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Thread: Star Wars: Tapestry, Volume III

  1. #226
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    Ban waited for Mith to regain consciousness before he hauled Mith off the shuttle floor and shoved him face down onto the navigation console, holding him forcefully with an arm lock maneuver, holding Mith’s arm behind his back. There had been some brief banging on the cockpit door as someone attempted to get inside. Ban’s troops must have failed to eliminate the other commando. “So, someone has taken an interest in our little operation here, have they?”, he said, twisting Mith’s arm even harder. “And who might that be?”, he asked.

    “No one that matters to you,” Mith said, knowing the irony was lost on Ban.

    “Oh, I think they do matter,” Ban replied, putting more pressure on Mith’s arm, and pressing his face in closer to Mith’s ear. “In fact, they matter a lot more to me than whether or not your limbs stay attached,” he threatened. Lifting Mith away from the console, Ban quickly slammed him back down. “Now, maybe we can have a little conversation. And don’t think you can stall while you wait for your little friend in the cargo hold. A couple of my buddies told me he won’t be joining us.” Mith remembered Bel, and assumed others must have been with Ban when he entered the shuttle. He hoped Bel had survived, but couldn’t tell if Ban was lying or not. With the blast door to the cockpit shut, there was no way either of them could be certain what was happening in the cargo hold.

    Mith decided to try and catch Ban off guard. “Don’t be too sure about that, Ban Id. My friend really hates to miss parties.” He waited for a reaction.

    “Wellllll.........isn’t that interesting,” Ban responded, seeming not to be thrown off by the revelation. “So you know who I am. Now I’m even more intrigued,” said Ban, smashing Mith against the console and twisting his arm yet again. “And much less patient in getting the answers I want!” Ban was angry, and he had control of the situation. Mith guessed that Ban’s temper was not something to be trifled with. Ban was frightfully strong, and, holding Mith’s arm with one hand, he put another around his throat, threatening to cut off his air. “How do you know me?” he hissed.

    Struggling for air, Mith stammered, “You...killed..my..brother”. Ban’s grip lessened slightly, and Mith was able to get some needed air. Overhead, Mith could make out the sound of the Stormcrows returning to pick up Able Squad. Even if he did escape from Ban, he wouldn’t make the egress window. He was on his own.

    “Your brother?”, Ban asked, a sinister curiosity in his voice. “I’ve killed a lot of people, son. Which one was your brother?” Ban’s question came with a sick sound of satisfaction.

    “Coruscant....Magrail platform” Mith responded, emotions coursing through him as he recalled that day. Pain filled his mind and thoughts. “You were running from some security officers.” Mith struggled to take another breath. “Left him in a warehouse,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “You tortured him!” Mith was becoming hysterical. Ban recognized it, and enjoyed it. This was going to be more fun than he thought. He might keep this guy alive so he could have more fun with him after they took off.

    “Ah...yes. The whiny outback kid who begged like a helpless nerf calf. What a waste of a boy”. Ban was relishing getting under Mith’s skin.

    “You Hutt-spawn! They executed you!” Mith could not see it, but Ban’s twisted smile got bigger with each grief-stricken outburst he made.

    “That would be a pretty neat trick, considering I’m still alive!” Ban hissed into his ear. “You ignorant backwater types have no clue on how this galaxy works. Money in the right pockets can change a lot of things,” he said. “Including who does and doesn’t get executed. And I assure you, my friends and I have plenty of money to put into those pockets.” So....that was it. Ban and his gang had paid off some corrupt government official, who had let them go, but reported them executed. I bet they’re all still alive, thought Mith.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    The tactical team watched as one figure with friendly IFF tape exited the shuttle, and made its way toward the landing zone for egress. The second one did not emerge. As the Stormcrows returned for pick up, the tac officer relayed the message that they would be minus one on egress. All the other members of Phazer One and Two had emerged from their missions unscathed. There was no time to wait, as waiting endangered the whole team. “Plan Fynock” had been initiated. At the mark of the tac officer, the countdown started.


    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    Mith heard the faded whines of the shuttles as they ferried Able Squad away from the compound and toward their ditch site. He knew his time was limited. Because he had not been at the egress point, the backup detonation plan would have been initiated, and the charges were now running on timers.

    Ban continued to speak. “You know...,” he said in a devilish voice. “I haven’t..” WHAM! Bam’s face rebounded off the console screen, nose broken, and blood spattering. Thrusting his hips back quickly, Mith had thrown off Ban’s balance, catching him by surprise. A quick reversal and twist of Ban’s arm had allowed Mith to drive him face first into the panel. Holding his hand on Ban’s clavicles and sternum, Mith held his surprised captor firmly in place. Stunned, Ban offered no resistance.

    Ban was a man driven by power, who controlled people with fear. Mith knew this, and had allowed himself to be manhandled. Thinking he had control and that Mith was emotionally broken caused Ban to let down his guard and give out information he normally would not have. Had Mith subdued him immediately, Ban would never have given him any of the info he had wanted, even if Mith had beaten him. With time running out, though, Mith had to get control to finish his original objective. But before he could do that, he had to do something with Ban.

    Years of commando experience had taught Mith to be emotionless and unfeeling. He couldn’t let his thoughts be clouded when the lives of his squadmates as well as mission success depended on his performance. But the years of pain and loss started cracking through. Mith would have to render Ban unconscious and leave him to die in the blast. He hesitated. He thought, and struggled. Memories of his brother surged through his mind as the anger coursed through him. A shriek of rage emerged from Ban’s throat as he started to resist and attempted to break free. Time’s running out, said a voice somewhere in Mith’s head. Focusing one last time on Ban’s eyes (despite the rule to “never look anyone in the eyes!” they’d taught in commando training), Mith clenched his hand around his throat. Ban’s eyes widened in fear. Somewhere, deep down, Mith enjoyed it. He wanted to make it last. But time was short. With a swift, strong squeeze, Mith crushed Ban’s windpipe and let him drop to the floor.

    Mith had little time to work. Checking the data extractor, he found the transfer was complete. He pulled a small, block-shaped radio out (known unofficially as a “brick”) of his survival vest, and plugged the extractor into the data port. Getting the information it contained to Alliance intelligence was of utmost importance. Mith was going to have to exfiltrate the compound on foot, and he had no idea how long he might survive. The data needed to be transferred before he left the shuttle. With the extractor in place, he keyed in the activation code and set the radio to transmit. Over the next 45 seconds, the radio would transmit short, high energy bursts containing packets of data over a short range. To anyone monitoring the radio waves, it would appear that some clumsy hiker had accidentally activated their emergency radio burst, an event that happened frequently amongst the many would-be adventurers who visited Ancatar. Buried in the static burst wave was an encrypted code that would be detected by the drone overhead, which would retransmit the data to the tactical team. Mith set the radio down and headed to the cockpit door. He did not have time to wait for the signal to complete. The radio (and any evidence it contained) would be destroyed in the blast.

    Mith deactivated the blast door lock, and opened the cockpit, heading quietly and quickly toward the exit. On the floor behind him, Ban Id Ell made a gurgling sound and died.

    Peering out of the shuttle exit, Mith did a quick tactical scan of the area. Fires burned from the shuttle assault, and a few bodies lay motionless, or nearly so, around the compound. Quickly looking around the corner to the north, Mith could see the opening in the wall. Determining there were no apparent threats, and well aware of his limited time, he broke into a sprint toward the breach. He passed through the barrier unhindered, and noted that no one fired at him as he went. He hoped that was a sign that no one had sen him, and that there would be no pursuit. Immediately outside of the compound, the ground dropped away in a somewhat steep and long hill. Mith charged down as quickly and safely as he could. An inkling in his mind told him to get behind a tree and get down. Moments after doing so, the deep, muffled thumps of numerous detonations shook the ground, followed by a heavy concussive blast. Huge fireballs erupted into the night sky as structures and the shuttle gave in to the pressure of high explosive charges. Covering his ears and willing himself as low to the ground as possible, Mith could feel bits of debris start to fall on top of him. Inside a chaotic storm, Mith hoped he had gotten far enough away to survive the blast.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    A muffled tone sounded in the intel officer’s headset. Checking his datapad, he noted an indicator that a secure data squirt was downloading from the drone. Phazer 2-3 had successfully initiated the transfer. Looking back at the live feed, he watched as a lone figure exited the shuttle and sprinted out of the compound. The tac officer adjusted the zoom to allow a wider angle view. The figure headed down the slope outside the north wall of the compound for about 30 seconds, then took cover, a tree obscuring him from the drone’s view. Immediately, there was a brief white flash as the drone’s low-light camera was temporarily blinded by the brightness of explosions. Filtering to near blackness, the drone feed was absent for a few moments as the initial light and heat from the blast dissipated. When it had cleared, fires could be seen burning for hundreds of meters around the compound, while a large, glowing hole emerged where the mine had been. There was no way to tell if Phazer 2-3 had survived. There was nothing the tactical team could do for him now. If he had survived, he was on his own.

    The lead Stormcrow signaled their imminent arrival at the ditch point. The tac officer initiated the charges on the Mynock, blowing it into unrecognizable fragments that would ride high-altitude winds and spread over hundreds of square miles. Days later, an adventure guide would find the charred remains of the abandoned ski lodge, apparently burned down after a random lightning strike during a recent storm. Natural sinkholes off the shore of a remote coastline would conceal the crushed fuselages of the scuttled Stormcrows for decades to come.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------

    Mith was not followed, but he took no chances. He travelled through the most dense portions of the forest, and avoided open areas. Land navigation was second nature to him, and he made good time as he made his way, and arrived in his SAFE zone 4 days later. Normally, he would remain in the Selected Area For Evasion until friendly forces could assist his escape. But there would be no help for him this time. Two days previously, a well-known transport captain had taken off from the Ancatarian spaceport in Basan with his usual, discrete load of illicit goods in a hidden compartment. He paid good money to the port master to ignore the extra weight his freighter registered, and he was paid good money by his customers to ignore the contents of the containers. In the end, he would never know that he had carried Alliance operatives off the planet, and delivered them to an undercover transport that would ferry them back to an Alliance base.

    Mith had chosen his SAFE zone specifically because it was an area that he was familiar with. Preparing for this contingency, prior to the mission, he had buried some extra clothing in a small cave he’d found a few months back. After burning or burying all of his equipment, he donned the much-more-civilian attire. One other feature of the area was that a river that ran through it that was oft travelled by tour companies on rafting adventures. Executives from the Bank of Aargau were enjoying the second week of a two week rafting and camping trip when they discovered what they believed to be a tired and battered adventure guide who had been reported missing in a recent storm. They gladly allowed “Tomas” to finish the trip with them, and gave him a lift to Basan, where he reported in to his employers.

