“Did yousa find him?” Palo asked an approaching B1 battle droid commander as the Gungan Sith Lord stood in front of a broken Bacta tank inside the lab beneath his sprawling palace on the outskirts of Galactic City.
“No, sir. The prisoner seems to have vanished into thin air.”
“Himsa thinken hesa bombad Jedi now,” Palo mused as kicked aside a heap of metal that used to be an E3 medical droid.
“Spake to Meatbag to taken all-n youse machineeks and mesa Iron Knights to Kessel,” Palo commanded. “No one will looky for wesa daree.”
“Mesa follow dalee soon,” Palo added as he walked out of the lab and into the expanse of the palace underground.
He slowly placed his hand around the ornate silver hilt of his lightsaber, tapping the side of the Colo Claw Fish tooth as he strolled. He felt something heavy looming in the air, but could not quite place its source.
As he walked into the main hall, he could sense the palace was emptying of his droids, his staff, Meatbag… he could feel them all boarding the scrubbed Imperial transport vessel preparing to travel to his secret bunker on Kessel. The thought of it all created a prideful smile across his face because he knew no one would suspect abandoned spice mines to be the place a revolution would be borne out of. Not even Palpatine.
He had planned things so precisely. He had paid attention to every detail. He was steps ahead of his opponents at every turn. His execution had been flawless, much like it always was during his favorite pastime, Courtier Holochess, the lesser-known counterpart of Dejarik.
The Gungan paused for a moment to consider that his former teacher, though exposing a fatal weakness for doing so, was partially responsible for helping him to get this far. However, giving credit, even if due, was not his way. It was he that had sacrificed so much. It was he who lowered himself so far. Humbled himself as a bumbling idiot before pathetic Jedi, foolish politicians and a psychopathic warmonger whose power paled in comparison to his own. He did all this just to get to this position. All he had to do know was wait for the perfect opportunity.
Lost in his thoughts, Palo suddenly found himself inside his courtyard. A rumbling above caught his attention just in time to see the transport ship speed up into the Coruscant atmosphere and out of sight.
Palo motioned towards a wall unit and two large bay doors opened up at the far end of the yard. A few moments later, The Outlaunder came into view as it sat on a slowly raising platform. The Gungan’s personal ship was an homage to the only warrior he ever respected, Darth Maul, if for nothing else because of his ability to constantly defy the Emperor.
The boarding ramp began to lower on the ship as Palo perked when he once again felt a disturbance. Suddenly a screeching howl filled the sky and he saw a strange ship with two upright six-panel wings with a circular cockpit fly by. He turned around to see dozens more of them the horizon.
As the swarm of starfighters buzzed overhead, Palo caught one through the Force and hurled it into another one, causing a chain reaction that downed several as the onslaught continued.
The palace’s automated surface-to-air cannons managed to take out a few more starfighters as they flew through laser blasts, but the smaller ships were too quick and agile for a target lock. Before long, the blaster fire from above wiped out the defense system and the estate was left unprotected from the relentless wave after wave of attacks.
Palo motioned for the deck to lower and managed to jump down through an opening as another bombing run obliterated The Outlaunder as it descended below the courtyard. The explosion rocked the platform, knocking Palo off a metal catwalk to the ground below and sending pieces of molten metal and ash down into the now exposed underground facilities.
As smoke and debris swirled around the Sith Lord, he heard the hum of a lightsaber in the distance and saw an orange glow up ahead.
“Yousa no bombad Sith Lord,” Palo said as he slowly stood up and dusted himself off. “Yet da Emperor send yousa anyway.”
The orange glow suddenly got closer and closer until Palo could make out an orange lightsaber that had been thrown in his direction. He casually reached out and took hold of the sword through the Force, deactivated it, and tossed it aside.
“Pathetic,” Palo said aloud as he reached out and snatched the neck of his would-be assassin, dragging him through the dirt, debris and air towards him until he was face to face with a short, black-furred Ewok.
“Where yousa palos?” Palo asked. “Because yousa looky like da decoy.”
“Yesh. Dee fratta…” the Ewok trailed off as he adjusted a personal translator on his ear. “Yes, I’m just trying to distract you for a sec-“
Palo could suddently feel the dark aura of the Cypharian standing behind him as he squeezed the Ewok’s throat for a few more moments before hurling him backwards into the darkness of the tunnels.
“Dis messen because of yousa?” Palo asked as he motioned to the chaos above without turning around.
“The Emperor offered me the one thing I didn’t have,” Kal Orn replied.
“Power?” Palo mocked.
“An army to bury my enemy.”
“Yousa slave to da Emperor now,” Palo said with a laugh. “Yousa has no bombad army.”
The sound of Kal’s saber igniting behind him made Palo reach for his own.
“Well, this is all I need anyway,” Kal said as he held up his purple lightsaber.
