The trio that materialized as the door opened was an odd one, though perhaps less so for the circumstances. The Togruta they recognized from the dossier, Rasha Hawee, far more yellow in person than in the file. Her companions were less famous: a Rodian prison guard, seemingly very wary of everyone in his newfound group, and a human in the same orange coveralls as all the other prisoners. Both seemed to defer to her and the subtle tension that filled the space between the two newly-met groups, both fresh still with the flavor of killing in their hands.
Qyreia leaned toward Strong and the big blue man leaned into her whisper. “She’s cute.”
“And she can hear you,” Rasha said tersely, though not without a hint of amusement. Something about the team had her fight-or-flight instincts settling, and her relaxed posture had her own compatriots drawing their fingers further away from the triggers of their blasters. “Who are you with?”
”We are here to help!”
“Ve’re part of the Principate relief force.”
“We’re with the Brotherhood, out of Arcona.” The Zeltron’s two companions looked at her discerningly. “What? I don’t give a kark about these Impy schutta fracks.”
”Perhaps a little discretion, Miss Arronen?”
“If it matters,” Rasha interjected, “I don’t know what brotherhood you’re talking about, or what an Arcona is.”
The wry, overt smile on Qyreia’s lips as she looked to the members of her team screamed of I told you so. Tali was less amused, preferring to get to business and, hopefully, finish this mission quickly so they could get home.
“Ve’re here to stop the riot. Vordt is you vant that too.”
“Well you all probably know the alternative.” The Togruta looked around tiredly, likely wondering where all this was going. “Sooo, I assume you have a plan then?”
“Take the commandt center,” Tali said flatly.
“You said something about Oligard in your transmission?” Qyreia broke in.
“Yes,” she sighed, a little relieved that someone was listening to her. “The guards were talking back in the yard. Something about trying to spring some scientists and…” A look of realization hit her eyes. “And making the Brotherhood look bad to the Principate. And you said…”
“Yes yes, Brotherhood.” Qyreia waved her hand, motioning for the cogs in the prisoner’s head to turn a little faster. “So there’s scientists need stopping, some guards are bad guys,” she eyed the Rodian pointedly, “and the whole thing in general was orchestrated by Rath Oligard and the Collective. Did I miss anything?”
The prison trio looked at each other momentarily, then shook their heads.
Tali’s eyes rolled, exasperated. “Seems this just got more complicatedt.”
The revelation made the Arconans’ goal all the more imminent. There would be reinforcements from across the Brotherhood landing here — albeit in bits and pieces — but if they got word out fast enough, they might be able to prioritize locking down the skies and preventing any sneaky ship departures. At least the Zeltron’s ship was locked down and safe, courtesy of her droid. The Arconans wouldn’t be losing their ride out.
This all meant they had to move quickly though, if they were going to beat the clock and the Collective. At Rasha’s insistence, she led the party through the maze of halls of the Central Management Facility. There was general chaos everywhere. More prisoners in their path were knocked out or put down. Few were ready and willing to return quietly to their cells, which seemed to wear on the Togruta’s nerves. The Rodian and human in their company seemed more intent on simply not getting shivved, or worse. Getting to the control center was, all things considered, a relatively short endeavor though. The trouble came when they realized the path was blocked by an exceptionally thick blast door.
“Well fracksticks,” Qyreia grumbled, tapping on the metal. “Not getting through this way.”
“Vell, I could alvays try my universal key.” Tali twirled her lightsaber hilt in her palm.
”It is worth a try.” Strong was clearly agitated, but he did a good job keeping it to himself. Something about the prisoners all fighting vainly against him (and his companions) and, hurting his pride, none provided even the semblance of a challenge.
As soon as Tali ignited golden blade though, the Togruta’s hopeful expression dropped. “That won’t work.”
The Twi’lek grimaced and plunged the blade into the metal, cutting through the dense material like a butter knife in a block of cheese, making slow but steady progress. Something seemed off about it though. Even so, she completed a full circle to make them all a doorway and stepped back. Reaching out her hand, she focused the Force to throw the hot metal inward on those that had hijacked the room beyond.
Only it didn’t move.
“Vhat?” Tali tried again, but still nothing.
“It’s too thick,” Rasha said, her frustration lined with a certain satisfaction of being right. “This part of the building was pre-fabbed and brought here to bring up the gravity field. The whole thing, doors included, were built to stand up against the moon’s gravity.”
“There a way around? Ventilation or something?” They all looked at Strong. “Yeah, nevermind.”
“There’s an auxiliary entrance,” their guard ally said — one of the few times he’d said anything thus far. “We’ll have to go through Cellblock Dorn though.”
”That should be no issue. A roundabout route will necessitate speed on our part.”
What Strong did not seem to notice were the looks of apprehension on the three prison-folks’ faces. His two female compatriots did. “Vhat’s in Cellblock Dorn?”