    After spending a night in a local medical facility, Tomas took two days of leave to recover. He then booked one of his occasional off-planet supply runs. It would be days before the Ancatar Adventure Agency would start wondering why Tomas hadn’t returned. Within a few weeks, a new guide would be hired, and people would begin to forget about the previous guide who had seemingly disappeared.


    Last edited by DogSolitude; 04-13-2013 at 11:03 PM. Reason: Spelling

  2. #227
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    We've got to stop running into each other like this...

    “Excuse me, young man,” said the commander after a long, awkward silence, “but if you could tell me what you’re looking for perhaps I could help.”

    Tam ignored the officer, his eyes locked on the hologram, clicking forward one frame at a time. Every time the two figures stepped out of view, Tam would skip the footage back to their emergence. He didn’t know the taller of the two; when she rolled through the closing blast door her hair had apparently caught fire, but it was quickly put out.

    And that’s when Tam would twist the frame jogger so the frames would progress most slowly, for it was Fiola Shaku who extinguished the woman’s hair and helped her to her feet so they continue running. Tam studied the face of the woman for what must have been the hundredth time, hoping to see some sign or indication that this was the Fiola Shaku, the one he knew. It had to be her, Tam could feel it. He knew what he had felt, and though he couldn’t explain it, this was Fi. The real Fi.

    His Fi…

    It was some time before Tam realized that the commander’s incessant chatter wasn’t directed at him any more. He looked up to see the man arguing with some subordinate. “Is there a problem?”

    “As a matter of fact there is.” The man made no attempt to hide his frustration. “It appears that I’m to confirm a prisoner transfer to your ship, but I haven’t been notified of any such directive before now.”

    Tam turned back to his hologram. “Neither have I.”

    “Is your captain in charge of such things, then?”

    Tam only offered a noncommittal shrug.

    “Gunnery Chief…” the man checked his datapad, “Varnillian is reporting with her prisoner. I imagine she will be eager to take off once the prisoner is secured.”

    That elicited a response from Tam. “Is this your pathetic attempt to get me to leave?”

    “Not to put too fine a point on it…”

    Tam rose to his feet, and turned to face the commander and his aide. “And your eagerness comes from…?”

    “Frankly, I don’t understand your purpose here. You, a young boy of, what, fifteen at the oldest, march into my offices and make demands at gunpoint. If there were some official sanction for this I’d be willing to—“ The man’s diatribe ended abruptly, and he began to tug at the collar of his tunic.

    “Congratulations, Commander, you have reached the end of my tolerance.” Tam focused on the assistant. “Now, if you would be so kind as to transfer all the files I reviewed onto a data chip, we’ll be on our way.”

    The commander dropped to his knees, then crumpled completely prone on the floor, breathing his last. The assistant stood frozen, staring at the body of his former superior.

    “Now,” said Tam, “if you please…”

    **

    The weather outside matched Tam’s mood: dark, dismal, and determined. The pouring rain had blasted his face as he and his entourage had ridden the speeder bikes back to the Inun. Captain Doule was waiting for him at the top of the boarding ramp.

    “We were beginning to worry, Tam. Where have you been?”

    Tam brandished the datachip. “Investigating.”

    “And?”

    “Are we ready for liftoff?”

    “Yes.” The two entered the ship’s cargo area. The recently used speeder bikes were being placed back on their storage racks, and the soldiers standing near the turbolifts saluted smartly. “Will we be going directly to Dantooine, or do we need to drop your prisoner off somewhere else?” The captain’s face was inscrutable, but Tam could tell through the Force that he wasn’t sure if this prisoner was expected to survive the voyage.

    “I thought the prisoner was your business.” Tam thought to add, “this time, at least. What’s his name?”

    “Kal Laggert. Ever met him?”

    “Can’t say that I have.”

    Doule smiled. “Well, that’s a blessing. Shall we go have a look?”

    The two made their way to the brig, and were greeted by Niclara Varnillian. “I’m glad you showed up when you did. We got this scumbag from a nearby crash, and we need to transport him to Bastion for processing.”

    Tam ignored Doule’s explanation that the Inun wasn’t on its way to Bastion, that his ship wasn’t a taxi service, and the ensuing argument. His attention was firmly placed on the prisoner. “That man is not named Kal Laggert,” he said, feeling his already dark mood spike with alarm and incredulity, wondering if he should let Luis Santiago ever see the outside of this holding cell again…

  3. #228
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    “Waitress!” shouted the customer impatiently.

    “I’ll be with you in a moment, sir,” responded Ana. She’d been working in the tapcafe in the New Quarter of Mos Eisley for two weeks, and she already hated it. A native of Tatooine, she had hoped to make enough money to buy her way off planet and start a new life. Where that was, she had yet to decide, but she figured she could be earning money in the meantime while she thought about it.

    “But I think there are bugs in my salad!” the man protested, obviously not willing to wait. While the New Quarter attracted more tourists and higher tips, it also brought wealthier patrons that were not used to waiting for anything.

    Ana sighed. “Can you excuse me for a minute?” she asked the young man at the table. His hair was on the long side, and messy, and he had a scraggly, full beard. Along with his rolled up pants and sandalled feet, Ana couldn’t help but peg him as a traveling musician type. She’d seen a few around town. Trying to find gigs in cantinas and the like, no doubt. Likely broke, too.

    “No worries,” then man said calmly “Take your time.” Ana smiled, grateful for the man’s patience. She hurried off to tend to the Bug Salad incident. She hated having to be friendly and apologetic to arrogant sons of banthas, but she knew that it was the best way to win their approval, and a larger tip. Of course, showing a little of her tan cleavage helped, too.

    Once she’d tended to the upset salad-eater, she returned to The Starving Musician to take his order. That wasn’t really his name, but she tended to “name” her customers in her head as part of a little game to help keep her mind off of how much she disliked most of them. Unsurprisingly, he ordered an inexpensive meal and beverage. As she served other customers, Ana found herself stealing quick glances at him out of the corner of her eye. She found herself wanting to be attracted to him, but failing. Physically, he was mildly atractive (and might be much more so without the beard), and he was kind and patient, but he was too soft-spoken for her tastes. She preferred guys who were a little more take-charge. Not in a cocky way, but in a confident way. No, she thought. He’s just not what I’m looking for.

    The afternoon went on and The Starving Musician remained. Ana wasn’t surprised. He’s got nowhere else to go, she thought. She began wondering if he’d stay through the evening. Approaching him to ask if he wanted a refill on his beverage, she couldn’t resist the urge to ask him. “You aren’t by chance a musician, are you?” she queried, smiling politely.

    “Yes,” he replied softly. “Yes, I am.” He smiled at her nervously, not sure what she was getting at.

    “Thought so,” she said.

    “What gave it away?” he asked. Like it wasn’t obvious, Ana thought to herself. He doesn’t even realize he’s fits the stereotype.

    “I don’t know,” she lied. “You’re more patient than most of my customers. It seems to me that musicians tend to be the more patient type. At least in this part of the galaxy.” It sounded good to her. She hoped he didn’t take offense.

    “Sure,” he answered, nodding. “I can see it. You do have to be patient to learn an instrument and become good at it. It takes time and practice.” Ana breathed a sigh of relief inwardly.

    “What do you play?” she asked, trying to guess in her mind what he might say.

    “I play the Braemarian fife”, he replied.

    “I’ve never heard of that,” Ana responded. “What is it?”

    “It’s similar to other fifes,” answered The Musician. “It’s a native instrument of my home planet of Braemar”.

    “Can I see it?” asked Ana, not really interested in the instrument, but enjoying talking to someone who wasn’t rude.

    “Well, you see, I don’t actually have one anymore,” he responded. “I...well...I had to sell it to help buy my passage here”. He really is hard up, she thought.

    “Are you looking for work here in Mos Eisley?” Ana asked, knowing what his answer would be.

    “No,” he replied. Really? And I thought I had you figured out....”I’m trying to find a ride somewhere else.”

    “Where are you headed?” Ana inquired. She had new customers coming in, and would have to get back to work.

    “I don’t know yet”, The Musician replied with a sigh. He had a resigned look on his face. He shrugged his shoulders in a slow, sad motion. “It will come to me one way or another, I suppose”, he said.

    “Well, I wish you luck,” replied Ana, feeling a bit bad for him. “Stop by again sometime, if you're ever in-system. And remember me when you make it big!” She gave him a warm smile and went to serve other customers. As she moved to another table, two Caamasi entered the tapcafe. They looked briefly for a place to sit, and eventually took up the table behind The Musician. As they sat down, one Caamasi asked the other, “He wants to go where?

    “Yes," replied the second. "Really. He is set on life as a monk, and wants to open a monastery on Dantooine".

    Mith Mankar, The Starving Musician, placed two coins on his table with two audible “clicks”, then got up and exited the tapcafe. He smiled politely at Ana as he left.



  4. #229
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    Fi had been right. The farmer who owned the land that now hosted both the Dawncaller and the Whydah indeed had a thing or two to say about the ships parked in his field. As the group watched the farmer approach in his speeder, corporal Dunn spoke up. “We’ll take care of this,” he announced, and he and Dylan walked away to speak with the farmer.

    “At least they’re making themselves useful,” Reil muttered.

    “Are you sure you don’t want Jyllis and me to use our feminine whiles to charm him?” Fi responded. Whether she was bitter, sarcastic, or joking was hard to tell. Reil decided not to pursue it. The events on Ord Mantell, the escape, and subsequent trip to Dantooine had worn on all of them, and no one was really in the mood to squabble. Besides, the wide, quiet expanse of the field, coupled with the quiet breeze, had a potent calming effect.

    The group had watched the exchange between the Renegades and the farmer from a distance. Not able to hear what transpired, no one was certain what had been discussed. The farmer, initially upset, had seemed to calm in his demeanor. At one point, he became enraged again, but something the two rebels said calmed him back down. In the end, he left and returned to his home. Dunn had only reported that they were free to stay as long as necessary, but it would be best if they kept quiet and to themselves, and tried not to burn down the field.

