"Who watches the Watchmen?"
- Adem Bol’era - #13752 [ARC]
- Atra Ventus - #11708 [ARC]
- Qyreia Arronen - #14369 [CNS]
- Uji Tameike - #13561 [ARC]
"Who watches the Watchmen?"
The Citadel, Selen
Time was a luxury. Such a simple phrase at first glance and one would think it to be obvious. Yet, if broken down and analyzed, its deceptive nature would be revealed. Time was a perception but somehow immutable all the same. It marched onward, regardless of the direct intervention of those held in its wake, and did not wait for you to catch up. While it may ebb and flow, it never ceased. Each of us were merely caught in the tide and carried onward.
So it was that time wasn’t waiting for Uji Tameike. Though the faint and incessant dripping of the leaky faucet somewhere nearby offered some semblance of time’s passing, Uji had long ago tuned it out. He brought his legs up onto the cold bench that served as his only place of rest, propping his forearms against his knees. His usually tightly trimmed beard had grown thicker in the days he had spent in a confinement of his own making. The imprisonment was the direct consequence of his actions which had made adversaries of not one but two individuals who bore the title of ‘Consul’ at one time or another.
As regrettable as that course of action was, he would do it again in an instant. His resolve held steadfast within the steely gaze of his brown eyes. His contradiction of Atyiru’s orders and aggression towards Wuntila had been necessary to put an end to all the half-measures that had plagued the Shadow Clan for so long. The cell — as claustrophobic as it was becoming — was nothing compared to what was necessary for his clan… for Arcona.
He tilted his head to the side, long strands of black hair falling across his face which he had to brush back out of the way. The guards hadn’t yet returned from their patrol. How curious. The dim lighting wasn’t doing the Shadow Scion any favors, but he didn’t need eyes alone to ‘see’. The man took a deep breath and reached out with his senses. His awareness expanded slowly, filling up the space around him like a fog before creeping into the corridor beyond his cell. At first, he felt nothing, then the spark of a presence that hadn’t been there before. The sensation was wispy, but slowly growing in strength as if a shroud had been lifted and the only thing left was… cold. Uji would have shuddered had he not been so familiar with the feeling. It was the presence of the Dark Side.
“I know you’re there,” the Shadow Scion declared. His words echoed off the flat walls of the corridor and were answered first by the quiet click-click of heavy boots hitting the ground.
“I should hope so,” a calm yet softly lilting masculine voice replied. “If you didn’t then I fear I’d be wasting my time.”
A tall, cloaked form approached the bars of Uji’s cell. As the man moved his cloak billowed in an odd manner, as if pulling in several directions at once. It took a moment for Uji’s eyes to focus but he quickly realized that the effect was a result of the cloak being segmented into numerous thin strips as opposed to one solid form. A gloved hand reached up, a gray bracer locked around his forearm to match the visible breastplate and tabard, and pulled back the hood to reveal his sharp features.
Atra Ventus allowed himself a smirk as his gray-gold eyes met Uji’s gaze. His fingers brushed through his medium-length, messy hair before falling to his side once more. “Not exactly a fan of wasted effort,” the Combat Master continued.
“The guards?” Uji asked immediately.
“They were convinced now would be a good time to take a break.”
The Shadow Scion’s lip curled in derision. “Why do I find your choice of words insincere?”
Atra tilted his head a little and shrugged before clarifying. “‘Aggressive negotiations’. Regardless, they’re alive.”
“That’s good,” Uji commented distractedly. He stretched his legs out, letting them fall from the bench before rising to his full height. The Shadow Scion shifted his weight from foot to foot before folding his arms across his chest and thumbing one of the most notable scars that marked his face. “If you are here hoping to gain information, you will be disappointed.”
“Well then, isn’t it great that I don’t?” Atra inquired. The Umbaran’s gaze shifted away from Tameike as he adjusted the cloth wrap around his exposed right arm while rolling his wrist, clenching the fingers of his right hand and causing a series of cracks from his joints.
“Then why are you here?” Uji suddenly growled from far too close. He had closed the distance between them while the Combat Master’s focus was shifted and had seized the bars of his cell. His knuckles were turning white from the strain of his grip, but he didn’t lessen the pressure. Atra’s eyes flicked back up, giving the Shadow Scion an under-the-brow stare with a raised eyebrow. Uji composed himself again and took a step back while straightening his tunic and letting out a quick breath. “Right… used to being on the other side of the bars for this sort of thing.”
“Clearly,” came the Combat Master’s dry response.
Uji waited for Atra to continue, recognizing his role in the encounter. Intimidation methods had a way of losing their effectiveness when the subject could just walk away. What a pity. Still, it wasn’t entirely a role reversal. Regardless of the situation, he was still the Shadow Scion of Arcona and Atra was ‘merely’ the Combat Master for the Brotherhood. Whatever authority the Umbaran held fell to the wayside within the borders of the Shadow Clan. Not to mention standing in the heart of the Citadel itself.
“It just so happens that I need your help,” Ventus elaborated with a sigh.
The Shadow Scion paused to consider what he was hearing. Understandably, the other man didn’t exactly hold a cache of built up trust. Atra was a newcomer to Arconan space after being a non-entity, serving the Voice directly without clan affiliation. A man like that couldn’t be trusted to hold to loyalties beyond himself, and perhaps, the Brotherhood. Uji had to carefully control his outward emotions. The odds of this man being an Inquisitor were all but guaranteed, considering the circumstances, and it wasn’t so long ago that the Shadow Scion had entertained the idea of hunting down and killing each of the Voice’s servants within their midst.
“I expect this is the part where you try to convince me as to why I should, no?” Uji asked.
“Yeah, I don’t need to convince you. In this regard, I suspect you’re already on board.”
A frown formed across Uji’s lips as his arms crossed tighter in front of him. “I find that hard to believe.”
The Combat Master produced a datapad from beneath his robes and quickly tapped a few sequences before passing it through the bars of the cell. Tameike took it, the suspicion in his eyes never wavering, and stepped further back from the bars. His gaze shifted down and passed over the aurebesh characters scrolling on the screen. It was a warning of a pending strike from rebel forces, or the Lotus as they had come to call themselves. Initially, the Shadow Scion was prepared to write off Atra’s proposition as a flight of fancy. Sure, he didn’t agree with the methods employed by Arcona’s allies in Odan-Urr — small strikes and disruptive tactics were inefficient towards their end goals — but they were still allies. Then his eyes passed over the additional notes added by Atra to the information he had compiled. It was a list of missing persons and even a series of keywords that had been passing through the Shadow Academy archives and encrypted holonet of late.
“What is this?” Uji asked.
“What does it look like?” Atra stated after a soft chuckle. “They are a blight upon the Brotherhood but they are not without purpose, Tameiki. I suspect that represents the catalyst to their supposed attack.”
The Shadow Scion ignored Atra’s clear disregard for his position, as evident by his choice of address. His mind had better things to focus upon. The gears in his head worked over the newfound data like the pieces of a puzzle. Each had a place in the grand scheme but couldn’t complete the picture on their own. The keywords — including ‘fission technology’, ‘weaponized warheads’, and ‘kyber crystal harvesting’ — implied some sort of massive scale weaponry. At the same time, the areas of expertise for the missing persons spoke to much the same implication. They were all professors in their respective fields ranging from warfare, tactics, Jedi history, and physics. The fragments were clear once they came together. Perhaps too clear.
“It’s a trap,” he concluded through a combination of the evidence and his own suspicions towards the Iron Legion’s tactics.
“Is it, though?” Atra offered. He had concluded much the same but had longer to chew over the data. “The best lies bear a seed of truth.”
“You’re an Inquisitor,” Uji intoned, “why get me involved?”
“Because,” the Combat Master explained, “I want to know where the truth lies and you have the resources to help me.”
“I fail to see why I would.”
Atra’s gaze locked on Uji’s, a pregnant pause hanging in the air before he answered. “We both know she has a habit of running towards the danger, and where she goes they follow.”
The Shadow Scion’s frown strengthened. The message was clear, though the motivations were left shrouded in uncertainty. Atyiru’s good nature was well known, and it was that very thing which had caused Arcona to sit on the fence between the sides of the growing conflict for so long. Uji was the one who had tipped the scale and forced the clan’s hand.
“Fine,” Uji growled between his clenched teeth. He fully expected to regret his decision but he couldn’t do anything from where he was contained. At the risk of further compounding Atyiru’s ire, the Shadow Scion would once again do what was necessary. The consequences be damned.
The Combat Master smirked and triggered the cell door, taking a step back as the bars shrank away. He waited as Uji passed through the opening before handing him his weapon. Tameike raised an eyebrow as he eyed the light of Arcona. “Well, that is certainly convenient.”
