MC: AOTE: Brothers in Arms
Brothers in Arms
(or 'Out of the Frying Pan...')
It’s been two months since the Echo left the prison planet with Ryshana, Jeez, and Sam. With Oliver and Ryshana dead, Nic presumed so, and Beryl missing, the crew has had some major changes. Cloud is still the engineer, Jack the pilot, but Jana is now captain, Jeez the headhunter pilot/medic when needed, and both he and Sam are the turret gunners.
While Conn and Max are scouring the Galaxy trying to locate Beryl, the Echo has been trying to find a job--but they are having a slight problem. The Empire seems to home in on them every two hours if they are anyplace but the Outer Rim. Makes life difficult when you have an escaped prisoner and a Jedi on board and you are trying to solicit jobs that may not be completely legal. And to top things off, Jack and Sam seem to have a history between them—with one constantly trying to kill the other, discretely of course.
Meanwhile, Beryl and Nic are on Carida—Beryl as a drafted Imperial Officer teaching basic flight instruction at the Academy, and Nic as a prisoner and live-fire target for the Academy’s trainees. After a mishap in a live-fire exercise, Beryl believes that Nic is dead, however he’s actually escaped and is in the city of Carida trying to figure out a way off the planet. Beryl, however, has been making her own plans….
And now for a Holonet news update………
“Thank you for tuning in, and welcome to the update edition of the HoloNet News! I’m Calder Galastar.” The newsreader donned a sparkling smile.
“Our top stories:
“Over two thousand humans were needlessly killed today when their unarmed transport was attacked by Rebel terrorists in the Brentaal System today. According to Imperial Naval sources, some of the victims included a group of fifty younglings on route to a SAGroup camp for disadvantaged youths set up last year by Emperor Palpatine himself. Survivors of the attack were taken to Brentaal Prime for treatment, though many are in critical condition aren’t expected to survive. One eyewitness had this to say:”
A window on the viewscreen opened up next to the newsreader, showing a man, bedraggled and with a carbon smudges on his face, standing in front of burning wreckage.
“…they came in so fast! We… we didn’t even have time to react. It was like… like they knew exactly where to hit the ship to do maximum damage! It was a living hell! We barely made it to the escape pods! Thank the Stars for the Imperial troops that came to our rescue. I’m lucky to be alive..”
The window closed, and the newsreader continued.
“In a special Senate session held just hours ago, Emperor Palaptine personally pledged that he will send in a specialised squad of Imperial Liberators to stabilize the region, to bring those responsible for this horrendous tragedy to justice.
“In other news, Captain Kriss Raikelli has become the first man to receive the Emperor’s Cross, a new award set up by Emperor Palpatine to recognise outstanding bravery and patriotism in service to the Empire. Captain Raikelli was recommended for the award by Admiral Berasmus Quitaan of the Imperial Logistics Service. In a military ceremony held earlier today aboard the Admiral’s flagship, the Eliminator, he had this to say about Captain Raikelli’s actions:”
The second window again opened, and Admiral Quitaan was seen, standing in front of a podium reading a speech.
“It was due to the efforts of Captain Raikelli that the rebel infiltrators were foiled in their attempt to sabotage and destroy the Imperial dreadnaught, the Reaper, as well as attempt to free their fellow collaborators from a maximum security prison. Without regard for his own life, he single-handedly devised countermeasures that saved his ship and his men from total destruction, and allowed the live capture of a rebel infiltrator from who valuable strategic information has been obtained. Because of his selfless actions and bravery under fire, I am please to present to him, the Emperor’s Cross.”.
There was applause as the camera panned out to show Captain Railkelli receiving his award from the Admiral. Then the window closed again, and the newsreader continued with the story.
“The ILS reports that three of the infiltrators were killed in the fierce fire fight that nearly cost the life of the Reaper’s commander, Captain Kriss Raikellii. Two of the deceased have been named as Gordon McClary and Nic Saska. The third remains unidentified. The captured rebel, Garajaminder Falsootaavichykar, was tried by a military tribunal and found guilty of treason, espionage, murder, and wilful destruction of Imperial property. We now give you a live-feed of that execution now taking place on board the Reaper.”
The screen now showed a blonde woman, about Beryl’s height and build, standing in front of a bulkhead in front of five stormtroopers with blaster rifles and an officer holding a datapad.
“Garajaminder Falsootaavichykar,” the officer said, “you are hereby sentenced to death for treason against the Empire. Have you any last words to say?”
“That’s not my name! I’m Cally Hobart! I’m innocent! I didn’t do anything!” The woman cried out as a blindfold was placed over her eyes and she was positioned against the wall. The officer called the troopers to attention.
“Ready, aim, fire!”
As five separate shots hit the woman in various places on her body, she twitched, spasmed, and then fell to the ground—dead.
The newsreader again appeared on the screen. He smiled satisfactorily. “Another victory for a safe and secure Empire.
“And now for your local weather, followed by ‘Win or Die’, brought to you by MerenData. Is your network secure?”
A small advert began to play, advertising a computer security system, and then a screen appeared with local ground weather predictions, and then the propagandist holodrama ‘Win or Die’ started.
Beryl sat in front of a small computer terminal in a common room of the cadet dormitory. The room was sparsely furnished—a few couches, a table and some chairs, a holonet projector, a couple of computer terminals up against the walls, and a small kitchen facility. In some ways, it reminded her of the common room on the Echo, but it was never a comfortable place to relax. Gambling was not allowed, so that ruled out any ‘friendly’ card games. Music and holonet films weren’t allowed either, unless they were on the Imperial Sanctioned list. But the one thing that made the common room most uncomfortable for her was the fact that it was constantly monitored—if not by the other recruits then by the multitude of surveillance cameras that seemed to be in every corner of the entire dormitory facility.
“What are you doing, Quitaan?” Cadet Sunga came up behind her. He was like most of the other cadets here—young, fit, tall and most of all compliant to the will of the Empire. Of course, the daily medications that they forced all of the ‘re-education’ cadets like herself to take seemed to facilitate that. Beryl had taken them, but she had fought off their effects by using the Force. It had taken her a while to fully master the technique, but now, the medications had little to no effect. Of course, she still had to pretend to comply so as not to be discovered, and sometimes that wasn’t easy, but she was managing well enough for the moment.
“Writing a letter,” Beryl replied.
“A letter? To who?” Sunga craned his neck to see over her shoulder.
Sunga frowned. “Writing to family members isn’t allowed under the regulations.”
“Not without prior permission from the Commander,” Beryl said impassively. “Which I have.”
As Beryl typed, Sunga remained where he was. Finally, Beryl turned around to face him. “Is there something else you wanted, Sunga?”
“You want to watch Win or Die with the rest of us? It’s on just after the news.”
Beryl turned toward the screen, just in time to see the execution of ‘Garajaminder.’ Her memory recalled a time two months ago, when she was on the Reaper with her brother, Admiral Berasmus Quitaan....
”… someone has to be executed for your crimes,” Berasmus said to Beryl. “So, choose who it will be.”
“You want me to just choose some random person to die as Garajaminder?” Beryl asked, horrified. “You’re mad!”
“I told you that you need to face up to the consequences of your choices,” Berasmus said. “Accept responsibility for your actions. Now, choose!”
And Beryl had. And now, the woman was dead.
“No, I think I’ll pass,” Beryl said to Sunga.
“Suit yourself.” Sunga shrugged, and then slinked away towards the group of the other cadets sitting around the holonet projector.
Beryl continued with her letter. Although addressed to her mother, the letter wasn’t going to be sent to her. Instead, Beryl was planning to send it to Jana’s mailbox as part of her plan to escape this hellhole called the Carida Academy. And since her mother had recently moved house, no one would be the wiser.
Beryl’s plan was simple. She had met the Captain that was in charge of the training wing here, Captain Aiken, and with a few sweet words and a small nudge of persuasion from the Force, he had agreed to take her up in one of the two-seater training TIEs on his next leave day, which was in a few days time and just happened to be on Jana’s birthday. She planned to kill the smarmy Captain and then fly the TIE to co-ordinates specified in her letter. Hopefully, Jana would pick up the letter before her birthday and pick Beryl up. Otherwise, Beryl would be left drifting in space, with no fuel and no oxygen and would eventually die. Which, in Beryl’s mind, was still preferable than being at the Carida Academy.
Nic White limped across the room using a walking stick as he moved towards the window, he stood by the side and peered out the room onto city streets. He watched as a group of Stormtroopers marched pass, using the curtain to help him hide in case one chose to look in through the window.
Ryshana was dead and Nic still felt sorrow for this loss, he felt he had failed her in some way by not keeping his word, not protecting her when she needed it most. Self blame and guilt was nothing new to this man, even if he was there he could not have protected her, but he still felt the negative emotions. The death of his Jedi friend was not the only thing he felt guilty for, he had put the crew he should have protected in danger and beryl was in the clasp of his brother.
He could do nothing to help them in his current situation, he had escaped the Carida academy little more than a week ago and was hiding out in the small nearby city. He had been fortunate to cross paths with an old friend of his, one who knew him by the name Simon.
Two Weeks Earlier
“Colonel Tigh” A Young officer called to the head of training on Carida who was walking down the long corridor to one of the admin offices.
“Yes Lieutenant?” Replied Tigh as the officer caught up with him.
“We had to through prisoner 5672 back in solitary, Sir.” He informed holding a datapad infront of the colonels face.
“What did he do this time?” He asked snatching the pad from his hand and looking down at it.
“He was in another live fire training exercise, he killed three trainees and pt another five in the infirmary… two of them need a week in bacta to heal from the burns.”
“He lured them into a mock building and then set it alight with them locked inside.” The young officer informed.
“Isn’t he injured?” The colonel asked looking curiously at the datapad.
“Aye Sir.” The lieutenant agreed “He got shot in the leg and we haven’t had it healed he’s limping around.”
“And he’s doing all this with a disability. Why is his threat level still so Low?” The colonel asked reviewing the rough profile on the prisoner in question.
“The assessor has been back logged for weeks, it’s based off of his known history and it’s obviously not accurate.” The Officer explained opening the door to the admin room for the colonel.
“Well then we should sort that out now.” The colonel explained as he stepped into the office and looked around the room until his gaze fell upon one of the female officers in the room. “Ah Assessor Sendri please come here.”
The Women in the officers uniform quickly stood up from her desk and quick marched to the Colonel. “Yes sir?”
“I have a priority Prisoner Assessment for you.” He explained. “Prisoner 5672, a Nic White.”
The female officer seemed taken aback by the name and a confused look came across her face.
“Do you recognise that name Sendri?” The Colonel asked.
“Yes sir, but the Nic White I knew died almost 11 years ago.” She stated still looking confused.
“Well perhaps it is a different Nic White.” Colonel Tigh held out the datapad for Sendri to take a look at. She examined and eyes widened in shock, shaking her head obviously not believing what she was seeing she looked at it again. “So is it the same Nic White?”
“No Sir this is Not Nic White.”
"Try Zeek!" Jana Vincent exclaimed, absently toying with a curly strand of hair next to her right cheek. "He always has something."
"We've tried Zeek three times, Jana," Reibe reminded her patiently. It wasn't the first time Jana had run through the list of everybody they'd ever done business with. Zeek and his people were tight-lipped and unwilling to take the risk. Especially not after the first time they'd willingly opened their arms to the Echo. The Empire was too close on their tail.
And Carmen? She'd not even taken calls from Jana since Nic had failed to come back from their suicide mmission. They'd come across a few other contacts along the way, but now all of them were afraid of what they so accurately named, 'Imp Bait'.
"What about that... what's his name?" Jana tried, now desperate for any kind of job.
"Kassilar?" Reibe allowed herself a nose-wrinkle of disgust. "You really want to try him?"
Jana slouched deeper into her chair. "No..." Jon Kassilar was slime of the worst sort. They'd only done business with him once and it would take a truly massive pile of desperation for them to repeat that mistake.
"I could provide a job for us," Reibe suggested cautiously. Jana gave her 'the look'.
"After last time?" she shot back, dubiously. "Not in a million years."
"Well we have to get something," Reibe said. "If you can't provide for your crew, let me do it."
A crackle of some form of energy sounded below their feet and Jana jerked her feet upward, banging her knees on the table in surprise. A hiss of annoyance swept through Jana's lips.
"Cloud!" she snapped. "Conduit worms!"
"I know," the mechanic grumbled, entering the common room. "We've got at least three of them. I've been meaning to get to it... cap'n, but..."
"But what?" Jana demanded. Cloud frowned darkly.
"Nothing," he mumbled. As he left, Jana barely made out his grumbled complaint, "It was Beryl's job..."
There was silence at the table for just a moment. Then, Jana spoke.
"Two months, Reibe," she said. "Two months and nothing's ever been the same since. Don't think it ever will be."
"That's called growing up," Reibe replied gently. "You live, you learn." She allowed herself a small smirk. "Mostly we've been learning how to evade Imps in a damn hurry."
"Mostly thanks to you," Jana offered generously. "But it has to stop. Somehow, they're one step ahead of us. It doesn't take too many steps before we slip up and they get what they want."
"We'll get through this, Jana," Reibe offered supportively. In her voice, Jana detected a confidence she did not share.
"I hope so," Jana murmured. "I hope so."
Two Months Earlier
"What are you going to do now?" Cloud asked Jeez from across the table in the Common Area. Jeez was sitting there for the moment still consumed in thought. In his mind, he could still see the flames consuming Ryshana's body in the ritual burial back on Tatooine. Sitting down at the table, Cloud sat still and waited for an answer as he slid a flask of Corellian Ale over to Jeez.
Catching the flask with his hand, Jeez looked at it for just a moment, and then he slid it back across the table. "That depends. I guess I'll just follow after the will of the Force," Jeez finally answered.
""The will of the Force?" Well, that's a new one," Cloud responded. "I guess you don't have much of an option though, do you?"
Shaking his head as he looked up at Cloud, Jeez replied, "I never did."
"Yeah, I know. Use the Force. Look, I just haven't gotten around to it yet," Cloud replied.
"So??" Jeez asked rhetorically. "Get it done now."
Pausing for a second as he looked for the right words, Cloud then said, "But I need to take care of the transverse power coupling. It hasn't been firing the way its supposed to."
Shrugging in indifference, Jeez then asked, "So?? Its a two minute job if you use the right technique. The Echo isn't going to fall apart because of that power coupling, is it?"
"Well, not really-"
"Then what are you waiting for?"
Breathing in deep out of slight frustration, Cloud then said, "Look, no disrespect intended, but I need to operate on my own schedule. I'll get to it, OK??"
"So, in other words, you're not going to do it today?" Jeez asked. As Cloud started to flinch out of increased frustration, Jeez then said, "OK, fine. You know what? I'll do it. It'll be your turn next time, though."
"Yes sir," Cloud replied as he relaxed.
"That's better. Now get to it," Jeez stated as he ducked back into his quarters.
"Yes sir," Cloud stated as his eyes followed Jeez into the room. Standing in the doorway, he caught sight of holoframe that was active. In the frame, Cloud could clearly make out Jeez holding Ryshana from behind as they were looking out over some sort of a railing as they smiled together. "You miss her?"
Looking behind him, Jeez looked at Cloud and then followed his gaze to the holoframe. As Jeez looked at the holoframe, he then looked down at the floor for a moment. "Yeah," Jeez replied. "Yeah, I miss her." Shaking his head, Jeez then continued, "But that's not going to change anything. What happened is done. It was her time to die."
With a puzzled look on his face, Cloud looked back over at Jeez as he remembered Aerith. "How can you look at this from so far away? I mean, isn't her death personal in some way or another? Or is it all just destiny and the "will" of the Force to you?" Cloud asked somewhat judgmentally.
"All of the above," Jeez replied calmly as he looked over at Cloud. "I miss her, yes, but missing her isn't going to bring her back. Vengeance won't bring her back, and keeping my focus on that particular point in time isn't going to bring her back. I live in the here and now, and I can't dwell on what's happened. She was murdered, and it was her time to die, plain and simple. Its all just apart of the Force. There is death, and there is life.
That doesn't change the fact that I'm constantly reminded that apart of myself died along with her, but as the Force moves on, so will I. You would do well to do the same."
Cloud took the ladder down to the cargo bay. He intended to rumble through the box of small spare parts to see if there were some replacement points for the transverse power coupling. He was just about to take his last few steps down to the deck when he heard someone say, "Stop! Don't move!"
Cloud did, and slowly looked down at the deck. Just below the ladder, Sam was prone on the floor with her ear pressed to the deck. He raised a brow. "Sam, what are you doing?"
"Shhh!" Sam hissed. She was quiet for a few seconds, until Cloud let out a sigh. "I think I found one."
"A conduit worm?"
"No." With her hand pressed flat to the deck, she moved it slowly back and forth as if searching for something. Suddenly, she paused, then slammed her fist against the deck.
From out of an empty cargo container in front her, an energy projectile shot out of the box, over Sam's body, and impacted the wall just below where Cloud was standing.
Sam stood up and smiled at Cloud. "Ok, you can come down now."
Cloud did, but was giving Sam a very strange look. "What the hell was that?" he said, pointing at the cargo container.
"Energy bolt slingshot." She grinned. "Neat, huh? Wish I'd thought of that."
"Who did think of it?" Cloud wanted to know.
Sam shrugged. "Not me," she answered. "You down here lookin' for conduit worms?"
"No, here to rumble for some points for the transverse power coupling."
Sam held up a finger, then rumbled through the pockets of her trousers. "Here." She tossed him two points.
"Thanks," Cloud said slowly, then cocked his head to one side. "You always carry coupling points in your pockets?"
