Star Courier: Encanis
Doran System, Hutt Space
Marick fidgeted with his datapad. For once in his life, his mind was not on the mission at hand. His finger moved slowly towards his datapad’s screen. “I’m going to check on her—”
“—Mika yirue, no.” Atyiru’s hands shot forward to grab his wrists, arresting the motion and holding him in place. “Kirra will be safe as a stone. I promise.” She smiled, freckled face focused intently on the Hapan. While her features remained stern and still, her angular ears remained animated, twitching ever so slightly.
Marick frowned, but tilted his head up to look at her, through her blindfold, and tried to pull from her strength. He leaned his head forward slightly, letting his forehead gently bump against hers.
“I believe you, but maybe I should call Wyn—”
“Marry, he’s your brother,” Atyiru huffed, nose wrinkling, “and you’ve already checked in three times since leaving. Four times would not be proper.” She poked a finger against his forehead.
Alethia observed the two out of the corner of her eye. She shifted her attention to more pressing matters and climbed up the ladder towards the cockpit. She was greeted by a familiar BD-unit that chirped excitedly.
“Biddy is asking about someone called…’Buddy?’” a female voice translated from the pilot’s chair. “He wants to know if they’re okay.”
“Buddy is fine, thank you for asking,” Alethia replied patiently to the little droid. Biddy’s small chassis shuddered as he beeped in relief. Then, the droid blinked his photoreceptors in appreciation and hopped away.
Archenksova continued towards the cockpit, curious to meet this pilot of Marick’s. She folded her arms and leaned against the hull just behind the pilot’s chair. “Nice ship.”
“Yeah, pretty hard to argue with one true pairings,” came the coy reply from the pilot’s seat. The woman who had translated for the droid earlier glanced over her shoulder. She had an auburn-furred face, lupine ears, blue braided hair, and bright yellow eyes. Zygerrian, no doubt.
Alethia lifted an eyebrow, until the woman flashed a toothy grin and pointed with her thumb down the ladder toward Atyiru and Marick.
Oh. That kind of ship.
Alethia masked her frustration almost too easily with a faint smile. “I meant the Star Courier, Zig.” The Zygerrian’s smile remained. “You’re up to speed with the mission parameters, I take it?
“Yep. You and Marick have a bad feeling about what the Principate is up to, so we’re going to try and talk some sense into your contact and hope you’re both wrong. Since we all know that’s unlikely, Marick pulled me from the Voidbreaker to help get you guys there in one piece.”
“And that’s why you have me here to back you up,” a new, cheerful voice chimed in from the staging area behind the cockpit. Lean and lithe, Sera Kearn crept up behind the pilot’s seat and threw her arms around it to lightly grab hold of the Zygerrian pilot. The Zabrak and Zygerrian exchanged a laugh as Zig swatted Sera’s hands away.
“Hey, some of us are workin’ here—”
“Speaking of work,” Alethia cleared her throat. “I assume you’re the Aedile Marick spoke of?”
Sera peeled away from the pilot’s chair and turned to face Archenksova directly. “Sera Kaern, at your service! Ziggy explained, but I still wish that everyone would just get along for once, you know?” The Iridonian idly rubbed the back of her horned head.
Alethia eyed the Zabrak flatly. She almost felt like the young woman’s abject naivety was an act, but her experience told her that the sentiment was genuine.
“Principate and the Revenants are at each other’s throats. Our mission is to try and help find some kind of agreement between these warring factions. Seems…right up our alley?”
Alethia nodded. “I’ve used my contacts to offer aid towards The Triumvir of Oaths. Her followers seem to be the most…cooperative to our mutually beneficial efforts and—”
The ship lurched out of hyperspace. Instead of the expected, orderly space lanes over the planet Dandoran, an imperial blockade had taken up orbit. They were not alone, either, as troves of less organized but more diverse ships with mismatched paint jobs moved to oppose them.
An emergency signal flared across the Star Courier’s comms. Zig’s fingers flashed across the dashboard console as she intercepted the communication and decrypted it without needing to be told.
This the VSD Vel of the First Fleet. We are en route to support the Geta, but won’t make it in time to offer support. Requesting assistance in defending against Tenixir raiding groups…
The ship lurched as it was forced to bank hard to port. Klaxons blared as the console’s vidscreen spit out a stream of simultaneous reports. The Zygerrian pilot swore under her breath, her eyes tracking on multiple readouts at once. “Karabast. We’re being pulled into the Geta’s gravity well generators…going to try and reroute our weapon systems to thrusters…”
The scavenger kept one hand on the yoke while her free hand popped open a latch beneath the dashboard console, exposing a bed of wires.
“Spaz! Make yourself useful and calculate our best trajectory to dock with the interdictor,” Zig growled at a SP-4 Analysis Droid that was waddling its way towards the cockpit.
“Did you try turning the thrusters off and then on again?” the droid retorted dryly.
“Okay, calculating,” the droid intoned then went quiet for a moment. “Yes. Based on your current course, our chances of making a clean landing in the Geta’s hangar are zero-point-one-one-one three percent…”
“Oh. You could fly the ship parallel to the interdictor’s starboard hull and jettison the crew onto the capital ship’s surface for insertion. Forty-two-point-one-three-five percent chance of success.”
