Gray Jedi Ch. 10

byauguy86©

"Serra, what's our status?" Malik asked.

"Just broke through the atmosphere, but Imperial fighters are hot on our tail."

"Rex, let's man the guns," Malik said.

"Better idea: Rex and Laranth. I need you here, Malik," Serra replied.

"Good call, that girl's a sure-shot."

"I'll fetch her," Rex said, jogging out of the cockpit. Down the hallway, he saw Jax consoling a very distraught Laranth Tarak.

"It'll be ok, Laranth..."

"NO!! I want to kill those bastards for what they did to Dex!" the Twi'lek replied.

"Here's your chance," Rex said to them. "We've got fighters on our tail, and you and I are gonna man the guns. You up for it?"

Drying her tears, Laranth stood with a determined look in her eyes. "Just show me where they are, and I will end them."

"Your station's down the hallway to the right, I'm down the left. Jax, they'll probably need your help in the cockpit."

"On it!"

The trio broke up to their respective destinations. By the time Jax had arrived in the cockpit, Rex and Laranth were already powering up the main guns.

"Jax, keep an eye on the scope, give regular callouts to anything you see," Serra said.

"Understood."

"I'll get the hyperspace coordinates calculated. Just hold 'em off for a few minutes," Malik said. "Activating cloaking systems."

"That may not help us," Serra replied. "Sensors are picking up a new signal. Looks like the lead fighter chasing us is using a powerful, concentrated scanning system. They're able to track our location, even while cloaked."

"Got that, Rex? Take these guys out, or we're sitting ducks."

"Copy that."

By this time, a squadron of five ARC-170 fighters had caught up from the surface, beginning to pepper their shields with blaster fire. The Middle Way held up, and Rex and Laranth soon began to return fire with gusto. Rex was aided by his familiarity with the tactics of the clone pilots they faced, and Laranth's incredible sense of prediction and timing proved invaluable. Within seconds, they had whittled the squadron down to two, though the lead fighter remained in hot pursuit.

"Nice shooting!" Malik said into the comlink.

"Don't get cocky, Malik. Look," Serra replied.

"Huh? Oh crap, that's bad..."

Turning to look forward, Malik now saw a Star Destroyer moving to intercept them. As the battleship approached, another group of twenty fighters launched from the hangar and barreled towards the Middle Way.

"Rex, Laranth, heads up! Got more fighters coming in ahead!" Malik said.

As Serra adjusted course to keep some distance between them and the incoming hostiles, the gunners began to fire on the group from a distance. This time, their goal was not necessarily to hit them, but to fire into their expected trajectory and delay their ability to get in range. Thanks to a couple of well-timed callouts from Jax, they managed to accomplish this with some success. Still, their time was running short.

"Uh oh," Jax said from the radarscope. "Got more hostiles coming in from behind. Just launched from Coruscant."

"I've got 'em. Laranth, keep on those bogeys from the Star Destroyer."

"Will do," Laranth replied.

"Almost ready for the jump to hyperspace, just a few more seconds," Malik said.

"Copy... wait, scratch that! Do not go to hyperspace! Repeat: do NOT go to hyperspace!" Rex shouted.

"What? Why not?!" Serra asked. "I can only outfly them for so long!"

"The new hostiles chasing us are improved versions of the standard ARC-170 fighters; they're new prototypes equipped with some of the most powerful tracking equipment available. As long as they maintain a target-lock on us as we go to hyperspace, they'll be able to track and follow us anywhere in the galaxy, cloaked or not!"

"Only one choice now, Serra: we've gotta lose 'em," Malik sighed.

"On it! Just keep those fighters off us!"

Rex and Laranth continued to attack the fighters chasing them. They managed to down a few of them, but their numbers were soon bolstered by the arrival of the squadron that had launched from the Star Destroyer. A few moments later, the Middle Way was rocked by a powerful hit from behind.

"Shield generator's hit! Power is at eighty-five percent, but dropping steadily," Jax reported.

"Cloaking systems were disrupted, too," Malik said.

"Ok, here we go. Malik, get the hyperdrive ready to activate, 'cause this is our shot."

"Wait, what are you doing, Serra?"

"That's Centax-1 up ahead, Coruscant's largest moon. I'm gonna use it to give us a lunar slingshot assist," Serra replied.

"You're nuts!" Jax laughed.

"You got a better idea?" Serra fired back. "It'll get the fighters off our backs for just long enough to escape undetected."

