Plumes of titian exhaust poured out of thin, broken factory towers extending for hundreds of kilometers around the dilapidated central spire, the oldest and most used public shuttle service on Coruscant. The emissions formed a dome of smog overhead, blotched with occasional eruptions of atmospheric lightning meeting with the highly volatile pollution mixture. The air was thick and dark, even inside the shuttle service tower, clouds of smoke forced into the heavy, recycled ventilation each time a docking bay portal opened. Florescent glow rods cast a dim, sickly green light in limited-range cones from their even-spaced, rusty wall fixtures throughout the building.
Darth Maul gazed up at the grime and rust-covered structure, reminding him more of an Outer Rim smuggler den than a government-funded service station. He wrapped his black cloak tight around his lean shoulders and his hood over his horned Zabrak skull, concealing every feature - including the double-bladed lightsaber hilt hanging from his belt. Maul had quickly learned to mask his presence, both from the physical senses and probing minds in the Force, but usually looking like someone best left alone was sufficient. On a city-planet, all but those brought up in perpetual naivety by the rich and powerful understood that it is best to leave some people alone.
His efforts succeeded. No one gave him a second glance as he weaved almost imperceptibly through the crowd entering the skyscraper. Though he kept his focus forward, he extended his senses in the Force and could see in his mind?s eye the plethora of exotic species from across the galaxy surrounding him, some he could not even recognize. However, they were not his concern or goal, so he paid them no attention.
?ID please,? a nasally, wrinkled Chevin male said from behind a transparent plasteel shield extending up from his counter.
Reaching into a pocket of his cloak, Maul flashed a forged identification card indicating him as a young Zabrak merchant visiting Coruscant on business. Scanning the number encrypted on the card, the Chevin waved Maul along without looking up from his computer. How can the Republic tolerate such lack of discipline in its own workers, Maul thought. Although he detested the Chevin?s flippant and lackadaisical attitude, his only concern was accomplishing his Master?s task, and so he took the opportunity to bypass the otherwise-troublesome security droids at the bottom of the massive, spiral staircase leading up to the dozens of docking bays in the tower. He matched his pace to that of the others in the crowd moving up the staircase, climbing briskly as most of them were hurrying to get to their flights in time.
As he climbed the broad, stained and chipped stairs, no other thoughts entered Darth Maul?s mind except his goals, the completion of the mission his Master had given him. The beings around him were background noise, a living ocean of flesh carrying him to his destination. He kept his eyes forward, focused on his route to Docking Bay 372, within it the only shuttle going to his destination for another month. It would be leaving in exactly fifteen minutes, and Maul would not be late.
Drifting between people of all shapes and sizes, from thousands of worlds, he was a shadow, unheard and unnoticed. Using the Force to extend his awareness to those around him, he waived any stray glance or preoccupation with a thought, making them dismiss his quick movements or unusual appearance as a mere curiosity, nothing to contemplate longer than a moment. Keeping his arms crossed within the long sleeves of his cloak, he pulled his hood tight against his head to keep it from blowing off as he passed by hundreds of wide doors. They led into pressurized docking bay chambers, with each shuttle departure or arrival exposing the chambers to the thin air of increased altitude, particularly at higher levels of the spire.
Arriving at the floor of Docking Bay 372, Maul moved to the back of the crowd waiting for the entrance doors to unlock. As a new shuttle entered a docking chamber, the entrance was set to lock until the room was fully pressurized. They would then open and specialized air buffers would prevent any extreme burst as air within the chamber naturally attempted to match the pressure in the waiting area.
As he waited for the doors to unlock, Maul turned and gazed down at the sea of beings ebbing back and forth along the spiral staircase extending the entire length of the tower. Their faces seemed to blend to him. Though he knew they were each unique individuals, he could not separate them. They were as sand in a desert to him, indistinct and undifferentiated from one another. Just slaves to greater masters, Maul thought. Only a Sith is truly free.
Masters. Only slaves had masters; yet, Maul was completely subservient to his own Master. Was he truly Sith, as he believed himself to be? He often fantasized of the day when he would kill Darth Sidious and replace him as the singular Sith Master in the universe, the most powerful person in the galaxy, truly liberated from all chains of restriction or servitude. The thought made his mouth water and he closed his eyes to relish the image: his double-bladed, blood red lightsaber decapitating his former Master with one swift strike, the mangled corpse laying at his feet as the dark side of the Force surged through him, designating him as the new Dark Lord of the Sith.
