his movements relatively simple to read and predict. Even more interestingly, it looked like he was aiming and blocking with those robotic eyes as opposed to the usual Sith practice of using the Force as a guide. Could he be so tightly bound to the robotic shell that he could no longer use the Force for anything except to act as an interface?

A test blaster shot at the eyes was immediately blocked by an energy shield not unlike my own except weaker. A lightsaber could probably power through that, but I immediately thought of a more elegant method. Transferring the lightsaber to my other hand that was also holding the more mundane shield, I pointed my free index finger at those electronic eyes and made the gesture with my thumb that told the controls to fire a laser blast. The blasted time delay to Itaint threw off my aim on the first shot, but THELOS quickly compensated as he understood my change in tactics and on the third shot I successfully knocked out one of the eyes and badly damaged the second one.

(Treihl) FORCE DAMN YOU ENWAH! I WILL CARVE OUT EVERY NERVE IN YOUR BODY!

A fourth shot completely blinded Treihl and he began flailing wildly in an attempt to hit me using sound. It wasn’t hard to manipulate the situation so that he foolishly swung his axe into a support column and lodged it so firmly in the stone that he had difficulty extracting it. When he finally pulled it free, a significant fraction of the column’s mass collapsed on top of him and pinned him to the floor. Not one to miss the opportunity, I flew forward and rammed my lightsaber deep into the shoulder joint and held it there. While the material was resistant to lightsabers, I was dumping an enormous amount of thermal energy into it and everything had a melting point.

I had successfully melted through the right shoulder and had managed to badly damage the left one when Treihl finally managed to extricate himself from the debris. Not that this was helping him very much as his inoperable eyes and arm made it near impossible for him to attack me except to swing that limp around fruitlessly. Glancing around I continued to see flashes of pink and white light indicating the clashing of lightsabers along with the sound of blaster fire. They were still moving too fast for me to effectively track with my eyes, let alone actually assist Tosa with the fight.

Thinking back to that vampiric fabric bag Tosa had thrown me, I gathered Tosa intended for me to be doing something while she kept Seras busy, but it wasn’t clear what exactly. Whatever it was, it was probably stupidly obvious to any precognitive what I was supposed to do.

(THELOS) Lady Vanatica.

(Vanatica) Hm?

(THELOS) I have managed to extract a number of critical files from the active memory of Darth Treihl’s current body. Some of them may prove to be of value to your situation.

I couldn’t help smirking at that and the bellowing of the impotent Treihl demanding to know just how much computer power I had at my disposal. THELOS then projected a holographic layout of the tomb we were in with flashing indicators showing the relative locations of everyone else in the family save Tosa and Seras. The others were still fighting a trio of enemy indicators about five hundred meters above me. Apparently the target of real interest though was a large red indicator THELOS kept blinking that was in a set of chambers off to the left from my current position.

(THELOS) It is my determination that Darth Treihl’s true body is located at the location indicated and that the body you have been fighting is simply a remotely operated drone. As such, it is my recommendation that you concentrate your efforts there.

A virtual overlay of the structure around me was now being projected into my field of view, thus outlining the columns and other structures that even the ultraviolet lights did not illuminate. Noting the doorway to the region indicated, I began to fly in that direction and left the Treihl remote to flounder ineffectually. I quickly found my path forward blocked by a heavy blast door, but that wasn’t going to be enough to stop me. I rammed my lightsaber into the blast door and let it pour thermal energy into the door. Just as I melted a way large enough for me to step through, THELOS piped up with another update.

(THELOS) I am pleased to update you that I have completed a reload of the local shieldsuit command software. I have also updated the firewall and supervisory systems to counter any further remote attacks by Darth Treihl. However, until I am certain the threat has passed, I will be maintaining remote supervisory and quarantine procedures in case a new threat vector emerges.

I stepped into the next room past the pool of molten metal that was formerly the door. Inside this room I saw banks of ancient computer equipment being attended to by a small group of small droids. What really caught my eye though was the mummified body suspended in a tank of luminescent blue fluid that looked like it was reaching to grasp what was blatantly a Sith holocron on a pedestal in front of the tank. Dozens of cables and tubes connected the mummified body to various pieces of medical equipment. I also recognized equipment that was responsible for generating a first-stage stasis field and a Chyran-style mental projection system.

From what I recalled of the reports, that technological combination was frequently used to run clone remote bodies in the Final Empire. I hadn’t heard of a Rassan-style Sith doing the same thing, but it didn’t surprise me that at least one had come up with a similar idea in all of galactic history. It also made it ridiculously easy to shut down Treihl’s support systems that were keeping him in a semi-alive state.

My lightsaber slashed the cables to the stasis tank containing the body with a few quick swipes. I then trashed the stasis and projection systems to render them inoperable. The remaining droids attempted to stop me, but only succeeded in destroying themselves against my shields. The mummified corpse then began to make an unnerving cry as it attempted to claw at the glass wall of the tank in a futile attempt to stop me. It definitely seemed particularly agitated as I approached the holocron pedestal.

I suddenly recalled the bag Tosa had given me earlier. Removing it from a pocket, I dropped it on top of the pyramidal holocron and pulled the draw strings shut. The mummified corpse absolutely shrieked at that and became even more erratic and sluggish as the link between the Force spirit the dying corpse faded. I pocketed the now shielded holocron for later analysis and not one to leave things to chance, I slashed at the tank to spill out the fluid inside. As the corpse slumped to the floor, I made sure it was dead with a final stab through the chest.

My sense of triumph was swept aside though when suddenly a white blur flashed past me and crashed into a row of computer systems. When my eyes finally focused on that mess, I saw Seras attempting to extricate herself when suddenly a pink lightsaber flew in spinning end on end. Just before it collided with Seras, she vanished with a tell-tale pop indicating a trans-temporal teleport. The lightsaber then stopped flying forward, spun in mid-air for a moment, and then flew back where it came from to be grasped by my sister Tosa. She looked at the corpse of Treihl and gave me an approving nod.

(Vanatica) So are you done with your walkabout?

(Tosa) No, I still have things I need to do out there. I just needed to make an appearance here.

(Vanatica) We need you Tosa. It would be a lot easier to fend off Seras and her manufactured succession crisis if you were around as the heir apparent to Mother and Father.

(Tosa) I can’t do that. I have no intention of taking the title of Praetor like Mom and Dad. That’s your calling Vanatica, not mine. I’ve already made my recommendation for who should be the second Praetor as well.

This was the first I had heard about Tosa abdicating as heir to the position of Praetor. It was always just assumed that she’d be one of the two ever since her powers as a hybrid were discovered. I had known she had never been enthused with the position, but figured she would take it anyway. I also had to wonder who Tosa recommended as the second Praetor.

(Tosa) Before you ask, I recommended that Katlyn take the role. I think she’d compliment your style quite well.

I had to say that Katlyn wasn’t exactly who I would have picked, but figured there was some sort of recursion rationale behind that one. I also figured the reason I hadn’t heard anything about this was that Mother disagreed with that precognitive assessment and she and Tosa were having a clash of wills not dissimilar to those Mother and I would have over some of my actions.

(Vanatica) Will you at least come home for a bit? Caryn would love to see you. SO would everyone else.

(Tosa) Perhaps I will make a stop by there in the near future to say hi to our littlest sister.

Tosa got a vacant expression on her face that I had learned long ago meant she (and others like her) were doing one of those recursion assessments. After a few moments she turned to look at me as she pulled out a slip of paper from her jacket.

(Tosa) It looks like Seras is sufficiently spooked by my intervention that she isn’t likely to make a move in this galaxy for the foreseeable future. That should give you a bit more room to move around and do what needs to be done while she licks her wounds and bides her time elsewhere.