"Only when I've got the room," Sam replied. She headed for the ladder. "I'm going to get a snack. You want something?"
Cloud shook his head. "Thanks, but no. I've got stuff to do."
As she clambered up the ladder towards the common room, Cloud stared at the points in his hand and then at the empty cargo container and the singed mark on the wall. "Strange girl...," he muttered, and then headed back up the ladder himself to engineering.
"You sure this is the right place to be looking?" Conn asked Max as they manuevered their way through the thick mass of people. Such crowds were commonplace in Oradin and in most of the other cities on the smallish planet of Brentaal IV. Conn was no stranger to such an atmosphere, having endured far worse under Imperial service, so this was not the reason he seemed impatient at the moment.
"No, not really," Max snapped back at Conn, shooting him a look over her shoulder as she pushed through towards a cantina tucked in between two large skyscrapers. "Just like I've not been sure for the past few Maker-forsaken planets we've visited. This isn't really an easy thing you've tasked us with, Doc."
Her words struck him like a gaffi stick to the face. "Sorry Max," he apologized, feeling quite bad for using an exasperated tone with the ex-Trustee. Max had been the one who'd gotten him out of the Imperial facility, located suitable transportation for the both of them and used her contacts to help him search for Beryl. So far, very few leads proved warm, but it wasn't for Max's lack of trying. "I shouldn't've---"
"Stow it, Harlowe," she replied, cutting him off. Her words were curt, but her tone was easy and she gave him a tired smile as they came to a stop just outside the door to the cantina. "I know you're worried about her. That's a bad habit of yours, you know."
Conn sighed. "Can you blame me?"
"Not really, I guess," Max conceded. "But she's a scrappy one, so she's probably all right. Let's just focus on finding out where she is for now, okay?"
"Gotcha," Conn agreed as they pushed the doors open, admitting them into the hazy cantina. It was like any other dive they'd seen countless times before, which meant that there were most likely seedy and clandestine dealings happening in the darkened recesses around the room.
Max headed straight for the bar where an elderly one-eyed Twi'lek bartender stood, cleaning a flagon. He had immediately noticed their arrival and subsequent approach. He placed the flagon down carefully as Max and Conn took seats in front of him. "What'll it be, travelers?" he asked.
"Gralish liqueur for me," Max responded, flipping a credit chit onto the counter while surreptitiously placing a datapad within easy view of the bartender.
"Whyren's Reserve, if you have it," Conn said. A few seats down at the bar, a long-haired man cast a look at Conn, then turned back to his blonde companion.
The Twi'lek nodded and moved off to procure their orders, stopping just for a few fleeting seconds to glance at Max's datapad. Once he'd turned his back, Max quickly pocketed it. She stared at Conn in silence as they waited, neither one of them willing to break it. The bartender returned with their drinks and placed them in front of Conn and Max. Turning to stare outside the large bay window of the cantina, he commented, "The weather sure is clear today."
Conn had to repress a snort as he looked outside. The skies were cloudy and dark with smog.
Max didn't miss a beat. "I hear on Chandrila, it's better," she replied.
"So it would seem," the Twi'lek concurred, blinking his one eye slowly. Leaning towards them, he put a hand to his chin and asked, "What can I do for you today?" He didn't ask it as a bartender. Conn shook his head at all the skullduggery. Max's contacts certainly liked their secrecy.
"You're up to speed on the latest Imp news?" Max said, businesslike.
The Twi'lek nodded. "Of course," he replied, unfazed by Max's seeming lack of confidence.
"Anything specific out of the Belderone sector?"
The bartender tapped his chin with an empty pint glass. "Heavy activity there about a month ago," he said. "An Imp Admiral was in the area."
Conn swallowed, remembering the nearly-botched escape from the Imperial facility. "Do you know who?"
"No, 'fraid not."
Conn furrowed his brow in thought. After a few moments, he asked, "Have you heard of someone by the name of Beryl Quitaan?"
Before the bartender could respond, a jovial voice answered Conn's question. "Beryl Quitaan?" Max and Conn looked over to see the long-haired man and his blonde compatriot sitting right next to them now. They had been so engrossed with talking to the Twi'lek that they had not noticed the two men approach. The blonde let out a chuckle. "What'd she crash this time?"
Conn eased his grip on the pistol inside his jacket. He'd gone for it the moment he'd heard the man's voice. They didn't seem hostile however, judging from the casualness of their demeanor and the off-hand way the blonde had responded to his question. "Er, she didn't crash anything, per se," Conn replied. "You know her?"
"Yeah, I know her," the man replied. "Best test pilot I've ever seen. Per se," he added with a sly grin. "Last time I saw her was on Station A12-76." He nudged his friend. "You remember her, right? The blonde with the attitude we met at the gym?"
"Jyot, every woman gives you an attitude," his raven-haired companion retorted. "Especially blondes." At Jyot's crestfallen look, he laughed. "Yes, I remember her. Spitfire, she was."
"Test pilot? You were in Incom?" Conn asked.
"Nah, CEC," Jyot replied. "I was a deck hand, she was a pilot..." He shrugged. "She tested those new CR-90 series Corvettes." He rolled his eyes. "Bastards to fly single-handedly."
"CEC..." Conn repeated. "I don't recall..." He looked up at the man named Jyot. "When's the last time you saw her?"
"Told you, back on Station A12-76, 'bout 12-13 months ago," Jyot replied. "And she gave me quite a few bruises to go along with that sweet demeanor of hers."
Conn raised an eyebrow. "You got into a fight with her?"
"Wasn't so much a fight as a beatdown," the black-haired man interjected. "Chick was sparring with people in the gym. Jyot here just happened to step into the ring."
"It didn't quite go down like that, Latch, and you know it," Jyot retorted, giving his friend a punch in the arm.
Conn sighed. "So you haven't seen her recently," he surmised.
"Nope," Jyot said, shaking his head. "Why, is she in trouble or something?"
Max and Conn looked at each other, then back at the two men. "You could say that," Max replied.
Two Weeks Earlier
Within the cold dark windowless room that was the cell for solitary confinement Nic sat in the corner looking in the direction of the door. He had no idea how long he had been in here this time but he had been inside it between each and every training exercise he was the target in. Nic was trained to disappear and then strike without being seen or heard, he only killed them as he knew it was going to be him or them, but each time he killed they would through him inside the lightless and claustrophobic room.
The familiar sound of the door opening began to echo through the tiny room and quickly swung wide open. The light shone in and temporarily blinded Nic causing him to raise his hand to block the light shining into his eyes.
As his eyes adjusted Nic could see two silhouettes of people, one was the Stormtrooper guard who he heard pass his door every 2.4 minuets. The other was wearing a officers uniform with the cap, definitely a women from the body’s form and the smell of imperial issue perfume, he couldn’t make out the women’s facial features.
“Leave now.” The officer told the guard.
“Are you sure Sir.” The Guard protested. “This one is dangerous.”
“Leave!” The officer simply repeated and the guard responded by stepping out of the cell and then closing the door behind them making the room dark once again.
“You should have listened to your guard.” Nic informed the Officer.
“I’m unarmed and mean you know harm and I know you only kill when your life is threatened Simon.” The officer Stated as Nic could hear that she was crouching a couple of foot in front of him.
“I guess if you know that name you’ve spoken to Captain Raikellii.” Nic asked thinking that was how the imperial officer knew his former name.
“I haven’t spoken to your brother in almost 10 years.” The Women replied as Nic heard the sound of her placing something on the floor. “I know your Simon cause I also know you as Sharp.”
Nic was shocked once again at hearing that name, a name he left behind before he even lost Simon. The name only seven people ever called him by and only one of them was a women. “Twist?”
The Officer pushed a button on the device she had placed on the floor and a fairly dull blue light filled the room, this allowed Nic to see the face of the officer he had been talking to and his suspicions were right.
“Yeah, It’s me.” Assessor Sendri replied looking worriedly at Nic. “How do you get into these messes.”
Sendri shook her head and look down at the floor. “I thought you were dead.”
“Sorry.” Nic apologised reaching his hand out to her chin and raising it gently. “But I had to get away.”
“So what happened to your Leg?”
“A Corellian Firecracker.”
Nic sat at a table in the small house he was hiding in looking at a large sheet of flimsy with the plans to the Carida Academy on it. He had circled the Shuttle bay in red and was trying to work out the best way to it and then to get off the planet, all the effort he spent trying to get out of that imperial hell hole now he was trying to work out how to get in.
From the door behind him entered Jessi ‘Twist’ Sendri, his old squad-mate from Naboo and his Ex-girlfriend. It was her house Nic had been hiding in for the past week and she had helped him escape the academy in the first place. She was not the typical imperial, she never wanted to be one but the imperials needed skilled assessors for their academies and they threatened her daughters life. As well as helping Nic now she was also involved in discreetly aiding the Rebels by giving them much needed information about the imperial training academy.
“There’s a window.” Jessi announced as she walked up behind Nic. “There’s sensor maintenance in three days, You should be able to take the shuttle and break atmosphere before they can even get one Tie in the air.
“Thanks, I’ll break in then.” Nic informed not taking his concentration off the plans.
“We’ll break in then.” Jessi corrected.
“Jessi you’ve done more than enough.” Nic explained. “I can do this alone.”
“Well I don’t like to leave a job unfinished.” She stated looking down at the plan as well. “So how are we getting in.”
The Echo was adrift somewhere on the Mid-Rim. It wasn't for lack of power; it was for lack of a destination. Jana knew they had no contacts left open to them. She could force her way in to see Carmen, but the crime lord would refuse to do business with them, just as everyone else had... though perhaps not for the same reasons.
"Reibe," she said softly. The Sith Hunter had looked as though she was sleeping, stretched out lengthwise in midair with her eyes closed. Immediately, her eyes opened and she 'sat up' in midair.
"I know you don't like doing business through me, Jana." It was the answer to Jana's unspoken words. "Look, not everything I can come up with is as life-threatening as... well, you know."
Jana wrinkled her nose. "You lead us into a mess like that again and I'll skin you alive."
Reibe laughed softly. "We both know you wouldn't... even if you could. Face it, Jana. You've learned more in these last two months with me than you would have in a year with..."
Jana's expression turned stone cold and she snapped, "Don't say it."
"But it's truth," Reibe argued calmly. "And I mean no disrespect to Ryshana... or Jeez. They're both quite... proper examples for Jedi. But your destiny is not that of a Jedi and therefore, your training cannot be overseen by one."
"Job," Jana demanded. Reibe laughed.
"Oh, you're not going to like this one bit," she said. This time, Jana didn't bother with the reserved reproachfulness of 'the look'; she full-on glared.
Reibe smiled serenely. "Retreat."
Jana couldn't believe her ears. "Come again?"
"I said, retreat," Reibe repeated. "I know it's not something you're a big fan of... but it's the ideal course of action. The Imps have some sort of tracking system, but if you go far enough, you'll fall out of reach. Trust me, I've evaded things like this before. Chances are, one of your conduit worms has something he hasn't fully digested yet. So get to the Outer Rim for a day or two. Then, slip back in."
"Anything sounds better than 'Imp Bait'," Jana confessed. She pressed the ship-wide intercom, as she wasn't entirely sure where Jack was. "Jack, I need you in the common room for a moment."
"So we get to run now, ehh?? Hmm, well, it wouldn't be my first choice either. Still, laying low for a while will do us some good," Jeez commented as he entered the common area. With a carrying strap on his shoulder, they could see that he was carrying a set of tools.
"The problem is if you have enough parts, money, food, and more importantly patience to lay low long enough. If not, then perhaps just tucking tail and running may not be the best course of action.
If you want my opinion, we'd be better off finding some legitimate work as a cargo transport for a small mining company on the Outer Rim. It won't be easy work, but if the Imps do catch us, they can't slap us down for smuggling. Its not too hard to lay low if we're out far enough anyway.
Just look on the bright side: running towards something familiar is a far sight better than just running blind."
"Jack's on his way," Jack replied from the bridge who was only more happy to get up and walk if it meant leaving his cockpit where the only entertainment, thanks to the conduit worms and crap holonet signal in the current location only allowed Jack to watch 'Win or Die', which Jack described as 'simply god awful'. As soon as he received the order to head to the common room, he was up and gone.
Three nights earlier
Jack had just made finishing touches to ensure that their most recent fast hyperspace entrance didn't end horribly. He cursed the two Jedi Knights that had got him and his ship into this crap. Jack had half the mind to try and convince Jana to hand all the force users to the imperials, but then the realization that he was the only crew member who didn't wield the force. Of course there was the constantly randy lesbian next door, but Jack didn't see her as a crew member. She was just an annoying passenger the crew didn't feel right throwing over board.
As soon as Jack entered his room, he felt a burning sensation in his throat. It was followed by a pounding headache with knock Jack off his feet and onto his knee. He lowered his head to his knees and clutched them as the pain continued. Net followed a violent cough which ended soon enough, taking the rest of the symptoms with it.
"So retreat is really your 'job' for us?" Jana asked Reibe softly.
"My 'job' for you is survival," Reibe corrected, descending from midair to the chair next to Jana. "Retreat is the next logical step in that job."
At that moment, Jack entered the room and Jana turned to face him.
"I think we've been stalled enough," she said. "Reibe has coordinates for you."
Reibe gave the coordinates and added, "Before you ask, yes I do realize the coordinates seem to lead to a blank spot in space... but trust my word and don't come out of hyperspace too fast. There is a planetary system there and if you come in too fast, you'll make the same mistake I did the first time I visited... crash and burn."
In his office overlooking the Carida Academy parade grounds, Commander Thalmon pondered the file he was reading. It was a personal letter written by one of the ten female cadets he had under his command in the Imperial Re-education Program.
The Re-education Program was for cadets who were private sector professionals, but who lacked the military training necessary to be an Imperial officer. Doctors, scientists, pilots, engineers--they came from all areas of society, and whether they had signed up for military service in lieu of a punishment for some indiscretion they had committed, or from just a desire to serve the Empire, they all needed training in discipline and military protocols. The particular cadet standing rigidly at attention before him had been one of the ones pressed into service, and Thalmon had had his doubts about her. But she had surprised even him with how well she had progressed in the 8 weeks she'd been in the program, so much so that he had accelerated her training and had already started her into her career post—a flight instructor at the Academy.
"Normally, Quitaan, personal letters are not allowed at such an early stage of training." He looked up at her. "But I see here that your re-education team leaders recommended that you write this."
"Yes, sir," Beryl answered without expression. "Major Gant and Dr. Ferrana suggested that it would enhance my concentration and performance if I re-established communication with my mother. And it’s my duty to the Empire to perform to the best of my ability, sir."
The Commander’s eyes flicked back to the datapad in front of him. "Yes, I cannot deny that your performance in the program has been exceptional--top of the class in every area and no incident reports. Except for that 'friendly fire' accident on the training range, which was hardly your fault,” he added. He again eyed her over. “You recovered from that rather quickly."
"Yes, sir," Beryl said. "It was only a minor concussion and I didn't want to be excluded from the outdoor survival exercise that was coming up the next week, sir."
"Such dedication to duty in a re-ed is quite... unusual. I’m surprised at how well you adapted to the regime here. I must confess I had doubts about you." His eyes narrowed. "You are still taking your daily meds as ordered?"
"Yes, sir. Every day without fail, sir."
The Commander let out a low grunt, not sounding completely convinced. He began to peruse her letter once again. "It says here that you are interested in taking leave to visit your mother at some point?"
"Only if it does not interfere in my training or teaching my class, sir."
"Yes...." Thalmon leaned back casually in his chair. "Tell me about your class. Quitaan. You're teaching basic flight at the moment, is that right?"
"And how do you find your students?"
Beryl paused as if she were thinking. "Permission to speak candidly, sir?"
He nodded. "Permission granted."
"Half of them are a waste of space, sir."
Commander Thalmon raised his brow, obviously amused by her statement. "Oh? How do you mean?"
"I mean, sir, that it is a complete waste of Imperial resources to attempt to train people who are obviously not ever going to pass basic flight instruction."
He tapped a finger to his lips. "And what would you suggest we do about that?"
"Develop an improved screening program, sir, with specific criteria that can identify those who have a potential to be pilots before they are even accepted for enlistment."
"A pre-pre-application screening...." He nodded thoughtfully. "I'll keep that in mind, Quitaan." Again, he looked down at the letter and then eyed her. "Well, I don't see anything in here that appears contentious, however...." His mouth twisted and his brow knitted together. "This isn't the address we have on file for your permanent home of record."
"No, sir," Beryl answered promptly. "My brother informed me that my mother has moved from our family house to a smaller, more manageable sized apartment in Coronet City. She therefore has a different address for correspondence now." For the first time since Beryl entered the room, she showed some feeling in her expression. She arched an eyebrow. "Is that a problem, sir?"
He paused a moment or two before answering. “No, I don’t suppose it is.” He removed one of his code cylinders and swiped it across the datapad. “Your letter is approved to send off-world,” he said, handing the datapad across the desk to her. “Dismissed.”
“Thank you, sir.” Beryl snapped off a salute which the Commander returned and then she left his office and headed for the communications station to send it.
But not to her mother... to Jana's private CMG mailbox account.
Jyot ran a hand through his short, spiky hair and leaned back in his chair. "Geez, it's that bad, huh?"
Conn nodded grimly at him from across the table. He, Jyot, Max and Latch were seated in a booth and the two Corellians had just been told of Beryl's plight. "Max and I have been across nearly half the galaxy and we still don't have any leads," Conn said.