    Evening had passed, and Dantooine’s sun had set. The group had set up some makeshift seating arrangements around some glowplugs a few meters from their ships. Conversation had been light, and the mood was introspective, while they dined on rations from the ships’ kitchens. The rebels could tell there was much more going on than they were aware of, and that the people seated around them likely had an extensive history together, in one form or another. One thing was clear, however. Whatever they each had planned, whether individually, or as a group, contact with the rebellion was what they were waiting for next, before they continued. And so, they waited.

    A few hours after dark, a speeder approached from the direction of the farmhouse. Corporal Dunn rose from his seat to go meet it, with Dylan following him. The speeder came to a stop just inside the radius of light given off by the glowplugs, and what looked like another farmer got out. This one appeared younger, and sported a mop of dark hair and a full, thick beard. The conversation was brief, and appeared to the others to be serious and intense. Kenlan, rubbing his clean-shaven chin absent-mindedly, noticed Dunn turning to look at him, the farmer’s gaze also resting on him briefly, before returning to their conversation. A few moments later, the farmer reached under his worn and faded shirt and produced a small device. He manipulated the device, then returned it to its hidden location. After a few more words, the Renegades turned and led the farmer back to where the group was seated. The farmer walked to where Kenlan was seated.

    “Kenlan?” he asked. The farmer wasn’t imposing, but spoke with the quiet confidence of someone who knew what he was doing.

    “Yes,” replied Kenlan, rising to meet the man.

    “My name’s Mith,” the man said. “Mr. Dunn tells me you have a message to for the rebellion.”

    “Well...yes,” said Kenlan. “I’ve already explained it to him. Do I need to explain it to you, too?”

    Mith laughed. “No. Not me,” he responded, a smile on his face. “But I do know someone who would like to talk to you about it.”

    Before Kenlan could ask who that might be, the sound of a rapidly decelerating transport filled the air. The dark, unlit shape of an assault transport settled quickly to the ground in the shadows about 50 meters away. As the repulsorlifts whined to a quiet idle, a ramp dropped open, revealing a dark ramp.

    “That would be him in there,” Mith said.



  5. #230
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    Strange Bedfellows

    The figure at the top of the ramp was a hulking felinoid specimen, perhaps just shy of two meters in height. Most of his orange fur was covered by a plain brown uniform with the insignia of the Rebel Alliance on the bulging shoulders.

    "I am Captain Amur, leader of Alpha Squadron of Barthok's Brigade," he announced in fluent, if slightly practiced and formal, basic as he descended the ramp. "I presume you are Kenlan As-Buka?"

    "The same," confirmed Kenlan. He had approached the edge of the ramp, but stood firmly on the ground, daring to go no further until he could be sure the captain's razor sharp fangs wouldn't develop a taste for washed-up con artists.

    "Corporal Dunn informs me that you have information vital to the Alliance," prompted Amur.

    "Yes," replied Kenlan. "Captain, I can give you few assurances beyond my own word, but you must believe me, I implore you."

    "That depends on what tale you would tell," qualified Amur.

    Kenlan nodded. It was the best he could hope for, given the circumstances. "Are you familiar with what took place some time ago on Owara?" he asked.

    Amur spat on the ground. "Yes, another senseless victim of the Empire's cruelty," he cursed. "How many more worlds must fall?"

    "With your help, Captain, I intent to be sure that this world is not one of those," replied Kenlan.

    "How do you mean?"

    "The fleet responsible for the destruction on Owara," continued Kenlan. "We - my...companions and I - have reason to believe that the same fleet is on its way here."

    "And what evidence would you present?"

    "We encountered them in orbit over Ord Mantell," explained Kenlan. "The entire fleet converged on us, and on one of our members in particular. I believe that the commander of the fleet will stop at nothing until he finds this member of our party."

    "Why would he pursue you with such singular focus?"

    "We each have a...history with the commander."

    White teeth flashed in Amur's mouth. "You are associates of the Butcher of Owara?"

    "Easy!" retorted Kenlan, his hands in the air. "He wasn't always a butcher, you know. When we all knew him, he was just a boy."

    "That must have been a very long time ago."

    "Not actually," replied Kenlan. "You see, Captain, your 'Butcher of Owara' is in fact still just a boy. A boy named Tam Dawncaller. Raised here on Dantooine, in fact."

    "And so you lure him back here?"

    "Yes," confirmed Kenlan. "Despite the atrocities he has committed, I believe he is still just a boy. If I can get him to come back here, to a familiar place, then I believe we can bring back the boy."

    "Your story is...implausible," admitted Amur, "but the risks are too great to ignore your tale. Boy or no, the Butcher of Owara must be stopped. What would you request of the Alliance?"

    "Time," replied Kenlan. "And support. He will come to us, that I am sure of. You must engage his fleet, but you must allow the commander to land. We will deal with him ourselves. At best, we can turn him back to our side. At worst..." Kenlan trailed off, unable to finish the thought.

    "If he cannot be turned," continued Amur for him, "he must be destroyed."

    Kenlan nodded. "And Captain, there's one more thing," he added.

    Amur stood quietly, waiting for Kenlan to continue.

    "No matter what anyone calls me, you need to understand that I am no Jedi," admitted Kenlan.

    "A curious request," replied Amur. "Then what are you?"

    "I am no Jedi," repeated Kenlan firmly, "just as Mith here is clearly no farmer."

    Amur regarded the pair carefully. "Very well," he said finally before bending over to scoop Kenlan's hand into his massive right paw. "Welcome to the Rebellion."

    As Amur turned and marched back up the ramp, Kenlan looked back down at his own hand. "Great," he muttered. "Just great."

  6. #231
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    “Tell me,” said Tam, not turning away from the prisoner in the holding cell, “why is he unconscious?”

    “He resisted containment,” offered Gunnery Chief Varnillian, “and had to be stunned. I suggest we keep him in this state for the duration of our journey to Bastion.”

    Tam could sense the consternation of the man behind him. Captain Doule didn’t like how Varnillian had attempted to commandeer the Inun, but he seemed to have spoken his peace on the matter, and had apparently resolved himself to disappointing her. Additionally, Doule exuded a growing anxiety that had only manifested once before: when Tam had taken an interest in a prisoner.

    “Thank you, Chief. I assure you we will maintain utmost security with your quarry.” Tam turned and handed a datacard to one of the brig guards. “Please show our guest to an available guest suite.” After a brief glance, sizing up Tam and Doule, Varnillian followed the guard to her quarters.

    It wasn’t until they were alone that Doule opened his mouth to speak, and Tam silenced him with an uplifted hand. “Let me assuage your fears. I have no intention of traveling to Bastion, nor do I wish any immediate harm on Doctor Santiago.”

    “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to you doing that,” said the captain with a rueful shake of his head. “But you do know this man?”

    “I do. It seems the Force is determined to set in my path acquaintances from my past. I foresaw this, and foresaw the threat that they pose to me, but so far I’ve failed to eliminate that threat.” Tam looked on Doule gratefully. Had it not been for his subterfuge, Tam would eventually have brought a fatal end to Zealos Reil’s painful torture, and the slave girl Cali would have met a similar fate. He couldn’t deny the same urge to dispatch Luis Santiago, but he also couldn’t deny his encounter with a ship called the Dawncaller above Ord Mantell. Fi had been on that ship, and if it hadn’t been for that second craft—the Whydah, it was called—the musician would be in this brig as well, and Tam could finally get some answers. Tam found that he wanted answers more than to eliminate threats or anything else.

    “I know I haven’t always expressed it, Captain, but I appreciate your efforts during our time together. If not for you, I may have lost sight of my purpose.”

    Doule kept his features professional, but he couldn’t hide the emotion welling in his eyes. “I fulfilled my duty, Tam. I must admit I hope for an explanation of all that’s happened.”

    “As do I, Captain. Inform the squad to set a course for Dantooine.”

    “The Obstructor’s gravity well generators are still disabled. And while the Inun is spaceworthy, our defensive systems are barely operational.”

    “I doubt that will matter. If I don’t get the answers I’m looking for, the firepower of the rest of the squad should be sufficient to end this once and for all…”



    “If I may just say, milord,” said High Inquisitor Tremayne, standing beside Darth Vader as the two imposing figures towered above the bridge crew of the Executor, “why are we persisting in this wild bantha chase?”

    Vader brandished an accusatory figure as though it were a lightsaber. “You have either falsely claimed credit for the creation of Morning Star Squad, or you are now attempting to distance yourself from your subversive private fleet. In either case you are trying to hide your treachery, and in either case the Emperor will not be pleased with my report.”

    Tremayne threw his hands up in a plea of innocence. “But milord, I’ve told you everything!”

    “Which is why you are given the opportunity to cooperate in the apprehension of the boy you call Tam Dawncaller. You will help me in my search or you will pay the price for standing in my way…”

  7. #232
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    Reunions

    All the other boys formed a circle around him, their uniforms stained with the blue-green grass. They stared, their eyes wide with the horror that he felt. The screams in his chest tried desperately the claw their way out, but he couldn’t make any sound at all besides a small whimper as hot tears streaked down his face. His uniform wasn’t grass-colored any more. Neither were his hands, splattered crimson from when he tried to stop the bleeding. And his leg was all the wrong way, and he couldn’t move it, and it all hurt so much.

    I’m going to die, the boy thought. He curled up as best he could into a ball, shuddering at the pain shooting up his side. Oblivion kept calling as his lifeblood seeped out of him and spilled onto the torn field. “No,” he sobbed, squeezing his eyes shut. “No, no, no, no.”

    “Luis!” cried a booming voice. His father’s voice. That was good, at least. He’d see his dad one last time before the void took him. Little Luis squinted his eyes open in time to see the upside-down image of his father pushing his way through the ring of his teammates, a medical droid en tow.

    Mr. Santiago knelt down besides Luis. Does father know how to do the last rites?

    “Mi hijo, look at me. Can you hear me?”

    Luis managed to nod weekly. He felt his father’s hands gently pressing on his neck, his chest, his good leg. “Does any of this hurt?” Luis shook his head.

    The droid wheeled itself over, its many-jointed limbs dangling over Luis’s face. He heard a gentle whirring sound. “The patient has suffered from a compound fracture of his tibia, but otherwise appears unharmed. No spinal damage. He is safe to transport. Please allow me to place him on a trolley.”

    “No, I’ll carry him,” Mr. Santiago said, wrapping his arms around his boy.

    Luis tried to fight his father’s grasp. He was in his off-duty uniform, the one he always kept clean. He’d get it all dirty, and then he would be mad. He tried to escape, to tell his father he’d rather have the droid take him, to call for help.