With that Tosa put that piece of paper in my hand.

(Tosa) I’m sorry I can’t follow you on this path, but it is imperative that you make this part of the journey without me if you are to find your true destiny. I promise I will do what I can to help, but I can’t do it for you. All of our futures depend on you recognizing and grasping the opportunity when you see it. Follow the clue I just gave you. It will start you down the right path. I will take care of things here, so focus on the path before you.

With that she gave that smile and salute gesture she’s done since she was eight years old and suddenly vanished from my eyes. Looking down at my hand, I saw a folded piece of green paper. Opening it up, I saw the following words written in Tosa’s handwriting “Nar Shadda -> Cruest Miguel -> Ask about Angels Fall”. Cruest Miguel and Angels Fall meant absolutely nothing to me, but Nar Shadda was the primary moon of the Hutt homeworld Nal Hutta. The smuggler’s moon is what many called it and it was an absolute mess from a perspective of law and order with pretty much anything you could think of being for sale for the right price. And there were quite a few there that were willing to sell visitors (or their skins) to anyone else with the right coin. Looked like I needed to head there and find this Cruest Miguel and ask him about “Angels Fall”, whatever that was.

Just then I noticed that the note Tosa had written had writing on the back as well. I flipped it over and read the back.

“Say hi to Matthieu for me!”

Oh Force damn it all!

Anomaly Mission Logs by Vanatica Soung – Session IX

gray concrete post tunnel

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Just how much of a threat this whole scenario with the gaunthounds presented to us was an open question. On the one hand, we were extremely numerous, well-armed, and in possession of abilities not normally seen around here. On the other hand, I had a sneaking suspicion that much of our strength was in appearance only. We’d already seen indicators that the average farmer around here was a match for one of my soldiers. Plus whoever did this managed to deal with hundreds of such farmers with seemingly relative ease. It stood to reason that a sufficiently organized attack could deal overwhelm us with similar ease. At which point we’d be dependent on the droids intervening and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that idea.

Speaking of which, just how reliable were droids here? Was the Censor still affecting them and causing the usual slow intermittent breakdowns? Were they subject to some kind of overarching world law of the Anomaly that prevented large scale droid use in a similar fashion? Or were things like Itaint where we seriously could face a runaway scenario if we weren’t careful? On the one hand, fully reliable droids would potentially give me a substantial advantage if only via the massive industrial advantage already at my fingertips. On the other hand, that same reliability could be turned against me if someone else has similar ideas and a head start.

More time, more resources, and more manpower was needed to test all of this properly. Worse still, I’d have to set up testing labs every “hex” just to ensure I wasn’t confusing a local law for a universal property. That sounded easy, but being stuck at the bottom of a gravity well with most of my resources out of reach despite being only a few thousand kilometers away made a lot of things more difficult than I would have initially anticipated.

Luckily my initial instincts to be wary of the convenience of the gaunthounds looked to be correct. While I was firmly of the opinion that this was a slaver raid, the simple fact of the matter was that either someone had backdoor command access to the gaunthounds, or the gaunthounds had found a way around their own programming. Either option meant that the damned things were not nearly as reliable as the locals kept treating them.

And while the attack on this village however many months ago was in no way our problem, the implications of that attack on our safety were a lot more clearly a potential threat. Gaunthounds were not to be trusted any further than we could shoot them in my opinion. And any travelers running around offering gaunthounds for sale or lease were prime suspects as well. Problem was that it was impossible to tell who specifically we needed to look out for beyond some very generic categories.

There was the report from one of the neighboring villages that around the timeframe of the destruction of this village some gaunthounds began offering their “escort services” against a recent increase in “monsters in the forest”.

(Allandras) Well, I try not to pay for such things. Sort of takes out the fun of the pursuit. Oh, not that kind of escort services…..

By the Force….

The look on my face must have made my opinion on his comment clear.

(Allandras) What? The more powerful or wealthy the father or husband who you anger, the greater the treasure you stole. And if it’s something I can merely buy, well, I’m not that wealthy to afford fantastic treasure.

I was still trying to collect my thoughts to give a proper yell about how females are not treasures to be fought over or stolen when several of the other species around us with non-human style social arrangements expressed confusion about the topic of conversation.

(Allandras) Ah, it’s easy enough to explain. Think of it this way: do you remember every meal you’ve eaten? Or really only the ones where you tried something completely new, or where there was something fantastic about the occasion?

I really wanted to point out that there were entire news organizations that dedicated themselves to examining the details of my daily menu. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to insert this factoid into the conversation as he kept talking.

(Allandras) You hunt for a rare animal to eat because it’s not one you grow on your farm. You eat it for the rare taste and it makes the hunt all the sweeter. Without the chase, you may as well be eating vegetables from your garden instead of a steak from a powerful wild animal.

Reminded me of some of the stories Father would tell me about THE Jacob’s disdain for the food processors. He too thought you needed to hunt down, kill, gut, clean, and eat your food out in the wild (cooking optional). I personally found the whole idea similar to the stupid “organic” food craze: disgusting.

(Vanatica) And yet, this is totally irrelevant to the matter at hand.

(Allandras) I disagree. We were talking about escorts.

(Vanatica) Combat escorts! Are you sure you’re a trader?!

(Allandras) One can trade in many things.

Ugh, he’s one of those. I found it amazing that my opinion of Allandras could actually drop even lower that it already was.

(Felix) All I know is, I have a bad feeling about this.

(Allandras) Well, I have a solution for you. A tonic, drink it till it dulls your senses, and it shoudl cure any unpleasant tingles. It comes in a variety of strengths. Completely organic, some of it comes from grapes, some from honey, hops, potato, all sorts of sources.

(Felix) Pssh, I refine my best hooch from starship fuel! Anything less would be uncivilized.

(Vanatica) Ugh, organic?! You know that is highly unsanitary right?

(Allandras) Well, I am trying to figure out this recipe I liberated from an Elven gentleman. Just have to figure out what kind of mushrooms it uses. Somehow I doubt they grow locally. I’ll have to find a replacement.

This conversation was quickly becoming pointless. The soldiers could keep an eye out for anything untoward, and there was definitely some supplies here worth collecting that no one else had bothered to loot already. But all of that could be left to others to deal with.

Figuring this was little else we could determine here, I decided to call it a night. We could inform the next village about our concerns regarding the gaunthounds when we got to it.

The next morning was more or less uneventful as we packed up and began our journey towards the next village. That changed about twenty minutes into the journey as we encountered half a dozen gaunthounds in the road ahead of us. My first fear was that this was an ambush, but we had no indication that there were others hiding out of view. Not that this meant no one was hiding out there, but I refused to waste time thinking of paranoid hypotheticals. As such, I decided to walk out to meet them.

(Gaunthound) You OK? Are there lots of you in there? You’re already in a group, so nothing extra for group rate! Want us to keep an eye out for monsters, keep trouble away? Bargain price!

(Jacob) No, we are looking for trouble.

(Gaunthound) But that is why hire us! We help make sure you no have trouble! Only twenty silver, or one gold, or two kegs of beer, or one of hard drink for all day!

(Felix) After all, we wouldn’t want any trouble, right? They’re very sure we’ll have trouble if we don’t hire them. So earnest! And they wouldn’t want our being hurt on their consciences or lack thereof, so it would be just AWFUL if bad thing happened because we didn’t hire them!

I really wanted to kick or punch Felix right now for possibly tipping our hand about knowing of the potentially dangerous behavior the gaunthounds can engage in. Nonetheless, I figured the ongoing argument between them, Felix, and Jacob would be enough of the distraction for me to engage in a private conversation with the assistance of THELOS.