Flashing red lights above the entranceway jerked him from his fantasy as they flickered to green and the doors opened. Flimsi paper, hats and debris flew through the air and clothes rippled as a gust of gray-orange smog billowed into the waiting area, lasting only a moment. Maul squinted against it, but did not take his eyes off the opening, quickly moving through the crowd and into the docking bay despite the pushing and shoving of the mass as it relocated inside the chamber.
Streams of pale light crisscrossed the interior of the docking bay chamber, unreflective against the rusty, dented shuttle hull. Using the Force to augment his already well-trained physical speed, Maul sprinted across the vast chamber, his dark form drifting through the white fumes of engine coolant pouring out from underneath the shuttle, as he was the first to walk up its lowered entrance ramp, the usher barely seeing him pass by. Finding a seat at the exact middle of the vessel, against the left side window, Maul sat and wrapped his cloak around him, pulling his hood closer to conceal his bright yellow eyes and crimson tattooed face.
Closing his eyes, Maul extended his senses in the Force, perceiving the life of every being that entered the shuttle. In his mind, he watched them find their seats, chat with each other, give their luggage to a droid whose ten rotating arms sent them down categorized chutes to the ship?s cargo hold. And then he saw himself in the ship, his own presence in the Force, pulsating like a red-hot ember in a fireplace filled with ashes moved only by the wind, while his own fire carried itself wherever it wished. As if physical, Maul could perceive in his mind the chains of social and mental bondage on every person in the shuttle, their freedom restricted, their wills captivated by delusions of duty or necessity.
As a younger man, a less-trained Sith Lord, Maul would have instinctively felt pity for them, even desired to lead them on the liberating path of the Sith. However, in his maturity, he realized only some were qualified for the freedom granted by the Sith philosophy, only those gifted with the tool called the Force, which gave Sith the unique capacity to free themselves from all limitation. Now, he understood that most were destined to be dependant, to serve those with power - like him. Alongside the fantasy of defeating his Master and taking up the mantle of Dark Lord, Maul had also imagined the day when the Sith would rule the galaxy, using their power to dictate the lives of everyone, bringing order and discipline to the random, chaotic lives of the masses scattered throughout the galaxy, leading aimless lives without direction. Where the image of defeating his Master brought eager moisture to his mouth and tension to his muscles, picturing the day of Sith dominance in the galaxy filled his heart with fire.
The effect of inertia was barely felt as the shuttle repulsed off the docking bay ground and flashed into the dusk sky, bursting through the clouds of smog and atmosphere now crimson in the setting Coruscant sun. Though Maul?s eyes remained closed, his mind contemplating his Sith fantasies, he felt the slight jolt as the shuttle streaked into hyperspace, stars transforming into white lines, arrows pointing Maul to his destiny.
The Rejino System came into view through the window on his left side as the shuttle reentered real space, the stars once again pinpricking the infinite darkness. Adhering to his training, Darth Maul had thoroughly researched the setting for his mission, the worlds and cultures. Nevertheless, the sight of five stark white orbs encircling a deep blue sun was unsettling. Every planet in the system covered entirely with ice and snow made the artificial shuttle air he inhaled feel cold, making his throat and nostrils raw with the imagined chill.
Ancient explorers named the Rejino system after the native sentient species inhabiting each of its five planets. Viewing war as barbaric, the Rejino culture was peaceful and centered entirely around politics, with constitutional monarchs on each world constantly vying for land, wealth, prestige, resources and anything else available to them. Though they had originally used cloning to multiply their stock of domesticated animals and plants for food, utilizing aqueducts to funnel fresh water from underground lakes, they had been a center of galactic trade for millennia. With their almost Hutt-like shrewdness for parley and business, the Rejino monarchs managed to amass immense wealth despite their limitations of habitat, natural resources and conscientious objectivism.
Darth Maul?s mission had little to do with their culture, however.
