Re: The Fifth"Can you remember anything, lad? Anything at all?" Baith sat with the young man at a small table in the cramped galley. A growing pile of citrus peelings covered most of the tabletop between them. "Your system? Your planet?"
"No." A small shake of the head.
"What about your name?"
"Unusual name." Baith quipped. His companion didn't respond. "Did that annoy you?"
A shrug. "No."
The jedi paused to consider. Aside from a jolt of fear when the fellow had first awoken, he'd been unable to get an emotional read from the young pup. There were beings like that. Usually locked up somewhere for the public's safety. Had these young men been chosen for having personality disorders?
The young man processed this for a few moments, then answered "You meant well."
Okay. So not a sociopath. "How do you feel?"
"Fine?" It was more of a question than an answer.
Baith's brow furrowed. "Let me rephrase. Do you feel? You mentioned that you thought you should be angry a few moments ago."
"I… sort of? Well, no, I guess. I think I know how I ought to feel. The idea is there, just not the actual feeling. Though I was afraid, back on the planet." He sat up straighter.
"And when you woke up here."
"People were trying to kill you, lad. If you weren't afraid, there'd be something wrong with you."
"I don't feel anything else, though." He pointed out levelly.
"Yes. That's because there's something wrong with you. But less than there could be."
Re: The FifthA large pile of citrus peel sat quietly on the table. The two men stared at it without actually looking at it, each lost in his own thoughts. After a long silence, the young man cleared his throat. "I wish I could at least remember my name."
"You aren't your name, lad."
"I'd just… I'd like to remember who I am." He picked up one of the discarded peels and idly began tearing it into smaller pieces, tossing one after the other back into the pile.
Baith collected his thoughts before responding. "We divide our lives, both as individuals and communities, into befores and afters. Significant events change our identities. You are not, and could not be, exactly the same person you were before you went in to that place." Baith paused. He had his companion's attention. "It's up to you who you are going forward from this moment."
"Someone other than 'Lad?'" the young man asked, straight faced.
Baith laughed. "Of course. Do you have a name you'd prefer?" Baith bit his tongue before 'lad' slipped out again.
Not Lad shook his head, rubbed his hands together to get the peeling fragments off.
"Well then, how about Zekkar?"
The young man's brow furrowed as he thought this over. "The ancient hero… who remembered the galaxy back into existence after its destruction by Ayne."
"Educated in the classics, I see!"
A smile flickered across the young man's face. "Zekkar, then. For now. Maybe it'll bring good luck."
Baith remembered learning that there was no such thing as luck. But that was before. Now, he knew better. "I'm sure it will be, la- Zekkar."
Sol failed to recover from his most recent episode with his usual speed, and was still confined to bed. Doctors had been in and out over the course of the last several days, but there was a limit to what they could do. Rula stopped by daily, sometimes more than once, to check on Sol's progress. The doctors assured him that Sol was as comfortable as possible, and Rula would almost believe them until he inevitably heard his colleague's pitiful yells. Rula wasn't sure which was more disconcerting - the yells, or the fact that Sol's crying out was so upsetting. Human suffering had not turned his stomach like this since the very earliest days of his career.
He hoped he wasn't going soft.
Back at home in his study, Rula sank into his chair and began scanning through the data he had collated and filtered. His search through the last several years of Horran's assignment roster turned up many more young women than he'd anticipated. Rula's own assignments had included few to none. He'd assumed his responsibilities had reflected the makeup of the prisoner population - discussing one's assignments was frowned upon and generally avoided, so he'd not known for certain. Clearly he had been wrong, and the cause of the rebellion was, indeed, attractive to what seemed to be a veritable army of female teenagers and twenty-somethings, human and otherwise. Rula angrily concluded that his higher-ups felt he'd be too sympathetic to them, because he had a daughter of his own. As if these traitors could be anything like her.
Sighing, Rula leaned back, using one finger to lazily apply a new filter to the data. The list shortened, but not as much as he'd hoped. He wished he'd listened to Sol about getting more information from Horran. He wished he thought Horran stupid enough to drink poisoned wine from one of his old assignments, like Worthington apparently did. That would simplify the search considerably. He frowned. He wished he could use his official Imperial staff for this project without arousing suspicion, because capturing all of the women on the damn list was going to be expensive.
It was before.
On a ship very much like this one, but cleaner, intact, and in hyperspace, rather than half-destroyed and aboard an abandoned capital class ship. The people, too, were also more intact. Because this was before.
Jerin sat folded up neatly onto the chair of the upper turret, watching the whirling of hyperspace through the viewscreen. A deceptively peaceful end to a less than peaceful day.
"There you are!" Derian's head and shoulders appeared suddenly over the ladder, causing Jerin to leap from her seat in surprise. "Easy, there. You could hurt someone with those," He added, noticing the vibroblades that had appeared in her hands.
The blades vanished, and Derian clambered the rest of the way up into the turret. He arranged himself with some theatrics across from Jerin in the cramped space. For a few moments there was silence between them.
"Never gets old, does it?" Derian nodded at the vortex outside.
"Neh," Jerin answered, in eloquent Nar Shaddaa fashion.
Again a silence.
"You're angry." It wasn't a question.
Jerin shrugged, still looking out at hyperspace.
"You were safe. The whole time." Derian considered his statment, then added: "At least as safe as any of us ever are."
"In binders and under guard in front of Jabba?" Jerin retorted, giving him a skeptical look.
"Hey, I was there, too. And I gave you those picks."
"Which you knew I could use… how?"
Derian looked at Jerin blankly. "You're from Nar Shaddaa, Puck."
"Don't I know it?" Jerin muttered under her breath.
Derian sighed and ran a hand over his scalp. "Look, kid, I don't ordinarily go in for histrionics, but I saved your neck on Coruscant… got you out of an Imperial prison on Malastare. I promised I wouldn't let anything happen to you. One of these days, you're going to have to trust me."
Jerin looked down at her boots. "Yeh."
Derian waited a while, but that seemed to be it. With a shake of his head, he started back down the ladder.
The man paused.
"That day on Coruscant? The day I came aboard?"
"Yes?" Of course Derian remembered. It had been a memorable day, containing more than the average amount of chaos. It had also been, what? Two months ago? Maybe three?
"That wasn't-" Jerin gulped and tried again. "That wasn't the first time I escaped my… I've escaped before." Derian's knuckles whitened on the rungs. "They take runaways seriously on Nar Shaddaa." Jerin finished.
