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chapter 1:

At the Red Ronto cantina, Han and Leia Solo wait for a scheduled meeting with Lando Calrissian, who is late.  It’s not like Lando to miss an appointment, so the Solos are suspicious when they spot another patron in the cantina eyeing them.  The stranger approaches, gives them drinks from Lando’s private whiskey reserve and explains Lando won’t make it.  He is Captain Omad Kaeg of the asteroid tug Joyous Roamer.

The Solos don’t quite believe that Lando wouldn’t apprise them of his change of plans.  Kaeg offers to guide them to Calrissian’s refinery on Sarnus.  This is a dangerous path through the Chiloon Rift where hyperspace lanes change frequently due to the huge metal-rich asteroid field out there.  It’s a great place for mining, and for the pirates who frequent the area, seizing tug ships.

Han and Leia are fairly certain they can handle the area, but Kaeg also mentions the RiftMesh which is the only reliable means of communications in the Rift.  Unfortunately, it’s slow and it’s a single open channel which means that information that should remain confidential can’t be communicated over it. 

Kaeg’s ship is being repaired which is why he has the free time to offer to guide them.  He also keeps watching the door to the Cantina, ready to flee as soon as he sees a couple of large reptilian creatures enter.  He calls them Nargons.  They came in with Galactic Exploitation Technologies about a year ago.  The company has fast, strong ships but their pilots don’t have a nose for smelling out the ore, so they follow the independent miners and steal their quarry.

The Nargons work for GET.  Their bodyguards, and handlers, are Mandalorians.  The two Nargons in question have a couple of Mandos with them.  The group approaches and the head Mando accuses Kaeg of welching on his marker. 

That’s when the Solos learn that Kaeg is also highly motivated to offer his services because of a gambling debt.  Needing funds to repair his ship, he got into a game of chance and lost heavily.  The marker is due and he was counting on getting the money as a guide to pay it.  The Mando, Scarn, isn’t a fan of Calrissian’s anyway, so Kaeg is going to have to pay up now.  He offers a flimsy that requires Kaeg to sign of his family’s share of the miners’ cooperative to GET. 

Kaeg won’t budge.   Besides his family being one of the founding members of the cooperative, the other miners would run him out of the Rift if he handed over his share to GET.  Scarn threatens him with one of the Nargons, Qizak, if he doesn’t.

Leia tries the Jedi Mind Trick, but it doesn’t work.  Then she offers to look over the marker.  While doing so, she also notes that Scarn has a cybernetic eye, something Han should know is an unfair advantage in a gambling scenario.    Sure enough, Han tags the eye for what it is, pointing out to Kaeg that he should have been told that Scarn had the eye first.  Going into the game without that information would imply that Scarn wanted to keep it a secret.  That could cause someone to suspect that he won the pot unfairly.
The Mandalorian and Kaeg work out a deal to cancel the marker, but, it appears that Qizak isn’t accepting that because his bosses need Kaeg’s share of the mining cooperative.  Scarn won’t let Qizak boss him around and ends up with a bashed-in face for his troubles.  That’s when the firefight begins.

The Nargons are tough, firing into the smoky haze even when risking hitting the other.  Leia uses her lightsaber to amputate Qizak’s arm.  Sparks fly. The Nargon stumbles down onto Han before Leia sends the body flying into his compatriot.  Kaeg rushes them to the emergency exit.  Wanting a closer look at the arm, Han stops quickly to grab the amputated limb which, to his surprise, contains a metal pipe covered with fiber optics. 

Leia grabs him and pulls him through the open hatch before chastising her husband for wanting souvenirs.
     •    The time is now 45 years ABY.  Han is about 75.  Luke and Leia are around 65.

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chapter 2:

A young Togorian Jedi candidate named Bhixen is participating in an exercise where he is to protect a sharn egg while being pursued by two other students. The course is littered with trees and other debris while a sniper fires from above.

Luke Skywalker, Corran Horn, Jaina Solo, Kam and Tionne Solusar watch the exercise intently.  Bhixen eliminates both of his pursuers before slowly walking toward the sniper nest, not even bothering to dodge bolts as he deflects them.  The Force coldly shivers.

Corran and 36-year old Jaina agree that Bhixen’s combat skills are impressive.  The problem, as they all know, is that Bhixen knows it, too.  When Luke’s aide, Seha Dorvald, approaches with an urgent message for Luke, Luke has her take a blaster and shoot the egg out of Bhixen’s hand.  Seha blasts away, surprising the student, forcing him to duck her attacks.  He is furious to see who is firing at him, dropping the egg carefully and batting her bolts away before Luke uses the Force to pull her out of harm’s way.

Kam Solusar tells Bhixen to remain where he is.  He tells the group that the student’s pride has always been a problem.  His skill makes it worse.  Luke points out that they cannot afford to train people who later become their enemies any more.  Having his niece, Jaina, hunt down and kill her own brother was just the latest and most heartbreaking example in a long line of former students who misused the power Luke had helped them develop.

Tionne asks if they are going to dismiss Bhixen.  Corran and Jaina once again are in agreement, pointing out that they need all the help they can get since the Sith are out there.  Kam doesn’t think that should mean lowering their standards.  The other two argue that mistakes and youth go hand in hand.  Luke points out that mistakes and character flaws are too different things.  Jaina doubts there’s much difference at Bhixen’s age.  However, Corran also thinks that they should not have continued to advance him if he had flaws they weren’t ready to deal with.  If he’s not ready now, it’s their fault.

Luke agrees that they shouldn’t give up just yet.  He calls Bhixen who is furious that Seha Dorvald’s actions were not part of the exercise.  Luke reminds him that, in combat, one cannot count on his enemies not to cheat.  They’ve learned a great deal about his temper during this exercise.

Bhixen thinks he’s still ready to become Jaina’s apprentice, but Jaina reminds him that they cannot train him only to watch him fall to the dark side.  Luke tells him that it’s up to Bhixen himself to determine whether he stays or leaves.  He may stay, but he must start over as a novice to relearn what he failed to learn from the beginning.  The student agrees and turns his lightsaber over.  They arrange for him to have his bed reassigned to the novice barracks before he goes to check on the other two students he’d knocked out during the exercise.

Jagged Fel, former Imperial head of state and Jaina’s husband, emerges from his perch as the sniper, congratulating Seha on her marksmanship.  She points out that her instructions were to fire at the egg; she didn’t actually hit it.  Luke asks her for the message.

She tells him it’s from the Solos who are supposed to be in the Chilooon Rift helping Lando investigate a pirate ring out there.  Corran notes that’s where a Jedi named Ohali Soroc going to be when they lost contact with her a month ago.   Soroc was one of ten Jedi labeled Quest Knights who’d been sent a year ago to search for the world of Mortis which had once been the home to the mythic Force users known as the Ones.  Luke had hoped to find help there for the Jedi Order to face the many challenges the future will bring.

Ben and Tahiri have already been sent to search for Soroc, but having the Solos help wouldn’t hurt.  The message is from Han and it’s clear from the blasterfire and lightsaber blade in the background that they are on the run.

Han explains that they are about to head into the Rift where communications will not be reliable or secure so he’s sending this now in the hopes that they can pass it on to Lando.  They’ve hooked up with a miner named Omad Kaeg who has had a run-in with Mandalorians working for Galactic Exploitation Technologies.  The company has been putting pressure on independent operators and may be responsible for the pirate activity, too.

He needs someone to get this report to Lando which will require a personal delivery because of the communications issue.   He pulls the portable datapad he’s using to send the message to show them two large green bipeds he identifies as Nargons.  He runs toward the Falcon, boards and shows them an amputated Nargon limb that appears to indicate that the creatures are manufactured in some way. 

Corran can tell from the fight footage that the Nargons are very efficient marksmen.  Jag agrees, leading Kam to ask if he thinks the Nargons are Force-sensitive.  Jam can’t say that, but they are as good or better than he is at shooting.  Luke agrees that one doesn’t need the Force to excel at something.

He asks Seha to have Cilghal look into the Nargons, send a team to look into GET and to prep the Jade Shadow.  He is going into the Rift himself to deliver the message.  The Masters are concerned about this.  Luke knows they are thinking of the serious injury he’d gotten from Abeloth a year ago that cost him a rib and part of a lung.  He assures them he’s fine and that the injury only bothers him when he’s having a Force vision.  He’s tired of being coddled.

Corran points out that courier duty is something they usually give to a newly-minted Knight.  Luke thinks he has to be the one to go this time.  For one, Senator Luewet Wuul might be able to give them some information that will prove helpful about GET since he chairs the Senate minerals committee.  Jaina reminds him of the Galactic Alliance Neutrality Act which formally declares the GA out of the war between the Jedi and the Sith.  Wuul may not be able to give Luke anything without breaking the law.

Luke plans to speak with him personally.  Having the Grand Master ask for a favor may show him this favor is a serious matter.  Besides, he will have the opportunity to see Ben and is rather tired of recuperating on Shedu Maad surrounded by Masters intent on coddling him.
     •    The chapter doesn’t say how old Bhixen is, but surely he’s been training long enough to have his flaws noticed.  I get that some lessons a student fails to learn is the fault of a teacher on some occasions, but I also agree with Luke that some character flaws are the responsibility of the individual. 
     •    We met Seha Dorvald in the Legacy of the Force series.  She also appeared in the Fate of the Jedi series, as well.
     •    Senator Wuul first appeared in the Fate of the Jedi series.
     •    That whole discussion about Jag complimenting the Nargons’ shooting skills was funny.  Jag said nothing about Force-sensitivity, yet Kam almost assumes Jag is implying that they are Force-sensitive because they shoot well.  Jag has to think about it first before stating that they are just good at what they do.  Then Luke jumps in and says that people don’t have to have the Force to be good at something.  Really?  How long has Kam been doing this that he’s forgotten that there are people out there who can shoot (or fly or fight or cook or garden or whatever) without being Force-sensitive? 
    •    Several times in the chapter it’s stated that it’s been one year since the end of the Fate of the Jedi series.

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chapter 3:

At the Sarnus Refinery, Columi brothers Marvid Qreph and Craitheus Qreph are presenting their offer to the owner, Lando Calrissian, who refuses it.  They offer some thinly-veiled references to possible problems with his businesses outside the Rift, but he’s not intimidated.  Calrissian’s chief of operations, Dena Yus, agrees that it’s too soon to start making threats.