As the shuttle began its landing on a massive circular platform, indistinguishable from the tundra surrounding it except for flashing indicator lights at its perimeter, Maul steeled himself. Before every new mission, he felt a rush, a thrill at the prospect of trial and success, which his Master had instructed him to quell, calling such feelings a distraction from his task. Focusing on his mission, Maul rose and quietly followed the small group departing the shuttle, on its last stop before returning to Coruscant.
Usually, Maul would have traveled in his modified Sienar Star Courier ship, the Scimitar, a unique prototype vessel fitted with a cloaking device, advanced weaponry and intrinsic dark side energy. The Rejino were not usual, however. Despite their free market economy focused on intergalactic trade and their pacifism, they were incredibly suspicious of outsiders, even those registered as professional merchants. Because of this, they had developed a highly advanced stealth dissipation shield around each planet in the system, using a network of satellites linked to ground level shield generators, forcing Maul to use public transportation and a forged ID as a merchant from Iridonia.
He was not surprised at the fierce, biting winds whipping across the open landing platform, having wrapped his cloak around his mouth and nose before leaving the shuttle. The chill penetrated to the bone, stiffening his muscles as he followed the group towards the main starport interior entrance. Taking a deep breath, Maul summoned the dark side, filling him with its furious lava as it burned through his body, focusing his mind and using his discomfort from the cold to strengthen him. Why did these idiots not construct a shelter over this platform, Maul seethed thoughtfully.
The starport interior seemed to radiate heat, despite being well below temperatures normally considered comfortable. While the other visitors dusted the snow from their shoulders and got out their passports, Maul cleared his mind, forcing his anger to simmer and wait for the proper time for its release. Calling the memorized blueprint of the starport to mind, he calculated the exact route he would need to take to reach his destination as he took out his ID and passport from pockets inside his cloak.
A Rejino male was the acting receptionist sitting behind a clean, smoke-grey desk in the entrance room. His piercing white irises, the only shade exhibited by his species, gazed intensely at the foreigners, eyeing each in turn as if analyzing their threat level. He paused as he came to Darth Maul. Squinting to peer at him, his face expressionless, Maul returned the stare, glaring into his eyes and emanating a spike of fear at him through the Force. The Rejino man blinked, his face softening briefly, before he collected himself and quickly looked away from Maul, back at the computer on his desk. Maul suppressed satisfaction; only the pleasure of completing a mission from his Master, or the defeat of a Jedi would he permit.
Rising to his feet, his violet Rejino skin glowed with the pale yellow glare of light from a ceiling lamp. ?If you will all form a line in front of my desk, I will begin registering you into our system and you can be on your way,? he said with a strong but smooth voice.
Joining the line, Maul eventually came to its front and presented his ID and passport to the receptionist. Imputing his passport code and information into the system, the receptionist then examined his ID and furrowed his brow, glancing between Maul and the picture displayed on the card - digitally altered to represent Maul?s face. He frowned.
?I?m going to need you to remove your hood sir, to verify your identity.?
Maul peered at him from under the rim of his hood. Despite his irritation with the man, Maul respected his bravery against the fear he had given the receptionist. Nevertheless, he would not allow anything to hinder his mission - drastic measures would become necessary if they did not accept his ID.
Maul slowly pulled back his hood, revealing his black head, intricately designed with crimson Sith tattoos, and intense golden eyes. Without looking, Maul felt the eyes of all in the room focus on him, awe, fear and curiosity flooding their minds - and disgust in that of the receptionist, flaring Maul?s anger and causing him to involuntarily sneer. The Rejino leaned away from him and frowned in distaste, holding Maul?s ID with a light two-fingertip hold.
?Eh, yes, you check out. Please, replace your hood,? the receptionist said, placing Maul?s ID and passport on the counter.
The urge to call his lightsaber to his hand, activate its scarlet blades and remove the man?s curled lip, and the rest of his head, threatened to overwhelm Maul?s self-control. The anticipation of finally releasing his anger and completing his mission allowed him to focus, taking a deep breath and picking up his papers. He had not anticipated such xenophobia as a facet of Rejino distrust of foreigners, as its researchers had not documented it in articles written about their culture. They remained largely mysterious, however, due to their isolationism, so xenophobia escaping the notice of xenoanthropologists who had visited Rejino was understandable to Maul, though it did not make him detest it any less. In my empire, there will be only one standard of worth, Maul thought: power.
