Silencing the Gungan

Acknowledgments


Silencing the Gungan
A Darth Jar Jar Tale

by Brennan McMahon

© Copyright 2016 by Brennan McMahon

This story or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise – without prior written permission of the author, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.

Star Wars characters, planets and vehicles are protected trademarks of Disney and Lucasfilm.

Prologue

“Query: When we arrive, do I have permission to terminate the meatbag myself, Master?”

A crooked smile grew across the Gungan’s face as he came out of hyperspace and approached the planet Toydaria in his modified Star Courier the Outlaunder. After seeing Darth Maul’s Scimitar on Tatooine and being impressed by its cold, sleek design, he modeled his own personal craft after that of the fallen Sith Lord. That particular Dathomirian Zabrak had always been a fascination of his. Of course, Maul’s arrival at Mos Espa was no surprise, but it was fun to pretend with the Jedi.

“Statement: We have entered the atmosphere of the planet and I detected two interceptor ships on route to meet with us. I have taken the necessary stealth precautions and armed the canons.”

Jar Jar had quickly grown to like the succinct, direct approach of his rebuilt HK assassin droid. Ever since he discovered that wrecked pile of metal scrap on the scarred surface of Telos IV during a scavenging mission, Meatbag, as he soon named him if only to annoy him, had proven his loyalty time and again. The droid had developed quite a reputation in the darker parts of the galaxy due to the extreme measures taken against those who forsook his master’s generosity. Under the guise of “Palo,” Senator Binks was quietly amassing a fortune by selling Republic protection and turns of a blind eye.

“Acknowledgement: Unfortunately I did not get to scratch my itchy trigger finger. We have arrived at the private docking station without incident. I have taken the liberty of overriding the sector’s power grid. I now have control. All escape routes except the ones that lead to us are sealed. Tell me when to go dark.”

After the emergency powers he proposed were bestowed upon Chancellor Palpatine, Jar Jar was made the head of many special committees which afforded him powerful connections and endless opportunities. With the newly-crowned Emperor busy forming his kingdom, no one batted an eye as the esteemed senator from Naboo made backroom deals with entire worlds in exchange for promises of current Republic – and future Imperial – protection once the inevitable happened and the Moffs took regional control.

No sooner did the words “Execute Order 66” leave the lips of Palpatine, Jar Jar abandoned the Senate to take the reins of his own personal empire. As the Empire added star systems, the Gungan amassed quite a collection of his own – a motley crew of gangsters and thieves who owed him for his kind favors and continued protection.

Cordo the Proud, a Toydarian gang boss who was supposed to pay regular tributes to Meatbag on behalf of the mysterious Palo, was beginning to become increasingly defiant. He had stopped paying for protection and cut off all communications with Meatbag compelling Jar Jar to choose this moment of insubordination to personally set an example for the criminal underworld.

Part I: Spice Shortage

Cordo the Proud had emerged as a powerful syndicate boss after the death of King Katuunko at the hands of the Sith. While the chaos swirled above, Cordo secured a lucrative spot on a rumored Hutt spice trading route that had typically bypassed Toydaria on the way to Lannik. When he heard that the Hutts were looking to use the newly-found instability of the planet to make money, he offered his services.

Just as the ink dried on his deal with the Hutts, Cordo was approached by Meatbag on the behalf of Palo and was promised no Republic entanglements and assured protection from the other gangs if he shared a portion of his spice profits. Being that Toydarians are naturally skeptical creatures, Cordo demanded proof. A few days later a competing gang led by a vile murderer named Orta got a surprise visit from a Clone Trooper squadron under the assumption that he had stolen data plans concerning a special project of Chancellor Palpatine’s.

Orta, not being one to take accusations lightly, attacked the squadron and a fight ensued that left him and his entire crew dead. The clone troopers searched his base, but never found the missing data plans. Upon asking Senator Binks if his intel was correct, the Gungan simply played the fool and asked them kindly not to shoot the messenger. With Orta out of the way, Cordo and Jar Jar had a monopoly on extortion, racketeering and spice smuggling across the planet.

“Three crates?! What kind of money can I make with only three crates of spice,” Cordo yelled at AR-91, a Hutt inventory droid. “Why do I have to deal with you idiotic droids anyhow? Where’s your boss?”

Cordo brushed passed the droid while he flew out of his warehouse office onto the dock. AR-91 followed and motioned to three medium-sized crates on the dock near a freighter. “That is all I am authorized to sell you at this time. Master Jabba-“

“Jabba,” Cordo mockingly interrupted. “The great Hutt! If that…slug…wants to make money on Toydaria, you tell him that I get to make money first!”

“I will make a note to mention that to him when I get back,” AR-91 replied.

“No, no, no,” Cordo replied, calming down as he put his hand on AR-91’s shoulder. “We don’t need to mention this to Jabba. He’s too busy to worry about me, right? He’ll get his money.”

“He most certainly is,” AR-91 said as he held out a data pad. “Now if you will pay the invoice I can be on my way.”

Cordo looked over at the crates while AR-91 extended the data pad to him and punched in his account codes. He shoved the pad back towards the inventory droid when he was finished and began to rub his bearded chin while looking at the shipment.

“There,” AR-91 replied. “Now my Master has his money and you have your spice. May I suggest in the future that you don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you?”

Cordo’s attention snapped back to AR-91. “What did you say?”

Three of Cordo’s men walked over to the spice crates as Cordo repeated, “What did you just say to me?”

“I…uh..,” AR-91 backpedaled. “I was merely suggesting that-“

The other men encircled AR-91 making him stop mid-sentence.

“Did the money go through,” Cordo asked as he once again calmed himself down.

“Er…yes. The spice payment was successfully transferred to the Hutt account,” AR-91 said nervously.

“Good,” Cordo said with a smile as he lifted up his blaster and fired at AR-91, blasting him apart. “Then you’ve served your purpose.”

Cordo motioned for his men to clean up the droid parts as he opened the first crate of spice and held up a canister.

“Take the droid to those Jawas near sector nine,” Cordo told them. “They aren’t picky and they don’t mind blaster burns on the merchandise. Then get back here because we got deliveries to make.”

Part II: Setting the Tone

A hooded Jar Jar walked alongside Meatbag as the two made their way down the smoke-filled corridors of the Toydarian underground, passing various species who offered glancing looks, but were too intimidated to stare. The presence of the HK-series assassination droid was enough to turn the gazes of passersby even without the aura of confidence exuded by the mysterious Gungan.

“Statement: The Toydarian’s docking bay is just ahead,” Meatbag said. “Query: Time to go dark?”

Jar Jar held out his hand and felt through the environment. After a moment a toothy grin crept across his face and he gave a nod. Meatbag immediately touched a button on his wrist pad and the flickering lights sporadically placed along the hallways went out, the loud hum of the exhaust systems halted, and a hush fell over the people huddling in the corners.

Inside the docking bay, Cordo was testing a sample of spice on the end of his finger when the power went out. A few beams of light from outside came through the windows as he heard a metallic knock on the door to his warehouse. Dink. Dink. Dink. Dink.

He slowly licked the rest of the spice from his finger and reached for his blaster. Dink. Dink. Dink. As he hovered towards the door he called out, “Victor? You boys back from dumping that droid already?”

He barely turned back towards the spice crates when the door exploded inwards, knocking him to the ground. With his ears still ringing, Cordo pushed debris aside and turned to the door when he heard metal clanking footsteps enter the room. He squinted to see through the dust and smoke in the blackness. Just then, Meatbag stepped into a ray of light that hit the floor between the Toydarian and the smoking hole that used to be a doorway. Cordo gasped.

“Wait, you’re… Palo’s droid, right?” Cordo asked with a nervous smile. “What are you doing here? Is this about the money?”

Meatbag remained silent and turned a dial on his blaster rifle. The sound of the metal clicks echoed in the room as the ringing in Cordo’s ears subsided. He regained flight and hovered backwards a little, creating some space between he and Meatbag.

“Look,” Cordo said as he quietly reached around for the extra blaster he kept on the table near the door to his office. “All these… theatrics… are unnecessary. You tell Palo that next time he should be more patient-“

Cordo managed to find the blaster and turned back to fire, but as he did two yellow eyes glowed in the darkness and the gun was ripped out of his hands and was heard clanking across the floor several feet away.

