It was not the slightest bit unusual for members of the Dark Brotherhood to go missing. It happened all the time. Sometimes every day. Most often it was due to friction among the members of various species who were attracted to the dark side of the Force and who were developing their control of it. They couldn’t help but test themselves against other students, usually out of jealousy or spite. Other times the student didn’t have the stomach to live with dark siders and slipped away, unseen. And unmissed.
Bodies were frequently found, but not always. Wounded, murdered. Their carcasses beaten, punctured, ruptured in various ways, not always with a material weapon. And that was the normal order of business for the Brotherhood. Weapons needed to be honed. What better way to earn the rank of warrior than to best another would-be warrior?
But of late, at least half a standard year, by my reckoning, there was something else going on with the disappearances. Rather than the usual journeymen vanishing, at times to be found later, bloated and stinking, elder members were vanishing. Members who had earned their ranks and suddenly were gone. Their personal starcraft with them.
Being a Krath I was more sensitive to the moods of the Force than the beings who pursued mastery through the other orders. It was like a faint sound, just on the edge of hearing. A wispy cloud on the horizon. Tangible, but difficult to discern from the usual background noise and vibrations that routinely echo through the Force. At first I wasn’t sure what I was sensing, but through focus and meditation I believe I finally found the answer to the question.
All beings, even non-Force users, have their own spiritual vibration, their unique signature. An etheric fingerprint that distinguishes them from all others. That is why some aspects of the Force resonate much more strongly with some, and not at all with others. The clincher came when I meditated in the private chambers of some of the missing individuals, tuning in as it were to their specific frequency, and I could finally get a bead on what was happening.
Of course no one believed me. And I was not surprised. I was a Cassandra, a crazy prophet preaching to callous passersby. Even the Consul dismissed my report, muttering something under his breath as I left about “demented Krath”. He was a Sith, after all, and could hardly be expected to understand the subtle nuances of the Force.
But it was there, apparently only for me to see. A clear plasteel fishing line stretching through a turbulent river, sent out by an angler, seeking to pull in a catch. Who was casting the line and the reason for it remained beyond my grasp. It was a lure, a siren’s call, undulating through the Force and beckoning those toward whom it was directed. Dealing with something as nebulous and mysterious as the Force made it impossible for me to ascertain how the siren’s song attuned itself to the Force vibration of the intended victim. But as powerful as the Force was, I had no doubt that the call would be completely irresistible to the victim, overriding all his reason and will.
I had doubts about my ability to remove the threat on my own. But it was certainly better to move now, of my own volition, rather that wait for the summons to my doom. I had no evidence that the members who were lured away had become one with the Force, and didn’t know any of them closely enough to get a feeling for their deaths. But I knew they were goners. As I also knew it would be up to me to prevent any more disappearances.
After all, the Consul didn’t tell me no. Perhaps that was his intent, that I shouldn’t proceed on this possibly foolish venture, but he didn’t put it into words. No orders to stand down or desist. The old argument between letter of the law and spirit of the law notwithstanding, sometimes one had to make a leap of faith, be true to oneself in the face of disbelief and ridicule. And despite my proclivity towards meditation, I always knew when it was time to get up off my ass and work.
So I took off for the spacelanes in my Tie Phantom, with only a vague idea where I was heading. The signals, as far as I could determine, emanated from Wild Space. Few dared venture in, and even fewer made their ways out. It was completely unmapped and undocumented.
Thanks to the Force, I didn’t have to use the main hyperspace highways. Without regular routes being defined, I was able to cut through Hutt Space and the Outer Rim until I reverted to real space near Ryloth to catch my bearings and continue on into the barrens. And after a handful of starts and stops I found myself near my destination.
It was an unremarkable solar system, a commonplace yellow star at the heart of it. A dozen planets and a myriad of comets, asteroids, and meteors more or less revolving peaceably like flotsam in a whirlpool. The Phantom was floating along with the other material objects while I gazed at the astronomical vista with my physical eyes and studied the eddies of the Force with my inner eye. The sensors of the Phantom were active as well, examining the electromagnetic emanations coming from any and all sources within the system, and pinpointing those of being-made sources.