As each visitor veered off onto separate passages leading to transport speeder buses with distinct destinations on the planet, Maul slipped undetected through a door labeled ?Starport Staff Only?. Extending his senses, he felt the presence of at least twenty Rejino employees in the building, some moving back and forth along corridors in a specific pattern, indicating guards on patrol, while most remained at their workstation continuously. He could see no one in the corridor he was in, by physical or mental eye.
Jogging at a brisk pace, multicolored lights blinked and computer circuitry buzzed on either side, giving a somewhat intrusive background to the soft beat of his boots against the metal floor. Coming to a four-way intersection with a door at each side, Maul immediately opened the right, knowing his desired route by heart. The room was palpably dark, and as Maul shut the door behind him, he waved a hand and cylindrical lamps affixed to the room?s four walls came to life.
The room was an office, two boardroom tables in its middle topped with dozens of computers, datapads scattered across them, evidence of recent work. Remembering the employee work schedule, Maul knew the usual workers here were on break, as he had planned. He quickly sat in front of a computer and took out his datapad, linking them with a cable and activating both simultaneously. As he hacked into it, Maul gained access to the entire network of the starport. Bringing up a readout listing security cameras, laser tripwires, and a detachment of emergency battle droids, he systematically deactivated them, and then heard the expected howl of alarms and flashing red lights as the system recognized an intruder. Maul had expected - hoped, for that reaction.
Extending his senses, he could feel the starport reacting to the emergency, employees gathering in pre-designated locations for safety as guards rushed to the site of the instigation: Maul?s room. Just as he had planned.
Quickly, he stepped up onto a table and used the Force to remove the grate covering a ventilation shaft. Jumping up into it, he barely needed the Force to augment his already well-trained acrobatic abilities, and he then telekinetically replaced the vent covering. Hearing both doors open and guards pour into the room he had just occupied, Maul slid along the shaft, moving carefully to conceal his commotion. He passed several openings as he neared his destination, all rooms vacant during the emergency, and he finally got to the desired room, pushing through a grate and landing in the middle of a completely empty room.
Or so Darth Maul thought, until he turned to see a tall, lean human man wearing the dark brown uniform robes and holding the lit blue lightsaber blade of a Jedi, serenely gazing back at him.
At the sight of the Jedi, Maul?s heart leapt to his throat, his muscles tensing instantly in eager preparation for combat. He nearly overlooked the other person in the room: a pinched-faced, gaunt Rejino woman, her wrists clasped in front of her with stun cuffs, standing beside the Jedi. His Master had instructed him to leave as little trace of himself behind as possible; the presence of an unknown native girl was an inconvenience he could not tolerate. However, the thought of retelling his defeat of a Jedi Knight and the completion of his mission drove him to find a solution.
Why was a Jedi even on world, he wondered. There had been no record of the Council commissioning a Jedi presence here. However, Maul knew all too well the secrecy of the Jedi Council, their capacity to conceal their activities even from Republic record, so he was not overly surprised. Moreover, the Jedi appeared to be escorting a captive - a native, no less. Her crime must have been great to require the skills of a Jedi to capture her; the Rejino police force was famous across the galaxy for its efficiency.
Those questions would have to wait. Maul activated the twin blades of his lightsaber and dropped into an offensive Form VII Juyo stance. The Jedi abruptly waved at the Rejino girl, telekinetically propelling her against a far wall. She dropped to the floor, twisting her ankle in the fall and grimacing against the pain. The Jedi?s eyes were locked on Maul, however, as he brought his azure blade slightly to the side and assumed a bent, open stance, the classic opening of Form IV Ataru.
The dark side pulsated in every cell of his body, heating his muscles and tendons, lending flexibility and strength throughout his body and focusing his mind, removing all other thoughts but the ensuing duel. His lifetime of Sith training let Maul identify the Jedi?s stance immediately, and coupled with the Force to let him anticipate the Jedi?s first move. Simultaneously advancing towards one another, the Jedi brought his blade overhead and slashed down, but Maul met it with one of his own, sizzling sparks erupting from the contact of their magnetic plasma beams. The hue of blue and red cast an ethereal haze of violet around them, electrified by the sparks of their contacting blades.