Derian took a deep breath, nodded once, then continued down the ladder. "Come on!" he called up to Jerin.
"Where're we going?" Jerin followed after him, puzzled.
"To teach you how to fight properly."
This stopped Jerin in her tracks. She was 14, and not big, even by 14-year-old-female-human standards.
"Come on, Puck." Derian called again, noticing that she'd stopped.
Jerin jumped the rest of the way down the ladder. "You're not joking, are you?" Jerin mused, realizing Derian was serious. Deadly serious, apparently.
"No. Trust me on this one."
Re: The Fifth"Not right now," Derian answered.
Jerin nodded once and plunked down on the bay floor beside the ramp. "I'll make sure no one bugs you."
"Thanks," he replied vaguely, before disappearing into the ship.
"If you were worried about me following him in there," Xiann said, eyeing the disaster of a ship, "you really don't have anything to be concerned about."
"No, not you. Him."
"Him. The Admiral." Jerin pointed across the hanger where a rounding, balding, and generally middle-aging man had appeared walking towards them. "He owns the joint." Seeing Jerin point him out, the man waved and smiled.
"He seems good natured enough," Xiann commented.
"Can be." Jerin answered, waving back. "Can be a real pain in the ass, too, when he decides to be."
"Isn't an Admiral in command of more than one ship?"
"Yeah. Don't bring that up."
"O-kay," said Xiann slowly. "I think I've got it, now."
"Good. That makes one of us." Jerin gave Xiann a sort of half smile.
"Jerin!" the man's voice boomed once he was close enough to speak. "You crazy little grease monkey! Good to see you again!"
Jerin stood and shook the man's hand. "Good to see you, too, Admiral. Glad to see the Fringe is still in once piece." Xiann could have sworn she saw Jerin wink.
"Yes, about that. There are some things I'd like you to take a look at," his eyes slid from Jerin to Xiann. "But I'm being rude. Madam," he bowed slightly to the twi'lek. "May I personally welcome you aboard the Lunatic Fringe? You may call me Admiral. I run this operation, and I trust your stay with us will be pleasant one." The Admiral smiled in what he believed to be a charming manner.
"Thank you, I'm sure it will be," Xiann managed not to laugh, even when she saw Jerin roll her eyes.
The Admiral's smile faded as he turned his attention back to Jerin.
"Well, Jerin. I came to see the ghost you brought me. Why on all planets spinning did you tell me he died?"
"Thought he had." Jerin shrugged. "You see the ship, right?" She pointed a thumb back over her shoulder. "He was on it."
"I see. So, is bringing people back from the dead one of your new skills?"
A look of dismay flickered across Jerin's face before she masked it. "No, just ships. He's in there. May be a while."
"I'll just pop in to say hello," the Admiral moved to go up the ramp, but found his way suddenly blocked by Jerin.
"That might not be the best idea right now, Admiral." She said.
"And why not?" The Admiral seemed affronted.
Fortunately Xiann stepped in at that moment. "Derian is making sure the ship is structurally sound. He told us to keep everyone away until he gave the all clear. Right, Jerin?"
"Right," Jerin said, relieved.
The Admiral nodded and took a step back. "A good idea. Maybe I should come back later-"
"What's all that racket down there?" Derian's voice came from within the depths ship. The sound of footsteps on deckplates came closer. "Admiral?" The Wind's captain emerged from her battered hulk and joined the three already standing in the hangar. "That you, you old pirate? I hardly recognize you." The two shook hands amicably.
The Admiral laughed and nodded. "The years haven't been kind, I'm afraid. But look at you! You look quite well for being dead."
"You know what they say. Rumors of my death…" Derian waved his hand rather than finish the quote.
"I thought I had a credible source," the Admiral commented, glancing at Jerin, who shrugged.
"So did I," she said.
"Well, let me be the first to welcome you back to the land of the living, Derian Tai'pek. Though I'm not sure I can say the same for your ship."
A puzzled look came across Derian's face as he glanced at his ship, and then turned back to the Admiral. "Oh, she's fine. New coat of paint, a crystal chandelier, and we'll be back in business. You don't happen to have a chandelier for sale, do you?"
The Admiral chuckled. "I'll arrange it for you. Good to see you back after all these years, Tai'pek. If there's anything you need, let my crew know. They'll see to you."
The Admiral smiled, and with a parting bow, went on his way. The trio watched him until he left the bay.
"Glad that's over with. He's definitely in one of his moods." Jerin quipped.
"Something is wrong. I can tell. Something…" Derian snapped his fingers. "He didn't bring up credits!"
"Yeah, that. It's fine. All taken care of." Jerin said. "We sort of have an arrangement."
Derian's eyes narrowed. "What sort of arrangement?"
"I can't talk about it."
Derian's brow furrowed. "You don't- I mean, you wouldn't- You're not going to- You can't-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Jerin held up her hands to shut him up. "First of all, it's none of your business. Second, I can whoever I like, thank you very much, and third: Ew. No." A look of relief crossed Derian's face. Jerin laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Calm down, Derian. I'm not fourteen anymore."
Re: The FifthDerian strode aboard his not quite a ship. The scoring and structural damage made him wince with each thing he looked at. After going through a good portion of the burned out hull, he sat down on the deckplates and rested his head against one of the bulkheads. He looked up at Jerin.
"I know you've always been a bit of a miracle worker, but this. This…" he waved a hand through the air disconsolately, indicating the entirety of the former vessel. "Surely this is a bit much even for you."
Jerin narrowed her eyes at him. "Now you're just being nasty."
"I'm serious Puck," he said, staring at the opposite wall as if it were a window onto a vista. "I can't see her anymore. No matter what happened, all the scrapes we got into, all the damage and rebuilds. Regardless of any of it, I could see her. But now I can't. It's as if she's gone. The materials are here, but the 'Wind is gone."
He let his head sag down toward his chest. It was all getting to be a bit overwhelming. First the incredible amount of lost time, then reconnecting with Jerin. Now, the 'Wind was here, but not the 'Wind. Not his 'Wind. Just a burned out hulk of steel that was as much scrap as it was ship.
"It's too much Jerin. I was always the one with an ace up my sleeve. There was always something I had in mind that other people hadn't taken into account. And now, this. I've got no ship, no crew, no jobs, and no answers. I feel like somebody hit the reset button on my life."