“With Marick and Atyiru together?”
The droid paused.
“Eighty-percent chance of not dying,” the droid corrected itself.
“Sera?” Zig called out, sweat beading across her brow. “Get everyone ready for an air-drop!”
“Did she just say airdrop?”
For some reason, Alethia seemed surprised.
“Whatever that means, yeah!” Sera chirped excitedly. She squeezed her pilot friend’s tense shoulder and then spun and snatched Archenksova’s hand, yanking her back towards the ladder to the lower deck. “If it’s Ziggy’s plan, it’s the best plan! Come on!”
“We are in space, are you honestly suggesting a bare walk at ship speed—”
The Zabrak clambered down, and Alethia followed gracefully even as inertia from the Zygerrian pilot’s sharp banking pressed her into the metal tubing. The pair emerged to find Marick and Atyiru seemingly unfazed.
“My point,” the Human continued, resisting a sigh in favor of a more agreeable expression, “is have we really thought this through?”
“Nope!” Sera answered cheerily at the same time that Marick said, “Yes, this is currently the most optimal solution,” at the same time Atyiru pressed her palm to Alethia’s cheek as if comforting or checking a temperature and asked, “Did you eat before we left, dear? I made sure the others did but if you didn’t it is important I know, so that I can adjust for what variables to control in your internals. An empty tummy has more air in it that is going to explode than a full one does. Bolus in the upper and lower intestines also could be a septic hazard even as I repair ruptures.”
Alethia stared at the woman’s blindfolded, smiling face and, with all the sweetness and poise of a lifetime of breeding, indoctrination, and ruthless training, replied, “I used the refresher before take-off.”
“Delightful. Was it a balanced breakfast?”
“Is that relevant?”
“Breakfast is always relevant.”
“GET READY!” Zig hollered over the comms. Calm as the cold iron core of a dead star, Marick approached the rearmost compartment’s airlock, then turned his head back just an inch, hand at his side, palm open. Atyiru strode forward and took it easy as the breathing they would soon not be doing.
“Don’t worry, teacup,” she told Alethia. “I can’t die. Again. I’m going to protect you. All of us.”
“I can manage!” Sera proclaimed with her effervescent, unflinching boldness, shining like a desert sun. “You focus on the others, Atty!”
Atyiru took the Zabrak’s free hand and squeezed.
“I know you can, sweetie, but I’m helping anyway. It will be easier for me to protect all of us at once, and you will be saving your strength for where it is most needed.”
“Do not argue with your mother,” Marick said, completely toneless, too-blue eyes moving in clockwork metronome between the holoprojection of the spacescape around them, the blueprints of the Geta, the calculations Zig had forwarded to his datapad, and the three women. “I will direct us, but we must jump in twenty six seconds by the droid’s calculations. Move.”
He stepped inside the airlock. Joined hand in hand, the others followed, some more eagerly than others. Minutes at most had passed. The ship rocked. The door sealed, securing the rest of the ship. The Human reminded herself that Atyiru had quite literally come back from the dead and of the times she had seen Marick in action.
The Miraluka spoke up again.
“I advise everyone close their eyes! Not because it will look scary, but because your tears, really all the liquid in and around your eyeballs, will freeze instantaneously. I will heal the damage, but remember, preventative care! Like going to your check ups and dentist regularly, instead of just when there’s a problem.”
“What’s a dentist?” was the last thing Archenksova heard Sera ask before the outer airlock opened and everything went cold and silent.
She’s been here before.
Twice, really. So, so long ago, over Kalsunor, when she lost a friend to a bloody crusade. They hadn’t known, then.
The second time, she’d walked onto the bridge of that ship that day knowing that, somehow, she wasn’t going to be coming back.
It had been so much worse than she’d ever thought possible.
She’s been here before.
Eleven seconds. That’s all they have. Nitrogen and oxygen bound up in blood going to gas. Bubbles rupturing capillaries. Air pockets rupturing organs. Instantly vaporizing water rupturing everything else, sinew to cell. An explosion, in slow motion, from every molecule on out. They freeze at the same time they burn at the same time they burst at the same time they’re crushed and she’s been here before, she died here before—
But not this time. This time, she rejects it. This time, she won’t let it hurt them or her.
They step out into actual and absolute nothing, and she smiles, because her ducklings need her to, because her hands are shaking, she’s shaking, and that means that she is alive, and she is not alone.
Not this time.
Marick is guiding their flight, she knows. How far to their target? What of the battle? It did not matter. Her only focus, heart and soul, Light and Dark and will, is on their heartbeats, on healing the skin and fat as they boil, on holding their lungs still and quivering with tension, on commanding the cells to function when everything in their very coding tells them they are dying. She holds on.
They touch something. There is, perhaps, an entrance, or the making of one. They are inside but still exposed to the vacuum. She holds on.
Another hall, and a blast door that locks off the breached section. Through it. Hold on.
As soon as the door sealed shut behind them and their feet touched down, gravity and air and warmth, Atyriu collapsed.
Marick’s arms were there to catch her without missing a beat.
The Geta’s airlock slammed shut behind them with a resonant clang as Marick released his telekinetic hold upon its hinge. Suddenly, there was air, warmth, feeling. Almost gently, the team was settled to the floor, as if they’d never stepped foot out of the airlock that they’d left behind.
