The Sidori Gambit

Trial of the Flesh

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

Twenty-one years before the Battle of Yavin

After weeks of being stuck on the Argo Ecliptic with Master Tulu and all the clone troopers, Zeva was bored to tears. Not that she wanted to be on the front lines – nearly a year to the day since the Battle of Geonosis, the war was getting worse all the time – but Master Tulu’s negotiations always went smoothly, from one planet to the next, meaning that they spent most of their time on this accursed ship.

She chided herself for wallowing in her own misery. Tulu was a negotiator, doing what she did best, for the good of the Republic. Zeva’s role was to support her master, and learn what she could in the process. Do what has to be done, even if it’s boring.

She would never get used to the company of clones, though. Their sameness bothered her… disgusted her, even. Zeva knew that they had individual characteristics, and that they were here to protect the Jedi… but she didn’t have to like them.

The deck plates juddered beneath her. The Argo was dropping out of lightspeed, which meant they must be arriving in the Kira system. This wasn’t another diplomatic mission, though – they had orders to investigate reports of unidentified ships in the area. Since the Argo was a CR70 corvette, they had a better chance of going unmolested than the ships more commonly associated with the Grand Army of the Republic.

Master would be looking for her. Zeva got to her feet, emerging from behind the control panel – and saw an ASP-series droid closing a cargo container. What’s he doing? she thought, and shouted “Hey!” before she could stop herself.

The droid looked over his shoulder at her, turning his head farther than any human could – and with his photoreceptors still locked on her, he ran.

“Hey! Stop!” she shouted, but the droid kept running.

Zeva looked around the cargo hold, looking for something she could use to stop the droid. Better hurry… I think he’s headed for the airlock!

Her eyes came to rest on a bulky cargo unit along the droid’s path, held aloft by a powered-down load lifter. That’ll do, she told herself. She then remembered Tulu’s words: Never mind how heavy it looks. To the Force, everything weighs the same.

Zeva reached out with one hand and pulled the unit free of the lifter’s grasp, dropping it on the droid’s legs with one fluid motion and a loud, final slam. She raced over to the pinned droid, drawing and igniting her lightsaber as she went, illuminating the scene with its brilliant green glow. She’d recently built this weapon herself, and was still amazed at what a difference that made.

“All right,” she told the droid. “What’s going on here?”

The droid made a buzzing sound and exploded. Zeva ducked and threw her cloak over her face as burning shrapnel tore through the air in all directions. After a moment, the Padawan stood back up, shocked to find herself unharmed.

And then she heard the rising whine coming from the cargo container that the droid had been tampering with.

Zeva’s comlink found its way into her hand. “Master,” she said, “there’s trouble in the cargo hold. A droid just self-destructed… and I think it’s activated a bomb.”

- – - – -

The clone demolition expert defused the device, leaving Tulu and the clone engineer to examine the remains of the droid, while Captain Green coordinated a search of the rest of the ship. Zeva stood by Tulu’s side, wishing she knew more about droids.

“Just as I thought,” the engineer said. “Someone modified this droid. Probably when we dropped those medical supplies off on Prazhi.”

“Is that how they got the device on board?” asked Tulu. Or devices? Zeva thought.

“That’d be my guess.”

Captain Green’s comlink squawked. "Captain! We’ve found another device in the engine room! I think – "

A sudden low rumble sounded somewhere aft. The ship’s lights flickered and went out, replaced by the dull red haze of emergency lighting. Alarms blared to life.

Tulu gathered her robes around her and said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Another explosion rocked the ship, this one much closer, and everything and everyone lost touch with the deck, drifting around the cargo hold.

“Artificial gravity’s down!” yelled the engineer.

“We noticed!” replied Captain Green. “Do something about it!”

Tulu pushed off the wall and grabbed Zeva as she headed toward the side passage, bringing her Padawan along for the ride.

“Master, what are you doing?”

“This ship’s going down.” Tulu had to shout over the din of another detonation. “We don’t have much time.”

- – - – -

By the time they reached the escape pods, Zeva was sure that her master was right. She’d lost count of the explosions, and the deaths she had sensed. The clones were alive…

Tulu pressed a chip into her Padawan’s hand. “This is the droid’s memory,” she said. “It may contain clues as to who reprogrammed it. Don’t lose it. Get it to the Council.”

“Master?”

“These pods only hold one each. Go on; I’ll be right behind you.”

Zeva knew better than to argue. She climbed down into the escape pod and reached up to press the launch button – but Tulu caught her hand.

“The Force will be with you,” Tulu said. “Always.”