[Vanatica] Can the tricorder pick up any malicious orders or commands embedded in these things? And I am torn between hiring them where we can keep an eye on them and keeping them as far away as possible.

[Felix] If we do hire them, we’re unlikely to be targeted. So far, we have “technically” evidence that they aren’t hurting those who pay them off. While it’s probable they can be remotely commanded to attack, they would be more likely on rich merchants with stuff to steal than an armed party of lunatics like us. And hiring them could be useful to see what they know, or to study them. Besides, it makes for a better LEGEND to have the tense moments of having the dangerous threat walking side by side, neither party knowing if the other will attack!

[Jacob] They are all in service to some individual, apparently one capable of transferring their loyalty compulsions to themselves – but their orders are not particularly tricky or well hidden, amounting to little more than “scrounge stuff up”.

[Vanatica] So one Gaunthound can switch the loyalties of the others or there is another individual that can switch their loyalties?

[Jacob] They can easily be sold or reassigned by their current master, but switching their loyalties against their current master’s desires is a fairly good trick; a powerful spell, specialized dream-powers, or a ritual would work though. Looks like the usual hierarchy is Owner -> Curent Pack Leader -> Them, although personal loyalties do compete with Pack Leader. Currently looks like their current Master is also their Pack Leader – not something that the locals probably normally allow. The two smaller ones are very young to have been turned into hounds too.

[Felix] It kinda sounds like somehow a Gaunthound went rogue, or somebody with similar abilities took control.

I had to agree with that assessment. It looked like my theory of slavers was now dead, but we also had a lead that one Gaunthound in particular was likely the lynchpin to this whole mess. There also seemed to be no indication that the things were running a classic zombie apocalypse scenario. At a guess, some idiot turned someone with powerful dream magic talents into a Gaunthound and didn’t think through the issues that might present with the obedience compulsions that also seem to be driven at least in part by dream magic. Said person was probably even a former resident of this village who then sought revenge against those that “wronged” him by converting the rest of the village into servants. Not really a crime I needed to involve myself with, but I couldn’t discount the possibility that whoever that Pack Leader was might one day get ambitious delusions and the locals wouldn’t be prepared for an attack on a front they considered safe.

I engaged the Gaunthounds in negotiations over escort services. That helped give me a better feel for how the local currencies and exchange rates seemed to work and it gave Jacob more time to run tricorder scans. The prices offered were also pocket change even with my relatively limited resources at the moment. Hopefully the supply officer finally understood my demands for coins made of gold and silver at least for the next supply drop. I wasn’t sure how such a system would manage to scale well though. Did these people have to haul around tens of tons of gold for larger purchases? You’d think some sort of promissory system would spring up naturally.

Well, with our new “escorts”, there were no signs of major monsters – although they were happily chasing a few minor things (or possibly just forest animals) away. Their “services” were more useful when warning about bad or washed-out spots on the road than anything else. Considering the price, a few extra hands around was well worth it. I just didn’t chose to trust them any further than I had to. I also made sure the soldiers on my team were well aware of the potential danger and never left the Gaunthounds purely to their own devices when around the rest of us. And even if dream magic could subvert all the soldiers, I had to believe the wardroids would prove more than sufficient a deterrent.

With everything seemingly under some level of control, I retreated to the interior of the Dawnchaser where I had set up a small room for me to spend time in my own dream realm. We had another two days until we arrived at the next village, and I had some training to get to.

Once back in the Library, I held the crystal aloft so that the bright violet glow could be readily visible with a smirk on my face. Lindral took note of the violet light and gave a slow clap that was part mocking and part praise at the same time.

(Lindral) Well done. You’ve mastered the first step and have learned to channel arcane energy through yourself. Now we’re ready to begin the next step of actually learning to cast spells. I already have a few suggestions on which ones we start you off with.

Numerous books flew off the shelves around us and stacked themselves into a neat pile at Lindral right side where she gently patted them before grabbing the first one. She flipped through it rapidly before coming to a complete halt on a particular page.

(Lindral) Hmm, yes, this one should work well within here and thus serve as a good instruction tool for you to get the basics down. The others will be a bit more of an involved process as you’ll have to transcribe them from in here to the real world. A tricky process, but one we can manage with a bit of practice. But for now, let’s start with learning Prestidigitation.

With that she waved her hand and the big open area at the middle of the library began to glow softly blue. Looking closer, I saw a complicated geometric diagram had been laid into the ground and the lines of that diagram were glowing blue.

(Lindral) This may look like a simple bit of geometry, but in it lies power. The arrangement of the lines, the angles of the corners, and the arcs of the lines all form parts of a word. Think of it as the base language of the multiverse similar to the mathematical equations you associated with gravity, atoms, and light. It is by learning these words and channeling power into them that we can manipulate the reality around us into however we chose. If you know the words at least.

She then gestured to the symbol inscribed on the ground.

(Lindral) This is the word of Prestidigitation. A exceedingly basic, if still versatile one. I want you to draw it and keep drawing it until you can do it without thinking. Once you manage that, we’ll have you do it again, but this time you’ll do it while channeling arcane energy like during those exercises I taught you earlier.

(Vanatica) So wait, this is going to be like a cookbook? Where I just learn particular recipes without any real understanding of the chemistry behind it all? Wouldn’t it be more productive to teach me the deeper levels and then that way I can simply construct these things myself on the fly?

(Lindral) It is possible to do so, but it can be tediously slow even to a nigh immortal like myself or prove exceedingly reckless when you fail to have the experience needed to fully recognize the dangers involved with every possible failure mode. To make the gains you desire at a rate that’ll fit into your projected lifespan, I recommend we stick with the recipe approach for now. And don’t worry, I have plenty of these recipes I can teach you.

Drawing the blasted symbol proved harder than I thought. Getting the angles and curves right to her satisfaction was difficult. It was like trying to draw a perfect circle by hand without the use of a compass or other tools. I could make round objects easily enough, but the “perfect” circle was another matter entirely. It took far longer than I wanted to admit to get that step right.

(Lindral) Good, now draw that symbol in the air, channel the power like before, and this time say the word “Avidas” when you complete it.

That took three tries to get right and when I did the whole glowing mass of light in front of me simply vanished.

(Vanatica) What did I get wrong this time?

Lindral just smiled at me and threw a small cube my direction which I promptly caught.

(Lindral) And what color is that cube?

It was obviously red and I stated as much.

(Lindral) Now, close your eyes and imagine that it is a green cube instead.

Great, more exercises that mean absolutely nothing from what I could tell. I decided to play along and did as instructed.

(Lindral) Open your eyes and look at the cube.

It was green.

(Vanatica) Ok, cute, but what does a color changing cube have to do with anything?

(Lindral) The cube doesn’t change color, you changed the cube with your own power just now. Try to imagine it another color instead.

Still figuring this was a trick or gag at my expense, I visualized the cube being the same shade of pink that was Vatasha’s hair. In my hand the cube proceeded to subtly shift from green to that very shade of pink. I quickly ran through a dozen other colors just to make sure this wasn’t a trick: orange, mauve, yellow, violet, purple, black, red, white and many others.

(Lindral) Prestidigitation is a spell that allows one to color objects, clean them, soil them, it can lift about a half of one of your kilograms, chill or warm things, and even create crude small objects. All effects last about an hour. Go on, give it a try.

I turned my focus to a small rock next to my right foot. Concentrating on it, I was able to simply will it to float in the air in front of me and even rotate for my inspection. And with simply another thought I was able to will away the dirt and moss that covered it and thus leave it with a smooth polished surface. I still suspected some sort of trick or catch to all of this.