Of course, their bodies still had to remind themselves that, even though all of their tissue had spent the last eleven seconds dying, they were not in fact actually dead. It was not an easy transition.
Where Atyiru collapsed completely, Alethia went to her knees, and Sera nearly followed her, doubled over at the waist as fresh agony bloomed in their lungs, filling once again with air where before there had only been the void. Even Marick buckled, slightly, though he only seemed concerned with supporting his wife.
Slowly, oxygen began to bring more of their bodily systems back online. Nerves that had been shut out by the vacuum’s utter lack of sensory information blinked back to life. Sera’s blue-eyed gaze blinked back open, startled that they were not, in fact, frozen shut. Then, her ears, hearing crackling back just in time to hear Alethia groan.
“We could. Have done. Anything but that,” she stated, her normally musical voice now rather gruff.
“Aw, c’mooon,” Sera rasped out in reply, stooping down to offer the Human a hand up as her breathing levelled. Alethia gazed at it for just a moment, as if reflecting on just where that hand had been, before taking it and pulling herself up with a grateful nod. That gratitude evaporated as Sera continued, with a toothy grin, “Never gonna know if something hurts unless you try it!”
“…we tried it. And it hurt.”
Behind them, Atyiru gave an apologetic sigh, running a hand over her face, idly adjusting the silken swatch of cloth over her empty eye sockets. “I’m so sorry, dearest. I could control the damage, but the discomfort of depressurized freezing is always unpleasant. I’m sure that space doesn’t mean to hurt us so…”
Atyiru’s well-meaning ramble was cut off by a crackle over their comms. Sera raised her wrist link up as a familiar voice pierced through the static, Zig’s worried tone punctuated by detonations from the space battle outside.
“Everyone make it in? C’mon, someone say something…”
“Happy landing, Ziggy,” Sera reported brightly. “Nice aim. You got us right in the hole.”
“Hah! You know how I feel about gettin’ in holes. And now it’s your turn, Ferda!”
“That’ll be all, Kaliska,” Marick cut in dryly. Straightening, the former assassin steadied his wife on her feet, bright blue eyes starkly attentive as he assessed their new environment. They had emerged into an airlock on the port side of the vessel, another blast door sealed tight just before them. Alarms blared overhead, klaxons alerting the crew that their ship had been boarded, if the distant echoes of screams and the sharp crackle of blasterfire didn’t suffice.
“Get the ship outside of the battlespace, carefully. Kaern, what do you sense ahead? We need a path to the bridge. One with the least opposition possible,” he finished, giving Atyiru a short glance. Marick was, naturally, just about impossible to read, but Sera could feel the worry, rolling off of him in waves.
Closing her eyes, the Zabrak extended her reach outwards. Marick and Atyiru were practically stars within the glow of the Force, intertwined flares of power that stood out brightly to Sera’s invisible touch. The Miraluka’s was dimmed slightly, a portion of her reserves burned in order to keep them alive. Otherwise, her far more deeply attuned senses would have served their purpose better. Beyond them, there was Alethia. Though the Human might have viewed herself as separate from the Force—Sera didn’t quite know, they hadn’t had time to chat philosophy between the space battle and the quick zip through the vacuum—the truth was anything but. The Living Force was alight within her, thoughts and emotions reverberating like ripples in a pond. Alethia’s aura was razor sharp, wit and intellect backed by a steely, cold-forged resolve.
Sera smiled at that. Then, she extended her reach outward. Her touch didn’t linger any longer than it needed to, trailing quickly along the current of the Force, like fingers pulling along the string of a harp. She angled toward the general direction that she remembered seeing the bridge, through the Encanis’ viewport, noting each blip of life along the way. Their emotions made it easy. Pain. Anger. Fear. They burned with the heat of battle, the passion of men and women on the verge of glory and death.
Sera’s body relaxed. Then, her eyes fluttered back open, and she gave the group a small nod, jaw squaring.
“Fighting’s moved between us and the bridge. All the Revenants are pushing for the bridge, but I think they’re thinnest on the…the r-right…”
“Starboard,” Alethia interjected.
“Starboard side,” Sera continued, sighing gratefully. “Opposite side of the ship. We just…gotta fight through a small pitched battle to get there.”
“How small?” the Human cut in once again, eyes narrowing inquisitively. “Is there a way to determine their makeup, between the factions? It might be easier to pierce through if we can find a section where the less-militant powers are clashing.”
“Uhhh, numbers…maybe a thousand? They’re all packed together, too many levels in the ship…and I can’t really get their politics. It’s more mystical, Forcey, not like knocking on someone’s head and askin’ who they voted for…”
“Politics won’t help us,” Marick cut in cooly. The assassin stepped forward, eyes narrowing slightly, and the blastdoor ahead of them screeched as it was pried open. He didn’t even need to gesture.
“They might complicate things for us down the line, but right now, things are blessedly simple. We cut our way through…”
“Gently,” Atyiru added primly.
“…carefully,” Marick corrected.
“The nearest turbolift should be this way,” Alethia said as she started off down the corridor. “The upper decks tend to not have many personnel because the gravity well generators don’t leave room.”