The call was much more evident here, stronger, as I knew it would be. A spot on the fourth planet, forty-seven degrees latitude, currently lightside. My ship could’ve easily covered the distance before local nightfall, but I ambled along starward. The dark was my friend, and though my instruments told me that technology here wasn’t anywhere near as advanced as the more settled and populated worlds in the galaxy, still I desired to approach with all the stealth I could muster.
I dove quickly in, aiming at a large, technologically dead region, and leveled off at a few meters above the deck. In case there was any planetary traffic control, I wanted them kept in the dark about my arrival, my presence. Most cultures despised visitors and outsiders, keeping them under watch if not killing them outright. I had no idea if the beings here spoke Galactic Basic, or even were capable of vocalized speech. It wouldn’t matter if they never met me.
I kept my speed under that of sound, to avoid the telltale sonic booms my ship would make, lengthening my trip, but still putting me at the geographic locale that was my destination somewhat past the middle of the local night. The ice cap and the tundra beneath me was featureless and flat, an empty plain devoid of animal life and vegetation. Hills and mountains shouldered their way up against the ebony sky, dotted with the tiny sparkles of suns, furiously roiling many light years away.
The spot was in a forest bordering a medium sized burg. I set down at the edge of the town and made my way into the weald on foot. Heavily trodden paths crisscrossed the landscape, but nary a soul ventured out this late. The trees were of a type I’d never seen before, inky bark, gnarled trunk and branches, and broad jagged leaves. The wood had a sheen to it, upon closer examination caused by a viscous liquid oozing from its pores, giving the woods an earthy smell in addition to the usual leafy one.
On the whole a strong dark side aura permeated the forest, a feeling I didn’t pick up on outside the tree line. I drew on its heady quaff, feeling invigorated and empowered. Even marginally Force-sensitive beings would be able to sense the aura, strong and pervasive as it was. Perhaps one of the reasons why all the beings of the town cowered indoors, afraid of the dark and gloomy woods at night.
Another clue to the nature of this grove was the complete absence of any type of fauna. No animals lurked about, no predators, no nocturnal herbivores or insects, no movement except for the faintest breeze wafting among the branches, giving the wall of darkness around me a foreboding undulation. Highly unusual for a reasonably fertile land to be completely devoid of nature’s typical diversity.
During the hour or so I trekked deeper into the heart of the wald, I wondered whether the dark side aura was natural or created by beings. After all, I had created a dark side nexus myself, though not nearly so wide and powerful as this one. But frequently massacres and ferocious battles leave their scars on the Force, feelings of pain and rage that linger long after the beings there have died and rotted. It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that these gnarled and twisted trees were feeding on the decomposed remains of tens of thousands of beings, who died in pain and rage, their blood and flesh nourishing the gloomy grove.
A clearing sat in the midst of the woods, a break in the dark, the moonlight washing over the stone keep erupting from the soil like the iris in the center of an evil eye, if seen from above. Its pale parchment walls glowed with lunar luminescence and veritably hummed with the vibrations of the etheric Force. But it wasn’t the same. I have been drawing on the dark side of the Force for some years now, and it was different. Decayed. Desiccated. Somehow perverse.
It was difficult for me to sense the life force of any beings in the monolith. I seemed to get a feeling of a faded myriad of beings, intermingled and diffuse, their essences shackled in a subterranean vault. The currents of the Force were twisted, knotty, brackish. Stagnant and stunted. Trying to drink it down was like gagging on swamp water. Instead of flowing normally, it eddied and pooled. It was restricted and confined.
The building itself was carved from quarry rock, too large for a simple dwelling and much too small for a castle. Perhaps it was the heart of a fortress yet to be assembled. After circling around once I found no apparent door. The ground, covered in stunted scrub grass, lay undisturbed by subterranean entrance. But feeling around through the Force I sensed a spot where beings left their etheric footprints in their comings and goings.
I walked up to the spot but failed to discern any grooves in the stone in the dim light. But I trusted my instincts and felt around with the Force until I found the trigger for the door mechanism. It could only be engaged by Force-users, and once activated a section of the massive rock wall pivoted inwards with a grinding, rumbling noise.
Inside lay a black hole, a darkened corridor with an almost overpowering stench of rotted Force essence. I boldly crossed the threshold, pulling a glowrod from a pocket of my combat suit. Once ignited it cast the hallway in a gruesome orange light. A handful of doorways pierced the walls at irregular intervals, and I spotted a regular series of sconces set into the stone, each caressing a wooden rod. I closed my eyes briefly, reached out a hand, and sent tongues of flames licking upward from the charred ends of the primitive torches. Waves of light cascaded to floor and ceiling with a whoosh, and sounds of crackling wood echoed back and forth.
