Originally Posted by JediMaster12
Ooo,Oh! I'm dying here Jae. Must...have...more...Bindo...*faints*
(Jae puts cold washcloth on JM12's head and pats her arm to revive her....)
Chapter 27: Capturing Thorn
“Raxton’s found the route Thorn is using to get to Telos. We’re going to intercept his ship when he drops out of hyperspace and approaches the system in two days,” Carth said in his briefing the next day.
The officers and senior enlisted were gathered around the table, all eyes on their Captain. “I don’t want his ship anywhere near the planet. It’s a small one, but we’ll have Special Ops going in to secure it.”
I picked out the Ops team leader immediately. He had wolf-eyes that ached for the hunt, and the set of his hard-edged features made me glad to have him on our side.
“Bernecki, do you need anything for your team?” Carth asked him.
“We have all our equipment, sir. We’ve studied the ship diagrams and photos of Thorn that Commander Raxton gave us, and we’re finishing up our attack plans with Commander Aichon. We’re ready, sir,” Bernecki answered.
“Good. We’re going to ambush and then tractor the Vengeance
in. I want gunners in place just in case their people decide to do something stupid as we haul them in,” Carth said.
“Yes, sir,” answered the Weapons commander.
“Helm, Engineering, Communications—I know we’re in good shape, but I want to know if there’s anything that could give us trouble if we’re running over 100%.”
The three department heads indicated all systems were go.
“Ops will go in first,” continued Carth. “The Jedi will go in with them. Watch for traps. I want to take Thorn alive, but if you have no other choice, you have the kill order. If he’s a Sith Lord, guns may not work too well on him. You’ll need the Jedi to take him out.”
“Aye, sir,” Bernecki replied. “No offense sir, but will they be able to keep up?”
Jolee’s grin slowly spread across his face. “The question you should be asking, son, is if you can go fast enough to stay ahead of me.”
When Bernecki looked dubious, Carth said, “Trust me. I’ve fought with Jolee. You won’t have any worries about the Jedi.” He looked around the room, and then asked, “Any questions?”
Everyone indicated no.
“Good. Keep me updated on any status changes. We’ll finalize all plans tomorrow. Dismissed.”
* * *
Talin’s lightsaber flashed against mine as I blocked and then circled the blade up quickly, trying to dislodge his hold on my blade. We were back on our ship the evening before the mission, practicing some of the fine points of the Xi-ro form, but the movements felt stiff and slow. I tried to speed up my defense to compensate and got soundly smacked when Talin’s blade hit my shield.
Jolee sighed from the edge of the room. “Jae, you’re trying to force it too much. Think river, not dam.”
I nodded and got back into the ready position, trying to relax, trying to feel the Force flow more freely.
Just as Talin stepped in for the attack, Jolee called out, “Stop, stop, stop.”
We pulled back from each other and returned to our ready positions.
“You know what, we all need a break,” Jolee decided.
“I need to practice this sequence more to get it down,” I protested.
“You’ve been working on it how many weeks now? If you don’t know it by now, you won’t in the next few hours. Go do something fun and get your mind off tomorrow. For heaven’s sake, do something lovey-dovey—I hear the Ithorian vivarium is nice. Life’s too short not to enjoy it.” Jolee took both of us by the arm and shooed us off our ship.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, looking back at Jolee standing in the hatch.
“I’m going to go visit De’layn, of course. We didn’t finish our little chat about my godson.” He grinned and waved us off. “Don’t come home early.”
Talin and I walked off down the corridor, our hands slipping together almost as if they had their own minds.
“Any place you want to see?” Talin asked.
“You pick. Last time I picked, we got attacked.”
Talin grinned down at me. “I didn’t appreciate their interruption.”
“I’m sure we can make up for it.” I gave him a coy look.
“Ah, Jae, you know how to make me laugh,” he chuckled, putting an arm around my shoulders briefly as we walked along.
“I hope that’s a good thing. I hate being the butt of jokes.”
“That’s a very good thing, dear.”
My heart skipped a moment and I blushed at the word ‘dear.’ “I think I like how that sounds,” I said quietly.
He lifted my hand to his lips and brushed a kiss over the top. Even his eyes smiled at me. “Good. I liked saying it.”
We toured the vivarium, admired the Ithorians’ work on Telos, and talked about those things that might normally be meaningless except to two people wanting to learn more about each other. Anyone watching would have seen a smiling couple holding hands, looking at each other with that special softness, and speaking in those low tones that meant the conversation was reserved for only them.