"You haven't considered the possibility that she might be dead?" Latch asked, his elbows on the table, long fingers interlaced in front of his face.
"No," Conn replied, shaking his head. "She was sedated, not shot. Her brother obviously wanted her for something." He clenched a fist. "Besides, I know Beryl. She isn't one to go down without a fight."
Max took a swig of ale from her mug, then rested it on the table. "We know that certain things are obviously out of her control, but there's no way she'd go along with her brother's wishes."
Jyot shook his head. "Still sounds to me like you're on a wild bantha chase," he said, rubbing his chin.
"Tell me about it," Conn grumbled.
The table was silent for a few moments until Latch spoke up again. "You said that her brother had plans for her?"
"Yeah, some sort of Imperial training program," Conn responded. "Beryl wasn't too specific on the details of it and given our situation, I didn't ask for anything more."
"Training, eh?" Jyot echoed. "Have you tried checking out planets with Imperial training facilities?"
"Of course we have," Max said. "But it's not like we can just waltz up to the front door and ask for her. Besides, the Imps have facilities on almost every single planet you can think of. She could be anywhere."
"Easy there, short stuff, I was only trying to help," Jyot soothed, holding his hands up in mock surrender and winking at Max, who rolled her eyes at him. "And you're right," he continued. "The Imps do have facilities everywhere, but for training, especially under the auspices of an Admiral, I'd think that they'd take her to one of the major academies, like Prefsbelt IV or Carida or even Corulag."
Conn arched an eyebrow. "We've been to Prefsbelt and Corulag, but what was that second one you mentioned?"
"Carida," Jyot repeated. "Big military academy there. Once had to make a delivery there with some of the most volatile cargo I've ever seen."
"Volatile?" Max asked, arching an eyebrow.
Jyot favored her with another smile. "Rancors, pretty eyes."
Max made a face at him. "Do you ever turn it off?"
"Only when I get it to turn you on."
"Ugh," Max groaned, crossing her arms.
Conn couldn't help joining Latch in grinning at the exchange. "Rancors, huh?" the doctor said. "How'd you get to doing that?"
It was Jyot's turn to grimace. "I lost a bet," he explained. "Back when I was working on Cloud City, I made a bet with my friend that I could get this girl to go out with me. He though he could get her first, so he bet that if he won, I'd have to take his transport run." He let out an exasperated sigh. "Bloody git cheated too. Used his damn Zeltron phero-whatevers to get her. So I got stuck schlepping rancors around."
Probably not a great time to mention I'm part-Zeltron, Conn thought. "Sounds awful," he intoned, hoping he sounded sympathetic enough. "So Carida, huh?" He rubbed his eyes. "Probably tough to get to, like they all are."
"Not really," Latch chimed in. "It's on the Perlemian Trade Route, so passage there is easy enough. You could hop the hyperlane right off-planet. Of course, once you're there, finding out if she's actually around is a whole different story, but I trust you can do that."
Conn looked at Max and after a few seconds of eye contact, nodded. "So Carida it is, then." Turning to Jyot and Latch, he said, "Thanks for you help, guys. I'll pick up the tab."
Jyot smiled and shook Conn's hand. "Anytime," he said, then turned to Max. "So cutie, once you're done with your rescue mission, do you think I could take you out for dinner sometime?"
Max stood up and moved to the side of the table, slapping down a few credit chits. "Sorry Jyot, but you're just not my type," she said, a forced smile on her face.
Undeterred, Jyot responded, "Well, then what is your type?"
Max thought for a moment. "I guess you could say I like my men like I like my Corellian whiskey." She put a hand on her hip and looked the engineer straight in the eye. "Mature." And with that she turned on her heel and stalked towards the door.
Conn gave them an apologetic look. "She's got some fire of her own, I know," he told the two Corellians. "Again, thank you for your help." He took off after Max.
Latch chuckled and threw an arm over Jyot's shoulders. "Shot down again, buddy."
Jyot shot his friend a rueful grin. "I don't think I even got off the ground." He shook his head, then glanced over at the bar. "Heeeey now..." he started, pointing a finger. "Check out those two brunettes over there...I think I like the right one, what do you think?"
Totally unconcerned and apparently disinterested with Jana's and Reibe's conversation, Sam had been rummaging around in the cupboards for a quick snack. It was only when Jana had used the intercom to call Jack that she showed just the slightest bit of interest--pausing for a whole three seconds before continuing her 'cupboard rumble.'
But when Jack finally did enter the room, Sam covertly watch his every move from the corner of her eye. Her rummaging style changed, too. Never was her back turned on him, and to a well-trained eye, one could tell that her muscles were tense and ready to spring into action if needed.
Finally finding a package of Selonian prawn flavoured foodboard, Sam settled down in one of the chairs to eat.
"There is a planetary system there and if you come in too fast," said Reibe. "You'll make the same mistake I did the first time I visited... crash and burn."
"Crashing's bad," Sam mumbled with her mouth full. "And burning's worse. Don't want to crash or burn." She swallowed. "Don't want to get hit by any more energy beams that shoot out of perfectly innocent looking supply crates from stepping on pressure sensitive triggers set up on the deck of the cargo hold when trying to do an inventory for the Captain either." She grinned sardonically as she shot Jack a quick look.
"Captain Jana I've counted about twenty-four blaster cartridges and ten grenades packed in the crates down there. Oh, and there were some spare engine parts, some bacta packs, and a few computer components in one of those compartments near the back. And a portable flight sim unit near the toolbox for the Headhunter. Well, pieces of one anyway. Looked like someone was either putting it together or taking it apart--hard to tell.
"Oh! And there's a swoop bike down there too. Nice new red one. If we do need to sell something to make ends meet, I'd bet that would bring in a good price."
She took another bite of her food board and sank back into her chair, all the while keeping Jack in sight.
Jack listened to Jana's words and watched as the annoyance entered the common room to eat something. After Riebe, the second annoyance of the crew, spoke Sam felt it was her duty to point out the obivous by mumbling with your mouth full of Selonian crap "Crashing's bad, And burning's worse. Don't want to crash or burn."
It was then Jack's duty to making a snappy reply and he did so by saying "Is it? Jeez, I thought I would of known that you know, we be being a crack pilot and all. I guess that just goes to show Sam is an idiot... So, middle of nowhere was it? I'll get right on it," Jack said before heading to the cockpit, hoping Jana didn't hear the trap bit Sam blurbed out.
The Synergy Cantina was a small tavern on the edge of Carida city and not to far from the training academy. It was different from the other Cantina’s in the city as it was perhaps the only place where organised crime operated on the entire planet. It was ran by a Crime Lord who many believed had the Imperial colonel on the Payroll to have him look the other way for its criminal activities.
Nic limped in to the Cantina using an old walking stick to help carry his wait, he Looked around the room to see the usual suspects around Gamblers, Alcoholics, other scum and a Veknoid Wearing a robe. He walked over to the bar area and took a seat by it, the bar man walked over to where Nic was seated and smiled.
“The usual Nic?” The Bar man asked, Nic nodded so the barman grabbed a bottle of Naboo Ale from a nearby fridge and began to pour it into a clean glass. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure!” Nic replied as the glass was placed in front of him.
“You’ve come in here everyday for the last week order the same drink and stay here watching the door for three hours.” The barman stated.
“Yeah.” Nic agreed.
“I’m waiting for someone.” Nic answered taking his drink and sipping from it.
“Must be a women.” The Barman stated. “Someone special?”
“Yeah.” Nic smiled. “She is definitely special.”
Jeez just shook his head. Crack-rate crew indeed, Jeez thought to himself. More like cracking at the seams.
Heading down to engineering, Jeez caught site of Cloud. Peering over his shoulder, Jeez watched his work. In front of him on the floor, the power couple had been almost completely disassembled. Curious, Jeez looked past Cloud and noticed that he had hot-wired a couple of relays together so they would run through one of the power converters used by the engine. As a temporary solution, it was pure genius. As a long term solution, well, Jeez knew that Cloud needed to finish the repairs on the power coupling.
"Good work," Jeez commented.
Jumping about a foot into the air, Cloud quickly turned around to face Jeez. "You could give me some kind of warning, you know. The work I'm doing here is rather delicate," Cloud commented annoyed.
"I could, but you could prevent that with a bit of work, you know."
"And take my focus off of what I'm doing here?" Cloud stated dryly. "Wait, I know. 'Be aware of your surroudings.' I know, but its hard to do that and do quality work at the same time."
"Practice it a little bit sometime. Like you said, its not easy, but it can save your life someday. It may not matter for naught at the moment, but if you can figure out how to do it, being in a hot situation won't be quite so bad," Jeez said calmly.
Catching sight of Jeez's bag of tools, Cloud then asked, "You really are going to take care of the conduit worms, aren't you?"
Turning around towards the access door to the crawlspace, Jeez replied, "I'm always a man of my word. When I tell someone that something is going to be done, then its going to get done."
Nodding his head in reserved agreement, Cloud then said, "Yeah, I guess your right." Starting back to work on the power coupling, Cloud listened as Jeez crawled into the crawlspace. "Good luck in there."
As Jeez controlled his breathing in the tight space, he couldn't help but to think that at least he didn't lose any of his athleticism back at the Facility with his constant self-training. Heading towards the first power conduit, Jeez reached down and pulled the bag of tools up close. Using the Force, Jeez levitated several of the tools out of the bag. Seeing the one he needed, Jeez floated the tool to his hand while the rest of the tools floated back down into the bag.
Using the tool, Jeez removed the cover to conduit and was greeted by a mess of entangled wires. A good mechanic, yes, Jeez thought. An organized mechanic, no. Concentrating on the Force, Jeez felt around the conduit for any signs of life. After a couple of seconds, Jeez could feel a small pulse of life near one of the connections. Concentrating with the Force, Jeez carefully pulled the life form from the connection.
As it stretched length-wise, Jeez could see a small, fat worm that looked remarkably like a wire connected to one of the cables. Reaching up, Jeez carefully squeezed the worm around the head and felt a bit of a tingle as electricity arced from the cable into his hand. Finally, the worm let go of the cable, and squirmed around as it tried to attach itself to a new cable.
Refusing to let go, Jeez held onto the worm carefully. Using the Force yet again, Jeez levitated a jar out of his bag of tools. Bringing it closer, Jeez used the Force to unscrew the lid, and Jeez dropped the worm into the jar with a slight plop. Screwing the lid on tight with the Force, Jeez then carefully placed the jar down back into the bag.
Focusing his attention back on the conduit, Jeez felt yet another life form. Curious to see how long it was going to take, Jeez concentrated on the Force to feel for similar life signs. Around him, Jeez could feel dozens of worms in the single conduit alone. Most of them were juvenile forms, but there was obviously a lot more work to be done.
Even in hyperspace, the trip was long. As it turned out, their destination was not just on the Outer Rim. It was practically past the Outer Rim. By the time they pulled out of hyperspace, Jana wondered if they hadn't gone beyond the edge of the galaxy itself. But there was a planetary system there.
Jana stood behind Jack's seat, staring out at the system's sun, which was almost out of view.
"Planet's straight ahead," Reibe informed Jack. "By now, I'm sure you can see why coming out of hyperspace too late could be a problem."
Sure enough, the planet was dead ahead and the Echo was mere minutes away from entering the atmosphere. Reibe turned and left the cockpit, saying, "Be careful where you land, pilot. There's a single city in the northern hemisphere. You should be able to find it."
Jana grimaced at Reibe's bluntness. She didn't think the strange woman made mistakes in her estimates of people, but she was always speaking to the crew as though they were worthless. Jack and Cloud, Reibe called 'competent at best'. Sam was utterly detested, ever since the first time she tried a half-hearted attempt at flirting with Reibe. She held a higher level of respect for Jeez, but she typically referred to him as 'that Jedi'.
And as for Jana herself... well, Reibe held her to a very high standard. Two months ago, Jana had agreed to begin training to use her Force-given talents and Reibe was a ruthless instructor. Jana smiled ruefully, remembering the short-statured woman's instruction in the TCTA. While not as ruthless, Reibe had been every bit as demanding. Even now, her short, barked commands and thinly veiled insults rang in Jana's ears...
... or maybe that was the previous evening's instructions.
"What are you doing, Jana?" Reibe snapped sharply as Jana failed to block another hard slap to the face. "I'll tell you what you're not doing. You're not fighting. So what is it? Directing traffic?"
Jana gritted her teeth. "You're frustrating me... isn't anger the path to the Dark Side?"
"Listening to the Jedi, are you?" Reibe mocked. The fighting ended. "They have such power at their call and yet they cannot fully access it. Anger is not wrong. It can be used for great wrong, yes. But the Dark Side is one stop on a long road. You don't have to stay there. Sure, some people find it hard to leave..." She grinned. "But some people don't have teachers who've been there and beyond."
"Beyond?" Jana echoed.
"I won't dare be arrogant enough to say I have a full understanding of the Force and all its aspects," Reibe answered. "Even I have things I could still learn..."
Jana sighed at the memory. That had been the end of the friendly chatter. After that, Reibe had attacked again. The routine was never the same. Sometimes, Reibe would approach and take Jana away to the cargo bay; other times, she'd attack wherever she found Jana. At first, it was hard for the crew to get used to; now, they just made sure they weren't in the way.
With a sigh, Jana pushed the thoughts of training from her mind and went to find Reibe. It was time to learn a little more about the place they were landing...
Nic had remained in the bar area for three hours watching the door the whole time, he was here because this was where he agreed to meet Beryl after she managed to escape the academy. He had only seen her twice since she left with Ryshana to the prison and neither time was in the best circumstances. The bar itself was a good place for Nic at the moment, as far as he could tell the whole of the cities Stormtroopers were looking for him since the escape. Fortunately the Synergy Cantina was off the search for all troopers by order of the imperial colonel so Nic would be safe here.
Nic turned back around and waved the bartender over and without saying a word the barman knew that Nic wanted another drink as he has done the past week.
“Hey what’s his story?” Nic asked as he took the bottle from the barman with one hand and pointed at the robed Veknoid.
“I don’t know.” The bar man honestly replied. “He turned up about a week ago and started making some soup. When I asked him why he’s here he just said he’s a leaf on the wind and was guided here for something.”
“What?” Nic asked curious.
“He said he’d know once it found him.”
“So he’s insane then?” Nic stated with a grin.
“I think so.” The barman replied grinning back, “but he don’t cause any trouble so I leave him be.”
Nic laughed and then took a large gulp from his drink, he turned back around and noticed that a Rodian, Weequay and Human were standing behind him holding pistols out at him. Nic looked at all three of them and realised instantly that they were obviously bounty hunters out for the recapture money on Nic’s head.
“Oh how I wish Jana were here.” Nic stated out loud to himself knowing how bad things were at the moment and how if only Jana was by his side this situation would be resolved much more easier. Although Nic would never admit it sometimes shortstuffs short fuse did get them out of trouble that couldn’t be avoided like the one Nic was in now.
“<You’re coming with us.>” the rodian spoke in his native tongue.
“No he’s not.” The barman argued as he pulled a shotgun out from under the bar and aimed it. “You know the rule; No collections on the premises.”
“You’re lucky.” The Rodian replied as him and his associates holstered their weapons. “Watch your back.”
The three thugs all walked out of the cantina leaving Nic to ponder his own safety, it would bebetter to leave now and never return to this cantina. But he made a promise and he intended to keep it.
It was 6:30 in the morning and the sound of two thousand voices repeatedly shouting, “Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace! Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace!" reverberated through the Carida Academy. It was the cadets’ daily inspection assembly out on the parade grounds, and Beryl stood in formation with her fellow re-eds at rigid attention repeating the slogan like everyone else. It was probably the hardest part of being here—trying to not be influenced by the constant barrage of Imperial propaganda and protocols, while at the same time, regurgitating the rhetoric back to her superiors on demand. The longer she was here, the harder it was for her to resist thinking like an Imp. As it was, she was already saying ‘sir’ as routinely as she would have sworn in her civilian life.
The Academy’s Training Commander, Colonel Tigh, stood up at the podium on the raised dais at the head of the formation lines. He held up his hand, and said, “At ease,” and silence immediately followed. It was time for his ‘inspirational’ speech which he religiously gave at the end of every week.
“Speak, with a single voice,” Tigh said, his hollow-sounding voice echoing from the loudspeakers. “Act, with a single hand. Obey, without question. This is your mandate. This is your responsibility. This is your duty as soldiers of the Empire….”
He continued with his Imperial propagandist remarks for another twenty minutes, until finally, it was inspection time.
Beryl stood fast, staring straight ahead as their platoon commander Lieutenant Roxtrom walked the line inspecting uniforms, while the DI followed behind him with a datapad in hand to take note of any infractions.
Everything was going pretty well, until the Lieutenant came to stand in front of Cadet Penwick, who just happened to be standing next to Beryl. No matter how much help and advice he had from the other cadets, Cadet Penwick never performed well and never looked tidy in his uniform. And today was no exception.
“Penwick—boots dirty,” Lieutenant Roxtrom started, as the DI began to record the discrepancies. “Creases--flat. Gig--not in line. Hat—askew.” Roxtrom suddenly frowned. “Cadet, empty your pockets!”
Penwick had been carrying a holopic in his pocket. “Who is this?!” Roxtrom wanted to know. Beryl felt a tremor in the Force. Something decidedly bad was about to happen.
“My wife, sir,” Penwick replied, his voice cracking with tension.
“Quitaan!” Roxtrom shouted.
“Sir, yes, sir!” Beryl answered.
“What’s the rule about personal items?”
“Personal items will be kept in a cadet’s footlocker compartment at all times, sir! At no time will a cadet carry such items on their person or display them for public view, sir!”