"Get your ass up and stop feeling sorry for yourself." Derian looked up at her. Her face was drawn and severe. "They remove your chintas when they had you in that lab?"
"Now just a minute…"
"No. No more minutes. You get your backside off the deckplates and you start getting together what you need to make the 'Wind whole. You have an entire Star Destroyer's worth of friends to help, the Admiral will give us what we need, and if you dare discount me again, I will personally throw you out of the nearest airlock."
He smiled. "All right. All right. I surrender."
She cocked her head at him. "I didn't know that word was in your vocabulary."
"Ah, but I use it as a colloquialism. It means I will give you what you want for the moment."
"Well, it's something like that at least."
"The only 'something' around here is you Tai'pek."
"Ooooh, last name. I must have pissed you off." She smacked him upside the back of his head. "Nee-shway. I just had that reattached."
"Yeah, next time make sure they don't attach it up your backside."
They both laughed as they strode down the ramp of burned out ship.
Re: The FifthDays - a large number of them - passed. Jerin blinked dry eyes. She'd lost track of how many.
The early stages of repair focused on the extensive damage to the Wind's skeleton and plating. Those jobs were too heavy and involved to be managed by Derian and Jerin alone. During those weeks - or had it been months? - at least a handful of beings could be found at any time, milling around the ship in complex orbital trajectories between quarters, booze, and work. Derian recognized each and every one of them from force knew where, but that was good luck since he hesitated to allow complete strangers near his still-not-really-a ship.
Once they completed the structure work, she and Derian took over repairing the interior and ship's systems alone. A being might be able to weld, Jerin thought, but the only way any of the help would have come near even the least critical of Chaos's systems would be over her dead body. One evening, Jerin had suggested to Derian that he ought to have a smiliar policy for the Astral Wind and he shrugged. That was enough agreement for Jerin to enforce it.
Xiann, Jerin allowed herself to admit, had been useful. Whenever Jerin or Derian hit a wall bartering with whoever it was this time that had the part they needed - the Admiral's help only went so far - they sent Xiann. Any more, they almost invariably skipped to letting Xiann source and acquire what they needed, and provided her with a constantly growing list. The twi'lek did an excellent job getting their components, and for a far better price than they could have managed on their own.
Jerin knew exactly why that was, of course. But somehow when Xiann was force-persuading beings to Jerin's own advantage, it bothered her less and less.
Jerin, for her part, was in an odd sort of beautiful, sleep deprived heaven. She spent most of her time on Derian's ship, helping put the wreck back together. It almost seemed as if she were on a holy mission. Xiann interupted Jerin's fevered working at intervals the twi'lek believed to be pushing the bounds of necessary regularity for meals.
When Jerin became too stupid to work, she'd crawl back to her ship, pop a soph or two, and collapse on her bunk for a few hours.
Occasionally, Jerin would vanish from both the Astral Wind and the Chaos. She always turned up a few hours later, though, with new grease stains on her coveralls and new cuts and burns on her hands. It didn't take a Jedi to figure out that she'd been working on another ship. And Derian knew exactly which one.
"So, Puck." He began one day when the two of them happened to be working in the same part of his ship.
"Yeh?" Jerin answered, not looking up from the circuitry before her.
"I heard this rumor about the Fringe." Derian grabbed a bundle of half-disentigrated wires and pulled the intact ends free from their connections. "Guess a couple of years back, they evacuated and quarantined the whole ship for a few days." Something in the air changed, Jerin became even more deliberate about her task. "Ever hear anything about it?" He tossed the useless wires in the large wastebin on the floor between them without looking.
"Neh," Jerin grunted, laying a segment of soldering wire on the board.
"Anyone ever tell you you're a terrible liar?"
Jerin didn't look up. "Just you," she answered. Her soldering iron melted the wire, creating a new junction. Jerin eyed it critically.
"Huh." Derian grabbed a new spool of wire and began to unroll the length he needed.
"So, yeh, fine. I guess heard about it. Who cares?" Jerin glanced around, looking for the meter she needed to test her work.
"No one, I suppose." Derian commented lightly. "Only I met someone in the taphouse last night who didn't hear about the quarantine until later. He tried to come to the Fringe while they wouldn't allow anyone to dock. Funny thing, though. He swears it wasn't here."
"I've heard that guys in bars are very reliable sources of information. Come on, Der - toss me that ammeter, would you? - sounds like he was drunk."
"Seemed sober." Derian pitched the meter to Jerin, who caught it.
"Not my fault he managed to miss an entire ISD outside his ship's viewscreen. It had to be there. You know that. You're the one who told me the Fringe only has sublights."
"Mmm. Yes, I did." Derian agreed. The two continued to work until he again broke the silence a few minutes later. "The Admiral's the sort who always wants to have the best. Only having sublights never sat well with him. He'll be up shavvit creek if the Empire ever comes to collect their ship."
"Yeh." Jerin's mouth flickered a smile at the numbers streaming across the meter's display.
"So it seems to me that if the hyperdrive was fixed, he'd want to test it. Test it with everyone gone, so word didn't get out and the Empire didn't come knocking for their tech. And he'd be pretty grateful to whoever managed that miracle. Maybe let them dock for free, not charge them for their drinks, and so on." Derian had stopped working and was watching Jerin now.
Jerin stood and rolled her eyes. "You're out of your frelling mind, Derian Tai'pek."
"And, it seems to me he might ask them to do maintenence work when they were around, too."
"Have you been following me?"
"Admit it, Puck."
Jerin shook her head. "This is the fourth half-brained theory you've floated at me, Derian. Actually, the eleventh if we count some your ideas for the Wind-"
"Hey!" Derian objected.
"Look, we gonna' talk, or are we gonna' work?"
"Jerin. I've seen what you're doing to my ship. Even Shard would be baffled by some of this." He waved a hand at the collective mess around them. "I know I'm right this time. You've reverse engineered and repaired a half-destroyed Imperial capital class hyperdrive."
"Don't be stupid, Der. Look, I'd love to tell you, right? But if I do, my deal with the Admiral is void. Get it? Besides, ISD's have primary and secondary hyperdrives." Jerin took a deep breath, then muttered, "And they were damn well more than half destroyed."
"Ha! I knew it!"
"You tell anyone, I will kill you. I will kill you with this spanner." Jerin said levelly, pulling one from her toolbelt as she spoke. "This one right here." She waved it in his face. "It'll be ugly, and your head's so damn hard that I'll have to replace the spanner, and I can't even afford that right now. So don't."