"It's as good a plan as any. Jax, let me know the moment we've broken target lock," Malik agreed.

As Serra approached the moon, Malik began running a variable calculation program on the hyperdrive systems. This would allow their lightspeed coordinates to keep up with the speed increase from the slingshot assist. But as Serra began her maneuvers, a call came in from Rex.

"Serra, I think they've figured out your strategy! Two of the prototype fighters are moving in for a slingshot assist as well! They'll tear us to pieces before we can build up enough speed!"

"On it!" said Laranth.

Two ARC-170 fighters moved into position and unleashed a volley of blaster fire on the Middle Way. At that moment, Laranth activated her cannon's rapid-fire mode and began predicting the trajectory of the incoming shots with the Force. It took immense concentration, but she managed to neutralize the blaster fire with her own before throwing the two pursuing fighters off with a pair of precision shots.

"You've got your opening, Serra!" she shouted.

"Ok, here we go. Hold on!"

Serra adjusted the throttle and began her tight orbit around Cintax-1. The fighters kept up as best they could and maintained target lock for a few seconds. Still, the furious return fire from Rex and Laranth made it difficult, and they soon began to fall behind. As Serra rounded the final curve of her flight path, Jax saw the computer light up.

"Malik, we've broken target lock!"

"Ok, here we go! NOW!"

The Middle Way lurched, the stars began to blur, and soon they had left Coruscant behind them.

*****

"AAAAAHHHHHHH!!"

"This is now TWO failures for you, First Sister!"

"Please... my Emperor..."

"SILENCE!"

Again and again Palpatine shocked her with Force Lightning. The pain was excruciating, but death would not come; Palpatine made sure of that. He wanted to ensure that his message was well received. There would be no tolerance for such failures under his rule. At last relenting, he approached the smoking, crumpled form lying on the floor.

"Do not forget, First Sister... you are only of worth to the Empire when you accomplish our goals. You are strong, but you lack focus. Learn to fully embrace the Dark Side of the Force, or you will face certain oblivion. It is that simple. Do I make myself clear?"

"Y... yes, my Emperor..."

"Good. Meditate on these things, First Sister. You still have much to learn."

Palpatine then strode from the room, leaving the whimpering girl behind. He returned to his chambers activated his communications array.

"Lord Vader, have you arrived?"

"We are entering the Mustafar system as we speak, Master."

"Excellent. I have high hopes for our Grand Inquisitor. The First Sister has thus far been a disappointment."

"I take it the fugitives have escaped?"

"Indeed. They even managed to evade our trackers."

"They will run and hide, Master. They know their days are numbered, and now the cowardice of the Jedi has been exposed. Rest assured, I shall not rest until they are brought to justice. Have you any idea where they have gone?"

"None. Though the First Sister did make one intelligent move: she has placed a bounty on the fugitives' heads. She managed to identify each of them, including the two interlopers that assisted in their escape yesterday. Each now has a price of one million credits, dead or alive."

"Shall I begin a search for them?"

"Not at this time. Your primary focus must be on our new recruit. Ensure that he is prepared for the tasks that lie ahead. Once he has become a true force to be feared, we shall unleash him upon the Jedi."

"Yes, Master."

*****

"How do we look, Serra?" Malik asked.

"Could be worse," she called from below deck. "Engine and hyperdrive systems are operating perfectly. Shields are a bit cooked, but should be an easy fix. And... there! The cloaking systems have been recalibrated. As long as we can find a safe port to repair the shields, we're no worse for the wear."

"Would've been bad without Jax and Laranth..."

"I'll say. That's twice they've saved our asses," Serra agreed.

The pair returned to the cockpit, finding Jax hard at work on the computer, while Rex and Laranth chatted off to the side.

"Malik, why didn't you tell me about this girl? She's a hell of a shot!" Rex gushed.

"You are too kind, but you are the one with military training," Laranth replied with a giggle.

"Yeah, she's somethin' else," Malik agreed. "How does it look out there, Jax?"

"All's quiet. Nobody tracking us. I think we're in the clear."

"Good. Ok, let's go over a few things," Serra said, taking a seat next to Malik.

"I can already see where this is going. We never intended to become stowaways on your ship. If you'll just drop us off at the nearest inhabited system, we'll find our own way back to Coruscant," Jax said.