(Lindral) There is no trick and there is no magic involved except that which you have cast yourself. That is all you’re doing. You are now a Sorceress. Admittedly a very basic one that hasn’t managed to cast more than a single spell, but it is still a feat few manage to master. In here you can practice casting spells without any drain on yourself, but in the real world you will only be able to cast spells a limited number of times per day before you have to rest both your mind and your body. With practice you will learn to cast spells that require more power and to cast more of them per day.

I was overcome with emotion. I had always been the odd one in my family – the one with no superhuman abilities beyond that frustrating bloodline talent we Soungs all possessed for prognostication. And yet here I was, altering the very reality of a cube with nothing more than a few words and gestures of my hands. And this was a power unlike anything the galaxies had ever seen. I couldn’t stifle a laugh of triumph and struggled to blink back tears as the sense of relief and accomplishment washed over me.

I really wanted to see the look on Mother’s face when she saw what I could do now.

(Lindral) Alright, let’s continue on. We have a lot to cover still. In particular we have to go over the basics of spell preparation and how to complete casting them at a later time. Then there’s the issues of writing all these spells down since I do not recommend trying to memorize all of this. I did it and I had millennia to do so and yet I still managed to foul some things up. Or at least my other self did. Then we’ve got topics such as psionics vs arcane vs divine and the differences between power points, spell levels, and mana. And then we’ve got your initial spell list I’ve picked out for you. Some of them are straightforward, but some of them I have chosen to help shock you out of your complacencies about how reality works.

I heard her, but I wasn’t really listening. I was imagining my return home and the major media event that will be. Mother and Father may have won the secrets of the Codex, alternate timelines, and forbidden Censor technology, but I have just attained something that will make all that has come before pale in comparison. Seras wasn’t the only one anymore that could alter reality.

After two days we arrived at the next village. Already our Gaunthound escorts were informing us that we were getting outside the area that they were familiar with. That meant our time to try and determine who was the troublesome Gaunthound Pack Leader was limited. I ultimately came to the conclusion that since we weren’t being targeted it wasn’t our issue to deal with. We also had no evidence that other towns were being enslaved in a massive slave rebellion either. And given how much I suspected our perceived threat to bandits and raiders only existed on paper, I wasn’t about to pierce the illusion on a fight that not at all necessary.

That being said, I wasn’t about to simply ignore the matter either. One of my first actions as we entered the village was to pull a number of the village elders aside and informing them about our conclusions about the Gaunthounds and the hypothetical Pack Leader. Needless to say, the villagers were definitely not happy. They immediately recognized the danger of a wide spread slave rebellion if the ambitions of that pack leader grew beyond the seemingly limited goals he was pursuing for the time being. I was amused to see that the villagers were flummoxed as their usual tactic for dealing with threats was to send Gaunthounds after the problem. That definitely showed the issues with being utterly dependent on an oppressed underclass for military force. Once that underclass realized that they possessed all the power for violence, it was generally a bad time for the former oppressors.

This is why we Varen Sith prefer an elite professional military that was well compensated. The military had as much a stake in maintaining the status quo as the Varen Sith did. Talented soldiers and generals were rewarded with wealth, prestige, and power. While much of the seeming focus of Varen society was on the twelve families of Varen Sith, it was the millions of families without Force and Codex sensitives upon which it all was built and from whom the bulk of the military forces came from. No rebellion against the Varen Sith could succeed without the assistance of this class of merchants, aristocrats, generals, scientists, doctors, engineers, and soldiers. The Varen Sith did well to ensure that they had ample reason to remain loyal through social and economic policies that catered to their need and desires.

In other news, it looked like the local village was dealing with horrifying monsters that were erupting from a sinkhole that had suddenly appeared nearby. Said sinkhole apparently opened up access to ancient tunnels that had long since been forgotten by the locals. Part of me was immediately curious that this might actually be access to some sort of ancient maintenance level for the Anomaly. There was a reward for scouting it out, and an even bigger reward for cleaning it out. There were even offers of ongoing support if it proved to be an enormous underground complex or something else not so simple to clean out.

I was of course interested on the theory that it would provide more critical information about the Anomaly and possibly more valuable artifacts and knowledge from cultures that had settled here. I presented the option to the others for consideration.

(Jacob) Yeah, that sounds interesting, but I do not want to leave likely traitors guarding our stuff.

The Gaunthounds were definitely a concern. It was hard to gauge how much mischief they could get up to while we weren’t around to supervise. On the other hand, pretty much all of my crew would remain topside where they could looking menacing against potential attackers.

(Allandras) We could just flood the sinkhole, then use some water breathing charms, and go investigate afterwards. It’ll likely be less dangerous.

(Jacob) Getting enough water for that might be awkward.

I had to agree with that assessment. The nearest river or stream of any appreciable size was easily two dozen kilometers away. The engineering difficulties involved were well beyond our available resources.

(Felix) Does anyone have a small tracker? I didn’t especially have one in my kit. It shouldn’t be hard to plant one, though.

I pulled one out of my suit and placed it on the table in front of Felix.

(Vanatica) Here you go.

With that he grabbed it and slinked off into the dusk for about an hour. When he returned, he informed us that he had slipped the tracker into the armor of one of the Gaunthounds so that our forces could keep an eye on them and their movements. With that out of the way, assent quickly came for investigating the sinkhole.

Arriving at the location of the sinkhole, we found it to be about seventy meters deep and apparently relatively old. The problem seemed to be that the bottom of the sinkhole had collapsed still further to reveal several tunnel entrances and a central hole to a massive cavern system of some sort. The creatures had mostly been coming from the tunnels. Those seemed to be made of granite and black gold-veined marble, sickly decorated with murals, and bitterly cold.

The creatures that had emerged had mostly been things of shadow, wielding weapons of ice. When slain, the weapons and armor melted, whole the “corpses” crumbled into a few pinches of dust. They were easily tracked, on emergence, because the plants died along their path. At least one thing emerged in a flying chariot of shadows, drawn by two dark horses breathing choking fumes. It snatched one young woman from a neighboring village and returned to the tunnels. I found that last one a bit hard to swallow as presented, but figured the general gist of things emerging to wreck havoc on the nearby villages to be mostly accurate.

(Vanatica) Thoughts of using explosives to simply collapse the tunnel entrances?

(Jacob, scanning with his tricorder) Probably only a temporary solution, since the walls of the sinkhole would probably continue collapsing until they were unplugged again.

(Vanatica) Well, there is the old standby of packing foam grenades.

(Jacob) That would probably work for at least a few months.

(Felix) Well, I’m no expert in magic… or science… or anything really, but this sounds like they are getting energy sent into them from elsewhere.

I suppose that was true whether the mechanics involved were driven by either science or magic. Even the massive hypermatter systems around Itaint were utterly dependent on pulling energy from the cosmological constant to function properly. It stood to reason that magic had to operate the same way, even if at first glance it seemed to violate conservation laws. Even the arcane energies I was learning to harness with the assistance of Lindral had to be coming from somewhere.

(Vanatica) Anyone have objections to plugging the holes? Or do we need to investigate further?

(Felix) I would suggest that the sinkhole itself itself isn’t the problem – it’s what’s sending the energy and creatures forward.

(Allandras) I’m ok with plugging the holes, just hope that they’d stay plugged.

(Felix) I think plugging it is only a temporary solution, is what I’m saying.

(Vanatica) Well, it almost looks like the things have been here for years. They just didn’t have surface access.