“Isn’t it though? You’d think they’d keep these out of reach in case of, well, this,” Atra remarked with a vague gesture around them. “Don’t you just love centralized storage?”
“What is your grand plan on getting out of here, then?” Uji asked, still fully expecting a dagger in his back sooner as opposed to later. He felt a little more confident with his equipment back, but wouldn’t be entirely so until he knew where he stood.
“I called in a favor to get us a pilot that won’t exactly draw attention,” Atra answered as he turned to move down the corridor towards the exit, fully expecting the Shadow Scion to fall in step with him. “Well, she draws attention but at least it’ll confuse the hell out of whoever might look into it.”
The Combat Master almost chuckled as he recalled Qyreia Arronen’s colorful protestation in the background as he had contacted his daughter, Keira Viru. He didn’t have time to stop and reminisce, though. His methods had only bought them so much time before the next patrol came in to change the guards. Each passing moment increased the risk of being caught, and breaking out the Shadow Scion from the Citadel — which was very much contrary to the Shadow Lady’s direct order — wouldn’t exactly put him on the ‘nice’ list for the foreseeable future. Actions had consequences and Atra had every expectation that he would need to face them eventually for all he had done… just not quite yet.
Still, Atra felt like they weren’t about to make the smoothest of exits. It had gone too well up to that point which was, typically, far from a good sign.
The prison halls hidden beneath the Arconan Citadel were filled with a variety of silences. First was the eerie quiet of most of the staff’s temporary absence. Atra casually stepped over the unconscious form of one of the guards. Uji trailed behind, wary but undeterred.
“Circumstances aside, it is pretty concerning how easily you managed to get in here and incapacitate a whole security detail,” the Proconsul remarked.
“I know, right?” Atra replied. “I’m honestly embarrassed for you.”
Silence number two was the awkward one between Uji and the Combat Master, broken occasionally by a pointed joke about the circumstances. Tension remained between them, but Uji at least knew that there was no point in paying it too much mind.
The atmosphere of the prison grew a bit less oppressive when the unlikely pair passed into a largely unoccupied and more open prison block. Though it was as maddeningly austere as the rest of the prison in terms of decor — the color scheme consisted of drab greys, off whites, and the occasional beige for flavor — at least one felt like they could breathe in the larger room. The echoing of their steps bounced all around them, rendering their exact origin unclear to anything or anyone who could notice them. They traversed the left walkway, which was open to the air on the right, where one could see they were several floors up. Their path’s mirror image sat opposite of them on the other side of the long way down. Uji knew partial details of the prison well enough to remember that it was built beneath the Citadel, that the solitary confinement block where he was so recently incarcerated sat somewhere in the middle of these dozen or so floors, and that up was the only way out.
Suddenly, the long strings of harsh industrial lighting that stretched along the ceiling, walls, and floor of their corridor and others flickered repeatedly. Level by level, the prison block slipped into darkness.
“Seems we have a rat in the walls chewing through wires,” Atra coolly remarked. Uji couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, but neither man was rattled. The Shadow Scion remained calm and prepared for anything, while the Umbaran Combat Master seemed perfectly at home. A few emergency lights sputtered to life, but they were few and far between and illuminated very little of the large space. A few sounds echoed around the block; bars and railings shaking under unexpected weight, boots scraping across the floor, and that same weight landing on some surface. Atra nonchalantly extended a hand, reached out with the Force and from somewhere in the darkness came the report of metal bars buckling and twisting slowly.
“Before you ask; yes, I can see you. What? You think you’re the ‘last of your kind’ or something? Honestly…” Atra called into the shadows. Uji saw a darkened figure pass over one of the railings directly in their path. A lightsaber snap-hissed awake, bathing the trio in a soft yellow glow.
The prowler drew back his hood, and Uji squinted to recognize his distantly familiar features. Thin face, handsome bone structure, snowy hair and pale skin, with silver eyes that stared back at him.
“Bol’era? Did Shadow Gate send you?” Uji asked.
“Can’t answer that, but I have to ask you to go back to your cell, sir,” the younger Umbaran answered, his blade idly humming. He didn’t seem poised to attack or defend himself.
“The man just got out and now you’re running in with a clear lack of knowledge on just who you’re dealing with. This how Marick taught you to do things?” Atra cut in, with little regard for Adem’s weapon. Even Uji could see the Shadow Gate agent visibly tense up upon mention of the former Consul’s name.
Adem lifted a hand to his ear. “I’m calling this in. I’m sorry, Proconsul, but I can’t let you leave this place.”
“No, no you’re not.” The Combat Master’s own lightsaber activated, its cerulean blade violently crackling as sparks surged along its length, but he didn’t move to attack Adem just yet.
“Stand down, Adem. That is an order,” Uji said firmly, but gently. “We’re walking out of here or the Lotus is in danger of making its last mistake and they may take Arcona with them. You operate as Shadow Gate’s missing persons expert, do you not? You know who has gone missing, take a moment and consider the implication.”
“That’s not—” Adem relinquished his attention on Atra long enough for the Combat Master to strike. The large man shifted around the younger Umbaran and snatched away his earpiece, stomping it into the floor.
“Your ears only, I’m afraid. Listen up,” Atra stated coolly, now standing next to a shocked Adem. Recognition flashed across his eyes.
“I know you, Marick said—”
“Huh, guess he talks too much. Tell you what; play nice and you might learn a few things about what he’s been up to, in addition to preventing countless deaths, I suppose. Best deal you’re getting.” A tense moment passed before Adem shut his lightsaber down with Atra doing likewise. “Good choice.”
Adem breathed for a moment. “There’s an elevator that will take us straight to the prisoner transfer hangar in the Citadel’s transport hub, but that doesn’t do us any good. After all, the only thing an outsider, a fugitive, and a newly rogue agent have in common—”
“Is that we can’t rely on official transportation channels to actually get us off this rock. Not exactly thrilled but it’s handled.”
“Why would you be unhappy about that?” Adem inquired.
“That’s information we’ll call ‘need-to-know’,” Atra stated with finality. His wrist-link crackled with a few garbled transmissions. Adem heard curse words interspersed between them as he led the group into the elevator. What followed was silence number three. It was the most awkward as they all tried not to look at each other, and Atra kept receiving hail after hail on his wrist-link, each one more clear and crass than the last.
Finally intelligible, a woman’s voice could be heard. “—make me wait five frakking minutes more, and every second is costing you a thousand credits, you nerf-rutting son-of-a-Hutt.”
Atra grumbled incoherently under his breath before answering. “We’re on our way. I trust you remember how to work the loading ramp. Make room for three.”
The lift’s doors slid open to reveal the small secondary hangar for prisoner and supply transport. Ship crews and Citadel workers bustled throughout it, creating a cacophony of sound and movement around them as they exited the lift. The two Umbaran men took the lead, walking slightly ahead of the more recognizable member of their entourage. The trio worked to cross the length of the open confines, Atra gesturing towards the far-end of the hangar. In the distance what appeared to be a stock YT-1300 freighter awaited; standing at the bottom of the ramp, surrounded by a squad of the Dajoran Defense Forces was the captain of the freighter.
“Listen, you know how these things go, yeah? Someone gives me orders, forgets to submit the documents. No big deal. I’m sure we can get it all squared away.” A flash of a charming smile accompanied the practiced tone, the security appearing to relax at her words. The Privateer continued to talk, buying time as she locked eyes with Atra in the distance.
“I wonder how long we could leave her there before she’d lose her temper,” Atra chuckled quietly between them as he assessed the situation.
“Atra, you are not to harm those men,” Uji warned as they approached, bowing his head and hiding his hands within the long cuffs of his robes. His gait changed as he walked, shuffling slightly as if his limbs were restricted. The Auger grunted in return as he glanced back, noticing the shift in the Scion’s movements and took the cue.
“Just walk out through the hangar, nobody will notice, brilliant.” The younger Umbaran seemed on the verge of laughing at the situation, the tense motion of his movements giving away his nervousness.
“It’s about damn time!” Atra’s voice boomed out. Qyreia and the security forces twisted to face them as they approached. The moment their eyes were no longer on her, the Privateer’s expression changed, as she shot a withering look towards the hulking form of the Combat Master. The squad sergeant raised a hand, signaling them to stop as he looked them over, then gave a quick salute to Adem and began to speak.
“Everything is fine, Sergeant, you and your men can go.” The subtle shift of his hand was the only clue to the Auger’s use of the Force. A heartbeat passed as the man appeared to reconsider, his eyes shifting between the two Umbarans and finally to the third man standing behind them. Uji resisted the urge to glance up, instead keeping his eyes downcast, his form slumped as if carrying a weight between his shoulders, his hair falling to cover his features. He noted, to his surprise, that he didn’t appear to be wearing the same clothes any longer. He felt the familiar weight of his own robes against his skin, yet he felt his senses being influenced and now appeared to be wearing a standard prisoner’s uniform.