    Instead all he could do was cry as his father held him close . . .


    ~~~


    Kal moaned as the sedatives began to wear off. His leg still hurt, but so did his chest. And his face. He didn’t remember getting hit there; it had just been his leg when he and Rober had both gone for the ball . . .

    Wong time and wrong name, Santiago, Kal reminded himself. Though wouldn’t it be nice. Apparently his captors had dumped him face-first on the cell’s bench, which explained the pain in his face. The ache in his chest was probably the stun blast, and the legs. . . honestly he had no idea at this point. Pushing himself up and sitting gingerly, he hoped that Varnillian hadn’t left him any other corporal surprises.

    He heard the speakers crackle. “I was hoping you’d come to before I had more pressing matters to deal with,” said a distorted, oddly familiar voice.

    Kal quickly surveyed his cell. Just a bench and a toilet, no bed, and no one-way transparasteel, which meant a camera. No visible door either. Maximum security. “I’d be more than happy to go back to sleep,” Kal said, backing away from where he thought the door might be. “I wouldn’t want to distract you from whatever ‘pressing matters’ you may have.”

    Something resembling a snort came over the intercom. “I don’t think so, Santiago. I want answers, and you’re going to give them to me.”

    Kal froze. “How do you know that name?” There was no way to trace him. His retinal patterns, fingerprints, facial patterns, they were all altered. All connections between his previous life and the next . . . dozen or so . . . severed. To protect his friends.

    “Come on now, Luis, you gave it to me. Don’t you remember?”

    Someone I served with? From the academy? A superior? Wait, did I talk while I was out? What did I say?

    “Just some incoherent rambling about your leg hurting. Nothing interesting. Unfortunately.”

    Luis backed up to corner, looking for anything he could use to defend himself. There was nothing, of course. What’s going on here? They must have me under, some sort of subconscious interrogation.

    “No, Luis, this is quite real. Let me show you.” A section of the far wall retracted silently and a short, uniformed officer stepped into the cell. Young, far too young. It was—

    “Tam? Tamander Dawncaller?” He was taller than Luis remembered, with his hair cropped short and in Imperial gray, but it was Tam. Luis abandoned his fighting stance and ran to the boy, the first smile he’d worn in months twitching at his lips. “You’re alive! What are you doing here? Where are—”

    His words and breath were cut short as an invisible wall slammed into his chest, throwing him backward. “That’s close enough, doctor,” Tam said, lowering his outstretched arm. “And I’ll be the one asking questions here.”

    Luis coughed, coaxing air back into his lungs. Sith . . . what’s happened to you, Tam?

    The boy took a step forward, pointing one menacing finger. “What’s happened to me? You’re not really one to ask, are you, ‘Kal Laggert?’ Not after you cut your losses and ran.”

    “I did it to protect you!” Luis said, helping himself up with the bench.

    The boy he knew as Tamamder snarled, his face a mask of cold hate. “You left us all for dead, you filthy coward!”

    Luis took a slow breath and looked the boy dead in the eye. “No Tam. They started chasing Tey and myself first. That’s how you all got wrapped up in this tapestry of schemes and death. If you really can look into my thoughts, look now. I did it for you.” And for her.

    Tam began to laugh. Short, mirthless barks which sent shivers down Luis’s spine. “Why didn’t I see it sooner? Of course you would be in league with her too.”

    The boy’s snapped, Luis realized, watching Tam’s wild eyes roll up toward the ceiling as the boy continued to laugh that cold, empty laugh. The Empire got him, broke him. And now he’s wearing a uniform and being used like any other tool.

    Tam’s gaze snapped back to Luis. “I am not anyone’s tool!” the boy bellowed, raising up both arms. Luis felt an unseen grip around his throat and on his back, forcing him to his hands and knees. “Not yours, or Doule’s, or the Emperor himself!” The pressure grew stronger with each punctuated word. Luis doubted that his trembling limbs could hold him up much longer. “Not even Fi’s. Now, what was she doing here?”

    Luis grasped at his neck, but there was nothing to fight against. “I don’t . . . know . . . what you’re talking about.”

    “Liar!” Tam shrieked. Luis felt the ground fall out from underneath him. He flailed for a moment, suspended in the air, and then was thrown back against the wall of his cell, his feet half a meter from the ground. “First that Zealos and his slave girl, then her, and now you. An amazing set of coincidences, don’t you think? Don’t think I can’t see through your pathetic designs. Now tell me! Why was she here and what are you planning?”

    Tears stung at Luis’s eyes as his bones began to creak and protest against the strain. “Tam . . . I didn’t even know any of you . . . were alive. I’ve been trying . . . to find you.”

    Tam paused. “Why?”

    “Because . . . I care . . . about you.”


    ~~~


    “Sir, the Inun is breaking orbit,” called the comm officer from his post. She says that they’re headed out of the system.”

    The general gritted his teeth and gripped the datapad he was reading. “Who authorized that?”

    The officer typed several commands into his console. “I don’t know, sir,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m only getting that it’s on priority matters.”

    “Figure it out. Now.” The general rose from his seat, walking to the far side of the Pulsar’s bridge. “Lieutenant, stall them. Hit them with every procedure and protocol in the book.”

    “Yes sir,” Lt. Matthews replied, picking up his headset.

    “Sir, they’re not responding,” called the comm officer. “Ignoring our hails completely now.”

    “Make them respond!”

    “Sir, they’re headed on a trajectory for hyperspace along with a fleet of ships. They’ll be gone in five minutes.”

    The general balled his hand into a fist. “Everyone, full alert. I want everything we know about that ship, who commands it, and where it’s going. And we’re going to bring it back.”

    The comm officer swiveled around in his chair. “Sir, it looks like they have proper clearance. From what I can tell, all we can tag them on is failing to deliver a prisoner. And if I may, why the sudden interest?”

    General Santiago took his chair again, scratching at his gray beard. “That prisoner is mine to interrogate. And don’t worry, I have a few people who owe me a favor.”
    Last edited by Fingon; 05-03-2013 at 02:28 PM.

  8. #233
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    “Captain, we have arrived in the Dantooine system.” The navigator looked up from his terminal to look out the viewport at the tiny orb still a few light-minutes away.

    “Thank you, Mister Quist.” Doule tapped on the console of his command dais absently, considering his words carefully before turning to speak them. “We’re here, Tam, but I’m not sure how we’ll find them. Dantooine is a big planet.”

    “Big and empty,” said the boy, standing behind the command dais and looking over the operator’s shoulder of the sensor station. He pointed to the monitor, displaying a surface map of the planet. “We land here. The rest of the squad will maintain orbit until further instruction.”

    “Do you sense them in the Force?” asked Doule, joining them around the sensor station.

    Tam looked at the captain, his eyes a clash of mockery and vulnerability. “That’s my home.”

    Doule had no time to formulate a response, for the communications officer began shouting, “Multiple targets, Captain! They’ve arrayed themselves to prevent us from approaching the planet. There’s a broadcast transmission, sir.”

    “Play it for us.”

    A ghostly blue figure shimmered to life. “This is Captain Amur of Alpha Squadron. Halt your approach or we will be forced to open fire. This is Captain Amur of Alpha Squadron. Halt your approach or we will…” The message continued its cycle until Doule gestured for it to end. He then said, “Show me what we’re up against.”

    “Three assault frigates, three more bulk cruisers, and…” the officer paused to count, “a dozen Corellian gunships.” He transferred the readout to the command holoprojector so Doule could see the forces marshaled against them.

    The captain rubbed the bridge of his nose in consternation; a motion which extended into a hand smoothing over his hair after the other removed his cap. The squad could probably punch its way through the blockade, but there was no guarantee the ships would survive it. The Inun would probably be one of the first casualties. “Tam,” he said, gazing at the projections overlaying the viewport, “any ideas of how we can get through this one?”

    Not hearing a response, Doule turned around. Tam was gone. The illumination level suddenly increased on the bridge, and when Doule spun back around to see what had happened, his knees nearly crumpled underneath him. There was no explosion, or a starship making a dangerously close exit from hyperspace, or anything else that Doule had initially assumed could have caused the sudden flash of light.

    It was Dantooine, bright and bold, filling the whole viewport with light reflected from the planet’s parent star. The Inun was suddenly in a low orbit over Dantooine, and there was only one explanation for something like that.

    “We didn’t have time to dawdle with local trouble,” said Tam over the shipboard intercom. “Harmod will have to deal with Amur and his ships while we move on. Continue to the coordinates I indicated, Captain…”

  9. #234
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    "Come on," barked Kenlan as the comlink channel clicked closed. He grabbed Fi by the hand and pulled her away from the anxious group of Rebels still huddled in the field. The gathered storm was now breaking, and Kenlan knew he would have to move quickly now to stay ahead of it.

    "Where are you taking me?" protested Fi.

    "Come on, Fi, we've got more important things to do than stand around," grumbled Kenlan. "You there," he said, waving to the owner of the small farm, who had been leaning against the fence just outside the farmhouse since just after Amur and his crew had taken off again, "I need your help with something. What did you say your name was again?"

    "Firt," replied the farmer. It was in fact the first time Kenlan had heard his name.

    "Firt, hey, I'm hoping you can give me a hand," replied Kenlan. "I spent some time on this planet a while back, and I remember hearing someone tell me about some caves or tunnels or something that ran underground though this whole region."

    "Sure, the Grotto," replied Firt. "Everyone knows about that."

    "Could you tell me where the nearest entrance is?" replied Kenlan.

    The farmer motioned to a low, rolling swell in the field across from his own. "Just the other side of that ridge," he said. "There's a rocky outcropping where part of the hillside gave way. Over on the edge of the old Dawncaller property. The sinkhole will take you right into the Grotto."

    "Much obliged, mate," replied Kenlan, tossing him a two-credit coin.

    "Whatever gets you folks off my property," muttered Firt as Kenlan pulled Fiola away briskly.

    "Did he say Dawncaller?" asked Fi. "Kenlan, let me go right now." She dug her heels into the soft turf until the older man was finally forced to let go of her wrist. She glared at him petulantly. "What's your plan here?"

    "Back...near the beginning," explained Kenlan, "Tam told me a little about what had happened to his family. Did he ever tell you that?"

    "He never liked to say much about it," replied Fi. "It must have traumatized him pretty badly."

