It was the middle of the night when Master Plo Koon came to get Kalin Thalis.
He opened the door gently but had urgency in his voice. "Kalin, the Council has summoned us."
Kalin stirred from his bed, half awake. "The Council?"
"Try to be ready in ten minutes." Plo Koon closed the door again.
Kalin got dressed and quickly met his master in the hall. The lights were on in the temple, and he could see it was still very much night time out past the windows.
They made their way to a special session of the Council. Plo Koon and Kalin bowed after entering, and Kalin sensed that Plo was already three steps ahead in whatever it was they were a part of.
"Master Plo, you know of course the situation." Mace pulled up a hologram map of a segment of Coruscant. "Three shuttles have disappeared in this area with no witnesses or any clue to what happened. Three shuttles, vanishing in the very atmosphere of Coruscant itself-"
'Three shuttles?' Kalin thought in shock. He remained quietly and listened to all of the details. Plo Koon had been briefed but not Kalin, so he had to soak everything up as fast as he could to be on the same page.
"Master Plo, you and your padawan are to investigate a series of disappearances. The flights were commercial shuttles with regular civilians. There is no reason nor rhyme to it, no common denominator that connects any of the flights except they all take place in this sector of Coruscant space, and there have been no reported crashes on the planet surface. These shuttles get near the atmosphere for a jump to light speed and simply vanish."
Ki Adi Mundi continued "Chancellor Valorum has kept this mystery from the media, but it is only a matter of time before the public at large becomes quite alarmed. You two will take a random transport and attempt to discover the nature of this phenomenon before it escalates into a tragedy."
Kalin bowed, understanding, but three missing shuttles with civilians in potential danger should already be listed as a tragedy in his mind.
"We shall leave immediately. It is only a matter of time before the next shuttle or transport falls victim to this mystery." Plo Koon bowed.
Kalin was still trying to catch up, though. "Are they all public transports?"
"Yes. Missing civilians, there are." Yoda closed his eyes with a heavy heart. "Many missing people. Clouded their fate is. Find them, you must."
"Come Kalin" Plo Koon ushered to him "We must leave quickly."
Kalin had a thousand questions, and certainly wanted to ask why he was not in the loop until the last two minutes of this briefing. But discretion was the better part of valor, so he bowed and left with his Master.
"When did the disappearances start?" He asked.
"I know this must all be disconcerting to throw at you suddenly. The shuttles have been vanishing one a week for three weeks, all under the same circumstances. They reach a point in the atmosphere and suddenly are just gone without a trace..."
"As long as we stand a chance of stopping it from happening again, Master!" Kalin felt a rush of adrenalin. Was it fear or apprehension?
It was one thing to face an adversary with his lightsaber, but this was an entirely different scenario...
Plo Koon's tone turned regretful "Unfortunately, we must be on board a shuttle and hope it will disappear like the others. It is the only way to discover what happened to the first three."
"But Master!" Kalin stopped walking and looked at him "There will be innocent people involved! Surely-"
"Kalin, the risks are great. In order to understand and solve the mystery, we must take the chance and go where the others have gone. If it is a trap by an enemy, we must spring the trap without them knowing that the Jedi know. Hurry now."
"How will we be able to choose the right transport? There must be hundreds coming and going every day!"
"That is where you come into play, young Kalin. I need you to meditate and let the Force guide you while we are in the Spaceport. Your connection to the living Force will point you to the flight that will be targeted next" Plo Koon never broke his stride. He seemed very sure he knew what to do.
But involving another shuttle of people, putting them at risk was not the Jedi way. Kalin sighed. Maybe Master Koon knew the risks, and had to accept this as the only plan.
But it still felt wrong.
The two of them entered the Spaceport near the area of the incidents. Plo Koon sat in a chair in the busy spaceport as thousands of people from all races and professions and walks of life came and went. He observed the area, and the people. Kalin fidgeted quietly but tried to concentrate as well.
Plo did not have difficulties with a young learner out in the field, Kalin was a decent pupil, but today was a little unnerving for the young man.
Plo did not fully understand what was happening, but concentrated and let the Force point him in the right direction.
Kalin sat next to Plo and also concentrated, focusing on people as they passed by.
One was a minor Senator, a human from Planet Rhoona in the mid-rim. He was talking on his comlink to some committee about an important agricultural vote.
Kalin had his eyes closed and could hear the conversations around him, shutting down all his other senses.
He could hear a faint conversation nearby. "Here is your Heart medicine, Captain Bokkis." a voice quietly said.
Another conversation involves a flight engineer worried about an anomaly, a high pressure ridge, in the atmosphere. The man feebly jokes with a young stewardess about what the high force winds could do to aircraft in the area.
A gruff Togrutan barks at his servant droid to be careful of his luggage.
Kalin suddenly jolted upright. He saw an image of a woman in pain.....he felt it may have been his mother, but he couldn't be sure. The sudden vision shot through him in a half second, like electricity.
He stood up and walked over to the flight schedule and saw with clarity the flight he knew they would take. Flight 13, A medium sized shuttle, and it was nearly full to capacity with dozens of people who had no idea that they could be victims of something diabolical.
"You have found the flight?" Plo Koon asked "Excellent. Your skills are sharp."
"I still do not believe this to be the way. I just wish-"
"-I know. It is hard to put innocent people in harms way. But if we find out where the others went, we may be able to save all of them.
Kalin heard a child crying out. A small Rodian girl had gotten separated from her parents.
Plo Koon and Kalin went over to the child.
"There is no need to fear, we will protect you, and help find your parents.." Plo tried to calm the child.
Kalin tried to smile, to look friendly. "What's your name?"
"I am Oorba." The girl sobbed.
"Well, Oorba, I am Kalin. You have no need to be afraid. I am a friend." Kalin felt a little awkward talking to the girl like this, but he tried to use his ability to make her comfortable.