“Yousa can tell mesa yourself, Cordo the…Proud,” Jar Jar said in a low, assured tone.

The voice cut through Cordo’s body and he shuddered. “P-P-Palo?”

“Statement: In the flesh.”

Just then, Cordo’s men returned to see the blasted door and Meatbag standing in the light.

“Put the blaster down, droid,” Victor yelled to Meatbag. “We just sold one pile of junk, we can make it two.”

“Assassins,” Cordo yelled out as he flew further into the dark. “Kill ’em!

Victor and his men pulled their weapons and began to fire at Meatbag who ducked out of the way and fired back in their direction. He managed to hit one of the men as Victor and the other hid.

“Where are the lights,” Victor shouted out to Cordo. “What happened to the generators?”

“It’s Palo,” Cordo yelled back. “He and his droid killed the power and backups. Find the thermal goggles! Teach these fools who really runs Toydaria!”

As Victor turned to speak with the other man, he briefly saw a red beam on the man’s chest before a blaster bolt shrieked by, sending the man screaming into the darkness.

“They got Ollie,” shouted Victor as he looked up to see two yellow eyes in front of him. Before he knew it, he was flying backwards through the air into the spice crates.

Cordo heard Victor scream and began to fly over towards the noise, but a blaster bolt severed his wings from his body and he crashed to the ground, rolling to a stop.

“Meatbag.”

Immediately the lights in the warehouse turned back on and the whining of an exhaust fan gearing up was heard in the distance. Cordo lay at a pair of orange three-toed feet.

“A…Gungan,” Cordo murmured to himself as smoke billowed from the wound in his back.

“Otolla,” Jar Jar said to him. “Dis quite a revelation, methinks.”

Cordo, writhing in pain, propped himself up to speak. “This…was not necessary. I was…going to-“

Yousa was gonna do nothin,” Jar Jar barked. “Yousa had yousen chance. No mula, no protection.”

“I run this sector now. Even the Hutts can’t touch me,” Cordo bragged as he spit up blood. “The Senate is dead, so a deal for your protection is about as worthless as Republic credits out here! Your help is worthless now!”

Jar Jar smiled. “Mula keeps them-sa Opees away.”

“I don’t need to pay you anymore, Palo,” Cordo defiantly stated. “I’ll take my chances with the Empire if and when it comes. And I’ll be sure to mention a filthy Gungan with ties to the old Senate that’s extorting money from their citizens.”

“Then wesa gonna maken a new dealo today,” Jar Jar replied. “A berry good dealo.”

Cordo rolled onto his back and shrieked in pain. “My wings…what have you done,” he called out to Jar Jar. “You think I’m going to deal with you now?”

Suddenly Jar Jar’s hand shot out from under his gray robe and lifted Cordo into the air through the Force. As an invisible hand tightened around Cordo’s throat, Jar Jar angrily shouted, “Yousa have no choice! The Toydaria stop on them-sa Hutt’s spice route belongs to mesa!”

Movement near the spice crates caught his attention, but he remained focused on Cordo.

“Meatbag…”

Victor got a few feet from Jar Jar before two blaster shots from Meatbag’s rifle took him down. His body lunged back and crumbled beneath the floating Cordo. Meatbag stepped up beside Jar Jar and adjusted his gun.

“Show mesa how yousa contact them-sa Hutts,” Jar Jar demanded, “And then mesa say…selongabye!”

Cordo grabbed at his throat, trying in vain to remove the invisible hand that choked him. He managed to point to his office. “A…datapad,” he said. “The Hutt’s droid…had a datapad. All the info you need…”

Jar Jar motioned for Meatbag to find the datapad in the office. While he looked, Jar Jar glared at Cordo as he held him in the air choking, writhing, begging for air. He basked in the Toydarian’s pain.

After a moment, Meatbag emerged with the datapad.

“Acknowledgment: I have located the inventory droid AR-91’s data pad,” Meatbag reported. “The information to contact the Hutt they call Jabba Desilijic Tiure is here. May I suggest a trip to Tatooine for introductions, Master?”

Jar Jar released Cordo, dropping him to ground in a heap. As he gasped for air, he tried to prop himself up on a nearby crate. “Does…does that mean we’re done?”

“Done,” Jar Jar asked aloud. “Mesa suppose so, but someting yousa spake has mesa thinkin yousa have a longo nutsen tello for Empire boyos.”

Panic began to set in with Cordo. He began to speak nervously. “Oh…when I said I’d rat you out to the Empire? My wings…I was in shock…I wasn’t thinking straight. But…but I am now. I won’t say a thing. I swear!”

Jar Jar slowly walked over to Cordo who flinched in terror.

“Relax.”

Jar Jar leaned over and stared into the beady, watery eyes of the injured Toydarian. After a moment Jar Jar leaned back and looked over at Meatbag.

“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. My no know, Meatbag,” Jar Jar said. “What yousa spake?”

“Statement: I don’t like to leave loose ends, Master. I tend to let the carnage speak for what happened instead of survivors.”

“Carnage,” Cordo asked. “Wait! I’m not a loose end! I can help you-“

The sound of a lightsaber ignition was the last thing Cordo the Proud ever heard. Jar Jar ran his saber blade through the Toydarian’s chest and impaled the crate behind him, scattering spice across the floor.

“Disa how yousa can help,” Jar Jar said. “Yousa an example to all.”

The blade slid out from Cordo’s body as it slumped to the floor. Jar Jar turned to admire his sword for a moment. It was rare that he got to unleash it, with this being the first chance in a long time. He remembered crafting it at his temple in the swamps years ago.

The glistening Kyber crystal that was a gift from the mysterious teacher inside the holocron. The way the plasma blade turned red as Ch’hodos’s sun the first time he ignited it. He felt the small, razor-sharp Colo claw fish tooth attached to the bottom of the hilt that gave him a superior and primal close quarter combat blade for incapacitating his prey. The pure silver-hilted saber was a priceless work of art.

“Selongabye, Cordo,” Jar Jar said as he looked down at the Toydarian one last time before turning around and walking to the door of the warehouse.

“Set them-sa charges and remote detonators,” Jar Jar told Meatbag. “Mesa can’t have anyone realize what happened here, but maken sure daysa know Palo is bombad boss now. Maken a messen for sure.”

“Statement: Master, I enjoyed terminating the meatbags with you for once. Should I expect this to be the normal routine from now on?”

A sinister smile crossed Jar Jar’s face. “Mesa goen to be on the Outlaunder when yousa finished.”

Part III: Shipjackers

The walkways were still dark in the sector as Jar Jar made it back to the hangar where the Outlaunder was docked. As he neared the entrance, he overheard some men talking inside the bay.

“Ship’s empty,” a man said. “Offloading this baby is really gonna set us for life.”

“Just get the thing fired up,” another man replied. “This blackout won’t last forever and we don’t want whoever owns this ship to walk in on us.”

Amused, Jar Jar used the cloak of darkness to silently stride into the hangar unnoticed.

“Heyo dalee.”

The whispered words echoed across the room and in the ears of the men.

“Hey! Did you just hear something,” asked the man standing at the ramp to the Outlaunder.

The other man stepped down the ramp from the hull and shined his flashlight around the room. “Like the wind or something? Thought it came from inside the ship. Is a vent open out here?”

“The power outage knocked out everything,” the man replied. “I figured we’d have to use the canons on this ship to blast the bay doors, but maybe the power’s kicking back on.”

“Maybe,” the man on the ship replied as he returned inside. “Lemme get this thing started.”

“Mooie, mooie, mooie…”

The words felt as if they came from everywhere at once. The man on the ground grabbed his blaster and spun around. “Who’s there?”

He fumbled for his flashlight and shone it across the darkness of the room, moving around until the light reflected off two yellow eyes in the distance. Unsure what he was seeing at first, the man exclaimed, “What is that?”

Suddenly a red streak cut across the flashlight beam and before he could react, he felt a sharp, intense heat in his wrist before watching the flashlight fall to the ground with his hand still attached. As he saw the light spin on the floor, the razor sharp Colo tooth sliced through his gut shaking him awake from the surreal moment. He dropped to his knees as he bled out.