She’s been working here only six months, hired by Calrissian himself after viewing records that Marvid himself forged.  However, she is tough on the brothers to make sure her deception isn’t revealed too soon. She wonders aloud if they are so intent on buying what they call a failing business because they are behind the pirate activity and know that it will end soon. 

Lando adds that the asteroid crushers owned by the Qrephs are too big to work well in the rift.  They want to buy the refinery in order to sell it so that the independent miners out here will have no place to sell their product and the price of ore will go down.

Marvid admits that is the plan, but he also knows that Calrissian only sees one part of it.  Craitheus does explain that their Mandalorian security forces are struggling to hunt down the pirates.  He also adds that Lando surely wants to spend more time at his home near the Core with his family.

Calrissian’s face expresses a look the two brothers are not familiar with.  Marvid assesses it and realizes it’s fear.  The references to his family is being taken as a threat which seems to be having an affect on the unflappable gambler.  They give him an offer which Lando admits is generous.  It’s for his entire operation here.

Yus assures Lando that no one would blame him for taking the offer.  Then a droid arrives to announce that Calrissian’s guests have arrived.  The brothers are uncomfortable when Han and Leia Solo appear with Omad Kaeg who was supposed to have been eliminated by now.  That the Jedi Council would allow Leia to come out here after Ohali Soroc had been intercepted by security forces and Ben Skywalker was already looking around Ramook allegedy seeking a Sith vessel called Ship means that incredibly stretched thin Jedi are taking this area seriously.  Marvid wonders if Calrissian is funneling money to the Jedi Council.

Angry that their attempt to buy the operation is being delayed, they warn Calrissian not to take too much time deciding.  Leia confronts them over the thugs they sent to hit Kaeg who are now dead.  The two brothers storm out, contacting Savara Raine to be at their ship when they get there.  She’s already aboard and waiting, her mission accomplished.  The brothers board the Aurel Moon where Mirta Gev, the commander of the Mandalorian security force, is waiting with Savara.  The latter is a young woman with a crimson lightsaber she claims she got from her time among the Jedi.

Craitheus admits the arrival of the Solos is unfortunate, but it does give them the chance to get rid of the troublesome couple.  Mirta points out that it might risk Calrissian’s life, too.  That’s been a possible scenario, but there are many unknowns, including whether Tendra Calrissian would agree to sell or be more determined than ever to keep the place.  There are also too many Jedi hanging around this system who could make a suspicious accident a very serious investigation.

Savara doesn’t think this is a problem.  The Jedi will be easier to kill in a chaotic situation and they will have be dealt with eventually.  Mirta Gev points out that this isn’t what her people signed on for.  Savara insists that she’s the one who be handling this anyway.  They need the Mandalorians to handle the Nargons.  Besides, the granddaughter of Boba Fett wouldn’t break her word, especially when she needs the Qreph brothers to help her and her grandfather with their own personal problem.

Savara gets assurances that only Han and Leia are here, not Jaina.   She also refuses an offer of bodyguards to assist her since she can stay more easily concealed without them. 
     •    We met Mirta Gev in the Legacy of the Force books.  Likely the problem Savara referred to is the genetic weapon that was unleashed at the end of that series that prevents her and Fett from returning to Mandalore.
     •    First mention of Savara Raine.  A crimson lightsaber would indicate a Sith.  Savara apparently has implied she was once a Jedi.  I wonder if that’s just a cover story to explain the lightsaber?  She’s described as a teenager.  I wonder….

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chapter 4:

When Luke spots an expensive SoroSuub Urmenung 300 at Crossing Lanes Station, he takes it as a good sign that Senator Wuul is indeed here.  He’s obviously not eager to be seen publicly with Luke since a great many people, especially on Coruscant, blame the Jedi for the damage caused battling Abeloth and the Sith.

However, Wuul is smart enough to know that the Jedi are a line of defense against the return of the Sith.  The Senator arrives, dressed as a janitor, boards the Jade Shadow and offers Luke a drink.  He asks about Luke’s involvement with GET.

Luke explains how the name of the company came up when the Jedi were investigating a piracy threat in the Chiloon Rift.  He plans to look into it himself.  Wuul admits the GA has interests in the Rift even though their space doesn’t extend out there.  It’s midway between the Corporate Sector and the Imperial Remnant, closer to those governments than the GA so there’s always a chance of annexation.  However, it’s not been tried due to the independent asteroid chasers who only have to retreat inside the Rift which is home turf for them and not for any war fleet that tries to take it over.

The GA assesses a mineral tax on everything imported from the Rim to be fair to miners working in asteroid fields inside their territory.   The Qreph brothers don’t like paying taxes.  They own Galactic Syndicated, the parent company of GET.  Luke tells him that Han and Leia were sent to look into a pirate problem as a favor to Lando Calrissian who is having supply disruptions due to these attacks.  Han and Leia sent a message out indicating that GET might be behind the attacks.

Wuul admits it’s possible that GET could be smuggling ore into the GA to avoid the taxes.  He gives Luke the file on GET which reveals that Galactic Syndicated has been involved in a number of technological advances, but also crimes ranging from slavery to selling refugees to the Yuuzhan Vong during the war.

Marvid and Craitheus Qreph are good at keeping themselves personally out of trouble.  Their mother was an information broker on Ord Mantell until she was shot and left unable to form new memories.  Unable to make a living anymore, the family was poor.  The brothers started off their careers by embezzling credits from a crime lord, opened a product testing lab and began a program of evaluating Kuati cosmetics on stolen pets and orphans.

They disappeared until right before the Yuuzhan Vong war.  Since that time, a number of crimes have been attributed to Galactic Syndicated of which the brothers were not identified as sole owners until right after the Second Civil War.

Wuul admits the file only contains what is known, but he has some speculation to draw from.  The company has grown quite suddenly in the last six months, acquiring many large companies, some of them duplicate industries.  While a sudden acquisition of companies often indicates an intent to create a monopoly, that usually also involves a single industry.  Galactic Syndicated is buying companies of diverse interests.  It’s as if they aren’t trying to corner the market in one place, but control the market totally.

Normally that would be an expensive venture, but the Qrephs often deal below the table in bribes, intimidation and other illegal activities.  He knows that Luke must have sensed his anxiety.  He would never take a bribe, but he has had to have his family go into hiding.  The Qrephs could be prosecuted if the Justice Minister Wandara Dekort can be forced to open a case.

She hasn’t because she’s working with the Qrephs, though Wuul has no idea as to what the motivation is.  Dekort claims innuendo isn’t proof and she’ll gladly open a case if something happens.  Senate Security Services is supposed to protect the officials and their families, but, if high-ranking officials can be subverted, so can a few bodyguards. 

During this conversation, Luke can sense another presence skulking around the ship, probably a spy. He offers to provide a Jedi to safeguard Wuul’s family.  The senator reminds him that he would lose political influence by accepting Jedi help.  Even a Sullustan Jedi isn’t a good solution. The Galactic Alliance needs to learn to build strong institutions, not rely on the Jedi to solve every problem.

He lets Wuul off the ship, while using the Force to slam the unseen intruder against the ship’s belly.  Wuul recognizes the spy as Suunas who is carrying an eavesdropping kit.   The Sullustan insists he was only bringing the suspicious device to the senator, but both of them know he’s lying.

He struck a deal with Galactic Syndicated to protect the family.  They all know that the senator cannot protect every member. 
     •    The Second Civil War is, of course, the war started by Jacen Solo in the Legacy of the Force books.

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chapter 5:

While on a tour of the refinery, Leia notes that several of the tractor beam arrays that are supposed to bring down astroliths safely are pointing at the smelting plant.  Dena Yus investigates.  They find that the failsafes are off, the satellite relays are down and that the shift change is starting.

Han is certain this is a sabotage attempt. Lando shouldn’t be surprised the Columi are doing this, but he hadn’t realized how ruthless they are to risk the lives of 30,000 workers.  Lando signals the emergency beacon on his landspeeder while Han tries to raise someone on the communications channel. 

He finally finds out that an explosion could trigger an emergency evacuation alarm loud enough for everyone to hear, so he heads for a vulnerable target.  Leia doesn’t quite trust Yus who takes too long to answer questions.  Yus assumes Han is going to crash the landspeeder into some nearby storage tanks, but Han reminds her that they have a Jedi with them.

He makes a turn so sharp it tips the vehicle on its side before dropping down straight.  An astrolith is coming down right upon them.  Han brakes quickly as the lith hits one of the smelters, then reverses course to get some distance between them and the fireball.

Leia knows they can’t outrun a shockwave, though.

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chapter 6:

Luke surveys the damage the day after the crash.  Lando is directing rescue efforts, though no one has been found alive in the last 20 hours.  He swears he will kill both Columi for this.  Luke cautions him not to kill anyone without more evidence and only if there is no other way.  They are being swayed by their emotions right now which interfere with their judgment. 

Lando admits that, with 28,000 dead and both Han and Leia in comas, the dark side is already here.   Luke reminds him that rushing to judgment changes none of that.    Dena Yus tells him that laser torches were used to cut all four tractor-beam generators.  Lando also adds that they’ve confirmed that torch rig pieces were found nearby, not a lightsaber.

Someone also took control of the beam targeting which would have required control codes.  Their slicers are working on whether or not they were hacked right now.  Luke agrees that it looks bad for the Columi.  He thinks that they should figure out the whys first.

This act brings a lot of attention to the Rift that will make profiteering more difficult.  He thinks there’s more going on here than mining contracts.  Lando knows the name Galactic Syndicated, but tells Luke that they are a ghost corporation.  One never sees it but knows it exists due to the pattern of takeovers through cut-out businesses.  Luke tells him that he has information that the Qrephs are the sole stockholders of the company.

He adds what he learned from Wuul.  Lando realizes that this all started around the time the piracy did.  He wonders if the piracy is what is funding the acquisitions.  Yus thinks managing this from the Rift would be too difficult for them.  Luke reminds her it’s also far from justice, too.  Privately, he also notices the way she touches his shoulder and calls him by his first name.