(Jacob) I would like to know if these are underground everywhere or just here so I want to go in and investigate.

(Allandras) Well, we could redirect it to providing extra power to help me grow my dimensional storage, just not sure I want something hungry like that involved.

Again with that damned greed. That greed was bordering on an obsession that could get us all killed.

Debate then began on how to probe into the sinkhole without sending someone down first. Eager to short-circuit what could be hours of discussion, I signaled for THELOS to send over a probe droid from the Dawnchaser. Once it arrived, I gestured to it and told the others I was donating the probe droid to the cause.

(Jacob) Can we get a live feed and control of the droid’s sensors?

I pulled out a datapad and handed it to Jacob.

(Vanatica) Sure enough, although expect the droid to complain and backtalk.

It only took Jacob a few minutes to figure out the control scheme and direct the droid to enter the sinkhole. It quickly became clear though that Jacob was one of those that was keen on micromanaging the droid’s sensors and movement as opposed to simply letting the programs do their job.

(Droid) What, you want me to run into a wall? Quit turning my eyes away from where I’m going! I’ll look around for you! I’m a PROBE DROID! That’s why I’ve got an EXPERT PROGRAM to sort out WHAT TO CHECK! Pesky Organics!!!!!

(Jacob) But you are using them so poorly. You are not even noting all the psychic energies that are in the area.

Now I was remembering the story Father told me as a child that the reason some droids spoke Binary was that they were actually speaking Standard and what we were all hearing was the swear filter. I still get a chuckle at that amusing little theory of his even though I know better now. Mother claimed she thought the idea juvenile, but I have caught her giggling when she thought no one was looking. I decided to have a little fun with the others by sharing and joke and seeing how long it took them to catch on.

(Vanatica) Some of them we have to install a swear filter to beep out the incessant swearing. It can get so bad that all they speak is beeps and whistles.

(Jacob) Readings are of… an active cold that seemingly sucks energy out of things. Multiple levels of networked corridors and chambers, many sealed with strange inscriptions. Statues of alien soldiers, entire rooms packed with bones, strange altars and symbols everywhere. Shifting shadows that act almost alive.

Based on the descriptions, I was getting the impression of the fabled “Tomb Archive” from some old fictions. Legends even purported it existed on Korriban, but I had my doubts. There were certainly countless tombs of various Sith Lords and enough holocrons to build a planet out of strewn across Korriban, but nothing nearly as expansive or organized as those unholy monstrosities like portrayed in the Revanchist Trilogy. Still, I’d visited locations such as the Varen Archives enough times to feel a distinct chill run down my spine just remembering those visits. And the memory of my time on Korriban was not pleasant either.

(Jacob) There are paths of dead plants and such down the sides of the sinkhole. However, the corridors are actually surprisingly devoid of dust, dirt, and living things. It is even sterile on the microbial level. The temperature alone isn’t enough to explain that. Evidently something down there just kills microbes.

That was weird, things that I knew of that could do that had no business being down in a sinkhole this far from the technology of the Galaxy.

(Jacob) Wow, these probe droids have such weak power supplies….

THELOS immediately anticipated my request as it projected a holographic display in front of me showing charts about various statistics from the probe droid. It was immediately clear the probe droid’s power supply was degrading absurdly fast. It should be good for decades and yet it was liable to be completely drained in mere minutes. Digging through diagnostics screens, I could find no indication of a hardware failure or that there was some system drawing such massive amounts of power. I had no evidence to support this, but I had to guess that the same effect that was rendering the contents of the tunnels sterile was also somehow eating at the power supply too.

That implied some sort of a negative energy effect, but that raised even more questions than answers. Most of my familiarity with negative energy effects was with the suppression effects certain spacefield crystal configurations to generate the attractive effect. There just wasn’t a lot of information that I could recall regarding negative mass-energy or its applications. Did that implied that there was something there that the Censor was suppressing, or just that there wasn’t much of any practical applications to be had? And did that negative mass-energy have anything to do with the presumed negative energy we had here?

It was questions like these that had me wishing I was back at Itaint where I could perform all sorts of experiments to see what was really going on. Here, my resources are far too limited in comparison. All I had was a dead ship, the supplies we carried, and whatever could be delivered via parachute every morning.

(Jacob) Reception is degrading rapidly. That’s partially to be expected when it’s hundreds of meters underground, but the relays should handle a good deal of that.

(Vanatica) I don’t think the problem is with the power supply, the relays, or the signal. I think it is time to recall it back to us.

(Felix) Strange question, random thought. Anyone still have a Death Obol?

(Vanatica) Plenty of those still in the stash.

(Felix) Do they react different? Feel any different now? Might need one of the Wizards to tell.

I pulled one out and examined it. It was still cool to the touch, but when I handled one I felt a faint whispering. When I grasped several, the light seemed dimmer in the sinkhole and a faint chant echoed from the tunnels. Given that they were known to increase sensitivity to related powers and effects, obviously a lot of death related power was down there. Again I heard a vaguely familiar voice whisper my name into my ear.

(Felix) Ok, now we’re hearing the whispers of the damned as well as confirming my hunches. I will now never be able to sleep at night again.

(Allandras) Ah, now you’re on your way to being a true adventurer. Can’t truly be one of those till your haunted by the ghosts of past deeds.

(Felix) I’m pretty sure the ghosts now haunting me have nothing to do with my deeds.

(Allandras) Never said they had to be your deeds. In fact, it’s a better class of hero who are haunted by the ghosts of deeds done by others, that drive them to nobler things.

(Vanatica) So anyone wanting to try and clear this place out or just plug it up for the locals to deal with later?

(Allandras) Well, I like the idea of vast amounts of loot. I’m just a little less than used to going in without more backup.

(Jacob) Well, clearing out something that big is a bit of a detour, but sealing up the entrance enough that someone can go fix it later sounds better.

(Allandras) I dunno. In my experience, letting something sit to later hardly ever makes it easier to deal with later.

(Felix) If there’s some kind of energy or aura that kills, well, there’s no point in trying to kick down the door until at least we know there’s some minimal protection.

An excellent point and a question that Jacob immediately began to test. Using microbes, insects, and mice it looked like microbes died in a couple of hours, insects took several hours, and mice seemed to be unaffected in a reasonable timespan. It was clear that the mouse was unhappy with the place though. With that tidbit, the final vote came down to us making a probing push into the dungeon with plans to retreat and seal the place if it got too dangerous.

Descending into the tunnels, we found ourselves presented with a number of doors. The first door opened to a wide corridor with statues of oddly armored beings spaced along it evenly leading into a set of bone-filled chambers and with sealed smaller areas. The second door led to a much narrower passage with a trickle of water running along the floor and steps twisting downwards. And the third door led to a short shaft opening into a larger round room with some sort of altar in the center. From the reports we had, the chariot was seen emerging from the first door whereas a weird snake thing came out of the third door.

(Allandras) I’m thinking the third door. Maybe we can do something at the altar to stop the effects, or at least slow them down, cut power, or some such.

The flares I provided shined brilliantly in a realm where only darkness had dwelt for many centuries. Around the room are many doors separated by murals of rich fields and orchids, the dark trees rich with black and crimson fruits, bushes thick with berries, and fields filled with grain and crops. With the clarity of the lights, it became obvious that the scenes were slowly changing, as shadowy figures harvested the crops – although they begin to slowly reappear afterwards. Crops were loaded into barges, one of which soon set sail across a painted river on the floor and through one of the doors. Any feelings of hunger I might have felt abruptly vanished, although something felt subtly wrong about that.