Palo immediately spun around and unleashed a barrage of quick attacks, forcing Kal on his heels in an effort to defend himself from the Dark Sith Lord. As each slam of Palo’s lightsaber crashed down, Kal’s grip on his own began to slip. Even though he now shared the same abilities as his Gungan opponent, he felt his inexperience might seal his fate. He had to do something fast. Upon the next swing of Palo’s blade, he came in close and Kal seized the opportunity to blast him with a direct hit of Force Lightning.
Palo screamed out in both shock and pain as he sailed backwards through the air into the wall. Stunned, he immediately reached out for his dropped lightsaber as the ground shook and the area went silent and every still-functioning light in the underground facility went dead.
The sounds of the continued blasting away of Palo’s once exquisite palace above echoed in the chambers below. Visibility was low with only specks of light breaking through from the darkening skies above. Palo took a moment to meditate on his surroundings until he felt the Ewok sneaking up behind him. He tried to ignite his saber, but the EMP blast shorted out the power cell, so he quickly spun around and sliced the dark assassin across the face with the Colo Claw Fish tooth before Force pushing him back into the abyss.
He sensed several Imperial ships landing all across his estate and troops marching into the compound. The palace was a smoking pile of rubble and it wouldn’t be long before the Emperor’s men would make it down to where he was. Palo knew he needed to leave in a hurry, so revenge for Kal’s disloyalty would have to be served cold.
Kal hurried through the charred and broken remains of Palo’s once great courtyard as he approached a temporary command post. Inside, a Stormtrooper commander was talking to a hologram of Emperor Palpatine as Kal walked in.
“Tell me, Inquisitor,” the Emperor said addressing Kal. “Did we get my prize?”
“We encountered Binks in the lower levels of the palace,” Kal replied. “But we were unable to stop his escape. And Roolel was gravely injured in an attempt to subdue him.”
“It seems my aged Gungan friend is too much of a match for the likes of you,” the Emperor replied. “If this is the case, I see no longer see your value…”
The Emperor’s hologram turned back to the Stormtrooper commander.
The Stormtrooper commander raised his blaster, but Kal Force shoved him across the yard.
“Listen!” Kal said. “I have a connection with him. I’m the only one who does. I will stop him.”
The Emperor paused for a moment before motioning to someone over Kal’s shoulder.
“Very well,” the Emperor said. “But my special team of stealth troopers will accompany you.”
Kal turned around, but didn’t see anyone there.
“Aye, aye, sir,” a disembodied voice said as three Stormtroopers in light grey armor slowly materialized out of thin air.
The middle Stormtrooper stepped up to Kal.
“Name’s Zin Tundo,” the trooper said. “Commander. Guardian Angel Squad.”
As the hologram of the Emperor disappeared, Kal looked his new companions over and shook his head. “I don’t need any more people to slow me down. The Ewok does enough of that already.”
“It’s not your decision to make,” Zin Tundo replied. “Our name may be a bit misleading. We’re not here to protect you. We’re here to protect the interests of the Emperor.”
“I do just fine on my own,” Kal shot back.
“Maybe when you don’t pull punches,” the stealth trooper said as he leaned in. “I was down there. You had the target on the ropes before that EMP blast. You could’ve finished him, but instead you let him attack your teammate.”
“You weren’t there,” Kal told him. “I would’ve sensed you.”
“Perhaps you rely too much on the Force,” Zin Tundo said with a smile. “We angels go anywhere and see everything.”
“So you’re spies?”
“We keep people honest,” the trooper replied.
Kal looked at the trooper’s armor and then at his lightsaber. “The blast shorted my saber’s power cell. How come your armor still works?”
“Copper mesh inlay inside our suits,” Zin Tundo said. “Shields us from EMP blasts… and Force lightning, if you’re curious.”
“I heard of people doing that to protect computers back home on Cyphar, but never for something like this.”
“So you’re from Cyphar?” the trooper asked.
“That’s right. But I left that rock a long time ago,” Kal replied.
“I’m a Korun,” Zin Tundo explained. “But my family was killed by a rival clan and a few of us escaped off-world. We somehow ended up on Cyphar for a while.”
“Korun?” A voice from behind them asked. “That would make you a Force-sensitive.”
Kal and Zin turned to see Roolel Ristook approach them a large cut across his face.
“I figured you for dead,” Kal told Roolel.
“Yud ehda…” Roolel said as he adjusted his translator. “Here I am.”
“So, you’re a Force user, too?” Kal asked Zin Tundo. “I thought you said I shouldn’t rely on it.”
“I did,” the trooper responded. “And I don’t. Once we left Korun I cut all ties with the Force. I trusted it to help me once and it failed me. I find that blasters and armor do a better job.”
“We need to move before the trail gets cold,” Roolel told them. “The Gungan will pay for what he did to me.”
Kal waved the Ewok off as he stepped away to focus.
“I’ll see if I can find him.”
“Query: Have preparations been made for Master Palo’s arrival?”