Oorba smiled and held his hand while they looked for her parents.
It was only a matter of seconds for Plo Koon to find the frantic parents, who were, by coincidence, also boarding the same flight.
"Let us go, Kalin." Plo Koon, having resolved the minor crisis, decided it was best to keep going before there were any other delays.
"Yes, Master." Kalin kept one eye on Oorba. She smiled and waved to him. He cracked enough of a return smile for the girl without breaking his stride to board the transport.
They boarded the ship and moved through the aisle to their proper seats. The Head Stewardess, an attractive Cathar, walks past and suddenly turns to Master Koon.
"You!" She smiles with excitement! "It's you! How wonderful to see you again!"
Plo Koon looks at her with some surprise "We've met before?"
She gave him a big hug. Plo Koon looked at Kalin with embarrassment. The Stewardess looked at Kalin and grinned.
"He stopped pirates from kidnapping a group of us several months back. I wouldn't be here today if.....it weren't for you!" She moved on to do her job, but she had a huge smile.
Kalin grinned also "Well, Master Plo Koon. I see you have worked your charm on the ladies!"
Plo Koon raised an eyebrow "I stopped some pirates, but I guess I never realized the impact I had on the hostages. For the record, I wasn't doing anything charming. Just my duty."
"It was certainly an important day for her." Kalin enjoyed seeing Plo Koon blush, but was also proud of the Jedi Master. Never stopping to bask in glory, or trying to be popular. Plo Koon was Plo Koon.
They put their stuff away in the compartments up above the seats and prepared to relax.
"That is my seat, young man!!" A Nemoidian barked at Kalin "I must get ready for a convention on Corellia, I've been up for 15 hours and I am tired!"
Kalin looked at him confused "I'm....sorry? This is YOUR seat?"
Another Stewardess came by, a young blue Twi'lek. "Please sir, there's been a mixup. This gentleman has the proper ticket for this seat...." She looked at Kalin, apologetically.
"Young man, I need to get some rest!" The businessman waited impatiently for him to move."
"It's your turn to work some charm, Kalin." Plo Koon said straight faced, but Kalin sensed a pinch of snark in him. Even Jedi Masters had a sense of humor, it seemed.
"Terribly sorry for the mixup. I will see you when we land, Master" Kalin got up and let the Nemoidian have his seat, but it was not a comfortable switch, to be away from his Master on a mission of this nature.
The Stewardess smiled and led him to another seat in the transport, much too far from Plo Koon for Kalin's liking.
"Thank you for being so cooperative. That man was complaining for thirty minutes and we....well, I'm just glad he is quiet." She smiled at him, genuinely thankful Kalin was very compliant.
"It is nothing to worry about. One chair is as good as any chair for me." He smiled back. Her nametag read Tanith.
"Enjoy your flight." Tanith, in gratitude, made Kalin as comfortable as possible with a pillow and refreshments.
Kalin smiled and thanked her, but deep down he was more nervous. Something about this whole flight gave him a bad feeling. Until Oorba ran up to him.
"I have some extra fruit snacks. I too full, but you can have the rest!" she beamed.
"Thank you." Kalin smiled slightly.
"You all by yourself?" She looked at him "Where's your family?"
"They're far away. I have not..." Kalin stopped for a moment. She looked at him, waiting. "I have not had a chance to be with them yet."
"Maybe you will see them when we land!" She tried to be positive.
"Maybe. Thanks for the snacks." He smiled a little more, changing the subject so she would not see his face bend in a serious way from thinking too much about the past.
Oorba danced her way back to her seat. Kalin felt the double edged sword of the mission. As much as he wanted to solve the mystery of the vanishing transports, he hoped nothing would happen to the flight. He hoped nothing would happen to her.
The flight launched. Strangely, Kalin felt very relaxed all of a sudden, maybe from the pillow, or the drink he was given. Perhaps it was the calm weather and bright sun peering through the windows. Or it may be that he spent his concentration again focusing on the people and conversations around him.
He could hear two lovers kissing several rows behind him, three teenagers singing the latest hit song while listening to their music devices through an ear piece. He noticed a small Ugnaught nervously clutching a small briefcase as the launch commenced. A stewardess is trying to serve a man his drink but spills it on his cloak.
So many normal things happening around him, Kalin could not help but find himself feeling as if everything were perfectly normal. A part of him felt that probably nothing was ever going to happen. It will be a long dull flight to their destination. Kalin smiled and relaxed into his pillow. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Turbulence hit, jolting the entire craft, shaking it violently. Though Kalin closed his eyes for maybe a few seconds, the calm serenity of the moment was replaced by chaos.
A storm hit the atmosphere outside, and nothing could be seen except dark clouds that felt unnatural.
A jolt knocked Kalin more awake. Did he just fall asleep? Everyone started to panic as a bright light pierced the clouds.
"Look out!" A woman screamed.
"It's too close!!" The Nemoidian shouted.
Pandemonium was breaking out among the passengers as the bright light flashed past the windows. Kalin glanced at the windows, watching a huge craft of unknown design flying past them.
"Master!" Kalin called out. Plo Koon made his way to his padawan.
"Yes, I see it!! A space craft large enough to swallow this transport!"
The Master Jedi made sure Kalin was by his side and they began making their way to the cockpit.
The large, egg shaped craft passed by from up above a second time, its blinding lights flashing through portals from the aft of the transport to the front in seconds.
The transport tipped into a nose dive. Passengers who were not safely strapped in with their seatbelts were tossed about, blocking the path for Plo Koon and Kalin as they slowly made their way forward.
Kalin tried to help people back into their seats but did not delay too long.
"We must get to the pilot! The shuttle feels like it is losing power!"
Plo Koon used a soothing voice to calm down the more hysterical passengers, while the stewardesses helped the injured to safe areas.