"Well... if that's what you really want, we're happy to help," Malik replied. "Still, I don't think going back to Coruscant is wise at this point. The Empire is going to be out for all of us. You'd be an easy target back there."

"Fair enough. Drop us off, and we'll figure out where to go next," Jax said.

"Of course we will, if you really want us to. But we do have room to spare. If you want to stay a while longer, both of you are welcome," Serra said.

"That is very kind of you, but are you certain? We do not wish to burden you," Laranth replied.

"No burden. You're friends, and you've already saved us twice. As far as we're concerned, you're welcome to travel with us for as long as you want," Serra said.

"Besides, with the Empire dedicated to hunting us down, I think it best for us to stick together as much as possible," Malik agreed.

"Hmm... I guess we can stay, at least until we reach another inhabited system," Jax said. "But only if you're certain."

"Positive," Malik said with a grin.

"Well... I suppose it is our best option," Laranth agreed.

"Awesome! We'll go get your quarters ready," Serra said, pulling Malik with her.

"Welcome to the crew, hotshot," Rex said to Laranth. "We've got some time to kill. What do you say to some target practice in the cargo hold?"

Soon finding himself alone in the cockpit, Jax muttered, "Guess I'll just... keep an eye on our flight path..."

*****

"Pull!"

Another target drone launched into the air and was quickly downed by Laranth's pinpoint precision.

"Damn! That's fifteen in a row!" Rex marveled.

"Well, I can't have the embarrassment of missing and shooting a hole in our own ship, now can I?" Laranth giggled.

"Nice try, but you know our blasters are on training mode. I think you're just a bit of a showoff," Rex shot back.

"Perhaps, but I have been using these DL-44 blasters for years. After all this time, I cannot miss with them."

"I know what you mean, I'm the same way with my DC-17's. Still, I always try to keep up my long gun skills. Versatility is never a bad thing," Rex said, picking up a blaster rifle from a box.

"Where did you get that? That's a DC-15A!"

"Old Dex had one that he swiped a few weeks back. He thought it'd do more good in my hands than his, so he gave it to me." Turning to the target launcher, Rex said, "Stationary target, distance: 300 meters."

"300 meters? How can you practice at that range in this tiny hold?"

"One of the beautiful things about these target launchers, they're equipped with many different sized targets to simulate different distances," Rex replied. Backing up into the corner, he brought up his sights and targeted the tiny marble now floating in the air. After a few seconds, he held his breath, squeezed the trigger, and hit the marble dead center.

"Great shot!" Laranth squealed.

"Yeah, this weapon is magnificent at long range. Here, you try."

"Me? Oh, but I have never so much as held such a large weapon before," Laranth replied.

"You handled those cannons like a pro earlier," Rex countered.

"Yes, but that was a life-or-death situation, and I was mostly running on adrenaline."

"Here, I'll show you a few pointers." Handing her the rifle, Rex continued, "Cradle the butt in the crook of your shoulder, and keep your right hand firmly on the grip for stability."

"Like this?"

"Perfect. Try taking a shot. Stationary target. Distance: 100 meters."

Laranth took aim at the small marble now floating in the room, trying her best not to rely on the Force. She squeezed the trigger, but her shot was off the mark.

"Dammit! I suppose I am not as good a marksman as I would like to believe..."

"Nah, you just aren't used to the weapon," Rex said. "Here's the trick with heavier rifles like this one. Your left hand has to support the gun, but the more it tries to control it, the more off-target you'll be, as you just saw."

"How do you mean?" Laranth asked.

"Think about our ship's cannons or a battery of turbolasers. Their shots are so powerful that the barrel of the cannon is designed to recoil down a track, right?"

"Yes."

"The reason for that is to maintain accuracy. Smaller weapons such as pistols or light blaster rifles can be easily kept on target by controlling the upward recoil. But larger guns, like the DC-15A, require that the shooter allow the gun to recoil. As with the cannons on our ship, think of your left hand as the track that the gun must slide back on in order to maintain accuracy. Obviously, this is only a miniscule amount, but it makes all the difference in the world, particularly at longer ranges."

"Like this?"

"No, still a bit too tight. May I touch you to show you?"

"Of course," Laranth smiled.

Rex stepped behind Laranth and placed his hands on hers. Her right hand was firm and well positioned, but he had to provide some help with her left, moving it up and coaching her to relax her grip a bit. They first took a shot together, giving her more of a clue as to the proper grip and helping her confidence. After several accurate shots on her own, Laranth felt quite proficient with the weapon.

