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Old 06-04-2006, 11:51 PM   #257
Jae Onasi
Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem
 
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Chapter 26

Chapter 26: Searching for Thorn’s Ship

De’layn and I ran towards Jolee and Talin, who were fending off several mercenaries holding vibroblades. Raxton was behind a table, picking off other mercenaries. At his feet were Riki and the other sailor, dead. The Bith musicians had scattered into hiding. The bartender popped up from behind his bar from time to time to squeeze off a round from his blaster, missing his targets more often than not. We had to dodge his ricocheting blaster fire more than once. There were eight more mercenaries—the three trading blows with Jolee and Talin, and the other five hunkered down behind more tables, trying to shoot at all of us.

“De’layn—I’ll take the big blond over there,” I yelled over the noise of blaster bolts and crashing furniture.

“I’ve got that green Twi’lek behind that table.”

I jumped over behind the blond, who was focused on shooting at Jolee and Talin, taking him by surprise. My lightsaber hummed towards him, dropping him with one blow.

De’layn ran towards the Twi’lek merc, deflecting blaster fire before engaging him in a duel so short it was almost a one-shot.

The other three thugs dropped back and regrouped after seeing their companions cut down so quickly, and we followed after them. Raxton picked off one of them with sniper skill. The other two tried to pull out their vibroblades, but their lack of practice made them slow. I whirled my blade twice before one of them fell. The other fighter decided to surrender, putting his hands up just as De’layn was ready to strike him down, her blade stopping only centimeters from his head.

I looked over towards Jolee and Talin. Their opponents had more skill and so the battles had taken a little longer, but all three were down on the ground, one dead and two injured. The smoke hung heavy from the ceiling but was starting to clear as De’layn and I put away our sabers and walked over to Jolee and Talin.

“What is it about you ladies going to the refresher together? Both of you missed all the excitement,” Jolee said.

“Jolee, dear, we had more than enough excitement saving you from being shot by these brutes over here.” De’layn pointed at the ones we had taken down.

Jolee inspected my work and then said to me, “You took them out fast. Good. They can’t attack you back if they’re down.”

“Thanks. What happened while we were gone?” I asked.

Raxton joined us at that point, holding his arm. “I noticed the mercenaries drifting in one or two at a time during the meeting with Riki. When Jer and I went over to Riki to ‘arrest him for being AWOL’, Riki pulled a blaster.”

Jolee added, “Riki shot at Jer and Raxton, and Raxton had to fight back. Once the blaster fire started, the mercenaries joined in.”

I looked at Raxton still holding his arm. “Do you want me to look at that for you?”

“No, no, thank you. I’ll be fine, it’s very minor. We need to get these three into custody so we can question them. Maybe we can find out more information.”

“I wonder how these mercenaries knew about this meeting.” Talin asked, steepling his fingers and then tapping them together in thought.

Raxton replied, “It could have been anything that tipped them off. Maybe they followed us from our ship, maybe they just saw you in the hallways, and maybe Riki decided he wanted a little backup. This is a small community, so intelligence would travel fast. Norelden is so well organized that he could probably field a small army in a day or two. Sending out a squad immediately would be no trouble at all for him.”

“The information from these three and the ship registries should give us a pretty good idea where to go next,” Jolee stated.

“My team is working on the registry information as we speak. When you meet the Captain tonight, I should have some solid data for you,” Raxton said.

De’layn added, “I’ll go back to my office and see if any of my contacts can shed some light on this.”

The authorities arrived, and Raxton spoke with them to arrange for the arrests and questioning of the survivors.

“Let’s go back to our ship for a bit. I can’t stand the smell of smoke in my robes,” Jolee said.


* * *

The three of us sat in the common room at the table, reviewing the events of the last two days.

Talin said, “Jolee, I know you hold De’layn in high regard, but I have to be frank about my suspicions. Any chance she’s involved in Norelden’s organization? Even though she fought with us, you have to admit the attacks have been rather convenient, and she knew about both meetings.”

“I’ve known her too long. If she’s the leak, then I’m young with a full head of hair again. I’d have tried to get the information through other routes if I had any suspicions, and I don’t.”

“What’s the possibility that she’s being used by someone in the organization? Could some kind of double agent be feeding her bad information or getting intelligence from her?” I asked, sitting back in my chair a bit to think.

“There’s always that possibility, but De’layn isn’t a brainless twit. She’s a master at teasing out information and using it in the right places at the right time. I think she’d recognize if someone was trying to blow stardust her way,” Jolee answered. “She knows how to keep her mouth shut. Well, except for that damn firaxan story. But I forgive her for that.”

Talin frowned and shook his head as if trying to clear a thought.

“You don’t trust me, then?” Jolee asked, tilting his head in question but not offended.

“I trust you. I’m not ready to trust her,” Talin replied.

“Something just doesn’t feel right,” I added.

“Hmmph. When you go poking around a Sith Lord’s home planet, not a whole lot is going to feel right. I suppose I should be happy that you both are actually using those brains of yours to think this time. If I didn’t know her so well, I’d probably feel the same way. All I can tell you is it’s not her.”

* * *

“All right, if De’layn is right, Jolee, then we know that Thorn is our prime suspect.” Carth said at our meeting that night.

“If De’layn says it’s Thorn, then it’s Thorn,” Jolee said, as sure as I had seen him sure of anything. “She’s never been wrong yet.”

Commander Aichon put a data chip in the projector, and the results were displayed for all of us to see. “This is the list of ships that have docked around the same time as the Fujita.”

