“SPOKEN LIKE A TRUE SOLDIER. I’M SURPRISED YOU AND STORMCALLER DIDN’T TAKE A MOMENT TO SWAP STORIES AROUND A CAMPFIRE.”
Seated in the sensor operator’s seat inside the B-wing’s rounded cockpit, Ephron Zult scrutinized his damaged cybernetic body via a diagnostic tool’s readout. All this advanced technology—a fortune in credits—rendered useless by a piece of malevolent code.
Stormcaller’s plastic yellow chit was melted inside his arm’s data reader. The code not only destroyed the data vault stored in the B-wing, it attacked the circuitry of his cybernetic enhancements. Twitching like a child’s puppet toy, with only one organic arm to work with, it was a matter of resetting his brain’s firmware while adjusting the innards of his plastic and mechanical half.
He struggled to remove the melted chit from his arm. The slagged square of plastic wasn’t dangerous anymore, only an annoying reminder of how he had been easily duped.
“We are luminous beings. The more of your body you replace with plastic and metal, the less attuned you are with the world around you,” said the healer helping Zult recover from his drastic enhancement surgeries. She had tried to warn him. Back then, Zult didn’t care about balancing his body’s replacement parts with the harmonies of the Force. He only wanted revenge against Stormcaller and his mercenaries.
“Look what revenge got you,” he muttered. A pair of medical forceps in his organic hand’s fingers fumbled until they gripped the melted piece of plastic. Gritting his replacement teeth, he yanked the hunk of burnt plastic out of his arm.
“Sir?” a voice echoed through his ear’s internal auditory receiver. It was his stormtrooper unit commander calling from the pilot’s chair up front, although there was no unit left to command. The Red Moons had wiped the other soldiers out. They made quite an unhappy pair inside the B-wing.
“It’s nothing, TK-421.” Zult answered as he tossed the chit to the floor of the cockpit and ground it with his boot. “What is our estimated time of arrival at Jedha?”
“Almost six hours.” His helmet removed, the veteran stormtrooper glanced at the instruments in front of him. “This piece of crud’s hyperdrive is pretty outdated.”
“It’s an antique,” Zult remarked, removing tools from the access port built into his side. Flying through hyperspace inside Admiral Ackbar’s cramped B-wing fighter, he had all the time in the universe to repair his damaged parts. “Like you and me. We’re the last of the Imperial era, Commander. The end of the Pentastar Alignment.”
“Nothing ends, sir.” The man, indoctrinated in the elite legions since he was barely in his teens, glanced up from the repeater displays and caught Zult’s reflection. “Not the Empire. Never.”
“Spoken like a true soldier. I’m surprised you and Stormcaller didn’t take a moment to swap stories around a campfire.”
“He’s an enemy worthy of respect. Sir.”
Zult got the impression the stormtrooper was, once again, chiding him for his clumsy ignorance. He was right. Even when facing uncertain odds, Andrephan Stormcaller would never enter a fight unprepared. He was a dangerous, unpredictable opponent. Fiddling with his cybernetic couplings, Zult’s mechanical hand opened and closed into a fist…reaching for something elusive.
So close. Zult was so close to ripping apart the Red Moons. He had turned Hugo Cutter into a weapon and unleashed that on Sully Tigereye. He wanted to see Stormcaller beg for the life of his friends. He wanted to seize the old man by the throat and squeeze that knowing smirk from his face. He had done exactly the same to the healer after she kept babbling on about the Force.
There was an emptiness surrounding him, she told him. The machinery inside his body had taken away his very being.
…the less attuned you are to the world around you…
“We’ll see about that, stupid woman.”
Zult tapped the switch to his cybernetic processor. The firmware finally rebooted by now. He started accessing his memory circuits. His mind had been so badly-damaged in the grenade explosion, he needed physical circuits to keep track of his memories. Protected from intrusion by a series of fault-code trips, those physical circuits were priceless to him.
The parasite program might have destroyed the files of Setting Sun stored in the data vault aboard this starfighter, but they lived on inside Zult’s head. He didn’t need the vault. He was Setting Sun. Using the information, he found what he desired on an isolated moon called Jedha, once the spiritual center of the galaxy. The Jedi and their knowledge of the Force, and the power of their lightsabers, came from the kyber crystals once found across the entire planet.
The Holy City, the center of the Jedi Temple and its spiritual knowledge defended by the Guardians of the Whills, was said to have been destroyed in a mining accident. Zult, an agent of the Empire, knew the truth.
An immense battle station called the Death Star was responsible. The kyber crystals—everything that could be taken from the Jedi temples and the moon—powered its super weapon. A single laser burst of that weapon was used to destroy the Holy City and its inhabitants, end a powerful symbol of the Jedi and unleash the terror of the Empire.
Jedha was now a dead moon. The massive ejection of planetary material from the Death Star’s destructive power covered the planet like a funerary shroud. Life could no longer exist on the surface. The data stored in Setting Sun said otherwise; the New Republic used the moon and the secretive catacombs below ground to hide its most precious commodity:
“I will end the New Republic,” Zult opened and squeezed his mechanical hand. The cybernetic hardware mated to the remnants of his nerves, veins, bones and flesh was working perfectly again. He had full control over his body and mind. “Those pitiful replacements on the Republic Council will cower before me. They will swear their worlds’ fealty to the New Order, and then, they will die.”
Zult pursed his lips and studied the stars streaking past the B-wing’s cockpit.
“Set up the Holo-Net transceiver,” he ordered the unit commander. “I want to make a coded transmission.”
“Where should I set the transceiver’s destination node?” the commander requested.
“Who else? General Hux and the Finalizer.”