The shuttle rocked violently as the nose dive became more intense. Some people screamed about going blind, having looked directly at the bright lights of the alien craft.
"Could this craft be the reason for the disappearing transports?" Kalin called out to Plo Koon as they reached the cockpit. "Why haven't they captured us?"
"I think you may be right abiout it. Such a craft of incredible size must have a cloaking device to hide on Coruscant! As to why we have not been captured....who knows?"
Plo Koon waved his hand and opened the cockpit door.
The pilot was clutching his chest, pale and slumped over the arm rest and gasping for breath. The Co-pilot was gripping the control steering and seemed to be in a trance, mumbling about making a 'bombing run'.
"Echo-3 to command! We are making our run....I repeat, we are making our run into the pirate's canyon!"
Kalin glanced at Master Plo Koon "I remember hearing talk of heart medicine for the flight Captain....I don't think it's helping him here!"
"And the co-pilot is in a state of shock!" Plo Koon gently waved his hand in front of the co-pilot, pulling him away from the controls and letting him sit in a corner of the small cockpit.
"So....you ever land a transport this big, with dozens of passengers lives in the balance, in a moment of chaos in a cloud storm?" Plo Koon sat in the chair next to Kalin.
"I look forward to a happy landing, Master!" Kalin grabbed the controls and started to prep the ship for an emergency touch down.
The Stewardess, Tanith, helped to keep the pilot captain comfortable and attempted to use her life saving training on his chest.
"Where did this storm come from anyway? It wasn't so bsd a few minutes ago!"
"It is strange, Kalin. I did not even notice the weather change!!" Plo Koon struggled with the controls as he and Kalin slowly pulled the craft out of its nose dive.
"We've lost all signals with the space port, and navigation won't respond. I don't know how far we've traveled or how close we are to the ground!" Kalin looked over the controls.
"Are we going to die!?" Tanith started to lose her nerve, gripping a part of the cockpit.
"Go and make sure the passengers are prepared to clear the transport once we land." Plo Koon subtly keeps her mind occupied. Tanith nods and exits.
The strange alien craft flies past them one more time. "It must have a cloaking device, it does not show up on our scanners! Whoever they are, they seem to be letting us go." Kalin watches them for a few seconds.
"I wonder...." Plo Koon also glances at the craft as it vanished into the storm.
As the alien ship leaves, the radio scratches into life.
"Flight 13, this is Spaceport tower, do you read? You're coming in steep!"
Kalin grabbed the headset and fumbled around the control panel. He was a good pilot under normal circumstances, but the crisis of the moment had him trying to multi-task several things at once.
"Uhhh, copy that, tower, we are leveling off....."
The tower continued to talk them through, and soon, Kalin and Plo Koon were able to see the Spaceport
"Master...look!" Kalin was shocked at the plumes of smoke rising from the city below. Fires were breaking out and chaos seemed to crowd the space lanes as vehicles crashed or chased each other.
"How could Coruscant fall apart so quickly....I had not sensed anything wrong!"
"Well, what ever is going on, we need to land and get these people to safety!"
They struggled for a moment, but Kalin and Plo Koon brought the transport down.
"Stay with the pilots. I will check on the passengers and try to organize and orderly exit." Plo Koon left Kalin and Tanith.
"The Captain's stabilized....but we need to get him to a hospital....quickly!" Tanith looked out the windows of the cockpit. Not much could be seen except the smoke from various large skyscrapers.
"I'd certainly like to know what's going on!" Kalin tried to raise the tower again, but got no response, just a scratching noise. He looked around, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling.
Plo Koon re-entered the cockpit. "I have been able to gather most of the passengers but small groups are evacuating the transport. There's a lot of chaos outside, so be alert."
"We will need help carrying the pilots" Kalin tried to help the co-pilot to his feet "Tanith, help me with the co-pilot. We will come back with a stretcher for the captain."
In moments, the Jedi were getting ready to lead some of the passengers to the exit.
Oorba and her family stayed close, as well as the Nemoidian and the Stewardesses. There were about 24 of them all together.
Kalin looked to the business man "What's your name?"
The Nemoidian blinked at him "I am Kolus."
"Well, Kolus, I need some assistance bringing the pilot up to join us. He's had a heart problem and needs assistance."
"Get the other Jedi! I intend to find a flight off this world as soon as I can. I don't have time to fiddle with a dying man. We need to weed out the ones that cannot make it!."
Kalin stared at him in disbelief. "I need your help while the Master keeps us safe. Please, sir, I need your help."
Kolus sighed and followed, irritated by what he saw as a useless obligation. He believed in survival of the fittest, but kept quiet in the presence of the Jedi.
Kalin started getting more uneasy feelings about everything going on. They reached the cockpit...only to find the pilot was no where to be seen.
"What the...?" they both felt the floor was wet. Kalin tried to make sense of what was going on, but his carefully coaxed companion had lost patience.
"Well, THIS is a complete mess!" Kolus stormed away. The pilot apparently did not open a window or exit the door, but had vanished nevertheless.
"Master!" Kalin ran up to Plo Koon "The pilot....he's gone! Vanished!"
Plo Koon nodded, but now was not the time to consider that mystery. They needed to get the passengers to safety.
"We will worry about the pilot later. Right now I cannot even contact the council, the Senate, or the Chancellor's office!"
"I have a bad feeling about this!" Kalin and Plo Koon led the others off the craft.
Plo Koon could not shake a dreadful thought "I do not have a bad feeling, Kalin. What bothers me is I do not seem to have any feeling for what's going on, and that troubles me...."
Meanwhile, in a controlled computer lab, their progress was being monitored by shadowy sinister beings.
Monitors were set up around the spaceport and the shuttle. Multiple people were being observed under the duress of the chaos and violence, but several monitors suddenly focused on the Jedi, especially Kalin.