“It’s the isolation wing,” Rasha said coldly. “These are people serving multiple life sentences. Why the Principate keeps them around is anyone’s guess.”
“I hope their cells are still locked shut.” The human’s spoken thought drew everyone’s gaze.
Qyreia bemoaned, “You just had to say it, didn’t you?”
Time was ticking, and there was little other recourse than to do as the Togruta suggested; that, or have Tali gradually shave off pieces of the door until they could more directly cut through. Even Qyreia’s Denton Charge would purportedly have been of little help. Going through Cellblock Dorn would solve that problem though. Somehow.
“What makes you think this way will work better?” Qyreia asked their guides as they walked through the walled path to Dorn.
“It’s inmates and crooked guards that took the control node.” Rasha spat at the thought. “Everyone trying to put them back is on the side where the big blast door is. They need a way out and a way to get reinforcements. That’ll be the back way.”
“Eeeveryone always wants to use the backdoor.” The Zeltron laughed quietly to herself. Most everyone else just groaned at the joke. “You all need to lighten the frack up.”
“I think they want you to take this more seriously,” Rasha whispered as she sidled up to the merc, noting Tali’s furrowed brow.
“They have their ways, I have mine.” Qyreia eyed the prisoner warily. “So why are you trying to help us and the Principate? Why not try to bust out like the rest?”
Rasha shrugged. “I earned this sentence. I just want to do my time.”
That drew a curious look from the Zeltron. Through her time as a trader and later smuggler, pirates were always a constant threat, and one she’d dealt with on more than one occasion. To hear one of such ilk owning up like this was an intriguing concept.
Everyone was still wary of the ever-present danger, but Tali had difficulty comprehending how their gunslinger was getting so friendly with the convict. “Vhy is she being so friendtly? She’s just going back into a cell vhen we’re done.”
Strong leaned low, lowering his voice and ensuring that his helmet speaker wasn’t activated. “Good behavior has its merits. Perhaps she wishes a reduced sentence?”
“I vas talking about Q.”
“Perhaps she sees a kindred spirit in the former pirate, or is intrigued by her want of redemption.” Strong shrugged. “In either case,” he said, pointing out the letters painted on the reinforcing arch of the hall, “we seem to be nearing our destination.”
That called everyone’s attention. Further ahead were the doors to Dorn Cellblock, wide open, and with spotty lighting, with some fixtures torn out of their housings, leaving the place more dreary and foreboding than any of the other rooms or corridors than they had thus far witnessed, so long as one discounted the dead bodies. And the attempted enslaving of other inmates. And that one time where they were propositioned for three packs of cigarras, though that was more insulting and creepy than eerie.
Qyreia held her blaster a little tighter to her shoulder. “Does it always look like that?”
“No,” the guard said. “This is… new.”
“They did it on purpose,” Rasha muttered darkly. “It’s an invitation. And a warning.”
“But it’s a straight shot through the block to the other access hall,” the guard added.
“Easier to ambush,” Tali muttered.
Hearing all of this, Strong stepped around his compatriots and hefted his shield and hammer. ”The scion of Garmis does not fear the dark, nor the creatures that lurk within. Let us be about this, friends!”
Despite the haute and archaic verbiage, the armored Chiss’ small speech offered some reinforcement to the group’s nerves. With their weapons at the ready, they entered the isolation cellblock, the intermittent dark and dim on the cusp of swallowing them whole. Aside from general detritus from the battered light fixtures, the corridor seemed relatively clean; clear of corpses and blood that had been so prolific in the hotspots of the Central Management Facility. There was only one exception to the otherwise undisturbed scene: all the doors were open.
“You had to say it,” Qyreia hissed at their human prisoner companion.
“I’m sorry!” he whispered back.
As they walked by each cell though, they were all empty. Clean, less so. Many had tick marks to count the days; in one, feces was splayed across a wall; another was covered in loose flimsiplast containing drawings of a dark and disturbed nature. But despite going deeper and deeper in, they were met with silence, and a growing sense of unease.
“Did they all kark off once the doors opened up?”
“Maybe they vent to the commandt center.” Strong threw up an armored fist, holding his hammer, motioning for the others to stop. “Vhat’s wrong?”
”There is some rather overt violence up ahead.”
The group peered around either side of the Chiss and saw a morbid display. In the dim and flickering lights, it was hard to tell how many bodies there were. What they all had in common, however, was their opened abdomens, and the long rope of gore that was cinched around their necks, suspending them off the ground against the wall through the ventilation bars above every cell door. The human retched, taking the rest out of the engrossed trance that the display had cast over them.
“What the actual frack?!” Qyreia nearly yelled, dropping to a high-pitched whisper as quickly as she’d started.
“I told you,” Rasha said with as much stoicism as she could muster. “The inmates in Dorn are karked. We need to leave.”