“Yes, sir.” A B1 battle droid replied as Meatbag, donning a new silver and red-accented color scheme, walked into a large office overlooking an abandoned spice mine. “Everything is ready.”
“Additional query: And the Iron Knights?”
“Secure as possible, sir.”
The amenities of Palo’s secret bunker near the spice mines of Kessel’s northern hemisphere paled in comparison to the once sprawling estate on Coruscant, but it was remote and designed to be impenetrable. He was able to build this hidden facility over the course of years, right under the noses of the Royal Family in the south and mine workers nearby.
As the head of many committees, Senator Binks had more than one encounter with the nobility of the planet, and there were even rumors that they were part of his criminal syndicate as a source for his spice stockpiles. However, even if they originally knew of his plans to create a base of operation on the planet it was of no consequence now since he recently had Meatbag assassinate the entire Royal Family to ensure privacy.
“Scouts report Master Palo has just entered Kessel’s lower atmosphere,” the battle droid reported.
“Shall I send out the welcoming party?”
“Statement: Negative. I will greet our weary Lord myself. Have them wait by the entrance.”
Moments later, a Kuat Systems Engineering Delta-6 Sprite-class starfighter was seen lowering it’s landing gear through the window. Meatbag tapped a few buttons on his wrist comlink before exiting the room.
On the platform, the starfighter docked and Palo stepped into the thick air of the mining facility. He saw the large blast doors of the bay open up and Meatbag’s new look.
“Meatbag, mesa palo,” the Gungan said as he slightly limped towards the bunker while the HK droid approached. “New looky?”
“Statement: Yes, Master. I was tired of a thousand years of rust. It is a new day.”
“Okeeday, Commander,” Palo replied as he walked along the bridge to the bay doors as he once again sensed an ominous plan brewing.
As he got to the blast doors, dozens of B1 battle droids and B2 super battle droids ran out and surrounded Palo. He looked at Meatbag who shrugged.
“Rhetorical query: Is not the apprentice killing the master a Sith tradition, Master?”
“Yousa try to crunchen mesa, Meatbag?”
“Reply: No hard feelings, Master. I personally liked our adventures together, but seeing as you are an organic, this relationship was never meant to last.”
Palo reached for his lightsaber and was relieved to see hear the hum of its ignition.
“Disa how yousa tello ends then.”
Palo flipped backwards over the droids behind him as a barrage of blaster fire flew his way which he was able to block with flurries from his saber. As the legion of battle droids advanced and fired, Palo was being slowly inched back towards the docking bay and the canyon below.
Meatbag grabbed his rifle and steadied his aim on Palo.
“Statement: Goodbye, Master-“
Before the HK droid pulled the trigger, a massive commotion behind him grabbed his attention and he looked to see two Iron Knights thrashing their way through scores of battle droids on the bridge. He took aim, firing at one of the Iron Knights, shattering the Shard in its core and sending the MagnaGuard carcass over the side of the bridge to the depths below.
The second Iron Knight reached out through the Force and ripped the rifle from Meatbag’s hands, hurling it into the canyon. It then reached out with his other hand and grabbed the HK droid, flinging him across the bridge into a line of battle droids that were advancing on Palo.
Given a reprieve, Palo went on the offensive and unleashed Force Lightning on everything in his line of sight. The battle droids sizzled and popped, with smoke pouring from their bodies as they fell to the ground.
Palo saw Meatbag getting off the ground and flung his lightsaber towards his former assistant, slicing off his arm and causing him to become off balance near the edge of the bridge. The remaining Iron Knight hurried over and finished the job by Force pushing the HK unit off the bridge and out of sight.
“Selongabye, Meatbag,” Palo said as his attention was suddenly diverted from his fallen comrade to a detachment of Droidekas that rolled onto the bridge and set their shields up.
The Iron Knight Forced pushed a few off the bridge before a few direct hits knocked him out of commission. Alone against the remaining battle droids and Droidekas, Palo leapt to the middle of the bridge and reached out through the Force to grab a battle droid, heaving him into several more. As they collapsed, Palo turned to another group of B1s and held out his hand to shove them when a blaster bolt sailed through his shoulder.
Remaining vigilant and willing himself to feel no pain, Palo stood strong and let loose an immense Force Lighting storm that emerged not just from his fingertips, but from thin air itself. It was as if the Dark Side was a tangible entity helping him overcome his enemies. He felt endless power within his grasp, but after every droid on the bridge sizzled to a crisp, the feeling left as quickly as it arrived. Tired, wounded and betrayed, Palo made his way inside the bunker.
As the bay doors closed behind him, Fortem stepped out of Delta 6 and surveyed the smoking metal carnage.
“Even his droids turn on him,” Fortem said aloud. “Does he have no allies left?”
“The ways of Sith do not tend to allow for lasting alliances,” the faint blue spirit of Valkorion said as he appeared next to the clone. “Palo is strong, but his empire crumbles around him.”