One of the observers stepped close to the scanners monitoring the passengers. It was a large, arachnid Harch. "The younger Jedi seems very inquisitive. Most of the subjects scramble to survive or give in to terror, but he is actively studying his environment. Let's see how he handles more stress."
The group exited the shuttle and cautiously walked through the terminal, horrified by what they saw.
"It's like a nightmare!" Tanith whispered next to Kalin.
Luggage was scattered everywhere, and there were bodies all around. Kalin grew more and more suspicious though.
"Master, none of this makes sense. We were only in the air for a moment. This could not have happened so fast!"
"Agreed" Plo Koon looked around.
A group of children appeared near the entrance and stared at their group. The children all look like they have been chewing on bodies. Blood was ringed around their mouths like jelly, and their teeth were bared ferociously.
"I think they want to eat us!" a passenger murmured out loud.
Plo Koon activated his lightsaber. "I hope we will not have to resort to violence."
The children charged forward like a mob. Their faces were madness.
Kalin did not wonder on the how and why of what drove the children. Only that he had to let his defensive instincts take over. He could not afford to think of them as children, either.
Plo Koon hesitated for a half second behind Kalin when they attacked. As numerous as they were, the children were clumsy and wild, cut down in droves by the Jedi.
Everyone gasped as Kalin put a finishing pose on the last of the small killers.
It wasn't until he blinked and took a breath that Kalin suddenly actually thought about what just happened. The enemy he had to strike down were children, not more than 10 years old.
Kalin looked around at the bodies, and was nearly overwhelmed at the thought of what they just did Plo Koon placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back from the brink of breaking.
"Remember your training." As far as Plo Koon was concerned, the less said about it the better.
Kalin nodded and straightened himself up. He put his thoughts into the mystery of what was happening. What caused the chaos, what was the buzzing noises they kept hearing on comlinks and terminal screens? Why was Kalin's senses feeling thick and dead when he looked at the survivor's around him?
It was as if the Force were trying to warn him, as if everything felt very artificial.
"Come on, we must get out of the space port" Plo Koon led the way, but he and Kalin looked back at the others. They simply stared in shock. And fear.
"You killed them." Oorba looked at Kalin with horror. The Jedi who had been so kind to her looked different in this new light.
Kalin looked down for a moment. He wanted to reassure Oorba that he would protect her, but her parents subconsciously made a wall between them.
"This is outrageous! Are we going to follow a couple of Jedi murderers!?" Kolus began to sow seeds of hysteria.
"Please, you must stay calm. We are safer if we travel together." Plo Koon tried to placate the group, waving his hand and attempting to calm them as much as he could. Kalin felt a little sick at the consequences of keeping people safe, especially when their was distrust in their expressions.
The group slowly exited the spaceport, past wrecked vehicles and bodies. Kalin still had a bad feeling that plagued him, like they were being watched.
The group made its way outside the spaceport and tried to remain inconspicuous. Sounds of blasters firing and combat screams echoed in distant parts of the city. Whatever had attacked the planet was no longer around the Spaceport.
Even so, things continued to get stranger and stranger for the group. The city they looked out on, even with smoking skyscrapers and wreckage, looked alien and unfamiliar.
"It looks like the city...." Tanith grimaced "But this can't be right. How did the city fall apart so fast?"
Oorba clung to her parents and Kolus cowered behind larger looking passengers who didn't know any better.
Strange animals were lined up on both sides of a small street path leading to the taxi services. They had wings, but Kalin and Plo oon looked at each other suspiciously.
"They're not like any birds I have ever seen on Coruscant..." Kalin whispered.
"Flocks of them, watching and waiting. Let's hope they are more scared of us then people should be of them."
The group hurried quietly through small streets. The combat had ceased, and somehow it was as if the huge city planet had become dead quiet.
"Where are we going? Where is there that we can be safe? Perhaps we should go back to the shuttle and get off this planet!" Kolus began to panic as he looked around.
It had become eerily quiet. An ominous wind blew through the sky and the passengers started to feel very alone.
Plo Koon continued to calm them down "We are making our way to the Senate building to find any officials who might still be alive and in a secure location. We do not know what has happened. Perhaps they could help us understand the chaos."
"I doubt anyone could understand this! OW!" Kolus jumped as one of the flying this swooped down and poked at him with its long beak.
Up close, the creatures had perverted avian features. No real face, just a long beak that met the neck in a weird angle that resembled a head. Wings that looked jagged and serrated.
Whatever the creatures were, they grew restless around the survivors, swooping aggressively in greater numbers.
Oorba screamed as her parents deflected the things, the airline stewardesses tried shooing away the beasts, but were getting pelted and bombarded as everyone started to run faster to get to a shelter.
Kalin and Plo Koon cut down the swoopers as they zeroed in on the Jedi, but the creatures became greater in number.
"Quick, to the sports complex!" Plo Koon took up the lead, while Kalin swatted the creatures at the rear of the group. It was not without wounds. For every flying thing he sliced in half, three of them gave him bruises and cuts as the passengers screamed in terror from being hunted.
One unfortunate person stumbles and falls. The swarm overwhelms the body and covers him in an orgy of horrible feasting.
Kalin blasts the swarm with a blow from the Force and cuts down several more of the creatures. Plo Koon calls to him to stay focused.
Reluctantly, Kalin retreats to help protect the rest of the group.
After a harrowing chase and screams of terror by the passengers, they reach a large, enclosed building built with a huge dome overhead. Kalin waves his hand and opens one of the doors for the survivors to rush through.
Tripping over each other in a panic, the crowd eventually take cover inside as Kalin and Plo Koon defend the doorway.
Bruised and exhausted from the furious fight, the Jedi get inside and close the doors, sealing out the avian monsters.
"What were those things? Why did they....?" Oorba's father could not finish his question. Tired and filled with terror, everyone just sits and breathes, trembling in shock at the experience.