Talin found the quiet spot he had been looking for—a secluded place where we could sit and be alone, uninterrupted. We had a view of the vast blanket of stars arcing over us, and they sparkled the magic of the evening. I slid my arm around Talin’s waist as he put an arm around my shoulder and drew me in close.
“Jolee was right. I needed a night off.” I relaxed against Talin’s shoulder.
“How often is he wrong?” Talin stroked my hair, and then with a feather touch, traced a line down the length of my neck and over my shoulder. He leaned in close, his breaths coming rapid like mine. I shivered a bit at the pleasure of his touch.
“Not very often.” I closed my eyes and held him tight, meeting the passion of his kisses. I willed time to slow down so we could share this bliss just a little longer.
* * *
“De’layn is missing,” Jolee announced when he returned to our ship the next morning.
His frowning dark eyes and set lips emphasized the depth of his worry. I’d never seen him pace the floor before.
He continued, “I looked for her most of the night, but no one seems to know anything. I have a bad feeling about this.”
Talin and I glanced at each other, sharing the same suspicion. Jolee caught our look.
“Damn it, she’s not
cavorting around with a Sith Lord. She’d never betray me like that.”
“It’s a little convenient, that’s all,” I said.
Jolee stopped pacing for a moment, forehead furrowing as an idea struck him. “It is
convenient, isn’t it? Somehow, the mercs knew to follow her. But how? Did Thorn have her com bugged? I’d love to know how he got that info.”
“They might have been ordered to keep her under surveillance and followed her anywhere,” Talin said.
“De’layn can spot a tail a kilometer away and shake it without a second thought.”
The call from Carth stopped our discussion. “We’re leaving in half an hour to meet Thorn’s ship. Be on board in ten minutes, please,” he said.
“Will do,” Jolee answered and then signed off without mentioning De’layn to Carth. “I just hope De’layn will be all right while we’re gone.”
* * *
The wait for the Rapid Vengeance
was anything but rapid. The three of us meditated during the wait. I tried not to disturb the others when my distraction broke the meditation state, but after the third time, Talin finally took my hand. His strength bolstered my focus and the calm returned for both of us.
“Jae,” Carth’s quiet voice and his light grasp on my shoulder broke through the focus. “It’s here. Meet me on the bridge in 5 minutes.” He strode out of the room, occupied with thoughts of the mission.
“Jolee, Talin,” I called out to the other two in a hushed voice to avoid startling them.
Both opened their eyes immediately. We made a quick check of our equipment and left for the bridge.
“Captain, there’s no response from their ship,” the Communications officer, Z’yan announced.
“Give them the warning once more and then tractor them in,” Carth ordered.
Z’yan hailed again, “Rapid Vengeance
, stand down and surrender. We will fire if you attempt any other actions.”
Carth gave them some time to acknowledge the hail, and when they remained silent, he said to Aichon, “Looks like we’ll need Ops to take their ship. Tell them to be ready in about 15 minutes. We’re sending a shuttle over.”
Aichon replied, “Aye, sir. Bernecki’s in the ready room with his team. I’ll let them know to gear up.”
“Bernecki’s been looking forward to a good challenge for a long time,” Carth grinned at Aichon.
“Here’s his chance to prove his boasts, sir,” Aichon answered as he contacted Bernecki.
The shuttle docked with the silent ship. One of the team members sliced the lock on the hatch of the Vengeance
and then stood back as it opened.
The Ops team ducked into the ship one by one, covering each other as they slipped through the hatch, leaving behind some members to guard the shuttle entrance. We followed after the team boarded, their normally quiet armor and weapons making muffled noises in the eerie silence of the ship. The ship looked absolutely normal, except for having nobody on board. The Ops team split into two smaller groups and moved rapidly through the small ship, darting in and out of doors, hyper-alert for any enemies.
That odd death scent curled its way into my nose as we approached the bridge with one of the teams.
“Jolee,” I said, “someone’s been using Scourge here.”
“I smell it too,” he said.
“The Sith Lord may be in there,” I said, swallowing my fear. He gave me that 'no kidding' look, and I realized with some chagrin that Jolee had already figured out the obvious.
“Jae, if he’s there, we fight. It’s not like it's your first battle. Relax, let the Force flow. And stop gulping your air. You look like you’re doing a beached Selkath imitation. It’ll give you a nasty stomachache later on.”
I chuckled at that image and relaxed. Talin gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze of encouragement.
Jolee motioned for Ops to back away from the door to the bridge. He stood off to the side as pressed the switch to open the door, prepared for an attack.
The sickly-sweet smell of the dead crew was nearly overpowering. Even the battle-hardened Ops members who had seen plenty of death felt the effects, several of them mouth-breathing to avoid retching. All three of the victims were completely blistered and nearly unrecognizable.