Sera looked distracted for a moment but eventually nodded. “Yeah… yeah, seems right. Are you a ship person?”
“Not really,” Alethia answered. “But I spent a month detailed to one of these. The Principate hasn’t adjusted the design much. I assume there are still a few patrols?”
The Zabrak nodded. “There’s still people up there but it seems…calmer?”
“Good,” Alethia replied. “I don’t want to make a habit of killing Adlez’s people if there’s a chance we can still talk our way out of this.” The Human glanced back at Marick and Atyiru, studying their faces for any sign of why they were dawdling.
Atyriu nodded, her expression grim, and Marick broke his wife’s attention. “I should take point.”
“By all means,” Alethia said, settling in a half step behind the Hapan. Sera and Atyiru followed, the Zabrak’s weapon drawn while the Miraluka was humming at a conspicuous volume.
Alethia leaned forward and murmured, “Is she going to be a problem?”
“Kearn has proven herself,” Marick replied in kind.
“You know that’s not who I mean.”
“We will be fine.” The former assassin’s tone left no room for argument. “Besides, I’m not going to leave Atyiru standing in the middle of—”
“Squad up ahead!” Sera cut in.
In a flash, Marick’s lightsaber was in his hand, ready to ignite. Alethia fell back a bit further and pressed herself into the bulkhead, blaster aimed at the junction ahead of them. In the silence, they could hear plasteel-booted footsteps echoing down the corridor.
While the group walked and spoke, Marick performed three subtle feats in the background of his attention to their surroundings. First, he finished regulating his own bodily functions with the Force so that Atyiru would have one less thing to worry about. Second, the Elder Arcanist drove a spike into the slipstreams of the Living Force and siphoned out a rejuvenating string to restore his own reserves. Third, he preemptively chambered the Force inward so that he would be ready to spring into action when needed.
Preternatural perception registered the encroaching footsteps. Experience painted their haphazard formation across his awareness. The incoming Revenants were not as well coordinated as the Technocratic Guild Soldiers they had faced during the war for Arx, nor were they as frenzied as the Liberation Front Partisans. These Revenants were simply pirates that had been promised prizes and riches for reaving and raiding without consequence.
While Sera or Alethia were still readying their weapons, Marick had already darted forward like a vine snake snapping from its coil. The Force coursed through him as he instantly closed the gap between himself and the closest Revenant reaver.
The Arkanian, wielding a crude cudgel, barely had time to react. Marick’s lightsaber struck her right in the neck. But instead of the expected sound of plasma rending flesh, the Arkanian’s head merely jerked violently to the side as if struck by a blunt, burning baton. A second crack to the top of the head sent the woman crumpling bonelessly to the floor.
The second Revenant, a silver-furred Wookiee, roared in defiance. He leveled his bowcaster at the Hapan and started to charge a bolt. Before he could release the trigger, however, the Master leapt up into the air and spun like a corkscrew, landing directly beside him. A quick pair of cuts from the strange blue lightsaber caused the Wookiee’s massive clawed hands to twitch, spasm, and ultimately relinquish their grip on the weapon.
The Wookiee sneered and tried to drop his shoulder into the diminutive Hapan. Marick was already sidestepping, spinning, and grabbing ahold of the Reaver by the back of his hide-leather shoulder pauldron.
Only as fast as he needed to be, no motion wasted.
Then, tapping the Force for a sudden surge of strength, the Master used his momentum to hurl the Wookiee into the next pair of Revenants. The Wookiee crashed bodily into the duo of Duros, sending both to the floor to be crushed and pinned beneath his massive, furry frame.
The last two remaining Revenants, a pair of Pantorans, exchanged glances. They were not about to give up. They each brandished a riot baton and were not afraid of some freakish Force wielder. They both charged the Hapan with reckless abandon and fury.
Marick exhaled slowly. As he did, he reached out with the Force and telekinetically gripped the Pantoran on the left and made a swiping gesture with his hand in the opposite direction. The woman yelped as her body was flung sideways in a mirror of the Hapan’s motion—right into her partner’s path, tripping up both in an awkward tangle of limbs.
The Hapan finished the job by stepping over the bodies and double-tapping each in the temple with his strange lightsaber. As quickly as the exchange had begun, it was now over. For now.
Alethia blinked. Sera grinned. Atyiru frowned as she inclined her face towards her husband.
“What? It’s a training saber. They’re alive,” Marick countered defensively in a dry monotone.
A fresh set of Revenants turned the corner. This group of vagrant vagabonds seemed to be better armed and more prepared than their depleted vanguard.
Points of light, shining in the current of the Force, candles twinkling in the wind. Sera felt them as she sprinted to Marick’s side, shining dagger in one hand, beautiful sapphire blade in the other, crystalline facets catching the light of the Geta’s corridor.
“A dozen. Maybe some more,” she hissed, falling into a position at the former assassin’s flank. By the time that the pirates, fresh and heavily armed, turned the corner, the two Forcer users were sprinting to meet them with supernatural speed. The Revenants got only a glimpse of the group before two blurs slammed into them. There was a gasp, a shout of surprise, a scream of pain.
And the Revenants began to fall.