Using the innate physicality of Ataru, the athletically built Jedi attempted to kick Maul?s left leg as their blades remained locked, but Maul anticipated it, bringing his second blade around to intercept. The Jedi barely avoided amputation, Maul?s blade burning a deep gash in his knee as he just managed to pull back. Letting out a cry of pain, the Jedi stepped back. Maul did not hesitate, quickly closing the distance made between them and unleashing a flurry of strikes, bringing one blade at the Jedi?s shoulder, another at his abdomen; one at his wounded knee, the other at his left arm; nicking the Jedi?s right shoulder and executing a Teras Kasi spin-kick at his chest, sending him against a wall.
Maul was relentless. Though the Jedi, obviously a fully trained Knight, was strong in the Force, he was no match for a Sith Lord. Slowly, Maul caused a dozen small wounds, leaving the Jedi fatigued and battered, his breathing shallow and rough, and his anticipation of Maul?s strikes gradually slowed. After several long minutes of sparring, Maul managed to amputate the Jedi?s lightsaber-wielding hand, leaving him defenseless and injured as Maul paused, savoring the moment, before finally decapitating him. The Jedi?s blade flickered and died, as did his mangled corpse sprawled against a wall.
Breathing hard, Maul closed his eyes and harnessed the darkness he had just caused, the murder of an innocent, defenseless Jedi, the symbol and upholder of goodness in the galaxy. His death pulsated in the Force, splintering life and destiny and sending ripples of death and chaos throughout the universe as the Jedi?s future actions, choices, and his very life was ripped away by Maul?s will. He called the affliction in the Force to his mind, let it course through him and energize his mind and body. There is no greater source of pleasure than the death of a Jedi, Maul thought.
?Y-you? w-what are-??
Blinking, Maul frowned and grunted, remembering the Rejino girl, the captive left behind by the Jedi. Turning to her and deactivating his lightsaber, he crossed his arms and eyed her intensely. Though her eyes conveyed a life of pain and hardship, a flicker of fear crossed her face as she met Maul?s penetrating gaze.
?Who are you, girl?? Maul asked. His low voice reverberated in the silence. Imbued with the dark side, his voice seemed layered and deep, as if long dead Sith spirits were speaking in unison with him.
Gulping and pressing against the wall, the girl tried to stand but failed, her sprained ankle giving out as she fell. ?I? I?m Thyma. Who? what are you??
Maul?s eyes narrowed at her tone, almost resembling the repugnance of the earlier receptionist. However, extending his senses to Thyma?s mind, he knew she in fact felt deeply afraid, while simultaneously trying to appear strong and independent. He felt a touch of admiration for her willpower, but suppressed it. ?Who I am is irrelevant to you - only that I am your destiny. Your fate is in my hands, Thyma. Whether you live or die is for me to decide now. You are a fugitive, of your people and the Republic. You are dead to the world, and whether you rot in prison, die at my hand, or go to pursue your pathetic view of freedom is for me to decide. Do you understand??
She stared at him blankly, before licking her lips and nodding once. ?Uh? alright. I get it? So what?re you going to do with me then??
Maul thought for a moment, before responding. ?I have not decided yet if you could be of use to me in my mission here, or if leaving you alive would betray my presence or identity. I am here for a specific purpose, and I will succeed - without hindrance.?
?Um? ok,? she mumbled, sitting up against the wall and cringing at the pain of her ankle and cuffed wrists. ?I?m sure I could do something for you? What?re you trying to do exactly? You an assassin or something? Or some sort of? rogue Jedi?? she asked, glancing tentatively at his lightsaber.
Maul?s mouth twisted into a cruel smile as he recognized her awe. ?You will never know who or what I am. But know one thing: I am not a Jedi, and I have never been. Your captor is dead, Thyma. You are now my captive. Because you had the misfortune to witness my power, you will come with me until I can determine your fate.?
?But? I?m injured. Won?t I slow you down? You seem to be in a hurry??
Maul gazed at her silently, his eyes piercing her fa?ade of strength and revealing her inner anxiety. She recoiled slightly as he stepped towards her, but tried to hide it by straightening against the wall. ?If I wished you dead, you would be a corpse, as your captor is now,? Maul stated.