Jar Jar stood at the entrance ramp to the Outlaunder with blood dripping from the Colo tooth blade.

“Mesa thinken disa mesa skeebeetle.”

Frustrated, the other man stepped out of the ship and onto the ramp in a hurry. As he looked down to see someone just beyond the glow of the Outlaunder’s ramp lights he yelled out, “Frank? Get up here. We gotta get this ship-”

“Mesa no Frank,” Jar Jar smiled as he stepped onto the ramp. “Mesa Palo!”

Part IV: On the Radar

Jar Jar meditated in the cockpit when Meatbag stepped up the ramp and inside the Outlaunder.

“Query: Am I to assume you ran into trouble with the two organics on the platform, Master?”

“More liken duey hisen find bombad troubles,” Jar Jar replied without opening his eyes. “Maken a course for Naboo. Wesa going home.”

Meatbag took a seat next to Jar Jar and entered the coordinates to a long forgotten Sith temple in the midst of the Naboo swamps.

“When wesa clear, detonate them-sa charges,” Jar Jar ordered. “Daysa forget all about Cordo. Disa mesa sector now.”

Meatbag punched a code on his wrist pad and the power suddenly came back on across the entire sector. As the large bay doors opened up to the outside, the Outlaunder lifted off the ground and hovered into the morning sky of Toydaria with large, wooded swamps just below.

“Them-sa swamps still reminden mesa of Naboo,” Jar Jar reminisced. “Senator Organa and mesa doing bombad negotiations with Katuunko longo time ago. When mesa played the fool…”

“Statement: Charges set to explode in three…two…one…”

A large fireball emerged from the hangar they lefts moments ago as the entire sector shook turning much of it into rubble. Smoke and ash billowed into the sky as the Outlaunder headed out of the planet’s atmosphere. Once in space, Meatbag pulled up a map on the hyperdrive computer.

“Query: Will the Hutt’s not be expecting their new business partners, Master?”

“Wesa visit Tatooine in time,” Jar Jar replied ominously. “Mesa spect company on Naboo.”

Meatbag nodded and engaged the hyperdrive. Seconds later, the Outlaunder entered hyperspace and Jar Jar returned to meditation as Meatbag took the controls.

After a few moments, an alarm sounded breaking Jar Jar’s concentration.

“Acknowledgement: Someone has locked onto the ship’s cronau radiation trail from realspace. We are being tracked, Master.”

“Dalee daysa,” Jar Jar said to himself. “Hesa send bombad bounty hunters.”

“Statement: Good, more target practice,” Meatbag replied. “Query: Who can I thank for this, Master?”

“Mesa old Republic boyo,” Jar Jar told him. “Hesa got bombad Force powers. Mesa thought Toydaria was beyond hesa seein.”

“Query: Should I neutralize the threat, Master?”

Jar Jar smiled. “Only mesa has ability to face dat hisen, Meatbag,” he said. “But hesa still thinkin hesa big bombad boss, so wesa let dat hisen believin dat tello for now.”

Another alarm sounded and Meatbag checked the computer.

“Statement: It seems someone is trying to pull us out of hyperspace, Master.”

Jar Jar stared out the front window at the realm of hyperspace as it zoomed by. “Yousa keep wesa on course for Naboo. Mesa handle them-sa bounty hunters.”

The Gungan stood up, walked to the center of the ship and closed his eyes. Reaching out with the Force, he attempted to locate the bounty hunter ship in realspace that was tracking them.

“Wherea yousa…?”

With arm extended, it suddenly appeared as if Jar Jar had physically grabbed a hold of something with his right hand.

“Hidoe, boyos!”

Inside the bounty hunters’ ship the control panel immediately sparked and electrocuted the pilot at the helm.

“Jax!” The other bounty hunter screamed out as he saw his friend’s body hunched over and smoking. “What on Corellia…!?”

The entire ship went dark and the lone bounty hunter found himself in a dead ship floating through space. As he got to the controls, he tried to restore power, but his attention was caught by a rapidly approaching asteroid ahead of them. He frantically pressed buttons and pounded the dash to no avail. As he braced for impact, he wondered how this was even possible.

At the moment the rock destroyed the bounty hunters’ ship across the galaxy, Jar Jar relished the glory of his prowess. Not even Sidious was capable of such a feat.

“Allsa well, Meatbag,” Jar Jar told his droid as he sat back down in the cockpit. “On to Naboo.”

Part V: The Quiet Before the Storm

The Outlaunder docked in the hidden hangar bay of the temple beneath the canopy of the marshlands of Naboo. Years earlier, the great battle created a newfound friendship between the Gungans and the Naboo. Jar Jar’s people deserted the marsh in exchange for walking the paved streets of more civilized areas, opting for pools instead of swamps. The once solitary stronghold of Otah Gunga was now simply one of many homes to the Gungans since they openly traversed the planet. This scarcity of trespassers and wanderers near his temple pleased him since he was not found of others, especially his own people whom he felt betrayed him.

As he exited his ship, Jar Jar admired the pain-staking attention to detail the builders of his Sith palace had when they built the temple so long ago. The ancient ones were very concerned with the aesthetic and that pleased Jar Jar knowing that his temple was a powerful monument of exquisite craftsmanship like none other in existence. Many Sith temples were in ruins or completely destroyed in the various power struggles and wars that ravaged entire planets over millennia.

It was here, at this temple, that a young, unexperienced Gungan banished from his home came upon the holocron that would change the galaxy forever.

“Assertion: Whoever the bounty hunters were in contact with will soon be able to track our trajectory here. Should be prepare to eliminate more organics?”

“Prepare disa temple defenses,” Jar Jar told him. “And wake up yousa palos.”

Meatbag nodded and headed inside the temple and made his way to a large bay door. Punching a code on his wrist pad, the door began to slide open to reveal a large storage facility with six IG-227 Hailfire-class droid tanks, a J-1 proton cannon, and a NR-N99 Persuader-class droid enforcer left abandoned in the marsh when the Separatist droid battalion was defeated in the fields by the Gungan army.

In addition to the artillery, a legion of B1 battle droids, B2 super battle droids and a unit of Droidekas rounded out Jar Jar’s army. Meatbag, an experienced splicer and droid mechanic in addition to legendary assassin, had reprogrammed the entire lot to be under the command of Jar Jar, and controllable via his own wrist pad. With a few clicks, the entire army flickered to life and stood at the ready.

“Command: We will soon be under attack. Defend the temple and our Master at all costs.”

“Roger, Roger.”

Immediately some B1 droids manned the Hailfires while a few others prepped the J-1 cannon. The entire floor began to rise up and a large wall slid out of the way to reveal the docking platform where Jar Jar stood.

Meatbag walked over to Jar Jar and motioned to the droid army.

“Suggestion: We should place a detachment of droids around the perimeter of the temple to hide in the marshlands as our first line of defense. They will warn us if trouble strikes.”

Jar Jar nodded, “Proceed with yousa plan, Commander Meatbag.”

“Acknowledgement: Yes, Master. Hailfires will be placed at all four corners. A detachment of super battle droids will be tasked with your protection-“

“No waste machineeks on mesa behalf, mesa palo,” Jar Jar interrupted. “Mesa be fine.”

“Statement: Very well, Master,” Meatbag responded. “We could use more droids at the entrance to prevent entry to the temple.”

“Is dat failsafe ready,” Jar Jar asked as Meatbag slowly turned his head and nodded.

The “failsafe” was a captured Acklay creature that Jar Jar had under his control. It was found starving and near death in a holding cell near the deserted droid army encampment. By all accounts, the Separatists intended on unleashing the beast on Theed Royal Palace in hopes of killing the queen, but the battle was over before the plan could be executed.

Jar Jar housed the monster in a large underground chamber where it could enjoy both dry land and a pool of water that was stocked with native fish from the surrounding area. The Acklay had become a pet of sorts to Jar Jar, and through Force manipulation, it obeyed every command that his Master gave. In the event that the attackers breached the temple walls, the door to the Acklay’s chamber would automatically open and release the killing machine inside the temple.

The sun began to descend beneath the large trees of the surrounding marshlands as bits of light danced between the leaves reflecting off the armor of the droids. The two moons seemed to start their ascent into the night sky early, like an eager audience clamoring for good seats at the Petranaki arena.