"Master, I wonder what good we can ever accomplish. Danger is everywhere!" Kalin whispered urgently, but made sure nobody heard his panic.
"And where are the Republic guard? The Senate guard? Even looters would be out fighting and shooting these things. Why do I get the feeling we are so totally alone in this city?"
Plo Koon grabbed the padawan's shoulders gently but with resolve. "First order of business is to survive. This is somehow connected to the missing shuttles. We must clear our minds and focus. The lives of all these people depend on us staying disciplined."
Kalin nodded, but doubt nagged at him and fear threatened to cloud his thoughts.
"We can get food and drinks from the vending machines, it will give everyone much needed strength, and distract them a little."
Plo Koon and Kalin went around the nearby hallways gathering food. They were careful not to stray too far in the vast building that could house almost 100,000 sport fans. They would be safe in one small corner of it for a while.
Kalin went on several food runs, and risked going further and further into the building. He past bodies and blood spattered walls, but the area was mostly clear except for the violence that had passed through.
As he gathered up another round of snack treats from the machines, he could hear shouts and grunts from the main arena. There were many sets of tunnels and staircases leading to the area inside, and his curiosity was getting the better of him.
Quietly, he walked up the stairs, closer to the arena. The noises sounded like roars and cheers of fans, yet it was a haunting cheer and the sports action sounded very brutal, like animals were on the playing field.
He crept towards the entrance that led to the bleachers. He saw that the field was a war zone of violent spectators. Different groups of fans wearing their jerseys tore at each other, while athletes sat near the front rows watching. The athletes watched in a stupor.
"This is madness" Kalin whispered. No one was looking, so he was not seen nor heard, but he felt anxiety at the vicious fight. It was bloody, violent and rage filled. The fanatic screams of the fans echoed louder and louder. Quietly, he slipped back to the group.
"We cannot stay here, Master. There is danger" he summed up his observations.
"What are you two saying?" Kolus tried to interrupt "Why don't you tell everyone? You keep whispering together, keeping secrets!"
"You must remain calm." Plo Koon tried to reassure the nervous Nemoidian, but Kolus was now grating on everyone's paranoia.
"What if you're plotting to leave us? Or sacrifice us to the monsters!?"
"That's ridiculous!" Kalin yelled in a burst of frustration "We've been getting bitten and hacked to save your skin!"
"Kalin, you must focus-" Plo Koon put a hand on his shoulder, but Kalin was on the edge after seeing the bloody spectacle in the arena.
The padawan shrugged himself away from his Master and got into Kolus' face with a daring finger.
"We're doing our best!"
"Best?" Kolus became belligerent "YOUR BEST??!! Losers always whine about their best!"
The crowd slowly found utself dividing. The stewardesses and younger passengers inched their way to the Jedi. A slightly larger group of adults stayed near Kolus.
"Knock it off! You think the Jedi aren't trying?" Tanith yelled back at Kolus "They got us this far! Maybe you need to relax!"
For a few tense seconds the two groups looked at each despite Plo Koons attempts to level off the hostilities. Everything calmed down, but Kalin and Kolus still stared at each other, waiting for a first strike. Kolus finally shook his head and backed away.
"Kalin, what has gotten into you? You cannot go provoking the others like this." Plo Koon gently chastised him.
Kalin slumped "I wasn't trying to do anything, Master! The danger is close by. There are people tearing each other apart in the arena! I'm doing my best!"
"Stop, clear your mind. To have fear in you will tear this group apart. We are all that stand between solving the mystery and falling into complete chaos."
"Yes, Master." Kalin sulked for a second as Plo Koon let the passengers finish eating and drinking snacks. Kalin took small comfort in the smile that Oorba gave him, though she wasvisibly scared. She and her parents still believed in him and Plo Koon.
They quickly gathered themselves and walked down long abandoned halls to a safe exit, all the while hearing the screams and raging fights in the arena. The blood-curdling competition filled them with dread and spurred them with the urgency to leave the sports complex as fast as possible.
They exited the building and continued closer to the Senate, but Kalin was getting that odd feeling of being watched.
The group walked carefully along the allies and pathways.
He looked up in the air, tilting his head.
"What is it?" Plo Koon inquired. Kalin took out his light saber and got ready to swing it up in the air.
"I have a hunch." Kalin tossed it up. To everyone's amazement. the saber struck something that was invisible. A creature screamed and fell to the ground, it's stealth suit damaged. Kalin recovered his weapon.
“Well done, Padawan!” Plo Koon complemented.
Kalin smiled proudly, yet he was slightly surprised his Master had not sensed the danger before him.
"What is it!?" Tanith gasped.
The creature looked like a man sized arachnid, in a special hazard suit. His hover device was a disc shaped platform that slowly landed on the ground.
"Master Plo Koon....is he..." The Cathar Stewardess hesitated.
"It is one of the Harch. Very rare to see them in the inner rim. His neck is broken....I'm afraid he is dead." Plo Koon looked around. Amidst the chaos outside the spaceport, they were safe for the moment.
"He may have given us the answers we need!" Kalin examined the hovercraft.
"What have you surmised, Kalin?" His Master looked at him, strangely curious.
Kalin held in his irritation as he started putting some pieces together.
"This Harch is wearing a research outfit. There may be a group of them, but why is he here?"
Tanith shuddered in horror at the realization.
"Why would they do this? And how did they attack Coruscant!?" She started shaking.
"I have sensed something different about our surroundings, The Force has led me to believe that everything here is....artificial. I don't fully understand yet."
Kalin looked grimly at Plo Koon, and Plo Koon nodded in agreement, though his expression suggested there was more to it.
"I should take the hovercraft and find where their base of operations is located. Master, you should take care of everyone."
The Nemoidian became enraged. "This is ridiculous! Are we to believe this nonsense? How can this not be Coruscant? We were only in the air for a few minutes! You're a crazy Jedi who will get us all killed!"