“Master Jolee,” we heard Bernecki call over the com. “We need you in the cargo bay.”
We ran back. Jolee stopped short and swallowed hard. Lying on the floor covered in the horrible blisters and cracking skin was a Twi’lek, struggling to catch her breath.
“Oh, De’layn,” Jolee sighed his heartache, shaking his head slowly, eyes glittering as the tears welled up. He rushed to her, kneeled and cradled her head in his lap.
“Jolee. I knew you’d come,” she wheezed through the pain.
“I called the corpsmen,” Bernecki announced.
I knelt down and started healing while Jolee held her.
“De’layn, what happened? Where’s Thorn?” he asked.
“Thorn captured me to get to you. He’s on the bridge. Said he wanted to go find Dycen’a. Wouldn’t believe me when I said he was dead,” she swallowed to try to moisten her throat enough to speak and closed her eyes against the agony.
“Everyone on the bridge is dead,” Jolee told her.
“Oh, he got them, then,” she tried to open her eyes wide to stay conscious, but her lids kept dropping. I held on to her life force as I applied the techniques we had been working on for so long to heal the damage from the Force Scourge.
“Did Thorn escape before you went to hyperspace? We were waiting for him when his ship dropped out.”
“No, the Sith Lord did.”
“What do you mean?” Jolee asked, distracted by his concern for De’layn’s critical condition.
Talin’s eyes widened as he put all the pieces together. “Jolee, Thorn’s not the Sith Lord. It’s someone else.”
De’layn nodded to acknowledge Talin’s conclusion, then lost consciousness.
Talin said, “I’m going to go back to the bridge with Bernecki and see if I can find any more information or evidence. We’ll be back shortly.”
Talin left with Bernecki.
The corpsmen joined us, pulling out equipment to start treatment.
Jolee put the oxygen breath mask on her. “Hold on, De’layn. Just hold on,” he said in a soft voice near her ear.
“Jae, we’re going to check the hyperdrive. We’re getting odd readings from the nav'puter. We’ll be done in a couple minutes,” Talin said over the com.
“I’ve healed De’layn’s lungs enough to get her breathing stabilized, but we need to get her into a kolto tank as soon as possible,” I replied.
“We should be done by the time you get her on the shuttle.”
A couple minutes later, all our coms crackled at the same time. “Evacuate! Evacuate! Bomb in the hyperdrive!”
There was no time for us to do a textbook patient extraction. The four of us rolled her onto the stretcher, grabbed each of the handles, and ran to the shuttle.
“How much time left?” Bernecki called over the com.
“Six minutes, thirty-two seconds, sir!”
“Shuttle engines firing now, sir,” one of the Ops members called from the shuttle. “We’re ready to leave yesterday.”
“Everyone out now!” Bernecki ordered.
We heard a dozen pairs of footsteps sprinting towards the shuttle. The hatch sealed, and Bernecki said, “Get us out of here, MacFinlay!”
MacFinlay banked and accelerated away so fast that the gravity generator couldn’t keep up. I lurched and nearly fell on top of De’layn, who thankfully did not move since she was now fully secured into the stretcher.
Talin came back to see how De’layn was.
“You’re working hard,” he commented, noting the sweat on my brow. “Let me help with the healing. Now’s the time for me to see if all my work means something.”
Jolee looked up. “Damn well better. I’ve worked with you enough on it. Quit talking and get to work.”
With all three of us focusing the healing techniques, we were able to stabilize her condition enough that we knew she would survive. Jolee breathed out his relief, and held his head in his hands, fighting the exhaustion.
Carth, seeing the shuttle leaving the ship abruptly, said over the com, “Report, Bernecki. What’s going on down there?”
Bernecki answered, “We’re trying to get away before the ship explodes, sir. We found a bomb and we couldn’t disarm it in time. We have approximately 3:12 before it goes off.”
If Carth hadn’t keyed his comlink off, we would have heard a colorful string of words.
“Thorn was on board with a very small crew, sir. All are dead except a Twi’lek who apparently was his prisoner,” Bernecki continued. “She’s female, approximately 60 years, and was the victim of Force Scourge. The Jedi report she’s in critical but stable condition.”
“We’ll have the med team waiting,” Carth said.
MacFinlay poured everything into the shuttle engines to maximize speed, and then somehow managed to come up with a little extra. It still felt like the shuttle crawled away from the other ship too slowly.
The timer expired, and the Rapid Vengeance
exploded, flames racing out and threatening to engulf us.