“You can have it,” Fortem replied. “After I kill the Gungan you will be in control of a vast mechanical war machine that rivals Palpatine’s. And I will have my revenge.”
Fortem walked over to the edge and looked into the canyon below at bits and pieces of battle droids that remained on outcroppings and cliffs.
“We must hurry,” Valkorion told him. “I only have so long before Chaos takes me.”
“It won’t get a chance to,” Fortem replied as he spied something below. “Perhaps I’ve found a fitting body for you sooner than expected.”
Moments later, on a small rocky ledge beneath the bridge, Fortem walked over to the fallen Iron Knight with a blaster hole in his chest. Although the Shard inside was gravely wounded, it was still alive.
“Can you still function?” Fortem asked the damaged Iron Knight as it lay on the ledge.
“Barely,” the Iron Knight replied. “My crystal has been shattered. My life force is fading.”
“What is the purpose of this, apprentice?” Valkorion asked.
“The Shard inside this MagnaGuard droid body is organic,” Fortem told him. “If you possess the Shard, if only for a time, you gain control of a very powerful attack droid. One capable of amazing feats.”
“I have possessed many bodies over millennia, but never a crystalline organic inside a droid,” Valkorion responded. “And the Shard is near death.”
“Use your knowledge of the dark arts to heal it,” Fortem said. “Take control of the Shard and this droid and become whole again.”
The Iron Knight began to move and tried to get up.
“I won’t allow this,” the Iron Knight announced. “My loyalties lay with my Master.”
“Seems we both have no choice,” Valkorion told the droid. “I am your Master now.”
Once again Kal found himself in the crowded lower depths of Galactic City, but this time he was in control of his body. They were in search of someone who Zin Tundo insisted on bringing along to finally capture the former Gungan senator.
“I didn’t want to have you guys tagging along,” Kal said to Zin Tundo as they passed The Sarlacc Pit on their way through the dark streets. “Much less add an extra person. I figured a group who calls themselves angels would want to travel light.”
“And I thought Jedi worried less,” the trooper quipped back.
“Apparently the Jedi follow a strict code, I don’t.” Kal responded. “I follow the money.”
“And you’ll get plenty if you don’t screw this up.” Zin Tundo said as he stopped in front of a rusted metal door on the side of building.
After a few knocks, a panel slid open and the barrel of a blaster rifle poked out.
“We don’t like Imperials around here,” a voice said. “State your business or get blasted.”
“Your Emperor demands your assistance,” Zin Tundo stated matter-of-factly.
“He ain’t my Emperor,” the voice called out. “But, just the same, what’s in it for me?”
“We won’t bring this entire building down on top of you for starters,” the trooper replied. “Secondly, more than enough credits to-“
“I don’t need credits,” the voice interrupted. “I need unlimited immunity.”
Just then a few creaky latches were unbolted on the opposite side of the door and it opened up to reveal a Clone Wars veteran wearing battle fatigues and a modified blaster rifle held in a cybernetic hand. A standard issue trooper helmet was on a nearby table that he had spray painted silver.
“Are you the one they call Hevy?” Zin Tundo asked as he looked around the small room from the doorway.
“When I say immunity, I mean I’m free to do my thing,” Hevy said, bypassing the question. “Without some Imperial inquiry into my actions.”
“And what exactly is your thing?” Kal asked him.
“Depends on the situation, friend.” Hevy replied. “An opportunist never paints himself into a corner with titles.”
Kal glanced around the small, cramped space Hevy was staying in. “You sure you don’t need the credits?”
“Looks can be deceiving,” Hevy replied with a smile as he motioned to his cybernetic right arm. “Watch this.”
Hevy lifted up his hand as lightning, very similar to Force Lightning, shot out through his fingers and torched a nearby trash bin.
“How’d you do that?” Kal asked, genuinely amazed.
“I’m not some wizard relying on the magic of the Force if that’s what you’re thinking,” Hevy told him. “Lost my arm on Geonosis. Docs replaced it with this thing, but the war ended and I never got to use it. Before I healed up I was tossed out with the old Republic. Labeled defective.”
“If we’re all done bonding,” Zin Tundo interjected. “We have a mission to carry out.”
Hevy nodded and turned to grab his silver trooper helmet as they left.
“So what have you been doing since the war?” Kal asked Hevy as they walked through the streets of Lower Coruscant back to their ship.
“Chasing opportunities,” Hevy replied as he put on his helmet.
Palo stared out into the canyon and the vast reaches of the abandoned spice mines as he recuperated from the earlier attack on his life. Dozens of destroyed battle droids littered the floor indicating that the Gungan’s battle was not over when he entered the facility.
A sudden, shrill beeping pulled his attention away from the window to a series of monitors on his right that showed live feeds inside the bunker. In one screen, Fortem was visible as he made his way towards the command center with an Iron Knight in tow.