Yus points out that he had to have been on his way when the accident occurred, so he didn’t come out here for just pirate investigating.  Lando sends her to check on the new arrivals of injured persons so he and Luke can speak privately. 

Luke asks if she doesn’t come on too strong.  He feels that she is trying to manipulate him and isn’t doing a good job.  Though Lando dismisses it as just clumsy social skills, Luke senses she’s too curious about what he’s doing here.

He came because he’s been on Shedu Maad for a year and needed a break.  It seemed like a good idea to help Han and Leia with a nice quiet mission and check on Ben.  Lando suspects this has something to do with the Sith.  Luke admits that Ben is still looking for Ship with Tahiri.  There was a sighting, but they don’t have confirmation.  A Jedi named Ohali Soroc came out here as part of the mission to search for Mortis.  She’s missed several check-ins, likely due to the communications problems inherent to the Rift.  Ben and Tahiri were sent to investigate.

Lando considers the number of coincidences here:  the Ship sighting, followed by a missing Jedi, pirate problems that bring Han & Leia, then Luke appearing.  He wonders if it’s the Force at work here.  Luke doesn’t sense the Force in this…it’s more soulless…so it could be the Qrephs.  Lando suggests it’s the Sith.

Luke asks if Lando knows the Qrephs well enough to know if they could be working with the Sith.  Lando doubts they could work together without turning on each other. Luke considers that may be true, but plenty of damage could be done in the interim. 

C-3PO interrupts to let Luke know that Captain Solo is asking for him.  Not only is he awake, but has a plan.


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chapter 7:

Dena Yus finds the body of her married lover, Tharston Kharl, in the makeshift morgue.  She feels an anger not quite experienced before.  Savara Raine appears and can tell immediately what the matter is.  Yus blames her for all of this.  The deal was to strike during the maintenance break when no more than a thousand employees would be on duty and would have had plenty of time to evacuate.

Savara reminds her that the timing was set by the Qrephs, not her.  Though Dena knows that the Qrephs don’t really care about lives lost, she also knows that they are not dealers in overkill either.  Savara may have interpreted her orders to succeed broadly, but she’s also brought a lot of attention to the Rift now. 

Savara points out that Dena’s complicity in this act is the same regardless of how many people died.  She’s welcome to confess the whole thing to Calrissian if she wants.  Dena wants to shoot Savara now, however, needs time to find a way to come up with a story that will convince Calrissian and Skywalker that she had nothing to do with the rest of it.

Yus doesn’t have the experience to know how to do this.  The Qprehs had given her a family background and inserted a knowledge of mining that no one her age really should have.  But that doesn’t give her the programming to know how people will react.  Though she hates Savara and the Qrephs, she needs them.

Savara threatens Yus if she ever holds a blaster on her again, then she indicates that Dena has something for her.  Dena hands over two bags that contain blood samples she took from Han and Leia Solo after the crash.   Solo has awakened from his coma, but Leia has not, yet her injuries seem to be healed.  Savara realizes she’s in a Jedi healing trance.  Solo himself lost an eye, but it was replaced by a donor organ.  Dena didn’t interpret her instructions to mean killing them.  Besides, Calrissian was there, too, and she couldn’t reveal herself by killing his friends. 

Savara agrees that Dena is too valuable to the Qrephs to risk.  Dena is also empowered by the knowledge that Luke Skywalker is here, something Savara apparently has no clue about.  But, Savara wants to remind Dena how tenuous her position, so pulls out a pouch with several blood vials in it.  This alarms Dena because the blood needs to stay the same color.  Savara breaks three before Dena confesses that Luke Skywalker is here.  She denies trying to get him to help her.  He never will and her attempts to influence him the way Savara taught her didn’t work. 

Savara pulls a datachip out with the control codes that were used to sabotage the refinery.  Dena will tell Calrissian that she found them in Tharston’s quarters and that they were lovers.  They will draw the conclusion that Tharston was the saboteur.

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chapter 8:

Leia dreams that someone is draining blood from her.  She wakes up in a bacta tank with only a medical droid present.  It asks if she knows where she is.  She understands she’s in a hospital of some sorts.  The medical droid verifies that she’s in the infirmary on Sarnus.  Her body has been repaired much faster than expected, her nose reconstructed and it appears her concussion is diminishing since she remembers more.

Han appears, moving slowly with a cane.  He tells her that almost 30,000 people were killed.  Lando and Kaeg enter the room, followed by Luke and the droids.  It’s obvious that the Qrephs are doing much more in the Rift than is believed.  It may be related to the Sith as Lando has pointed out some peculiarities.

The Qrephs’ holdings have tripled since they moved here.  On the other hand, the Sith and the Mandalorians don’t much care for each other, so that doesn’t explain why the Qrephs would be using Mandalorians if they have Sith as allies.  Lando has learned that the amount of money they are expending is causing them to lose money out here.

Luke wonders if they are protecting a secret.  If it’s the Sith, they would need someone else, like the Mandalorians, to provide security.  Han asks if Kesh might be out here.  Luke doesn’t think so.  He doubts that the Sith would allow anyone out here if that were the case.  Han explains to Kaeg that the Lost Tribe of the Sith was stranded on the planet Kesh for five thousand years.   No one really knows where that is, though.

Kaeg admits that it would be easier if the planet is out here because it would explain why the Qrephs want his family’s share of the cooperative.  Having that would give them a seat on the RiftMesh Committee which decides where and when the RiftMesh is expanded and repaired.  Even if a vote doesn’t go their way, they would at least know what the committee’s plans are. 

It’s dangerous to operate beyond the RiftMesh because one can’t summon help.  Few miners would want to be out of touch.  The Qrephs, if they know where new beacons are being built, could destroy any that are too close to whatever it is they’re protecting.  It reduces the likelihood that a tug ship operator would stumble across the operation and, even if one did, he could be easily eliminated.

If not Kesh, there’s got to be something big and unmovable being hidden out here.  Han eagerly agrees they should find out what that is.  Leia gets that feeling in her chest that she always gets when Han decides to do something dangerous and can’t be talked out of it.  He assures her that he has a plan.

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chapter 9:

At the Blue Star Casino, Lando and Han are gambling with Dena Yus, waiting until they are approached by whoever hired Tharston Charl.  Yus isn’t all that positive they will net a result, a continual line that is getting on Han’s nerves.  Odan Kaeg loses a hand before Mira Gev arrives.

It’s unclear if she notices Luke and Leia nearby in their disguises.  Her friendship with Jaina ended the day Darth Caedus had tortured her.   She’s clearly not here to talk about old times, but Han does note that she’s here in a high-class casino with enough credits to buy into a game she admits she doesn’t like.

Somehow, someone has passed the news onto her.

However, Dena hadn’t known which casino they would be going to.  Han asks her quietly if she’s ever seen Tharston with Mirta.  She admits she only came gambling with him once and never saw him talking with anyone.  A man in casino employee garb approaches to give Dena her misplaced bag.  Han doesn’t admit that he knows exactly what bag Dena came in with and that this isn’t the one.

They continue the game as he also notices the security guards here all seem to be replaced by large human males.  Apparently, Mirta brought Mandalorian backup with her. 

Lando tells her that he would like her to pass on an offer to Craitheus Qreph.  If he cuts Marvid out of the deal, Lando will agree to a partnership splitting control of the Rift between them.  Otherwise, Lando will call in his markers and fight the brothers.  He is friends with Senator Luewet Wuul and can call in favors, especially if the GA believes the region is unstable enough to warrant intervention.  Of course, that would catch the eye of the CSA and the Empire, too.

Gev spills the news that Wuul is dead.  He and much of his staff were killed this morning after an explosion on his yacht.  She denies that Mandalorians were responsible for it.   If they want to send a message to Craitheus, she will take Han to him to deliver it himself.  As it turns out, the Qrephs have put a very large bounty on Han that she’s planning to cash in.

Lando warns her that she doesn’t want to provoke the Jedi, much less his wife who will dispatch every YVH droid Tendrando Arms has to get them back.  Han knows his plan is dependent on timing, so he agrees to go with Mirta.  After a brief debate with Lando, he lets them take him, but Kaeg tries to rescue him.  His attempts cause the Mandalorians to start shooting back.  Han dives for cover where he finds Dena Yus under a table with her handbag.  Mirta yells for her to open her purse.

Yus shakes her head.  Han tries to shut up Mirta by knocking her out, but she fights back.  He nearly loses air before the Force lifts both of them into the air, causing her to lose her grip and then knocked out when they are dumped back onto the floor.

He tries to find out what’s inside Yus’s purse that’s so important, but she won’t give it up.  They pull at it until several tubes fall out containing something white.  One of the tubes opens, releasing a fist-sized white spider.  It races to Luke and Leia before a Gran panics, slams his glass down on it and causes an explosion. 

With his plan useless, Han gets up, sees two more empty tubes and two more spiders racing out.  One heads to Luke and Leia, the other to Lando.

Lando blows his up, causing a ball of flame that sends Han across the floor and into a dead security guard.  There, Mirta Gev stands over him and tells him he’s still coming with her.

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chapter 10:

Marvid and Craitheus watch the surveillance tapes of the abduction of Solo to determine who was really responsible for his capture.  Savara Raine insists she deserves the bounty despite the video evidence that Mirta Gev was the one who dragged him from the casino, her Mandalorian cohorts behind her. 

The two brothers have the ability to communicate privately and banter over how Savara is just jealous that Mirta was given the job.  But, Savara did kill Wuul for them so she is still valuable.  However, if she’s going to be difficult about the missions she’s given, they might arrange an accidental meeting between her and the Jedi at some point.

As the video proceeds, they watch two Jedi cut their way into the hangar.  It’s obvious that Gev didn’t notice them or realize they had smuggled lightsabers into a highly-secure no-weapons casino.  That’s something Savara would have noticed.  Nevertheless, they still have Solo so it really doesn’t matter.

Savara argues that he would have had Dena Yus release the arachnids sooner so that Solo, Calrissian and the Jedi would have been killed first.  Mirta’s failure has made doing so now nearly impossible.  After all, Savara is certain one of the disguised Jedi is Luke Skywalker.  One rarely gets another chance to kill him.