“And what is the punishment for breaking that rule?”
“Forfeiture of said personal item and a suitable physical punishment, sir!”
Roxtrom’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Penwith, who was now sweating, and then back at Beryl. “Quitaan, do you think that running ‘The Grid’ is a suitable punishment for this cadet who has had more than his share of demerits?”
The Grid. For all intents and purposes it was simply torture, although it was deemed by the Academy to be ‘a physical test of one’s ability to deter pain.’ It consisted of a net mesh suit made from an electrical conducting material which the person would wear while negotiating an indoor obstacle course. Every 10 seconds the suit would discharge, shocking the person with a painful electrical current, each shock more intense than the last. Only the very fit, or very lucky, people ever survived the course. Penwith was neither. Beryl was essentially being asked to condemn her fellow cadet to death.
Yet, she didn’t hesitate to answer. “Sir, yes, sir!”
Roxtrom grinned. “Do you think that Cadet Penwith will survive ‘The Grid’ exercise, Quitaan?”
“Sir, no, sir!”
“And why not?”
“Because, sir, an Imperial officer should be clean, sharp, and ready for duty at all times, sir,” Beryl answered, her face as impassive as if Roxtrom had just asked her what day of the week it was. "Penwith is never clean, sharp or ready for anything. He is dead weight in this platoon and a disgrace to the Empire and the uniform, sir.”
Roxtrom smirked. It was obviously the answer he had wanted to hear. “Very well. Sergeant, introduce Cadet Penwith to ‘The Grid.’”
Penwith’s eyes were wide with fear, and he started to open his mouth to protest, but then must have thought he would get another punishment for complaining. He obediently, and silently, fell out of formation and followed the DI.
“Platoon, dismissed!” Roxtrom announced.
The platoon began to gradually fall out of formation, each heading for their respective duty assignments. Beryl took one look over her shoulder at Cadet Penwith, knowing that she would never seem him alive again. She thought she should be feeling at least regret or even sadness, but… she felt absolutely nothing.
He’s just like Nic, she thought to herself. Here one day, dead the next. This place is hell.
As she headed off to her duty assignment--teaching her flight class--she began to go over in her head her plan to escape. There was a base leave day coming up soon, a time for the cadets and other authorised personnel to have a day off—rest, relax, go into the city, have some recreation time—and she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her day. Escaping.
Setting aside the access grate, Cloud carefully laid a small box of tools into the access tube. Pushing it in, Cloud laid on his back and followed it in. Crawling in, Cloud headed for the first conduit panel on his left. Opening the tool box, Cloud pulled out a couple of tools and started work on removing the conduit panel. Peering over to his left, Cloud was careful not to smack his forehead on a conduit pipe just in front of him.
Carefully sliding the access panel down towards his feet, Cloud pulled out a fiber lantern from his box and placed it just inside the conduit space and activated it. As the bright light illuminated the workspace, Cloud reached up and took a small jar and unscrewed the lid. Placing it just off to his left, Cloud breathed in deep as he readied himself for the job.
"So, you decided to help me after all," Cloud heard inside of his head. Surprised, Cloud jumped, and a solid thump sounded inside of the small space as Cloud's forehead connected with the conduit pipe above him. Groaning in pain, Cloud instinctively placed his right hand on his now sore forehead.
"You ok?" the voice stated inside of his head once again. This time, Cloud could tell that it was Jeez using the Force to place thoughts inside of his head.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bump to the head, that's all," Cloud replied as the sound of his voice was swallowed by the empty space and the humming noise in the backround.
"So, you're finished with the power coupling, then?" Jeez asked.
"Yeah, its done. Besides, we need that coupling once we leave hyperspace. It was a simple fix," Cloud replied as he started checking the wires for worms in the conduit to his left.
"That's good. My jar is starting to get a bit full. How long has it been since you did this last?" Jeez asked.
"Not too long ago," Cloud replied as he found a worm. Pinching it by the head, Cloud carefully unwound its body from the wire it was connected to. Accustomed to the occasional shock, Cloud didn't even flinch as he felt a bit of electricity arc into his hand. "Why?? Are you still on that first conduit junction?"
"Yeah, and there's still a couple of them left," Jeez replied.
"Hmm, you aren't getting a lot of juvies, are you?"
"Oh yeah. Must've had a bunch hatch out recently."
"How?? I can't hardly see the adults much less the juvies."
"With the Force, I don't need my eyes. Hmm, well, I thought that would be how you do it considering how Ryshana gave you a bit of training. She taught Beryl to do it that way.
"Yeah," Cloud said somewhat absently as he remembered some of Ryshana's teachings. Placing the worm in the jar, Cloud reached up and moved around some more cables as he looked for more worms. Spotting a juvie, Cloud closed his eyes and concentrated on the juvie. Feeling its small, fragile life in the Force, Cloud slowly became aware of other small life forms in the conduit to his left. Indeed, there were lots of juvies as Jeez had noticed, and Cloud almost audibly groaned as he realized that there was a lot of work to be done. At least now it wouldn't take as long, and the job would be done much more thoroughly this time.
"That's more like it. Remember, even in the smallest and most medial of tasks, the Force is always your greatest and most trusted ally. Don't ever forget that, Cloud. Don't you ever forget that."
Leaning against the wall in the small walkway leading to the cockpit of the Echo, Jeez just waited calmly. Feeling the Echo leave hyperspace, Jeez looked up towards the cockpit. A moment later, Riebe came walking out of the cockpit. Stepping in front of her so she couldn't go any further, Jeez studied her for just a moment.
She appeared to be young and near the prime of her life, but Jeez could see and feel the ever lengthening years inside of her eyes. He knew what she had been, and he remembered the stories trickling in before he went to the Facility about how she had betrayed the Jedi. Looking into her eyes, though, Jeez wondered how much truth was actually in those same rumors.
"So, what exactly do you have in mind? Running blind helps none except the one that seems to know precisely where they're going," Jeez stated as he crossed his arms over his chest. He obviously didn't trust Riebe, and Jeez was definitely hinting that he suspected Riebe of manipulating the crew to accomplish her own ends.
"You and Tinker-Boy get the conduit worms taken care of, Jedi?" Reibe asked in return. But she didn't wait for an answer. "You're right. Running blind is hell. We've just come out of hyperspace in a system that hasn't been known to to the Empire or the Republic before it for centuries. Recall if you can the legends of the Black Space Pirate Fleet. Buried within the legend was a strand of truth. This planet was their base of operations until the Republic scattered them."
The legends of the Black Space Pirate Fleet were well-known throughout the galaxy, and this reference gave Jeez a possible glimpse into Reibe's age; if she knew the truth of the legend, then she had to be at least 2000 years old... maybe closer to 2100, which would have easily explained the longevity displayed deep within her eyes. She pushed past Jeez and entered the common room. Jana came in behind her, listening to the story, just as Reibe gestured to the window where the planet was visible.
"The system was conquered for the Republic," Reibe went on. "But they soon lost interest, for the system had little in the way of natural resources. Nevertheless, it was named and documented in the databanks. Vars is the sun. Gerv is the only habitable planet. Over the years, Vars' name was lost and Gerv was bought by a rather eccentric - and very rich - old man..." She smiled faintly as if remembering. Then, she shook her head. "He set up an observation station..." She gestured out the window once more, to what looked like a tiny scrap of shrapnel in orbit.
"It's seen better days," she admitted. "But it still functions for something." Waving a hand dismissively, she went on, "The system became known as the Watchtower system. And so it was known for years until it faded out of memory. The planet below still has the remains of a great city. That is where we are headed. Though the city is long deserted, the planet is far from it."
"Underground," Jana murmured. Reibe laughed softly.
"You read my mind," she said. "That was a freebie, Jana. I know you've been trying to crack me open... but for all your power, you have little knowledge of its use." Turning to face Jeez, she went on, "Yes, the true civilization here is below ground. It is the hub of an information gathering - and in some cases, altering - network I have worked hard to put together. Here, we can regroup and finally lose our Imperial hunters."
"It's been two months since we've had a chance to stop for..." Jana began.
"You've been labeled Imp Bait and you want to find the latest news from your mother?" Reibe laughed. "Yes, Jana, you've got the option of checking your CMG mail here." For now..."
The Echo touched down on a landing pad near the outskirts of the old city and Reibe smiled, completing her sentence, "... come meet the Hunter Information Network."
"I don't get it," Jana said, following Reibe further toward the back of the ship, preparing to depart. "If you have an information network hub here, wouldn't the Empire have discovered it?"
"Not a chance," Reibe answered firmly. "The people here all get along famously. There's no need for wars, as they all work for the same governing authority and that authority works to be sure everyone is treated as they ought to be. It's good incentive to combine intelligence and knowledge to come up with fascinating new technologies... like the alloy used to build my fighter."
"That came from here?" Jana asked, surprised. Reibe nodded.
"That's right," she confirmed. "And here, we're going to make some slight modifications to the Echo so's I can access the fighter quickly and efficiently if necessary. It's awkward to climb out an airlock and crawl carefully over to it. Modifications will be easy and won't do a thing to disrupt the present internal design... save to add an access hatch at one of the catwalks in the cargo bay. Easy stuff for the geniuses we have at work here."
"So they've come up with technology that... what, masks their very existence?" Jana wondered. Reibe chuckled.
"Something like that," she agreed. "Energy masking. Everything you can think of has some form of energy output. You find a good enough mask, it'll hide anything you don't want known. They have the brains and the ability to do so. And so they have."
They stepped outside the ship to a startling picture. The city was just as Reibe had described; it looked as if it hadn't been occupied in centuries... if not longer. Sand had swept in through the streets, often burying the first and sometimes even up to the third floors of all the buildings.
"Alright, so where are we going?" Jana wondered, staring out at the ruins of the city. Reibe laughed softly.
"Down," she answered. At that moment, the landing pad began to descend. Down and deeper down it went until the sky above was barely a pin prick. Then, the pad moved sideways and bright lights flashed to life all around them. A second landing pad, rose to fill the place that had been left by the one presently occupied by the Echo
"Welcome to my world," a new voice announced. An old man stepped forward to greet them and with an eager laugh, Reibe sprinted forward to meet him halfway. With a laugh of pleasure, he lifted her up and spun her around.
"My little Aryn," he exclaimed. "It's been far too long, Reibe. And you haven't aged a day! What's it been... twenty years? Thought you'd come back sooner."
"I've been busy, Shaam," Reibe confessed. "And I wish I could say you haven't aged either."
The old man laughed. "I'm old and very glad of it," he said. "Growing older every day. I don't think I have the level of constitution it would take to live as long as you have."
"Shaam," Reibe said, turning his attention to the crew. "This is the crew of the Echo. Captain Jana Vincent, pilot Jack Goren, mechanic Cloud Strife, Jedi acting as medic, turret gunner, and headhunter pilot is Jeez. And Sam mans the other turret."
Jana was impressed. For once, Reibe seemed to get over the idea of downplaying the skills of the crew.
"A pleasure to meet you all, I'm sure," Shaam said kindly. "I'm sure you're all very tired. You ought to rest. I'll send someone to take you to private rooms where you can get some rest. Reibe and I have some catching up to do..."
"Jana, you're coming with us," Reibe announced firmly. Jana was in no mood to argue and submissively followed Shaam and Reibe as they began chattering about the 'old days', which Reibe called the 'not so distant past'. Just as they went out of sight, four young women entered the room and each one approached one of the remaining crew members.
"Follow me, please," each one said to their respective crew member. "I'll show you to your room."
The speeders and guards of the Naboo Royal Security force were all in a panic outside the Palace entrance staircase. They all watched in horror at an unknown terrorist who had dragged the queen out at gunpoint threatening to kill her in front of the whole city of Theed. He was a separatist agent who had taken drastic action on hearing of the death of Count Dooku and was demanding that the Planet surrender to the Confederacy.
The Guards all aimed their weapons at the terrorist but all knew they couldn’t shoot without putting the queen at risk. The Terrorist and the Royal Guard had been in a stalemate for about ten minuets now, neither one had done anything to act.
In a nearby building on a balcony that looked over the great steps to the palace a lone man stood holding a sniper Rifle aimed at the terrorist.
“Raikellii do you have a clean shot?” A voice asked through the earpiece of the Sniper.
“Check that sir, just need the authority order.” Simon Raikellii replied not taking his gaze off the terrorist.
“You’re Clear Sharp!” The voice authorized. “Make it Quick and clean!”
Then Simon Fired his Weapon hearing the sound of the energy rapidly escaping the sniper rifle followed by a Women’s Scream…
Nic awoke up in a sweat breathing heavily from the dream he had just had, the memory of a mistake he made all those years ago. The mistake that made him leave his old life behind and head to the fringe and living a life as a mercenary.
Listening to the Riebe woman go on and on, Jeez just listened carefully. With his arms across his chest, it was painfully obvious that he was not impressed nor was he at all dissuaded from what he felt. She was old, but Jeez had to wonder how much wisdom this woman actually had. Intelligence?? Definitely, but did she have the wisdom to discern who Jeez really was??
As the Echo landed, Jeez returned to his quarters to retrieve a couple of items. Catching sight of the holoframe of him and Ryshana, he picked it up gingerly and turned it over. Carefully examining the backside, Jeez then turned it back over and paused a moment to look at the frame. Warmth filled him for a moment, and then, he deactivated the frame and carefully placed it in his bag. Taking a couple of spare changes of clothing and a small set of tools, Jeez then shouldered the bag and headed for the cargo bay.
As Jeez looked out into the hangar, he looked around carefully and studied his surroundings. Catching sight of Cloud, Jack, and Sam, Jeez walked up next to Cloud on the left as they stood watching Riebe and Jana leave with Shaam.
"What do you think?" Cloud asked as he looked over to him.
"Me?? I think that somehow, we're just supposed to be along for the ride," Jeez answered as he continued to study the hangar. As the four ladies walked up to the passengers, Jeez discreetly dropped a small data packet into Cloud's open bag that was lying next to him.
As the ladies escorted the group, Cloud looked over at Jeez in silence. Concentrating for a moment, he could somewhat sense that Jeez was almost completely removed from the situation. If Jeez was removed from the situation at hand, then there had to be something else more pressing on his mind. Concentrating on Jeez's thoughts, Cloud then did his best to insert his own thought into Jeez's mind. "Something's wrong?" Cloud asked.
Jeez's eyes darted over to Cloud for a moment, but then they moved back to looking in front of them as they now stood in front of a lift that would take them to the guest quarters. "I'm not sure, to be honest. That's part of what has me concerned," Jeez replied inside of Cloud's head.
"But she's just trying to help, isn't she?" Cloud asked in reference to Riebe. "Heck, I don't trust her that much, but she is just trying to help. Right?"
Smiling, Jeez then replied, "Your naivety is rather amusing. Haven't you noticed how this woman refers to us? You're the "Tinkerer" in her eyes, Jack is just the "pilot", and I'm just the "Jedi". We're all just tools to her except for one."
"You mean Jana? From what I've gathered, she wants to train Jana for something or another," Cloud commented.
"And to what end and purpose, I wonder? This woman has intent and reasoning for what she's doing. We are not here to hide from the Imperials despite what she says. That was said so that it would satisfy our present need for escape. We did have other options open to us, but it seems that those options were not present," Jeez said. As the lift decended, Jeez closely watched to see how far down they would go.
"But why did she do that? Does it have something to do with Jana?" Cloud asked.
"Those are the questions that I've been asking myself among others. Stay close if possible. We need to find the answers, and it can't be accomplished by myself alone," Jeez ordered calmly. With a slight nod of his head in agreement, Cloud could feel the lift coming to a halt. From what he could tell, they hadn't descended far from the Echo.
As the door opened in the lift, it revealed a small room that opened into a hallway to the left. The ladies escorting Cloud and Jeez stepped out of the lift and beckoned them to move on while the escorts for Sam and Jack remained in the lift. Taking a right out of the room, Jeez and Cloud followed their escorts down the hallway. Cloud's escort stopped in front of a door on the right just two doors away from the lift while Jeez's escort stopped in front the door just down from Cloud's.
Watching the woman press her hand on a pad just to the right of the door, the door then slid open to reveal a small but well appointed room. Instructing Jeez to do the same, Jeez placed his hand on the panel. Feeling a slight wave of heat pass over his hand, a small light indicated that his hand print was now able to open the door to his room.
With the usual accommodating introduction to the available services, the woman explained to Jeez a couple of rules for security purposes. Nodding his head and eventually dismissing the woman, she left his room, and the door closed behind her. The room was fairly basic. It had a small bed, a nightstand, a desk, and a bathroom area with a small wash station and a toilet.
Setting his stuff down on the floor, Jeez then wondered what could possibly happen next.
A holovid image of a TIE about to crash into a meteor suddenly paused.
“Stop,” Beryl ordered. “Rewind and repeat. Slow playback.”
The image of the TIE reversed until it was just approaching the edge of the meteor field, and then the entire sequence began to play again in slow motion.
“Now, what mistake did the pilot make in this example?” Beryl asked her class.
A young cadet, Vyyk Draygo, a Corellian whom Beryl had identified as having great potential, raised his hand and said, “He flew a ship that wasn’t made by a Corellian.”
As the rest of her class s******ed at Vyyk’s remark, Beryl had to smile as well. “Okay… what other mistake did he make?”
Another cadet raised his hand. “He underestimated his rate of acceleration in relation to the gravity of the meteor band?”
“Maybe,” Beryl said. “Anyone else?”
“He was depending on his scanners too much.”