    "To be honest, I never got all of the details, either," admitted Kenlan. "And I never pried. But he did tell me that they were...well, for lack of a better word, they were massacred, Fi. Massacred by the Empire."

    Fi looked away, the flood of emotions threatening to overwhelm her. "That's the part I never understood," she said. "If they did that to him, did that to his family, and he saw it all...how can he work for them now? How can he do things like what he's done."

    Kenlan shook his head. "I don't think anyone can understand it, Fi. But it's my hope, and I know this is a long shot, but I believe that when he's confronted with that, he'll feel the same way."

    "But what if he doesn't, Kenlan?" asked Fi. "What if he decides he wants to be a monster and kills us and everyone else on this planet?"

    Kenlan paused for a moment, seriously considering the possibility. "I can't think of anything better, Fi," he replied. "But you know he won't give up. This is it, Fi. All or nothing. We put our chips on one number and hope that number comes up."

    "And the caves?"

    "Tam told me he hid in some caves after...after it was done," explained Kenlan. "He said it was a huge network of tunnels and caverns that criss-cross this entire area. I didn't realize we were this close to his old farm, but this works in our favor. We can bring him back to the very spot. Remind him of what the Empire did to him. What the Empire is still doing to him, and forcing him to do to other people."

    "And how to you propose to get him to this exact spot on the entire planet?" asked Fi.

    "He can sense you, Fi," replied Kenlan. "He'll come to you wherever you are."

    "So that's it?" cried Fi with apparent indignance. "You're setting a trap for him, and using me as bait?"

    "Fi, I don't have time to..."

    Kenlan was interrupted by the sound of Fi's name being called from across the field. They both turned to see Jyll running in their direction.

    "Fi," asked the actress as she approached the pair, "where are you going?"

    Kenlan's comlink unexpectedly crackled to life again. "Alpha Leader, this is Six. I've lost my contact, sir," came the voice of one of the fighter pilots that had just started to engage the Imperial fleet in orbit. "It's just gone."

    "Repeat, Six," came Amur's voice from the comlink. "Can you confirm? Was the contact destroyed?"

    "Negative, sir," replied the voice of Six. "That little cruiser just...disappeared. One second it was on my scope, and then the next, just nothing."

    "Maintain scanning, Six," admonished Amur. "Cruisers do not simply disappear."

    "Fi, we are out of time," insisted Kenlan, again grabbing her by the wrist.

    "Fi, don't leave me," implored Jyll, taking her other wrist and locking her eyes defiantly with Kenlan's. "I won't leave you."

    "She can come if you want, Fi," said Kenlan, "but I can't promise she'll make it out alive. I can't promise any of us will make it out alive, but I believe this is our best shot. What's it going to be, Fi?"

  10. #235
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    Fi shook the aging man's hand from her wrist in irritation, and looked fiercely into his eyes. Kenlan stared back soberly. All Fi could be sure she knew about this man was that she surely knew next to nothing. Nothing more than what, over those first few months, he'd allowed her to know... allowed her to believe. She searched his eyes for deception, for subterfuge. For a hidden agenda.

    She found none.

    Fi turned her gaze to Jyllis, tall and proud, and shook her other wrist out of the woman's grasp. The actress looked back at her imploringly.

    "Fi, you're very important to me. You can't just walk away like this."

    Oh, Fi thought, but I can. And I always do.

    Fi felt a clarity of purpose crystallize within her.

    But not this time.

    "Jyll," she breathed, only now fully realizing that her final confrontation with Tam was not only going to happen, it was going to happen soon, "we've talked about this in theory, but now it's really happening. This will be dangerous. One or even all of us could be hurt... or killed."

    The young woman looked back at Fi, and swallowed slowly.

    "Eh," Jyll laughed, eyes misting, "I've had a good run."

    Fi smiled at her, and saw the rest of her life in the actress's eyes. The only question was if the rest of that life would be counted in years, or hours. A troubling thought. She snapped on her comlink.

    "Reil, buddy - are you and Cali there?"

    "Yeah. You guys picked a fine time to take up jogging."

    Fi rolled her eyes. "Cute. Kenlan's got a plan. It could be brilliant. Or, it could get us killed. Might be best to not be all in one spot, you get me?"

    "Affirmative. But I think you three are taking a lot on your shoulders."

    "Me too. But this isn't goodbye. Kenlan's got a hunch, and I'd rather not risk everyone. Could be it's nothing, but I want to... I want to feel this out. I'm gonna set my comlink to ping you my location every five minutes, okay?"

    "If you say so. But where are you headed?"

    "Into some caves. The entrance is near here... I'll make sure you're pinged at the mouth of the location. And if you end up lifting off, let me know, alright?"

    Silence.

    "Reil?"

    The sound of a clearing throat. Then, "Nothing about this is 'all right', Fi... but, yeah. Copy that."

    "Thank you," Fi replied, and meant it. "May the Force be with you both." She stood for a moment, still holding the comlink to her lips.

    "And... Reil?"

    "Yes, what?"

    "Would you tell that man... the farmer, not-farmer, the agent..."

    "Mith," Kenlan supplied.

    "Mith," Fi repeated. "Would you ask him to tell his men to check their targets? There might be, um... kids around here later."

    A pause.

    "I understand."

    Fi snapped the comlink off.

    "Let's go find this damn sinkhole."

    * * *

    At less than sixty meters away, it didn't take long. The trio gazed into the darkened maw in the earth, a scant four meters across and proceeding downward diagonally. The strengthening rain had turned its lower surface into a muddy slick, and one or two small animals were scrabbling up its slope, looking for higher, safer ground.

    "Gonna be hard going," Kenlan observed professionally. "Mind your footing."

    Cautiously, the trio descended into the cave, doing their best to stay on their feet. Moments after they disappeared into the darkness, a small, white, airborne puffball crested the ridge above, and floated down into the darkness after them...
    Last edited by I. J. Thompson; 06-05-2013 at 06:28 PM.
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  11. #236
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    "Would you ask him to tell his men to check their targets? There might be, um... kids around here later."

    “Did you catch that, Not-Farmer Man?” Reil asked Mith, a smile on his face. Mith gave a chuckle.

    “Yeah,” he replied. “I did.” For a moment, there was something in Mith’s eyes. Something...distant. Reil had met commando/intel members in once or twice on rebel air bases. He was familiar with their type. They were usually quiet and unassuming men. They were battle-hardened professionals, and experts at hiding emotion. Calculating, focused--almost robotic at times. Reil had the feeling that Mith was hiding something. Perhaps not “hiding”--that’s what con men like Kenlan did. No, Mith was concealing something. But what?

    “Kids?” The word broke Reil from his thoughts. It was Mith.

    “What?” asked Reil? “Sorry.”

    “The female on the comlink. Fi, I believe? She said there might be kids around later. Plural.” Mith explained. “How many? Boys? Girls? The only intel I’ve gathered is about the one male HVT, who appears to be the focus of this operation, and who was also born here.”

    “Oh. No,” Reil replied, not realizing the level of detail Mith was collecting from the conversations he’d heard. “Just the boy. The HVT you mentioned.” HVT--High Value Target--Reil recalled that acronym from his days as a pilot for the rebellion.

    “Are you certain?” Mith asked. There was caution in his voice. Commandos were quite meticulous in their planning, but the topic of children seemed to be of particular importance to Mith.

    “As far as we know, there are no other children involved,” Reil responded. “Tam is..special. He’s not an ordinary kid, as I’m sure you’ve already concluded,” he explained. “He’s got unique abilities.” Mith nodded in acknowledgement, obviously deep in thought.

    “So this Fi. She knows I’m aware of the HVT Tam,” Mith said. “But she specifically wanted us to be careful. Mr. As-Buka mentioned some of you might have had a ‘history’ with the HVT. Fi’s comment makes me think she might have been, or still is, close to him in some way?”

    “Yes,” Reil replied. “I don’t think we’ve got time for me to explain it, though.”

    “No problem,” Mith answered. “Do you think the HVT will search for and pursue her?” he asked Reil.

    “I’d say there’s a chance of that,” Reil replied. “Can’t be certain how he’ll react, though, or what he’ll do.”

    “Got it,” said Mith. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Reil.” Mith turned away to speak with two other rebels who had arrived with Captain Amur, but had remained behind after Amur and his transport had left. They walked back toward the speeder Mith had arrived in as they spoke. The two men were also dressed as locals, but Reil was pretty certain they were commandos, just as Mith was.

    “Mith?” Cali spoke up as the three men walked away. Mith turned back to face her.

    “Yes, ma’am?” Mith responded.

    “Fi and the others. They’re our friends,” Cali began. “They’re important to us. Can you tell us what you’re going to do?”

    “My orders are to buy time and give support, as Mr. As-Buka asked,” he responded. “We don’t know what’s coming our way right now. We’ve been ordered not to engage the child Tam, but any of his Imperial comrades will be neutralized.” Mith paused for a moment, then continued in an empathetic manner, lacking the cold military style with which he normally seemed to speak. “Your friends appear to be important players in what is about to happen. I know what it’s like to lose someone close to you, and to realize you can never get them back. My men and I will do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen to your friends.” Mith turned back to his companions, and walked toward the speeder.

    ************************************************** *****

    Mith climbed into the front passenger seat of the speeder, arms folded in a relaxed pose. The other to commandos occupying the driver seat, and the seat behind it. Mith turned to the man in the back, who was busy with an intricate comlink device. “Gavin, did you get the freak off that comlink?”

    “Got it, Mith”, he answered. “We’ll be able to locate that comlink within 100 meters of its location, assuming the caves they’re entering don’t interfere with the signal.”

    “And assuming that they don’t become separated from the comlink,” Mith added. The third commando engaged the drive on the speeder, and they started off over a nearby hill. Mith spoke louder over the hum of the speeder. “Bolen, we’ll need to find out if anyone in the area is familiar with these caves, and get a hold of any maps that might exist. See if they’re related to the Grotto that the locals refer to. And don’t forget to ask about any “unofficial” maps. Cave systems often have pathways that aren’t listed on the common-knowledge maps.”

    “Wilco,” Bolen replied as he guided the speeder over the sea of long grass, goggles in place to protect his eyes from the rain splashing across his face. He turned to face Mith. “This is going to turn into a charlie foxtrot. You know that, right?” Bolen tended to lean pessimistic in uncertain situation. Mith wasn’t bothered by it. He knew Bolen’s abilities in combat, and that he could count on him to fight as hard as anyone. Commandos often went into battle with the knowledge that things could go very wrong very quickly. If it wasn’t a tough mission with poor odds, it wasn’t a commando mission. That was for the regulars.

