Nyarchagga reached the turbolift shaft and froze. The others behind him stopped dead in their tracks as the Dug stiffened and sniffed the air. “What is it?” asked Geldar who was instantly on alert.
“I heard a sound coming from the shaft,” the Dug said, “and I can’t smell anything over the rank fumes Tarrsk is putting off.”
Kazzra’an chuckled and added, “It’s amazing how just falling into the open air of the septic pit caused the fumes to cling to him as if he’d been hit by a Bortalai Stench Beetle.”
Tarrsk gave them all a sneer as he strode over to the turbolift and took up a defensive position near it. “Why don’t we just fire a few shots down there and ask questions later?”
“What if it’s someone from the base?” Brin’tac said in response.
“Who would be out here?” said Tso. “It has to be droids.”
“Well if we’ve lost them we don’t want to let them know we’re here,” said Lialla. “Is there any other way to go?”
“No,” said Nyarchagga. “The turbolift shaft is the only way, but we could go up instead of down as we’d originally planned.”
Geldar closed his eyes and tried to focus his thoughts down the shaft while the others discussed the situation. Then his eyes shot open in disbelief. “Wait!” he cried. “It’s Satchal, and he’s brought others with him!”
“Satchal!” cried Lialla with intense relief, and she rushed over to the turbolift door as she tried to force it open. Kazzra’an quickly followed, and together with Tarrsk the three forced the door ajar. “Satchal!” she cried again but louder as she peered into the shaft.
“Keep your voice down, fool!” cried Nyarchagga. “Who knows what could have heard you!”
“Lialla!” Satchal cried back, and the Dug rolled his eyes and threw his forelegs up in surrender. “Is everyone okay up there?”
“We’re fine,” she replied. “Tarrsk smells a bit, but what else is new.”
Tarrsk gave her another sneer and thought about shoving her over the edge to fall screaming down the turbolift shaft. This brought a wide, sadistic grin to his face as his mind drifted to places that brought him the most pleasure.
“Why are you here?” asked Geldar as he appeared next to Lialla.
“We don’t have much time,” Satchal called up as he tried to quicken his pace up the maintenance ladder. “Ivanna’s in trouble. We have to go help her.”
Lialla coiled back away from the shaft then, her smile instantly turning to a scowl. “The last we saw of her she was making her way into some power conduit in the Military District. I think she found some sort of sign that the original location of the transmission wasn’t accurate, and she went to investigate.”
“What happened?” asked Satchal as he finally came into sight.
“I think the better question is,” said Tso nervously, “how is our droid situation currently? Our sensor unit was broken, and we have no idea if we’re surrounded or what.”
Satchal nodded, but it was the sensor officer that replied, “We’re fine. The droids seem to be in chaos. We think the virus has kicked in. That should thin the numbers of these blasted droids considerably.”
Tso breathed a sigh of relief and stepped back away from the shaft. That was all he cared about presently, and all he wanted at that point was to put the rest of the nightmare behind them.
“So what happened with Ivanna?” Satchal asked again as they helped pull him and the others up out of the shaft.
“There was a bright flash and then the image was gone,” explained Brin’tac.
“Any ideas what may have caused the flash?” asked Satchal, concerned.
Nyarchagga answered, “I’ve actually been giving it some thought, and I think she knew she was about to encounter something. Her lightsaber flashed on again just a few moments before there was a clicking sound as if a blaster was being readied to fire. Then there was some scuffling sounds and the flash of light. I think she ran into someone who knew she was carrying Gnat, and they fried him with an Ion gun.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Satchal. “I saw her in a vision. She was surrounded by droids and blaster-fire and fighting for her life. There was no one else with her.”
“Well you know Ivanna,” Lialla commented harshly. “She likes to run off and play hero.”
“That is true,” said Brin’tac. “She does seem to enjoy heroics.”
“Well whatever the case,” said Satchal, “we need to go after her. Where was she last?”
“What makes you think we can do anything to help her?” asked Geldar. “Satchal we’re in no condition for heavy combat. We just barely escaped a swarm of droids ourselves. I don’t think…”
“To the fifth planet of Rigos with your thoughts, Geldar!” Satchal snapped. “I’m going after her. As long as I have breath I’m going to do everything I can to help someone who’s in trouble.”
“Someone who’s in trouble, or just Ivanna who’s in trouble?” said Lialla. “Think clearly, Satchal. Ivanna is a Jedi. She knows what she’s doing, right?”
“Wrong,” said Satchal. “You don’t know her like I do. She may be a Jedi Master but she’s not like the others. She’s struggling with things you couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Is she a Master Jedi?” asked Lialla, speaking thoughts she’d only been keeping to herself. “She’s been stranded on Hoth for ten years. Before that she was only a Jedi Knight, and from what I understand she was only barely a Jedi Knight. I thought Masters had to be accepted into their rank by the Jedi Council. If the council doesn’t make you a master you can’t be one, or am I totally wrong?”
“She has a point, Satchal,” Geldar put in. “I never really thought about it, but she’s right. She can’t be considered a Master unless the council makes her one. She’s acting outside the council when she teaches you.”