“Sir, I—" the man looked confused for a moment, though his posture softened as he tried to form a coherent sentence with the conflicting manipulation of his senses.
“Did you not hear me? I said everything is fine, Sergeant. Prisoner transfer. If you haven’t received the orders yet you will soon enough. Now get out of our way.” The tone seemed to settle the matter as Atra pushed further, clouding the man’s senses, battering down his natural desire to follow protocol and question the situation.
“Squad, everything’s fine here, move out.” The Sergeant glanced back at Atra, falling in line with his squad as he inspected them again for a few moments.
As the group moved away, Adem let out a breath as he stopped concentrating on the illusion he designed around his Proconsul. Atra grimaced slightly. “It won’t be long before he figures out something was wrong and starts asking questions. They’ll have no issues identifying Tameike.”
“Yeah? Maybe that’s why you should move your karking choobs and let’s get out of here, huh?” Qyreia hissed as they closed the distance to her. The Zeltron turned and boarded the Katurno, motioning for them to follow. The trio barely cleared the ramp before it began to rise and the engines started to warm up.
Edge of Dajorran Space
“You want to tell me where the frak we’re going? And how the kark you expect us to get past the Dajorran fleet when they figure out you kidnapped their damn Procon—?!”
The comment cut off midway as Uji entered the cockpit section of the YT-1300 Atra and Qyreia sat within. Adem had retired to the crew quarters for the time being. “Glad you could join us, everyone should enjoy Qyreia’s vocabulary when given the chance,” Atra stated dryly, drawing another glare from the ship’s captain.
“She raises a good point. It could just as easily look as if you forced me to come with you when they review any security footage, Atra. The apprentice of Marick Tyris and the Combat Master leaving with their Proconsul in bondage to board a vessel captained by a Sadowan will not draw the best of conclusions.” Uji leaned against the cockpit doorway as the three considered their next steps.
“We’ll need to get access to the Brotherhood’s network so I can try and dig for more information on what I’ve found so far,” Atra considered, his mind racing through possible locations he could patch in that wouldn’t be obvious enough to draw attention to them.
“If I make contact with the Dajorran Intelligence I could reach out to Timeros. It shouldn’t be difficult to convince him to work on finding what we need. Though, it’ll mean dealing with Atyriu at some point.” It was not difficult for the other two to pick up the note of distaste at the idea of dealing the Arconan Summit.
“If you can convince them to let us go, it’d be a damn sight faster than us having to try and keep under the radar,” Qyreia commented while focused on the controls. They had been forced to change course several times already just to make it this far, delaying any efforts they made to get out of the Dajorra system.
“I will do what I can.” With that the Proconsul left the cockpit, making his way through the innards of the vessel. Adem could be heard moving within the crew quarters as Uji entered the main hold, considering the limited options for where he could communicate in private and assuming that Qyreia would have any terminal on her ship recording anyway. The Proconsul sat before the terminal within the hold and within a few moments had connected to the Citadel’s network and entered his verification to request the Consul.
The screen flickered as it came alive. Atyiru’s expression matched what he expected of her mood; the Miraluka did not hold the familiar smile and there was no mirth in her features. In the next moment he would be speaking to the Shadow Lady, the Consul of the First Clan, someone who held more power at her fingertips than nearly anyone outside of the Dark Council.
“Tameike, explain to me, and quickly, why I should not have that flying pile of garbage crippled and towed forcibly back to the Citadel for all of you to be placed back into into cells?” The implied threat meant that she had considered it already, yet Uji knew she’d be curious as to what was happening. Despite Atyiru’s oftentimes seemingly explosive behavior, she had grown to be a calculating leader as well.
“I was approached with information concerning the movements of the Brotherhood. I am sure you have heard similar reports. Missing persons of interest, key phrases concerning a weapon being built, rumors abounding that Pravus is up to something with his New Order.” Uji smiled at the slight scowl on her face.
“Yes, we’ve been made aware and plans are in place, something you would know had you come to me rather than running off again.” Whispered words near Atyiru caused her to turn her attention. Uji couldn’t make out the voice or what was said but she gave a slight nod.
“I knew that neither you nor those who follow your decisions would be willing to consider what is going on. And publically, you cannot hesitate. You have chosen a course of opposition and must follow through with that. However, in this case, I and my companions believe this is a trap, or at least in part a trap to draw Arcona and other dissenters out into the open,” Uji spoke and let the words sink in for a moment. He knew Atyiru and her council were not fools, but they had been pushed to brash actions as of late. She walked the knife’s edge. She had to be seen as a leader of the Resistance but she also had to balance the safety of more than just Arcona now.
“Give us time, Lady Consul, that is all I ask. This group has the opportunity to levy resources on both sides and a single purpose to discover what is truly happening. If need be I believe between Adem and I that we can deal with Atra should it become necessary. Our goal is to discover what is going on and ensure the safety of the Clan. Once that is done, I will return to Selen for the remainder of my sentence.” Uji waited, the calm reflection of Atyiru’s features as she thought at least giving him hope that she had not lost complete faith in him for his actions against her Arconae.
“You have leave, Lord Scion. Discover what you can and return with as little risk to yourself or Adem as possible. If you thought your punishment for Wun was severe, let Adem come to harm and you will find your cell to have been a pleasant refrain.” Atyiru’s image cut out as she killed the comm.
When Uji rejoined the duo in the cockpit, he could feel the tension in the air. Atra seemed oddly at ease in his seat — even amused, one might say — as the human entered the cramped space. He took a seat, enjoying the comfort of the padded chair over the confines of his recently departed cell. “What did I miss?” It was about then he noticed that the cockpit had been utterly silent upon his entering; that there was a distinct electricity in the air that was palpable when he touched his mind to the flow of the Force; that Qyreia’s fist clutched pink-knuckled at the communication headset. “I take it you were listening in?”
The merc grumbled angrily under her breath. Call my ship a ‘pile of garbage’ huh?! That no-eyed Hutt-humping schutta’s choob-hole is gonna… Her fingers bolted open, letting the headset clatter almost violently onto the control panel. “Yeah. You could say that.”
“Well I got us safe passage out of the system, so we have that going for us.”
“First thing you should know about flying, Mr. Tameiki,” she said, shunting the hyperdrive lever forward, producing the telltale white lines of hyperspace, “is that ‘safe passage’ is only necessary when you’ve actually got someone on your tail.”
“You severely underestimate Arcona’s capabilities.”
“And you clearly don’t know who is piloting this thing.” Qyreia stood from her seat and walked out. “Or how hyperspace actually works. I’ll be in the lounge if you lot want to talk about this ‘plan’ of yours.”
Uji’s furrowed eyes watched as the slim Zeltron sauntered out, leaving the ship on it autopilot course. “Is she always like that?”
Atra shrugged. “She has her moments.” He stretched casually as he rose from his seat, “Since we don’t appear to be in imminent danger anymore, perhaps we should start planning our next step.”
Left with little other recourse, the pair departed the close confines of the cockpit, following the curves of the hall to the lounge where they found the red-skinned mercenary just sitting down to a cup of tea. The Combat Master could see that she was agitated, but the initial angst had subsided, though he could say nothing for her attitude toward himself. He helped himself to a mug, quietly noticing the Zeltron’s subtle glare that she made through the thin waft of steam coming from her drink. If she can manage to be reasonable, we might just get through this in one piece.
“So,” the dark-haired Umbaran said, handing Uji a third cup, “suppose we should get on with the reason we’re all here.”
“Clearly wasn’t for the pleasant company,” Qyreia grumbled quietly, taking a sip of her drink.
“Don’t you think there are more important matters at hand than your personal grievances?” Uji chided. Whatever was going on between the mercenary and the one that broke him out of prison, the tension was growing tiresome.
“Why don’t we start,” she said, leaning forward in her seat, “with why we are here, together, aboard my ship.”
“You don’t know?” the Proconsul asked.
“As of right now, I figured it was breaking you out of prison in exchange for one hell of a favor.” Her gray-blue eyes darted between the two men. “You mentioned intelligence networks earlier.”
“Since you apparently haven’t been paying attention to your Lotus buddies lately,” Atra said flatly, “there is a significant amount of information being leaked among the intelligence lanes that suggest something big is being planned by the higher echelons of the Brotherhood.” He passed her a datapad with the details scrawled in aurebesh across the screen. “Seems to be in relation to that terrorist attack against the refueling station.”