As it is, Mirta was still successful grabbing a useless old man who can’t use the Force.  Even then, Savara was the one who tossed a grenade that helped free Mirta from a Force grip as she was trying to drag Solo into the ship. The brothers agree that she deserves half of the bounty.

Mirta won’t accept this.  Savara argues that she doesn’t even deserve half, especially considering the footage that follows.  Calrissian and Odan Kaeg appear and begin to question survivors.  The brothers immediately realize that they could be compromised now.  Though Mirta insists she took no one with her who knew where to find them, they won’t take the chance.  They order Savara to take Mirta to Sarnus to rescue her people.

Savara assures them that no one was taken alive.    This earns her Mirta’s ire.  Savara reminds her that she failed in many ways, not the least of which was believing Calrissian’s story about cutting a deal.  Marvid hadn’t heard anything about a deal. 

He immediately becomes suspicious, causing Savara to turn on Mirta for not telling both brothers about the message Calrissian wanted to send to Craitheus.  Causing suspicion is what he wants. Craitheus assures his brother that he didn’t mention the offer because it was just a pointless attempt to divide them.

Marvid admits it’s worked since he knows Craitheus was tempted by the offer.  Savara argues that this is not the problem right now and points out the last bit of surveillance video which clearly shows a Jedi tracking device being hurled at the ship.

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chapter 11:

Leia wants to reach out to find Han among the vessels she and Luke are tracking.  It’s clear, though, that some dark presence is helping the Qrephs, so she cannot risk that person sensing her and taking it out on Han.   His luck has almost always held; he counts on it the way the Jedi lean on the Force.  But luck is not mathematical. Eventually, his will fail.  If it happens, she will hunt the Qrephs and Gev until she herself dies.

Luke senses this and warns her not to allow hate to overcome her.  It’s pointless to dwell on it.  She knows this, too.  She does wonder, however, why take Han.  There could be many reasons for this.  Perhaps he’s going to be used as leverage in case Ben and Tahiri’s paths take them here.  It’s obvious that Dena Yus has been working with the Qrephs from the beginning, though.  It’s another mystery as to why she froze during the attack.

An incoming distress signal is picked up coming from an Incom snubfighter.  It can only be Ohali.  But neither Luke nor Leia sense anything and it’s coming from behind them.  Both feel that this is a trap.  The Columi must have captured her and are using the distress call as bait.  However, they have no way to warn Ben and Tahiri or Lando and Kaeg that the call is fake.  Any of them would respond as well.

Luke tells Artoo they are going in and to warn Lando off the signal if they get jumped.  The Aurel Moon is nearby with several Mandalorian Bes’uliiks.  Since they are beyond the RiftMesh, they must be afraid of being caught.

They will have to use the Force now.  Leia reaches out and finds him on the Moon.  A dark tendril of energy reaches out, so she knows there are Sith out there.  She can’t be sure where they are, but there may be only one or two.

He and Leia fly closer to the ships, launching torpedoes through the Force.  Luke tells R2 to open a hailing channel, then fires a torpedo and allows it to explode off the ion drives.  Craitheus appears and tells him the viewport on his flight deck is cracked.  Luke advises the net one will take out the entire deck. 

Craitheus warns him that Han Solo is aboard.  Destroying the deck will kill him, too.  Luke dismisses having that on his conscience as they all know the Columi would kill Han anyway.  He has R2 lock on more torpedos.  He will fire if the Mandalorians aren’t called off and Han isn’t put into a rescue pod.

When Craitheus decides to consult with Marvid, Leia warns Luke that it’s a stalling tactic.  Sure enough, a hatch opens on the Ormni and a flock of silver birds flies out.  Luke reaches for the torpedo launchers as Leia spots Ship flying up into view.  They are hit first, their ship tumbling out of control toward the Ormni. R2 shrieks as he crashes into the bulkhead.  Leia reverses thrusters, but is too late to avoid a collision.

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chapter 12:

Ben has to be punched out of his reverie by Tahiri.  He explains he felt a mixture of alarm and hope from his father before something cut off the feeling.  She tells him that could be anything and not to let anything else distract him from the mission.

They have tracked the distress signal from Ohali Soroc’s ship to an asteroid that he believes to be the crash site.  They’ve been searching for her for weeks before getting the signal which suspiciously started right after they contacted the Council with their intentions to break off the mission to go to Sarnus.

So he’s not surprised to find they are being stalked now.  He senses three groups of four nearby.  Tahiri gets the feeling of two-seat fighters.  None of them appear to be Force-users, but they cannot dismiss that the Sith are not involved.  Tahiri suggests they shut down everything and wait to see if they can figure out what the pirates are after.

Ben thinks that will take too long.  They should hunt down the pirates and follow the distress signal to Ohali’s fighter.  Tahiri still thinks they are outnumbered here, despite being Jedi, and shouldn’t assume these guys are pirates.   If they shut down, they will be able to use the force to sense anyone coming anyway.

She knows he’s worried about his father, but that shouldn’t prompt him to rush into action.  His father can take care of himself. 

The ship’s astromech reports a freighter heading near them.  Ben has it identified as a ship that matches the Millennium Falcon.  Then it vanishes, only for six bogey dots to appear reflecting the hidden ambushers. Tahiri wonders if it was them the pirates were after.

Ben and Tahiri fly off to help.  Reaching out in the Force, they sense Lando Calrissian aboard the ship and a young man he doesn’t know.  Tahiri asks if his uncle had any kids before Leia.  She doesn’t want to think about anyone else in the galaxy who could fly the Falcon like that.  She wonders if he’ll live long enough for her to meet him.

The enemy turns out to be flying Bes’uliiks which makes them Mandalorian.  Tahiri warns him they get only one chance at this.  The Falcon still appears to be flying blindly, leading Ben to wonder what Calrissian knows that they don’t.

The Falcon is hailed by GET security team that admits it faked the distress signal.  This doesn’t particularly seem to bother them, but Lando does attempt to point out that kidnapping Han Solo is probably going to upset the Jedi. 

This doesn’t bother them either.  Ben and Tahiri take on the fight, straining the insufficient ship they are flying.  They use the Force to pummel ships with missles before Tahiri hails the Mandalorians claiming to be a Jedi strike team.  They don’t respond but continue toward the Falcon.

Ben takes a look at the nearby asteroid, wondering why Ohali would have been interested in it.  He can’t think of a reason, so it seems that the ship had been brought her to entrap someone.  He just doesn’t understand who.

The Falcon is continuing to maneuver as Ben remembers that Lando is going to continue the bluff until he can turn the tables.  He moves forward to get between the Mandalorians and the Falcon, opens a channel to the Falcon and identifies himself, urging them to run for it.  He makes it an order.

Lando finds this amusing.  The Falcon flashes across the asteroid to the far side while Ben shoots in the opposite direction.  He evades cannon bolts from the Bes’uliiks while two of them turn off to pursue the Falcon. 

Ben tells her to take the turret, watching the Falcon increase distance between herself and pursuers.  Their own ship shudders from the effort he’s putting into flying around toward the Falcon which soon flashes overhead close enough that Ben can almost see Lando smiling.

He switches targets, destroys one ship and has to evade the final one. It suddenly pulls up and flies off, one of the Falcon’s concussion missles on its tail.  The final ship blows up, but Ben’s ship isn’t in any condition to fly anymore.  He calls Lando to get a ride. 

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chapter 13:

Han Solo is strapped to a chair, needles and electrodes attached to him, playing sabacc with Mirta Gev and the Qrephs.  A Mandalorian named Thorsteg is being made to serve drinks and run errands.  The Qrephs look over their cards discreetly.  He wonders why they grabbed him just so they could play a game.

Craitheus promises to tell him if he wins the hand.  If he doesn’t, Han has to answer a question.  He can fold if he doesn’t want to answer, but if he bets, he has to answer truthfully or die.  Han knows his wife and brother-in-law are out here.  It’s hard to believe the Columi want to play a game rather than prepare for that.

He decides that he needs more incentive to play, hoping to get them so irritated by the time Luke and Leia arrive that they won’t be able to think straight.  They decide to allow him to leave freely if he earns the most answers.  Otherwise, he has to stay here and help them.

Han agrees.  The first question is how he felt when Chewbacca died.  Han is surprised by this.  It’s been 20 years since his closest friend died. It’s still one of the worst experiences of his life. He decides to find out if Marvid is playing, too.  Marvid won’t tell him unless Han looks at his hand first.  Han reminds him there’s no rule requiring that, so Marvid decides he’s out for now.  Besides, Craitheus is still in the game and has an advantage over his brother.

Han points out that must mean that Marvid isn’t as smart as he thinks.  But he’s the boss.  Marvid corrects him by saying he and his brother are equal partners.  Han remarks if he says so, then asks where they are.  Craitheus admits that will be hard within the Rift, but, if he has to answer it, he will be as truthful and complete as he can be.

Then he asks why Han didn’t mourn the death of his son, Anakin, as deeply as he had the Wookiee. Han knows that he abandoned his family after Chewie died.  He had not had that luxury when Anakin was killed because he needed to be strong for Leia.  Han calls the bet, but rejects another card.  Craitheus warns him that if he’s not really going to play the game, they will use other means to get what they want to know.

Han points out he’s playing by the rules, but with his own style.  Their faces are inscrutable as the hand changes, but he’s pretty sure Craitheus’s hand shifts.  He asks why they have him hooked up to electrodes and needles.  Craitheus notes that he thinks Han is playing him, not his own hand.  Then he asks why Han loved Jacen less than Anakin.

That one hurts just as much as the others.  To give their daughter their blessing to hunt her brother was the hardest thing they’d ever done.  He knows they are trying to rattle him, but he won’t give them that advantage.  He takes the bet. 

Han’s hand is mediocre, but he can tell that Craitheus must have a bad one because he keeps taking cards.  Han decides to call just as the values change and Craitheus is given a hand that exceeds the maximum score.    Bombing out, this means Han has won.

So Craitheus tells him he’s in the lounge on their ship at Base Prime somewhere in the Rift.  That’s the best he can do considering where they are.  Han is irked at this, but Mirta points out that they are pretty much in a floating bubble in space which makes coordinates impossible to give.  Craitheus adds that Base Prime is a space station that expands space-time around itself.  It occupies the heart of the Chiloon Rift.