“Strong,” Qyreia said quietly, “take point. Me and the prison guys will cover the middle. Tali, can you watch our back?”
Her lekku twitched as she nodded, tapping into the Force to give them a better sense of what was going on around them. They had already started going forward when the pictures started to form in the Twi’lek’s head, only just coalescing into a large form around the corner when a warning went off in her head.
“Strong! Your right!”
A heartbeat was all that separated the Chiss’ movements and the massive Dashade fist that struck his shield instead of the side of his head, helmeted though it was. A second motion flitted into view: a smaller human, his face a two-toned blur as he sprinted to take Strong in the back while he wrestled with the reptilian. Tali hardly needed to warn any this time, though. A green bolt lanced out from Rasha’s scavenged pistol, zipping by his head for the hasty aim, but forcing him into cover. Igniting her lightsaber, the Twi’lek rushed forward, keen on ending this fight quickly and preventing any more of the abbatine displays as still hung on the walls.
As she dashed by, Qyreia spun from her attempt at getting around Strong’s shield to help. “Tali, wai-ghk!”
Taken from behind, a pale, bluish hand clutched at her throat, the other holding her rifle firmly in place. She hadn’t even noticed the Rodian getting stabbed, but she saw him slump to the floor as she struggled, blood pooling on the ground and making her heels slip on the smooth duracrete floor.
“Three years of waiting,” she heard growled into her ear, just over the din of the ongoing fight. “Never thought I’d get something like you and your friends. So… colorful.”
As Tali ran past, Rasha urged the other inmate to follow and assist as necessary, only to see the Zeltron in this stranglehold. When she raised her blaster, he only hid behind the red woman. Qyreia could feel the sadistic delight he was taking in the moment. She felt something against her back — his face, another knife, something else — and she was done. Choking against his grip for a moment, she released her grip on the rifle, struggling with his knife-wielding hand, while the other went for the pistol on her hip. She jammed her hand into the holster and, without even drawing the gun, jerked her leg and let the red bolt crash into his knee.
Pain seared through the Umbaran’s limb, tearing away out of primal reflex, leaving a shallow cut on the Zeltron’s arm as she likewise hopped out of his reach. Her step had a slight limp as well from the burn spot where her pistol’s shot had raked her own skin on its way to its target.
“Ass fracking Hutt-licking poodoobiscuits!” she yowled, almost hopping as she favored her good leg. “Tha kark?!”
“That’s Kroj Sko-”
The Zeltron shot him again, followed swiftly by Rasha, before the human inmate could finish his fearful sentence. “He’s a dead fracker now!” She looked to the Togrutan. “Thanks.”
Meanwhile, Tali had rounded the corner into the prison cell, lightsaber ready, but her eyes met an empty room. Something in her lekku jolted her senses and she spun aside as the human dove down from above the door. Her second spin whipped out the golden blade, cleaving him across the chest before he had even recovered from his failed ambush. Matching yellow eyes danced around the room, waiting for a follow-up attack that never came. Satisfied that it was over, she went back outside to see the others watching Strong’s battle with the lamprey-mouthed behemoth.
“Vhat are you all doing?!”
Rasha pointed at the Zeltron. “Don’t ask me!”
“Oh he’s fine,” Qyreia assured them. “C’mon Strong! Finish this guy so we can go! Glory of House Garmis or some kark!”
”Miss Qyreia,” he groaned, struggling just to keep hold of his shield and thus unable to bring his hammer to full effect, ”I am trying to concentrate, if you would be so kind.”
“Vhy are you not helping him?!”
“Hush honey. Let the man work.”
Tali felt a blood vessel break somewhere in her cranium, but watched as, with no more distraction, Strong’s fight seemed to shift. It was subtle at first. So subtle that he lost his shield when the Dashade tore it away and threw it down into a pile of humanoid refuse beneath one of the hanging bodies. In so doing though, it left the lizard wide open for the Chiss’ hammer, slamming into the side of its misshapen head.
Normally the scion of Garmis would engage in honorable hand-to-hand fighting and grappling. These inmates though, beyond their simple ambush, had proven time and again to have little honor of their own. Giving this one his Big Blue was all too appropriate. Not that he didn’t have to apply it multiple times. Even with his full might, the Dashade seemed to only stagger, forcing him to pound the violent convict again and again. The massive reptilian took every single hammering, struggling to beat his way past Strong’s armor, until his body gave out over his resolve. With the Dashade on his hands and knees, the Chiss warrior finished him off with one final downward slam.
“I think ya got him,” Qyreia chuckled, poking the Dashade’s shoulder with the toe of her boot.
”Indeed!” Strong panted, the heave of his chest visible even under his armor. ”A worthy adversary. Unfortunate that I was forced to end him.”
Tali stood there, aghast and confused. “I… I have qvestions!”