Jar Jar, Meatbag and the reprogrammed Separatist droid army stood on the platform. Waiting…

Part VI: Into the Lion's Den

Crosshair perched in the tree and surveyed the area through the scope of his sniper rifle in the fading light of day as he spotted several B1 droids patrolling the temple grounds.

“I’ve got 10 battle droids on the southwest corner of the temple,” he said into a wrist comlink.

“Ten? That’s all.” Hunter replied over the link as blaster fire filled the air. “Maybe we can send you some to even things out.”

Crosshair squinted his eyes and slid his toothpick from the left side to the right side of his mouth. He adjusted some settings on his rifle and took aim. “Clankers…”

He managed to take out three droids before the remaining ones returned fire towards his position. One blaster shot severed the tree branch he was sitting on and he fell, tumbling through foliage until he splashed down into the bog below.

The remaining seven droids quickly marched over to the base of the tree where Crosshair crashed down moments earlier. As they searched, they didn’t notice a small reed sticking above the surface of the water that acted as Crosshair’s breathing device as he hid beneath the murky shallows.

Although it was hard see, Crosshair could partially make out where the droids were standing above the surface as he slowly wormed his way backwards. As he did, he carefully affixed a larger reed to the end of his rifle barrel and gently crested the water with it as he moved away.

The clankers began to spread out to cover more ground which forced him to stop moving and sit still. He heard the battle droids muffled speech and was sure they were about to find him, so he needed to think fast.

With the reed acting as a barrel extender out of the water, he gauged where one of the droids was and fired. Unfortunately, the first shot simply splattered muck and water on the droid, catching his attention. As he moved forward to investigate, Crosshair fired again, this time a clean shot blasted the droid’s chest, dropping him beneath the dark waters.

Crosshair flipped over and quickly squirmed towards the edge of the marsh and rose out of the water to hide behind the tree just in time to dodge a barrage of blaster fire that set the tree ablaze. As the remaining six droids closed in, he managed to take out one more before blaster fire from behind them stopped two more. The four clankers turned around in time to meet an oncoming plasma grenade that sent pieces of battle droid high into the air.

Crosshair peered through the smoke, “I see the cavalry has arrived.”

“Wrecker and Tech got things handled back there,” Hunter said as he ran up.

Crosshair turned back towards the temple. “What does Tech say about getting in this place?”

“He’s working on it,” Hunter told him. “This place runs on ancient Sith technology. Lots of traps. Lots of places to get lost.”

“So what’s an ex-Senator doing living in a place like this,” Crosshair wondered aloud.

Hunter checked the charges on his blaster and shrugged. “The Empire isn’t paying us to ask questions. We’re just cogs in the machine now.”

Hunter began to walk towards the temple as Crosshair strapped his sniper rifle over his shoulder. “I liked working for the Republic better. More freedom, less micromanagement.”

As they made their way to a small clearing that separated the swamp from the temple they saw two IG-227 Hailfire-class droid tanks patrolling the area and several battle droids ordering a detachment of Droidekas. Suddenly both of their comlinks squawked and they ducked behind the trees as a battle droid looked over.

“They…overpow…us. Flanked…sides…,” the garbled voice reported. “Tech…hit…wait…some sort of…proton cannon…”

The comlink immediately cut off and Crosshair and Hunter looked at each other.

“Where were they?”

“North side of the temple.”

Before anything else was said, the two were racing beneath the cover the trees towards the north end of the temple. When they arrived, they found the area littered with blaster burns and smoking grenade explosions marking up the temple walls and steps that led to the upper platform. Something fierce went down here moments ago, but all was quiet now.

As they carefully stepped around sparking battle droid remains, Hunter spotted something out the corner of his eye. “Wrecker’s comlink.”

Hunter kneeled down to grab the wrist comlink as Crosshair stepped over and motioned towards blood spatter a few feet away. From there, it appeared someone was bleeding out as they were dragged up the stairs and inside the temple.

“You get the feeling this isn’t just some politician’s summer home,” Crosshair asked through gritted teeth.

Part VII: Man v. Machine

Wrecker woke up inside a dark room in the bowels of the temple. He immediately clutched his shoulder and felt the wetness of his wound. He pulled back his hand to reveal it was covered in blood and clinched his teeth to fight the pain.

As he managed to get to his feet, he went for his backup blaster only to realize he had been disarmed. Then he suddenly remembered about Tech. A wave of anger hit him like a ton of bricks and he burst into a fit of rage. He began to punch the rock walls of the room in an effort to create a way out so he could crush every droid head with his bare hands.

A door slid open and two B1 battle droids rushed in to subdue him, but instead he grabbed the first one’s throat and ripped the head from its body. As the second droid backpedaled, he threw the head at it, forcing it to drop its gun. As the sparks flew, Wrecker picked up the gun and unloaded on the second droid, leaving a smoking heap in his wake as he escaped.

He ran into three more battle droids in the adjacent dank corridor and rushed them as he fired. Not expecting the savagery of the clone, they were caught off-guard and dismantled with ease.

As Wrecker made his way to the end of the hall, two super battle droids stepped into position and prepared to engage him. He fired, but the gun jammed, so he threw it at them as he lunged forward wrestling one to the ground. As he rained punches down on the first battle droid, the second took aim to fire and Wrecker braced for impact. However, the droid relented and backed off.

“What,” Wrecker mused. “You don’t want a piece of me?”

Wrecker stepped off the damaged super battle droid he had been fighting and turned to the one who was disengaged from battle.

“Every one of you clankers if my enemy,” he yelled. “I’m not stopping ‘til every droid is scrap metal!”

A sharp pain hit Wrecker from behind and he had just enough time to turn around to see Meatbag standing there with an electrostaff before the shock knocked him to the floor.

“Observation: You meatbags will never learn that we machines are the dominant species.”

Meatbag shocked him again, making Wrecker writhe in pain on the mossy stone floor.

“Query: Do you know what happens if I hold the tip of this staff to your flesh for five seconds?”

Wrecker tried to get up, but Meatbag shocked him again. This time he held it in place as Wrecker screamed out.

“Countdown: One…two…three…”

“Okay,” Wrecker pleaded. “Stop! Stop!”

Amused, Meatbag pulled the electrostaff back. “Musing: I like it when organics beg like pets.”

“How tough are ya without that prod,” Wrecker asked clutching his shoulder.

Meatbag immediately dropped the staff to the ground.

“Annoyed statement: Get to your feet and find out, human.”

Wrecker pressed against the wall to help himself up to square off against Meatbag. As he clinched his fists, his knuckles cracked, echoing down the hallway.

“Let’s see what you got, bucket of bolts,” Wrecker said as he threw the first punch, forcing Meatbag to stumble back against the wall behind him.

As Wrecker moved in for a second swing, Meatbag grabbed his injured shoulder and dug his finger into the blaster wound. The pain temporarily blinded him and Meatbag head-butted Wrecker, knocking him to the ground. The veteran assassin droid placed his foot on Wrecker’s neck and began to press down.

“Patronizing statement: I hardly broke a sweat.”

While Meatbag slowly tortured the clone trooper with more pressure, Wrecker tried to free himself before his neck collapsed. Suddenly he remembered something Hunter had given him before leaving to help Crossfire.

He reached into a hidden compartment on his chest plate and retrieved a flash grenade. He pulled the pin and wedged the device into an opening in Meatbag’s leg plating. Closing his eyes, he mustered up all his strength to shove the droid’s leg back, knocking him off balance.

The flash grenade exploded, bathing the entire hallway it intense light and deafening sound as Wrecker pressed into the wall and covered his head. Meatbag sailed back against the stone walls and dropped several feet away as the brightness of the flash overloaded his eye sensors and the concussion of the blast damaged his right leg.

Moments later, disoriented and injured, Wrecker slowly got up and saw smoke rising up from Meatbag’s leg and he appeared to be powered down. He picked up the electrostaff and held it up high as best he could, intent on slamming it through Meatbag’s chest plate as he heard the marching of several battle droids just down the hall.

Wrecker lowered the staff and hobbled down the corridor away from the oncoming droids.

“See ya around, scrap metal.”