The game they are playing is data collection which is why he has the needles and electrodes attached to him.  Some of them are neuro-restraints inserted into his brain, so he shouldn’t try to remove them.  Han asks why they need a map of his brain.  Craitheus asks if he wants to play another hand to find out.

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chapter 14:

Luke wakes up on the floor of the ship with Leia in her healing trance next to him.  Artoo zaps him with a jolt of electricity.  He pulls himself up, broken ribs still hurting, but his stomach wound has closed.  His burns are severe.

He checks Leia who has managed to heal her face lacerations, but is also badly burned.  He tells R2 to let her stay where she is for now.  It’s been five hours since they had collided into the Ornmi.  They’d crawled into the locker room on the other ship and sealed themselves in. 

By the exit hatch, Luke overhears a conversation between a male and female voice.  She sounds familiar.  She insists they confirm the deaths of the other ship’s crew before anything else.  She’s told the fusion core blew which would have killed anything in there.  However, there are no bodies.  

He crawls through the control room until he can see the beings.  One is the Duros Captain Palis; the other is Vestara Khai.  The Duros calls her Mistress Raine, telling her no one could have survived this.  They were lucky the Ormni wasn’t lost in the collision.  Vestara assures him luck had nothing to do with it.

She’s certain they used a torpedo to clear their way to fly into the ship and blown the fusion core to cover themselves.  Then shows him the open hatch from the ship that was supposedly destroyed.  She wants to see the air lock.  Luke knows she’s searching through the Force for him.  He quietly asks R2 to jam the air lock after Vestara and Palis get into the compartment.

He goes into the locker room and wakes up Leia.  She doesn’t feel much better than he does.  He explains Vestara Khai is here and knows they are alive.  He needs to find out what she’s up to.  Leia wants to find Han first anyway before she kills the girl.  When Luke starts to warn her about revenge, Leia asks if he isn’t planning to kill her anyway.

Disguised in worker coveralls, hardhats and goggles, they make their way out after R2 confirms the hatch is closed.  Vestara won’t stay trapped for long.  While their first priority is rescuing Han, they won’t be able to do it in their condition, so they’ll have to find a way to patch themselves up.

They run right into the back of a Mandalorian with hundreds of beings in the same worker coveralls.  He notes their burns and asks for their identification.  Luke uses the Jedi Mind Trick to get past him so he and Leia can get to the infirmary.

However, they aren’t so fortunate when a pair of Nargons confront them.  Luke stalls them before using the Force to shove one’s blaster toward the ceiling, then pulling his lightsaber.  He is knocked into Leia, then slams down to the floor.   Leia is dealing with her own Nargon.  Neither is taken down easily.  Even after serious lightsaber injuries, they fight back.

The two badly hurt Jedi race down the corridor when the alarms go off.  After exiting a turbolift, they run into a couple of Mandalorian.  Leia points to the lift and tells them there are Jedi back there.  That distracts them long enough for Luke to hold his lightsaber hilt to one’s underarm.  The two warriors are young people that appear to be siblings.  They confirm that Lady Raine is running things.  The whole security force is on their way up.

Luke knows this is a bluff and proves he knows it by addressing the young male by his name.  Joram is surprised, but admits it doesn’t matter.  The two Jedi are bleeding so badly, the security forces only have to follow the trail.  They decide to get to the nearby executive infirmary where an FX-2 droid won’t cooperate without identification. 

Leia blasts it, grabs needed medical supplies and some anesthesia.  Luke gets the idea and tells the Mandos to strip off their armor. They are unwilling because of the humiliation that it would be for them.  Luke points out that it would be good training for them. Besides, the alternative is to be blasted.

Leia injects both of them, knocking them out, after Joram warns them they will be coming after the Jedi for this.  Leia’s not worried about that, but she’s concerned that they are experiencing too many setbacks for this rescue mission to work.  Luke promises they will find Han.  They have to heal themselves first.

Artoo signals from down the corridor, so Leia goes to investigate.  Luke disables the control panel, then goes down after Leia, only to find her with a bandaged Dena Yus who tells him to hurry so they can save Captain Solo.

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chapter 15:

Ben looks at the remains of the astromech droid he’d gotten from Ohali’s wrecked ship.  Lando and Omad Kaeg are with him in the Falcon’s hold while Tahiri flies the ship to Luke and Leia’s last-known position. 

The droid has a fail-safe included to protect the mission.  Right now, it’s displaying a holograph of an object shaped like two pyramids back-to-back.  He wonders if it’s a chromite crystal, but it’s the size of a Star Destroyer.  Lando wonders if the droid is just too damaged.

An asteroid that size would surely have been found by now.  Ben doesn’t think it is an asteroid.  He’s not sure what it is yet, though.  The next holograph is marked Unknown Space Station around which several Mandalorian Bes’uliiks and the Aurel Moon are orbiting.

If Ohali found this, she should have left to inform the Jedi Council at once.  The astromech struggles to explain.  Lando asks if this could be the Mortis Monolith.  Ben thought about that, but thinks that the droid would label it Mortis if Ohali thought she’d found it.  The Qrephs could have built this themselves, after all.

Kaeg suggest they focus on why the Qrephs would bring this into the Rift.  Ben considers that they might be building a secret weapon.  The droid is finally able to get out that Ohali was following a Sith meditation sphere when she found the station.  Ben only knows of Ship which would have been flown by Vestara.  The droid goes to tell them that Ship led Ohali into a Mandalorian trap.

She jumped to hyperspace after telling the droid to dispatch a distress call from the RiftMesh.  He was unable to do so since he was hit by a cannon bolt.  The navigation coordinates for the station put that halfway to the Core.  Kaeg thinks that it’s in an area called the Bubble of the Lost. It’s a zone of ghost ships that’s very dangerous.

Space seems to grow in there, but it’s not a black hole because nothing falls into it.  Ships that disappear there do show up again eventually.  That period of time varies, though, anywhere from a few weeks or even centuries.

Ben cannot help but wonder if his father has stumbled into that place. 

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chapter 16:

Leia figures from the tones of the Mando voices that they have about three minutes before they are discovered.  R2 is working on a captured 2-1B droid while Luke is posing as a Mando guard.  She senses a touch in the Force.  Luke looks like he is, too.  It’s Ben.

R2 activates the ship’s emergency evacuation alarm.  Luke picks up Dena Yus and confirms Ben is nearby, but not aboard the ship.  Their plan is to escape in the throngs headed to evacuate.  High-level officers are already in the hangar, trying to convince the Nargons to hold back the crowds, many of which get through anyway.

R2 heads off to find a suitable ship, the 2-1B droid snapping at him.  When the ship is boarded, Leia’s comm. helmet goes silent.  She realizes they know the Jedi can hear what’s going on.  Dena urges them not to be the first ship out.  Most of the security forces for GET is based here.  There are no blast doors on the ship, only deflector shields anyway.

She suggests they allow at least one minute before launch. Not convinced they have that time, Leia fires up the engines along with other ships in the hangar.  A comm. signal over the cockpit speaker tries to announce there is no emergency and the deflector shields are being activated.  Several vessels fire cannon bolts which destroy the shield generators.  Unfortunately, someone hits the barrier-field and bodies go flying all over the hangar.

Leia pushes the throttle and brings the ship out of the hangar mouth, sensing Ben nearby.  Three Bes’uliiks line up behind her.  Luke fires the laser cannons, the ship is hit in return, causing alarms to sound all over.  R2 chimes an alert.  Lando’s voice comes over the comm..  He orders them to dive.  The Falcon emerges from the plasma, firing on the Mando ships, covering them.

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chapter 17:

The game has changed.  Every time Han loses, the torture droid gets to him.  He’s suffering so badly he’s developing a Tell that allows the Columi to win more often.  A Duros who is supposed to be Ohali Soroc is playing, too, her own body showing signs of wear.  She might be the Jedi; she might not.  She’d passed all of Han’s tests of her identity.

Mirta Gev is the dealer.  Ohali looks at her hand and says she’s out.  She still owes the ante, though, so that gets her more time with the droid.   Han turns to the Other Ohali, a replica the Qrephs were working on, and asks if she’s in.  Han calls her Ditto

Craitheus Qreph has already folded against the Mandalorian Barduun.  The man is big, ugly and looks Mandalorian, but he’s also a Force-user.  Right now, he’s using it to hold his chip-cards up.  He raises, referring to himself by the brand-name of bodysuit he’s wearing, to a burned eye.

This is another part of the game.  He likes to raise the stakes to some new kind of torture.  Already Han has suffered a crushed thumb and folded twice with a great hand when the other was bluffing.  Marvid raises, which is unusual for him.  He must have a winning hand.  He decides his question will be who shot his mother.

Barduun reminds him they are playing for pain, not answers.  Marvin tells him that there are all kinds of pain.  Mirta accepts this and allows the bet.  Han is fine by this.  He’s already realized that he was the last person to see their mother before she was disabled by a blaster.  The Qrephs blame him for it.  He suggests Marvid ask Craitheus the answer because he’s already told them he wasn’t the shooter.

He has some thoughts, but can’t be sure.  The rules do allow for good faith answers, though.  Han decides to re-raise.  He wants to ask the real Ohali Soroc a question.  Is this place sitting on the Mortis Monolith?

Craitheus wonders if he and his brother look like the Ones.  Obviously, they had interrogated Ohali on her mission  Han does, however, note that they aren’t worried if their base is actually built on the Monolith.  They wouldn’t necessarily care about the dangers involved, of course.  But it’s also possible that it isn’t Mortis and Craitheus knows that.  Han insists that’s his raise.  If Marvid wants his guess as to who shot his mother, he will have to allow the Mortis question.

Ditto must have a mediocre hand.  She calls the best.  This displeases Barduun who makes a face that Han recognizes as indicative of a bad hand.  Han’s not sure exactly what Barduun is.  He doesn’t much care about winning as about inflicting pain.  The Qrephs aren’t above trying to create a force of Force-using minions, but Barduun probably would have been more efficient if he’d remained a Mandalorian.

He raises, though.  Han spots Ohali looking at the door where two Nargon guards are stationed.  Barduun sits for a moment, then the door opens.  Another Mandalorian appears to explain Lady Raine wants to speak with the Columi privately and urgently.