Instead of reacting, the Sith Lord remained calm and seated as Fortem advanced inside the bunker. Palo began to meditate and a toothy grin soon stretched across his face.
Before long, Fortem arrived at the room to discover it wasn’t locked down, but instead left wide open for him to enter. Cautious of a trap, the clone assassin slowly made his way inside.
“Mesa smilin yousa hair,” Palo said aloud.
Fortem pulled his silver virbroblade from its sheath.
“Mesa clone experiment,” the Gungan said as he spun around in his chair to see the Iron Knight also walk into the room. “And mesa holocron boyo.”
“You won’t be happy for long,” Fortem told him. “This is where your reign ends.”
Palo got out of his chair and ignited his lightsaber. Fortem tightened his grip on his sword. Valkorion, now possessing the Shard inside the MagnaGuard, twirled his electrostaff.
“How far yousa has fallen,” Palo mockingly said to Valkorion.
“You are a blip on the timeline, dear student,” Valkorion replied. “The galaxy will forget you, but I am eternal!”
Wasting no time, Fortem rushed Palo who parried a downswing and the two began to duel. Looking to overcome the Gungan, Valkorion also attacked, narrowly missing Palo’s head with the tip of the electrostaff.
In an effort to separate his opponents, Palo Force pushed Fortem into the window, shattering the glass, but failing to knock the clone out of the room. The assassin picked up his sword and re-engaged the Sith Lord as he also fended off a spinning attack from Valkorion. After ducking a swing from Fortem, Palo Force pushed Valkorion into a series of controls for the defunct spine mine, unintentionally firing up the mining equipment outside.
He quickly turned back around and blocked a swing from Fortem, whose sword got temporarily stuck in a metal handrail long enough for Palo to stab the Colo Claw Fish tooth into his shoulder and once again hurl him towards the window, this time successful putting him through it.
A noise from behind made Palo turn around just in time to be hit with a flying battle droid body that Valkorion cast his way. Stumbling to the ground, Palo narrowly dodged another battle droid as the Iron Knight approached.
Realizing he had dropped his lightsaber, Palo was unarmed as Valkorion approached spinning his staff as the electric ends of the weapon singed the floor as he moved closer.
“No!” Fortem yelled out as he crawled back through the window and readied his sword. “Leave him to me!”
The distraction was long enough for Palo to regain his composure and hold out both hands, unleashing Force Lightning on both Valkorion and Fortem.
Fortem was knocked back outside into the canyon below as Valkorion’s metal host body began to glow red as Palo continued to unleash strike after strike of Dark Side electricity into it until the Shard began to smoke, eventually shattering into pieces.
Palo called his lightsaber hilt to his hand and sliced a section of the Magna Guard’s cape with the sharp tooth. He carefully placed each piece of the Shard on the cloth and wrapped them up, securing them for travel.
The Sith Lord then walked over to the broken window and looked out into the canyon where Fortem fell earlier. Automated mining equipment was now moving throughout the spice mines below as the Delta-6 flew off into the sky overhead.
He sensed his old droid and looked back down to see Meatbag’s battered body moving along a conveyor belt that would originally drop spice into hovering buckets for delivery to off-world transport ships, but since those were long gone the belt was about to send the HK droid into a deep abyss.
Palo mused that he may have attempted to rescue him in his youth, but recent events have taken their toll and he didn’t want to restore the old HK unit for a second time. When he found Meatbag on Telos IV all those years ago, he was a rusty long shot. His former Master, a powerful Sith Lord in his own right, had long abandoned him there.
History would repeat for Meatbag as Palo watched the droid reach the end of the conveyor belt and sail over the edge into the darkness below.
Kal Orn paced back and forth in the sand just outside a small outpost on Jakku, a desolate desert planet in the western reaches outside the core worlds.
“Who would live out here?” Kal asked as he picked up a rock and tossed it into a mound of sand.
“I would,” Hevy answered. “Because I do.”
“But what are we doing here?” Kal replied. “Palo isn’t here and isn’t that who we’re tracking?”
“Your supposed connection to him has gotten us nowhere.” Roolel replied as he walked over. “So we decided to try a different approach.”
“Maybe he’s blocking my ability to sense him. Maybe it’s fading. None of that matters because when we do find him, I’m the only one who can beat him,” Kal snapped.
“Which is why you’re still around,” Zin Tundo announced as he approached the two Inquisitors.
“So what’s this new plan then?”
“Ask the clone,” Roolel said as he pointed back over at Hevy. “It was his idea.”
“The new guy?” Kal asked. “He has no idea what we’re up against.”
“He’s been through more than you know,” Zin Tundo said. “He was taken from the battlefields of Geonosis to the cloning facilities on Kamino. He wasn’t the only experiment. He witnessed terrible and unnatural things done to his brothers.”
“Do you know a clone named Fortem?” Kal asked Hevy as he walked over. “He was a test subject at Tipoca City, but would’ve been put on hold while you were there.”