And Tulu pressed the launch button, sealing the hatch and sending Zeva’s escape pod hurtling away from the Argo Ecliptic.

- – - – -

Zeva looked away from the pod’s tiny window as the Argo’s explosion filled her vision with white light. She sensed every life on board – Tulu, the clones, everyone – snuffed out like candles. Tears rose in her eyes, and she felt dizzy and sick to her stomach. As she tried to regain her senses, though, a flaming bit of wreckage from the ship’s engines smashed into her pod, ripping a maneuvering jet clean off and leaving the sensor package a mangled mess.

She strapped into the control seat and brought up an outdated map of the system, showing three planets that no longer existed. Kira IV was habitable… or used to be, whenever this database was compiled… as she’d feared, though, the pod’s sensors were inoperative. There was only so much fuel, and she was burning through her available air in this state of panic…

Find it, she thought. Calm yourself. Use the Force. Find the planet.

Zeva slowed her breathing, closed her eyes, and reached out into the void. She had never felt so small and alone in all her life. If Kira IV has life, she thought, it’ll call to you. You are never alone. All living things are connected through the Force. You have the sight. Stretch out with your feelings… there.

She had turned the pod toward Kira IV without realizing it, and found the planet much closer than she’d thought. “I don’t dare let the computer land this thing,” she said out loud. “Not with that maneuvering jet out.” Time to see if Saesee Tiin’s piloting lessons would add up to anything…

Something else fell off the pod when it hit the atmosphere, but Zeva had no idea what it was. The temperature soared, drenching her with sweat, and the controls shook violently in her hands. With no guidance from the instruments, and no visibility through the clouds, she guided the pod down through sheer instinct and Force training. “There is no chaos,” she repeated to herself, “there is harmony. There is no chaos, there is – DAMN!”

She plowed the pod right into the branches of a massive tree, causing it to spin out of control toward the jungle below. “No chaos!” she shouted. “Harmony! No chaos!”

The pod crashed into another tree, flipping end over end through the air before finally splashing down in a vast lake. She released the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, and released the controls from her sweaty grasp.

“There is no chaos. There is harmony.”

And water began to seep into the pod.

Zeva struggled to release herself from the safety harness. She made sure that the pod’s emergency beacon was active (and tried not to think about how being underwater would affect its transmissions), grabbed whatever supplies she could reach, threw her lightsaber into a box that looked watertight, and waited for the warm, dark water to fill the pod. She wasn’t much better at swimming than she was at piloting… at least she knew Jedi breathing techniques.

I just hope the atmosphere’s breathable, or this’ll be a short stay.

She took one last deep breath just before the escape pod completely flooded, then swam down to the manual hatch release and turned the lever. The door came loose, enabling her to swim free. Zeva made for the surface and found the lake surrounded by a vast jungle, the canopy so dense that the fading daylight didn’t reach the ground. She gasped for air until her breathing normalized, then swam to shore, where she dropped the supplies around her and fell to her knees.

So the atmosphere was breathable. She found it hard to think about that, though. Dead, she thought. My master’s dead.

You will be too, if you don’t keep moving. Don’t let her death be for nothing.

Her first order of business was to check her lightsaber – and it lit on her first try. All right. I’m still alive. I didn’t break any bones, and my lightsaber works. Things could be worse.

She found a couple of sealed food packs, a water bottle, some water purification tablets, a waterproof bedroll, and a couple of glowrods. Her comlink wasn’t working, but she might be able to fix it with the tool kit in her utility belt… if there were anyone else around to call. She had no breath mask, but she didn’t need one. She had no medpacs or medkits, though. No aquatic breather. No blaster. And no survival shelter.

Right. Shelter.

She reached out into the Force in search of the escape pod. Lifting it from lake to shore wasn’t out of the question, provided she could find the damned thing… but she was too tired, too frustrated. She was also, she finally realized, soaking wet.

Zeva moved among the trees, gathering dead branches until she had enough to start a fire. The act seemed superfluous in this heat, but it might keep animals away, and she couldn’t parade around in these wet clothes… She built the fire, made a crude wooden rack, peeled her garments off, hung them up to dry, and climbed into the bedroll.

Earlier today, Zeva had been bored to tears on the Argo Ecliptic. Now she was stranded and alone on a backwater planet… naked, hungry, and exhausted, with no Jedi Master and no clone army to call upon.

The Jedi Council knew about their mission. They would know that the ship was lost. How long would it take them to find her? Would they find her at all?

“There is no emotion,” she said, “there is peace. There is peace. Peace…”

She repeated the word until sleep finally claimed her.

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