Beryl’s brow raised. Soontir Fel was her best student. “Go on, Fel.”
“The refresh rate of the scanners on the TIEs is too slow for tracking moving objects like the meteors when you are traveling at an accelerated rate. You can’t solely depend on it for navigation.”
Beryl was visibly impressed. “Very good, Fel.” She clicked the remote she held in her hand and the holovid image disappeared. “That’s what I want you all to read up on tonight,” she said to the class. “Alternative forms of navigation, Chapters 8, 9, and 13. When your scanners are damaged or something interferes with them, you’ll still have to be able to navigate yourself home by some other means.”
The chime sounded, signaling the end of the class. The cadets stood up and came to attention.
“Class, dismissed.” Beryl started to tidy up the classroom, when Cadet Draygo approached her. Like most of her students, he was young, about nineteen--fit, handsome and full of spirit. It killed her to see how the Empire was taking the next generation and molding them into soldiers and pilots.
“Excuse me, sir,” he addressed her with the honorific used for all officers or higher rank. “But can I ask you something… erm, something personal?”
Beryl cocked an eyebrow. “Ask away, cadet.”
“Well, some of us cadets, the Corellian cadets,” he clarified, “were going to have a sort of a … well, we were going to sort of meet up in the city on the leave day to kinda have…
Vyyk grinned sheepishly and shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah. Anyway, we were wondering if….”
Beryl held up her hand. “I’m flattered by the offer, cadet, but no. Thank you.”
Vyyk lowered his voice. “But, you’re one of us, sir. And you never really socialise with anyone.”
“Oh? And where did you hear that?”
He shrugged “Corellian grapevine, where else? Point I’m trying to make, sir, is that… well, it’s not... natural for people like us not to socialise.”
She understood his point exactly. She had been here for just over 8 weeks and in that time had purposefully avoided socialising for pleasure. Yes, she was lonely, but like Jeez had said she needed to get a grip on her emotions. Focus on the task at hand. And that task was survival and escape. “I’m your instructor, Draygo. It’s against the regs for me to ‘socialise’ with students,” Beryl said. “Even Corellian ones.”
“But you’re a cadet as well, aren’t you?” Vyyk pointed out. “Sure you’ll be a Lieutentant right off the reel once you’re all finished with your officer training, but right now, you’re still a cadet like the rest of us.”
Beryl bit the inside of her lip, wanting to say ‘yes, I’ll go’, but knowing she couldn’t without consequences. She was planning to escape the very next day. She couldn’t be drawing attention to herself now. “It’s against the regs for me to ‘socialise’ with students, cadet,” Beryl repeated. “Besides, you don’t want to hand out with an old hag like me.”
“Old hag?” Draygo snorted, grinning roguishly as he gave her a quick once over. “None of us would ever call you a hag,” he said rather frankly. “Sir,” he added as an afterthought as he came to attention and saluted.
Beryl shook her head with mild disbelief, and then sighed. “I suppose I'll take that as a compliment,” she said to him. "Dismissed, Draygo," she said, returning his salute. She finished stowing away her class materials, and then headed out the door.
The plans were finalised, Nic was going to break into the Academy and leave the imperial training world tomorrow. From then he hadn’t done much planning, he just knew he had to find Jana and then return and liberate Beryl, if she didn’t manage to escape herself. This is why he would still go to the Synergy Cantina in the hope he’ll meet up with Beryl so they can escape together.
He took the same route to the cantina as he always did, back alleys and the wrong kind of streets were the ones he walked. The Stormtroopers still patrolled the whole city but they tended to stay off certain streets because of their bad reputations, which suited Nic fine.
He began to walk down one alley with the sun shining right above it, he used his walking stick to help him walk as his leg was still really weak from when Beryl had shot him in a training exercise. Nic was only halfway down the alley when a familiar alien stepped out from behind a nook in one of the flanking buildings, the Rodian from the day before. Nic looked other his shoulder to see the Weequay and Human companions of the slimy Bounty hunter carrying a couple of vibro blades.
The Rodian walked up in front of him with a grin (at least Nic thought it was a version of one) while holding his blaster out then stoped when he was only two steps away from his target. “<So do you want to do this the easy way or hard way>”
“I only ever know how to do things the hard way.” Nic replied grinning back.
Without any more hesitation Nic swung his Walking stick around and into the gun hand of the rodian, the gun flew out and into the nearby wall leaving the Green alien defenceless. The walking stick was then jabbed into the bounty hunters gut causing it to curl it’s body and arms into that area. Nic quickly raised the stick upward and then with all his strength struck down on to the back of the Rodian’s skull. Knocking him out Cold.
The Weequay then charged at Nic but only got the walking stick swung across the side of his face as Nic swung his whole body around to face the two thugs. The Alien went flying off to the side and crashed into a wall then falling down.
Nic looked at the other human who was obviously unsure what to do, this gave Nic a chance to reach down into his boot and grab… Nothing. “I forgot they confiscated it.” He exclaimed out loud as he looked at the human who had now decided he would charge at Nic. Although he was planning on doing it with his knife he instead threw the walking stick at the thug’s legs and tripped him as it impacted. Having to hop other o the fallen thug he picked up his walking stick then finished the job by Smashing his head between the walking stick and the floor.
“I’ll take that.” Nic said to himself taking the Vibroblade from the thug and then walking oven to the unconscious Rodian and bending down to pick up the Blaster pistol. “This too.”
"You're not staying long, are you, Aryn?" Shaam asked quietly. Jana had gone off to see what sorts of mail she'd missed in the last two months, leaving the two old friends alone. Reibe shook her head.
"No, I don't expect we will," she answered. "Just long enough to finish the modifications to the ship... and have a bit of a breather from Imperials chasing us everywhere. Conduit worms ingested some Imperial trackers, I assume. But we had the Jedi and Tinker working on that issue while in hyperspace."
"Why do you do that?" Shaam asked quietly. A flicker of an unreadable emotion passed through Reibe's eyes as Shaam continued his question, "Why do you downplay the value of everyone on the crew save for your own descendant?"
"You may have noticed I don't trust easily, Shaam," Reibe pointed out. "In my younger years, I was stabbed in the back a few too many times to allow that. It may seem harsh, but the names prevent me from trusting them more than I feel I can."
"What if the one you trust ends up being the one who stabs you in the back?" Shaam pressed.
"You think I trust Jana?" Reibe laughed. "She's impulsive and stubborn. Not the hardest I've ever trained, though she does happen to be one of the more talented. And that's why I don't trust her for a moment. I know it's trust that makes you vulnerable."
"So does assumed independence," Shaam countered. "Reibe, lack of trust is no reason to be rude."
Reibe grimaced. "Habit. Perhaps I can try to do better."
The old man smiled. "That's all I ask."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, so I thought I should let you know that I’m alive and well and drop you a line.
Between the last time I saw you and now, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our past and the relationship we have with each other. I realise that we’ve had our differences, especially in regards to my reckless behaviour, so I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that Berasmus has taken me under his wing and obtained me a very secure position as a flight instructor at the Imperial Military Academy on Carida. I know Rayne will be a bit upset when you tell him the good news, but I’m sure he will understand the benefit of a having a government job and will do all he can to support me and my decision.
It’s not easy for me to say this, but I’m sorry that I didn’t speak to you at Father’s funeral. We were so close, and it seems like he died only yesterday, and I feel like it is my fault, but I was so very upset at his passing that I really didn’t know what to say to you. Please forgive me.
This place is a little better than what I imagined it would be. Even though Nuss has a lot of influence with the Commander here, it still took me a long while to get processed and enrolled, and, in the end, I didn’t receive any special treatment. Nuss says that would be good for me to be just another face in the crowd. I think he might be right.
The very rigid routines have taken quite some time for me to get used to. My day starts early (0500!) with brief 10k run followed by breakfast at the dining hall across the from the Officer’s Dorm. At 0630, all of us form up at the parade grounds in front of the main education building for inspection. I’ve received a few demerits from my superiors, but so far only about half the amount as at the TCTA. Of course, that may be because this place is about twice the size of my old alma mater, rather than any exceptional qualities on my part.
The classes I teach start at 0700. At the moment, I’m restricted to teaching only theory and using the flight simulator for my class ‘Basic Pre-flight Inspections and Maintenance’. The class is over at 1200, and I sometimes take a short walk from the dorm, to watch the TIEs come in from their training exercises before I eat lunch. I really miss flying, but my new friend Captain Aiken said that he might allow me access to the flight hanger during non-training times, and maybe, if I continue to perform well, even allow me to do a tandem flight with him.
Even though I am an instructor here, I’m still a cadet in training myself. Routinely, my afternoons are spent in the Officer Candidate Complex. It’s a fair walk from the main complex, but uphill hikes are just a part of the vigorous physical fitness routine here since the gravity is higher than most other training facilities. I found my own classes quite difficult and stressful at first, but apparently that’s normal for people enrolled in the re-education programmes. Fortunately, they have a top-notch counselling staff here and they have helped me and some of my classmates adjust quickly. I’m feeling so much better that I’ll hopefully I’ll be off the medication they prescribed me before graduation, which is coming up in eight short months. Nuss promised me that I’ll be commissioned as a Lieutenant for my prior experience. (Ha, ha--isn’t that scary!?)
Just like at the TCTA, everyone here has an additional duty to perform. Mine is helping out at the library two hours a week categorizing new items as they come in. It’s not a bad job, but it is rather simple. I find it a bit tedious and boring at times, but I suppose that the information is necessary to keep everyone up to date on all of the new regulations coming out. Rules are very important.
How is your new apartment? I imagine that life is a lot different since Father’s been gone, but I suppose I would have moved as well with nothing more than an Echo to keep me company. Nuss could hardly believe me when I told him Rayne had convinced you to move house in favour of a more manageable sized one in Coronet City. If my marks improve, I might be eligible to request leave at some point. Perhaps I could see you on your birthday?
Well, I need to go now. Say ‘hello’ to Rayne, and the boys, and tell him ‘thank you’ for his help and support. I think I’ve found my niche here.
Your loyal and loving daughter,
Jana had almost dismissed the letter as having been sent incorrectly... right up until the mention of Berasmus and Rayne. Immediately, her eyes dropped to the signature and her eyes widened. Bits and pieces of the letter began to jump out at her and she realized the letter was truly intended for her. She couldn't count the times she'd scolded Beryl in the past, though they'd all ended with the same, "Yes, mother," sort of response from Beryl.
So if Jana was 'mom', that made Nic 'dad'. The next word that caught her eye was 'yesterday' and her eyes narrowed as she recalled the circumstances surrounding Nic's death. She scanned the date on the letter and her rage began to build. Reibe had flat-out lied to her... had even concealed the truth. And what for? Nothing! Resisting the urge to drop the letter and find Reibe for a punch-out, Jana continued reading.
The letter seemed a little disjointed, but after reading it through a few times (gritting her teeth in irritation every time she came to the vague suggestion that Nic's death had not been so long ago as she'd been led to believe), she decided she finally understood its meaning.
Beryl was on Carida. She was scared. She was planning an escape. And Jana's birthday was no more than three days away. There had once been a time when Jana would have gone first to Reibe with this news, but she was frustrated with the mysterious woman enough that she would not go to her now.
After just a moment's hesitation, she knocked on the door before her... Jeez's door.
Carida Academy—Dining Hall--1205hrs
A dinner tray in hand, Beryl sat down at an empty table. She had about a half and hour to eat before she had to the Officer Candidate Complex. Her meal was light—salad and some grilled nuna--as the increased gravity of the planet made the uphill hike to the OCC difficult.
As she looked out the window, she could see a squadron of TIEs coming into land in the hanger, obviously coming home from a training exercise. She sighed. Training exercises. That’s what she would be doing after lunch. Take her meds, then get taught more Imperial propaganda and protocol, and then a training exercise. Some days it was a 20km hike with full combat gear. Other times, it was an obstacle course, or target shooting, or combat readiness drills. And every once in a while, it would be a live fire exercise. Beryl hated those. Someone always died.
As she pushed her food around in circles on her plate, her thoughts began to drift….
Donned in protective armor, but only covering the chest, upper arms and thighs, Beryl moved out with the rest of her squad to the exercise field’s entry point. It was a large outdoor area, made up to look like a typical urban city, with plenty of nooks and crannies for ambushes. The ‘live’ targets that the Drill Instructor had mentioned were indeed that—live. Mostly prisoners on a death mark, they were desperate and had no qualms about killing anyone. A few were rumoured to have actually escaped the confines of the base, but Beryl knew that this wasn’t true. It was only to give their targets hope and keep them ‘lively’.
She skirted around the buildings, taking care to use the Force as she felt out for lifesigns. Usually she would locate one of the ‘live-ees’ (as the cadets called the prisoners) that was acting as a watchman or there to set up an ambush. Either way, Beryl would still wait until they shot first before killing them. That way, she at least felt that she had given them a chance.
One such solitary lifeform was just up ahead, hiding in an alcove of one of the buildings. She crept up slowly, careful to mask her steps and not make a sound, until…
“Hands up,” she said, as she peered out around the corner of the wall. Her finger on the trigger, she was ready to fire upon her target the moment they fired upon her. Only they didn’t fire.
“Beryl? Beryl, is that you?”
She lowered her weapon slightly. “Yeah….” She poked her head around the corner a bit more so she could see her target’s face. And then her brow creased. “Nic?”
“In the flesh,” he said, giving her a cheesy grin as he eyed her over. “Body armor, huh? Thought you guys were supposed to be ‘tough’.”
“Thought you guys were supposed to be ruthless,” Beryl replied. She moved in closer to him. “So, you haven't managed to escape yet?"
"Look who's talking."
“Ha ha, very funny.” She looked over her shoulder. “Look, if you do manage to escape, you should head for the Synergy Cantina. We’re restricted from going there, but I’ve heard that it’s because it’s run by a local crime boss. Strange that they allow him to operate so close to a training base, but….”
Nic nodded. “Yeah, well, stranger things have happened. So, you gonna shoot me now or later?”
“Huh?” Then she realised she was still pointing her weapon at him. “Oh. Sorry.” She lowered her blaster rifle. “No, I wasn’t planning on shooting you.”
An awkward moment of silence passed between them, but finally Nic said, “So, last I saw you, you and my brother seemed to be getting pretty close."
"Do you have to bring that up now?” Beryl sighed. “Look, I did what I did to protect you from getting tortured on the way here. It didn’t mean anything. It was all an act."
"Well, you're a great actress!"
“Oh? And what was I supposed to do? Watch Kriss torture you over and over again?” She shook her head. “I couldn’t bear it.”
“Oh, so you couldn’t watch me get hurt, but you could let me watch you sleep with my brother,” Nic said cynically. “I see.”
“I told you it didn’t mean anything! It was all an act.”
“Oh, Kriss! Oh, Kriss!” Nic mocked in a high-pitched voice. “That was all for my benefit, huh? As an act?”
“Look, what do you want from me?! I said I was sorry!” Beryl snapped. “I did it for you, okay? I didn’t want to see you tortured and hurt! You had to have known I didn’t have any feelings for your brother. I only did it because I l…!”
“What’s going on over there?!”
It was the voice of her Drill Instructor. Beryl’s face went ashen. Her eyes darted about the area, and then, coming up with an idea, she aimed her weapon and fired.
“Oww!” Nic fell to the ground, clutching a spot on his upper leg. “What is it with you Corellian women and your leg directed sadisim!”
“Sorry,” Beryl whispered, her weapon still focused on him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Quitaan!” the Drill Instructor yelled at her as he approached them. “I don’t recall taking prisoners as part of the mission briefing!” He began to count off on his fingers. “It was number one, infiltrate. Number two, locate. And number three, dee-stroy!” He moved closer to her. “So what the hell do you think you’re doing by not killing this target, Quitaan?”
“Interrogating the prisoner to find out where their stronghold is, sir! ‘A dead man cannot be interrogated’, sir! Section Four, Paragraph 8, Sub-paragraph 1 of the ‘Imperial Military Guidelines for Covert Operations and Intelligence Gathering’, sir!”
“Oh, is that right?” The DI gave her a hard stare. “You know, I’m sick and tired of you quoting damned regulations to me, Quitaan. I don’t care if your brother is the kriffin’ Emperor, you do what I say, when I say it! You understand?!”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Now you kill that kriffin son of a gundark in front of you, right now!” He pointed at Nic.
But Beryl pointed her weapon at the DI.
“Sir, yes, sir,” she said in a very sinister tone. And then she fired. The DI was killed instantly--with a shot right between his eyes.
“Oops,” she said deadpan. “Another live fire mishap. How tragic.” She looked at Nic. “You’d better get going, or at least go and hide, before any others in my squad come to see what’s happened.”
“You shot me in the leg,” Nic said as he struggled to his feet.
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“You. Shot. Me. In. The. Leg.”
Beryl raised her brow with indignation. “I'm sorry! At least yours is only a flesh wound. I shot him in the head, okay?”
“Gimme your rifle.”
“Give. Me. Your. Rifle.”
“I. Heard. What. You. Said,” said Beryl, frowning suspiciously. “Why?”
“They'll court martial and execute you if they think you killed your sergeant. If it's me, they'll just throw me in solitary for a few weeks!"
Beryl started to give him the rifle, but then hesitated.
"Beryl, now!" Nic beckoned with his hand.
“No…. I can’t. I'll be in more trouble if I lose my rifle.” She looked down at the dead DI. “They won’t test the bolt to see where it came from anyway. He’s an enlisted man. Here,” she knelt down and extracted the DI’s own gun—a DC-15S blaster carbine, “you want a gun, take his. Oh, by the way, I sent Betsy and her sharp and pointy friend to visit my brother. He’ll look after them until….” She shrugged. “Just until.”