“The name doesn’t ring any bells, but we all went by numbers there,” Hevy replied. “We got the nicknames later.”
“He’s younger looking than the rest of you clones now,” Kal continued. “He was in a stasis chamber. They were supposed to fuse him with a Force crystal, but they never got around to it.”
“No idea, but if you’re looking for the reason we’re on this rock, it’s because I contacted a few friends and they got me in touch with a clone who says he can bring the Gungan to us,” Hevy told him. “And I don’t like to turn down help from my brothers.”
“If it’s who I think it is, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew,” Kal responded.
“I don’t know,” Hevy replied with a smile as he rubbed his pudgy gut. “I can eat a lot.”
“Radar shows an incoming ship. A small personal class, probably your man,” Zin Tundo said as he waved for his two men to follow him. “We’ll be in angel mode.”
Kal, Roolel and Hevy watched as the ship entered into their airspace and landed on a makeshift platform nearby. While Kal didn’t recognize the Delta-6, he immediately recognized Fortem when he exited the ship and headed their way.
“Here we go.”
As the clone assassin neared the men, he saw Kal and drew his sword.
“What is he doing here?” Fortem demanded to know. “I bring you the Gungan and you betray me?”
Kal looked over at both Roolel and Hevy who didn’t seem to understand what was going on.
“I told you this wouldn’t go well,” Kal told them as he wrapped his hand around the hilt of his lightsaber.
“Palo will be here soon,” Fortem said. “But you’ll all be dead for turning against me!”
Fortem leapt into the air, but Kal quickly blocked his downswing and Force shoved him to the ground.
“Slow down!” Kal yelled out. “He used me just like he used you. Only worse! Palo has no friends here.”
“Then what are you doing on Jakku?” Fortem shot back.
“I’m an Imperial Inquisitor now. Hunting Palo for the Empire,” Kal told him. “Seems that fate has brought us together to take on our old friend together.”
“If that’s the case, where’s my contact?” Fortem asked.
“That’d be me,” Hevy said stepping forward. “Hevy’s the name. Heard you were also at Tipoca City.”
“That where you got the upgrade?” Fortem said motioning to Hevy’s cybernetic arm.
“Didn’t come easy, though,” Hevy replied. “That place was hell for some of us.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Fortem said as he walked towards the outpost. “I was asleep the whole time.”
“Wait. You said Palo was coming,” Kal asked. “How can you be so sure? I don’t sense him.”
Fortem stopped. “Because when you intentionally stir up a Lylek’s nest, the big ones always give chase.”
Hevy’s underground fortress spread far and wide beneath the desert terrain above. Although impressive in size, it looked as if it was built in stages over the years from various scrap and materials that could be salvaged from the surface. Due to the planet’s proximity to Coruscant, several small skirmishes happened in the skies above during the Clone Wars, causing ship debris to crash down from time to time. Despite its aesthetics, the facility offered more than enough space and amenities to satisfy.
“You have a carbon-freezing chamber?” Kal asked Hevy as he peered into a vast room off the main hall.
“Class three, no less,” Hevy responded.
“Why would you need this?”
“I don’t really. Not yet anyway.” Hevy replied. “A few years back a Figg & Associates shipping vessel was attacked by pirates just above the planet. They crash landed not too far from here and I just so happened to be around to help them out. The owner gave me this in return.”
“Wouldn’t credits have been easier?” Kal asked.
“Didn’t want credits,” Hevy said as he admired the equipment. “I wanted the chamber.”
“Sensors indicate a small ship just landed near here,” Zin Tundo told them as he walked over. “This has gotta be our boy. I sent my men to be our eyes and hears as he approaches.”
“Anyone alert Fortem yet?” Kal asked.
“Figured I’d let you do that,” the trooper replied. “Seeing as you two have a history with this guy.”
A few moments later, Kal found Fortem in the control room staring at camera monitors that covered both inside and outside of the facility.
“You’re not strong enough to beat him,” Kal warned the clone assassin.
“Good thing I won’t be fighting alone then,” Fortem replied.
“You said you drew him here,” Kal reminded him. “From where?”
“The Sith spirit and I boarded his ship when he left Coruscant after you attacked the palace.” Fortem told him. “He flew to a secret bunker inside a spice mine on Kessel, but things didn’t go well for him.”
“The HK droid set up an ambush,” Fortem continued. “The entire droid army turned against the Gungan.”
“Apparently the attack was a failure,” Kal said as he motioned to Palo’s ship on one of the screens.
“In some ways yes, is others no.” Fortem replied. “While it’s true that Palo is still alive for now, other obstacles and annoyances have been moved out of the way.”
“What will happen to the Syndicate?” Kal asked.
“What does it matter?” Fortem responded. “May it sink to the depths of hell with the Gungan.”
“Pardon the interruption,” Zin Tundo said as Kal and Fortem turned around to see him materialize out of thin air alongside Roolel who was sporting a fresh scar across his face. “But my men report that Palo approaches.”
