The High Republic: Dark City

Cover art by Gus Mendonca

Excerpt from “Legends of the Bright Sith” by Jedi Master P’lo Zaheron:

“As we have seen so far, many of the military myths surrounding the Bright Sith Empire proved exaggerated upon archeological review. The Automations of Taris, however, are no exaggeration at all.

Almost the entire period of Bright Sith rule was marked by their perennial wars against the Tion Hegemony. These conflicts turned vast sections of the Mid and Outer Rim into a militarized border zone, with entire systems turned into specialized marches. Among the latter category was the planet of Taris, then just a rural backwater with a considerable cache of mineral resources. At the behest of Lord Ya-Sun, a droid specialist and member of the Supreme Sith Council, a plan was devised to rapidly exploit Taris’s mining potential through an automated network. Millions of droids were linked to an orbital cyberbrain, controlled directly by Lord Ya-Sun himself. The efficiency of his central command would see the planet transformed overnight, becoming a hellish collection of pit mines and war factories. All to supply the war against the Tionese.

Before too long, the weapons and droids churned out by Taris’s industrial complexes was turning the tide in the Sith-Tion conflict, a fact which did not escape the losing side. The Tionese soon send scores of their famed elite killers to assassinate the Sith technologist; in the end, it was an unsolicited agent who did him in, a lowborn bounty hunter who supposedly felt sorry for the planet’s enslaved automatons. Many of them were indeed released upon their tyrant’s death.

Unfortunately, even with the demise of its chief controller, the Bright Sith were not about to let this prime industrial center go to waste. The mechanical slaves were soon replaced with biological ones, and the increased needs of their accommodation soon turned Taris into a proper megalopolis. In the long run, the loss in efficiency which came with this shift would eventually doom the overall war effort, thereby setting the stage for the Bright Empire’s ultimate decline and fall. As for the broader legacy of the Automations, we may recognize some of its design philosophy in the establishment of the Starlight Beacon Network, a parallel which is hardly surprising if we take note of its main architect…”

Lying prone on a Lower City rooftop, Sava Trebizon pulled her raincoat down to cover more of her legs. Mentally, she cursed whatever city planner had allowed rain to run down all the way down into Taris’s lower sections. Then again, given the size of this place, maybe the clouds themselves formed halfway up, and it was the Upper City that was spared their waters. Somehow, that idea made her even more angry.

She thought back to what had put her here on this rainy rooftop. When that bastard Helfir had rejected her, she didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Sure, she could have gone back to Tython, but given the bureaucratic tangle that had been involved in getting her to Taris in the first place, she thought it best to wait for further instructions. Thus she had gone to the local Jedi Temple, a paltry institution in a rather rundown Upper City district. It was staffed by just a few Knights and only a single Master, and their joy at receiving a new member overrode their desire to ask any intrusive questions. By now, she suspected that at least some of them sensed the influence of the Dark Side in her, though none had yet cared to mention it explicitly.

New orders came in eventually, with her former master Obo Dol’Bok sending a very terse hologram in which he excoriated her for getting discovered (as if that was her fault), and told her to keep watch of any and all Jedi activity in the Outer Rim. More specifically, he wanted her to disrupt—to whatever degree she could—the supply and communication lines between the various Jedi outposts in her region. She initially thought this a useless assignment, until she realized that the information she retrieved through this effort was far more valuable than whatever sabotage she could effect. Thus, she started sending reports on the Jedi’s logistics to Naga Menander, another Master of the Dark Jedi school. Getting in their good graces would insulate her from Obo’s ongoing legacy of failure, of which her own disappointment was just the latest example. Before too long, she was acting like an independent Dark Side operative, an accidental role which she nevertheless appreciated. If only she could fulfill it on a less despicable world.