Derian laughed, then stopped abruptly and gave Jerin a very serious look. "I'm terrified," he said in a confiding tone, "that a 1.6 meter, 55 kilo tempest of a spanner-weilding irrate mechanic will be my doom."
Jerin narrowed her eyes and gave the smallest hint of a smile. "You know, I've heard that those can be placated with beer."
Re: The FifthJerin stood, hands on hips, in the main corridor of the Astral Wind staring at the partially intact doorway to the circuitry bay. She mostly didn't have a hangover. And she mostly didn't want to venture to the other side of that door.
Jerin whirled around when a hand clapped down on her shoulder. "Damn it, Derian! What'd you have to sneak up on me for?" She shot him an accusing look.
"I'm less than certain that you not answering the three times I said 'Jerin' while standing right here means I snuck up on you."
Jerin's brow furrowed. "Really?"
"Nah, just messing with you. I snuck up on you because I thought it'd be fun."
Jerin landed a punch to Derian's shoulder. "Still fun?"
"A little less," he admitted, rubbing the assaulted shoulder gingerly. "So violent," he shook his head. "Your Nar Shaddaa manners are, as always, charming."
"Hey, I'm civilized. I did not lift any of your credits when I punched you just now."
"Why, that's downright genteel of you." Derin bowed slightly.
Jerin shrugged. "I try."
"So," Derian paused here to light a deathstick and take a drag. "Going to visit your old quarters, I see," he nodded at the door behind her.
Jerin watched the end of the deathstick flare then fade. "Yeh," she answered. When she had traveled with Derian before, Jerin made her home in the circuitry bay. It wasn't a large space to begin with, and had nooks and crannies that only she could fit in. That had given her a secure feeling - a holdover from her time in slavery when any place her owner couldn't quite reach her was a good place to be. She still had stuff squirreled away just a few feet from where she and Derian now stood. Or probably did, if it hadn't been incinerated. There was a strong burnt-out smell in this part of the ship.
"Need a hand with the door?"
Jerin shook her head. "Neh, but would you send Xiann my way when you see her? I have a feeling I'll have a long list of parts we'll need after I get a look around."
"That may prove difficult." Derian commented. Jerin gave him an inquisitive look. "You haven't noticed? Jerin, Xiann is gone."
"She's been gone for days, Puck. Went off with some spacer. Something about… something. I don't remember. Sounded important."
"Always does." Jerin mentally reviewed the last several days and now noted a distinct lack of Xiann. "Huh," she concluded, borrowing a perplexed Derian's deathstick for a quick drag before passing it back to him.
"Since when do you-"
"I quit, four years ago."
Derian shook his head. "I crash land a ship and the next thing I know, you're a hundred years old."
"Better hope not. That'd make you, what, a hundred fifty?" Jerin grinned. "Hey! Ow!" Jerin shook her head and rubbed her shoulder gingerly. "So violent. You know I need this arm, right?" Jerin called at Derian's retreating back.
Derian waved an unconcerned hand without turning around.
Jerin frowned and went to work disassembling the fragmented door. The last piece fell away into the newly formed scrap pile when Derian tapped her on the shoulder. This time she didn't jump.
"I'd like my watch back now."
Jerin wordlessly dropped it into his waiting palm.
"Civlized. Like hell." He muttered and walked away.
Jerin smiled to herself and stepped into the circuitry bay.
There had been fire here. The smell of burnt electronics filled Jerin's nose, and her flashlight showed soot and ash piled about the room on any surface approximating horizontal. She paused a moment to fumble with a clean rag from her pocket, tying it over her mouth and nose as a makeshift mask. Jerin could have checked the routing for the primary and secondary life support systems, or the signal relays for the hyperdrive and sublights, or the backup nav computer, or the subspace communications array, or any number of things. Instead, she crawled behind the primary support stack and pulled back a wall panel to reveal a small interstitial space. The space mostly hosted pipes going to the 'fresher, but there was a bit of free space there, and in it, resting just as it had been the last time Jerin saw it, was a small locker. On seeing it, Jerin's heart skipped a beat, though she couldn't think why.
She picked up the locker carefully and set it in her lap, belatedly realizing how thoroughly covered in ash she was. As she twirled the combination lock, Jerin took a mental inventory of what she'd left in there. If memory served: a credit chit, a ration packet or two, a holoprojector with a snap of the group that Heathero had insisted be taken, along with some other holos, and a blaster pistol. It was a good blaster pistol; Jerin hoped it still worked. The snap, well… Jerin didn't feel so certain that she was ready to see everyone again.
There was a click, and Jerin shone her flashlight down into the box. She felt her heart sink - something was wrong. The locker held only two objects. Jerin pocketed one, the holoprojector, before allowing herself to examine the second. Once Jerin focused on the item it was the work of a fraction of a second to realize what it was. Jerin yelled, trying to jump to her feet and distance herself from the box as fast as she could. Her head and arms struck ragged edges of broken, racked circuitry in the process, which tore gashes in her clothes and skin. These elicited a further cry.
After the initial surprise of the moment, fearing a sudden reappearance by Derin, Jerin dove back behind the support stack, pocketed the dreaded object, and hid the locker away again. Wounds stinging with newness and ash, Jerin stumbled out of the circuitry bay and straight into Derian.
"I heard-" he began, but course-corrected once he saw Jerin clearly. "What in nine hells happened to you?"
Jerin yanked the cloth free from her face. "Fell," she choked out, a haunted look on her face. "There's a lot of," Jerin coughed, "a lot of raw edges in there. Gonna' go get cleaned up." She sidestepped Derian, and all but ran to her own ship.
Once on board the Chaos, Jerin locked herself in her quarters and collapsed onto the deckplates. She pulled the small black cube out of her pocket in case it had magically changed into something else. It hadn't. An Imperial locator beacon is an Imperial locator beacon every day of the week.
Jerin curled up and silently sobbed, until finally, exhausted and covered in soot and blood and sweat and guilt, she fell asleep.
Re: The FifthNar Shaddaa. Of all the hellholes in the galaxy, the target had to be from Nar Shaddaa - live on Nar Shaddaa. Of course.
There were no luxury ships with Nar Shaddaa as their destination. There weren't even any passably decent ones. In fact, no passenger ships at all, just cargo ships taking on a passenger or two to bring in a few extra credits. Nar Shaddaa, it seemed, was not anyone's idea of a vacation destination.