Marick and Sera had fought together before. The Hapan flowed like quicksilver, darting languidly, effortlessly from spot to spot. Every step fell like the point of a needle, precisely and perfectly placed. His strikes were mechanically compact, the short blade of his saber cracking into throats, eyes, noses, and kneecaps without fail as he darted gracefully around the perimeter of the group of Revenants.
Sera didn’t dodge around them, though. No, the Zabrak plowed straight into their midst. Where Marick ebbed like molten silver, Sera danced like a whirling sandstorm, pushing directly into the center of the Revenant ranks, her sterling white cloak fluttering behind her. Her momentum didn’t cease, twin blades and armored boots blurring into an unending flurry of blows. She didn’t kill. Atyiru had asked her to be gentle, and Sera didn’t have the hearts to break that commandment or slaughter people who were simply fighting to be free. But, each strike was well-aimed, slicing behind knees and ankles, across hamstrings, staggering her foes, arcing kicks crunching into kneecaps and jaws.
Sera sent Revenants stumbling to Marick. Marick sent them stumbling into Sera. Their line dissolved into chaos, brandished blasters loosing bolts at no one, plasma splashing into the backs and sides of their own comrades.
Alethia watched the scene of non-lethal butchery with keen eyes, blinking as she watched the formerly-grinning Zabrak kick a man between the legs hard enough to lift him into the air. Marick darted in a moment later, rapping his shoto saber across the Kiffar’s temple and sending him crumplling to the floor. One woman, a burly Devaronian, stumbled away from the maelstrom of limbs, her hands only barely clutching to her rifle. The ex-Imperial stepped up behind her and, with quick, prim efficiency, wrapped both arms around her neck, carefully choking the woman out as she surveyed the skirmish.
“Very well done, dearest. You had her carotid artery clamped just perfectly, poor lovey-dove. Won’t even need a touch from me,” Atyiru spoke up from behind her, patting Alethia on the shoulder as she flitted towards the moshpit ahead of them. Marick and Sera had done their work quickly, leaving the Revenants alive, but piled in groaning heaps.
Atyiru surveyed the scene with unseeing eyes. “Biscuits,” she exhaled with a slight sigh, before pressing forward and getting to work.
Pain. Agony. Terror. Hate.
It was everywhere on this ship. In the ships beyond this one, across the spacescape. On the planet below. The pirates and the Principate. Even, somewhat, between each other, flavored with resentment and frustration and betrayal. It was saying we have to destroy them and meaning why aren’t you with me on this?
So much fear that lifted their guns. Violence had come, and violence always begat violence. The pain was a scream. The fury was a roar. The hatred and grief were a wail.
Atyiru answered the cacophony with a paean of her own. She clasped her hands together as if praying and then thrust them out with an inarticulate sound rasping from her throat, nothing beautiful, really just a shout of refusal, a denial, a rejection of reality. She would unmake it. Her Force-sung song was woven light and shadow, knitting back together flesh, soothing burns, creating new blood and sinew where it was lost and turning back the clock.
She could not undo the pain. She could not undo hate. Those things had happened. But this much she could do. She could answer it. Fix what could be fixed.
And accept what could not be.
“We need to get to the bridge and stop this,” the Miraluka said into the stillness. “The hate…it’s everywhere, but it’s strongest there. Grief too. She’s…Adlez…what’s wrong, please, don’t you see this has to stop…”
Marick touched her arm, helped her lower it. She wobbled again. His lilting voice called her back from thousands of other souls to her own body, to the hallway they stood in, to Sera and Alethia and the now-mended but unconscious boarding forces.
“Right, of course, forgive me,” she whispered, and put him back together too, though he was hardly hurt; even Sera and Alethia had only minor aches and first degree burns on their skin from the trip over. She slumped with it, sighing out. She was so tired. The crossing, the void, the healing, the pain, the grief, the hatred. Everything. She’d given everything already.
…and still gave more.
Because they needed to go, and there was only one way.
She swallowed to keep her lip from trembling, her ears folding back. Marick’s hand slid down to her wrist and then threaded their fingers together. He squeezed just once, and she tightened her grip.
“This way,” Archenscova directed, taking them down another hallway with a quickness in her step that indicated her dislike for the delay in stopping to tend the enemy even if she had not argued the point. Sera was alert and bright-eyed, calling out that no one else was in their way.
They got to the turbolift far too soon.
Atyiru’s grip tightened. Marick just held on.
Alethia summoned the car and it arrived. They stood back with weapons raised as the doors opened, but nothing was inside to greet them. Alethia strode in. Sera bounded forward. Marick stepped one step, two. Three.
Atyriu followed one, two, three. Because he still held her hand. And she could not let go.
She could not breathe.
Her grip tightened.
They stood in the carriage. The doors ground closed. The air was very stale and very cool and when the doors closed it made a sound like dying.
“Hey, Atty, are you okay?” Sera was asking. Bright, lovely, brave Sera. Sensing her. The Zabrak reached out. “What’s wrong?”
Her grip tightened.
Alethia cleared her throat with a born diplomat’s delicacy. “She is likely stressed by being in here. I wouldn’t bother her if Tyris has it handled.”
“Eh? Why? What’s wrong with the elevator? Atty! Hey, it’s okay, we’re here. Together! You don’t have to be scared, see?”