Thus it went for a few months, during which she got quite friendly with the other Jedi of this second-rate Temple. Their local Master was Ibi Runta, a yellow-skinned Rodian with a hyperactive demeanor and a severe lack of responsibility. This mostly meant that she kept coming up with self-assigned ‘duties’, leading her to involve herself with all the minute goings-on of their district. While many of the local residents seemed to appreciate her vigilance, it could be a little much, especially if she decided to drag the rest of them along on her fake missions. The one who actually kept things orderly around here was her main deputy, a middle-aged Ottegan Knight named Tiesto Arctur. He was the only Jedi among them who had actually grown up and Taris, and so was their best bet when they had to engage with street criminals, politicians, or anyone else who relied on local power. Dealing with them was actually the exception; the Jedi mostly policed the ever-ongoing travel of colonists and businesspeople, troubles which frequently brought Sava back to the spaceport. Once or twice, she had considered hitching a ride to greener pastures, literally so in her case, but she held just enough loyalty to her Dark comrades—and the ones in this Temple, she had to admit—for her to truly want to escape altogether.

Still, Sava surely longed for the thrill of the frontier. The main reason for this was her continued correspondence with the Jedi Knight Alboran Kuai, something that had quite surprised her in the beginning. Apparently the guy felt guilty for the way she had been left behind, even though he never said so explicitly. She’d never blame him for that anyway, and was all too happy to get at least a second-hand account of what Folk Jedi life was like. At first he’d told her about his encounter with the First Sage on Pajoda. Scary business, that. The informal leader of the Nihl sounded like anything but a pushover. Sava suspected that they had some strength in the Force, probably founded in the Dark Side. How else to explain their diplomatic cunning? After that, Alboran had kept her up-to-date with his activities on Jelucan and other nearby worlds, flitting to and fro as part of the Folk Jedi’s efforts in the Outer Rim. Much of it sounded rather boring to her; between all these anthropological studies and relies missions, were there no daring Nihl raids to defend against? Then again, perhaps he simply couldn’t tell her of such actions in a routine holo-message. Indeed, Alboran had recently gone quiet altogether, shortly after mentioning some sort of peace negotiation he was supposed to attend. Whatever was she missing out on?

Anyway, so much for what she couldn’t be a part of. Meanwhile, Sava tried to make the best of life on Taris. In this pursuit, she ended up spending a lot of time Porphyris Quollman, a low-ranking Jedi who everyone called Porquo. Porquo was a young Tinnibeast, an Outer Rim species who resembled humanoid-sized rodents. Walking on all fours most of the time, Porquo was nevertheless a diligent accountant, working with Sava on the Temple’s considerable logistical workload. He seemed happy to have some company in this bureaucratic drudgery, and she was happy to let him take care of the more difficult tasks. As they worked, they’d talk about the latest holovids and news items, as well as their shared interest in martial history. Sava was curious about the battles she had seen displayed in the spaceport, and Porquo explained that Taris had been a frequent flashpoint in the ancient wars of the Sith Empire. In fact, the Bright Sith were the first to turn Taris from a backwater mining planet into an industrial powerhouse, its massive arms factories powering the Sith’s perennial wars against the Tionese. Except for Taris’s reputation as a megalopolis, little evidence still remained of those ancient times. Sava found it ironic that she had her ancestors to thank for this planet’s wretched state. But at least it helped her feel a little more at home.

Unlike most Jedi Temples, this one didn’t keep its members onsite through dedicated dormitories. Instead, they had rented various apartments all over the Upper City, so as to naturally spread the Knights among this great mass of citizens and make sure all felt protected. While the effect of this was minimal, Sava still appreciated it, for it allowed her to pursue her more shady dealings out of the limelight of other Force wielders. At the end of each day, she would make the windy walk back to her private apartment, taking public airspeeders whenever she wanted to skip some of the longer stretches. Along the way, she would often visit various legitimate and black market traders, probing them for any merchandise related to the dark and ancient. To them, she was just a Jedi trying to control Sith contraband, and even the shadier dealers gave up quickly if she promised to overlook some of their other improprieties. In this manner, she’d pick up about a dozen artefacts each month, although few of them had anything to do with either the Force or the Sith. Even so, they made for nice decorations, cheering up her sparse furnishings with their gloomy energy. Whenever she could seclude herself here, Sava felt alright. All this was becoming routine.