She tossed him the pistol, and then began to back away, careful to mirror her footsteps she had made on the way in to the alcove. She had only gone a few meters when she heard a loud, screaming whistle. She looked up just in time to see some sort of missile falling from the sky and heading directly to the building she had just exited. “Nic!” she screamed out a warning, and then everything had gone dark as the concussion wave hit her.
Beryl was jarred from her thoughts. “Huh?”
“I said, ‘who’s Nic?’” Captain Aiken repeated as he casually pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. "Or are you trying to hide that you have another 'special friend' beside me on this base?"
Beryl gave him a quick grin. “Old friend, sir,” she said to Aiken. “He… he died, sir.”
“Oh. Clone Wars?” Aiken asked, as he prepared to start eating his meal.
Beryl paused for a moment. “Yes, sir. Clone Wars,” she lied. She gave Aiken a smile. The dark-haired Flight Evaluator was her ticket out of this place, but he seemed resistant to Force persuasion, so it behooved her to play ‘nice’ with him. “So, any plans for tomorrow, sir?” she asked him.
Removing his outer cloak, Jeez brought it up next to his nose and breathed in deep. Well, its not too bad. Still, it could use a good wash, Jeez thought to himself. Removing the rest of the upper robes that he wore, Jeez brought his clothes over to the refresher. Reaching behind him, Jeez used the Force to remove a bottle of cleaning agent from his bag, and it quickly snapped to his hand. Catching it, Jeez then brought it around and mixed a couple drops of the agent with the water that was running from the faucet.
Swirling the clothes around in the refresher, Jeez picked up the familiar smell of the cleaning agent, and it caused his mind to drift as memories began to flood his mind. He remembered the first time he had smelled the agent, and he remembered watching Ryshana use it to wash a set of her clothes a long time ago. He had adopted the use of the agent rather begrudgingly at the time because he didn't really like the smell. It was a bit too flowery to his liking. Ironically, Jeez now couldn't give up the use of the agent: the smell helped him to remember the little things about Ryshana.
Pushing some of the thoughts from his mind, Jeez began to concentrate on the Force as he continued to scrub the robes almost absently. Almost immediately, Jeez seemed to be swept away as a multitude of images flooded his mind. Feeling himself, Jeez concentrated on the part of him that had died along with Ryshana. Memories of her quickly flooded his mind, and Jeez could feel the coldness of the Darkside as he probed it.
As he pressed further, Jeez could see the vision of the woman under the burning wreckage, and Jeez recognized Ryshana's voice crying for help. Then, the image shifted, and Jeez could see the blaster bolt moving in slow motion as it connected with Ryshana's head. As the bolt connected, Jeez could only watch in pain as the bolt slowly began to burn through her soft skin and moved inside of her skull. Finally, Jeez was overwhelmed with a wave of cold darkness as he felt her die once again.
In the darkness, Jeez clutched himself as the coldness quickly began to numb him to the bone. Then, off in the distance, Jeez could hear someone crying. Almost instantly, Jeez recognized Ryshana's voice as she sobbed and moaned in pain. Frustration began to mount for Jeez, however, as he frantically looked around in the darkness and saw nothing.
"And what will you do now, I wonder," a man stated behind him. Turning around in an instant, Jeez saw Admiral Quitaan in full Imperial Dress standing before him. "She's dead you know."
"You killed her," Jeez stated as he glared at the Admiral. Hatred quickly began to well inside of Jeez as he looked intently at the man.
"And so I did. I was only doing what I had to do, but I don't suppose that you would understand since you don't know any of your brothers or sisters," Admiral Quitaan replied as he stood there with his hands behind his back. Off in the distance, Jeez could hear the moans grow louder ever so gradually.
"But I can hear her. She's not dead," Jeez commented as he started to feel the warmth of hope swell into him.
Looking around as if he was trying to hear something, the Admiral then replied, "I don't hear anything. Besides, how can you hear her if she's dead? I know that she's dead because I killed her, and I know that dead people don't say anything."
At the phrase, "because I killed her", Jeez shuddered as he felt the Darkside tingle in a slight wave of cold across his back. Looking down away from Admiral Quitaan, Jeez then saw a small blaster pistol sitting on the ground. Using the Force, Jeez snatched the blaster straight to his hand. Studying the pistol, Jeez then looked back over at Admiral Quitaan. Feeling the cold swirl across him, Jeez leveled the pistol at the Admiral.
Smiling, the Admiral then said, "So you'll kill me now? Well, isn't this interesting. You let me live last time."
"What's the difference? You deserve to die," Jeez stated as he sighted the Admiral's head in the sights of the pistol.
"Oh really? Just a minute ago, you told me that she was still alive even though I couldn't hear her," the Admiral commented. "You'll kill me even though she's alive. That's interesting."
"But you just said that she'd dead," Jeez replied.
"And you just said that she's alive, but now you think she's dead? You Jedi never could get your bearings straight. I'll tell you what, go ahead and kill me. You might be confused, but I'm not: Ryshana is dead because I killed her. You have every right to kill me," Admiral Quitaan said.
Jeez hesitated. Off in the distance, he could still hear Ryshana crying for help, but her voice was starting to grow ever distant. His aim wavered as he lost concentration, and he quickly steadied the weapon as he aimed it.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Jedi? I'm right here. Your vengeance is just a trigger pull away. A simple pull of the trigger, and you can rest easy in knowing that her death was avenged," the Admiral stated calmly.
Trying to concentrate, Jeez's mind raced as he tried to understand. In the distance, Ryshana's cries continued, but yet, Jeez knew that she was dead. How could he not take the chance to avenge her when he was standing right there? Then again, how could one avenge an action that had not taken place? Jeez struggled to comprehend, and his mind raced as he tried to make a decision. Trying to focus, Jeez noticed that the pistol had drifted away, and Jeez then quickly sighted the pistol yet again.
Looking into the Admiral's eyes, Jeez tried to understand. Finally, Jeez decided to go ahead and make a decision. In an instant, the pistol fell from Jeez's grip and clattered on the ground. Around him, Jeez could feel the icy grip of the Darkside ebbing away, and the image of the Admiral began to fade. "You had your chance, Jedi, but now you only show your weakness," the Admiral stated as he slowly disappeared.
"No, my mercy only reveals my strength," Jeez replied as he glared into the Admiral's eyes. Finally, the Admiral disappeared, and Jeez could see Ryshana standing behind where the Admiral had once stood. Seeing her, Jeez's demeanor changed in an instant, and he looked on her with despairing eyes.
"There you are. I've been looking for you," Ryshana said as she looked into Jeez's eyes. "Don't worry, Jeez. I've been your strength before, and I will be your strength even now. Push the death and darkness away, and I will always be there to strengthen you even in your most dire hour."
Closing his eyes, Jeez could finally feel the dead part of him drift away to be replaced with the familiar warmth that had been there whenever Ryshana was alive. Lifting his head up, Jeez then opened his eyes to catch another glimpse of Ryshana.
In front of him, Jeez only saw his own reflection in the mirror of the small guest room. Feeling the wetness in his hands, Jeez looked down and realized that he was still scrubbing his robes clean. Sighing to himself, Jeez just shook his head. Closing his eyes to concentrate a bit, Jeez tried to feel the dead part that had been with him, but he found that it was no longer there. Instead, Jeez could once again feel the warmth that had been there before. Opening his eyes, Jeez realized that the bond that he had shared with Ryshana was there once again.
Smiling, Jeez finished the scrubbing and began to wring the robes dry. Feeling something, Jeez turned his head towards the door and felt outside the door only to feel Jana's presence. Well, this should be interesting, Jeez thought to himself. Draping his robes over the chair by the desk, Jeez heard a knock at the door. As he was turned away from the door, Jeez just reached behind him and used the Force to activate the button that opened the door.
With a swish, the door opened, and Jana was greeted to a view of Jeez without a shirt. His well developed and defined body was hardly and indicator of his age. Seeing Jana, Jeez then said, "Ahh, my dearest Captain. What can I do for you?"
Nic was once again inside the same Cantina as he had been in so many times before in the past week, still waiting for the same person. He sat in the same seat, drinking the same drink and watching the door as he always did.
His mind often wondered when he did this, mostly to the last few times he saw Beryl and occasionally to the rest of his crew. What was dwelling on his mind now was the when he was a captive on the Reaper and Beryl came to visit him…
The door to the cell opened, and Beryl stepped in. She was dressed in the black uniform of an Imperial naval officer, although with an absence of rank insignia or code cylinders.
“Thank you,” she said to the guard. But when the guard failed to leave the room, she added, “I was told I could speak with him alone. I’ll call you if I need any assistance.”
Reluctantly, and with a suspicious glare, the guard left, and Beryl was alone in the room with the hooded prisoner. His hands were suspended up above him, and he wasn’t moving. With a concerned crease on her brow, Beryl pushed the switch that disabled the energy binders holding his arms upright. As Nic’s body collapsed to the floor, she moved in towards him.
“Nic?” she called out softly to him. When he didn’t answer, she knelt down beside him and carefully removed the hood from his head. She gasped as she saw the bruises on his face, and then she winced herself as she tried to fend off the effects of the neural collar hidden under the collar of her shirt.
“Nic? Nic?” Beryl whispered softly into his ear. “Nic, it’s me—Beryl.” She gave him a gentle caress down the side of his face, mindful of the multiple bruises, and as Nic’s eyes slowly opened, she smiled at him. “Hi.”
“Beryl?” Nic blinked.
“Yeah, it’s me,” she said to him. She gave him a worried look as she surveyed his wounds and bruises and marks from the shock stick. “You okay? You look terrible.”
“Thanks,” Nic said. “It only hurts when I laugh.” He chuckled, and then winced in pain.
“Nic, what happened? How did you get here?” Beryl wanted to know.
“Me being duped again, as usual.”
“What about the others? Jana? Cloud?”
“Dunno.” He shrugged. “But Oliver’s dead.”
“Oh.” Beryl paused a beat. “So, is Ryshana.” She bit her lip, pausing as if she needed time for the information to sink in as well. “My brother killed her,” she disclosed. “Shot her in the head while we were waiting to be picked up from the prison. Anyway, nothing we can do about that now. At least you’re okay.” She again surveyed his battered body. “Sort of,” she added with a weak grin.
“Beryl, what are you doing here?” Nic asked. “And why are you wearing that…that…?” He gave a quick nod as he flicked his eyes over her.
“Uniform?” she offered. “Well, I got tired of the carefree lifestyle of a being on a freelance freighter and thought I’d swap it for a life of harsh discipline and order as an officer candidate,” she said deadpan, and then she gave him a crooked smile. “What do you think? Same as you, I got captured.”
Nic let out a doleful sigh. “Oh Beryl….”
“I know, I know… black isn’t really my color,” she said, avoiding his gaze by looking down again at her uniform. “At least this fits me better than the prison standard one-size-fits-all drab-gray gear.” She tried to smile, but it faded quickly. “Berasmus is sending me to Carida, forcing me to make good on my ‘so-called enlistment’ that I ditched out on a while back. He’s here on this ship. Well, was here, until he placed me in custodial custody,” she added quietly.
“I know. I met him.”
“You met him? Really?” She paused a moment as if trying to figure out it that was good or bad. “I couldn’t do anything to stop him Nic. Me, Ryshana, Jeez, Sam, and Conn—we were all under cover in the hanger bay, waiting for the Echo when my brother showed up. Said he wanted to talk, negotiate. Ryshana believed him.” She snorted ruefully. “She shouldn’t have. He killed her—completely dishonourably, too. Shot her in the head without fair warning and under a guise of truce—and there wasn’t a damn thing Jeez or I could do about it.”
“Ryshana’s husband. He’s a Jedi.” When Nic’s brows raised in bewilderment, she added, “Yeah, that kind a threw me for a loop, too.” She sat herself down on the floor next to him. “Kriffin’ Jedi… you think you’ve got them figured out and then… bam! Something weird happens and makes you rethink your entire opinion of them.”
“So, how’s that going? Your new… erm, hobby.”
“Gave it up,” Beryl said with all seriousness. “Too risky and….” She lowered the corner of her shirt collar to reveal the neural collar. “Well, with my new jewellery, it’s just not very fun anymore.”
Nic nodded. “Listen to me, Beryl. You need to get yourself out of here. Don’t worry about me. Just do what you have to do and get off this ship.”
“I can’t, Nic.”
“You have to.”
“I can’t. I… made a promise.” She looked away from him. “But it’s going to be alright. Captain Raikelli said so.”
“You’ve met the Captain?” Nic’s face went ashen. “Stay away from him, Beryl. He’ll hurt you. He’ll hurt you in order to hurt me.”
Beryl frowned a bit. “Really? He seemed… well,… nice. For a rigid rule-following Imp, that is,” she added. “He’s the one who let me see you.”
“Well, he’s not nice, and he can and will hurt you,” Nic said. “Stay away from him. As far away as you can.”
“He can’t hurt me,” Beryl said, her eyes meeting his once again. “He’s under orders from my brother to deliver me to Carida ‘in good health.’”
"Look I know him. He doesn't care who your brother is. He is driven by a lust for revenge against me.”
"He can't hurt me." She gave him a reassuring grin. "It' s not just my brother he has to worry about. He's an Imperial officer and orders are orders."
"This doesn't matter to him.... Look, Captain Kriss Raikelli is my brother. I know him very, very well. When he's determined to do something nothing, nothing can stop him!"
"Your... brother?" Beryl gave Nic a critical look, taking in his multiple injuries. "Your brother did this to you?" She donned a worried frown. Even Berasmus, as angry as he was at her, hadn’t beaten her. "Why?"
"I... It's complicated, all you have to know is if he even suspects you have any feelings for me he'll manipulate it."
Beryl swallowed hard. "He already knows. Berasmus told him that I had a ‘special interest’ in you. I told him it was because you’re my captain, but….” She shrugged. “My brother’s assigned Captain Raikelli to be my ‘custodial officer’. My quarters are right next door to his. I can’t exactly stay away from….”
The door opened and an Imperial medic strode in, a medical kit in his hands.
“I’ve got to go, Nic,” Beryl said. “The medic is going to take care of your wounds. You’ll still be bound, but hopefully, you’ll feel a bit better. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see you again, but….” She leaned in, giving him a light kiss on the lips, again mindful not to cause him any pain from his bruises. “It’ll be okay,” she whispered into his ear. “We’ll get through this, Nic. You’ll see.”
Officer Candidate Complex—1305 hrs
Beryl stood in formation with the rest of her squad waiting for her turn to be called up to the med station. Not all of the cadets in the Re-education Program required daily meds, just those who had been classified as 'resistant' to training--which basically meant those few who had been pressed into service against their will because of a certain skill they possessed that the Empire needed. Beryl, being an experienced pilot, had one of those skills. Some of the others in her squad were aerospace engineers, computer programmers, electro-mechanical designers, and even an architect.
Finally it was her turn. She walked up to the med station, inserted her key card into the slot, and then stuck her arm into the automated holder. A clamp came down on her wrist, holding her arm still while a medical droid shot her up with a cocktail of different psychotropic medications.
Beryl felt the rush that always came with the injections. Disorienting and frightening at first, now it was almost akin to pleasure. Still, she closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the Force, trying to fight off the effect of the drugs as well as accelerate her metabolism to get them out of her system faster.
After the injections, the next stop today was to see her "training adviser", Dr. Ferrana. He was a middle-aged man, slightly balding, slightly pudgy, and definitely a slimeball. In a way, he sort of reminded Beryl of Dr. Twerna, the psycho-doctor that had implanted Jeez and Ryshana with those horrible control ports in their heads, and Beryl often wondered if they had known each other.
"Good afternoon!" Dr. Ferrana greeted her. "And how are we today?"
Beryl hated that. 'We'. How are 'we' today. He always said that, and Beryl always had to bite her tongue, because what she really wanted to say, "I don't know about you, Doc, but 'I' am fine today." But she never did. If she wanted to escape, the worst thing that she could do was be rude.
"I'm fine, thank you, sir," she said politely.
He motioned for her to have a seat in one of the two chairs that were in the small examination room. She sat down, and the doctor began to apply self-sticking sensor pads to her temples, wrists, neck and upper back. That done, the doctor tapped a couple of switches on the datapad and a console on the wall began to display Beryl’s vital signs.
"Pulse 55, Respiration 12, BP 120/80, Beta waves rhythmic at 13.. . Any headaches?"
"No, sir." The doctor ticked something on the datapad.
"Palpitations? Shortness of breath?”
"No, sir." Again, he ticked something on his datapad.
“No, sir.” Another box ticked.
Beryl paused. "Not as often, sir,” she said more slowly.
“Ah.” Dr. Ferrana wrote something on the datapad, checked her vitals again, and then sat down in the chair across from her. “So, Beryl,” he started. He had always called her by her first name--to establish a good rapport and strong doctor/patient relationship, he had told her. But even after seeing him nearly every day for two months, Beryl still wasn’t sure what kind of ‘doctor’ he was. She thought he had been a psychologist as first, but as time went on she wasn’t quite as sure. “Tell me about your dreams?”
“It’s the same one, sir.”
“The one with your friend who died?” Ferrana asked. “Ryshana?”
“Yes, sir,” Beryl answered. Even though she used the Force to concentrate through the haze of the drugs that were circulating in her system, the medications had always made it difficult for her not to tell him anything but the truth. Since Nic had died though, she had just about stopped resisting. “She was trying to tell me something, but she was too far away. I couldn’t hear her, sir.”