    “What don’t you like, Bolen?” Mith asked, smiling. He was well aware of the difficulties they would be facing.

    “We have an HVT who is pretty damn dangerous, and a kid. Bastard blew the hell out of Owara. And we’re supposed to protect a handful of people from him and his troops, but somehow we’re supposed to let them talk to each other?” Bolen had a way of simplifying things and putting them bluntly.

    Mith turned to look at Bolen. “What’s not to like?” he asked, a big grin on his face. Bolen shook his head.

    “Why can’t we ever get the missions that just involve shooting lots of bucketheads?” Bolen mused. “Do the high-ranks ever think about what they’re asking us to do?” Mith shrugged. He knew Bolen didn’t mean it literally. They knew their job, and they had chosen it. But it wouldn’t be any fun if they didn’t complain about it.

    “What about that kid?” Gavin shouted from the back. “Amur said he’d have to be destroyed if he couldn’t be turned. Jeez. Who’s gonna shoot the kid?”

    Bolen went stiff. Sithspit! Gavin doesn’t know about Mith's brother! In the seat next to him, Mith was a statue, staring out at the rain-soaked fields. He didn’t respond.

    Somewhere in a closed off portion of Mith’s mind, memories of childhood vacation-gone-bad were running on endless replay. Each time through, they swelled and threatened to break through the chained doors Mith had locked them behind, like a living, savage creature yearning to be free. Who’s gonna shoot the kid? The words echoed inside the darkness, bouncing off the walls of his sanity, and straining the links on the door’s chains. *%&$@!!!!! he thought. *%&$@!!!! Kid, you’d better @%&*-ing turn! You’d better turn....

    Through the wind and driving rain, the evidence of Mith’s tears was quickly washed away.

    Last edited by DogSolitude; 06-08-2013 at 11:08 PM.

  12. #237
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    “Welcome to the Rebellion.”

    Captain Amur was as good as his word, within the hour the sky began to fill with ships as the Alliance gathered all the resources it had in the area to make a stand, and stop the Empire’s new fleet before they laid waste to another world. A handful of Assault Frigates and Bulk Cruisers, as well as dozen Corellian Gunships were all the Alliance could muster, with no telling what Tam would be bringing with him to the party. Reil sighed inwardly, It’ll just have to be enough; and hey, if it isn’t and the Imperials win, they won’t just kill us, they’ll burn the entire planet, so. . . no pressure.

    None of the Rebel ships were equipped to carry fighters in any real number, so the squadrons had to set up a base camp of sorts in the neighbouring fields. Half the fighters were on patrol guarding the makeshift fleet, waiting for the Imperials, while the other half were parked groundside, giving their machines some last minute maintenance, and their pilots a reprieve. Their farmer host was no-longer alone in having his crop crushed by unwanted guests, as X-Wings and Y-Wings dominated the landscape of his neighbours. Reil even spotted a squadron of some new fighter, it looked like the R-22 Spearhead, but it was different, sleeker somehow.

    Out of professional interest, and maybe even a bit of nostalgia, Reil decided to inspect the fighter camps, and generously Mith offered to give him the guided tour. Cali was faced with the difficult decision of going with Reil to watch him drool over starfighters, or hang around with Fi, while she moped about Tam, or traded significant glances with Jyllis. Seeing as how Fi was unlikely to have any more jewellery she felt like unloading onto Cali; Cali choose the lesser of the two evils, and indulged Reil by listening to him prattle about ships she didn’t care about.

    A makeshift sensor station had been set up to alert the grounded pilots to when the Imperials arrive, and Reil scrounged up a pair of macrobinoculars, so Reil began enthusiastically pointing out the ships he recognized to Cali, who did her best to look interested.
    “That one there,” Reil pointed to the sky as he handed Cali the binoculars, “Is the Aurora,Commander Pat Mulllins’ ship; and beside it, that’s the Arctic, under Captain Fairweather.”


    Cali dutifully observed the two aging Bulk Freighters. They looked identical to her, the same Bulk Cruiser model used to be the only ships the Empire had ever bothered to send out to Tatooine, and she could never tell any difference between those ships either. She turned to Reil, and cocked an eyebrow skeptically.
    “Are you making this up to try and impress me? How can you possibly know who’s commanding what up there?”


    Reil grinned.
    “Back when I was. . . Y’know, with the Alliance, we used to have sort of a professional rivalry with these guys. Those ships are accomplished commerce raiders, and their Captains are fairly well respected.”


    Cali was unfamiliar with the term.
    “Commerce raiders?”


    “The Rebellion is sustained on a hope and prayer most of the time.” Mith supplied. “Resources are limited, and difficult to ship to any far off or hidden operations. So the bulk of the Alliance fleet has to try and supply itself, by hitting convoys and supply depots. They take what they can, destroy what they can’t, hurting the Imperials while helping the Rebellion at the same time.”

    Cali pursed her lips at the pretense.
    “So they’re pirates.”


    Reil opened his mouth to argue, then shrugged.
    “More or less. They do it for a cause though, so, you wouldn’t like them.”


    Cali smirked.
    “I’m here ain’t I? Don’t I get any credit for helping you warn the Rebels about Tam?”


    Reil smiled.
    “Yeah, I guess you do. Hell, if this goes well, you could be partly responsible for saving a planet. You’d be a heroine, you’d have to give up all your thieving and killing then, be respectable.”


    Cali snorted in derision and brought the binoculars up to look at the fleet again.
    “Let’s not push it. Any other notorious brigands you’d like to tell me about?”


    Reil stepped behind Cali, and gently turned the binoculars to the edge of the fleet where she saw the third Bulk Cruiser.
    “That’s the Terra Nova, Captain Art Jackman’s pride and joy. Word around the fleet was he’s on the short list to be given command of one of the big Mon Calamari cruisers someday. Y’know, if the Alliance ever has a spare one lying around or something.”


    Cali sighed as she looked over another glorified freighter. She idly began scanning the rest of the fleet, and noticed the Assault Frigates clustered together at the heart of it. They looked like real warships, sleek and deadly. She turned to Reil and pointed at the cluster of proper warships.
    “Tell me about those ships.”


    Reil took the macrobincoulars to see what Cali was pointing at. He frowned.
    “I’d love to, but I don’t actually know any of the Assault Frigates. I assume Captain Amur is on one of them, co-ordinating this shindig, but I don’t know much about him either.”


    “I’m disappointed in you Lieutenant. You should be intimately familiar with one of those ships.” A woman’s voice called out behind them.


    They all turned to see a tall olive skinned woman, in a flight suit approaching them. She had short cropped reddish brown hair, and a mole under he left eye, and she carried herself with an aura of command. Reil cracked a wide grin, and threw a sloppy salute at the approaching woman, not bothering to come to attention.
    “Commander, fancy meeting you here.”


    The woman squared off against Reil and shook her head.
    “It really is you. . . We. . . I talked to some guys from Renegade squadron, but I didn’t really think you’d be the same. . .You’re supposed to be dead, you know that? You are officially labelled KIA.There was a service and everything. You are ruining all the hard work I put towards your memorial.”


    Reil shrugged.
    “You know me Commander, always ready to disappoint you.” Reil turned to Cali. “Cali, this is my old CO, Commander Sarah DiMarco of Jackal squadron.”


    “Charmed.” Cali said a bit tersely, as she stuck out her hand for the Commander to shake.

    “I can tell.” The commander replied as she took Cali’s hand. There seemed to be a moment of tension between them, then DiMarco gestured over at Mith. “And who’s your friend?”

    Mith snapped to attention and gave a quick salute.
    “Just a grunt ma’am. Here to make sure no one mistakes Mr. Reil for a spy and shoots him.”


    “Captain Reil.” Zealos corrected.

    The Commander cocked an eyebrow.
    “Since when?”


    “Since I bought a ship.”

    “Fair enough.” She gave Mith a quick nod. “At ease then.” DiMarco turned her attention back to Reil. “If you’re here, then does that mean that Tohle. . ?”

    The question hung in the air, and Reil’s expression darkened visibly as he shook his head.
    “No. Tohle’s dead, I was the only one to make it out of that fiasco.”


    “What happened?”

    “It was a setup. We arrived at the rendezvous point like we were supposed to, but there were no refugee’s from the attack waiting for medical attention. There wasn’t anybody there at all. The Lieutenant gave the order to wait, in case somebody made it out alive, but all that ever showed up was an Imperial corvette. It blasted Tohle, and then took out a good chunk of my X-Wing. I had to make a blind jump to escape, I imagine it captured or destroyed the shuttle we were escorting. I ended up crashing on Tatooine with no way to get back to the fleet, and no way to contact you all.”

    DiMarco nodded, as this confirmed what she’d already suspected.
    “Well Lieutenant, you made your way home at last.”


    The rank up finally clicked in Reil’s mind.
    “Wait, Lieutenant? I’m a flight officer, last I checked.”


    “You mean captain.” Cali said quietly. Reil purposely didn’t respond.

    His commander smiled as she broke the news.
    “You were promoted posthumously for dying in service to the Alliance. Congratulations.”


    Reil sighed.
    “Of course I was. Oh no, don’t bother promoting me while I’m alive and can make use of the rank, boss around peons and such, no much better to wait till I’m dead and then promote me. That makes sense.”


    DiMarco pursed her lips.
    “It was a gesture made to honour your sacrifice. You know it’s that attitude and sarcasm right there that’s reason you were only made Lieutenant junior grade.”


    Reil scowled.
    “What? I’m not even a full Lieutenant? You’re a terrible person commander.”


    “Are all the living dead as whiny and ungrateful as you are? Because I think I preferred when you were just the regular dead. Most people who get promoted posthumously and live to enjoy it are expected to show a degree of gratitude.”

    Reil rolled his eyes.
    “Yeah well that might not be an issue much longer if this battle goes badly. So what did you mean I should recognize one of the ships?”


    “You served on one of them for almost a year.” DiMarco explained paitiently.

    Reil quickly glanced over the sensor information on display.
    “I don’t see the Eboracum up there. I don’t see any Dreadnaught as a matter of fact.”


    “We were attacked shortly after you were,” DiMarco explained, as the memory visibly pained her, “We lost almost the entire squadron, and the Eboracum took heavy damage. We managed to limp away, but only just, and when we finally got the old girl back to the fleet, the engineers said she wasn’t worth repairing. So they stripped her down instead, mechanized what they could, gave her better shields and heavier guns, turned her into a brand new ship. Captain Le Sanc rechristened her himself.”