Upon the altar itself there were rolls of gauze and what looked like medical tools, beside it there were a selection of jars. The altar had veins of red crystal running through it, resembling the roots of a tree. The tools could have been used for surgery or embalming, but it was hard to determine which possibility was the case although they did seem to be magical on some level. Personally, this all looked to be the work of magic producing a sort of shadow-reality generating reflections of the past maintained in a quasi-real state. The more we interacted with them, the more real they would become to us. This whole place seemed to be dedicated to some sort of solar or agricultural deity.

Allandras was going back into looting mode, although both Jacob and Felix managed to stop him from doing something rash. I was more focused on the five doors leading from this room each inscribed with a single symbol: a Sun, a Moon, a Boat, a Sword, and a Riding Animal of some sort. Overall, the room was about thirty meters across and almost fifteen meters high at the center. The ceiling was painted with various unfamiliar constellations and a number of shafts of unknown purpose that seem to point to the central altar. Concerningly, a number of goblets filled with black liquid appeared on one of the low tables scattered about along the walls.

(Jacob) Well, at least they have nice service. I doubt it is transporters and replicators.

(Felix) I’m going to avoid drinking that. I’m pretty sure if you drink the food of the dead, you have to like, stay in hell for the winter of something.

(Jacob) Looks to be a fruit wine, rather salty, lots of iron for some reason, and a lot of oxygen. Should fizz slightly if disturbed. Some weird energies about it.

Truth be told, I was expecting more resistance than this, even if we were just in the main foyer. This was not fitting my expectations either. I was expecting signs of a death cult everywhere and so far it all seems like a museum dedicated to the history of food production. But why the hell would such a place be generating nightmarish undead monstrosities to terrorize the countryside. And why was I feeling like I’ve been here before, that I’ve seen this place?

The argument for where to head next settled into a debate where I advocated entering the Door of the Sun whereas Jacob selected the Door of the Sword. With no one else expressing opinions, it came to a coin toss. Jacob won the coin toss and so we entered the door with the symbol of the sword on it.

The fleet was assembling on the outskirts of the Morandis System on the edges of the Protectorate border with disputed space. One more battlegroup was due to come through the local system gate in the next hour and then meet us at the assembly area. From here it was on to Korriban via normal hyperspace travel.

I still had no idea what Vadin thought we needed ten battlegroups for. At this rate, one would almost be better off hauling out the Mr Beasley from wherever my parents had stashed away that thing. This was easily enough firepower to attempt an assault on Coruscant or even Alderaan. Korriban was in disputed territory and so it wasn’t like the Augury Obscura had been spending the last two decades hardening the defenses either. And the RDF had never ventured this far into what was traditionally Sith space. So the most we should be able to find defending the place was a handful of Star Destroyers and some basic planetary defenses. Maybe Vadin was intending to play up the “shock and awe” angle of things, although I had my doubts as to how well that sort of thing worked with HoloSith. It only really seemed to encourage them to make grandiose and highly destructive last stands.

When the last battle group finally arrived, there was an exchange of shuttles as the ships arranged themselves into formation. Once everything was all arranged to the admiral’s satisfaction the fleet made the jump to hyperspace. Based on my estimates we had about six more hours until we reached Korriban. Perimeter defense warnings throughout this section of the galaxy would probably be going off in about an hour as well. Probably another hour on top of that for everyone to figure out where we were going.

Meanwhile my sister and cousins were trying on the new fourth generation shield suits that I had created for everyone. Already there were complaints going around.

(Vatasha) This thing isn’t going to be slicing off my hands is it? I distinctly remember that accident you had six months back testing these things.

(Vanatica) First of all, that only resulted in my hand getting badly burned.

(Vatasha) Oh, that’s makes it all better.

(Vanatica) And secondly, that was an overload of the shielding while trying to block a lightsaber and generate a plasma grenade simultaneously. The appropriate systems were reinforced to be able to handle the additional loading under those circumstances. I’ve been using the upgraded version for months now with no similar failures.

(Jax) At least this version doesn’t feel like it wants to suck out my Force ghost and eat it.

(Vanatica) The latest strain of the vampiric space moss fabric almost completely replicates the Rakata monotalent with no additional side effects.

(Lystra) Almost?

(Vanatica) The equipment protection range is still limited in comparison. You’re not going to be able to protect a Mark II Rifle by yourself, let alone a Starbreaker. Plus indications are that it can still be overpowered if the Censor really dislikes something.

(Lystra) Such as?

(Myra) You’re not allowed to know. Only ones in this room who do are Maryn and myself.

(Katlyn) You know, it’s terrifying to know that something even exists that has to be kept that secret.

(Maryn) Trust us, you do not want to know what it is.

Sigh, it bothered me that there were secrets that my parents kept from me but that they shared with those of us with full Codex talents. It was obvious to see that even the droids were programmed to keep me from studying certain topics. I personally knew of a number of superweapon systems banned by the Censor, but I was only able to really think about them so long as I kept Censor blocking clothing on my person. Whatever it was that I wasn’t allowed to know about, that apparently wasn’t enough protection. Which meant whatever it was had to be absolutely monstrous. I still remember the look of horror on the faces of Myra, Maryn, and Tosa when they each had “the talk” about whatever it was. Attempts to ask them about the big secret were all met with the same answer: “Don’t ask”.

(Jax) Any luck reverse engineering the power boosting hyperfields the Final Empire uses?

(Vanatica) Yes and no. We think we have the characteristics of the hyperfield worked out, but figuring out how to generate that field is proving problematic. We think all the known coil configurations are not sufficient to generate a field of that complexity. Plus I would prefer to figure out how to contain such a field within a shieldsuit. I really don’t want to become even more irrelevant because the equipment boosting you is also empowering every damned Sith and Faded in the area as well.

(Katlyn) I don’t think you’re going to be irrelevant with the way you wield that Mark II Rifle. That enabled you to fight evenly with a Hybrid and her weird army of minions for quite some time.

And a fat load of good it did me when Seras stopped playing around and she actually started trying to kill me in earnest. It was only her ego and tendency to gloat that enabled me to continue to fight her off and even then it still took a miracle of timing for me to come out on top. Sadly, in all probability Seras was only going to continue to grow stronger and I was going to be dependent on further technological marvels.

(Vanatica) Alright Vadin, care to tell us what was so damned important that it apparently warrants ten of us each bringing a carrier battle group to Korriban? It seems a bit excessive for anything short of a war with the Codifier Galaxy’s Republic. I have to believe that Darius is screaming at the reports that are now reaching his desk.

(Jax) Darius can go pound sand for all I care.

Vadin walked up to the front of the room and touched a panel. The lights dimmed and a holographic globe representing Korriban appeared in the center of the room.

(Vadin) Data recovered from the computer of the Protoss ship that Vanatica so helpfully captured indicate that Seras has set up a forward staging area on Korriban. Recursion Analysis indicates that the purpose of this base is two-fold. First is to use this as a springboard towards bringing some of the non-aligned Sith factions under her control. If she can get enough allies, she stands a chance of the Augury Obscura lending her full support as opposed to the under the table stuff they’ve done so far.

(Katlyn) The Augury would risk all out war again so soon?

(Jax) They hope to provoke a succession crisis and use the resulting chaos to pry strategic systems away from the Protectorate. As such, Seras is as much their pawn as she is using them.

(Myra) Allies of convenience then.

(Vadin) Not yet at least. She has to prove that she can present enough of a threat to us in order for them to lend her their full support.

(Lystra) Ergo, we nip this in the bud before she can get enough of a power base to make a mess.

(Vadin) Yes, and Korriban would go a long ways towards supporting her goals.