Marvid withdraws.  Han protests that Marvid needs to pay up with the droid first.  That’s part of the rules.  When Marvid looks to Craitheus, Han demands why he thinks his brother can get him out of this. Craitheus asks why they have to honor the marker.  If it’s just about finding out who shot their mother, that was only to keep reminding Han why he’s here.  To pay him back for the poverty they endured after she couldn’t support herself anymore.

They don’t accept that a smuggler rebel isn’t lying.  Besides, they’ve already eliminated everyone else who might’ve been angry at her.  Not that they killed them, but they did destroy prized possessions, friends and family.   Han warns him what going after his own friends and family will do.  Marvid points out that they are more careful since he survived the attempt on his life at Sarnus.

Han realizes they killed thousands of people just because of a slim chance that he might have been the one who shot their mother.  Craitheus explains that this has the added bonus of taking their negotiations with Lando to another level.  As for Solo’s apparent belief that Luke Skywalker is coming, both the Jedi and Solo’s wife were ambushed and killed.

Han knows that the mapping of his mind has been done to try to gain insight into him.  He had worried that Luke and Leia would be killed trying to rescue him.  He thinks the Columi are out here hiding from them.  When Marvid promises him proof, Han dismisses it.  After all, promises are like bets, easy to make, harder to keep.

Reminded of the wager, Marvid admits he owes a burned eye.  He tells the droid to get it from Solo if he doesn’t win the round.  Then Barduun raises to a broken nose.

Han raises him to death.

He confirms with the droid that he can bet what it feels like to drown to death.   The droid adds, though, that there’s a risk the victim will fall comatose.  Since Barduun seems to feed on pain, he doesn’t like this.  A comatose victim can’t feel anything.

Gev won’t accept it because it’s a string bet.  Illegal under the terms of the game, but Han doesn’t care because the Qrephs aren’t here.  He wonders why she is.  She insists she’s being paid to do this.  Han reminds her that Mandalorians don’t deal in torture droids for money.  What do they have on her?

When he doesn’t recognize fear, but hope, in her eyes, he realizes she’s hoping the Columi can clear Mandalore’s atmosphere of the nanokillers that prevent her and her grandfather from returning home.  He doubts they can do that.  Barduun demands to know if this is why she took the job.  It’s clear he hadn’t been told. 

Han tells her that none of her crew signed up to be lab rats, as Barduun apparently has been.  She should probably consider how likely the Qrephs are to honor the deal as they don’t seem to mind breaking wagers.  Her response is to hit the torture droid’s button and unleash pain.

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chapter 18:

It takes several medical procedures and healing trances for Luke and Leia to begin feeling close to normal.  The Falcon is being piloted by Omad Kaeg who Luke suspects is not sure exactly where they are, but has Han’s confidence.

In the lounge, the group plans for their next move.  Lando feels that being outnumbered means they have to hit the hangars with concussion missles.  Tahiri looks over the schematics provided by Dena Yus and points out that the hangar is close to the barracks.  It’s possible Han is being kept there.

Dena doubts it.  The Qrephs don’t take prisoners and don’t think they need hostages.   It’s more likely Han is in the laboratory wing being experimented on.  She can’t say for sure in what way.   Leia says they should set two YVHs after the missles hit.

When Ben questions what YVHs are doing out here, Dena explains Lando was setting up a decoy program to battle the pirates.  Her interference kept that from going very far.  Right now, he has six of them in the space assault model.  After setting the first two in the residential wing, they will send the other four with them to the laboratory wing.  Lando should have them target the Nargons and Mandalorians, not the Columi or the Sith.   

Lando isn’t happy about staying aboard ship with Kaeg, but Leia tells him they are needed with the ship to make a fast getaway. 

Ben shows them the holograph and asks Dena if this is Base Prime.  She says it looks like it, but the actual base sits on the surface.  The Qrephs call it the artifact.  The Mandos call it the station.  She’s not sure what it actually is and doesn’t believe they do either.

She wonders if this group does know, but Leia won’t give her any clues.  Dena asks if she’s not proven herself yet.  Leia explains that helping her and Luke escape doesn’t mean she’s completely trustworthy.  She’s still the one who helped the Qrephs murders thousands of beings.  Dena maintains that she has no choice but to help them rescue Han. 

She is a biot, a creation of the Qrephs, like the Nargons.  The Nargons don’t have good judgment, so the Mandos had to be hired to oversee them.  Inside, she’s a sentient being, grown on a metallic skeleton with fiber-optic filaments for nerves and a memory chip in her brain.  She has the 2-1B droid cut her skin to prove it.   Dena cannot directly threaten the Qrephs or the chip will explode, but she does want to live.  That has been her motivation behind everything she’s done.

She cannot live without an injection of enzymes that the Qrephs created.  Since she’s no longer useful to them, they’ve stopped giving it to her.  They just left her in the infirmary to die alone; the droid monitored her the whole time.  All the biots are handled this way.

Luke realizes there are more and that’s how companies are being taken over. The Qrephs just infiltrate a biot into management.  Dena won’t reveal more until they promise a deal.  She can’t get one from the Qrephs because they honor deals only when it suits them.

When they agree to help her find the formula for her enzymes, she tells them that she thinks there are only about thirty biots of her type and no more than a few hundred of the Nargons.  It takes two years for one like her to mature.  Luke points out that the Qrephs have only been out here for a year.

Dena reminds him of the time dilation.  A year in the Rift is like five at Base Prime.  Time just seems to run faster there.  It’s an ideal place to hide from the Jedi and anyone else.  She assumes Han is there, but she’s not one of the few who know how to get there. 

Luke scans the holograph.  It’s possible that Ohali Soroc found the Mortis Monolith, but it seems too good to be true that it could be discovered so quickly.  Dena doesn’t think the Qrephs built it or that they understand it very well.  Six months ago, they were trying to create a gate to get inside.  Savara Raine was attempting to talk them out of it.

Ben advises that Vestara is playing with them for now, but it’s more important to know if she’s alone.  Tahiri asks Dena if there were other beings besides Savara who can use the Force.  Dena thinks about it, admits she’s not quite sure what the question is but she can confirm that there is no one else like Savara there.

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chapter 19:

Knowing that Han Solo is trying to drive a wedge between Marvid and his brother doesn’t mean that the comments are not affecting him.  Marvid understands that Calrissian trying to strike a deal with Craitheus was another attempt, but the fact that it wasn’t told to him immediately makes him wonder if Craitheus wanted time to consider the offer.

The messenger is taking them completely out of the laboratory wing and into the barracks.  Craitheus complains about how Savara expects them to come to her. Marvid ignores him, knowing his brother is feeling threatened and wants him to.  Savara is an asset to Marvid, balancing Craitheus’ control of the Mandalorians.

They find her telling the Mandos that she will give them orders soon and dismisses them.  Craitheus reminds her that they issue orders, not her.  Marvid tells her to ignore his brother because Solo has put them both in bad moods.

When she finds out they’ve been playing sabacc with Barduun, she asks why they would do that.  In her mind, Barduun is a mistake.  He almost got both of them killed when he was sent through the gate with her.  She got him back alive before he went crazy, but only so they could see the consequences of trying to go there themselves.

Craitheus thinks she’s just worried that she won’t be needed after the brothers gain the Force for themselves.  She turns to Marvid, but he’s of the same mind.  Regardless of what happened to Barduun, he came back with the ability to use the Force.  They are determined to get through the gate and access the Force themselves. 

Only a Force user can open the gate anyway and Savara is not going to cooperate there.  They will have to use one they can control, but only after learning more about what happened to Barduun first.   She offers to dump them through the gate right now herself so they can see.  Hopefully, they will do better at that than they are playing sabacc. 

Marvid explains that Solo’s stress levels weren’t high enough to map his brain which is why they went with pain stakes.  Since they’re here, they want the bodies of Luke and Leia to show him.  That should elevate his stress levels.  Savara tells them there are no bodies or body parts.   And it isn’t because they were incinerated in the crash either.  Both Jedi are alive, regardless of what is or isn’t possible.

The fusion core exploded after the Jedi abandoned their vessel.  It was done on purpose to hide their escape.  The trail of bodies they’ve left in their wake should be proof enough of that. 

They also have Dena Yus who may not know where the base is, but she knows it exists.  They will find it sooner rather than later.  Craitheus asks if she shouldn’t be out there trying to stop the Jedi.  Savara explains she doesn’t have a chance against Luke Skywalker alone.  She wants control of the security forces…unless they want to take their chances with Mirta Gev. 

The brothers communicate privately between their powerbodies.  Neither trusts her, they both know she’s after everything they have and there’s a very good possibility that she let the Jedi escape in order to accomplish that.  However, that makes her cunning.  Marvid warns her that she will have to work through Gev to get the Mandos to cooperate.

Craitheus accuses his brother of plotting with Savara.  He is assured that this girl would never be put ahead of their partnership.  However, it’s not like Craitheus wasn’t tempted by Calrissian’s offer.  They do need her to help them, though.  They will let her handle the Jedi, but she will not be given control of the Nargons.

Marvid offers to take her to tell Gev the news himself.  She asks if Craitheus agrees that she is in command.  Craitheus assures her he is in complete agreement.

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chapter 20:

Ditto is afraid of the pain of having a burned eye, so she calls Barduun’s bet of a broken nose instead.  She now has 12 cards in her hand and facing the torture droid.  Barduun is just sitting there, drinking in her fear.

Han’s turn comes up.  He looks at Barduun for the telltale sign of a bad hand.  It’s not there.  He needs to find some way to get the Qrephs thinking about him, not the Jedi.  He decides he’s calling his death bet now and Mirta Gev uses the droid to shock him.  Ohali protests that it’s not his fault that the Mando has fallen for the Qrephs and their false promises.

Han adds they will pay her while she’s still needed, but they cannot get rid of the nanokiller.  Mirta isn’t biting.  Ditto withdraws, Barduun folds and Han joyously pulls out his hand of absolute zero.   He tells the droid that Ditto doesn’t have to pay because he doesn’t want her fear.  No one wants to play anyway.  Barduun does.  Han announces he’s done.  The Nargons object to this because their orders are to continue the game. 