Naiya hadn't often had need to leave Coruscant, but when she and her father did travel, they traveled in style. Comfortable cabins, staff with a bit of class… This ship, though. This ship stank. Literally. Dirt and grime covered far too much of the ship's interior. And its crew, for that matter. Naiya sat uncomfortably on a small bunk, scrolling through a data pad, and doing her best not to inhale through her nose.
Before Naiya left home, Merrik had given her a liberally censored copy of the target's Imperial record. It began, as so many things do, with an explosion. Specifically, the violent and thorough destruction of a large, not to mention stolen, Imperial weapons shipment. Upon reflection, Naiya concluded there were probably multiple explosions, though that detail couldn't possibly matter to Imperial intelligence.
Not unimpressive for a Nar Shadda slave kid - and a human at that. Funny things.
Evading arrest quite naturally followed that spectacular beginning. From there, the target joined with a group of rebels, traitors, and fringer scum, and her crimes escalated rapidly. More theft of Imperial property. Distribution of classified documents. Naiya's eyebrows raised when she read the next: Participation in another's impersonation of an Imperial officer. Does that even mean something? A considerable number of murders of Imperial troops were also listed, almost entirely through ship-to-ship combat. Even more theft. This all quite naturally culimanted in a charge of treason.
Naiya checked the dates on the charges, and found all were old, when the target was seventeen at the very latest.
And this creature was still walking.
Naiya suspected the real events were probably fairly interesting, but Imperial records tended to be righteous indignation putting on a false show of objectivity with a generous sprinkling of bald-faced lies. Naiya found them all to grow tiresome after a few lines of reading. Besides, the record provided very little recent information. The last six years only included a note about the target's current employer, her probable mother, and some unkind - and what Naiya believed to be biologically impossible - speculation about her father.
Naiya wrinkled her nose in frustration. She couldn't get a location from Merrick, and she had no informants on the fringe. Merrick provided so few angles for her to work to find this target. The holonet had turned up nothing, as if Jerin had just evaporated years ago. The employer? A retired ship thief turned hauling company owner? Unlikely to be interested in the personal affairs of his pilots. And based on his record, an official sounding order for information would probably be fruitless. The Empire was loathe to admit it, but Nar Shaddaa operated outside of Imperial control. Maybe a representative of one of the Hutts, but working out local politics would take more time and effort than she was interested in burning. It had to be the mother. Any mother would want to help protect her daughter, and Naiya wouldn't even be completely lying. She shook her head, resolving to pay her tracking informants better in the future. This was a pain in the ass.
After what was an unbearably long time to be trapped on such a ship, the wretched craft finally reached her destination. Naiya disembarked with speed, ready for air that hadn't made too many trips through the recycler. The Nar Shaddaa air, however, not only failed to be an improvement, but proved to be worse. Naiya coughed, frowned, hailed a cab.
She rolled her eyes at the Huttese gibberish the cabbie spat out when she got in the enclosed speeder. Naiya brought up a search on the cab's terminal with a few keystrokes. The cabbie repeated itself - whatever the thing was - sounding more annoyed. This is impressive for any cab driver, anywhere. "Just one moment, please." Naiya answered in Basic, sounding far more patient than she actually felt. If she got off this moon now, it wouldn't be soon enough. The cabbie cursed, barely under its breath. The holonet search returned an answer which materialized on the terminal. "The Blue Bantha." Naiya said in a clear voice, tapping the screen to send the casino's location to the cab's navigation system.
It was dark in the sector when Naiya was finally free of the cab and its driver. The large, blue neon sign in the shape of a bantha was impossible to miss from where she'd been dropped off, so she easily tread the rattling catwalks the rest of the way to her destination. The casino might be large for Nar Shaddaa, but Naiya's Coruscant sensibilites left her feeling cramped once inside the building, and she had to surpess a gag when she glanced a hutt through an open doorway. It was clear to her that the producers of those stupid action holoflicks never actually did on-location research in the Fringe. This place -blue, everywhere, Ancestors damn it- was worse than Coruscant's deep sublevels, and the Blue Bantha was even in a distinctly high stratum of Nar Shaddaa. No wonder this moon's only substantive export was drugs. They must be here in quantity in order for anyone to tolerate living on the pestilential ball.
Naiya took a steadying breath, immediately regretted it, coughed, then began her search.
"Oh, you mean Jules?" the man asked, when Naiya finally found an employee who would speak basic with her. "Yeah, she might be here, sweetheart. Let me check." His accent was ridiculous, and whatever he was smoking even more so, but she smiled and thanked him all the same. Ancestors, let me find her soon. If I have to stay a night here, I will scream.
"'Ey, Slim? You seen Jules tonight?" Slim apparently had. "Wait here, sweetheart. For you, I'll go get her personally."
This was clearly intended to be gallant. Naiya smiled slightly and seated herself on the barstool she'd been standing beside. She waved off the bartender, booze seemed like an uneccesary risk at the moment, and waited.
"Looking for me, doll?" A gravelly voice asked from Naiya's left. She turned to see a human woman, presumably in her forties based on the records Naiya had reviewed, but it was hard to tell from her appearance. Makeup was caked thick on her face, and her hair was unnaturally dark, showing some gray at the roots.
"Jewel Shanin?" Naiya raised her eyebrows in question.
"Oh, honey. Call me Jules. Everyone does." Jules sat down beside Naiya, and was immediately served a bottle of beer by the nearest tender. "Want anything?" Naiya shook her head. "Your loss. So, what do you need, dear?"
"Well, Jewel- Jules. I'm looking for your daughter, Jerin. I was hoping you might be able to help me out."
A funny look crossed Jules's face. "You're looking for Jerin?"
Naiya nodded, feeling impatient, but trying not to show it.
"And you're asking me?" Naiya nodded again. Jules burst out laughing. A few loud minutes passed before she was able to talk again. Jules daintily wiped tears from the sides of her eyes with her pinky. "Oh, honey. Thank you for coming. That was the best laugh I've had in ages." She giggled some more. "Looking for Jerin!" Jules said to herself, shaking her head. Then she saw Naiya's frown. "Oh, doll, don't get down about it! Here- Jared!" the human waved down one of the bartenders. "Jared!"
A male human with a mop of reddish brown curly hair framing his face came towards them. Naiya's guessed him to be around her age, but again, with humans, it was hard to tell. Naiya glanced at his name tag, which simply read 'Ailey.'
"Yes?" he asked Jules, in a slightly annoyed tone.