Her grip tightened.
The lift moved.
She remembered falling.
“Atyriu,” Marick repeated, because she was not alone this time, and there was anger and pain and hate and grief and fear but also—
Her grip tightened. In the quiet rumbling of the lift, it was easy for everyone to hear the flesh-muted crunch of the Hapan’s metacarpals snapping and grinding into each other. Compound fracture. Multiple.
She’d crushed his hand.
Marick did not even flinch. Only the tightness around his too-blue eyes belied his initial hurt, and that was quickly wiped away along with the pain. His face was perfectly blank. He turned and, blinking once, pressed his lips to her temple.
The lift shuddered, hard. The air hissed. The doors opened.
Marick took three steps and Atyriu followed three steps and they were out.
“Uh…do you want to…heal that?” Sera asked, gesturing at where their hands were still clasped, scratched at her horns.
“It is not necessary,” the Master Arcanist intoned, and Archenksova eyed the ceiling.
“Let’s go,” she asserted, moving to the front now. The hallway of the command deck, from the lift to the bridge, was short. There were Principate troops in clean uniform ahead, with weapons already primed and fixed on the new intruders. No bodies. The pirates had not reached it yet.
Alethia lifted her chin and smiled like a scalpel.
“Greetings, troopers. Lower your arms and admit us onto the bridge. We and your commander need to talk.”
The troopers spared half a second to glance at each other before their fingers tightened on the triggers of their E-11s. But in that instant, the Force coiled around the barrels of their weapons and ripped them upwards, the rifles cracking as they snapped into the troopers’ faceplates with enough force to crack the plasteel.
The pair collapsed.
“I thought these people knew you,” Marick said flatly.
“I’m not so famous that every trooper in the Principate recognizes me,” Alethia answed, bending down to grab a code cylinder and pull the power cells from the troopers’ weapons. “Still, it was worth a try.”
The Odanite stood and brought the cylinder to the control panel before thinking better of it. “Sera?”
“Er, yes, ma’am?”
“If I remember your file correctly, you have a prodigious talent for battle meditation.”
The Zabrack beamed. “Yep, that’s me.”
“I think our friends in the crew could use a little help.” The Zabrak settled into a meditative posture right there on the corridor floor, her eyes closed as her consciousness expanded to link and harmonize the bridge crew. Her awareness flowed onward and outward across the Geta.
Alethia smoothed the fabric of her jacket and stepped through the doorway onto the bridge. It was a scene of controlled chaos, dozens of officers at all stations trying to manage simultaneous battles in space, on the surface, and throughout the bowels of their own vessel. In the middle of it, Adlez Freewoman sat in the captain’s chair, regal and impassive.
Nobody noticed the three new arrivals until Alethia spoke. “I don’t suppose the captain could spare a moment?”
The entire bridge crew stopped, heads whipping around to stare. Adlez was the last to react, calmly rotating her chair to face the intruders.
“Everyone, get back to work,” the Twi’lek said. Her voice was weary but steady. “Alethia, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Actually, I was on my way to see Vairya, but it seems the Revenants had other plans.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have time for a formal tour,” Adlez answered, voice dripping with feigned courtesy. “But if you will kindly clear my bridge, we’ll deliver you to the surface after the battle.”
Blue eyes met as Archenksova refused to break the Triumvir’s gaze. “I think it’s too late for that,” the Human said. “We need to talk about this special project of yours.” The nearby officers perked up a bit, but most were too busy at their stations to pay much attention to conversation.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“On the contrary, it seems you and Triumvir Xarel are working with things you don’t understand.” Alethia slipped her hand into a pocket and withdrew a pair of small crystals. She tossed the first to Adlez, who snatched it out of the air.
“Look familiar?” Archenksova asked. “My Arconan friends pulled it off a Revenant cruiser. This one,” she continued, holding up the other crystal, “is kyber. Not very similar, chemically speaking. I’d be surprised if your scientists thought to even compare them.”
“The Jedi use kyber for their lightsabers,” Adlez said. “And the Empire for the Death Star. We don’t have a use for either.”
“Both of which were made possible less by kyber’s physical properties than the fact that they are Force-sensitive. Adlez, the things have a will of their own. As does that rock in your hand.”
The Triumvir of Words let the crystal fall to the decking. “Then maybe that rock will understand what we’re trying to accomplish. I get the impression you don’t.”
Alethia stepped forward slightly, lowering her voice. “Whatever you’re doing to those soldiers, Adlez, you’re not going to be able to control them. Maybe you’ll be able to do enough to deal with the Revenants, but there are Sith fighting alongside them and you have no idea how the crystals will react to that kind of power.”
For a moment, the ghost of doubt flickered across Adlez Freewoman’s face—but only for a moment, and then it was gone.
“Oh.” Atyiru’s voice was the sound of a soft and wounded creature as she rushed up and embraced the Triumvir, completely obvious to the crewmembers scrambling to bring their weapons to bear against the assailant. “I am so, so sorry,” she whispered. “The Force can do many things but even with these crystals, it wouldn’t have been enough to save your boy.”
The Twi’lek sneered and shoved the Miraluka away. “Spies,” she hissed. “Shoot the man and take these two to the brig!”