"It may be our only chance to survive!" Kalin found himself losing a little patience with Kolus.
"He's going to abandon us! The Coward!" Kolus' inability to deal with the reality of what was going on around him started to cause a mental meltdown. He reached out in desperation and slapped Kalin.
Kalin's shock was only partially from the slap, but mostly from the physical meltdown Kolus was starting to experience along with the mental one.
The slap had left water on Kalin's face. Sweat? Blood? It was neither. Kolus and the others stared at his hand, which was literally melting down, breaking down in a liquid dismissal that sent a new wave of horror through the group.
"What's happening to me?" Kolus felt his whole body begin to disintegrate. Kalin and Plo Koon watched, and the others started to whimper in shock as the Nemoidian panicked and bean to shrink into a puddle. He tried to run, but soon his body gave out and collapsed completely into a puddle, similar to the wet spots found in the cockpit.
Plo Koon turned to Kalin "here is certainly more to this horror than what we see. It's all starting to come together, but I cannot figure out the endgame to this...."
Plo Koon and Kalin faced the remaining crowd. "A city in chaos, a strange craft out of nowhere, no communications, no sign of the police, the Republic guards or Jedi....and some of us are not what we appear to be. And invisible Harchs watching and observing...."
"Why all this chaos? Who is creating this and why go through all this trouble?" Kalin felt fear creep up into him, and it took all his willpower to not crack under these mysterious circumstances. Using his concentration started to wear on him. He started to feel irritation as well as fear.
Plo Koon put a hand on his shoulder "Kalin, you must go. I will try to lead the group. Take the device and find the source of this madness. Whatever happens....do not fully trust any of us. Not even me."
Plo Koon made sure no one else could hear their talk.
"What do you mean, Master?" Kalin was concerned, afraid the revelations they were both about to reach.
Plo Koon was blunt "Something doesn't feel right, Kalin. When I tried to sense for any disturbances, I couldn't feel anything. It's like my connection to the Force is broken. Yet yours isn't? I don't know how it's possible, but you'll have to go on without me, padawan. I can't help you any further. I'm sorry. You'll have to solve this on your own. Be careful and stay focused. Don't let your emotions distract you. You are the key to our survival."
Kalin felt afraid as this would almost be like his first solo mission. He hastily and got on the platform and activated it to explore the area, hoping to find the source of their problem.
Plo Koon watched with the others. The head Stewardess stood by his side, afraid to ask the questions that burned in her.
Kalin flew along, and was being monitored by the shadowy scientists. The comlink on his floating platform activated.
"Report in, #7
. We have sensed a malfunction in your observation unit.....#7
, your not at your observation post. What's going on?"
Kalin scanned the signal and followed back to the source. The huge spacecraft, hovering in the sky. It was invisible to normal view, cloaked for its nefarious purposes. Kalin could sense it though and felt a familiar presence nearby that shocked him.
"It can't be....Master Plo Koon?" He said baffled. He gulped and shook the thought off. It had to be a mistake. Maybe his senses were not that atuned after all.
On a rooftop, hiding in the shadows, he could sense Master Plo Koon again. Was it really him? Or was Kalin so immersed in madness his senses were going crazy. Though when he finally saw his master, he only found himself more confused. Was it some hallucination?
He landed near Plo Koon. "Am I seeing things? I just left you with the survivors!"
"Padawan! The problem is greater than you can imagine! I have only just escaped from the people responsible. The real passengers are prisoners on the ship!"
"What? REAL Passengers?" Kalin looked at him confused.
"Hurry!" Plo Koon jumped on the platform with him "Time is running out, and we must put a stop to this!" They continued to fly, though everything happened too fast and Kalin was still confused.
"Where have you been, Master?" Kalin handled the controls and started panicking. Too much was happening and he had to try and think of one thing at a time.
Plo Koon looked around, trying to sense something in the sky. "I have only just escaped after realizing what was going on. I was one of the first ones from Flight 13 to be in the experiment, and they underestimated my abilities."
Kalin barely registered Plo Koon's explanation as he concentrated on flying.
Meanwhile, on board, the leader of the group was becoming concerned.
"Admiral Trench!" One of the scientists reported in "Observer #7
is returning to the ship, but is not flying according to standard procedure and is not responding to our calls! And the Master Jedi has escaped!"
Trench was a large, ominous arachnid alien that calmly watched the screens as the found Kalin and saw him approaching. He narrowed his eyes, all eight of them, and took a deep breath as he scanned the area and spotted Kalin and Plo Koon on the flying platform.
"So, we must assume the Jedi now know our secrets by now. Pity, they were a most interesting pair of test subjects!"
Trench sounded the alarm and ordered all turrets to activate.
"Decloak and open fire on the Jedi!"
Kalin saw the mighty ship appear in the middle of the sky as the turrets started to take fire at the both of them.
"Well, this is hardly fair!"
Plo Koon looked around for a safe place to land. "We are going to have to jump! They plan to blow us out of the sky!"
Kalin clenched tightly to the controls. "We can't run away now! We'll be sitting ducks if we try to land!"
He started dodging, flying erratically on the clunky platform, which clearly was not designed for combat.
Concentrating, they used their piloting skills and a little help from the Force to avoid getting blasted, though Kalin could feel the heat of the close calls as he reached the hull of the ship.
Kalin turned on his lightsaber and carved a hole into the bottom of the ship, into a maintenance duct, allowing himself and Plo Koon to jump in.
Trench gripped the railing on the bridge as an officer announced the entry of the intruders.
"The Jedi have entered our ship!" the officer shouted.
Trench sighed, more annoyed than concerned.
"Send the guards, I want them captured or eliminated. Keep observing the experiment."
The Jedi made their way through the rather clean, sterilized bowels of the ship, noting that the technology was new or just very alien. It did not have any characteristics that were linked to any known organization or planet.