Satchal was instantly defensive. “The council doesn’t even know she’s alive yet. When they find out I’m sure they’ll see she’s capable of teaching others.”
“She’s obviously confused,” said Geldar. “A master that is confused should not be a master. They should be confident and know what they’re doing before they try to train someone else. That’s just common sense. How can you train someone when you are unsure yourself of your own training?”
Satchal was growing more and more angry with them, and Brin’tac knew he had to smooth things over, once again, to keep the group together. “Please! It is not our place to judge Ivanna,” the Bothan pointed out, and instantly everyone turned to look at him. “We do not have to trust her, but if Satchal is willing to train under her there is little we can do to stop him. It doesn’t do us any good to get angry with one another especially out here where distractions could mean our deaths. For now Ivanna travels with us, and hopefully before long we will once again be back to civilized worlds where we can have her stand before the Council to be judged by those far wiser than us in the ways of the Force. However, until that time I say we must accept her as a part of the team unless she proves to be false. It isn’t good for us to be constantly suspicious of one another, and if you stop for a moment you will see that this suspicion isn’t strengthening us. It is only splitting us apart. I, for one, will not let that happen.”
“But if we don’t deal with this now she might stab us in the back when we’re most vulnerable,” Lialla argued. “I’m telling you she will be the death of us all.”
Satchal turned on her. “He’s right, Lialla, and we have just as much reason to trust Ivanna as we do you.” His words stung like jab from his lightsaber, and she seemed almost about to break out into tears. “You don’t know her, but you know me. I trust her, and I’m asking you to trust my judgment concerning her.”
“Do you know her,” Lialla shot back, “or do you know who she wants you to know?”
“Please,” said Brin’tac again. “Let’s drop it. The fact is we have to decide now whether we are going to help Ivanna or go back to base. That is our current situation, and that is what we need to focus on.”
“Brin’tac’s right,” said Geldar. “What do you all think?”
“I say we go back to base,” said Kazzra’an. “I don’t like the idea of risking our lives for someone we don’t even trust all that much.”
“Kazzra’an wants to go back,” Geldar translated. “What about the rest of you?”
“Back,” said Tso almost immediately, and he felt guilty for saying so. “I just don’t think we’re going to be much good wandering around anymore looking for Ivanna, and how do we know she isn’t already back at base?”
Satchal threw his hands up in frustration. “Fine,” he said. “Go. I’m going after Ivanna.”
“Calm down, Satchal,” Brin’tac encouraged. “The decision hasn’t been made yet. The entire group hasn’t decided, unless we aren’t a team anymore.”
Satchal fell silent and turned away trying to regain control over his emotions. “Lialla?” asked Brin’tac as he continued around the group.
“Home,” she said without looking at anyone.
“I say we’re already out here,” put in Tarrsk, “we might as well go see what happened to her. It doesn’t mean we have to get close enough to get caught in another trap.”
“We didn’t think we’d get caught in the last one,” Kazzra’an replied. “What makes you think we won’t get caught this time?” Geldar translated for those that didn’t understand.
Tarrsk shrugged. “I don’t care much, really.”
“Geldar?” asked Brin’tac, and Geldar sighed heavily as if he was too tired to deal with anymore decisions.
“Let’s go,” he said meeting Satchal’s surprised look. “She is one of us now whether we like it or not, and I don’t feel right about leaving one of us in trouble.”
This brought a groan from Tso who was obviously feeling guilty, and when Geldar said what he did it was clear Tso was changing his mind. “Okay,” said Tso, “we should go, but I know we’re making a mistake.”
“What about you Brin’tac?” asked Geldar. “Do you think we should go or head home?”
“I agree with you Geldar,” Brin’tac replied. “So that just leaves Nyarchagga.”
Nyarchagga looked up at him with a smug grin. “I say we go, but it isn’t for Lialla. I say we go for the real lost member of our team. I want to know what she did to my droid!”
“Fine,” said Brin’tac. “Then it’s settled. Let’s go.” He turned to Nyarchagga. “What’s the best route from here into the Military District?
“Wait!” cried the sensor officer. “I don’t think we have to go very far at all.”
“What is it?” asked the other soldier.
“I’m suddenly picking up on a fast moving mass of life forms,” he said, his eyes wide with disbelief. “It’s like an army of living beings moving fast along some sewer tunnels just a few klicks north of here. They’re just at the edge of our sensor range and moving fast.”
“How quickly can we get there?” asked Satchal, his hopes rising.
The officer fell silent a moment as he gauged the distance and the routes of travel. “Fifteen to twenty minutes depending on how fast all of us can move,” he said. “I could be wrong though. As I said before I’m no expert here.”
“Great,” said Satchal. “Then let’s move. If there are people alive down here then maybe Ivanna found them and they’ll know what happened to her.”
“Right,” said Geldar, and he gestured to the sensor officer. “Lead the way.” And they were off once more moving as fast as they could through the dark passages of the Cloud City underground.