“That wasn’t a terrorist attack,” she intoned as her eyes scanned the document.
“A terrorist attack is designed, as the word might imply, to evoke terror.” She looked up from the datapad with an expression equally annoyed as unimpressed. “A refueling station is a strategic target. Kind of like how all of this,” she said, waving the datapad for emphasis, “points to a weapon of mass destruction. Not quite Death Star, but nothing pretty, especially this ‘kamikaze’ bit.”
Uji looked over at the Combat Master. “I like her. So, our next move should be to collect more intel, as was suggested earlier. Then we can effect a strike at this feint of Pravus’.”
“We don’t know if it’s a feint,” Atra interjected, “and we won’t know until we…”
“Collect more info, yeah yeah,” Qyreia said. “So what? We head to what’s left of this station and plug into some terminal?”
“If there’s still a connection to the Brotherhood communication network, then yes; more or less.”
“Don’t suppose my droid would be of any use,” she half-mumbled, looking over the datapad again. “Welp, I guess I should get us on a course to the fueling station then.”
“You have the coordinates?” Atra asked as she rose to leave, her tea still in-hand.
“I pay enough attention to my ‘Lotus buddies’ to not be completely out of the loop.” Though I hate that kriffing name. Who came up with ‘Lotus’ anyhow? Ugh. “Some exact coordinates wouldn’t be remiss,” she called from the hall.
“She always this demanding?” Uji asked over his tea, not entirely pleased with the flavor of the substandard leaves.
“You have no idea.”
After several more hyperspace jumps from the pre-planned route, the pilot plugged their destination into the computer and set them on a course for Unknown Space. Adem, for his part, was woken from his respite and appraised of the situation before being allowed to resume whatever such activities as suited his desire. Rather than returning immediately to sleep, the Umbaran took time for some minor adjustments and maintenance of his lightsaber. In the background noise of the ship, he could hear the footsteps of his compatriots, as well as the soft whirring of a droid as it scuttled about the halls. They all seemed to be too at ease with the shadow of their mission hanging overhead like some fel demon, ready to snuff out their existence.
Time would tell their measure, though: his companions and the truth behind these rumors.
Starship Assembly Yard
“Alright folks, dropping out of hyperspace… now.” A red hand slid the lever forward gently, the blue panorama giving way to white streaks, then the star-speckled blackness of space. Then of course, there was also the very large and shattered space station floating among the debris that drifted aimlessly in the void. A light whistle pierced the silence of the cockpit. “Well damn. Buggers did quite the number on you, didn’t they?”
“Is that the station?” Uji asked, looking for confirmation so he could start to figure out how they were going to navigate the apparent derelict.
“If Atra’s coordinates are correct…”
“They are,” he interjected before Qyreia could make another jab at him. While she hadn’t been particularly verbose during the cruising period, he chalked up the relative silence to being in a separate room for much of the trip. “Run a sensor sweep and make sure that we’re alone here.”
“You know we’re not,” Adem said quietly. If his life had taught him anything, it was how to read a ploy as much as make one.
“One sensor sweep, coming up,” their pilot said as she flipped several switches. “Not that it’ll be able to pick up much. If they’re flying under low-power like I’ve got us on, then they’ll be almost impossible to spot in this debris.”
“All the better for us,” came the Proconsul’s voice. “Now all we need is a door and enough atmosphere to get us to a communications relay.”
“Ask and you shall receive,” Atra murmured. The wreckage of the station was easy for Qyreia to navigate. Then again, most things were easy for the experienced pilot. What worried Atra was the sense of dread that he was feeling as they moved through the debris towards a stable airlock. The ping from the sensor sweep shouldn’t reveal them to any threats, but it was still a possibility.
The Combat Master was jarred from his thoughts by the sudden rocking of the ship as Qyreia maneuvered carefully and linked up to the airlock. The kinetic reaction was enough to tell them that they were now docked, and everything was more or less intact.
“You are not going onboard alone,” Uji interjected, managing to catch the large Umbaran as he was already on the way out of the cockpit.
“Aw, what’s the matter?” Atra grinned mockingly towards Arcona’s Shadow Scion. “It’s like you don’t trust me.”
“Would you?” came the matter of fact reply.
“Can always trust a schutta to be—” Qyreia began from the pilot seat.
The Combat Master didn’t let the Zeltron finish her sentence. “I got it, thanks,” he said before turning towards Marick’s apprentice. “Exposition is over, Bol’era. Time to take the stage.”
The younger Umbaran blinked several times before glancing up at Atra’s towering form. Uji’s expression remained carefully neutral but a few ticks and subtle twitches showed his feelings on the matter. Adem wasn’t quite sure how to react but, and it came across quite obviously, he wasn’t particularly enthused by the situation.
“Just tapping into the network,” Atra reminded them as he tapped the encrypted Inquisitorius wristlink on his bracer.
Uji nodded in acquiescence towards Adem, but it was Qyreia’s audible — and theatrical — groan that cut through the mood like a knife. “I’m not here to babysit a kriffing holo-soap. Get off my ship before I send you all out the airlock and — whoops — looks like we weren’t quite docked yet!”
A grin pulled at the edge of Atra’s lips, fighting off the urge to chuckle in amusement at the Zeltron’s threat. Wisdom warned him away from that one. Again, he motioned to Adem and this time the younger Umbaran rose to follow. Uji watched as they left, assuming what appeared to be his natural stance with his arms folded across his chest. The Shadow Scion was increasingly ill at ease with the situation, but was committed to what he saw as the necessary course of action.
“You’re killing me,” Qyreia remarked from her seat, folding her arms across the dashboard and leaning forward. “Do you practice being this angsty?!”
Interior, Starship Assembly Yard
Kur-kish. Kur-kish. The steady breathing of the pair of Umbarans echoed through the thin atmosphere of the corridor just beyond the airlock. The clicking and hissing quality came from the breathing masks they had donned. While they weren’t at any immediate risk of being blasted into the void of space, the air quality within the station wasn’t quite at a point where either of them were comfortable being without even a modicum of protection.
“Oh yes, this was a great idea,” Adem managed, his voice muffled by the mask.
“Spare me your moaning,” the Combat Master retorted. He brushed his fingers along the wall of the corridor, looking for a sign of the power cables that still managed to maintain a semblance of functionality. The lighting was dim but emergency power still managed some flickering illumination at sporadic intervals. The sudden flashes were painful to the Umbarans’ sensitive eyes, leaving them both squinting even when in darkness.
Should be a terminal nearby, Atra thought to himself before letting his arm fall away from the durasteel wall. He took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling with the effort of it. The Combat Master knew the duality of what he was doing, and the necessity of it. Still, it was less than desirable. He was there to uphold the order of the Brotherhood, yet to do so he was — in some measures — working against it. The galaxy certainly loved its necessary evils.
“Perhaps this is what you’re looking for?” Bol’era called from nearby.
Ventus turned about and glanced around, trying to spot the source of the voice now that Adem wasn’t where he had thought the younger Umbaran was. A subtle shifting motion near a side corridor drew his grey-gold eyes before Adem leaned back out and waved haphazardly towards him. The fingers of Atra’s left hand spread out wide before clenching inward, causing a series of cracks from the joints. “Yeah, that’ll work,” Atra remarked as he fell in line next to Adem. The remnants of a security terminal could be seen in the side corridor, but the damage was extensive. It still functioned, if only by the loosest definition of the word.
The Combat Master raised his wristlink and pulled a connecting wire from it, patching into the terminal. He raised an eyebrow as he waited for the connection to stabilize, hoping the communications array was still operational. The point of the initial Lotus attack, after all, was only to cripple the Brotherhood’s production. It was entirely possible that other systems had managed to survive.
That possibility became reality as the device pinged happily. “I’m in,” Atra declared.
YT-1300 “Katurno”, Starship Assembly Yard
A melodic rainfall of tapping sounded within the cockpit as Qyreia rapped her knuckles against the dashboard. Her mouth worked back and forth before she let out a huff and blew air across her short bangs. “I’d rather be anywhere but here right now,” she opined.
“I noticed,” Uji grumbled from one of the rear chairs. His arms were, naturally, still folded across his chest but his eyes were closed as he sat in waiting. “I am assuming they found something usable, given their delay in returning.”
“Or they died. Jettisoned into space. Never to be heard from again,” Qyreia offered with a hint of wistfulness in her voice. “That’d be nice.”
The Shadow Scion’s eyebrow raised, once again noting the hostility apparent between the Zeltron woman and Atra. While he didn’t exactly care to delve into the particulars of it, it did make him wonder both why the Combat Master would have gone to this pilot out of all his choices and, in addition, why Qyreia would have agreed.