The crew kept their weapons trained on target but held their fire. Maybe it was the complete lack of concern the intruders showed, or the bits of the confrontation they’d caught. More likely it was the soothing presence in the back of their minds and the way the battle had turned so subtly and effortlessly in their favor almost the moment the trio had entered the bridge.
“We’re here to save the Principate,” Alethia said, “from something much worse than a pirate crew barely capable of handling the Geta by themselves.”
The silence and tension were palpable, lingering until Adlez shouted, and inarticulate grunt of frustration as she drew her blaster only for an invisible force to wrench it from her hand. “Kill them!” she screeched, but the men and women on the bridge slowly lowered their weapons.
Alethia smiled. “It’s treason, then.”
The comms officer looked over, eyes darting between the women. “Ma’am,” he said, hedging his bets. “The Vel just dropped out of hyperspace but she’s not responding to our ha—”
The Geta rocked violently under a turbolaser broadside. Adlez swore under her breath but took the opportunity to dart out the door, nearly tripping on Sera as she fled down the corridor.
The ship rocked and shuddered. More klaxons blared. Another officer yelled from their post.
“We’re taking fire! And it’s— it’s from the Vel! Commander, what do we do?”
With Adlez departed in her storm of fight and fury, there seemed to be less organization to the bridge crew than one may have expected from the rigid Principate. Perhaps it was how they were shaken from the influence of the mind meld and a near-mutiny; perhaps it was the shock of their own ship firing on them. Either way, the Executive Officer hesitated, and Alethia was quick to step up.
“Attention!” barked the Odanite, lovely like petals in spring and fierce as a winter wind. "Officers! Establish comms contact with our other vessels! We need to adjust our formation to account for a hostile presence in our midst. Assume henceforth that the Vel is under enemy control until confirmed otherwise. We cannot afford the chance or time to investigate now. Convey as much across all channels and update the Vel’s IFF signatures as invalid. Gunners, redirect weapons and prime ion cannons. Navigation, bring us about to starboard so they aren’t bleeding us from our damn flank."
If nothing else, the citizens and soldiers of the Principate were very good at following orders, and as soon as the Executive Officer gave a salute, the others echoed it. People began working various stations, chatter exploding, the ship rocking as its shields continued to endure.
In the quickly controlled chaos, Atyiru suddenly gasped. The Miraluka bent double, knees going out, catching herself on a console as Marick darted back to her side.
“What is it?” he asked, low. Crewmen spared them barely a glance, nor did Alethia, too busy. Sera was deep in her meditative state, and would be mentally exhausted the moment she was woken. It was just them, for the moment.
“Something— something is wrong,” she breathed, choked, whimpered. “On the planet. There’s. There’s something— someone— so many— the voices— no, no, the people under the voices— oh, Ashla and Bogan, they’ve been all twisted up. Marick, they’re screaming, they’re crying, we—”
“—have to help. Of course.” He did not ask what it was she sensed, did not ask for particulars, did not flinch or blink or question.
Atyiru shuddered, straightened. Offered her hand once more to Marick, the opposite one from that she had injured, her apology plain in the link between them.
“Mika yirue,” she began, and smiled, tiny and secret, just for them and everything they’d faced together. “Would you like to destroy some evil today?”
The Hapan took her hand and twined their fingers without hesitation — they had waited long enough, before. There was never any hesitation now.
“Archenksova,” he called, not loud but nonetheless heard. The Human cut off mid-order and turned.
“We will be taking a shuttle to Dandoran’s surface. I trust you have this handled?”
“Oh, and dear heart!” Atyiru called as they turned away, heading for the bridge doors and — one more time — the lifts. She brushed her fingers over their Zabrak teammate’s shoulder, like a goodbye and a see you again soon. “Have Serry back home by ten, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! I believe in both of you.”
Alethia’s eyes rolled all the way back to her command console.
The shuttle broke the planet’s atmosphere flanked by flickering flashes of light that represented an expanse of exploding ships and debris. Atyiru huddled closer to Marick, a frown taking her usually unwavering smile away. Her ears twitched rapidly and she made a low whimpering noise that only he would notice. She couldn’t see, but feel every life lost in this conflict.
Marick tightened his hand around hers. He had used the time Alethia had spent talking repairing his broken hand somewhat. It was not at its full mobility, but it was good enough to do what needed to be done. And that was exactly what he was going to do. For her.
He did not need to explain to her what that meant. In valuing life before death, the vow they both shared, some threats simply needed to be put down. The farm girl ingrained into Atyiru’s conscience knew this truth, and she would remember every life, every soul, that was lost to this conflict.
The shuttle landed and immediately came under fire. As the latch opened, Atyiru exited first, standing primly in front of her husband. With a single hand extended out in front of her, a translucent corona of light formed to intercept waves of incoming, indiscriminate blaster fire. The barrier shimmered as it repelled the attacks and gave her partner the space he needed to brandish his lightsabers.
“Switch,” Marick spoke firmly, though only his wife could hear him. With a faint smile, she lowered her hand, and her barrier, and the Hapan stepped out in front of her, a pair of lightsabers floating defensively in the air before him. The telekinetically controlled sabers spun and twirled to meet the incoming blaster bolts, while the Master’s keen eyes quickly isolated their sources. Once he located the attackers, the Sith Dagger at his belt appeared suddenly in hand.