So it went for a couple of months, until she started to notice certain discrepancies in some of the logistical matters she had assigned herself. It was the kind of thing you wouldn’t detect if you weren’t actively looking for it; the average Jedi just wasn’t that paranoid. But she was no ordinary Jedi, and generally assumed that her Light Side comrades hid quite a few secrets behind their placid demeanors. In this case, she had compared the throughput of Rim-bound supplies with the records of their local depots, to see if anything was being ‘lost’ or stolen. Beyond a few minor anomalies, at first everything seemed to be in order. Then, one day, as she was checking the contents list of one of their Lower City warehouses, she noticed a peculiar sequence of in- and outputs that reminded her of something else she had seen. Searching through her clutter of holographic documents, she eventually discovered that the exact same sequence had appeared in an Upper City warehouse just one month earlier. In fact, holding the records side by side, she could now tell that the list of supplies at the first warehouse was just an offset version of this second one, an obfuscation which would ordinarily escape any bored accountant. But again, she was here to pay attention.

Initially, she wasn’t too sure what she should do about this subterfuge. Was one of the Jedi in her Temple behind this? As far as she know, all these records were automated, or else compiled by whoever was stationed at these warehouses. That knowledge led her to a simple conclusion: she would have to check this place out herself.

Once she had committed herself to the operation, the easiest part was getting the necessary time off. The Taris Jedi were already expected to spend a few days every week on their own affairs, be they meditation exercises, historical studies, or community outreach. Under the guise of ‘combating local crime’—which was actually true, from a certain point of view—she planned a few days of activity in the Lower City. First she would have to locate the warehouse, which was easy enough, given that she had its address. The bigger issue was getting there inconspicuously; she would have to look less like a Jedi. Luckily, her natural demeanor was already more casual than that of her peers, and it only took a wardrobe change to complete her disguise.

Getting to the Lower City only took a few elevator rides; she had been there before. It was a lucky thing that this warehouse wasn’t on the other side of the planet. Then again, maybe that wasn’t luck at all, but rather a way to make sure that one of the Temple Jedi could visit this place occasionally. Would they be there when she found it? That could ruin all her plans at once. Considering this, she made the last part of her journey with a worried wariness in the back of her mind. The part of the Lower City she was headed for wasn’t too densely populated, so she soon lacked a crowd to hide herself in. Instead, she decided to make use of this section’s verticality.

As it was laid out, the word-city of Taris knew several distinct ‘levels’, interconnected floor spaces which clung to its more foundational supertowers. To their inhabitants, these levels often appeared like worlds of their own, with little to distinguish them from ordinary planetary surfaces. Only when one approached their edge and looked down, did it become obvious that these levels were no ground floor at all. Of course, most of these levels’ denizens rarely moved between them, and stuck rather closely to the area between their living and working spaces. As such, the Upper and Lower Cities of Taris really were their own distinct realities, and plenty of people in each section had no idea at all about life in the other strata. Right here and now, that fact would be of some use to Sava, as she would appear appropriately anonymous. Furthermore, the fact that many buildings were built on rather than between levels meant that she would have plenty of vantage points from which to observe the warehouse. Just before turning the corner that would bring her to face it, she stepped into one of the many tenement buildings on this street and ascended to its roof.

The roof of the tenement was pretty much just a bare slab of ferrocrete, but it gave Sava a good view of the warehouse’s main entrance. As far as she’d been able to figure out, that was also its only entrance. She lay herself down on the cold and grimy surface, pulling a set of electrobinoculars from her pack in order to study the place more closely. The first thing she notices were the warehouse’s large durasteel doors, which would likely swing inward to allow the entrance of large cargo vehicles. That implied that whatever was going on here was a ‘large cargo’ kind of affair. Big shipments going in and/or out, all under the nose of the Taris Jedi. That didn’t exactly put her mind at ease.