He didn’t have much more time to ponder it when another kinetic shock jolted the ship. Qyreia’s incredulous expression resulting from it told Uji it hadn’t been expected. “What was—” he began.
“Oh no. Not my ship you…” Qyreia’s voice trailed off into a series of utterances and contrived insults as she worked over the monitors. “You are not cutting a hole in my ship!”
Uji watched as Qyreia pulled an A280C rifle — the barrel chopped down to be shorter — from a side panel and dashed out of the cockpit. He couldn’t help but note the muttered declaration that the “broody hutt-humper is gonna pay for every tiny scratch” on her ship. The Shadow Scion sighed before rising to his feet. It was safe to assume through observation that the ship was in the process of being boarded. Everything was going far too smoothly, after all. That’s when things tended to go wrong in even the simplest of stories.
Interior, Starship Assembly Yard
“Combat Master Ventus,” the woman clad in Inquisitor armor declared from the end of the corridor. “How… unfortunate… to find you here. With their ilk.”
“And you’re sounding as facetious as ever, Eliara,” Atra replied.
“You really think this station would be left abandoned? That you could just walk in?”
“Yeah, we kind of did,” Adem offered quietly.
“A good trap has many facets, simultaneous components,” the human woman elaborated. Her brown hair was drawn into a tight bun with but a few strands falling across her face. Her green eyes burned like emeralds within her olive skin and her smile looked anything but pleasant.
“Bol’era,” Atra began, turning to glance at the other Umbaran. “Did Marick ever teach you one of the most effective ways of finding a trap?”
Adem brushed his pale hair back from his eyes and glanced towards the other man as Atra spoke, his silence standing as his answer.
“Quite simple, really. You spring it.” Atra’s lightsaber sprang to life with the telltale snap-hiss the weapons of the Jedi were known for. Energy crackled along the length of his cerulean blade’s containment field, barely contained. He strode forward with his visage completely calm, even as Eliara and a few of the combatants further down the corridor activated their crimson blades in response. Adem, for his part, seemed disgruntled being forced into a conflict he wanted no part of, but he activated his own lightsaber. The pale yellow light that cast across his features enhanced the sickly pallor that Umbarans were known for.
“You count yourself among the traitors then,” Eliara declared as she gripped her weapon’s hilt in both hands.
“I am as I always have been. Necessary,” the Combat Master stated with finality. His blade spiraled in a blur before him, responding to the trickled warning through the Force as Iron Legion troopers fired on Atra from cover. The red streaks of plasma redirected harmlessly into the durasteel walls and dissolving into showers of sparks.
Adem was moving through the wide corridor not too far behind his fellow Umbaran. As his eyes flit from side to side he was already mentally cursing his situation. He had learned to rely on his speed and acrobatics, which he had fine tuned over time as he studied the tenants of Sokan. Within the confined corridors, those strengths became a weakness as he was unable to rely on them. The Combat Master’s methodical and tight movements seemed far more suited. Unfortunately, Adem wasn’t quite the singular talent that he could shift to a brand new style of combat in an instant. He wasn’t, however, bereft of ability entirely.
The young Umbaran stared down the corridor, taking stock of the entrenched forces of the Iron Legion. He planned his line and brought his arm back. He whipped his saber forward and released it, guiding its path with the Force as it pinwheeled through the air. Atra twisted and leaned to the left, giving the yellow blade space as it shot past. Sparks and molten streaks marked the weapon’s path as it moved just over the debris and carved through several troopers before arcing back to Adem’s waiting hand.
Eliara paid no mind to the fallen troops. A true Sith in both philosophy and dedication, she only cared for her own worth. Everyone else was expendable. A battle cry left her lips as she bounded towards the Combat Master. The Force surged through her muscles, enslaved to her commands, and she brought her saber down with ferocious strength. Atra planted his left foot and drew back his right, pivoting around as the crimson blade carved through the floor of the corridor where he had been standing. “With your head I will claim your position for myself,” she hissed, “and ever greater power!”
“Could you be any more of a stereotype?” Atra replied. He clenched his left hand into a fist and punched forward. Eliara rolled with the force of the strike as it connected to her shoulder and converted it into her own momentum. The Inquisitor spun about and swung her blade in a cleaving uppercut that forced Atra to deflect it with an intercepting slash of his own. His muscles flexed with effort, having to exert himself to match her own Force-enhanced strength. “I mean, you’re cute and all but then you open your mouth and… eh,” the Combat master continued, intentionally drawing out the last word in a dismissive fashion before gritting his teeth. A hissed breath forced through them as he thrust his saber forward, which she dodged, and then bringing it back in a horizontal slash.
Meanwhile, Adem was holding his own against another duelist. “We can’t fight and deal with those blasters,” he declared confidently before kicking off some debris to jump back and create more distance between him and the hooded Inquisitor. “A little help?”
Atra spun about and shoved back at Eliara, creating distance of his own. “Fair point,” he answered. The pair both reached out, having similar thoughts on the matter. The Force was channeled through them and the corridor itself seemed to shake as their combined power bent the supports at the far end of the hall. With a final, harsh tug they managed to collapse the ceiling panels and cut off their opponents from the rest of the Iron Legion troopers. “Better?” Atra asked with several deep breaths.
“With no bolts of plasma flying towards me? Yes,” was Adem’s reply.
A howl of frustration brought the Combat Master’s focus back to the immediate threat as his opponent reengaged. At the same time, Adem looked around the corridor for his own remaining foe. Instead, he noted an arm stretching out from the newly formed debris across from them. “Well… convenient,” he remarked.
Atra was focused on keeping his breathing even. Enraged as she was, the Combat Master wasn’t able to merely sidestep and dodge Eliara’s oncoming strikes. He had to redirect or directly clash with each dangerous swipe of her lightsaber. He could feel the burning in his muscles as effort warned of looming fatigue. Tiring himself out was something the large Umbaran had no intent of doing. He pushed back, breaking free of yet another clash of their sabers even as sparks hissed at the point of contact. He let out a grunt of effort that was still drowned out by Eliara’s anger-filled cries. He spun around quickly and shoved his shoulder against her, knocking her off balance.
“Bol’era,” Atra managed, “think fast.” The Combat Master reached towards the Inquisitor and made a grasping motion. He delved into the depths of his connection to the Force, both willing it and allowing it to be directed as he saw fit. Eliara’s fall slowed and then halted completely as she found herself gripped by unseen hands. Atra stepped to the side and flung his arm towards the other Umbaran in the same motion which sent her part skidding and part flying through the short space between them.
Adem’s eyes widened as he found a living projectile coming his way. He brought up his saber instinctively and thrust it out. Both male and female voices cried out with pain as Eliara crashed into Adem, forcing him to crash against the far wall. His sun-kissed blade had managed to impale her through the side, leaving her to bellow with pain as she crumpled against him. The Umbaran, trapped beneath her, went to move and was instead greeted by a biting pressure in his back that seemed to claw through his insides. He cried out, but knew the pain was a good thing. He could still feel, which meant a lack of paralysis, and he could feel where the pain was. It had missed his vitals, whatever it was.
Gritting his teeth, the Gatewarden pushed Eliara off him onto the floor and deactivated his saber. He pressed his foot against the wall and forced himself away from it. The pain was exquisite as he managed to free himself from the ragged shrapnel of the wall behind him, feeling the free flow of blood sticking to his back.
It seemed harm had indeed come to the young Umbaran, turning Atyiru’s words into something more prophetic after the fact.
The world largely fell away from Adem’s perception for a moment. His mind’s eye conjured images of its own volition. A roiling storm of angles and edges, grey and steel and orange-brown pushing into sandwiched layers of dark red, pink, and pale beige, as if he were witnessing his injury from the perspective of the dastardly shard of twisted steel responsible. He couldn’t remember why exactly, but he wondered if it was dirty and whether that was bad.
He felt his weight on his feet, the balance of standing largely second nature enough to put little thought into. A miserable dark heap writhed and seized in front of him. The macabre aroma of burning flesh had a partner in the stench of burnt organs. The dying black figure blurred away, replaced by a shifting figure.
“Great work, you’re going to be the first Jedi to gloriously die at the hands of industrial starship flooring. Even I can’t top that.” the shade snarked, twisting into feminine lines and emitting an aroma of strawberry. Oceanic blue eyes lighting up porcelain skin struggled to extinguish a long flame of hair. Siobhan’s long unheard but still familiar voice sounded amused, irritated, and ever-so-slightly concerned. The figure shifted again, growing thicker, its eyes tinting to electric blue and the shadows staining the hair and clothing. Marick.
“Focus. Plan. Do the math of the pain, take away its meaning. How many wounds are there?” the imaginary Shadicar reciting memorized lessons and exercises.