Part VIII: Release the Hound

Wrecker could be seen sneaking down a long hallway on one of several screens showing live feeds from a series of cameras placed throughout the temple. Unamused, Jar Jar turned his attention to his disheveled prisoner motionless in Force stasis.

“Just kill me and get it over with,” Tech said defiantly. “I definitely don’t plan on being friendly if you release me.”

“All-n youse clones da same,” Jar Jar said as he took a reverse grip of his lightsaber hilt and ran his finger along the Colo claw fish tooth. “Nutsen.”

“I may be crazy, but-“

Before Tech could finish his sentence, Jar Jar released him from stasis and sliced him across the back with the Colo tooth blade causing him to cry out in pain as he dropped to the floor. Jar Jar calmly motioned for a medical droid and three battle droids to roll over a medical cart.

“Mesa goen to be havin a bombad hisen clone army now,” Jar Jar said as the battle droids grabbed Tech’s arms and dragged him to a nearby surgical table as the medical droid began preparations to extract tissue and blood. “Then mesa honor yousa request and kill yousa.”

As the droids took care of Tech, a B2 super battle droid walked over to Jar Jar.

“Sir, we have reports that two clone troopers have managed to gain entry to the temple despite our best efforts. Also, a B1 unit has reported that Commander Meatbag has been damaged and his attacker is loose in the underground tunnels.”

“Seal disa room and let nutten maken happen with takin of dat clone DNA,” Jar Jar commanded.

“Yes, sir,” the super battle droid replied as he prepared to lock down the room.

“Wesa let dat failsafe dealin with them-sa bombad troopers,” Jar Jar said as his grip tightened around the hilt of his lightsaber.

Suddenly the piercing scream of the Acklay could be heard from depths of the temple all the way near the top where Hunter and Crosshair had managed to break inside. The two clone troopers stopped to listen to the scream coming from far below their feet.

“What do you suppose that was,” Crosshair asked.

“I thought the only wildlife on this planet that’d kill ya lived in the water,” Hunter replied with a shrug.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Crosshair said as they rounded the corner where several battle droids met them with guns drawn.

“Hold it right there, clone scum!

A Droideka suddenly rolled up behind them. As it put up it’s shield and lowered it’s blasters, Hunter saw a way out.

“In here,” he yelled as he grabbed Crosshair’s collar and ducked into an open side room just as the barrage of fire from the Droideka sprayed against the stone wall behind them.

Dust and smoke filled the doorway from the blaster fire, leaving little light to enter into the room. Crosshair switched his scope to night vision and peered through it, making his way into the darkness with Hunter on his six.

“What do you see,” Hunter whispered.

“Ancient writing and depictions…everywhere,” Crosshair told him.

“Those droids will be on us any time now,” Hunter told him. “Find us an exit fast!”

Crosshair could see drawings of hooded figures fighting men with what appear to be lightsabers. The mural seemed to cover a large swath of the wall. In the center, two men, one hooded, one not, stood face-to-face on what appeared to be mountain. Both secretly held daggers above the other’s head as countless people knelt down worshiping them.

“The Sith is one kooky religion,” Crosshair said aloud.

Hunter looked back down towards the door that they ducked into at the other end of the room moments ago. The smoke had cleared and droids began to pile in.

“Now or ever,” he urged. “We need an escape plan!”

“Wait, I think I found something,” Crosshair said as he saw light breaking behind a triangle carved into the wall. “I think it’s a release plate…”

“The intruders are just ahead, sir.”

“Roger. Roger. Fire when ready.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

“Push it!”

Crosshair pushed the triangle and it slid back, emitting a red light as the stone floor suddenly dropped out from beneath them, sending them into a freefall twenty feet below.

Crosshair landed at the top of an embankment feet-first and his ankle cracked, forcing him forward onto the rocky terrain ledge, losing his rifle in the darkness further below. Hunter crashed down on his side at the same time as the wind was knocked out of his lungs. He gasped for air and saw Crosshair nursing his broken ankle as he casually looked back up from where they fell to see blaster fire headed straight down.

“Move,” Hunter managed to yell as he moved forward and pulled Crosshair clear of the onslaught of blaster fire that pummeled the ground from above.

“Tell me again why we do this,” Crosshair asked.

“Because it’s who we are,” Hunter said wincing in pain holding his bruised ribs.

A metallic clank grabbed the men’s attention and they looked over at the smoking ground beneath the hole to see a red flashing light.

“Grenade!”

Hunter shoved Crosshair off the rocky ledge and slid off right behind him as the grenade explosion decimated the area. They half-slid, half-bounced down the jagged embankment until they splashed down in the foot-deep water of an underground marsh.

“Crosshair,” Hunter called out. “You good?”

“I’m alive if that’s what you’re asking,” Crosshair replied as he sat up in the marsh. “At least we got away from the clankers.”

Hunter stood up and looked around. Fresh torches lit the circumference of the marsh which appeared more man-made than natural.

“This place just gets weirder and weirder,” Hunter said as he began to walk towards the edge of the marsh as his foot ran into something. He reached down under the water and pulled up a gnarled arm bone. “Crosshair…”

Crosshair looked over at Hunter who held up the bone. He then looked into the water near him and he could make out the image of a skull.

“Time to go!”

Hunter ran over to help Crosshair to his feet and they began to hurry out of the marsh just as the Acklay crawled over the embankment and blocked their path. The beast’s row of razor sharp fangs glistened in the firelight as it growled at the troopers, stomping its front claw-like legs into the ground as a show of aggression.

Hunter pulled out his blaster and fired at the Acklay, which only seemed to make it angrier as it let out a piercing scream and charged the men. Knowing Crosshair couldn’t make it clear on his own, Hunter pushed him out of the way and then braced for impact.

The Acklay swung its front leg up and knocked Hunter back, spinning him through the air and into the marsh waters. It turned back and briefly poked around for Crosshair, but Hunter popped up and pulled a large serrated dagger from the sheath on his forearm.

“Hey…ugly!”

The Acklay stomped his legs and began crawling towards Hunter who reversed his grip on the dagger ready to strike. As it neared, it repeated the same upswing from before and this time Hunter ducked the hit and impaled the leg from underneath with the blade.

The beast screamed in pain and lifted its leg up high, with the knife and Hunter still attached. Hunter grabbed onto the leg for support and began to repeatedly stab the leg again and again until one powerful flail made him lose his grip and fly into the rocky embankment, temporarily knocking him unconscious.

The Acklay tried to lower the leg and put pressure on it, but it was so damaged it stumbled forward and slammed into the marsh. It screamed out in anger and pain as it lifted itself up and turned towards Hunter who was out cold on the edge of the marsh.

As it hobbled towards him, it hissed and chomped its fangs. As it lifted up its other front claw to impale Hunter, a crackling noise sailing through the air caught its attention. It turned in time to see a charged electrostaff hit the water next to it. Instantly, the entire marsh was electrified and the Acklay screamed out as it cooked in the water, helplessly frozen to do anything about it.

The wails of the Acklay woke Hunter who looked up to see Wrecker and Crosshair walking towards him.

“That was a wild ride,” Hunter said as he rubbed his head and watched the Acklay sizzle and smoke. He then looked at the rigged electrostaff sticking up out of the water. “How’d you get it to stay on?”

“Taped it,” Wrecker replied. “How else?”

Hunter got up and patted Wrecker on the back. “How did you get down here,” he asked Wrecker.

“There’s a doorway other side of the rocks,” Wrecker replied. “But there’s a lot of clankers on patrol.”

“Numbers?”

“At least a dozen,” Wrecker replied.

Hunter checked the charge on his blaster pistol and nodded. “We’ve handled worse.”

“Wrecker, what’s the word on Tech,” Crosshair said as he hobbled over to the men.

Wrecker shook his head. “Clankers were surrounding us on all sides. It’s like they knew we were coming. Every time we advanced, another wave would push us back. I looked over at Tech just in time to see him take a direct hit. Last thing I remember was calling you on the comlink and hearing their proton cannon fire.”

Hunter placed his hand on Wrecker’s shoulder. “We got there too late. We saw the carnage and that someone got dragged inside the temple. Tech wasn’t out there, so there’s still hope.”

“How are you not knee deep in clankers right now,” Crosshair wondered.