The second thing she noticed, something a lot smaller than the entryway, was the set of ‘guards’ which stood beside it. She was using mental quotation marks, because the intimidating figures which stood there hardly resembled the regular type of guard one would station at a Lower City warehouse. Instead of automated droids or underpaid security hires, she watched two Taris swoop gang members mill about the entrance with a fierce look in their eyes. To be fair, she only considered them swoop gang members because they clearly tried their darnedest to look tough and organized, wearing light body armor adorned with a distinct tag. If they actually did ride swoop bikes, they were nowhere to be seen.

Anyway, Sava first assumed that these characters were not guards at all, but rather lookouts for an ongoing heist attempt. While it would surely have been a great coincidence for her to arrive at the exact moment of a robbery, stranger things had happened through the Force. However, the strangest thing here was that they didn’t seem to be robbing the place at all. Their demeanor had none of the shifty impatience which usually indicated a criminal intent. As far as Sava could tell, these gangers were actually trying to guard this warehouse. But that was the weirdest conclusion of all; she could believe that the Jedi might have some secret operations going on here on Taris, but they would surely employ more nondescript personnel for that kind of job. The only other option was that whatever was going on here had to be kept a secret from even the regular Jedi spymasters. This was beyond confidential.

Sava wondered how she should proceed. Sure, she could message her Dark superiors with whatever she had learned, but that would put the ball in their court, and attribute any further honor to her chosen patron. She would effectively be turning herself into a lackey, and that simply wouldn’t do. No, she had already come this far; now she would find out the rest. But how? While she considered storming the gates of secrecy, knowing that she could easily dispatch these thugs, she realized that wouldn’t actually get her in the door. Whatever guards might be stationed inside the warehouse would lock it down and call the authorities; she had no need for such an incident. Instead, she would have to resort to the far more alternative: wait it out. If she continued to observe the place, she could figure out when the guards were changed out, likely catching a glimpse of what was inside. Patience was the key here, and even though Sava possessed quite little of that, she mustered all she could and settled in for the long haul.  

And so, Sava found herself on this rainy rooftop, watching two bored criminals guard a mysterious warehouse. It was absolutely miserable, but there was nothing else to do. The one thing she was thankful for was her meditation training, which kept her attentive even when she had long run out of interest. How ironic that she had condemned these skills as useless back when she’d first learned them; perhaps even the Dark Side had a use for quiet contemplation. In any case, she would watch the gates until she got irrepressibly tired, upon which she retired to one of the many abandoned apartments on the tenement building’s upper floors. From one of its wide and broken windows, she could still keep an eye on the warehouse, at least for as long as she could refrain from sleeping. Whenever she woke, it was back up to the roof again, where she had both the clearest view and the least chance of being discovered. So it went for a couple of days, with the rains mercifully ceasing after that first wretched downpour. Since she had dutifully notified the Temple of her scheduled ‘crime-fighting’ activities, she was sure they wouldn’t worry about her whereabout for a couple of days more. Still, she couldn’t keep this up forever, and she didn’t feel like she was learning much. Most of what she saw remained the same, with the only significant event being the changing of the guards during the early morning and late evening. The ‘night crew’ much resembled their daytime counterparts, and since their exchanging only happened when it was dark out, she had caught no sight of whatever was inside the warehouse. At this point, if she was to learn anything more, further action was required. It was time for a new plan.

After giving it some thought, the plan Sava came up with was relatively simple: she would wait until the changing of the guard, and then—as the four gangers were exchanging their usual banter about spice prices or whatever—she would slip into the warehouse unnoticed. There was often a brief window between retrieving the leaving guards’ swoop bikes and storing the arriving ones’ where they left the gates open, and she would make use of that opportunity. With her quandary resolved, Sava spent the rest of the day in a more relaxed fashion, messing around on her datapad while she waited for nightfall. When that came, she picked up her things and descended back into the dusky streets. Approaching the warehouse from the main boulevard would be folly; luckily, she had been able to figure out a different route through the district’s many alleys that would allow her to come up from the side. As she walked this circuitous path, she worried that she had misjudged her timing, that the guards would have been long exchanged by the time she got there. In the end, none of that proved true, for she found the gossiping gangsters in an ideal position just outside the still-opened gates. With a flick of her wrist, she planted a quick Force impression in each of their minds, giving them the unnerving sense that someone was staring at them. As if trained for this purpose, they all turned their heads at the same time, providing enough of a distraction for Sava to rush into the warehouse behind them. She’d done it!