“Nine,” Adem mumbled, counting the shallow lacerations along his back from raking against other wreckage that nearly skewered him. Marick rippled away into a braid the color of dove feathers and baby blue cloth wrapped across skin darkened by farmland sun.
“Stay calm, look for something to wrap around it, apply and maintain pressure. Let the Force do its work, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be there when I rip Tameike a new one for bringing you here,” Imagin-Atty said, leading the disoriented young Umbaran through basic first aid. The floor finally came back into focus. Adem gently brushed his hand across his back, and it came away wet and warm. Blood gently ran down his fingers and dripped onto Eliara’s groaning form. The Umbaran slowly knelt down beside her.
“Something to wrap around it. . .” he muttered, and started ripping at the dying Inquisitor’s robes, his eyes and expression still partially elsewhere. Both lacked the presence of mind to figure out where Eliara’s lightsaber was.
“Just what do you. . . think you’re. . .” she protested, fading in and out of consciousness and coughing fits. A hole had been burned clean through her abdomen, and the stench of scorched organs seeped out of the gap. “I’ll. . . make you. . . wish you’d never. . . been born, you pale little worm.”
Adem finished ripping away one of the legs of her robe, and also nicked her belt. “Sorry, I’m already there.” He stood up, and nearly tripped over something, hearing a snap-hiss, a sickening popping noise, and someone grunting. His eyes darted back and forth before realizing he’d stepped on Eliara’s weapon. The bloodshine blade had sprung to life once more, this time through its prone owner’s lungs. A final shocked sigh escaped Eliara before she stopped moving, dead.
“Whoops,” Atra’s firm brogue sounded from down the corridor. Adem approached him, wrapping the thick black cloth around his side repeatedly and securing it with the scavenged belt. The puncture wound throbbed again, but this time Adem drowned it out with the thick, cool salve of the Force.
“Scale of one to please-kriffing-end-me-now, how would you rate your pain, Bol’era?” the Combat Master asked.
“Eh, you’ll live,” Atra replied, plugging back into the terminal and frowning at his wrist-link. “The data is incomplete.” A sharp hissing sound echoed from a distance, roughly two or three adjacent halls away. The remaining Iron Legion troops were apparently not content to remain on their side of the debris.
“I sense a squad. . . five. . . no, six. Can you lock them out?” Adem asked.
“They’ll burn through the doors pretty quickly, and that’s assuming they don’t have access to the locks to begin with. . .” Atra trailed off for a few seconds, then looked back over his shoulder at the younger Umbaran. “You think you could take them in the dark?”
The Combat Master’s implication was readily apparent. “Between the two of us, we could probably pick them off, one by one. They figure they’re hunting us, so they won’t run back the way they came,” Adem suggested.
“That’s the way,” Atra agreed, then removed his wrist-link and set it on the terminal. “I can kill the lights and leave the download be, but don’t let them near this thing. Go careful, go quiet, and we’ll both get out of here.” Adem nodded, and honed his focus to as sharp an edge as he could as he pressed himself against a wall.
Section by section, the lights of each corridor promptly shut off. The hissing sputtered to a stop, and the sound of metal tearing away from itself gave way to the clatter of boots on the floor grates.
“Two teams, three man cells,” came the voice of the squad leader, garbled through the filter of his helmet, “flush them out. Capture-on-sight, kill if necessary.” The footsteps split in two directions, one set growing slightly more faint, and the other closer. The warm light of glowrods stretched around one of the corners, and the black-armored soldiers passed into view of the Umbarans. Images of mannequins and dummies suddenly pushed their way into Adem’s mind. He looked at the Combat Master, crouched in a doorway opposite him, and nodded to indicate that he understood his meaning.
The Legionnaires walked slowly down the hall towards Adem. Atra quietly drew back through an open doorway, and suddenly the number three slid across the younger Umbaran’s mind, suggesting the Combat Master’s chosen target. Adem concentrated on the thoughts of the soldier in front, the Force creeping into his vision to manifest an image of Bol’era limping around the corner of the hall, and also inventing the sound of footsteps in his ears.
“He’s wounded!” the pointman exclaimed, then surged ahead of his squadmates to pursue the specter they hadn’t seen. The other two men stopped, confused by their teammate’s actions.
“The hell is wrong with you? There’s nothing there!” called the second soldier. An invisible hand seized the rear man, and it pulled him through the doorway across the adjacent hall. Adem and the second squad member heard him slam against the metal with great force. Before the remaining soldier could react, Adem snapped his lightsaber to life and slashed at the back of the man’s knees, then smashed him down onto his face as hard as he could.
“Could you—” Atra hissed while moving to snap unlucky soldier number three’s neck, “—be any louder?”
“Like you’re any quieter. They’re in full armor, what do you expect?” Adem snapped back. “Besides, I got stabbed!”
“Excuses, excuses. What would Marick say?”
“I got stabbed!”
The sound of blaster fire rang from around the corner and down the hall, where the first soldier chased Adem’s illusion.
“Oh, kriffing hell! Friendly fire, dammit!” came a helmet-filtered shout.
“Sir, I think you just filled Zero-Bee-Three with holes.”
“I’m aware of that! What was that moron thinking, darting around the corner like that? Bee-Three, come in, status report.” No one spoke for a moment, the only sound around them being the low rumble of malfunctioning air quality systems.
“He’s at least three kinds of dead, sir.”
“Ugh. Forget the orders, I want these rats on a spike. Keep it tight, people, stay focused and find the bastards.” The second squad stopped talking, and the tense silence resumed.
Atra smirked. “Three down, three to go. Let’s give em’ a show, shall we?”
“One more decoy?” Adem tried not to groan. This would be easier if he didn’t have to juggle it with ignoring the hole in his back.
“If you can. They won’t leave each other’s sides, so we’ll have to take them out pretty much in one movement. Close on them from the opposite direction of the decoy, let me come from the side.”
The younger Umbaran crept around the corner where Zero-Bee-Three’s black form lay slumped against the wall. The glowrods of his companions illuminated him, and Adem could see the wisps of smoke drifting out of the holes in his breastplate. He peered around the corner, at the back wall past the three men moving carefully towards him. He tightened his focus on conjuring an illusion of his own shadowy form and the accompanying clanking of feet on floor grates rapidly approaching the group in the minds of the back two soldiers. Sure enough, they responded to the stimulus and focused fire on their shared hallucination.
The squad leader spun around to support his team, confused to see them firing wildly into the darkness. Adem drew his arm back, lightsaber hilt in hand. He snapped the blade to life and flung it down the hall. The squad leader heard the whup-whup sound of the weapon spinning through the air. He reacted too late to save his arm from being burned through by the golden wheel of plasma, and he collapsed to the floor. The middle soldier ducked, and then shifted over to the wall behind a support. Adem heard a yelp, and saw a small, bright streak of flickering cyan light punch through both the wall and unfortunate Legionnaire number four’s chest. True to his word, Atra had come from the side.
The wounded Umbaran summoned his weapon back to his hand, and struggled to block the wildly fired shots of the last man. Sadly for him, he made the mistake of advancing towards Adem and passing across a doorway. The Combat Master surged through it, swinging his unstable blade down through the remaining soldier’s arms in a brutal overhead smash.
“You dead?” the elder Umbaran asked Adem, as the last of the squad fell to the floor.
“Does tired count?” Both deactivated their lightsabers and breathed relieved sighs.
“If you can whine, you’re fine. Let’s finish up here.”
“Expect any more surprises?”
“No, but watch my back while I finish with the terminal, just in case.”
The Combat Master strode back to the terminal and picked up his wrist link, strapping it back on. Adem ground his teeth and felt his wound biting and throbbing away as he listened to Atra tap at the controls. The younger Umbaran still held his lightsaber and tightened his grip around it; his only opportunity stood in front of him, and every thought in his head screamed at him to take it.
The all-too-familiar snap-hiss of an ignited lightsaber sounded past Atra’s right ear, and he squinted from the intensity of its glow.
“Well. . . You know, despite rumors to the contrary about full-blooded Umbarans, you really don’t strike me as the double-crossing type. What gives, Bol’era?” The Combat Master remained perfectly calm, not moving his head and continuing to type, albeit a little slower on account of not seeing the screen as well.
“We made a deal. My cooperation for information on Marick.” Adem did his best to make his voice firm and clear, unmoved as Atra appeared.
“You really want to do this now? You couldn’t wait until we weren’t potentially still being hunted in a wrecked space station?”
The older Umbaran couldn’t help but chuckle. “How many times have you interrogated someone?”
“Twice, counting now.”
