“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.
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.”
“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…