Kalin felt worried. While he was reuinited with Plo Koon, who appeared to be the real one as he hid from the other one that he couldn't sense his presence, thinking he was also losing his connection to the Force. But now it proved something else was going on and he had been with an imitator of Plo Koon almost all along the flight and the stress afterwards. Yet he couldn't say if the imitator was actually just someone who tried to fool Kalin into being someone he wasn't. He seemed to truly believe he was Plo Koon, all the way while he was trying to help Kalin and the passengers. He even admitted that he had doubts about himself or was it all just an attempt to manipulate him into thinking he was the real Plo Koon?
“Kalin, focus!” Plo Koon said as he put his hand on the boy's shoulder, “Your emotions are distracting you, padawan. Clear your thoughts.”
There were some droid guards, but they were easily dispatched. The Harch were a little more challenging, but after a few intimidating swings a pose and a fierce gaze, most of them ran for the escape pods. Apparently they never anticipated losing control of this experiment.
The final group of Harch guards did put up a fight with their blasters, but Plo Koon deflected the shots back at them as he closed in on where he sensed the prisoners were being kept. He closed in on them with Kalin close behind and struck the last two Harchs down.
He opened a large vault door and was simply stunned by the sight.
It was filled with the passengers of Flight 13. Along with other prisoners, surmised they were from the other missing flights. Prisoners, cramped in a large detention center inside the ship, separated from the Jedi by laser barriers.
"How can this be?" Kalin tried to not have his jaw hit the floor.
Plo Koon did not waste any time.
"They are holding experiments, war manoeuvres. We are still on Coruscant, but not where we were when we lifted off. The ship transported us to a remote location!"
"How is that possible, master? How can they conduct an experiment this vast on the surface of the planet without detection?" Kalin's mind scrambled to think of what was happening.
"We are not on the surface, and the people you were with are not people. They are called synthoids. Replicas used for tests and tactical manoeuvres!" The Jedi Master's hushed voice showed the gravity of the situation.
Plo Koon observed the passengers, desperate to get out of their prison, “We need to find a way to release them.” He said trying to figure out how the controls worked, “We'll need to hack the controls to remove the barriers.” He sighed, knowing it could take quite some time to figure out.
“The bridge! I bet the solution lies there. We need to pass the guards and reach the bridge to free the prisoners!” Kalin frowned, running into a corridor that would lead to the bridge, though he was unaware what was awaiting him.
"No, Kalin! Don't act so reckless! Come back!" Plo Koon called out, but Kalin, in a moment of impetuous thought, was gone before the master could calm his thoughts and suggest a more subtle approach.
The padawan kept running through every unknown corridor, using his best deductive reasoning to get to the bridge of the ship.
Fighting past various guards and droids, Kalin reached the secured blast doors to the bridge. He could sense fear on the other side. Most of the bridge crew were not trained in combat, but scientific research in various areas.
Kalin looked at his saber and contemplated burning through the door "It's not working!" He muttered to himself, giving a sigh of annoyance.
He stood back and concentrated on the door and its controls. His will had to be greater than the obstacle in front of him. Using his hands, he used the Force to open the blast doors. But it was a more difficult task than he had anticipated. He managed to create a small opening which he slit himself through.
More guards appeared behind him as he got through, but he waved his hand and shut them out. He made sure the blast doors closed as he faced a supremely confident Harch and his crew.
"You will surrender....now!" Kalin felt an adrenaline rush, unsure what to do next.
The bridge crew cowered back from either superstition or basic knowledge of the Jedi's power. Either way, he had the upper hand, despite his fears.
Except for the leader, dressed in a respectable military cloak, who showed no sign of fear at all.
"You are the one who will surrender, Jedi!" the spidery figure chuckled.
"Admiral Trench, we dare not go against the Jedi!" One officer begged, but the confident Harch did not waver.
"You may have figured out much, young one... But I hold hostages in this ship, and the synthoids will be destroyed soon enough!"
"You can't!" Kalin's heart raced at the alien term being used. His thoughts tried to block out the potential horror of the term's implications, “They're not different from us!” He said, though he doubted his own observation of the synthoids.
"They are artificial creations of flesh manipulated to simulate life. We use them for cheap labor, cattle, and we use them for study! As advanced as they may seem, they're expandable... Just like you, Jedi."
Trench kept a hand on his control panel, but Kalin furled his brow.
"Let these people go! These are innocent civilians you have endangered!." He ordered Trench, though the Harch could hear the shaky panic in the padawan's voice. Kalin was hardly in control and was in no condition to make threats.
"There are plans in motion you cannot fathom, Jedi! A new age is coming! A new power is rising to take control of the Republic that will spell doom for your order!"
One of the scientists secretly activated the alarm, which would surely bring more guards to the bridge. As strong as the blast door was, Kalin knew they wouldn't hold off the guards forever, especially if more reinforcements were now being halted.
"Admiral, the prisoners... They're free! Someone removed the barriers" An officer reported suddenly.
Kalin smirked, knowing his master had figured out the controls and managed to free the passengers. Now he only had to make sure Trench would not escape. He raised his lightsaber at the Harch, “Surrender... There's no chance to escape when my master arrives. You're no match for two Jedi.” He said overconfidently.
Trench backed away a little, feeling he had to act quick. Otherwise his plans would fall in the Jedi's hands and all his efforts would be for nothing.
"Activate the self-destruct system! There can be no evidence of our experiments!"
One of the scientists nodded at Trench command and reached for a button to activate the self-destruct system. Kalin's eyes widened as he looked in horror what would ever happen.
"STOP!!" Kalin shouted. In a rash attempt to stop the technician, Kalin's lightsaber struck at him. Alas he was too late and before the Technician died by Kalin's hands, the self-destruct sequence was ignited, just as trench wanted. He could hear the countdown, knowing there wasn't much time to escape the ship.