Han nods to Ohali, Gev reaches for the droid button again and finds her hand moving in the other direction.  Barduun’s hand is gesturing in her direction, he glances at Han and thinks at him to Go.  Han slumps down off the chair.  Mirta calls for the guards to stop them.

His ears ringing, his body in pain and the smell of Leia’s perfume turning into the smell of sweat, he fights Mirta, grabbing her holdout blaster.  She falls backward to keep from being shot.  Han finds the two Nargons pinned against the wall by the Force.  Barduun is shooting Force lightning at them.

Barduun tells the others to come with him, they have to save the princess.  Neither of them knows what he’s talking about.  It’s better than staying here, though.  When they all reach an airless vacuum, Ohali tells him there really isn’t an underground on this monolith.  He asks if this is Mortis.  She doesn’t think so.  It might be a Celestial monolith, but she doubts it’s Mortis and really doesn’t want it to be. Whatever this thing is, it’s responsible for what happened to Barduun.  The latter laughs and tells Han that all of them are in this til the end.


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chapter 21:

When the Falcon encounters two Mandalorian Besu’liiks, Kaeg is certain they are the only ones out here and will lead them to Base Prime.   With Luke at the helm, Lando takes Kaeg back to prepare dropsuits.

The Mandos exchange fire with the Falcon until one takes off.  Leia wants to pursue it, assuring Luke this isn’t a dark journey for her.  It’s leaving to take news of their arrival personally to the base because communications are so faulty. 

The Falcon takes off after it until Luke feels a coldness emanating from the wound in his chest.  He tells them he believes Base Prime has found them.

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chapter 22:

Barduun uses the Force to pull Han along, warning him of a sterilizing agent that will blur his vision if he doesn’t keep his eyes closed. They need their sight to be able to accomplish their mission.  He knows Han wants revenge for his wife and brother-in-law.  Barduun is prepared to give that to him.

Han doesn’t believe that Leia and Luke are dead.  When Ohali hesitates to confirm that she found nothing deceptive about the Qrephs’ claims, he turns cold. She explains the brothers may have believed they were successful at ambushing the Jedi.  Everyone makes mistakes.  He cannot give up on Leia now.

But he cannot allow himself to be used to feed the dark side power that Barduun craves either. 

Barduun leads them into a chamber with several vats that look like bacta tanks.  Ohali urges Han not to follow him.  She is not as ready to die as he is.  He understands he cannot be as impulsive as he wants.  He tells her to run when she gets a chance so that the Jedi Council can get this information. 

She explains that this facility is where the Qrephs began experimenting with biots like Ditto.  Inside one vat is a blurry blue form of a Duros.  A medical droid confirms this one will probably fail quality control, too.  Han shoots it, wanting to get the Qrephs’ attention.  He tells Ohali that angry beings make mistakes, so he’s going to cause as much anger in the Columi brothers as possible.

He explains what he needs to do to her and they ignore Barduun while destroying equipment inside the room.  There are several biots that awaken during this time, but they all have deformities of some kind.  Then he finds one of himself. 

Ohali explains she wasn’t sure whether she should protect or destroy Ditto when she first saw her.  Barduun calls for them to hurry up.  Han helps her up on top of the vat so she can get through the ceiling.  He finds Barduun who wants to know what happened to the Jedi.

Han makes excuses, then finds himself looking at a biot of a much younger Leia.  He assures Barduun he’s not looking for replacements of his wife.  Barduun tells him that this is his princess, not Han’s.  She’s not ready yet, but he knows a secret to help her.

Then he launches Force lightning.  Han ducks and fires at him.  Barduun, however, was shooting the lightning at the Nargons which have appeared.  Barduun yells at him to take the princess and go.  Han runs with the fake version of Leia who isn’t helpful at all.

They jump into an open hatch where they are ordered to provide the appropriate access codes.  Han doesn’t have this information.  He’s also having to deal with the fake Leia who thinks he’s her father.  She knows him from somewhere and gets the feeling he knows her too.  He asks if she can use the Force.  When she tells him Barduun taught her, Han has her reach out and get them through the access corridor.

Barduun backs through and mimics the fake Leia’s voice.  Han realizes it was him using the voice all along.  He’d been using Han’s fear to get through the battle.  They pass through a holographic wall onto a balcony that looks down upon the natural surface of Base Prime. 

He asks what will happen if he goes inside with them.  Barduun tells him he will have the power to destroy the Qrephs; power like he has.  Han doesn’t want that and the real Leia would tell him that.  Barduun couldn’t have developed his powers naturally. The fact that he’s using them in a matter of weeks means there’s something frightening going on here. 

He asks if he would be able to use Force lightning.  Barduun assures him he will be able to do that and more.  Han tells him to go ahead without him.  He will wait for the Qrephs.  Barduun urges him to come with him.  It’s the only way to win.

Han isn’t sure why the other man cares if he wins or dies.  He fires as Barduun who deflects the bolts back to him.  Han jumps through the holographic wall and fires back, hitting the biot in the head.  Barduun grabs him in the Force, then with an arm to drag him back.  Han fires his weapon into the man’s thigh. Then fired again and again, until the man falls. 

The alarms ring, when Han destroys the control panel, cannons appear to destroy Barduun’s body.

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chapter 23:

Vestara wonders if Han Solo has created some kind of massive explosion, but she has no idea how he could.  She soon realizes that some blasts are coming from the hangar.  A presence in the Force begins to determinedly search.  The Columi brothers float up to her, noting the Jedi have arrived sooner than expected.

Craitheus wonders if she lured them away from the game to give Solo a chance to escape.  As it is, the Jedi have hit their fighter squadrons before they had the chance to scramble.  The base’s shields are holding, but not for long.  Vestara dismisses that there would be extra Jedi brought in.  She thinks the Falcon is out there with maybe a couple of support craft.

About thirty Nargons have been pressed into service as bodyguards for the Qrephs.  She leads them to the sabacc lounge where the viewport shows turbolaser bolts firing from the base.  They won’t stop Luke or Leia.

Mirta Gev is on top of the table, giving orders over a comlink. Vestara uses the Force to deactivate it, telling Gev that she takes orders from her now.  Craitheus reminds Gev that they have the right to delegate command, especially since this whole mess is her fault. 

Knowing that Gev could very well take her much-needed Mandos with her in a fit, Vestara reminds the Columi that it’s not entirely Mirta’s fault.  The Jedi didn’t follow a tracking beacon here, after all.  The Jedi have means of tracking that ordinary beings do not.  She asks if Mirta will follow the terms of the contract.

Mirta will so long as she is allowed to see the nanokiller lab.  Craitheus points out that it’s not safe.  Vestara knows he’s lying, but she needs Gev’s cooperation.  She negotiates a bonus for all the Mandos for staying since the contract did not involve fighting Jedi.

Mirta agrees and so do the Columi, reluctantly.

Vestara has her position the Nargons throughout the base, waiting for the Jedi to appear.  Craitheus assumes she’s waiting for a bombing run.  They’re coming to get Solo, that’s it.  Vestara really isn’t expecting a bombing, but she’s not letting Craitheus know that.  She’d really rather see him die, but cannot risk the Nargons turning on her.

When she spots a couple of dark specks dropping from the Falcon, she warns them that the Jedi are coming down in dropsuits.  All forces will have to converse on the lab wing.  She wants them drawn to the gate.  Then she sees four more suits come down.  Her stomach drops with them.  It doesn’t make sense for there to be six Jedi.

She tells the brothers to head to the gate to serve as bait.  If they want to draw the Jedi into a trap, they will have to provide an incentive.  Mini-missles fire from the dropsuited figures.  Vestara cannot figure out why until she extends the Force out to sense nothing.  She announces that those aren’t Jedi, but battle droids.

The base rocks with the impact of the missles.  Then four more figures appear.  One presence is very familiar to Vestara:  it’s Ben Skywalker.  She knows that her chances are slim now.  She cannot defeat Luke or Leia easily, but defeating Ben will be nearly impossible.  He will be hunting her, not the Qrephs. 

She has nowhere to run, though.  Living among the Jedi had made her an outcast among her people. She cannot return to the Tribe until she has the power to rule them.  She sends the Qrephs out just as four bangs ring through the ceiling. 

With the Nargons escorting the Columi, she pulls her lightsaber and follows Gev after them.  Marvid cannot activate the airlock because the security breach protocol has been enacted.  She tells them to head through their residence instead. 

A YVH droid appears, blasting Nargons.  She sends the rest to charge him, evades the droid’s arm and heads to the mob at the airlock.  The four Jedi are there with two battle droids, pointing weapons at her.

Vestara pushes through the crowd and calls out through the Force for Ship.  She grabs Craitheus away and insists they go through the residence.  Craitheus will not hear of it.  They gave her command of the Mandalorians, not them.  She uses the Force to keep shoving him, having mere seconds before the Jedi breach the base.

Marvid urges her to stop and consider using her lightsaber to cut the walls.  Craitheus explains that it’s time to show courage against the Jedi.  Vestara isn’t ready to hear a lecture about courage from them.  She prepares to cut through the residence. 

An explosion reveals another YVH droid.  Nargons fly through the air.  Gev dives behind the brothers.  Vestara launches herself through the opening and bats off bolts with her lightsaber.  A Jedi approaches, firing a blaster and using the Force to send Nargons hurling.  She recognizes Ben.

He drops with his blaster, aiming for her feet, she starts to roll away, the closing door moving too slowly.  Craitheus is on one side of the door. She grabs him and pulls.  The sliding door stops in front of her, Craitheus’ powerbody serving to block her from the fight.  Craitheus screams, his powerbody falling hard enough to crack.  Marvid hovers nearby, pointing his weapon at the door.  He doesn’t seem to regard her with anger or hatred.

She tells him she’s sorry but that she acted on instinct.  He tells her that she did what was necessary.  Vestara uses the Force to lift the brother off the floor and spots Gev.  Gev affirms she did what she had to do.  They head through several doors before entering a workshop designed to work on powerbodies.  Marvid has them set Craitheus here. 

The injured Columi looks bad.  There’s not much time, either, as the Jedi are largely just blowing doors up.  A female voice announces this won’t take too long.  Vestara turns to find a biot that looks exactly like her.  Marvid tells her that she should be flattered as it shows what he thinks of her.  Then shoots her in the leg.