“Doing a bang-up job. You don’t apologize to the mark, though.” The Combat Master looked back over his left shoulder to hide his eyes from the light.
“Duly noted. Answer my questions, please.”
“That’s not an improvement. Why do you want to know so bad?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“Curiosity. Hey, remember those countless deaths you also signed on to prevent?”
“I could be causing just as many by hindering the Lotus. If that’s the case, I at least want to have gotten everything I asked for from the deal.”
The console started blinking. “Fair enough, job’s done anyway. Wanna give me some space, here? We’ll walk and talk back to the ship.”
Adem shut the blade off, and Atra unplugged his wrist-link from the terminal. “Alright. What is Marick doing in Inquisitiorius command? Why?”
“Well, the why is conjecture, mostly, but the what is pretty clear. For the time being, your friend is carrying out Pravus’s orders to a tee, said orders being to neutralize particularly violent lizard-men with extreme prejudice, among other things.”
“That lizard was an Arconan. Before now, I could never imagine him even considering hurting one of us.”
“Seems he hurt one pretty bad. You want a reason? Probably playing the long con. I’d wager Pravus thinks the same, given Marick’s history with Arcona and what not.”
“You think he’s going to do more? Do worse?"
“If he wanted to position himself in the Grand Master’s blind spot…”
“What about you? Are you going to do something to stop him?”
“Pravus? Or Marick?”
“I’ll do whatever benefits the Brotherhood most. Order will be preserved. Satisfied?”
Adem fell silent for a moment, save for his footsteps. He reminded himself that he didn’t expect to survive questioning Atra, let alone getting an answer. “Well, thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Seriously, don’t, you’ll kill us both.”
The Combat Master shrugged. “No way of knowing how this shakes out until we link back up with the others. . .” he trailed off, checking the communications on his wrist-link, “. . . who I can’t seem to raise. You up to running?”
“Through a derelict full of even more twisted wreckage?”
“Yeah, your favorite. Plus the added spice of our co-conspirators possibly being charred corpses in a smoldering wreck.”
“That’s the spirit,” the older Umbaran said, and rushed down the corridor. Adem groaned, but still followed suit.
Qyreia led the pair into the bowels of the Katurno. Qyreia and Uji moved throughout the ship until they reached the short hallway leading to the port docking ring. They both shared a look as the Zeltron took cover to one side as the ship’s power suddenly went out, the interior growing disturbingly quiet. They waited for a moment, expecting the backups to come online, but nothing came, leaving the entire vessel cast in absolute blackness.
“Those nerf-fracking pricks fried the power!” Qyreia’s hissed in anger before her face was suddenly illuminated by the light of the exterior wall growing bright red. The crackling hiss of a plasma torch cutting through the airlock was heralded by flying sparks as molten metal sloughed off the entryway. Uji quickly took the opposite corner of the hallway, drawing his lightsaber but keeping it deactivated for the time being.
The brilliant glare of the torch continued unabated as a rough circle shape was cut into the exterior. Qyreia shouldered her rifle, casting a glance at Uji for a moment who responded with a nod of his head. The Seer concentrated, closing his eyes and blocking out his immediate surroundings, instead reaching through the exterior hull towards the team of infiltrators. Within he could feel the presence of a full squad of just over a dozen soldiers lined up, their formation precise, weapons readied and prepared to breach.
“Just over a dozen. They are going to breach with grenades first, be ready.” As he spoke the bright glow of the plasma torch died at the end of the hallway, leaving it illuminated now by nothing more than the glowing metal of the hull. A moment later the metal sheared away and collapsed into the hallway and without hesitation Qyreia lit up the entry, her A280C belting out fire into the opening. Inside, muffled shouts were heard as they drew back.
“Cover!” Qyreia shouted as she drew back around the corner when she saw a small cylindrical object drop short within the hallway. The concussive blast of the stun grenade nearly deafened them despite the distance. Without skipping a beat, the Privateer began to blind fire the blaster around the corner as the boarding party returned fire and began advancing through the entryway.
The Intruders kept Qyreia pinned down as they advanced. The Sadowan pulled back from the corner shouting curses at the oncoming Inquisitors. The first pair reached the edge of the hallway, continuing to fire after the retreating Privateer. Uji smiled grimly and enjoyed the look of surprise as they turned to the sound of the snap-hiss as he activated his saber. His first strike severing one soldier’s torso from the rest of him, the next a brutal chop left the other dead. To their credit the remaining Inquisitors didn’t hesitate in concentrating fire on him, suddenly on the defensive the Seer retreated down the opposite corridor.
The Inquisitors continued unrelenting in their barrage as they leap frogged from cover to cover to drive the back the newest threat. Qyreia appeared again, her A280C lighting up the group from the opposite side, timed to catch them out of cover as they advanced, her shots unerring in their accuracy felled four Inquisitors in a matter of seconds.
“Like hell I’ll be outdone by a glowbat,” Qyreia muttered to herself as she continued to fire. The tense exchange of fire left over half of their numbers down. The enemy began to pull back, a few of them providing cover as they withdrew into their own ship. The two followed for a moment until they reached the entryway and heard the airlock on the enemy vessel close.
“And stay out you pricks!” followed as she gave an unfriendly hand gesture to accompany the farewell. She turned to find Uji leaning against the interior wall, his hand covering a smoking portion of his lower left abdomen, the look of pain gone the instant he drew her attention as he straightened up.
“I will be fine, just a bit… rusty I think,” he barely finished, as he collapsed back against the wall, his teeth gritted against the pain.
“You have got to be kidding me, don’t you fracking dare bleed on my ship.” Qyreia rushed to retrieve the medkit from the main hold. Returning to find the Seer slumped down, his breathing shallow, she knew enough about Force Users to know many could survive despite wounds that would kill a normal man. Treatment though would be a priority if she intended to keep him conscious enough to be of any use. She knelt beside him while opening the kit, only to stop as she felt the ship shake, the docking clamps of the enemy vessel releasing.
“Oh frak, up up!” She pulled Uji to his feet, grabbing the kit with one hand as she supported him with the other as they raced towards the opposite end of the ship. She could feel the vibration of the other ship firing it’s engines to pull away. She slammed the control panel to open the docking ring onto the station as she shoved them both through, letting Uji drop. She turned in time to hear the interior of the Katurno begin to violently decompress as the other ship moved away. She closed the airlock leaving them inside the darkened hallways of the shipyard.
All seemed eerily quiet in the hall, even as the door shuddered gently as the ship on the other side struggled to fight the sudden evacuation of atmosphere. The sweat that had developed on the Zeltron’s face during the fight and subsequent flight hadn’t even fallen from her chin before she realized how very thin the atmosphere was. Her previously labored breaths came all the more rigorously, while Uji’s pain seemed only to redouble with the added physical strain. Where the frack are those other two when you need them?! She looked down at the Arconan again, and her gut knotted at the thought of their dwindling chances with each moment spent on or near this station.
“You know how to use one of these?” she asked Tameiki, crouching down and sliding her blaster rifle into his hands.
“We need to wait for the others,” he breathed raggedly as Qyreia rapidly switched to applying the medkit. He didn’t appreciate being jerked around while she applied the bandage — speed clearly being the priority — but the painkillers he rather appreciated.
“Every second we wait out here is time the enemy has at blowing up our only ride out of this heap.”
“So what do you intend?” The Force user’s weary eyes watched as she stood and stepped back toward the airlock, and it became clear. “What are you doing?!”
“Average human can go about a minute in a vacuum, so long as they don’t hold their breath.” The statement was less to Uji, and sounded more like she was trying to reassure herself. “Wish me luck.”
Before the human had time to respond, she opened the airlock door, slid through, and shut it behind her in one swift motion. Her breath hissed out as rapidly as the shutting door, leaving Qyreia in the artificial gravity of the ship. No sooner had the airlock shut behind her than her feet took off, bolting into the main corridor that circled the central column where the laser cannons rested silently. There wasn’t enough air to breathe, but she could hear the faint, muted hiss of the life support system fighting to keep up with the gaping hole that let all the atmosphere cascade away.
It was a small comfort as her vision began to blur. Even with the pittance of air from the ship, the lack of pressurization was already taking its toll. C’mon Qyreia. Just a bit further. The mercenary rounded the bend, catching herself mid-stumble as a wave of delirium washed over her senses and abated just as quickly. White teeth ground together when she finally reached the airlock on the opposite side of the ship only mere seconds later. Red fingers dashed over the controls, the moisture on her tongue feeling like it was boiling as the seconds ticked by.
Outside the ship…
“Don’t fall behind,” Atra chided over his shoulder, the breath mask hiding his amused grin. “I’m not the type that carries folks out.”