“That’s a pretty big list,” I said, scanning through the dozens of names. "There’s no chance that Thorn or Norelden are listed as the owner or captain of any of these, is there?"

Aichon tapped that in, and no ships were displayed. “Good thought, though. You never know when someone might make a mistake. We’ll have to do this the hard way, then, and weed things out.”

Carth said, “Let’s pull out any ships that have only been here once at the same time as the Fujita. I’m making the assumption that Thorn wouldn’t switch ships every single time.”

That whittled down the list by about two-thirds.

“I’m pretty sure he’s not one of those folks who likes hanging out with others. Can you see a Sith Lord sitting in a seat next to a mother with a crying baby? He’d probably fry the poor kid.”

“Jolee, that’s terrible,” I said, wrinkling my nose in distaste.

“What do you expect from a cranky old man?”

“Uh, I haven’t received any reports of electrocuted children,” Carth said. The corners of his lips twitched up but he was otherwise serious. “Take out all the larger transports.”

“And take out any major merchant ships,” Jolee said. “He might have a bigger ship, but if he wants to get around discreetly, he’ll have to use a small ship. Otherwise, too many people will know his business.”

Another fifteen ships dropped off the list, leaving nine ships left.

“At least this is a little more manageable,” I noted. “Can we rank them according to number of times they were present when Dycen’a was here, too?”

“Sure.” Carth punched in some data, and the names rearranged themselves. Two ships had docked every time that the Fujita had come in.

Talin asked, “Is there any way to confirm that Thorn was on Telos station during any or all of these times?”

Aichon tapped in some information on his datapad. “Raxton’s gathered some good intelligence, but I doubt it’s 100% complete. We can’t know everything, even if Thorn and Norelden receive a lot of our attention. Let’s see….” He frowned in concentration as he watched the data come up on the screen. “OK, here it is.”

“Cross-reference that to our list,” Carth ordered.

“Aye, sir.” Aichon said, putting another data chip into the projector. This time, only one ship remained.

Carth sat back, brushing a strand of hair back out of his eyes. “So, it’s most likely the Rapid Vengeance.” He looked up some other data. “It’s not docked on Telos right now. Aichon, any chance we can get some info from Norelden’s group on just where Thorn is and when he will be back?”

Aichon smiled. “That’s the kind of challenge Raxton relishes, sir.”

“Good. Let’s get it done, then. Jolee, as soon as I know anything, I’ll contact you,” Carth said, standing as the meeting concluded. “Jae, I’m not going to tell you to stay out of trouble--I know you won’t listen. So, I’ll tell these two to keep you out of trouble instead.”

“Very funny,” I replied, as we kissed each other good-bye on the cheek.

“Don’t worry, Carth. I’ll make her work so hard practicing, she’ll forget all about trouble,” Jolee assured him with a grin.

* * *

Jolee wasn’t joking about the practice. After spending several hours of study on the Xi-ro form and meditation on the holocron, we worked on blaster bolt deflection. Three practice droids swirled and flew around as I concentrated on deflecting the energy bursts. The sweat started to drip into my eyes as I worked to repel all the bursts in time, turning this way and that, dodging the floating droids.

“Don’t just watch them, Jae, feel them. You can sense the energy the moment they shoot, even before you see it,” Jolee yelled over all the noise.

I opened my mind to the Force as much as I could, trying to feel for the energy signatures. As soon as I had deflected a number of the little blasts effectively, the droids sped up.

Talin stopped the droids a few minutes later. “You’re working harder at this than you have to. Don’t swing your blade over so far. The only bolts you have to deflect are the ones that are going to hit you. Don’t make big swings with your arms if a little wrist motion will do. Keep it fluid, not choppy.” He did a quick demonstration with his saber before turning the droids back on.

I practiced for several more minutes before the holovid chime sounded. “Got it,” Jolee called out, leaving the room.

For a few more moments, I managed to maintain control before I thought of what that call might represent. “Ow, ow, ow, stop!” All three droids hit me as my concentration broke. They stopped and returned to a ready position when I gave the order to cease.

“What happened there?” Talin asked, with a bit of a frown. “You let your concentration break.”

“The call happened.”

Talin tipped his head and his brow wrinkled in momentary confusion. “I’m missing the significance. Why would you let a little call distract you?”

I took a deep breath and wiped the sweat off my forehead. “It’s not the call itself. It’s that it might be the call about Thorn, and we’ll be heading out.”

“Ah, I see,” he answered, walking over to take me in his arms.

“I’m all sweaty,” I protested.

He held tight anyway. “That’s OK. I know you carry the burden of this vision, and I can’t take that weight off you. But I’ve been working hard with the holocron, and so has Jolee. I’m not going to let him take you from me.”

Jolee came back and seeing us, said, “If you both need a few minutes….”

“No,” I said, breaking gently from Talin's embrace. “Tempting as that is, if your lives could depend on something I have to do right, then I need to get back to work.” I looked over at Talin. “Thorn’s not going to take any of us without a fight. I intend to give him one hell of a battle.”

Talin smiled his understanding.

Jolee said, nodding in approval, “Controlling passion, mature attitude—good. Not that I’m worried about you. Now, if you were both hormonal teens, it’d be a different story.”

“Who called?” I asked.

“It was Carth. Raxton apparently found Thorn’s ship. It’s due to dock in three days.”


From MST3K's spoof of "Hercules Unchained"--heard as Roman medic soldiers carry off an unconscious Greek Hercules on a 1950's Army green canvas stretcher: "Hi, we're IX-I-I. Did somebody dial IX-I-I?"

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