(Ryncu) I am going to have to ask how this hell-hole is of any use to her. About the only thing of value about Korriban is the prestige that comes from owning it. It hardly has an industrial base that isn’t geared towards making Sith tombs and the location is more of a liability than an asset. The actual strategic value is minimal from what I can see.

I thought I knew where this was going and I was hoping I was wrong. There was one possibility that actually made Korriban make sense.

(Vadin) Second issue is Recursion Analysis indicates that she intends to raise an undead army of Sith.

(Maryn) I’m going to have to call bullshit on that one.

(Vatasha) I’ve seen them, as have Katlyn and Vanatica. If they weren’t undead, then they sure as hell looked and acted the part.

(Maryn) I’m still calling bullshit on this. Are you actually suggesting she has magical powers as a necromancer?

(Katlyn) She’s obviously doing something outside the normal bounds of a Hybrid. Not even Uncle Kira and Aunt Valerie could have pulled off the stunts she did when I fought her. If we have to call it magic for lack of a better term for it, then so be it. After all, we know magic exists given the reports about Wizard Ben.

(Maryn) But he was from a Tier IV Multiverse where magic actually existed. Seras is from the Codifier Galaxy which is only Tier II!

(Vatasha) There is still the fact that Lecrouss’s precognition indicates true undead are possible.

I had forgotten about that tidbit. That damnable Sith still kept popping up and making an absolute mess every year or so. And that was without him actually being successful at turning children into undead horrors.

(Lystra) Any indication that Lecrouss is aware of what Seras is doing?

And there was another issue I hadn’t thought of. Seras was bad enough, but she might actually have sufficient bait to bring Lecrouss to heel. That potential alliance alone could seriously threaten everything since Lecrouss in his current state was more than a match for either Mother or Father. That was a scenario where letting Uncle Chan loose on Lecrouss without any restraints couldn’t actually make things any worse. I decided to make a note to allocate more resources to digging out all of Lecrouss’s clones he used to resurrect himself.

(Vadin) Not yet, but the window on that is closing the longer she has unrestricted access to Korriban and the numerous Sith entombed there.

(Katlyn) So go in, conquer the planet, eliminate any undead, dig out any bases she has, and capture Seras?

(Vanatica) I still don’t think that requires ten carrier battle groups. Three should be sufficient. And you’re risking a lot having the ten of us all here where Seras can reach us. We risk losing nearly a quarter of the family if Seras gets lucky.

(Jax) Precognition suggests that this is going to be one of those things where attempting to overwhelm her with Vailo units is not going to be effective. It has to be the family that deals with her.

(Vadin) Think of it like how thousands of Jedi and all the armies in the Galaxy couldn’t manage to stop Vader and it had to be his son to actually do it.

(Katlyn) But that is just the holos. Are you really saying that reality works that way?

(Jax) When it comes to the Force and prophecies, yes. But even as a Hybrid, she’s not going to be able to stand up to all ten of us simultaneously. She had a hard enough time trying to solo Vanatica two weeks ago.

(Vadin) Nonetheless, leave the Sith and undead to the Vailo units, her army to our army, and our fleet can deal with this monstrosity.

With that the holographic projection of Korriban shifted to show a golden dot in orbit around the planet with a smattering of golden and silver pinpoints around it. As the holographic projection continued to shift and zoom, I saw the various dots and pinpoints change to reveal a fleet made up of an eclectic assortment of ships old, new, and downright bizarre. The golden ones were more of those Protoss ships and the silver ones looked to be variations of the star destroyer design from eras spanning thousands of years. The real eye catcher of the fleet though was a moon sized spherical ship similar to the Beasleys in scale and design. I couldn’t determine the exact configuration, but the ship was obviously either heavily damaged or was still under construction given that significant sections of the hull and interior were missing.

(Vadin) Subspace probes indicate that the main ship is a Starbreaker configuration similar to the Mr Beasley. Intelligence suggests it was recovered from an Infinite Empire base, possibly in the Codifier Galaxy or another universe. We do not feel that the ship is operational yet either and that they’re fighting Censor related malfunctions.

(Katlyn) I wouldn’t trust any projections that suggest one of those was not yet operational anymore than I would trust a Hutt with my wallet.

Vadin looked annoyed by that remark and gestured to Maryn to take the lead.

(Maryn) Quite true, which is why we’re bringing ten battle groups to the fray. That should give us sufficient coverage with our…. available countermeasures should it prove operational and we have Starbreakers of our own hidden in the sealed docking bays of the carriers to use in the worst case.

(Vatasha) I presume the usual Rakata complement from our allies to help keep our stuff functional?

(Maryn) Yes, and the Elder Council has sent one of their top strategists on this mission to act as our advisor to the admiral.

(Katlyn) Carnivore or Herbivore type?

(Maryn) Herbivore.

The old style carnivore type Rakata were a bit twitchy when it came to cooperating with the Protectorate and us Soungs. While there hadn’t been outright mutinies or coup attempts, the tendency to challenge our authority continued to be a worrying point. The newer herbivore type Rakata were a lot more…. cooperative and generally friendly to deal with. There were times I wondered how long it would be before we ran into a serious galactic crisis involving the carnivore types, and that just reinforced my commitment to the project improving the strains of Censor blocking vampiric space moss.

(Katlyn) So where is she getting the parts to repair that thing? What little I know of Korriban says the place has very little proper industry. Surely she isn’t doing something as stupid as enslaving the planet and using them to build everything by hand?

(Lystra) There are probably a few other systems she’s importing parts from. We’ll have to track those down after we gain control of the planet. So what do we have regarding Seras and her defenses?

(Vadin) We think she is in a dig site in the Valley of the Dark Lords supervising the excavation of a Sith Tomb.

(Lystra) So go in and capture or kill all hostiles?

(Jax) That about sums it up. Although I have doubts as to how readily we’ll be able to capture or kill a hybrid. We should be able to force her back into hiding and deprive her of the resources she’s already amassed here at least.

The fleet arrived in the Korriban System and caught the defenders pretty much by surprise. Interdiction fields went up and our ships began to engage the enemy fleet. If that Starbreaker Death Star was operational, it didn’t react to our arrival. Already stasis torpedoes were being deployed to capture entire sections of the opposing fleet and hamper the movements of the rest. Given our overwhelming numbers, portions of our fleet were already breaking off to punch a hole through the planetary defenses and begin landing troops.

We split up to load into a trio of assault shuttles with troop ships and fighters loaded with droids and Vailo Units in escort. As soon as the all clear signal for our drop corridor went out, we departed the shuttle bay and and entered the battle with the massive fireworks display going on around us as turbo-lasers and blaster bolts flew all around us. The fleet did its job though as we made it to the atmosphere and began our descent towards the Valley of the Dark Lords. Our fighter escorts peeled off to deal with anti-air platforms and troop ships broke off at regular intervals to attack different sections of the dig site.

Our primary target though was on a speeder bike with a number of escorts attempting to flee down a narrow canyon that the assault shuttles had trouble following in. Oh well, this is why we plan ahead for such contingencies and haul along things like speeder bikes of our own. Flying ahead to a wider section of the canyon, the assault shuttle made a low pass as it opened the bay doors and dropped us down into the canyon itself. My speeder (an upgraded TLGS NULL similar to Father’s) quickly compensated for the non-flat trajectory towards the ground using gyroscopes to correctly aim the repulsors for landing. The others were doing the same as we all hit the ground. Already Jax, Lystra, Myra, and Maryn were hammering the accelerators of their bikes in what I could only presume was a projected course to intercept Seras. Not keen to let them handle it all, the rest of us hit the accelerator to follow.