"You are a wonderful teacher, Rex," Laranth said.

"Thanks. Had to learn how to coach on the job; it separates a good leader from a great one in the heat of battle." They sat on a pair of nearby boxes and began to disassemble and clean their weapons. "So... you and Jax seem like a great pair. You two made that troop of clones look like fools yesterday."

"Thank you, though we did have the element of surprise. The fact that our fighting styles complement each other is also of great help."

"Nice. You two must be pretty close to be so in tune," Rex commented.

"I suppose that is true."

But not as close as I would like, Laranth couldn't help but think.

*****

Jax stood alone in the hallway overlooking the cargo hold, watching from the window as Rex and Laranth practiced. They were bonding, becoming closer friends. He didn't understand. He had known her for years. Did that mean so little to her? They had watched each other's backs constantly in the weeks since Order 66. How could she so easily move on to Rex at the drop of a hat? He thought they were closer than that.

"Jealousy. Unbecoming, but nobody is completely immune."

Jax spun at a voice coming from behind him, seeing Malik walking up.

"Malik? Wha-"

"Relax. I don't need to be a Jedi to read your mind right now," Malik laughed. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Jax replied, turning back to the window.

"Liar. Spit it out already. I've seen the way you look at Laranth. Not that I can blame you. She is an incredible beauty, and a cunning warrior to boot."

Jax snorted. "You may have so easily caved to singular attachment, but some of us are able to hold true to the Order."

"Maybe, but if you are as resistant to such emotions as you claim, why am I sensing nothing but jealousy from you right now?"

"Fine," Jax sighed. "She is... amazing."

"Tell me about her," Malik encouraged him.

"Well... the truth is we've known each other for years. We were actually initiates together in the Jedi Temple. We've trained together since childhood, part of why we make such a strong team in battle. Over the years, we grew up together and began to realize that we had an attraction that was far stronger than mere friendship. After she left the Order in favor of the Gray Paladins, she wanted me to join her, not only as a Paladin but also as a partner. A lover. I... I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not after all the reminders of the Jedi Code I had been given over the years. But after she saved me from Order 66, everything has been bubbling back up all over again."

"I'm guessing you were reprimanded for your personal feelings towards her?"

"Yeah, several times," Jax replied. "Mostly by Master Even Piell. He always seemed to catch us right as we were about to admit our feelings to each other. Master Piell made it perfectly clear to me that such feelings were not the Jedi way, and I had to purge myself of such emotional attachments."

"Hmm... it seems Master Piell was not as wise as I thought."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Jax, I'm going to tell you something that you must keep secret, even from Rex and Laranth. Serra and I are the only ones who know of this. Do I have your word?"

"Um... sure. Of course."

"Master Yoda is alive, Jax. After Serra and I began a relationship, we were still conflicted. Sensing our uncertainty, Yoda contacted us and asked to meet with us and see our relationship for himself."

"I see. Did he... approve?" Jax asked.

"In his own way. Considering what you know about Master Yoda, what do you think he would be doing in the aftermath of Order 66?"

"I would think he blames himself for the fall of the Order, and is trying to understand how it happened and what could have been done differently."

"Exactly! Yoda believes that the stubbornness of the Jedi Order led in part to their downfall. He feels that the Jedi lacked the foresight to be able to adapt to changing times, compromising on issues where there was room to do so while still holding firm on our more important beliefs," Malik explained. "In seeing the relationship Serra and I have built, which is based on dedication and commitment, he agrees with our assessment that this is the will of the Force. Being in love does not inherently lead to the Dark Side, Jax. It all depends on the context of those emotions."

"I suppose you would know about things that lead to the Dark Side," Jax said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Malik asked, surprised by the insult.

"I saw you fighting Offee as we made our escape. You used Force Lightning on her, didn't you?"

"Ah... that's understandable. Most Jedi believe Force Lightning to be a power specifically of the Dark Side, after all."

"Are you going to try and convince me it's not?" Jax asked.

"Whether I convince you or not is irrelevant, Jax. Lightning is a force of nature, nothing more, nothing less. Again, it all depends on the context. Yes, I have learned to harness Force Lightning, but I have never once drawn on anger or hatred to do so. Initially, it manifested as a reflex. I used it without realizing what I was doing to restart Serra's heart after she was nearly killed in Order 66. Since then, I've worked to perfect using it at will while remaining true to the Light Side of the Force."

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