The four turned to a monitor on the control panel and saw Palo on the screen as he neared the entrance.
The two Guardian Angels perched on ledges just above the blast door that leads into the fortress as Palo casually walked up and suddenly paused a moment.
Without warning, both angel troopers were lifted off their feet and slammed to the rocky terrain below. As they crashed down, their suits malfunctioned and they came into view. Palo lifted one of them off the ground and began to Force choke him.
As the other Guardian Angel got to his feet to rush Palo, the Sith Lord ignited his lightsaber, impaling the trooper as he ran forward.
Zip Tundo immediately ran out of the control room while Kal, Fortem and Roolel remained to watch the screen as Palo dropped the lifeless trooper from his grip and turned to Force push the heavy blast door off its hinges into the large hall beyond.
Palo confidently walked inside as Zin Tundo, in stealth mode, rounded the corner and began rapidly firing his blaster. The Sith Lord blocked the first few bolts with the Force, but then began to use his lightsaber as the shots came faster and faster while his invisible attacker got closer.
As he neared Palo, a deflected blaster bolt ricocheted and hit in the Guardian Angel, tossing him back to the floor. With the blaster fire over, Palo quickly moved to punish the trooper, but was unable to see him due to the stealth suit still being engaged. The angered Sith Lord trashed the area with his lightsaber, but stopped when he sensed others had entered the room. He looked up to see both Fortem and Roolel standing at a large doorway.
“I knew you’d come, Gungan,” Fortem said.
“Mesa see dat yousa maken friends,” Palo said motioning to Roolel.
“While all you do is make enemies,” Fortem responded.
“Mesa let yousa live too longo… clone.” Palo replied. “Mesa fix dat now.”
“You’re outmatched here,” Fortem tod him.
“Liken mesa was on Kessel? Or Coruscant?” Palo mused. “If da bombad Valkorion cannot crunchen mesa, all-n youse has no chance.”
Fortem and Roolel rushed towards Palo as he backed into the center of the main hall swinging his blade. The Ewok was first to arrive as he flipped into position and lunged forward with his orange lightsaber, to which Palo parried, but bought Fortem enough time to land a superficial wound to the Gungan’s shoulder.
Palo momentarily reeled back, allowing for Roolel to swing down and slice the Sith Lord’s lightsaber in half, but mistakenly leave himself wide open for a counterattack. As the Ewok’s momentum continued forward, the Colo Claw Fish tooth end of the saber dug into the Ewok’s back, causing him collapse to the floor.
As Roolel fell, Palo smiled over at Fortem.
“Yousa friend die.”
“Not my friend,” Fortem replied. “Like you, everyone is a means to an end.”
“Mesa agree.” Palo nodded as he Force pushed Fortem back across the room and against the wall.
“Why not run and hide in someone else’s body, Palo?” Kal asked from behind the Gungan as he entered the hall. “Worked for you last time.”
“Mesa bombad apprentice,” Palo said jokingly as he turned to see Kal. “Or should mesa say… mesa enemy?”
“Neither,” Kal Orn said. “What I’m able to do is a side effect of your cowardice to do a job face-to-face. And we’re not enemies because I don’t like you enough to hate you.”
“Fraidee frog? Mesa?” Palo asked. “Mesa crunchen Moff Sareen to force da Emperor to maken da Inquisitors to looky for them-sa Jedi in hidin. Daysa bombad troubles in future for mesa empire. Hesa no wise enough to do dis alone. Mesa old palo know mesa already so mesa gos in yousa body instead.”
“You couldn’t have known he’d track me down from a HoloNet image and I’d end up an Inquisitor to hunt you down,” Kal replied.
“Actually… mesa suspectin.” Palo said with a growing smile.
“So I was bait? I was never supposed to be your apprentice was I?” Kal asked. “You weren’t careless, you were cocky.”
“Liken da clone spake,” Palo replied. “All-n youse a means to da end.”
“That’s enough talking.”
Kal suddenly threw his lightsaber at Palo through the Force, but the Sith Lord easily dodged the attack and reached out with his hand to catch the saber by the hilt as it flew by.
“Yousa has but a fraction of mesa power,” Palo boasted.
“He said no more talking!” Hevy yelled out cutting Palo off mid-sentence as he lowered his cybernetic arm and caught the Sith Lord completely off guard with a lightning blast. The Gungan crashed to the ground as the clone mercenary continued torturing him with a steady stream of lightning, causing the angered Sith Lord to squirm in pain as his eyes burned red and yellow.
Smoke began to rise from Palo’s body as Kal called his lightsaber to his hand and ran over to Hevy.
“That’s enough.” Kal demanded.
“What?” Fortem yelled out as he ran over with his vibroblade in hand. “It’ll be enough when he’s dead!”
“Keep shocking him!”
“There’s another solution!”