?You?re probably right,? she mumbled and watched him intently as he knelt in front of her. ?What?re you doing??
Glancing at her, Maul ignored her question as he reached out and held a hand over her sprained ankle. He focused on the pain emanating from the injury, coursing through her in intermittent paroxysms. Her muscles tensed in synchronicity with the agonizing pulsations, frustration and despair filling her mind each time, threatening to pour out as tears. Maul could feel her pain as if it were his own - and he savored it. He enhanced it, letting it become his only thought. His body reacted to the affliction, hatred consuming him as the dark side overrode his senses. Slowly, the pain transformed into strength, the agony into determination.
Returning to his senses, Maul heard himself growling deep in his throat, adrenaline enhancing his body?s reactions and instincts; and he heard Thyma fuming angrily, taking deep breaths and pulling herself to her feet. Though the pain was still evident in her eyes, the hatred Maul had lent her gave her the will to push through it, letting it strengthen her and become a source of drive and focus. Standing, Maul grinned at her and she nodded pointedly.
?Thanks for? whatever you did,? she said, a new depth and confidence to her voice. ?We should probably get going. The starport guards will start looking for us soon.?
Without reply, Maul waved a hand at the door in front of him, using the Force to unlock and open it, and then stepped into a hallway. Red alarm lights continued to flash, their fixtures rotating circularly to give the passage an almost ritualistic, cultic feel, but the automatic alarm control system had already deactivated their shrill sirens. Maul took off down the hall at a brisk jog, deliberate enough to let Thyma keep up, but not so slow to make her comfortable. He kept his mental connection to her pain open, letting it feed his rage and drive his movements.
Their footsteps echoed down the vacant hallway as Maul led Thyma down a series of hallways and corridors. Eventually they came to an elevator, which automatically shut down in the emergency. Quickly, Maul activated his lightsaber, sliced through the locked door, and hurled it down the elevator shaft. The elevator itself was not there. Maul glanced up the shaft and saw the lift?s underside a level up.
Hooking his lightsaber to his belt, Maul pulled out a liquid grappling hook dispenser and aimed it at the far side of the shaft. Firing its mechanism, a gelatin string shot across the chasm and the metal hook at its end lodged into the tunnel wall. Silently, Maul pulled Thyma close and felt her wrap her arms securely around his waist just before he jumped into the shaft. Using the Force, he guided his leap, his feet pressing against the tunnel. His hatred bubbled deep within him, fueling his body and affording him the strength required to hold himself and Thyma. The dark side focused his mind and gave him the precision to repel at a careful but expeditious pace down the shaft.
After passing half a dozen levels, they finally arrived at the starport basement - but had he not memorized the building schematic beforehand, Maul would have been unable to tell. It was completely dark, with no light fixtures recognizable along its walls. Maul grasped his lightsaber and activated a single blade, holding it up to cast a deep rufescent hue within a ten-meter radius. The room seemed very common for a basement: a bare gray cement floor, stained with paint reminiscent of its construction; a ceiling crossed with metal bars and stuffed with turquoise insulation padding; and a plethora of boxes, crates, droid parts and tools scattered across the room.
Maul knew something few others in the galaxy did, however, and as he took a few steps forward, what he saw validated his knowledge. Appearing out of place, as if belonging more to a high-tech science lab on Coruscant than an ordinary basement on a Mid Rim world, at the back of the room an incubator-like tube was pressed between the floor and ceiling. Wan fumes poured out of exhaust pipes at its top and bottom, and a computer screen and keyboard extended at waist-level.
A pale blue ray shield that shimmered with violet tones against Maul?s crimson lightsaber luminescence encased its central chamber. Deactivating the blade, he moved closer to the tube, staring quizzically into it as if looking for something in its emptiness. A dry chill coursed through him, gripping his bones. Maul closed his eyes and breathed softly, almost inaudibly, and then slowly turned to gaze at Thyma. His yellow eyes blazed with fury as he saw the Rejino woman standing with a blaster pistol aimed at his chest.
?I should?ve known you were looking for the Rejin Jewel too,? she said, a level of purpose and intensity to her voice not evident before. ?You know of its powers, and you want to use it? Is that why you?re here? Who are you, Zabrak??