    The commander pointed to one of the Assault Frigates. Reil read the name and groaned audibly.
    “That would be the kind of ship name he’d pick for himself.” Cali leaned over to see what they were talking about. The ship was named the Glorious. Reil continued, “Why didn’t he name it something more fitting, like the vainglorious, or the glory hound? Hell, why not dispense with the pretense and just call it Captain Guy’s huge phallic compensation device. Get it all out in the open.”


    DiMarco smirked in spite of herself, before regaining her composure.
    “He’s not that bad.”


    “Who’s Captain Guy?” Cali asked, reinserting herself back into the conversation.

    “Captain Guy Le Sanc. He captains the ship we’re based out of. Used to be based out of, it doesn’t actually have a hangar for us anymore.” DiMarco clarified. “And he’s a good Captain, he just seems. . . overzealous sometimes.”

    Zealos was less understanding.
    “He’s a relic from the Clone Wars. Despite his best efforts he went the entire war without serving in a battle of any distinction, and now he treats this war like it’s his chance to make it up and go down in history. His ego is liability.”


    DiMarco rolled her eyes.
    “Funny, I think I remember a certain Flight Officer who was quite upset when I promoted Tohle over him. I think I had some criticisms about his ego then too.”


    Reil opened his mouth to argue, and then promptly closed it. DiMarco grinned.
    “Anyway Captain Reil, if you want, and you can suffer the demotion back down to Lieutenant, I’d like to have you go up with us again. We could really use you out there, even if you are dead.”


    Cali frowned.
    “You could do that? You just have a spare fighter lying around in case a friendly pilot shows up short one?”


    The Commander shook her head.
    “No, I’d have to ground one of the new arrivals to the squad, but frankly with the crop of replacements Alliance brass sent me, I’d be just fine with that. Academy washouts, ex-cops more used to interdicting freight than dog fighting, and bunch of rookies with as much zero-g experience as a flying squirrel. I’ve been training them around the clock just so I don’t have to worry about one of them accidentally blowing me up. A seasoned veteran would be a welcome addition.”


    The offer was tempting. Reil missed his X-Wing, the way it turned, the way it shot. To show off his true talent, and rack up the silhouettes of every pilot he bested. Zealos also felt more than a little guilty, bouncing around the galaxy with Fi and the others, wandering into mess after mess, casually drifting into danger while his squadron and its base carrier fled for their lives. This could be his chance to make it up to them. To rejoin the Alliance. It had all seemed so much more important before Taanab.

    There’s no place for me there. Cali had made it perfectly clear then and there that he couldn’t have both. And Reil knew immediately which one he really wanted. But she wasn’t going to be happy with his answer. Reil prepared himself for the fallout of his decision.
    “I’m sorry. . .Sarah. I can’t. . . I-”


    The Commander shrugged as she cut him off.
    “Okay.”


    Reil blinked and tried to regain a grasp on the situation.
    “Wait, what?”


    “I said it’s okay. You don’t want in. It’s fine Zealos, really, for the most part we’ve been doing quite well without the mighty Reil to protect us from those mean Imperials. I’d like to have you up there with us, but it’s not like one way or another you’d tip the balance all on your own. Whatever you’ve got going on now, you’re a big boy, and you can make your own decisions.”

    Reil considered this.
    “You’re taking this much better than I would have expected. I mean I wasn’t there when you were attacked and now. . .”


    “And now I have to get the squadron ready. I don’t have time to throw a fit because you were stranded on the other side of the galaxy when we ran into some trouble. The offer stands, if you change your mind before the Imperials show up.”

    As DiMarco made her way back to her squadron; Reil was considering heading back and joining up with Fi and Kenlan, when alarms began to sound. The Imperial fleet had arrived. The entire area erupted in chaos as pilots raced to get to their ships in the air. Reil caught a brief glimpse of Kenlan dragging Fi and Jyll away from it all, before he lost track of them. Reil was about to chase after them when Fi called him on the comlink to fill him in on the plan. And then he and Mith had to fill each other in on their plans. Sort of. And then he and Cali were left by themselves, in the eye of hurricane of activity, as Mith rushed off to gather his squad and go after Fi. Reil turned to Cali.
    “You know, what you said about Fi and that: It was pretty sweet. I didn’t think you cared.”


    Cali shrugged.
    “We’ve been through a lot now together, seems kinda silly to keep holding on to a grudge. Also, I really like the necklace. Friends that give out fancy gifts are worth protecting.”


    Reil grinned.
    “Just when I thought you were going soft on me.”


    Cali shook her head.
    “Never. So. . . what are we going to do?”


    Reil had the comlink that was receiving Fi’s position. She asked him to stay behind as backup, but he couldn’t just sit there, waiting. There was only one place that he could actually make himself useful in now. Cali sighed as she watched the conflict play out across Reil’s face.
    “You wanna go fly an X-Wing, don’t you?”


    “It’d be the last time Cali.”

    “Cause you’d get yourself blown to bits.”

    “You know me better than that.”

    Cali took the comlink from Reil.
    “Go. I’ll power up the Whydah, and rescue the divas when their plan goes sideways. Don’t get yourself shot up.”


    “I love you too.”
    Reil kissed her, and sprinted towards Jackal squadron’s landing zone.
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  13. #238
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    Their descent was steep and muddy enough that each of them, save the avian fabool Mr. Mace, slipped and fell at least once. As the shaft bottomed out, it was Jyll's turn to lose her balance. Arms pinwheeling, the girl slid the final two meters and landed with a great splash in a knee-high muddy pool that filled the corridor.

    Kenlan As-Buka reached her momentarily, holding out a damp hand. "Are you alright, miss?"

    Jyllis waved his hand away, though not unkindly, as she struggled to stand. "Oh, I'm fine. I'm an actor, not a princess."

    They stood there, soaking to the knees, and squinted around them at the small chamber.

    "Well, there's some good news," Fi remarked, pointing at a rise in the tunnel, five meters distant, that effectively contained the water all around them. "Should be dry as a bone, once we get up there."

    They did, and it was.

    "Wish we'd thought to bring a light," Jyll said.

    "Me too," Kenlan agreed. "Though it's brighter than we had any right to expect. I'm seeing some light spilling in from some side tunnels up there."

    "Too bad it's stormy out," Fi added. "On a sunny day, you could probably see just fine down here."

    They continued on, Fi and Jyllis drawing their blasters, just in case.

    "Man, listen to that," Jyllis commented as the screaming of dozens of starfighter-grade repulsorlifts echoed into the tunnel from the surface. "Gonna be quite the fight." They listened as numerous engines fired, the craft they powered lifting off.

    "I wish I'd thought to offer the Dawncaller to those rebels," Fi said. "She could really be useful up there."

    Jyll looked at her sideways. "For real?"

    Fi considered, then smiled guiltily. "No, I guess not," she confessed, "not really. It'd be nice to have a way off this planet, when it's all over."

    No one elected to postulate about what the state of things might be when this was 'all over'.

    "So," Jyllis changed the subject, "how is this Tam going to find you, anyway? Do you guys have some sort of transmitter, or something?"

    Kenlan looked to Fi, who cleared her throat uncomfortably. "It's sort of hard to explain, Jyll. He can... Tam, he can sort of 'sense' me. Even from space."

    Jyll absorbed this information. "Neat!" she marvelled. "Though I have to say, from what little you told me about Tam, I expected him to be human."

    "What? He is."

    "But he can... 'sense' a specific individual on a planet from orbit?"

    Fi twisted awkwardly. "Like I said, it's hard to explain. Tam and I, we have... a bond. We're connected. Connected in the Force."

    "'The Force'," Jyll nodded noncommittally. "Cool."

    Fi felt a surge of indignation at the woman's irreverence, but it receded just as quickly. Of course she doesn't believe in the Force, she reminded herself. Why would she? And who does?

    Only people like Kenlan and Reil and herself, who'd witnessed its effects firsthand.

    As the group continued on up the subterranean cave, Fi said a silent prayer that they would make it through this encounter without Tamander Dawncaller obliging them all with a demonstration...
    Last edited by I. J. Thompson; 06-10-2013 at 07:16 PM.
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  14. #239
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    It was like swimming through molasses. His head resounded with a deep, slow pounding which seemed to reach all the way down to chest. “What’s the story with this one?” a voice asked, thin and filtered.

    “How should I know?” someone responded, scoffing. “Though he was lucky. Most have hardly been breathing by the time he’s was done with them.” Luis felt a pair of strong hand insistently place his arms at his sides. Harsh light flooded his vision as one eyelid was pried open, then the other. Luis tried to protest, but all he could manage was a groan.

    “I heard one of the boys down at processing say that he had ‘history’ with the commander,” said the first voice. “I wonder what kind of history gives you this treatment.”

    “You can ask him for yourself in just a minute.” Luis felt a pinprick at his neck. “That should neutralize the sedative.” There was a pause. “Though I suggest that you don’t pry too deeply,” the second voice said, softly. “I wouldn’t risk stoking the boy’s temper.”

    Boy, what boy? Luis wondered, blearily. Who are they talking . . .

    Luis tried to bolt upright, and instantly regretted it. His spine felt like it was laced with needles, and the pounding in his head crechendoed into roaring symphony. He fell unceremoniously on his side, twitching as his back spasmed. “Tam,” he managed to croak out.

    “Yep, looks like they know each other,” the filtered voice said. It was a stormtrooper, all white and black and standing to the side of Luis’s gurney.

    “Clearly,” replied an older man, his hair almost pure white from his eyebrows to the wisps of fuzz still clinging to his scalp. That would be a medic, by the uniform.

    Luis tried to rise again, more slowly this time. He managed to climb to one elbow before the pounding grew too loud and he slumped back on the bed, coving his head with his hands. “Tam,” he whimpered, “I know. . . I know why he’s . . . why he’s . . .”

    “What’s he blabbering about? And I thought you said he wasn’t too damaged.”

    Luis heard the medic sigh. “Bacta will heal up a good amount, but it doesn’t do much for pain. Here, this should help.” Another pinprick.

    After a few shuddering breaths the aching dulled to a bearable throbbing. Luis slowly drew his hands from his face. They came away damp with sweat.

    The stormtrooper leaned over him. “What were you saying?” he demanded.