Kal shot Fortem a look and turned back to Hevy and ignited his purple blade. “I said that’s enough!”
Fortem swung his sword down on Kal’s blade and kicked him backwards. He turned to Hevy and yelled, “Fry the Gungan!”
As Palo smoked and moaned on the cold steel floor, Hevy unleashed his electric bolts on the Sith Lord, but was suddenly lifted off his feet and hurled through a blastproof glass wall, crashing down into a nearby observation room.
“What are you doing?” Fortem yelled out as he watched Kal attack Hevy. “We’re not the enemies here!”
“Everyone is a means to an end, remember?” Kal yelled. “This is your end.”
Kal reached out with both hands and began to crush Fortem with the Force from both sides. As the clone cried out in pain, Kal sensed that Palo was beginning to regain consciousness so he angrily flung Fortem’s damaged body across the room against the far wall.
The Cypharian turned around to see one of Palo’s charred hands beginning to move. He knew he only had a matter of minutes before the Sith Lord would summon enough strength to stand, so he turned to a room behind him and motioned for the equipment to activate.
He dragged the Gungan’s body across the floor through the Force as he entered into the carbon-freezing chamber room. He slowly lifted Palo’s body and lowered it into the chamber before turning to the control panel to adjust the dials.
As he was about to activate the freeze, Palo called out, “Now yousa… like mesa…”
“How’s that?” Kal casually asked as he looked down into the hole at Palo’s propped up body.
“No palos… just enemies…”
The frail Gungan smiled showing blackened teeth and as a raspy cackle began to emanate from the chamber, Kal slammed the controls. Liquid carbonite immediately flooded into the chamber surrounding Palo as the temperature dropped below freezing within an instant.
Moments later, the frozen body of the former Senator from Naboo was lifted out of the chamber and his carbonite block was lain flat, hovering a few feet above the floor.
“Now I kind of like you,” Kal said as he checked the readout on the side of the block to make sure the Gungan was still alive inside.
Zin Tundo deactivated his stealth mode and slowly came into view holding a hand over the blaster bolt hole in his left shoulder while he watched Fortem walk away.
The clone assassin, reeling from his defeat at the hands of Kal Orn, limped through the broken doorway of the Jakku fortress just as the Delta-6 flew out of sight.
“We’re not done yet,” Fortem said to himself as he stumbled into the desert sands.
He looked back down into the vast, desolate terrain when he spotted a scrubbed Imperial 614-AvA speeder bike parked outside Hevy’s estate. He wasted no time making his way over and firing up the engine.
The speeder launched ahead, but suddenly Zin Tundo appeared out of nowhere and tossed an EMP grenade that killed the engine on the jumpspeeder, causing it to nosedive into the ground flipping the clone over the handlebars into the rocks and sand beyond. Too weak to move, Forten lay silent as Zin Tundo walked over with his blaster rifle.
“You’re coming with me,” the Guardian Angel said. “The Empire doesn’t take assassination attempts lightly.”
“I was used by the Gungan,” Fortem replied. “Surely your Emperor will be sympathetic to our mutual plight.”
“Unlikely,” Zin Tundo explained. “However, his lordship deals harshly with failure and I won’t return to him without the Gungan in hand. You will help me find him in exchange for my silence.”
“Palo could be anywhere now that the Cypharian interfered,” Fortem remarked.
“Not anywhere. He’s on that ship that just high-tailed it out of here,” a voice behind them called out as they both turned to see Hevy limping over. “Your friend Kal was a little too interested in the carbon chamber, so I got suspicious.”
Hevy held out a portable hologram projection pod as it showed a playback of Kal freezing Palo in carbonite.
“The Gungan’s a carbon block now,” Zin Tundo said as he tapped a few buttons on his wrist com link.“The foolish Cypharian has just made this much easier for us. With the Sith Lord no longer a threat, we will simply take back what is ours. I must contact the Emperor immediately.”
The Guardian Angel trooper turned around as a hologram of Emperor Palpatine appeared hovering over his wrist.
“Tell me you’ve captured the rogue Senator and are bringing him to me.”
“The Gungan has been put in a carbon-freeze and we are… in the process of securing his transfer to you now.” Zin Tundo hesitantly replied.
“Good. News that I have secured peace through the capture of the dangerous traitor will help settle any political unrest from the remaining Senators throughout the transition.”
“I’m sure the citizens will appreciate their Emperor keeping them safe,” Zin Tundo added.
“Bring me my trophy. As far as the galaxy is concerned,” the Emperor decreed. “Jar Jar Binks is dead.”
Inside an undisclosed location…
Palo’s broken lightsaber lay on a table as the torn MagnaGuard cape was placed down next to it. The cloth was slowly unraveled to reveal the five Shard pieces that contained the trapped and fractured spirit of Valkorion.
Kal Orn smiled as he turned from the items to admire the carbonite-encased Gungan Sith Lord mounted to the wall.