At first glance, as her eyes were still adapting to the dark interior, the warehouse looked much as she had expected. A tall and deep space was filled with neat rows of durasteel pallet racks, the aisles between them wide enough to accommodate the loading droids which stocked them. Sava saw one of them approach now, the big blue hulk trudging towards her with a slow but powerful pace. At once she moved to conceal herself behind the nearest set of cargo crates, fearing that the droid had already discovered her. That did not prove to be the case, however, as the machine went on to stack whatever it was carrying without any sign of alarm or detection. Perhaps it was not equipped to distinguish friend from foe; that was what the guards were for, after all.

Sava felt somewhat relieved. From her hiding place, she skulked towards the back of the warehouse, careful to avoid any loading droid in case her hunch was wrong. Though she was looking for some kind of foreman’s office, she instead found an empty cargo platform hovering in front of a large freight elevator. Looking at the latter, its control panel implied that it only went down. That made a lot of sense to Sava, since the building itself lacked any kind of second floor. Still, where did this elevator go? If whatever was stored here came from below, then its destination was presumably some kind of mine or factory churning out materials. Drugs would have been the most likely cargo, were it not that this kind of operation was far too large for the average Tarisian spice smuggler. No, it had to be something else. She’d have to open one of these crates and find out.

Just then, she heard the distinct sound of the elevator rising; that door was going to open soon. With both speed and silence, she hid herself among the uniform cargo of the loaded pallet racks, glancing in all directions to make sure no one could see her. As she watched, another loading droid came stumbling from the elevator, pushing a fully stacked cargo platform out in front of itself. Parking it just outside the door, the droid turned to that other, empty hoversled and dragged it back into the elevator. The door closed, the mechanical whir started up again, and then slowly faded into the distance once more. The droid was gone.

This was her chance; these unattended crates could give her a look at whatever this smuggling operation was all about! Quieting some of her anxious excitement, she pulled her lightsaber from her belt and held it at the ready. Then, once Sava had fully steeled herself, she leaped forward, using the Force to give her some superhumanoid speed. At the same time, however, she also ignited her blade and swung it beside her, using the momentum of her leap to cut through the top the crate she’d aimed for. Coming to a standstill just past the pallet itself, she turned around to look whether she’d made a good cut. Owing to her good fortune—or else it was the Will of the Force, expressed through her might—there was indeed a glowing, smoldering fissure across the side of the crate, close enough to the top that she probably hadn’t harmed any of its contents. Instead of risking any burns, she used the Force once more to lift the now-separated lid, placing it gently on the ground. Hopefully her little maneuver had not alerted any of the guards already.

At last then, Sava got to steal a look at the centerpiece of this entire smuggling operation, and then maybe steal that centerpiece. As she walked up to the crate and peered in, what she saw was this: guns. Lots of guns. Blaster rifles by the shape of them, intricate pieces made of a gleaming crème-colored metal with durabrass finishings. They looked like antiques, honestly; it wasn’t so much the state of them, which was fresh as could be, but rather the overall design. The only time Sava had seen such an aesthetic used in firearms design was when she’d studied holo-records of the old Bright Sith. Was this a replica of their handiwork, then? Or was it rather the real deal, the product of some reawakened ancient factory? Sava would never know, not if she wouldn’t risk a trip down that freight elevator into the bowels of who-knows-where. That was clearly where she should be heading!