Again, something was scribbled on the doctor’s datapad. “And what happened next in your dream?”
“I tried to move towards her, sir. But the harder I tried, the further away from me she went.”
“Ah-ha,” Doctor Ferrana grunted, and scribbled something on his datapad. “And how did this make you feel?”
Again, he scribbled again on his datapad. “Yes. What sort of emotions were you experiencing in your dream? Were you angry that your friend couldn’t hear you? Upset?”
More scribbles. “You sound unsure.”
Beryl closed her eyes for a moment trying to concentrate on the question while also concentrating on fighting the effects of the medications. “Actually, sir, I can’t really recall feeling anything.”
More scribbles. “Well, Beryl, you’re progressing through the program nicely, but I’m slightly concerned about your lack of socialization.”
“Your dreams indicate that you’re feeling alone, isolated, maybe even slightly depressed. You need to socialize more with your fellow cadets. Eat a meal together. Go to a party. Have a long chat. You have two leave days starting tomorrow.”
Dr. Ferrana smiled. “Go and make some new friends.”
“Yes, sir.” Socializing… she already had that covered. She had arranged a ‘flight’ date with Captain Aiken for the next day.
The doctor called the next cadet in, and dismissed her to her Imperial Theory class.
Jana had definitely not been expecting Jeez to be shirtless and with her present state of mental confusion, the sight nearly sent her over the top. "I-I-I..." she stammered, blinking furiously in an attempt to regather her thoughts. Then, she felt the datapad in her hand and everything came back into focus.
"Beryl contacted me," she announced. "And I... well, I'm intent on going to help her, but I want another perspective on the issue." She held out the datapad with Beryl's letter on it. "She asked me to read between the lines..." she offered, hoping the suggestion was helpful to the Jedi.
Seeing Jana in a bit of confusion, it finally dawned on Jeez that it was a bit much for her to see him without his shirt. "My apologies, Captain," Jeez stated in reference to his shirtless condition. Reaching into his bag, Jeez quickly found a fairly ragged white long sleeved shirt and slipped into it. It was loose fitting all around, but at least it covered him up.
As Jana offered him the datapad, Jeez just nodded as he reached out and took the datapad from her. Reading the datapad, Jeez's mind quickly drifted in Beryl's direction. Surprisingly, Jeez felt that he had almost instantly connected to the Force, and he sensed the familiar presence of his wife. As he finished reading the datapad, Jeez set the datapad down and closed his eyes.
"There she is, Jeez," Ryshana's voice stated inside of his head. "On Carida."
His thoughts quickly shifted to the strongly loyal Imperial system. On the planet, Jeez could sense Beryl. She seemed to be drifting away from him, and he could feel darkness swirling around her.
Opening his eyes, Jeez just looked down aimlessly on the floor.
"Jeez?" Jana stated.
Bringing his eyes back up to Jana, Jeez offered the datapad back to Jana. "Well, it is Beryl all right. Its supposed to be a message to you, from what I can tell. She's on Carida, but I'm afraid that it might already be too late. I sense much confusion coming from her, and the Darkside swirls around Beryl. I can't tell if she's turned, but my guess is that she's being influenced a great deal in the wrong direction," Jeez commented as he considered it for himself.
Before Jana could say something, Jeez looked her dead in the eyes and said, "We need to help her. Whatever it takes, I sense that it is absolutely imperative that we help her now before she turns to the Darkside."
Pausing for a moment, Jeez then asked, "You haven't given this information to Riebe, have you?"
"Hah, beat you again, Harlowe!" Beryl Quitaan exclaimed as she laid down her cards on the table, displaying the Ace of Staves and the Eight of Flasks. Pure Sabacc. "You owe me dinner for a week!"
Dr. Conway Harlowe grimaced as he looked down at his cards. The Two of Coins and the Three of Sabres, nowhere near the value of twenty-three that he needed to split the pot with Beryl. "Maybe," he grudgingly replied. He had one last chance to beat her hand, but the chances of that were astronomical, since The Idiot card had not come up at all the entire game. He didn't like his odds, and he couldn't really ignore them because, unlike Beryl, he wasn't Corellian. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He reached tentatively into the neutralization field for his last draw, fully expecting to find nothing of use. It was only after he'd settled the card next to his other two that he realized he'd beaten the odds. "Maybe not," he continued, keeping his voice level as he laid his cards carefully down on the table, revealing the smiling face of The Idiot card last and completing the Idiot's Array, the only hand capable of beating Pure Sabacc.
Beryl's smile immediately dropped off her face to be replaced with a rather sullen look. "You have got to be kidding me," she groaned as she stared at Conn's cards. "How in the Nine Hells did you hit the Idiot?"
Conn couldn't help grinning. "I guess it takes one to get one?"
"Must be," Beryl said as she gathered up the cards in disgust. "Man, I can't believe I owe you now."
"You've always owed me," Conn replied, taking a swig of Corellian brandy from his glass. "I'm the doctor, you're the constantly-banged up test jockey, remember?"
"Yeah yeah yeah," the blonde pilot conceded, deactivating the neutralization field and stowing away the sabacc deck. "Bloody doctors," she muttered.
Conn chuckled, but carefully studied Beryl's expression. It had been two full months since her fiancé’s tragic death and Conn wanted to be sure that his friend was holding up well. The circumstances surrounding Dr. Gareth Harker's demise were most bizarre and it had taken Beryl quite some time to come to grips with the situation. Conn caught just a little bit of pain behind her 'bloody doctors' comment and guessed that Gareth's death still weighed heavily on her mind. He was about to exert a little Zeltron magic to make her feel better when he noticed an oddly-shaped piece of metal sticking out of the collar of her blouse. "Hey, what's that?" he asked, leveling a finger at it.
Beryl looked down at where Conn was pointing. "Oh, this," she said, pulling out the scrap of metal hanging from a chain around her neck. She held it up for Conn to see. "You know what this is."
It took Conn a few seconds to realize what it was. "Oh," he said, feeling somewhat sheepish. The bit of shrapnel was twisted into a rough approximation of a heart. Conn had given it to Beryl after their very first meeting, when he had to extract it from her chest (along with several other pieces) following a particularly hellacious accident that had seen another fiancé of hers killed. It had seemed like a silly, spur-of-the-moment gesture, so Conn was particularly surprised to find out that she had kept it after all this time. "You still have that?"
"Well, yeah," Beryl replied. "It's my good luck charm. I haven't gotten into any serious accidents since you gave it to me." She gave him a small smile. "It's like you were watching over me."
Conn felt his face redden. "Well, you have gotten better at bringing prototypes back unscathed," he mused. "Maybe it does work."
“Maybe,” she agreed, though she sounded distant. A rush of sadness and melancholy rolled off of her. “Too bad that luck doesn’t extend to my fiancés, eh?” Her voice broke just a little bit.
Conn was about to say something comforting, but just then, the opening lyrics of Annadale Fayde's song "Emotional Hostages" started playing over the club's speaker system. As Fayde crooned her sultry tune, Conn had an idea. He stood up, then reached over, grabbed Beryl’s hand and hauled her up as well. “C’mon,” he said, pulling her towards the dance floor.
“Conn?” Beryl started, surprised by the doctor’s sudden actions. “What are you doing?”
“Being your doctor and looking out for your well-being,” he replied, twirling her around to face him. He put her left arm on his right shoulder and gripped her free hand with his, then started moving to the music. “B, I’m tired of you being all morose. It’s not like you. Call me insensitive or what not, but you need to move on with your life. You can’t go on like this.”
He paused and waited for her response. This was the first time he’d actively confronted her regarding her fiancé Gareth’s death. After he had died from a fatal anaphylactic reaction to a dinner course he and Beryl had shared, she had closed herself off to the outside world for a while. She came to work and did her job, but did not socialize, only speaking when necessary and in general being a shell of the person she once was. It was only in the past week that Conn had been able to re-awaken some of the old Beryl, the spunky Corellian he had befriended following their first fateful meeting.
She looked at him with her wide, vividly blue eyes, their corners already moist. For a moment, Conn thought she would slap him and storm off, but as Fayde launched into the chorus, Beryl closed her eyes and buried her face into his shoulder. Conn breathed a sigh of relief and stroked the back of her head as they danced slowly.
Later that night, they sat next to each other on the pier overlooking Coromon Beach. Beryl hugged her legs tightly to her chest as she leaned on Conn’s shoulder. After a few tranquil moments, she spoke. “Thanks, Conn.”
“Anytime, B,” Conn responded, a satisfied smile on his face. “You know I care for you, so I couldn’t stand to see you put yourself through that.”
Beryl nodded. “I know,” she said quietly. “Sometimes I think you care too much.”
Conn stiffened slightly. Do I care too much? he thought to himself. After a few moments’ contemplation, he decided he did. “And what if I do?” he asked, keeping his voice level.
It was Beryl’s turn to stiffen. Conn was a wonderful friend, but did she risk returning his feelings and potentially dooming him? She fought with herself for a few minutes and lifted her head off his shoulder and gazed out into the horizon.
Conn tilted his head toward her, studying her expression but saying nothing.
Beryl bit her lip and was quiet for a while. When she finally spoke, her voice was subdued. “Well, if you are, then I guess you’ll be needing this.” She reached under her collar and pulled the chain up over her head and dangled it towards Conn. At his confused expression, she chuckled and said, “Hey buddy, you’re going to need all the luck you can get.”
“Oh,” Conn said, realizing what she meant. He tentatively reached out and took the chain, running his fingers over the small shrapnel piece. He studied it for a few more seconds, then slipped it over his head and tucked it under his shirt.
Beryl smiled and leaned her head back into his shoulder.
Conn opened his eyes slowly. The bright streaks of stars whizzing past the front viewport greeted him. He shook his head in an attempt to rouse himself, then checked the chrono on the console. He’d only dozed off for about half an hour, reliving a happy memory. Sighing, he leaned back into his chair and pulled the shrapnel heart from under his shirt, sighing nostalgically.
Officer Candidate Complex--1540hrs
For the past two hours Beryl had been enduring Imperial Theory class—listening to Imperial propaganda and then discussing how to implement the ideas into their daily lives. With the lectures being given under the full effect of the psychotropic drugs, Beryl was beginning to doubt her own thought processes. She feared she was starting to think like an Imperial.
The Academy kept the re-ed cadets pretty busy at all times, (as that made them have less time to think about anything other than their training,) but after the Theory class, they were always given a short half-hour break in a special re-ed lounge before they started their additional duties. Contemplation time it was called called—a time to reflect and allow the theory lesson to be ‘absorbed’ more thoroughly. As usual, Beryl took a seat on the couch by the window that overlooked the hanger bays and landing pads. Normally she just watched the fighters and ships taking off and landing while she tried to focus in on the Force to try to clear her head of all the lies and half-truths. But today, that was not to be.
“Hi.” Cadet Straden, one of her fellow re-ed cadets, came and sat down next to her on the couch. “So, how are you doing?” he asked in a quiet and unassuming voice.
Beryl turned her head to look at him. “How am I doing?” she repeated his question.
“Yeah,” Straden said, nodding. “How are you doing? That was a pretty intense class we just had. I just wondered what you thought about it.”
“I voiced my thoughts in discussion group,” Beryl replied.
“Yes, but…” He looked warily over his shoulder to where the other cadets in their class were either sitting in meditation, or were engaged in quiet conversations in groups of two or three. “C’mon,” he said, his voice lowering to a whisper. “What I mean is, I know that you, like me, don’t believe all the things they tell us in that class. Like, how the former Separatist worlds are welcoming the Empire’s help in rebuilding their societal infrastructures’?” He flashed a doubtful grimace. “Please.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Beryl replied enigmatically. She wasn’t exactly sure where Straden was going with this conversation, but she did wonder why he was taking a huge risk in being so outspoken, especially in a room she knew was monitored by Dr. Ferrana.
“I guess.” Straden was silent for a moment. “Hey, can I tell you something?”
“When I first came here, there was no way that I would have thought that the Empire’s goals were for everyone’s benefit. I wasn't just a bio-chemical engineer, you know. I used to volunteer as a relief worker for a charity in my spare time. Maybe you’ve heard of it--The Hydian Relief Fund?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“I saw firsthand the effects of the forced relocations, the curfews, the embargos—starving, displaced peoples with no direction, no goals and no hope. It was horrible.”
As a former blockade runner, Beryl had seen ‘horrors’ firsthand, too. “I can imagine.”
“So, when my company was taken over by the Empire and I was ‘selected’ for Imperial service,” Straden continued, “I fought tooth and nail against it. But now…” He paused a beat. “Now, I’m thinking that perhaps the Emperor is right. Maybe it is better to force someone to do something, if it’s in his or her best interest, you know? Like, a parent making a child eat vegetables because they are nutritious, even though the kid hates them. The Empire is like the parent, making rules and keeping us safe, and we are the children, learning and growing into productive members of society. Eating our greens, so to speak.” Straden raised an inquiring brow. “You know, you still haven’t answered my question. How are you doing?”
Beryl thought for a moment. “Fine.”
Straden looked over his shoulder again. “The one thing I don’t like about this place though are the meds. They make me feel kind of sleepy afterwards. Which isn’t much fun when you’re additional duty is auditing payment accounts.” He let out a bored sigh. “When do you think they’ll start easing up on the dosages?”
“I guess when they feel that we’ve eaten enough of our greens,” Beryl replied dryly.
Straden chuckled. “Good one.” He gave her a curious look then. “You know, I can’t figure out why Dr. Ferrana was worried about you. You seem fine to me.”
At his remark, Beryl cautiously raised her right brow. “Why would he be worried?”
“He thought you might be experiencing some depression—you know, side effects from the meds? He asked me if I could check on you. See if you were okay.”
Beryl snorted with mild amusement. “So, you were spying on me?”
Strader thought a moment, and then nodded tentatively. “Yeah…I guess I was. Anyway,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “What are you doing tomorrow? A few of us are going to go into the city to have a meal. Escorted by Major Gant, of course, but still… into the city. You want to join us?”
You need to socialise more with your fellow cadets. Eat a meal together. Go to a party. Have a long chat. The words of Dr. Ferrana practically screamed at her. “No, thank you,” Beryl answered politely. “I’ve already got other plans.”
“If you must know, I have a date,” Beryl clarified and she flashed a sort of sardonic-looking grin. “And, before you ask, no--it’s no one you know, and no, it’s not a student, and no, they’re not enlisted, so no, it’s not fraternization.”
Straden grinned. “Fair enough,” he said. He rose from the couch. “But the offer’s still open if you change your mind. We’ll be leaving the dorms at about 1130.” He rose from his seat. “See ‘ya around.”
“Yeah, see ‘ya.” Beryl looked at her chrono. She had to leave now if she was going to make it to her duty station at the library on time. So much for meditation. She’d have to do it tonight when she got back to her dorm.
She headed for the library, which was in the middle of the main Academic Complex. Her ‘additional duty’ consisted of logging in new data packages and materials, and then filing and classifying them into appropriate categories. It was an easy job, and it only took her about 15 minutes to actually do her assigned workload. But, since she was allotted 60 minutes, she took 60 minutes—it gave her extra time to do some poking around in the Imperial databases.
She had come across all sorts of unusual and odd data—mostly things that just struck a chord with her for one reason or another—and had drawn some interesting conclusions and formulated some even more interesting theories about what the Empire was doing in various parts of the Galaxy. She had saved copies of these datafiles in an appendix folder on the main library file matrix—but since she was planning on leaving tomorrow, today she spent copying the files onto her code cylinder.
As the files were piled into a save queue and the transfer to her code cylinder began, a filename caught her eye as its name flashed at the bottom corner of her screen.
She frowned slightly, as she recalled the contents of the file. Nic hadn’t ever spoken much about his past, so after he died, she had felt some odd compulsion to find out more about him. Onboard the Reaper Nic had told her that Captain Kriss Raikelli was his brother. But during her research, she discovered that Kriss Raikelli didn’t have a brother called Nic. He did, however, have a brother called Simon and the holopic confirmed that Simon Raikelli was indeed the man she knew as Nic White.
Questions abounded. Why was Simon using an alias? Who was the real Nic White? And why was his brother so determined to extract revenge on him for something that her research indicated was not his fault? All these questions, and none of them would ever be answered. Well, at least not by Nic anyway.
“Dead men tell no tales,” Beryl whispered softly to herself.
Her download finished, and her job done, Beryl headed out to the dining hall for the evening meal with her cadet squad, and then to her dorm room.
“Lights out!” the dorm guard called out over the com.
Laying in her bed, staring at the ceiling, Beryl let out a tired sigh. Finally, she had a moment to meditate and think about her plans for tomorrow.
“Getting all sentimental, Doc?”
Conn swiveled his chair around to see Max standing in the cockpit entranceway, two steaming mugs of caf in her hands. “I’m part Zeltron, Max,” he said, shrugging as she moved to sit in the co-pilot’s seat next to him. “Being emotional is part of who I am.”
“Right, which is why so many hearts are bleeding over you and you just bleed over one,” the slight Lorrdian retorted lightly, handing Conn a mug.
He snorted. “Hearts bleeding over me?”
Max chuckled. “You know, for a doctor, you’re not very smart sometimes.”
“I get that a lot.”
“I’ll bet.” Max took a small sip from her mug, then placed it on the console. “If you haven’t noticed, every time we make port, you get all these looks from women, left and right.”
Conn arched an eyebrow. “I do?”
She nodded. “You do. I think it’s those bloody pheromones of yours, in my completely uneducated opinion.” She pointed a finger at him. “You’re so wrapped up in trying to find Beryl that you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve, not realizing that you’re just running on raw feeling.”