I looked closer at the wood, now that I could see. They were sticks of lumber hewn from the nearby woods, and didn’t generate the normal aromas of burning timber. It smelled more like a charnel house, and the color which I mistook for black was actually a very dark red. The sheen of the wood was caused by slowly oozing blood, which sizzled and boiled near the flames, casting puffs of vapor from the heads. Interesting, I thought, and moved down the hall.
A recess at the end contained a spiral staircase leading to the underground level. This corridor too was in darkness, but the large room at the end was lit up. I felt nothing but the puzzling presences I noted earlier. I stepped into a laboratory. I was never much into science or gadgets, so I couldn’t tell you just what all the equipment was for. Many of the devices sat on long tables, whirring and whizzing, and adorned with blinking lights. Other pieces of equipment squatted on the floor. There were a variety of storage containers, ranging in size from 50 milliliter canisters to 5 liter drums. A primitive thermite generator hummed merrily away in the corner, powering all the devices.
I walked up and down, trying to discern just what it was I was looking at, and for. Then I came to what looked like a cryogenic chamber. A plexi sheet was sealed into the durasteel tube about head and shoulders high. The naked body of one of the missing Jedi was within, in an advanced state of degeneration. A layer of rime coated the disintegrating corpse. Then I realized it wasn’t a cryogenic chamber. Someone was freeze-drying dark Jedi and packing their crystallized remains into storage jars.
I stared for quite a few moments. Not that I am the slightest bit squeamish, you understand. After all, the planet I came from, Almania, was full of hucksters who sold powdered eopi horn and deep-fried nek testicles as aphrodisiacs. But what could dark Jedi residue bring you? Long life? Increased health and vitality?
“It brings you the power of the Source,” a croaky voice behind me uttered.
It took a lot to surprise me, so I didn’t jump. I merely turned slowly around to espy the human crone standing in the doorway behind me. Tufts of unruly white hair poked out from the hood of her black cloak and haloed her pale craggy face. She was stoop-shouldered and of medium build, and leaned on a two-meter high wood staff. Her piercing blue eyes sparkled with amusement and her bloodless lips pressed tight together to stifle the smile that sought to break out.
“Source?” I asked. If what she said was true, somehow the midichlorians must survive the death of the Jedi and freeze-drying process and still somehow be functional.
“The Source of all power and life. What was before and will be after the universe regenerates. It is the driving intellect and guiding hand. It knows all and sees all, and shares its might with those who seek.”
I nodded. Many backward civilizations had their own views on the Force. On Almania, if you had power with the Force you were called a sorcerer and greatly feared. “If you think you’re going to add me to your vast collection of Jedi dust, you’re mistaken,” I said.
“It isn’t dust. It’s more like sand, wizard’s sand. And I didn’t call you. How did you find me?”
I could tell she wasn’t stalling for time. Her curiosity was insatiable. Mine nearly so. “With all the disappearances of dark Jedi I decided to find out what was going on. I meditated and followed the siren’s call you sent out right here.” I stared at her for a few moments while the panic smoldered behind her eyes.
“You couldn’t possibly know of my calls,” she whispered.
“You have odd ways of using the Force, but power is power. I doubt you’ve been to the Inner Rim or to Hutt Space, so how did you do it? How did you know who to call?”
She paused for a moment, her eyes twitching as she stared into some inner space. I knew her mind was furiously racing. “I know nothing of these places you speak of. Our technology limits us to short travel within the sun system. How is it that you come from the far stars?”
I suppose it was possible for the scientists and engineers on this planet to reverse engineer the tech of my Phantom, or at least enough of it to improve their space flight capabilities, but I could sense her weakness with the Force relative to my own, and once I killed her no one would know of my visit, my ship, or anything about the galactic civilization existing outside Wild Space. “Superior technology, and my facility with what you call the Source,” I said. “It was a difficult trip, but easily within the realm of my talents. Now, about your knowledge of the dark Jedi you’ve called.”