“I was at first,” Wrecker said proudly. “When I woke up, a few attacked me and I took them out with my bare hands. I even took out an HK assassin droid.”

Crosshair perked up. “You saw an HK assassin droid? In the swamps of Naboo? In this temple?”

Hunter noticed the concern on Crosshair’s face. “What if he did? What’s the significance, Crosshair?”

“A defunct Czerka Corporation killing machine being dusted off to boss around a bunch of battle droids is one thing,” Crosshair stated. “But, one that has ties to an ancient Sith temple is something else entirely. Boys…I’m beginning to think this Senator is much more dangerous than people are giving him credit for.”

Part IX: Breadcrumbs

The door to the temple command center slid open and two battle droids exited, dragging Tech’s drained, lifeless body out into the hall. They dropped the clone in the middle of the floor as two other battle droids carried his trooper armor further into the depths of the temple.

Inside the command room, Jar Jar oversaw an LE-series repair droid mending a gravely damaged Meatbag. Once the eye sensors were replaced, Meatbag was switched back on and began to reboot.

“Acknowledgement: I am a Hunter Killer series modified HK-24 unit combination Class 4 assassin and protocol droid. Special designation: HK-47.”

Jar Jar turned to the repair droid and ordered, “Now fix da leg so hesa can do mui crunchen.”

“He’ll be better than new in no time, sir,” the advanced repair droid assured him.

Jar Jar turned to the screens to check the activity in the temple. He saw his battle droids placing pieces of Tech’s armor at various points throughout as a droid commander approached him.

“Sir, the Acklay has been killed, as has a detachment of battle droids that were patrolling the lower temple. The three remaining clone troopers are currently unaccounted for.”

“Has yousa ever playin Courtier holochess,” Jar Jar asked the droid commander.

“Holochess? Er…no. We battle droids don’t have much downtime, sir.”

“Mesa not thinkin so,” Jar Jar continued. “Da King never gos chasin da other pieces. Them-sa always comin to hesa.”

“I think I understand, sir.”

“Berry good,” Jar Jar said. “And yousa machineeks are mesa expendable guards.”

“Um…is that a good thing, sir?”

“Berry good,” Jar Jar replied as he turned back to the live feeds to oversee the temple. In a corridor a few levels below he saw the three troopers cross the screen.

Hunter, Crosshair and Wrecker moved down the dimly lit hallway searching for both Tech and their Senatorial target.

“I wish I had my rifle,” Crosshair groaned as he limped.

“I wish I still had that electrostaff,” Wrecker replied.

“I wish we had any weapons,” Hunter told them.

Wrecker held up his fists. “I still got these.”

“So what’s the plan, sarge,” Crosshair asked Hunter.

Just then Hunter stopped and motioned for the others to press into the wall. He slowly crept up to a corner and peeked around to see several battle droids standing at the ready.

He walked back over to the others and whispered to Wrecker, “Still got that flash bang I gave you?”

“Had to use it on the HK,” Wrecker said shaking his head.

“Then we don’t have a lot of options,” Hunter told them as he scratched his head. “We’re gonna have to rush ‘em.”

“Easy for you to say,” Crosshair replied motioning to his broken ankle.

“How many?”

“At least six.”

“That’s all?”

“Send me in,” Wrecker said cracking his neck. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

Hunter nodded and motioned for Crosshair to stay low. As he and Wrecker neared the corner, he peeked around again to get an accurate head count only to see an empty hallway instead. “What the…?”

“What’s up? More droids to stomp,” asked Wrecker.

“No droids. They’re gone,” Hunter replied.

“Huh,” Wrecker asked as he looked around the corner. “You sure you saw some a second ago?”

“100%.”

“Coast is clear, Crosshair,” Wrecker called out. “Droids took off.”

Crosshair limped over and had a puzzled look on his face. “This doesn’t feel right.”

Hunter noticed something at the far end of the hall where the droids were standing moments ago. He slowly walked over to it, but once he realized what it was he told the men to stay back.

“Whaddya got, sarge,” Crosshair asked.

Hunter knelt down and picked up Tech’s gray trooper helmet. He turned around to show the others who noticed the blood spatter across the visor.

As Hunter inspected the helmet, Crosshair limped towards a set of stairs that lead to the level above to see if the droids were waiting to ambush them, but the stone steps were empty except for something shimmering in the torchlight near the top.

He looked back to see Hunter and Wrecker discussing Tech’s helmet, so he braced himself against the wall and slowly made his way up the steps until he reached the top to find the flame reflecting off part of Tech’s gray leg armor.

“Tech…”

He looked up to see if any droids were advancing, but the level was eerily silent. He called down to Hunter and Wrecker who ran up the stairs to see him holding the piece of armor.

“Is that Tech’s,” asked Wrecker.

Crosshair nodded as Hunter noticed another piece of armor lying in plain sight below a torch in the massive room that extended out from the stairwell.

“We’re being lead somewhere,” Hunter told them.

“To where,” Wrecker asked.

“To whom,” Crosshair corrected him.

Part X: Bombad Crunchen

“Query: I feel better than ever, Master. Was I given an upgrade while powered down?”

Jar Jar stood with arms crossed as he watched the troopers slowly make their way towards the command center. Meatbag approached and stood by his side.

“My had dat repair machineek add a newsa sword crunchen program mesa maken.” Jar Jar replied.

Jar Jar turned to Meatbag to reveal an old lightsaber hilt.

“Mesa taken it from a Jedi longo time ago,” the Gungan continued as Meatbag took it. “Now yousa has it.”

Jar Jar looked back at the screens to see the three troopers exit the stairs to the main floor. Meatbag held up the lightsaber hilt in his left hand and ignited it. A bright blue blade emerged and the glow reflected in his eye sensors.

“Excited query: Am I a Force user, Master?”

“Oy, mooie, mooie,” Jar Jar said with a grin. “For now yousa use bombad lightsaber to maken nutsen messen of them-sa hisen. Da Force… wesa looky into dat later…”

Jar Jar turned back to the screens to see the troopers discover Tech’s body on the floor outside the command center.

“Tech!”

Hunter and Wrecker ran over to see Tech’s body in a pile on the floor. Crosshair limped over afterwards still holding Tech’s arm plate.

It’s a trap,” Crosshair warned. “What’s their endgame here, sarge?

Suddenly the door to the command center opened and B1 battle droids filed out quickly surrounding the troopers as Meatbag emerged.

“We’re about to see.”

“No way,” Wrecker said motioning to Meatbag. “I fried that droid with a flash bang. He was a smoking pile of junk when I left him!”

Meatbag walked towards the troopers as the battle droids formed a circle around them. He turned his attention to Wrecker.

“Observation: I see the less evolved organic is still with us. Allow me to fix that.”

Meatbag ignited his lightsaber and the troopers jumped back.

“That beats an electrostaff,” Wrecker said to himself.

“This is the HK droid you killed,” Crosshair asked.

“Yea…”

“Good job.”

The swarm of battle droids threatened to move in as Meatbag began to taunt them with the blue blade. Hunter glanced over at Crosshair and noticed that he was still holding the piece of Tech’s leg armor. Acting fast, he snatched the armor from the trooper’s hand and tore into it.

Before Crosshair could react, Hunter pulled a thermal detonator from a hidden slot in the thigh covering. He activated it and held it out towards Meatbag.

“You could always count on Tech in an emergency,” Hunter said.

“I’d say this qualifies,” Crosshair replied.

Hunter motioned for the men to get behind him as he held the explosive up high threatening to release it as he attempted to exit the circle. The battle droids became uneasy and started to break ranks, but Meatbag remained vigilant.

“Assertion: If you drop that thermal detonator you will die as well.”

“Not necessarily,” Hunter said as he flipped the live thermal detonator in the air towards Meatbag. “You clankers never were quick on your feet!”

As the battle droids scattered and Hunter and Wrecker grabbed Crosshair to quickly run for cover, Meatbag stepped back and watched the thermal detonator spin end over end as it began its arc towards the ground, but as it fell toward the floor it suddenly froze in place, inches from impact. When Hunter didn’t hear an explosion, he turned back to see Meatbag racing towards them, beginning a backhand swing of the lightsaber.

“Watch out!”