Maul licked his lips, his hands curled into fists at his sides. ?I am Darth Maul, a Dark Lord of the Sith. My Master, Darth Sidious, learned of this jewel, its immeasurable value, and its capacity to enhance one?s connection to the dark side of the Force by triple its natural attunement.?
Thyma looked away for a second before nodding and returning her focus to him, her finger tight against the trigger of her pistol. ?But why would you tell me that? I kind of have the advantage here, if you hadn?t noticed. I could kill you, and go tell everyone about your so-called ?Master?.?
Maul ignored her question. ?What do you plan to do with your prize, Thyma??
She sighed and grasped the bag hanging at her side, which Maul had failed to notice until her betrayal. ?Something like this? This jewel is evil. It can only cause death and destruction. I work for a select group of private agents who search the galaxy for items like these? so that we can take them somewhere safe, where people like you will never use them. No one knows we exist: in our missions, we are very careful to use disguises and fake identities, and to cover our tracks well.?
As Thyma raised her pistol and gripped the trigger, readying to pull it, time seemed to slow in Maul?s mind as he gave himself to the Force. He telekinetically propelled her blaster across the room and allowed her time only to gasp and widen her eyes before he equipped his lightsaber and activated a single blade. Traversing the dozen meters between them in a step, she tried to recoil but fell onto her back. Maul brought his blade down and amputated her right arm. She screamed in pain as her bare joint smoked from Maul?s cauterizing blade.
Extending his free hand, Maul raised Thyma into the air with the Force and hurled her against a near wall, jarring her injured shoulder and sprained ankle. She cried out and moved her back towards the wall. Looking up just in time to see Maul stepping towards her and bringing his blade up for a final deathblow, she reached into a pocket of her mangy, stained vest and removed a small remote with a single button on it. She closed her eyes and pressed it.
In a split-second of anticipation, Maul barely managed to push himself away from Thyma as a plasma grenade in her pouch - containing the Rejin Jewel - erupted in a blaze of fire, emanating out as a shockwave throughout the room. The explosive plasma, his cloak singed and burned, scorched Maul?s uncovered face. As the aftershock and smoke slowly cleared, he looked at Thyma?s cremated corpse, and saw a small pile of dust where her bag had been.
The Rejin Jewel was gone. He had failed his mission.
Maul struggled against the anger he felt at his failure and the suicide of Thyma that caused it. He attempted to use his passion to focus his mind, but the shame was too great, penetrating through his efforts and leaving him raw and burnt, both in body and mind.
The elevator quickly descending its shaft caught his focus. By now, he expected the Rejino security had discovered the Jedi corpse and noticed the recent basement-level explosion, and were on their way to investigate. He had to act swiftly. Pulling himself to his feet, his body felt weighted, burdened by fatigue and the dozens of cuts and burns he had sustained from the plasma grenade and the shrapnel it had created. Placing his faith in himself and the power of the dark side, he called the Force to him, basking in its protective, energizing warmth.
Driven to action, he hooked his lightsaber to his belt and made his way to a conduit vent spotted beside a rough-hewn, dark corner of the room. He quickly pulled the covering away with the Force and slipped into the tight passage, replacing the grating behind him. Thick, dank air forced him to breathe through his mouth, but he let the dark side nourish his strained muscles, pulling him along the shaft with extraordinary speed.
Despite the darkness, Maul extended his senses to perceive his surroundings through the Force. He felt the presence of at least fifty guards just entering the basement, determination and vigilance radiating from them as they searched for the explosion?s culprit. Closing his eyes and letting his body act on its own, he focused on the guards? minds. Gently, imperceptibly, he offered the proposition that the instigator of the explosion was Thyma, the burnt corpse they saw on the basement floor, that the dust by her side was the missing jewel they sought, and that she had been the murderer of the Jedi Knight they had discovered. Giving the thought added agreeability and prompting them to accept it, they did so, and he felt resignation and anger permeate their psyches. He must avoid implication.
Returning his focus to his immediate surroundings, Darth Maul entered a dark storage room filled with boxes and crates, red alarm lights providing the only illumination. Guided by the Force, he weaved through the obstacle course of storage containers and came to the door on the opposite end of the room. He walked onto a hallway he felt through the Force to be empty, and sprinted down it through another series of doors and corridors until he came to the private employee-landing platform at the western end of the starport. Unlike the public platform, it was enclosed by a dome and fully air-conditioned.