In the reprieve provided by her husband, Atyiru activated both ends of her chromatic Seraphim saber. Any stray bolts that somehow passed his defenses she turned away with ease, but in reality she was scanning the ruins of the city with her senses and unique vision through the Force.
“This is them,” Atyiru said, her voice quivering as she redirected a bolt harmlessly to the side. “The ones that feel wrong.”
The telekinetic lightsabers continued to deflect blaster fire. Marick advanced forward so he could get a better look at each. Sure enough, these soldiers bore crystals jabbed into their skin. Restoration Troopers, Archenksova had labeled them.
With a deft flick of the wrist, Marick hurled the dagger towards the first Restoration Trooper that was firing on their shuttle. The blade struck the soldier right between the eyes. Before the body could drop, the dagger was being recalled back to Marick’s hand. The second it landed, it was then sent out on another flight towards the second Trooper, where it found a similar purchase.
Both Restoration Troopers lay dead. While they might have been faster and stronger than the typical soldier, a pointed blade to the brain tended to end things quickly. They had been set on fighting pirates, not two Elder Arconae.
Atyiru and Marick moved over towards the first body and knelt over it to study it. She extinguished her saberstaff.
“The crystals,” the Miraluka doctor explained as she hovered her hands over the body. “It seems that the crystals are injecting their own lifeforce into the bloodstreams of these soldiers. This explains the heightened reflexes and abilities. The aggression, but something is still…off.”
“How so?” Marick inquired, his lightsabers now floating idly around the two of them like guard dogs.
“Well, these soldiers are just…regular soldiers really. Normal, everyday people. Adlez’s thoughts said…that they volunteered for this. That they wanted this.” Atyiru’s lip quivered as she hugged her own body a bit self-consciously. Marick frowned, but moved to hug her gently. Words were not needed, and the gesture seemed to help.
While hugging on the battlefield might have been frowned on in the past, Marick was a Master now. He could do as he pleased.
Atyiru smiled slightly. “But these are not the ones I sensed. Those were—”
As if on cue, a shriek cried out from atop a pile of rubble that had once been a shop of some sort. The creature looked alien, blood dripping from its eyes and crimson crystalline formations jutting out from its otherwise humanoid form. Its arms were bent at the wrong angles, but it moved towards the pair with abandon.
The creature lashed out with a torrent of Force lightning. Atyiru snapped her saberstaff back to life and caught it on one edge. Ugly violet light clashed against a rainbow array of plasma, blinding to anything short of a blind Miraluka, who simply smiled warmly and mouthed a simple word towards the attacking creature.
While the creature remained locked in step with Atyiru, Marick recalled both sabers to his hands and darted out to the side from behind the Miraluka. Faster than anything had a right to move, the Hapan dashed alongside the stream of Force Lightning and then came up short just beside it.
With its focus tied up on keeping up its onslaught of Force Lightning, it had little method of blocking or evading the precision strikes of Arcona’s Gray Fang. Marick’s dual-phase lightsaber, black-cored and with a glowing white shroud, dug into the fleshy part of the crystalline creature’s neck.
There was no time to consider or factor in the resistance of its crystals. But the former Assassin knew that beneath the transformation, it was still a living being that bled. And if it bled? He could kill it.
One hit would not be enough, so Marick surged through the Force and landed a flurry of blows to different exposed parts of the creature’s body. Sure enough, it bled, it shrieked and it fell before him.
And then, in the eye of a hurricane, there was quiet.
Tiny, glittering red flecks rained down around the pair in the moment of stillness that followed. The fragments of crystal cut free in the final melee as Marick finished off the creature glinted in the dying sun that sank over Tipool City, catching light and glittering, brighter than the blood drops on the stones as the experience settled over them.
They had learned, now. The crystals Alethia and Adlez spoke of, they made the Troopers stronger, an aegis of armor frightening but not completely impenetrable, not to someone fast enough; and this one, gifted with the Force like it was burning it up from the inside out, like its body was never meant to hold it…
Atyiru deactivated her saber again, while Marick’s dual blades stayed lit, the swordsman standing ready. The healer knelt and put her hand to the aberration, feeling along its body — mortal wounds and immortal crystals — until she found its face, or what was left of it. She touched where eyelids would have been to tuck closed, but none were left.
The Miraluka bowed her head.
“Ashla and Bogan, take care of these souls now, as they rejoin you and become one with us all,” she murmured, whispering the names she’d heard in their hearts and minds while they fought and while they died. “Lieutenants Kir Roscim and Genna Iku, Colonel Labbsad, and…and you…” the one under her hand now, "you believed in your Master, didn’t you? And your Seer…she called you Child…but you weren’t just an Acolyte. You weren’t just what they made you. You had a name."
Atyiru stood suddenly, face turning inward, towards the center of the city. She was there, whoever she was. This Seer. Adlez. The other Triumvir. The crystals that caused this. The war and the hate that underlied it all.
“There’s more to do.”
“Then we’ll see it done.”
Side by side, they took off running, crossing fields of greenery and rubble alike. That simple. No matter how far they had to go. They’d make the world just this little bit safer, so long as it was right, and then—
They’d go home to her.