Crosshair and Wrecker turned their heads back in time to see the blue blade in full swing, but Crosshair could not pivot on his broken ankle and the lightsaber cut across his back as he attempted to dodge it. He stumbled forward, crashing against a nearby wall and sliding to the floor.

“Rhetorical: Was I quick enough on my feet this time, meatbag?”

Wrecker rushed the HK droid, but Meatbag held out the plasma blade towards him and he slid to a stop just in time to not be impaled by it. The battle droids began to regroup and noticed Meatbag had the troopers trapped between the wall and a lightsaber. A few of them became curious about the thermal detonator still hovering just above the floor.

“I got a question,” Hunter said. “How can you know if you’re tougher than a clone if you droids never fight one-on-one?”

“Musing: Ignorant meatbag, I always fight alone. Plus, delaying the inevitable is a uniquely shameful organic trait.”

One of the battle droids motioned for the others to come look at the floating detonator, and they began to encircle it.

“I’m not delaying for me,” Hunter replied as he pointed behind Meatbag. “I’m just buying them time.”

Meatbag briefly glanced back just in time to see a battle droid grab the plasma grenade.

“Command: Wait-!”

The explosion rocked the entire level of the temple as debris and rock crumbled down from the damage ceiling above. As smoke and dust permeated the area, Hunter uncovered his head and noticed a severed battle droid arm still clutching a blaster had landed next to him. Scooping up the gun, he peered through the smoke to find Wrecker and Crosshair.

As he crawled, he heard the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber igniting, immediately followed by Wrecker yelling out in pain.

“Wreck!”

Hunter got to his knees and trained the rifle in the direction of the sound. “Wrecker!”

Suddenly a cold hand clapped down on his shoulder and he spun around, shoving someone hard in the chest to the ground. As the smoke momentarily cleared, Hunter saw a frightened and disheveled Gungan wearing rags and shackles on his wrist.

“Are you trying to get yourself shot,” Hunter asked as he held his rifle on the stranger. “How’d you get in here?”

“Mesa prisoner,” the Gungan said showing his shackles. “Them-sa do terrible tings to mesa here.”

“A prisoner? Here in the Sith temple,” Hunter asked quickly.

“Mesa no know Sith, but dis temple been here longo time before,” the Gungan said. “Mesa from Otah Gunga under dat ocean. Wesa all from daree.”

“Who’s we,” Hunter asked.

“Them-sa other prisoners,” he replied. “Mesa people. Mesa show yousa. Mesa take yousa dare to hep.”

Hunter turned his attention back to where he heard Wrecker yell out moment ago.

“Look, I don’t have time to help you,” Hunter told the Gungan. “Go now, you’re free. Go home while you can.”

As Hunter started to head off, the Gungan called out to him. “Okeeday. Mesa can hep you first…”

“It’s not about help anymore, friend,” Hunter replied. “Do yourself a favor and run.”

The Gungan lit up. “Wesa palos? Mesa yousa palo? A fraidee frog like mesa bein palos with berry bombad soldierman? Now mesa hep yousa, then yousa hep mesa.”

Hunter spun around and pointed his finger, “If you don’t shut up, I’ll lock you back up myself.”

“How wude,” the Gungan replied as Hunter stealthily moved towards the center of the explosion to see Wrecker laying on a pile of destroyed battle droid parts with a deep plasma burn across his chest plate. His helmet was gone and blood was smeared across his face.

Hunter rushed over and checked for a pulse.

“Say you’re still with me,” Hunter pleaded.

After a long moment, Wrecker coughed and opened his eyes. “I’m…still here. Where’s Crosshair?”

Hunter looked around, then back over to where they saw him last hit the floor. Crosshair’s body lay still covered by some rock and debris. Hunter turned back and shook his head.

“It’s just…,” Hunter said taking a deep breath. “It’s just me and you now, Wreck.”

Wrecker slammed his hand down on the pile of droids, over-exerting himself as the pain in his chest amplified forcing him to cry out.

“How…bad off am I,” he asked Hunter concerning his wound. “And don’t sugarcoat it.”

Hunter looked at the gash in the armor and attempted to see underneath. “Hard to tell. How does it feel?”

“Like a robot nearly sliced me in half,” he replied.

“That’s about how it looks.”

Hunter helped Wrecker get to his feet when he noticed the tall, lanky Gungan standing there.

“Who’s the tag-along?

Part XI: A Forced Revelation

“All-n youse soldier boyos comen hair to Naboo for what,” the Gungan asked Wrecker as they stepped out onto the docking bay of the temple as the day began to break.

“To do our jobs,” Wrecker barked back. “Not like it used to be though. Tech and Crosshair can attest to that.”

“Be that as it may,” Hunter said as he turned back to the others. “We still have a mission to complete and I’m not failing that because doing so fails our brothers.”

“How’d the grenade hover like that,” Wrecker asked. “I’ve seen Jedi use the Force to make things float.”

“Da Force yousa spake,” the Gungan exclaimed. “Maxi big…”

Hunter walked over and put his hand on the Gungan’s shoulder. “Look, this is gonna get real crazy, real fast. I suggest you get as far from here as possible.”

“But, mesa gonna hep. Mesa palo, right?”

“Right now you’re in the way and I don’t want you becoming collateral damage when I blow this temple sky-high,” Hunter replied. “Look, you’re free already. Go!”

“But, mesa people still down dare. Yousa can’t maken daysa go boom with the temple!”

Hunter shrugged. “I’m sorry, but this place is full of battle droid relics and a psychotic HK assassin droid with a lightsaber. Leaving it standing places more than those prisoners at risk.”

The Gungan, angry and frantic, rushed towards Hunter who dodged a wild swing and responded with right-cross to the face, knocking the crazed Gungan back to the ground out cold.

Hunter stood over the Gungan and shook his head. “Sorry, there’s no other way.”

He walked over to Wrecker and pointed towards the trees.

“The Havoc Marauder is about half a klick from here,” Hunter reminded Wrecker. “I’m gonna grab it and fly that badboy up here to unload everything we got into this place. Flora, fauna, and droids be-damned!”

“Sounds like fun,” Wrecker responded. “What do I do in the meantime?”

“You’re wounded, so you’d only slow me down,” Hunter replied. “Just find a place to lay low and keep your head down until the party starts. I’ll bring the noisemakers.”

Hunter didn’t waste any time racing down the stone steps of the temple exterior and heading off into the marsh towards his ship. Wrecker watched him run until he disappeared behind the trees and turned around to see the Gungan still motionless on the ground. He shook his head and began to scan the area for a place to hide.

Figuring anywhere on the platform of the temple was a bad place to hide, Wrecker spotted an area on the ground below that offered enough coverage to keep out of sight. He started to walk that way when he stopped and turned back to the Gungan.

After a moment of hesitation, he hurried as best he could over to where he lay and attempted to shove him awake with his foot. After the third shove, the Gungan wildly awoke and screamed.

“Mesa doen nutten!”

“Be quiet,” Wrecker demanded. “Get up and follow me now.”

The Gungan hopped up and nursed his swollen jaw as he followed Wrecker down the temple steps.

Hunter raced through the marsh and entered the small clearing where the Havoc Marauder sat. He carefully scanned the perimeter as he made his way to the ship and up the ramp inside.

He stepped into the cockpit and flipped switches preparing the ship to take flight. As he turned to the ship computer to check the status of the torpedo cannons, a voice from behind stopped him cold.

“Query: How can you know if you’re tougher than a droid if you clones never fight one-on-one?

Hunter turned around to see Meatbag standing in the middle of his ship. Before he could reply, a lightsaber hilt was tossed at his feet.

“Request: Let’s find out.”

Meatbag unveiled his lightsaber and ignited the blade. Hunter slowly knelt down and felt the cold steel of the hilt as he palmed it. As he stood back up, he ignited it and the green glow bounced off the metallic interior of the ship.

“Green. A Jedi Consular blade,” Hunter said staring at the lightsaber. “How did you get this?”

“Musing: I have many trophies from my kills.”

Meatbag began with an advance-lunge, but Hunter was able to parry the attack with the green saber. He then counter with an overhead swing that left him open for a forceful shove to the ground by Meatbag, who advanced again with a jabbing motion to which Hunter barely dodged as he scrambled to his feet.