(Jax) We’re going to intercept Seras in about thirty seconds! However, her escorts will be right behind us attempting to trap us between her and them!

(Vanatica) You four concentrate on her, the rest of us will deal with the escorts!

Best to let those of us with full Force or Codex powers deal with the hybrid while the rest of us dealt with the lesser annoyances. True to prediction, Seras zoomed right past us at a T-intersection in the canyon and we quickly fell in behind her. Jax, Maryn, Myra, and Lystra moved to attack her while the rest of us prepared for the bodyguards to make their presence known.

My first indication of an attack came when suddenly another speeder appeared and rammed mine into the canyon wall. The shields were grinding against the rock face at high speeds while the other bike rider continued to push on the shields from the other side in an attempt to make me crash. Glaring at the tattooed face of my attacker, I put the speeder bike into automatic pilot mode, pulled out my lightsaber, and formed a plasma grenade with my other hand. I fired the grenade at his face, which he easily dodged, but that distracted him from noticing my lightsaber striking his left stabilizer.

As he struggled to maintain control of the speeder bike, I stood up on top of the seat of my own bike. Automatic controls were adjusting to the new center of mass and began subtly rotating the bike on multiple axes to keep me balanced on top of it. Once I had a good sense of the other bike’s motion relative to myself, I kicked in my shieldsuit’s flight systems to fly from mine to his while readying another pair of plasma grenades. The first grenade he managed to knock away with a swipe of his lightsaber, but that effort interfered with his attempts to maintain his bike’s stability as he started rotating like a low speed top traveling over a hundred kilometers an hour. That gave me an opening to drop the other grenade in the path of his bike and as he attempted to dodge that, I had a clean shot on performing a spin kick to his face.

That in turn knocked him into the canyon wall, but he lacked the shielding and armor I possessed in that situation. If he was still alive after that sickening crunch, well, he wasn’t going to be catching up any time soon. Already my bike’s automatic system was maneuvering itself back underneath me and I took my seat again. I was not prepared for the Sith that leapt on top of me from out of nowhere though. He landed with sufficient momentum that my bike spun on its long axis and I was dangerously close to scraping the canyon floor with my face. The Sith pushing on my neck in an attempt to grind my face against the ground was not helping matters. The computer was struggling to right the bike again, but I had to guess this Sith was using telekinesis to keep us moving upside down.

My legs gripped the sides of the bike for as much leverage as I could get and I used that to repeatedly smash my gauntlet into the face of the Sith attacking me. The complete lack of reaction despite my visibly smashing his jaw and knocking loose teeth combined with the bloodshot look in his eyes indicated this one was a Glaive Sith hopped up on whatever insane stimulant was his personal poison.

Damn it, that meant this one was going to be a real pain in the ass if only because a fatal wound wasn’t going to slow this one down until he was either simply died outright or his fix wore off. Both of those took more time than I really had. Reaching behind me to get a good grip on the bike, I pivoted my legs in an attempt to push the Glaive off the bike and into the ground sliding past us at high speed. He resisted of course, but I had better leverage and amplified strength of my own and was able to keep my foot pressed against his chest as his back impacted the ground. He still had a grip on my neck and was attempting to pull me with him, but I held firm. I don’t think I will ever get the image out of my head of his skull impacting a rock at those speeds and just exploding. At least that meant his body fell limp to the ground and the computer was finally able to right the bike.

From what I could tell, the others were finishing off their opponents in similar amount of effort. It looked to me like we had a mix of Sith and Faded here, but none of them were obviously undead though.

(Vanatica) Everyone alright?

(Viridiana) I think so.

(Vadin) My shoulder feels like hell though.

(Ryncu) I’ll patch everyone up when we get a quiet moment.

(Katlyn) We’ve got another tail. They’re further behind and trying to stay out of sight. I can’t get a good look at them.

(Vadin) How many?

(Katlyn) Just the one I think. They seem to be deliberately avoiding me looking at them.

(Vatasha) I’ve got nothing. If someone is back there, they’re well shielded.

(Vanatica) They’re probably waiting for us to join the attack on Seras and intend to ambush us then. I say we give them a prize for persistence.

I directed my bike to begin dropping proximity mines behind us as we sped up to catch up with the others. Within seconds I heard the sounds of explosions and collapsing canyon walls. Anyone following us was probably either dead or swearing loudly in frustration now given the inevitable debris blocking their path to us. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate the explosions precipitating a continued collapse of the canyon walls that threatened to bury us. All of us accelerated our bikes to the limits of what we could handle to stay ahead of the collapsing rubble.

Just as I was getting really concerned that the collapse would actually bury us all, the canyon suddenly gave way to a wide, smooth metal corridor that angled downwards sharply. The rapid passage of lit sections of the tunnel gave the whole thing a strobe effect. I watched the depth counter on my dashboard count the meters of our descent with some concern as we rapidly plunged further into the planetary crust.

(Vatasha) Is this some Infinite Empire base or something?

(Katlyn) Wrong architectural style. This may well be early Sith period, perhaps even predating the Republic. Strange that the lights are still functioning after all this time.

(Vadin) Most likely Seras has had technicians and droids working to excavate and repair this location.

(Vanatica) I’m more concerned with the fact that Seras actually ran for this place when attacked. That implies that there is something down here that she believes will give her an advantage.

The tunnel suddenly leveled out and opened up to reveal a series of floating pathways suspended above a black void. Up ahead we saw Seras engaged in battle against Maryn, Jax, Myra, and Lystra on the steps of some sort of pyramid structure. It was easy to see that against two Force users and two Codex users that Seras was fighting on the defensive and liable to get overwhelmed in short order. Keen to increase the pressure, the rest of us added our own attacks to the fray.

Jax was the one to finally land a clean shot with his lightsaber that bisected Seras through the torso. There was no reason for celebration though as the remains hit the ground and shattered in a thousand pieces of snow and ice revealing this to be yet another one of those damnable decoys. We all immediately suspected a trap given the circumstances as we circled up in a defensive formation.

(Vadin) Head’s up!

Seconds later a number of blurs flashed around us and knocked a several of us out of formation. Something collided with my side with enough force to knock me off the platform and down into the abyss below. I tried to regain control of my descent via the flight systems, but the sharp pain in my side from the still healing ribs made that difficult. The best I could manage was to slow my collision with the oncoming floor. Gasping for air, I struggled to regain my feet, but an unseen blow to my injured side put aside any notions of that.

(Seras) Damn it, those copies are expensive to produce! And you still owe me for that broken leg! I’ll have to get a bit creative in extracting compensation!

I just had to hold out long enough for the others to intervene. They had surely seen me fall and at least a few of them would have followed if only to verify I was ok. And THELOS had to be sounding some sort of alarm. Unfortunately, the most pertinent alarm to me was the one my brain was screaming at me as I was telekinetically lifted off the ground to hang in front of Seras.

(Seras) Oh, I wouldn’t be hoping for some sort of rescue from your more talented family members Vanatica. They are way too busy dealing with my surprise allies to have time to mount any sort of a rescue of deadweight such as yourself.

(Voice) Oh, I wouldn’t be too certain of that!

A moment of pure shock crossed Seras’s face as she dropped me and spun around with superhuman speed to confront the unseen arrival. As her back was turned to me, I felt someone grab me and gently set me down on the ground. Looking up, I saw the familiar form of a young woman in a second generation shieldsuit with a bomber jacket and hair made up of two different shades of red interposing herself between me and Seras. There was no mistaking who this was. The only hybrid amongst the new generation and in all probability, the most powerful of us all by far. After being missing on some sort of precognitive walkabout for nearly two years, my sister had returned.

Tosa….