Another alarm went off as the entire facility was about to blow itself up.
"Destroy all the synthoids! None can be allowed to live!" He barked as a final order. The Harch turned around, leaving through a door behind him that lead to an area with escape pods as pandemonium broke loose. He crawled in one of them and the pod broke itself free from the ship.
Suddenly the ship started to dive, and Kalin made a painful choice to let the admiral escape, hoping he would get him later. Instead he focused on the controls and stabilized the ship in in order to save the survivors on board.
Plo Koon was heard outside the door, dispatching whatever remaining guards there were. Most of the Harchs abandoned the ship, no doubt to reach a preplanned hiding place in case of emergencies.
Kalin opened the blast door by pressing the controls next to it. Plo Koon ran inside the bridge, wondering what had occurred here.
"Master! I need to get to the other survivors!”
Plo Koon looked out upon the devastated field where the experiments were held. He knew Kalin was talking about the ones still stuck in the lower levels of the ship. Clearly his experience with them had left an impact on him.
"Kalin...." He hesitated, knowing that this would not turn out well "You know what they are...."
Kalin opened a communication to the group on the ground, but scanners showed only the one known as Plo Koon remained. And he was in the process of being 'erased' like the others.
"Plo Koon!" Kalin's mind was already overblown by the idea of having two masters, but he knew in his heart that the real one was next to him. The other was a synthetic copy, designed to be an intelligent subject for the tests, and to test Kalin.
The other Plo Koon, the "synthoid" as Trench had called him, looked up at the ship. The others had disintegrated into their chemical liquid components.
Kalin tried not to think of the terror the synthoids must have felt as they were liquidated. He tried not to think of little Orba and her parents. They were real to him. They couldn't just be cold synthetic creatures, Trench made them out to be.
"Kalin, I think you know rescue is not possible for our kind. We were designed as artificial constructs."
"No, Master Plo koon! YOU ARE ALIVE!!” He shouted in panic, “You're not just some machine. You live! You helped me, and I must help you!" Kalin could not get past the truth of the synthoid's condition. All he could think of was little Oorba and her family, the Stewardesses, other passengers who had talked, laughed and cried like real people. And Plo koon, who was wise even as he was falling apart, melting away.
"You can help me by helping the real Plo Koon and save the real passengers. They are not dead. As long as they live....then we have lived as well. I find comfort in that, young padawan." The Synthoid known as Plo Koon sat down, closing his eyes as he waited for the inevitable., disassembling by the protocols of the horrid experiment.
Kalin watched in horror. "He's a real person, he IS REAL!"
His actual master put his hand on Kalin's shoulder to comfort him, "He was a construct, but the Harch made the mistake of copying us. It had the same thoughts and memories, but it was not designed to truly live, and it understood that.
It was right about one thing, Kalin. The real passengers are still alive. We can still save them by flying this ship out of here!"
Kalin frowned. He slightly disagreed with his Master. Synthoid or not, the beings he was with were sentient, and deserved a chance. Thanks to Admiral Trench, they were all gone. But there would be another time for a reckoning.
Kalin and Plo Koon burst forth from the secret location, in an abandoned sector of Coruscant. Ironic, it was the perfect staging ground to test an invasion of Coruscant without discovery.
As they continued to fly, Kalin managed to deactivate the self-destruct system of the ship with help of his master. They flew across the real sky, and everyone on board breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the real Coruscant, real buildings and real traffic.
Little Oorba and Stewardess Tanith joined Kalin on the bridge. They were happy and excited, but no one spoke, unable to discuss the horrors they had witnessed.
Kalin smiled bravely at Oorba. She was real, and she was alive. Deep down, he wanted to cry for the Synthoid that was labeled as "Oorba". He cared for her as well and the others. But Oorba's smile kept him anchored in reality, and motivated him to get the real passengers to safety.
After a moment of sorting out the survivors and contacting the true authorities, Kalin completely rested, feeling the mission was concluded. All that was left to do was the debriefing.
They reported back to the Jedi, and the Chancellor.
However Trench's erasure of the experiment was complete. All records were expunged, most of the area was rigged they travelled through dismantled, constructed by nanodroids that, despite the Jedi's efforts had self-destruct. The illusion that had re-created Coruscant was completely gone and the creations known as Synthoids vanished, the technology to create them was destroyed as well. Even the ships computer erased all data while Plo Koon and Kalin was busy getting the passengers off board the ship.
A horrible moment. Plo Koon made his report, and felt he should meditate with Kalin to help ease the shock of such an adventure.
They sat together in silence, until a burning question pierced through Kalin's mind.
"Master," he whispered "Why did they choose me to go on the experiment? You were the master. Why didn't they test you?"
"They DID test me, Kalin, a day or so before waking you up. They got what they wanted from me. But they did not supervise me completely. I used a few mind tricks to slip past the guards and the ship's security. That's when I found you. I had to find you before we could end their experiments. I needed to know that you were alive and well."
"Surely you would have suspected that my synthoid you were with wasn't me?" Kalin inquired.
Plo Koon became very stoic. "All that matters is that you were able to beat the tests. We stopped them from continuing a horrible scenario that could have been disastrous for the Republic. Meditate on that, padawan. Let us hope we have crippled their efforts." he concluded cryptically.
"Who ARE they, exactly? Who are we up against?"
"I wish I could answer that, Kalin. All I can say is their are plots against us, and we must be ever vigilant."
Kalin sat in silence and wondered what other nefarious plans were out there, still unsolved. And he had to suppress his feelings for a rematch against the diabolical Admiral Trench, as well as the ones he still felt for the synthoids. They were gone, but still were in his thoughts. The fact the synthoids were machines, did it make them less real? They felt real to Kalin, though his master seemed to differ there. He put the thoughts aside as he knew he would never find closure there. Still, that didn't mean he couldn't avenge them.