Despite himself, Maul grumbled at their deliberate roofing of only one dock, but ignored his disdain and made his way onto the platform. It was empty of people, as regulations ordered all employees to a pre-designated area within the starport interior during an emergency, while every guard was still on the task of investigating Maul?s infiltration. Weaving between and around ships of all classes, customization and quality, he found one with obvious hyperspace capability and a fast engine. He used the Force to break its entrance door lock and refastened it behind him. Utilizing his training in hacking and his mastery of piloting, he hotwired the ship?s controls and carefully lifted off before firing the engines at full power and blazing through the atmosphere, managing to escape Rejino sensors.
Extending his senses, he checked for any tracking devices before entering hyperspace. The dead weight of his failure demolished even the satisfaction he recalled at killing a Jedi. The loneliness of space forced him to meditate on his shame in the time before arriving at his destination, the silent hum of the hyperdrive creating a morose background to his regret.
Darth Maul knelt before a figure cloaked in black, his face veiled even to his own apprentice. Cold, artificial air permeated the room, accentuating the raw throb of the burns across Maul?s face, which he had intentionally left untreated until he met with his Master, Lord Sidious.
?You have done well, my apprentice,? the phantom menace said, his voice genteel but piercing as a knife.
Maul craned his neck to peer up at his Master, frowning, his brow furrowed. ?But, Master? I have failed you. My mission was unsuccessful.?
?You are yet blind to the deeper mysteries of the Force and the galaxy, Lord Maul,? Sidious whispered. ?The threads of lies and deceit holding societies together are frail but pliable like strings on a mandoviol. The path of a Sith Lord is learning to play these strings to one?s advantage, creating a symphony of disorder, confusion and corruption that opens the way to seizing power.
?The Rejin Jewel is a meaningless trinket. A rare object, yes. The only one of its kind. However, the special powers attributed to it are legend. And, who do you think created those myths? I did. Though the Rejino had always possessed legends of the jewel?s unusual past and ancient superstitions surrounding it, they knew it was simply a rock. I used the superstition to create a lie that would make it even more valuable and intriguing to people.?
?Master? the Rejino woman who killed herself to destroy the jewel told me she worked for an organization that hunted potentially destructive artifacts as she believed the Rejin Jewel to be, to destroy them,? Maul said, his voice low and reserved.
Darth Sidious cackled quietly, his sickly yellow eyes flashing under his hood like the eyes of a snake hidden in shadow. ?Young fool. The true purpose of your mission was the death of a Jedi. I anonymously led Thyma to learn of the myths I had spread about the jewel, knowing she would accomplish her task, but I also knew you would encounter her. If you were told her true mission, or her true profession, you would not have brought her with you. She would have died along with the Jedi. I knew the Jedi would capture her, and that it would exactly coincide with your arrival and the instigation of your own mission.
?The Jedi you killed was named Arias Kreen, a Jedi Knight who was once the apprentice of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, his first padawan. Jinn is a strong and wise Jedi, with insight into the Living Force that could prove detrimental to my orchestrations to renew the Sith Empire. Jinn will soon receive word of Arias? death, and it will wound him deeply. His second padawan, Xanatos, turned to the dark side, so the death of his first apprentice will give him an even deeper wound to his pride and confidence. That will further cloud his vision in the Force. You did not fail, my young apprentice.
?However, you were not meant to believe you had succeeded. This is a lesson to you, Lord Maul. I am the Dark Lord of the Sith, your Master and superior. Despite your power and your intelligence, you are and will always be inferior to me. While I encourage your desire to someday replace me - and indeed you may - I will do everything in my power to prevent it, including killing you if you become too great a threat. It is my destiny to rule the galaxy. None shall interfere with my plans to do so - even you. Remember this day, and always remember your weakness. I am your only opportunity for true power and liberation - but I will not give it to you freely.?
Without another word, Darth Sidious turned from his apprentice and departed. For many long minutes, Maul hung his head, his eyes closed as his mind numbed in silent meditation.
No one is invincible, Darth Maul thought. No one.
Original cover by T. Arispe. HTML formatting copyright 2011 TheForce.Net LLC.