“How much further?” The grumble was less out of discomfort and more out of worry for their situation. It had been too long since they had heard anything from their compatriots.
“Should be right around this next bend.”
Darkened though the halls were, they suited the Umbarans’ vision just fine. Sure enough, the scenery quickly grew more and more familiar, and it wasn’t long before they started to see the various docking hatches that they had left behind. What set the hall apart was the body that they definitely had not left lying outside their ship’s hatch. Any initial spurt of caution was quickly assuaged as the image cleared to reveal Uji, propped against the wall with the mercenary’s blaster resting in the crook of his arm.
“Proconsul!” Adem’s expression grew all the more stern when he saw the human’s wounded state. “What happened to you?”
Atra seemed less interested in the man, looking around quizzically. “Where’s the red one?”
Uji tipped his head at the ship. “Inside.” His voice croaked each syllable; a side effect of the air quality that Adem rectified by removing his breather and slipping it over the Shadow Scion’s head. “Thank you. The ship depressurized after boarders realized they couldn’t take the ship by force. Qyreia went in to try and fix it, but that was some time ago.”
I’ll never hear the end of it if Keira finds out that merc died, Atra thought as he stepped briskly toward the door. With a wave of his hand, the controls gave way to his immaterial command and the door opened. Rather than feel the tug of vacuum though, there was a light gust of air from the pressurized antechamber. The Combat Master motioned the others to follow, with Uji propped up on Adem’s shoulder, and they all entered the airlock. The interior doors opened before anyone had even moved for the controls, revealing a rather heated argument between their Zeltron companion and some sort of droid, oblivious to the trio’s presence.
“-e hell were you doing, R3?”
Brrt beep bloop beet beet bip.
“You didn’t think you could fix the power after the whole lack-of-air thing?”
Whooohr beepbeept bititit boop.
“Okay… I suppose you wouldn’t notice that without lungs, but you could tell by the diagnostics, right?” The droid let out a somber boop. “You’re lucky you’re cute.” When Qyreia finally returned her attention to the airlock, she noticed the three Force users staring at her. “Hey guys. ‘Sup?”
“You left Uji out in the station,” Adem said tersely as he shuffled past.
“Cry me a river, kid. I don’t recall any of you running through a vacuum to save our only ride outta here.” She looked over to Atra, who had been watching her curiously. “What?”
“Are you alright?”
Her surprise at his concern softened the Zeltron’s tone. “Helluva headache, but it’ll go away soon enough. You get the data?” Atra nodded. “Good. Now let’s get out of here before someone else tries to get frisky with my ship.”
Speak of the devil, she thought as the vessel rocked under a light burst of weapons fire from outside. The tall Umbaran matched her stride as they moved toward the cockpit, passing Adem and Uji in the lounge — both caring for their respective wounds. “R3! Get those shields up!” A whirr of acknowledgement called from behind the duo as the droid plugged into the nearest access port and remotely activated the shields, saving them from the much more accurate barrage that came mere seconds afterward.
“Oh, you done messed with the wrong person today, shutta,” Qyreia mumbled as she sat in the pilot seat, a wry grin across her lips. “Powering up engines…” A deep thrum emanated from the docking port that had been attached to the station. “Thanks R3.”
“That droid seems pretty useful,” the Combat Master said, noting the preemptive action by the robot.
“Don’t I know it. Now buckle up, Sally, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.”
The Katurno pulled away from the station smoothly, coming about to surge forward into the debris field. Whereas before they could hardly see anything on sensors, the active combatant ship shone on the scanner well enough now that their powerplant was putting out so much energy. The vessel was banking around for another pass, giving the duo in the cockpit a good view of their opponent.
“That’s a Decimator,” Atra said flatly. “We’re outmatched. Make a run for the edge of the debris field and get us out of here.”
“Listen you! On this ship I don’t take orders, I give ‘em! This is my dreamboat, and they dared to cut her open! They can suck my chuff and laser cannons!”
“You’re lucky I couldn’t out-fly that ship, or I’d take over the controls,” he replied as he cinched down the strap on his seat’s harness.
Qyreia smiled deviously as she pushed forward on the throttle, hurtling them through the field of detritus and on a direct course for the enemy ship. The VT-49 was nigh-parallel with the YT’s maneuverability, but her crew still had to contend with the shattered remnants of the station. Locking the Katurno’s laser cannon turrets to the fore, the mercenary sent a withering fusillade into the vessel’s dorsal section, red energy dissipating on its deflector shields. In response, it launched a pair of concussion missiles that would have done more than sufficient damage to the YT-1300 if the angle of attack had not been so steep and the range so close. The warheads, without a target lock, careened into the void until they detonated on some distant debris.
Despite the rocking of the ship as the inertial dampeners fought to compensate for the violent maneuvers, Uji and Adem made their way to the cockpit out of sheer curiosity. That the lounge seating lacked any in-flight restraints made the choice obvious. Their arrival was met by a series of dull shakes as the enemy’s quad laser cannons turned about to engage the exposed vessel.
“I’d rather get home in one piece, Ms. Arronen,” Uji grumbled from his seat.
“This isn’t as easy as it looks, so if you would all shut — up!”
Giving up some speed for maneuverability, the Katurno lurched to starboard before rocketing forward yet again. Where the Decimator had to contend with finding a clear path ahead, Qyreia had only to follow the corona of clear space left in the vessel’s wake, leaving her free to maneuver against the quad cannons that were as preoccupied with adjusting for the vector changes as with her. The Katurno’s guns hammered away at the enemy’s rear, the Zeltron’s steady hand as beneficial as the outside influences working in their favor.
You’re losing shields fast, ol’ girl, Qyreia noted as her eyes darted around the control surfaces. She was getting more hits, but the enemy had the better equipment and the advantage of being a dedicated warship. Throwing caution to the wind, she shifted power to her thrusters and shields, veering off into the thicker debris. The larger detritus caught the Decimator’s fire like a fly in a spider’s web, allowing the Corellian ship to dart through the cloud relatively unscathed in a wide arc that brought it once more on a direct course for the VT-49’s dorsal section.
“Hold onto your seats, kids! I’ve never tried this before!”
Shunting a burst of power to her engines, the Katurno surged at high speed along its intercept vector, guns blazing against the opponent’s fire, her shields absorbing the fusilade with surprising tenacity. If the system wasn’t vital, it was turned off for the extra juice, and they needed every ounce. Thankfully, the Decimator’s wide profile gave Qyreia ample targeting space as she closed the distance.
Just as the ever-shrinking distance seemed to only give the enemy the advantage, the mercenary tore power away from the engines, the ship drifting with inertia at their target. With the engines off, the guns siphoned the spare power for themselves, tearing away at the Decimator’s shields. Even as they passed, Qyreia turned the ship, the guns giving little respite to the Imperial-designed vessel. Some shots went wild — expected with such an unpracticed maneuver — but it had so surprised the opposing crew that they had no idea how to counteract the attack.
The Katurno shuddered as the engines came back to life, resuming the pursuit of the vessel that was now on the run, its shields sputtering until they died completely. “Up yours, you Hutt-humping druk-stains!” the Zeltron yelled as she tore into their hull, peppering the ship’s entire length in one smooth pass that left it a plasma-scorched mess.
“Had enough?” Atra asked, inwardly happy that they had survived the fiasco.
“Almost.” Qyreia turned the YT lazily about, hammering at the Decimator until the ship was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding debris. “Okay. Now I’m done.”
“Good, because we still have a mission to complete.”
Whoever was trying to kill them either didn’t have any other combat-capable ships, or didn’t think it was worth the risk, because the trip out of the cloud was otherwise uneventful. Much to the relief of the others onboard, they were soon enveloped by the shimmering blue hues of hyperspace. Despite her aversion to taking direction from the Combat Master, he knew where they could offload the datafeed and get it to the Brotherhood at large. The trip led them to an old and long-unused relay station that seemed just as dilapidated as the shipyard they had left behind. The message ping on Qyreia’s ship said otherwise.
“So what now?” she asked on their way back to Arconan space, happy to finally drop off the passengers.
“We wait,” Uji answered with a steadier voice than he’d had several hours earlier. Drugs aside, some food and a few hours’ rest had done him good. “That message went to the Brotherhood at large, so everyone will hear it — the Lotus and Pravus both, along with their allies.”
“What do you think the Lotus will do?” Adem asked, his attention set on the Proconsul.
“Hopefully they will avoid making any grave errors.”
“What will be, will be,” Atra added. “No point in trying to divine the outcome.”
“Odd though it is, I agree.” Qyreia leaned forward in her seat. “Now, since we’ve got some time on our hands, let’s talk payment. Like I’ve been saying this whole time, Atra: you owe me.”