"Jared, help this charming young lady, luv." Jules stood, patting Jared's cheek with one hand and gripping her drink in the other. "She's looking for your baby sister." Jules wished Naiya good luck and good bye, and vanished back on to the casino floor. Jared watched her go, then turned to look at Naiya.
"Well?" he barked. "Who are you, anyway?"
Naiya forced her mind away from fantisizing about strangling every being in the entire casino, followed by every being on the entire moon, and back to the problem at hand. She tried again. "I'm Candice. An old friend of Jerin's. We've lost contact, and I need to find her. Can you help me out? It's important."
Jared leaned against the bar and folded his arms. "You're no friend of Jerin's."
Naiya tried to ignore the feeling of his hostility boring into her. "I am. Please, Jared, you've got to believe me."
Jared snorted. "No, I don't. No one who knows Jerin would have come after Jules to try to find her."
"Look, I met Jerin a while back, when there was trouble. I can't help what Jerin did and didn't tell me. She never mentioned siblings." If Jules had only two kids, then I'm a twi'lek. There must be more of them running around. Naiya filed this information away for later use. "You know that things were rough back then." Damn rough for Jerin, at least. "She was probably trying to protect you, keep you from getting dragged in to the whole mess." It seemed a plausible reason for having Jules in the file, but no cranky Jared.
Jared regarded her for a few moments, then said, "I'm still not telling you where she is, Candice."
Because he doesn't know. Naiya's heart sank. This was less than ideal. "Would you at least get a message to her for me?"
"What message?" he sounded skeptical.
"I'll need to write it out. I can send it to you, and you can read it for yourself. Would that satisfy you? Then you can send it on to Jerin?"
"We'll see." Jared replied, cooly.
Naiya continued as if he had said yes. "Thank you," she told him, looking him in the eye, "so much."
He motioned for Niaya's datapad, which she supplied, and he tapped in an account address. "Send it there. I'll look it over."
Riding back to the ship in a cab yet that evening, Naiya composed a suitably vague yet alarmist sounding message, and sent it off. She then opened a subspace comline. "Efrem? I need a trace on an account."
Re: The FifthJerin's bones ached from sleeping on the floor. Her head pounded. Her back and one upper arm stung with wounds. A sob caught in her throat while, for the transitory twilight reality between sleep and wakefulness, Jerin lay on a cell floor on Coruscant, cursing Horran with every ounce of her strength.
She had only just sat up and taken a few shuddering breaths in recovery when there was a knock on the door to her quarters. "Jerin?" Derian's voice came muffled through the metal. "You in there?"
Force, did I leave Chaos's ramp down? Jerin got shakily to her feet, shoving the beacon and holoprojector into her pockets as she made her way to open the door.
"Puck?" Derian called through the door again.
What the frell? Jerin released the door in answer.
The last being alive of those she had betrayed stood in the corridor with a look of concern on his face. Jerin's eyes flickered away from his.
"Hey," Jerin cleared her throat. "Something wrong?"
"You tell me. I'm not the one who evaporated and left their ship's ramp down."
Jerin's brow furrowed. "How long?"
"Fourteen hours, give or take."
"So I thought I'd make sure you weren't dead." Derian crossed his arms and leaned on the doorframe. "Though your lungs may give out from all the soot you're burried under. Decided you like the new look?"
Jerin pressed a palm to her forehead. "I'm just not- I'm not feeling too great. Fell asleep before I could clean up." This was, at least, largely true.
Derian's eyes traveled to the bag of sophs sitting on Jerin's desk. "How many of those things did you take, kid?" He asked quiety, nodding towards them.
Derian shrugged. Either he believed her, or didn't think it was worth arguing about. Jerin couldn't tell which. There was an awkward pause, which Derian finally broke.
"I'm going to go do a thing," he pointed over his shoulder with a thumb. "Sure you're okay, Puck?"
"Alright." Derian clapped a hand on her shoulder, a bit harder than was strictly necessary. Jerin willed her knees not to collapse. With a last sidelong look, Derian turned and left. When the sound of his footsteps had died away, Jerin let out a long sigh. She waited until Derian had left the ship, then sealed it off and went- finally- to get cleaned up.
Re: The FifthNewly clean and bandaged, and in the cleanest clothes she'd managed to find after a thorough search of her own quarters, Jerin sat quietly in the cockpit of Chaos, feet pulled up beneath her. She looked blankly out the viewscreen where, outside in the bay, pilots and mechanics went about their business of enabling black markets across the known galaxy. A light on a nearby control bank flashed on and off, signaling an unread message. This one from her brother, Jared. She took a sip from the last bottle of the lurid orange juice, frowning.
For Jerin, making the decision was easy. Reconciling herself to all of its logical consequences, now that was the tricky part. What happened on the Fear wasn't her fault, but the Wind - Derian, and Heathro, and Ney'la, and Dean - shavvit! She had failed, Horran had won, and they had paid for it.
Her mind was made up: She would go with Derian. She would go with him, and do her best to make sure he stayed safe. And she would kill Horran. Somehow, someday, slowly and painfully, she would destroy Horran. In the flick of one finger, she swept away the notification Jared's message, deleting it without reading. This simple action galvanized her. She rose to her feet and drained the juice bottle.
Right. No contact with her boss, her friends, or her brothers? Check. Hopefully Stelton had gotten the message she'd handed off to Kursku when she'd blasted off of Nar Shaddaa.
Fix the Wind? Sorta' check.
Damn credits. Time to visit Daraay.
Far away, on a ship Naiya hated only slightly less than the one that had brought her to Nar Shaddaa, a subspace radio hailed its owner.
"Naiya," came Efrem's disembodied voice, "the trace is through. I'm tightbeaming you the coordinates of the access point. I'd hurry, though. There's no planet or moon charted for the location. It may be on board a ship, in which case-"
"Potentially gone by the time I arrive. I understand. Are you able to maintain the trace?"
Efrem snorted derisively.
"My apologies. Forget that I even asked, Efrem. Of course you can. Please keep me appraised."
"Sure thing, boss."
Naiya closed the connection, then rose, dusting herself off. Her ship was about to have a change of plans. It was time to go inform the captain of this new reality. Naiya smiled.
"Jerin!" a young woman, just a few years Jerin's junior, squealed as the pilot entered one of the Fringe's many taprooms. Before Jerin could respond, the girl was beside her and hugging Jerin so tightly she thought a rib might crack.