Conn was about to refute what Max had said when he stopped short. Is she right?, he thought to himself. Ever since they’d escaped from the Imperial facility, it had been Conn’s driving purpose to locate Beryl and rescue her from her brother. He’d spared no expense in his quest, pushing himself to his limits. He looked at Max, who had a wry, knowing grin on her face. “So what if I am?” he finally bit out.
Max propped her elbows up on the armrest and interlaced her fingers in front of her face. “Well, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to be bleeding your emotions all over the place,” she said. “Especially since your current crew is seventy-five percent female, more if you count the ship.”
Conn kept silent as he processed Max’s statement. It was true, as the crew he ran with consisted of himself, Max and a pair of female Firrerreoan twins named Raylena and Raylana whom Max had previously worked with. She had contacted them following the escape from the Imperial facility to help crew the ship that she’d acquired, a heavily-modified YT-1760 light freighter, dubbed the Hammerspace. Conn had asked her how she’d come about procuring a ship so quickly, but Max had rebuffed him with a snippy, “None of your damn business, Conn.”
He looked at her after pondering what she said. “Are Lena and Lana affected by me?” he asked. “Are you?”
Max laughed. “Like I’ve told you before, Conn, you’re just not my type, no matter how many pheromones you throw at me.” She shifted in her seat. “The twins, I’m pretty sure, are somewhat affected, but they’ve been able to keep it in check so far. I do suspect that’s why they’ve been so eager to help you, though.”
Conn scratched the back of his head. “I didn’t realize I’ve been so careless with my feelings, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no worries,” Max replied, raising her hands. “Lena and Lana are big girls and can take care of themselves, though it would do all of us a world of good if you’d just turn the melancholy down a bit.”
He nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“And one more thing, Conn,” Max continued, stretching her arms above her head. “Why are you so hell-bent on finding Beryl?” she asked, finally getting the thoughts she’d been having out into the open.
Conn rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s complicated,” he said. “Aside from the obvious concern I have for her well-being, there’s also the fact that I want to let her know that I’m not dead.”
Max arched an eyebrow. “Well yeah, I’m sure she’d figure that…”
“Not quite,” Conn countered, shaking his head. “Beryl’s never been very good with keeping those she loves alive. Back when I met her at Incom, she had two fiancés of hers die within months of each other. She blamed herself for it. I just happened to be there for her.”
“But then it became more.”
Conn nodded. “We started seeing each other, but Beryl always kept her distance. I just thought it was because she was still hurting, but now I know it was because she was afraid she’d end up getting me killed as well. When she finally did break it off, I was really confused, as we had just started to get serious.” He smiled ruefully. “It was her way of keeping me alive.”
“Ah, so that’s why you want to find her,” Max said, putting two and two together. “Since you two got ‘reacquainted’, she probably thinks you’re dead now, given everything that’s happened since.”
“It’s crazy, but now that I’m free from the Imps, partly thanks to her, I have a new lease on life. I don’t want her to lose hers because she gave me mine back.”
Max shook her head at him. “You are just a big softie,” she quipped, punching him lightly on the arm.
“Yeah, well,” Conn demurred, then cocked his head at her. “What stake do you have in getting her back though, Max? Why are you doing all this to help me?”
“Because I like to repay my debts,” she replied. “You and Beryl and her friends helped me get away from that rock and make off with quite a bit of money. A different person might’ve just taken the credits and run, but we Lorrdians do have a sense of propriety. You’ve gotten your share, Beryl and her friends need to get theirs. Especially that Jeez fellow. Terrible thing that happened to him, losing his wife.”
“Yeah,” Conn agreed, thinking back to that horrible scene in the hangar bay.
“And besides,” Max continued, a fiery look in her grey eyes. “I can’t let the Imps do to Beryl what they tried to do to me.”
Jana shook her head. "No," she answered, "I haven't told Reibe. I wanted a different second opinion for a change." Her expression hardened; she wasn't trying to keep it secret how annoyed she was at Reibe at the moment.
"Well, I don't know how she would respond. After all, I'm merely that Jedi to her, and as such, I think we've shared all of two words since I came aboard. I can tell you this, however, her only concern is you. Whatever happens to the crew, well, tough luck. To her, you're the only thing that matters," Jeez commented.
Thinking for a second, he then added, "For some reason, I've sensed that she brought *you* here for a reason. I highly doubt that she would approve of you leaving so soon after we've arrived, especially for whom she would no doubt consider another worthless crewmate."
Pausing for a moment, Jeez breathed in deep for a moment, and then he finally said, "Look, I shouldn't speak so much of my distrust, but there is something I would like to know: why is she even here? By coming to me first, its fairly obvious that you don't completely trust her either. On a ship like this, I can imagine that trust would be more valuable a commodity than even the rarest of gems."
((Posted for JasraLantill by proxy, since the forums farted earlier today :)))
As Beryl laid in her bed, she recalled the conversation she had had earlier with Flight Evaluator Captain Aiken in the dining hall.
“So, any plans for tomorrow, sir?” Beryl sweetly asked Captain Aiken as he sat beside her in the dining hall.
Aiken’s gaze rose to meet hers. “Actually, I do.”
Beryl’s heart skipped a beat. If he had other plans, then she would have to change her escape plan. “Oh?”
Aiken’s dark brown eyes sparkled as a slow grin appeared on his mouth. “I’ve got a date for a tandem flight in one of the new TIEsr’s with a beautiful, blonde, flight-instructing Lieutenant.” He winked. “Unless, she’s changed her mind?”
A feeling of relief washed over her. “I’m not a Lieutenant yet, sir, just an officer cadet.”
Aiken breathed a dismissive snort. “Details, details. You’ll be one soon enough.” He lifted his napkin and dabbed the corner of his mouth. “Which reminds me….” He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a security code cylinder. “You’ll need this to get into the hanger tomorrow.”
Beryl gave him a confused look as he handed it to her. She had arranged to meet him outside the dormitory complex at 1100 so he could escort her through the security checkpoints to the hanger bays. She hadn’t expected that he would just let her go there on her own.
“I’ll meet you at Hanger 11-A at 1300,” he continued. “I’ve got some things to take care of first.” Seeing she still looked confused, he added, “Personal things.”
“Oh.” He had said ‘personal’ but Beryl knew he meant ‘family’. He had told her he was married, and that his wife and family lived in the city. She wasn’t sure how dedicated he was to them, but he certainly didn’t seem too bothered by having an affair with her. She had targeted him because out of all the people authorised to use the hanger bays, only he, as the Academy’s Senior Flight Evaluator, and the Academy’s Commander seemed to have all-hours access to the landing pads and hangers. He, being the ambitious type, had readily accepted her advances, most likely because she was an Admiral’s sister and thought it an easy way to get noticed for promotion.
“Don’t worry.” Aiken smiled reassuringly as he reached over to clasp his hand over hers. “We’ll still have plenty of time for our little ‘training session.’ I’ve booked out the SR until 1800 hours.” He grinned. “And, I’ve got a surprise lined up for you.”
“Really?” Beryl’s expression was enthusiastic, but what she was thinking was, “The code cylinder thing was enough of a surprise, you adulterous nerfherder. The very last thing I need is now is another one.” But what she actually said was, “Oh, I love surprises! What is it?”
Aiken wagged a finger at her. “Now, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise, now would it?”
Beryl took a deep breath. “Well, she thought, I’ve got a surprise lined up for you, too, Captain.
“A tandem flight,” Beryl said softly in the dark to herself. “Why did he have to decide on a tandem flight?” She found that talking out loud to herself sometimes helped her to think more clearly. And she needed to be clear and logical right now.
She had been weighing the pros and cons about whether it was best to just steal a ship on her own (since she now had a security code cylinder that would let her into the hangers), or whether she should proceed with the ‘let’s do a tandem training session’ thing.
“With him: he’ll have security and flight clearance so taking the SR out above atmo and past the training boundaries will be easy. Another pro. Without Aiken: I would probably get into a battle situation and with only one laser cannon on the SR, that’s definitely a con.
“With him: He might balk at inputting the co-ordinates to meet up with Jana into the navicomputer. Con. On my own: I could do it myself. Pro, that is, if I made it that far to start with.”
She let out a slow deliberate breath. “Of course, the biggest con for if I go with him is that I’ll have to kill him. I can’t risk the possibility of him contacting the Imps and telling them where I’ve gone. Especially if Jana got my letter. I don’t want to risk putting her, or Cloud, or Jack in any more danger because I wasn’t strong enough to take care of my loose ends.”
She lay there for a moment, weighing her options, and finally decided that the most logical choice was to go up with the Captain, let him get her as far away from Carida as she could, and then… “Kill him. That’s the only way I’m going to get out alive.” She reached under her pillow and retrieved the code cylinder she had put her library data on. This afternoon, she had figured out one of the Empires plots—and it scared her. “And the only way to save hundreds.”
“The ends do not justify the means,” Ryshana’s voice said clearly.
Beryl froze. Ryshana was dead. She had seen her die. But that was definitely her master’s voice. “Oh no. I must be going crazy.”
“If saving hundreds costs you your morality, then what else of your person would then be suspect?” Ryshana’s voice said again.
"I’ve killed Imps before. All those TIEs, the guards….” Beryl suddenly saw a light blue glow begin to appear across the small room. “Why would killing one more matter?”
“It matters because next time you might have to kill more innocents to accomplish your goals.” The blue glow began to solidify, finally taking shape in the form of Ryshana. “It’s a never ending spiral.”
“Ryshana?” Beryl sat herself up, then blinked. “But you’re….”
“Do you recall what I told you about the Force?”
Beryl nodded. “It surrounds us, penetrates us, binds the Galaxy together.” She found herself starting to smile, something she hadn’t done in a very long time. “It’s really you, isn’t it?”
Ryshana nodded demurely. “You cannot kill this man, Beryl. He’s an innocent.”
“He’s a Captain in the Imperial Navy,” said Beryl. “He’s hardly innocent.”
“Indeed? And when did you become the judge, jury, and executioner? It’s not your place to decide the fates of others based on their crimes.”
"I've already decided the fates of others. Garajaminder, or whatever her name really was? Her death is my fault. Nuss made me chose her from the line-up to pay for my crimes, and she was innocent. Cadet Penwith? Decided his fate, too. I could have told the Commander that the ‘The Grid’ was too harsh for him. But I didn’t. Even Nic. If I hadn't shot him in the leg, he might have escaped that bomb. What's one more death going to matter?”
“Just one more death? Who's to say that it will only be one more? You must understand the weight of your own actions. Beryl. If it doesn't stop here, then where will it end?”
“You want me to risk, possibly even sacrifice my own life to save an Imperial captain whom I despise and hate? No way. He changed the plan, he deserves what he gets.”
“Only in your mind. Few men deserve death, especially for something as trivial as changing the plan. And why do you hate him, I wonder? Did he make you angry at some point to warrant hatred? If so, then you have lost control over yourself. No Jedi is governed by anger or hatred, and that same anger and hatred has clouded your judgement.”
“Maybe those drug cocktails they’ve been giving me are clouding my judgement. Or maybe I never really had any control to begin with. After all, that was Jeez’s biggest complaint about me, wasn’t it? No control. Too emotional. Acts with her heart not her head. Jumps in head first. Needs discipline. There was always something.”
“And perhaps now as you sit there pondering your dark thoughts you can understand why he said what he did.”
“Dark thoughts? No. Logical thoughts. Unemotional, logical thoughts. The pros outweigh the cons, therefore my course of action is clear. I have to kill him. There’s too much at risk.”
“You’re travelling down a path of Darkness. The Darkside has many short term gains, but it will consume you and cost you everything you have fought so hard for all these years. If killing your own friends were the most logical choice, would you kill them, too?”
“That’s different. He’s is not my friend.”
“No, it’s only different in your mind. All life is sacred, even those that seem to deserve death. Perception is a fragile thing. Be careful about those that you pronounce a death sentence over. Your judgement and reasoning is only one side of the equation. He has family, friends, and allies. Are they not affected by your death sentence?”
“Sure they are. But, we all have to die sometime. How do I know that the Force isn’t guiding me to kill him this way, to save him horrible pain and suffering? Maybe he would die tomorrow or the next day anyway? Burned up in a crash, or electrocuted while checking a circuit?”
“Jeez watched your own brother kill me dishonourably, but yet he did not kill him even though it was well within his power. If Jeez did kill your brother, how would that then affect you?”
Beryl’s expression hardened. “I wish he had killed him. I tried. I couldn't do it. I couldn’t do it because I was too emotional. Undisciplined. Illogical. Weak,” she concluded. “I won't be weak next time though. And I won't be weak tomorrow.”
The ghostly figure of Ryshana shook her head. “As you wish, then. But before I leave you to dwell in your darkness, know this: from this point forward your life will be one justifiable death after another. Eventually, even the ones that you say you love will be just as expendable as this Captain. When that day comes, you will look back at this moment and despair.” And with that said, Ryshana’s figure faded away and vanished.
“I don’t have to look back,” Beryl said softly into the darkness. “I’m already in despair…” She sank back down on her bed. “But, there are no other options.”
((Thanks, Niner. :) And since you posted last, I'll post something for Cloud and Sam now, just to keep them 'active' in the story....))
Cloud was in his room, pacing the floor as he thought about what Jeez had said to him in the lift. Why had Reibe brought them here if it wasn't to hide out from the Imperials? And what were her plans for Jana? And for them?
He sat down on the bed and tried to center himself. Jeez had been a very good mentor so far. Cloud liked his style of teaching better than he had Ryshana's--it seemed more straightforward, making the concepts of the Force easier for him to understand. Not that he hadn't admired, loved, and respected Ryshana, and not that he didn't sorely miss her now that she was gone, but he connected better with Jeez.
Concentrating on the Force and sensing his surroundings like Jeez had taught him, Cloud could sense the Jedi's presence just down the corridor along with one other--Jana, he decided. And Reibe wasn't with her this time. That was good, in Cloud's opinion. Jeez was not only technically and tactically saavy, but had a great deal of practical experience and common sense, and with Nic gone, Jana would do well to consult with him every now and...
Then there was a knock on the door.
Cloud frowned with confusion. He hadn't sensed any other presences nearby, until just right now as he got up to answer the door.
He opened it and saw Sam standing before him. "Sorry," she said to him as she invited herself in. "Didn't mean to sneak up on you."
"Sneak up on me?"
"Yeah," Sam said casually. Without any further explanation, she sat down on the room's single chair and put her feet up on the desk. "I wanted to know if you'd go shopping with me."
"Shopping?" Cloud blinked a few times.
"Yeah, shopping. I'd like to go browsing around for some stuff, since there's really nothing else to do."
"Shouldn't you be asking Jana, or even Reibe to go with you?"
Sam stared at him deadpan. "Why? Do I need their permission?"
"No, because..." Cloud shifted uncomfortably. "Because they're girls."
Sam's forehead began to show her confusion. "What's being a girl have to do with shopping for parts and supplies?"
"Parts and supplies?" He sighed. "Oh. I thought you were going shopping for like... you know, girl stuff. Like clothes or something."
Sam looked down at herself. She was dressed in a tank top and combat fatigue trousers and heavy black boots--quite similar to what Beryl normally wore. "Hmm. Maybe, I should get some clothes of my own...."
Again, Cloud blinked. "Clothes of your own?"
"You know, I'm going to be brutally honest here. It's really irritating when you repeat everything I say. But, yeah. Clothes of my own." She grinned. "I borrowed these from Beryl's footlocker. Nice fit though, don't you think?"
"Borrowed from...?" Cloud rolled his eyes, thinking that it was probably better if he just dropped the clothes subject altogether. "So, parts and supplies," he said. "What kind of parts and supplies?"
"Well... that's where I needed your opinion on things," she said. "See, I wanted to fix that Flight Sim thing in the hanger, so I need some parts for that. And, I also wanted to see if I could find some repair putty, and maybe a couple of dets with built-in delay circuits to make a trap to use on Jack, and a few extra spices, and maybe some med supplies. We're completely out of sedexidrox," she added by the by. "Oh! And I wanted to rig up an automated food processor for the galley. I'm getting tired of chopping up things by hand all the time, you know? It would make things a lot easier if...." Cloud was giving her an odd sort of look. "What?"
The engineer began to roll his hand in a rewinding motion. "Erm...can you go back a bit?"
"No, before that." Cloud motioned her back further.
"Uh-uh." Cloud shook his head.
"No, after that."
"Dets with built-in delay circuits to make a trap to use on Jack?"
Cloud held up his index finger and grinned broadly. "That's it!" Then his grin abruptly faded. "What trap for Jack?"
She shrugged. "Nothing lethal. Just wanted a sort of 'cawtchya' device for the next time he tries to infiltrate my room. Maybe some sort of exploding dye pack, or a stink bomb..." She frowned. "Although," she murmured, "that has a high propensity to backfire. Scratch the stink bomb for now."
"A cawtchya device?"
"Yeah, you know.... Something irritating that says, 'I caught 'ya doing something that you shouldn't be doing.'"
"Wait, why would Jack want to 'infiltrate' your room?" Cloud asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
Sam shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe for the same reason the Imps want to kill me?"
"Why do the Imps want to kill you?"
She grinned at him. "Dunno. But they have a reason. Imps don't do anything without a reason." She rose from her chair. "So... shopping? Yes or no?"
Cloud sighed. It was just no use arguing with her. "Yeah, ok," he said reluctantly. "Let's go."
The two of them headed out the door to go and explore Reibe's hidden underground city.
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