    “Easy there, solider,” the medic said, unwrapping something around Luis’s arm. Luis glanced down—there was a thick bandage there, stained with dried blood.

    Luis swallowed, trying to get some amount of moisture back into his throat. “No, I, I know who . . . he’s chasing. Tam, I need to talk to him, I need to tell him that—”

    “You don’t make demands around here,” the solder barked, prodding Luis with his blaster. “Back up. How do you know Dawncaller and who is this he’s chasing?”

    “No, you don’t understand!” Luis struggled against the medic, but the older man held him down.

    The white-haired man nodded at the stormtrooper. “Put his hands in the restraints.”

    “Please! Just let me see him.” They forced one wrist into a binder, then the other. “He won’t stop. He’ll chase her all around the galaxy if he needs to.” His legs, then his waist. “He’ll go until one or both of them is dead, and won’t care if any of you need to be sacrificed along the way.”

    A white fist impacted across Luis’s face and his head started pounding again. “Put this guy under,” the stormtrooper said.

    In a moment the air in the medical bay seemed to grow still, like a storm right before a bolt of lightning strikes. For a brief second Luis felt light he was in free fall, then in an instant the sensation was gone.

    The stormtrooper paused and steadied himself against a cabinet. “What the hell was that?”

    The balding man looked to Luis and then back at the stormtrooper. “Maybe just. . . ”

    Luis swallowed again, but his throat was dryer than ever. “It was him,” Luis said. “And he’s done things like this before, hasn’t he?”

    “What do you mean?” the stormtrooper demanded, though Luis thought he could hear a twinge of uncertainty in the soldier’s voice.

    “He’ll make things happen. A ship will disappear and reappear in an impossible location. Hear a voice, at the edge of your mind. Sometimes more.”

    The medic put down his syringe and gave Luis a hard look. “You know about. . . this?”

    “Yes, and unless you let me talk to him, things are going to get very, very dangerous. For all of us.”

    ---

    A man with a rough and weathered face marched into the infirmary. Luis was still strapped to the gurney, unable to see if Tam had walked in with the officer.

    “He knows, then?” the new arrival asked quietly. The medic muttered something which Luis couldn’t make out. “Very good. Now both of you clear out.”

    “Sir?” the stormtrooper asked.

    “You heard me.”

    The two men scurried toward the door, the stormtrooper offering a contrite “sir” before leaving.

    Briskly, the officer made his way over to Luis’s gurney, his boots clicking against the hard floor. Luis got a clear view of the pips on his chest: captain. He was still young, Luis could tell, but the wrinkles in his face told of a life battered and worn beyond his years. His eyes, those were still bright and sharp, though. He clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace.

    “So, Mr. Santiago, you have a few things you wish to say?”

    Luis took in a slow breath. “Yes sir, concerning the safety of this vessel and her crew. If I could speak to Tam—”

    “You may not. But you will tell me.”

    Tell you what? That you’re Empire has brainwashed and used him? “Sir, I don’t know how any of it would be relevant to you,” Luis offered, wishing he sounded more convincing.

    The captain stopped pacing. “You know Tam, you know of his abilities, but more importantly he knows you. I want to know how and why.”

    Luis shook his head. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know, captain, but please, let me speak to Tam.”

    The captain smirked. “So he can kill you for good this time?”

    “I need to try, sir. If there’s a chance that—”

    A muted explosion cut Luis off. He felt the ship shudder for a moment, then the thrum of turbolasers coming from above him.

    Swearing, the captain walked over to Luis and bent over, putting their noses less than half a meter apart. “You were right, things have just gotten very dangerous for all of us. My ship was thrown halfway across a system, is surrounded by hostiles, and Dawncaller is insisting on leading a ground force onto the surface. He won’t tell me why, and unless the rest of the fleet can cut through the Rebel lines everyone on this ship will be dead in fifteen minutes. So I want you to tell me anything you can about what in the Emperor’s galaxy that boy is doing.”

    He cares about Tam, Luis realized. Maybe, just maybe he’ll listen.

    “He’s after a girl named Fiola Shaku,” Luis said, speaking quickly. “I met them both on Mimbos; the ISB was chasing them, it’s not important why. They were close, when I last saw them, but I think since then. . .”

    “Since then what?”

    “He thinks that . . . that this is all part of some conspiracy against him. Me, another man who traveled with us, Fi, he said that he saw all three of us. That he was going to ‘find her’ and ‘make her pay.’ He’s become obsessed with her, I don’t know why, but I know he’s not going to stop until he finds her . . . and I think he’s going to kill her.”

    The captain pursed his lips. “If he doesn’t get us all killed first.” He started pacing again. “Her then. Makes sense, it seems that they were romantically involved. . .”

    Luis cocked an eyebrow. “What?”

    “But the report said she was dead.”

    “Well, he’s of a different opinion.”

    Another blast rocked the ship and the captain fixed Luis with a wry stare. “I can see that.”

    “Please, captain, let me try and talk some sense into him,” Luis asked, pleading.

    The captain looked at him for a long moment. “I would be tempted to let you, Santiago, if it weren’t for this,” he said, taking a black code cylinder out of his jacket. The cylinder. “You’ve been helpful, but I have no intention of having a Rebel spy—”

    “You have it!” Luis cried. He couldn’t believe his luck.

    “Yes. . . I do have it.” The captain looked positively confused, but Luis didn’t care in the slightest.

    “Have you looked at it?”

    “Of course not!”

    “Captain, listen very carefully. There is more going on here than either of us know. On that cylinder there are three bits of data. One we couldn’t decode at all, and one we just got word fragments. The last one is a list of names, hundreds of names. Tam’s name is on that list.”

    The captain was quiet for a long moment. “What are you suggesting?”

    “I don’t think this is an accident, captain. I don’t think any of it has been. If you want to find out what this is all about, decode the rest of that cylinder.” A third blast slammed into the hull, louder this time. “And right now, I may be able to buy you some time. He may kill me, but I think both of us want to see him out of this alive.”

    ---

    General Santiago clenched his fisted knuckles around the handrail which ran the length of the command deck. “Come on, come one,” he said, urging the Pulsar to go faster.

    “How far out did they go?” Matthews wondered aloud.

    One of the comm officers spun his chair around. “Found them, sir! Dead ahead, Dantooine system.”

    “Dantooine?” the general repeated. “What could they be doing there?” He tried not to run as he made his way back to his chair. “What’s our ETA?” he called out.

    Matthews turned to the readout on his console. “Dropping out if ten . . . five, four, three, two—”

    The massive spacecraft groaned as it slammed out of hyperspace, a pale yellow star materializing to their port. An alarm sounded.

    “Sir, we have multiple targets! The fleet we’ve been chasing and . . . it looks like Rebel forces!”

    “How many?”

    The officer shook his head. “Hard to say from this distance, several dozen of them are still in the atmosphere. Some freighters, two—no, three—frigates. At least ten gunships, plus fighter wings. Possibly more.”

    “Sir, Admiral Harmond is hailing us, from the Edacious, calling for help,” Matthews said.

    “Answer.”

    The pale blue visage of a man who vaguely resembled a weasel appeared in front of Santiago’s chair. “General,” Harmond began with an anemic smile, “my apologies we could not respond to your earlier transmissions, but we can work that out later. Please enter formation and engage hostile forces.”

    Santiago scowled. “One condition, Admiral. Send the Inun to my docking bay with orders that their prisoner is to reach my ship alive.”

    Harmond smile grew even more forced than before. “Unfortunately, General, that will be quite impossible. You see, the Inun is, ah, removed from our fleet at the moment. We’re currently attempting to retrieve it. And even if it weren’t, we have the most strict orders that nothing is to interfere with Captain Doule or Mr. Dawncaller. You understand, of course.”

    “Listen closely, because I will only say this once,” Santiago said, rising from his seat and punctuation each word with a stab of his finger. “That prisoner is mine, and no power in the galaxy is going to keep him from me.”

  15. #240
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    No Turning Back

    Harmod stood between two holograms, speaking to each in turn. First, to deal with the Rebel scum. “Amur, your attack on the Inun is grounds for attack. Prepare yourself for our full onslaught.” He cut the connection before Captain Amur could respond, then turned to the blue-scanned General Santiago.

    “General,” he said, standing tall and raising his chin, “but as you can see, the Inun is under threat from local insurgents. I’m sure we can return to issues of prisoner custody once they have been eliminated. Are we agreed?”

    The general showed no indication of being mollified, but relented nonetheless. “Very well, Admiral. Transmit your tactical decryption codes and we will make short work of these Rebels.”

    Harmod nodded, then left the holonet pod. He had little interest in Tam’s prisoner; General Santiago could have him. But Harmod also knew what Tam Dawncaller could do if he was crossed. So if anyone were to cross Tam, he preferred it be Santiago instead of himself.

    Like great wedge-shaped leviathans, the Pulsar and Edacious turned broadside against the starships, training their turbolasers on the multiple targets between them and the planet Dantooine. The rest of the Imperial cruisers arrayed themselves among the two larger, prepared for the Admiral’s word.

    “All pilots, stand by for deployment,” said Admiral Harmod, glancing for the confirmation from the starfighter operations suite. “All laser batteries…” He cast another glance to the weapons station, then sweeping around to ensure that the crew pit and defense stations are all in place and attentive. These Rebels would die, and quickly. The boy and his captain would then have to deal with Santiago and his unusual demands, and Harmod could stay out of it.

    “…fire!”



    The Inun had shaken her attackers, and came to land in a vast overgrown field. The ochre grasslands stretched interminably north; to the south were crumbled remains of some building, presumably the farm house that once stood here; sparse forest lay beyond that, wrapping around to the western horizon; to the east a horizon of low, rocky hills. Residents would have had a quiet, honest life, that is until whatever tragedy had destroyed their home.

    Once the landing gear had stabilized, the boarding ramp opened, and out poured a wave of grey and white troopers, forming a perimeter. The pair of AT-PT walkers emerged, spreading out to provide cover fire. All Imperial forces aboard the Inun took position and paused. Not a sound beyond the chirping of small avians and a soft wind rustling through the grass could be heard.

    The area secured, Todrin Doule walked down the boarding ramp, carrying a datapad reading information from the code cylinder Luis Santiago had insisted he read. Luis himself followed behind, constrained by binders. “Where is Tam?” said Luis.

    “He’ll debark soon,” Doule said, distracted by the text he was reading. “I have to admit that I’m incredulous. Tell me where you got this information, and why I should believe it…”

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