"Ow! Easy, Auren!" Jerin gasped. "Look, I'm happy to see you, too."
"Liar!" Auren laughed, releasing Jerin abruptly. "Here, let me look at you." The girl took a step back and tilted her head to one side, scrutinizing the new arrival. "You've been gone too long, Jerin. And, don't take this the wrong way, but, um, you don't look so good." Jerin raised an eyebrow at Auren's appraisal, but then glanced at her bandaged hand and her wrinkled clothes and shrugged. "You're so here to see Mom, aren't you? Daraay!" Auren shouted before Jerin could answer. "Daraay! It's Jerin here to see you!"
Jerin winced at the noise. Auren noticed, and laughed yet again. "Good to see you again, Jerin. We'll catch up later." She gave a little wave and wandered away to wait tables as she saw her mother approaching.
"Hi, Jerin," an older, and much calmer voice greeted.
Jerin turned. "Daraay," she nodded. "Good to see you." The two shook hands.
"I'd heard you were aboard. Surprised you haven't dropped in sooner. But there will be a reason, I'm sure."
"Yeh," Jerin affirmed. "Auren's grown quite a bit in the last few years," she observed.
"We all do, at that age."
"Much trouble with the customers?"
"Nope," Daraay gave a lopsided grin and unholstered a wicked looking blaster. "None at all. They know better than to mess with CorSec's daughter in here." It was true. You could take an officer out of CorSec, but there were parts of CorSec you couldn't take out of an officer. Daraay wore it like a mantle, and the presence was impossible to miss. Jerin didn't believe it was possible for Daraay to ever be free of it - not that she'd want to be.
"Good," Jerin nodded once. "Look, Daraay, I didn't come to the Fringe alone."
"I heard as much."
There was a pause, and the burble of sounds of people talking, making deals, yelling, betting, and the sound of the swoopraces tightbeamed from Malastare and broadcast on three walls, mingled together and washed around the two friends.
"I'm trying to keep things compartmentalized." Jerin commented lightly.
At this, Daraay waved Auren's attention and made a few quick gestures with her hand. Auren nodded. "Follow me, Jerin." Wordlessly, Jerin did.
When they arrived at their destination, Jerin noticed that Centant Daraay's quarters looked differently than she remembered. Better, in Jerin's opinion. "Auren has moved out, of course," Daraay said, noticing Jerin's glances around the living space.
"Right," Jerin choked on her observation, only barely not verbalized. "Of course," she repeated.
Daraay pulled up a chair at her small dining table and motioned for Jerin to do the same. "All right, Jerin," she said, all business, "You arrived here nineteen weeks ago, with two others: One human male, adult, spacer; One twi'lek female, adult, grifter. Chaos was hauling a wreck from Thornmech's with - from all reports - a very interesting EM grapple. Repairs began on the wreck, formerly Astral Wind immediately. Outside help was engaged initally, now has been dismissed. The twi'lek departed a few weeks ago, uncertain destination, rumors tend to Ryloth, and no expected return. Have I missed anything relevant?" She asked, an expectant look on her face.
Jerin yawned, suddenly tired. "Not really. That pretty much covers it."
Centant Daraay rose from the table and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned with two steaming mugs of caf and placed one in front of Jerin. "Disgustingly sweet caf, as I recall?" Jerin nodded, smiling a little. "That should do, then."
Jerin sipped appreciatevely. "Perfect. Thanks."
"Conjecture: This all has something to do with the thing we don't talk about."
Jerin stared into her mug of caf, rotated it slowly on the table. "Yeh. Kind of." Centant remained quiet, letting the silence drag out until Jerin felt she had to fill it. "I slipped up, Centant. I didn't think I had, but I did." She looked up at her friend. "Look, I don't want to talk about it. I'm trying to, I don't know, do damage control, I guess. But I need credits. You know everything about everyone who sets foot on this ship. Can you find a buyer of something for me?"
"I can try. What's the something?" That was the great thing about Centant: pragmatic as hell. There was a reason that it was she alone Jerin had told about Horran. Several, actually.
Jerin finally met Daraay's eyes. "Winner's certificate and BioMet blaster from a Vaynktein Run."
"Are you serious? You have one of those?"
Jerin squirmed, "No. Two." To win a Vaynktein Run, a person had to be the last one with a ship - which typically also meant the last one alive.
"After I left here."
Centant shook her head. "You were trying to kill yourself."
Jerin shrugged. It hadn't been a question. "Good thing I'm so bad at it?" she offered.
Centant snorted. "Good thing you can apparently fly like the demons themselves. Yes, I'll find you a buyer."
Re: The FifthThe dim light of the maintenance corridor suited him. Derian had come with dark purpose to this area of the ship. He stalked back and forth slowly, in a patient pattern. Had anyone seen him, the immediate thought would have been of a predator. The reality of it was closer to the truth than anyone would be comfortable admitting. Least of all Derian. The scars on his torso itched.
The scars always itched just before some bit of action. He didn't know what had been done to him. He didn't want to know what had been done. He refused scans and medical tests every time the opportunity arose. He brushed it off with his customary cold demeanor around people he didn't know, but the reality was that he was scared. Worried that they had replaced his guts with machinery and bits of cybertech. He'd heard the stories. People merged with machine to keep them alive, the legend of Darth Vader not least amongst them.
He narrowed his eyes as footsteps approached. For a moment he tensed, then went back to his pacing. He somehow knew these were not the people he was waiting for. They passed in the bright lights of the hallway. His years spent in the shadows let him know that the stark white of the hallway would destroy any night vision that might allow them to see into the narrow maintenance corridor.
After a few moments, the sound of footsteps came again. This time the hair raised up on the back of his neck at their approach and he knew these were the people he had been waiting for. Just as they stepped into view in front of the corridor, Derian attacked from the darkness. Blasters were pulled, but knocked aside or down before they could aim. One fired ineffectually into the deck panels. In a heartbeat three men were on the ground, either groaning with injury or completely incapacitated. Derian held the last man standing up against the wall, his forearm under his chin. "Hello Malek," he growled, his face contorted in rage.
"Why Derian," the man choked, trying to sound non-plussed despite the fact that his feet were not touching the floor. "What is it that I can do for you?"
"You can give me back the equipment that you stole," Derian said through clenched teeth.
"What equipment might that be?" Derian pressed his forearm into the man's throat, compressing the adams apple back into the wind pipe. "All right," the man croaked, straining to speak. "All right, you will have it."