But no, her adventurous spirit was demanding far too much from her. She was surprised she’d made it this far already, and whoever found this crate disturbed would probably raise some kind of alarm about it. Better to slip out while she could, taking one of the guns along as evidence.

However, just as she moved to clip one of the rifles onto her belt, she heard behind her the distinct sound of one of the cargo loading droids. How the hell had it sneaked up on her? Had she been that distracted by these shiny artifacts? Lacking any time to hide, and not wanting to risk the droid’s potential capacity for intruder detection, Sava exercised her next best option. Gripping the rifle as one would any other, she spun around and pressed what she thought was the trigger. Her aim had only been auditory guesswork, but still she saw how a white electrical bolt shot out from the blaster and hit home on the droid’s torso. That’s where her success started and ended though, for the bolt dissipated harmlessly into a field of tiny sparks. It obviously wasn’t an anti-droid rifle.

Despite its ineffectiveness, the droid had still taken note of the attack, and of the intruder who caused it. A whiny alarm started emanating from its face area, loud enough to alert everyone in the neighborhood.  At the same time, the cargo loader moved to pin her down. She wouldn’t let it, of course, and used an empty part of the nearby cargo racks to duck where it couldn’t reach. Coming out behind it, she ran in the general direction of the exit, quickly leaving the droid far behind her. Still, this only solved half her troubles; her path was yet blocked by the guards at the exit. As she navigated the maze of the warehouse grid, dodging cargo droids whenever she thought she could hear them approach, she eventually turned into the straight path that lead outside. A few dozen meters before her, a handful of guards had set up an impromptu blockade formation. Luckily, these Lower City hirelings hadn’t considered three important things: that the intruder might be a Dark Jedi, that this Dark Jedi might carry a lightsaber, and that this Dark Jedi might use her lightsaber to block their blaster fire and slice right through their little defense line. Not harming them too much, of course. She was still a ‘Jedi’.

And so, igniting her gorgeous red laser sword, Sava charged right at the ones who stood in her way. Predictably, her opponents resorted to a futile fusillade, shooting red-hot blaster bolts which she easily deflected. It was obvious that none of these buffoons had ever fought a Force user before, and the fear in their eyes grew steadily as she advanced.

Finally, when she was just ten or so meters removed from them, one of their number decided to use a different kind of weapon. It took her only a moment to recognize the thing, for she had held one like it just earlier. After aiming the old Sith armament and mumbling a silent prayer, the Taris swoop ganger thus shot another bolt of useless energy right at Sava. She moved to block this shot like so many other projectiles, naturally; but just as she did, an intense electric shock surged through her blade, hand and arm. The surprise of intense pain, now spreading through the rest of her nervous system, caused Sava’s muscles to lock up entirely. Cast from her hand, her damaged saber flew through the air as her own momentum carried her to the ground, both bodies coming to a painful rest upon the hard warehouse floor. Ouch.

As she tried to recover herself from this momentary setback, Sava discovered that the paralysis remained, that now she couldn’t move altogether. What was this, the long-prophesied Revenge of the Bright Sith?! What had she ever done to them? No, it was probably her own lack of discipline; that was the only thing one could meaningfully blame. Her willpower just wasn’t strong enough. Not yet.

Sava watched as the warehouse guards moved up to her, surprised and animated by the success of their ‘Hail Traya’ shot. They talked amongst themselves in a kind of Tarisian patois that she couldn’t fathom, probably deciding on whatever they were going to do with her. By the time they’d reached he, they’d fortunately resolved to let her live. Two of the swoop gangers picked her up by her hands and legs and began to drag her out of the warehouse. All the while, Sava wasn’t feeling too preoccupied by her predicament. Instead, she was distracted by revelation.

Ever since she’d first seen what was being produced here, a single question had ran through her mind: what kind of Jedi would be smuggling the weapons of the ancient Sith? Now, having seen the gun’s effect on her lightsaber, the answer was rather obvious. Whoever was in charge of this operation, they wanted to fight Jedi. Badly. But then who could that be?

Sava had some suspicions.

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