As he spun around, Meatbag swung wide and missed his mark, but cut through several tubes of wire emitting sparks across the room.

“Interested observation: I did not think the Empire taught troopers how to duel.”

“I’m not an Imperial,” Hunter told him. “And I’m not some ordinary rifle jockey. I was grandfathered in from the old Republic.”

“Musing: So was I.”

The sparks crackled, grabbing Hunter’s attention and Meatbag seized the moment to suddenly strike out with his saber and stab the trooper through the shoulder. Hunter moaned out in pain, but parried the second attempt to impale him, forcing Meatbag’s lightsaber back and knocking him off-balance.

As the droid fell backwards, Hunter jumped forward towards him. As Meatbag crashed down hard onto the metal floor, his arms flailed up and Hunter swung his green blade around severing both the droids hands in the move. He then turned back around and spun the lightsaber in his hand getting a reverse grip, slamming the green blade into the droid’s chest plate and through the floor below, effectively welding him to the metal.

Content that Meatbag wasn’t going anywhere, he walked over to the droid’s severed hand holding the blue lightsaber and pried the hilt from its grip.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Hunter said aloud.

Hunter sat behind the controls of the Havoc Marauder and before long the ship hovered up above the trees.

Wrecker looked up and saw Hunter flying just over the treetops and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mooie, mooie. Disen yousa bombad skeebeetle,” the Gungan asked.

“That’s right,” Wrecker replied. “She’s one of a kind.”

In no time, the Havok Marauder was hovering just above the temple platform.

“I’d cover those big ears if I were you,” Wrecker suggested to the Gungan.

“Ex squeezee me?”

The sound of laser fire exploding rock grabbed the Gungan’s attention as the Havok Marauder bombarded the temple wall with blasts from its ion cannons. Rock and debris shot up into the sky and rained down across the temple grounds. As the ancient Sith architecture was being destroyed, the Gungan began to look increasingly distraught.

“Disa no good,” the Gungan said placing his hand on Wrecker’s shoulder.

“What are you talking about,” Wrecker said as he watched the destruction with glee. “You mess with the Reek, you get the horns!”

“No,” the Gungan replied. “Yousa messen with mesa, yousa get the Colo!”

Wrecker turned around to yell at the Gungan when he felt a sharp pinch in his gut. He looked down to see the reverse end of a lightsaber hilt stabbed into his stomach through the armor. As he tried to grab at it, the razor sharp edge was jerked sideways and ripped out of his body.

Wrecker dropped to the marsh grass as Jar Jar reached out towards the Havok Marauder and grabbed it through the Force, hurling it sideways back into the trees and deep into the marsh.

Part XII: Desertion

Hunter woke up to find himself on the floor of the Havok Marauder as smoked and sparks filled the cockpit. As he slowly got to his feet, a stream of blood dripped from his forehead and he leaned against the wall to stabilize himself to get his bearings straight.

Dazed, he walked over to a gaping hole in the side of the ship to see the lower wing sections were ripped off and pieces of the vessel were strewn all across the marsh.

“Query: Who did you meatbags think you were coming to kill?”

Hunter turned around, surprised to hear that the droid was still alive.

“A rogue senator,” Hunter said, still woozy. “Who betrayed the Empire. Went AWOL with certain classified information that may prove harmful to the Emperor if found out. Bounty hunter intel led us here.”

“Rhetorical: This senator required elite soldiers to capture him?”

“We’re not exactly official. We handle stuff off the books,” Hunter said as he wiped the blood from his forehead. “But, I don’t even know why I’m still here talking to you. The Empire isn’t like the Republic, but what would an HK droid know about any of this?”

“Assertion: Oh, you’d be surprised.”

“We didn’t figure on the senator having battle droids,” Hunter told him. “Let alone a small arsenal and…well, you.”

“Acknowledgment: Odd. Even though you are a meatbag, you and I are very much alike. We are both killing machines. We do it simply because it is our job to do so. Though, I happen to enjoy it.”

Hunter suddenly remembered the blue lightsaber and checked to see if it was still hooked to his belt.

“I think I was beginning to like it, too,” Hunter lamented, “Which is why I can’t go back. But, failure is not an option with the Emperor and his reach is far and wide. Have you heard the rumors of what he can do?”

“Retort: Have you heard the rumors about my Master?”

In the distance, the chatter of battle droids echoed across the open marsh. Hunter quickly ran to the armory and grabbed a blaster pistol and rifle. He tucked the pistol in his waist and ran back to the opening in the ship wall.

He jumped out and ran for cover in the nearby tree line. He didn’t stop for what felt like forever until he came into a clearing of rolling green hills. In the distance, the towers of Theed rose above the clouds.

He told himself he wasn’t running away, but that he was falling back to get a better position. However, all that changed as he sat at the bar with his drink. A wave of emotions crashed over him. Worry. Care. Fear. Anxiety. Love. Something that no soldier, let alone an elite clone trooper, should ever let cloud his judgment and he immediately collapsed to the floor remembering his lost brothers.

Hunter felt himself slowly becoming very bitter and angry against the new regime that took away the only existence they ever knew. He decided that he wasn’t going back. He’d let the Empire think he died along with the rest of Bad Batch.

Part XIII: Seeds of a Secret Empire

Jar Jar walked through the rubble of his crumbling temple, stepping over fallen droids and stone as Meatbag walked over with two new silver hands.

“Acknowledgment: Master, our spies have located the clone in Theed. I would enjoy eliminating-“

“No,” Jar Jar cut him off. “Yousa no ready. Yousa bombad assassin machineek, but hesa kep crunchen yousa.”

A B1 battle droid walked up to say something, but Meatbag grabbed the droid by the throat and shoved him to the ground. Jar Jar reached out and grabbed Meatbag with a Force grip, stopping him before he crushed the battle droid under his feet.

“Mesa spake a tello about old boss man in holocron,” Jar Jar said as he released Meatbag and revealed a white crystal, holding it up. “With mesa saber crystal, hesa also added an Orax Shard. Disa Shard maken machineeks has power to use da Force…”

“Commentary: Iron Knights. Sadly, I’ve never been sent to terminate one. The Jedi Firkrann was the last shard warrior on record, but he was killed by a Confederate general in a battle during the Clone Wars. Am I to become symbiotic with a Shard?”

Jar Jar shook his head and tucked the Shard away. Another battle droid approached and Jar Jar continued talking.

“Disa Shard maken yousa brain gos away and just uses dat shell,” Jar Jar said. “Yousa not expendible like them-sa other machineeks. Wesa let Shard replace daysa minds instead.”

The battle droid turned its head to a few others standing behind him and asked, “Hey wait, what did he just say?”

The medical droid approached Jar Jar with a metal box. “Tissue samples and blood from the clone are ready for transfer, sir.”

“Mesa Kamino palo has spaken mesa that them-sa ready for your arrival,” Jar Jar told the medical droid as he inspected the contents in the box. “Meatbag will gos wit yousa and maken sure no messen or crunchen happen. I will meet all-n youse dare.”

On the platform moments later, Jar Jar watched Meatbag, the medical droid, the E3 repair droid, and several battle droids board a stolen and scrubbed Katarn-class boarding shuttle. As the ship took flight, Jar Jar turned and walked into the temple and down the hallway that ended at a rock wall. The Gungan waved his hand and a hidden door slid open, revealing a large set of stone stairs leading into the depths below.

The bottom of the steps opened up into a huge cavern where a grand onyx obelisk sat in the center with a pulsating red cube spinning in place, hovering in a cut out portion of the monument. Jar Jar walked over to the obelisk and placed his hands on either side of the spinning cube. As he took hold of it, he could feel the intoxicating Dark Side power flowing through it.

“Isa time to nocomebackie,” Jar Jar said aloud. “Hesa ganna wonder why foolish Binks not dusted and be sendin more assassins to stop mesa from spaken nutsen tellos so wesa must be onda move until da time is right to strike.”

Suddenly a deep voice emanated from inside the glowing cube in Jar Jar’s hands.

“We go where we must, my student. I foresaw this day just as I knew when to place my holocron in this temple long ago for you to stumble upon it during your banishment. Though my time has come and gone, my memory and teachings live on to impart ancient wisdom and guidance to you, Jar Jar Binks, the true heir to the New Sith Empire.”

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