She watches her lightsaber fly into the biot’s hand and yells at Marvid for shooting her.  He counters that they’re even because she used his brother’s body as a shield.  She reminds him Craitheus was going to go behind his back, but Marvid doubts the other was serious.  He was just considering it.  They all knew it was inevitable that the Sith girl and the Columi would tire of each other.

She calls out for Ship, not believing Marvid could, not only betray her, but take her completely by surprise.  Vestara tells him she forgives him for the biot.  He waves good-bye to her.  Mirta Gev quips that she would shoot Marvid herself for Vestara, but has a nanokiller problem that takes priority.

Vestara insists Mirta must know she’s being led on.  She knows Mirta is desperate and desperation often allows for smart people to be deceived.  They’ve both doubtlessly been in every corner of this base.  Has Mirta ever seen anything that would indicate there is a lab on which the nanokiller virus is being worked?

Mirta has to admit she hasn’t.  She wishes Vestara luck with the Jedi, though it won’t do any good, and limps off.    Vestara asks if she doesn’t want to live to fight again.  Mirta should have her people leave and let Marvid deal with the Jedi.

She reaches out for Ship, tells Mirta she can get them all out of here so long as she can carry Ves out there.

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chapter 24:

Marvid flees the battle, finding that the attack on the base has resulted in several lines of faulty judgment on his part.  He narrows down two options:  escaping in the blastboat in the residence hangar or using the Savara Raine biot he’d created to get through the gate.

The former would likely cause Craitheus to die, the base lost, Jedi on his tail and Han Solo to remain alive.  Going through the gate is an unknown.  The Jedi would have to follow him, though, and that would give him an advantage.  The dark side nexus down there could even help him get rid of them all and save the base.  Marvid could have the additional boon of having the chance of killing Solo.
The droid asks if they are evacuating.  Marvid explains he’s going to handle a Jedi problem first.  The droid sounds relieved until its abruptly cut into pieces by Savara Two.  She claims to be practicing for the Jedi.  Aside from the disappointment he felt in the biot, he can at least appreciate that she has the Force.

The technological cores of the biots appear to interact with the Force to impair development and Marvid believes the monolith is responsible for it.  She declares her love for him and her willingness to die.  He appreciates that, though cautions her that he didn’t let her kill Savara Raine because they need a scapegoat to blame when they kill Luke Skywalker.

She helps him pass through the gate, reminding him that the others went mad.  He knows this but points out that they weren’t Columi.  Savara Two points out that she is not entirely Columi herself.  He has no concerns about that. She did tell him she would do anything for him.

Han knows the battle is intensifying.  Though it’s possible he’s imagining yelling voices and the sounds of a lightsaber, he hopes that Ohali had been right about Leia and Luke’s survival.

Trapped on the balcony without the proper authorization codes, he can’t go anywhere.  After attempting one more time to bypass the security protocols, he’s forced to leap over the railing for his life.  The whir of powerbodies sounds nearby. He can hear a voice that sounds like Vestara Khai point out a body.  They’ve found the Leia biot.  Marvid is more concerned about Solo who should have been killed.

It isn’t long before the biot finds Han and ignites her lightsaber.  Han evades her swings long enough for her to suddenly become concerned about Marvid’s safety.  He uses the opportunity to start blasting at powerbodies, one of which holds the damaged body of Craitheus Qreph. 

Marvid tells her to leave Solo alone and come to him.  After he and the biots leave, Han hears Leia’s voice calling him.  He tells her to comm Luke.  

Ben watches as two more Nargons appear only to be hit by YVH cannons. Once the Mandalorians had left, the reptiloids were reduced to a mere bother.  Still, Ben knows better than to become complacent.  

Luke tells him that he’s going after Han and Leia and that they may be inside the monolith.  Ben assures him that he and Tahiri will handle the outside.  Luke starts to caution Ben who adamantly reiterates that they have it under control.  

When Luke stops for a moment, Ben asks what’s wrong.  Luke admits there isn’t anything.  That’s what gives him a good feeling.


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chapter 25:

Luke hangs before dropping into the darkness.  He floats, wondering if he will see Ben again, how to find Han and Leia and if the Qrephs have found Mortis.

The dark side of the Force swirls around him before his environment coalesces into solid mass, including a floor.  He sees a couple of golden haloes.  Heading toward them, he finds he’s surrounded by shadows.  His body begins to glow save for the spot where Abeloth had injured him.  Hoping the haloes are Han and Leia, he tries to hurry.  Then a lightsaber ignites behind him.

Han and Leia walk together, searching for the killers who want them dead.  Han clarifies that Barduun wasn’t born Force-sensitive. Something happened to him after he arrived here.  She wonders if Barduun is possessed.  If so, it implies the Qrephs came inside because they wanted this to happen to them.

Han explains that they may have assumed they were smarter than the dark-side spirits.  Han turns to look back just as a red lightsaber ignites.

Luke springs through cartwheels rolling through the forest.  The image of Vestara Khai with large eyes and an oval Columi head appears, kicking and swinging with only anger and none of the skill the real Vestara has.  Luke sends a blast of energy so powerful that the skin is blown off of her skeleton and she falls to pieces.  He’s surprised how easy it is to destroy something.   Evading more powerbodies and cannon fire, he sends bolts into the shadows.  Metal bullets fly and he realizes the Qrephs had been wearing him down so they could change their tactics when he least suspected it.

He sends another blast of Force energy into a shadow, but the attacks keep coming, hitting his vac suit armor until one finally embeds into his shoulder.  He springs into a dive, but not before two more hit him in the neck and send him crashing into a tree trunk where he falls into unconsciousness.

Han races to Luke to try to treat his wounds.  Luke has two gaping wounds with yellow eyes gleaming out of them.  Not mentioning that unpleasant fact, Han tells Luke he’ll be alright and bandages his wounds.  He and Leia go after the newly-arrived powerbodies  Han finds one is Craitheus Qreph who has such severe injuries that he shouldn’t be alive.  Yet he’s firing at Han.  Han realizes that the powerbody itself is firing automatically.  When the powerbody runs into a tree and explodes, Han hopes that’s the end of it.

Fighting Marvid, Leia is one with the Force, preparing to kill.  Marvid has righted himself and is backing away.  The powerbody itself is damaged and is damaging him.  She gains on him, then leaps upon him with her lightsaber aimed at his head.  Suddenly, two booms sound and she feels Han drop through the Force.  She is momentarily stunned, giving Marvid enough time to extend a new arm and tell her that she loses.  She slides down along the arm and cuts Marvid’s collarbone.  The powerbody begins to die down.  Leia’s vac suit stars to melt as the flesh on her stomach burns.  

Han writhes with a hole in his stomach and a burning leg.  If he couldn’t still hear Leia’s lightsaber cut through Marvid, he would believe he was actually dead.  Then she screams and falls silent.  He tries to stay quiet enough to listen and then to call out her name.  Shadows surround him, telling him that they can help and that they can save him.  He wonders at what cost.  He drags himself to her side, knowing he would do anything to end her suffering but that decades of living around Force users have taught him that that dark side always has a price.  He would not save Leia by dealing with it.  He orders them to go away.

He decides that he will not allow himself to die without helping Luke and Leia.  He tries to get their attention by pointing out the huge wall of flame rising.  Luke pulls himself up; Leia tries but can only point. at the flames.  She pulls herself up.  Han finally collapses, watching Luke and Leia more powerful than ever.  She leans down to kiss Han.  Luke points out they have to move now before the Qrephs regroup.  Han points out they couldn’t possibly have survived the damage he and Leia inflicted on them.  Leia reminds him that all three of them have taken serious hits, too, and are still alive.  

Luke explains that the Force is so powerful here that it even heals non-Force users, if imperfectly.  In here, the Force makes up part of them which makes them more powerful.  That’s when Han sees the Qrephs walking on their tiny legs.

Luke wants him to be the reserve.  Han doesn’t have the Force, but the Qrephs now do because they too up the dark side shadows on their offer.  They have to be stopped here inside the monolith by using the Force.  

Luke and Leia take off across the desert, open to the Force.  The Qrephs are ahead, running to a radiant circle.  Leia believes that’s the gate.  If the Qrephs escape, they will be possessed Force users.  The Qrephs attack with Force energy, then try to strangle Luke.  As fighting the Columi becomes increasingly difficult, Luke believes they are actually fighting the dark-side forces in here.  Luke and Leia rally; Luke sends a boulder tumbling toward Marvid’s head which is quickly deflected toward Luke.  Feeling like the Force is burning through him, he tells Leia they’re ending this now.

Marvid knows he should be dead, too.  Here the Force sustains them.  He is thrown into his brother and the two of them hit the ground several times.  The raw unformed Force that rushes through them, healing their grievous injuries makes him feel like a primitive animal.  The Qrephs decide that the galaxy is theirs once they kill Skywalker.  The dark side shadows have other plans.  

Marvid is suddenly possessed with the idea to rush Leia and blow her out of his path as he escapes through the gate.  He knows this is the shadows wanting to get out of here.  He knows that he and Craitheus can only gain real power by eliminating the Jedi inside the monolith.

As Han tries and fails to catch up with Luke and Leia.  

Luke sees Marvid turn toward the gate and uses the Force to grab both Columi, pulling them back to him.  That’s when he realizes he’s fallen for a trap.  He releases them too late.  They launch dark-side energy at him.  He is able to parry one with his saber before it’s pulled from his hand.  They land in front of him.

Leia jumps in behind them, sending a wave of energy to ward them off.  Marvid stumbles enough that Luke has time to send out his own blast of energy.  When Marvid attempts to block with his own blast, the two streams meet and cause his flesh and bones to melt into smoke and ash.  A shadow tumbles off and Luke feels a new agony as Force energy burns him.  

Caught between life and death, he realizes that this is the nature of the Force.  The Force is life and life is growth.  Nothing grows that does not change and change is destruction.  This is why the dark side exists.  It’s essential as the light for the elimination of stagnation and for the process of rejuvenation.  

Han sees Luke and Leia come together, the Qrephs trapped between them.  He can hear the Force’s roar and then only a brilliant light that hurts his eyes and ears.  The spire drops, the column sways and then topples to the ground, bringing up a cloud of dust.  Han races forward, calling for Leia.

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