She ambled into the room, toward one of the tables in the corner. “Bah, I know nothing of what you call dark Jedi. But this item, powered by the Source, shows me all I need to see, when I need to see it.” She uncovered a small globe, a crystal sphere, sitting on a small tripod. It was black and shiny, mirroring darkly the images visited upon it.
I crossed to where she gestured and saw my own under-exposed face curved upon its surface, distorted.
“And this is how I use it,” she said as she sprinkled a few dozen grains of pinkish sand.
The ball lit up like a vid screen, in full color. I saw an image of myself, in the lab here, being blown across the room and crashing into her equipment. I put up a Force shield just as she flung a handful of the sand at me and said something that sounded like ‘ousbruck’. The Force shielded me from the worst of the explosion, saving me from being ripped apart, but the shock wave still sent me flying into table and scattering the equipment and gear lying atop it.
Pain shot across my shoulder blades as I slumped to the floor, wind knocked out of me. I struggled to pull breath into my cramped lungs as I rolled under the table as another explosive cloud of sand blasted the spot I’d just been lying in. The marble floor striated under the impact of the burst that narrowly missed me. I pushed out with the Force and sent the table and scientific gadgets flying at where the old crone had been standing.
I did a shoulder roll under another table to put more distance between us and drew the Force into me. The pain in my back subsided and I was able to suck in lungfuls of air without having spasms. I stood to face her. She had opened a large tub of the desiccated remains, and stood waving her hands over the sand and mouthing a mantra.
The hydro-carbons crystals, for it wasn’t really sand, frothed from the top of the container and rose into the air. The mass billowed and molded itself into what resembled a manka cat.
“That’s enough of that,” I said, and with a twist of my fist used the Force to snap the neck of the old woman.
Her body crumpled to the ground, and I expected the sand cat to do the same. But I heard the wailing moan of a disembodied voice and felt rather than saw her Force essence pervade the beast. The cloudy jaw of the creature worked, testing its bite and growing its fangs.
I considered going for my lightsaber, but knew it would just slide right through the emulsive feline. The thing shot straight at me, its speed impressive, especially for something with no apparent means of locomotion. My hand shot up quite instinctively and sent a blast from the Force into the amorphous mass. The grains of sand swept back over the furniture and equipment until smashing into the far wall and wafting down onto the floor.
But despite my hopes for an end to the fight, the granules began massing again. At first it was a slow ooze, but as the particles drew closer together they seemed to draw strength and cohesion from each other. I knew what I had to do. My aim upon coming here was to destroy this facility and whomever was kidnapping the dark Jedi. I don’t know whether or not the Force essences of the victims still resided with their remains, or they merely left an imprint on the midichlorians that gave them power in life, but I felt I owed it to my comrades to give them final peace.
I began popping the lids off of all of the storage containers in the room, and with a small burst of Force energy dumped all the gritty contents on the floor. My task started at the back of the lab and I worked my way quickly toward the only exit. The cloud grew quickly, building an enormous beast.
“Here, have it all. It might give you enough power to actually harm me,” I said and dashed off through the darkened corridor toward the stairs. The Force boosted my speed, and though I was prepared to draw a tendril of the cloud after me, the crone’s spirit had already gained enough command over the matter to send a huge snake-like arm reaching after me.
I believe I mentioned before that the dried-out remains of a body, whether human or alien, is not sand but hydro-carbons. And a dispersed mist of combustible granules, at the right concentration, would be quite explosive with a spark. Or a flame, say from a series of torches. There is always a danger of explosion in grain-processing plants and lumber mills from sawdust, and that was the answer to my question of just how to destroy this facility. And save my life.
Towards the end of my run I actually had to use the Force to push back on the wispy fingers grasping for me. When I felt the time was right, that I would actually survive what cataclysm I was about to create, I reached out with the Force to disperse the molded cloud. The explosion was almost immediate. First there was a whoosh, then a thunderous roar that blasted me from the corridor out into the night like a slugthrower firing a hunk of durasteel from its barrel. The ground convulsed, the keep cracked, and a belch of flame flew from the door.
I lay there a few minutes in the grass, disheveled and slightly singed, my ears ringing from the blast. I reached out through the Force. The knotty and brackish sense of the Force was gone, along the myriad Force essences from the dead Jedi. I could get no sense of the crone’s spirit either. I got a sense of peace from the stone building, so I got up and began the long walk to the Phantom. Peace was not my business. Only passion.