Derian released the man and let him crumble to the floor unassisted. He smiled internally at the sound his body made as it slammed to the deck. "I want that equipment in the 'Wind's docking bay by 14:30. A minute later…"
Malek attempted to regain his composure. "A minute later, and?" he wheezed.
Derian pulled the small sawed-off rifle from its holster. Without having to look, he aimed a short distance behind his feet and fired. The bolt left a scorched stain on the floor where the head of one of Malek's thugs used to be. Derian raised an eyebrow slightly. Any questions?
The look on his face as Malek blanched let him know that Malek would do as instructed. Without another word, Derian stepped over the rest of the bodies and strode off down the hallway. He hoped his next encounter would involve much less violence.
"Admiral," Derian said, sounding as jovial as he could manage. The truth was that he did actually like the man. He respected him, and what he'd done with the vessel. This, in some ways, was actually better than liking him. But the former helped with the latter. "Admiral, I am in need of your assistance."
"Ah Derian, what is it that you need lad?"
Derian controlled himself enough not to snort. The idea of this man who was barely 10 years his senior calling him 'lad' was a bit much. But gave a good natured smile and let it pass over him. "I need the system."
"The…" the Admiral trailed off for a few moments. His face darkened slightly. "What do you need that for?"
"You know exactly what I need it for." Derian replied, his voice flat.
"Derian, I don't have to tell you how exceedingly dangerous that is."
"You are right, you don't."
"You kept it though," Derian interjected. "Despite all the danger and everything else you're just dying to tell me, you kept the damn thing."
"Yes," the Admiral responded. Though there was certainly room for it, there was no shame in the man's voice. Simply a bland statement of fact. As if he were reading the weather off a vid screen.
"I need the system and the components required to activate it."
"I'm not sure I have the equipment on hand to-"
Derian cut him off. "Puck fixed the hyperdrive." The Admiral's eyes narrowed in an accusatory glare. "You know damned well she didn't tell me," Derian continued. "You really think something like that could stay hidden from me for long? Me of all people Admiral."
The Admiral sighed, his demeanor cracking. "I always liked you Derian. And the girl too. She has her fair share of demons, but underneath it all she's a good person. You both are."
"There you go, telling lies about me again."
The Admiral chuckled slightly, a real laugh this time. "I can get you the parts you need."
"But Derian," the Admiral said, trailing off. Derian looked up and met his eyes. "That thing was a prototype of prototypes. Shardlucin hadn't even figured out how to make it work, let alone get it hooked up."
"Yes," Derian replied flatly.
The Admiral stared at him for a moment, but the man seemed to have nothing more to say on the matter. "Very well," he said at last, "I will have the associated materials in the docking bay. I don't know how you'll get Shard's old equipment though, it was stolen some time ago."
Derian's smile was almost predatory, "That part isn't a problem." The Admiral felt a chill race through him in spite of himself. "Oh and Admiral," he looked up again and met Derian's eyes. "Thank you. Thank you for taking care of Puck."
"I know what she means to you Derian," the Admiral said, his voice sincere. "She's one of the most talented mechanics I've ever known. Her fixing the hyperdrive was a great way for me to 'owe her'. Give her a home when none of her other homes would do. It was my way of helping when we all thought you were dead."
"You're a good friend," Derian told him. "Those are few and far between in this galaxy." He turned to walk from the room.
"Derian," the Admiral called after him. Derian stopped in the doorway without turning around. "Take care of yourself. For both of your sakes."
The Admiral looked at his back, his form silhouetted in the open doorway. Derian remained motionless for a moment, then strode out of the room as the door hissed shut behind him.
Re: The FifthThe stolen ship had been flown in bizarre patterns across the known galaxy, then finally landed and sold off, along with its cargo. Baith had arranged transport off that planet, and the next, and the next. All those they'd interacted with now believed they'd ferried an old fringer woman and a wookie, which Baith felt was impressive cover, even if he did say so himself.
The Council wouldn't have approved. In all the nine hells, which ever of them they found themselves in now, Baith was sure the Council was still actively disapproving, with scandalized frowns and distressed, slow shakes of their wearied ghostly heads. At least, they certainly were if they had enough awareness to spare for the old knight's existence. Doubtable.
Baith's awareness, on the other hand, was largely occupied with detecting any pursuit and watching to see if young Zekkar was a walking time-bomb, just waiting to go off.
"So, is this it?" Zekkar asked blandly, stabbing a spoon into a grain and meat dish of questionable provenance that served as tonight's dinner. "We just keep running across the galaxy, looking over our shoulders?" They sat at a rickety table in the small suite of rooms they'd rented in the spaceport - whatever it was called. One looked very much like another. Baith had just shared with Zekkar his plan of leaving again the next morning.
He wished that Zekkar had sounded at least a little irrate about it, but his tone matched that of someone asking if perhaps it might rain tomorrow. Though at least he'd finally said something about it. Anything. While Zekkar had not reverted fully to his drugged stupor that he'd been trapped in before, his emotions and personality seemed still largely scrubbed from his brain.
"What would you have us do?" Baith returned, calmly. He nudged a meat chunk to the side of his tray with his spoon. Whatever provoked beings to want to eat dead animals was beyond him.
"Report it to the authorities."
Baith looked up sharply. "Which authorities do you have in mind?"
"The Empire." Zekkar stated matter-of-factly.
Baith cleared his throat and pushed his tray away. "They're the ones looking for you, lad." He watched the young man intently.
Zekkar's spoon stopped halfway to his mouth. After a moment, his eyes closed, and his hand dropped back to the table. "I should have seen that."
"You've been preoccupied." Baith excused. And more than a little drugged, he added mentally.
"The rebellion, then."
"Not a bad idea. But," here Baith hesitated.
"I'm not sure how to put this gently, lad."
"You don't need to."
Baith conceeded the point. "I'd like to be a little more certain that you won't go crazy and try to kill us all, first."
"Oh." Zekkar appeared to consider this. "Fair enough," he agreed, then shovled another spoonful into his mouth.
Re: The FifthA detour to the Lunatic Fringe was not at the top of the list of Stuff the Captain was Interested in Doing. Yet, in the view screen there before him hung the unmistakeable ISD profile, adrift peacefully in the middle of the void. The captain winced, glanced to see if his passenger was looking, saw that she was not, and rubbed his aching arm. He had underestimated her persuasiveness, for lack of a better word, but he at least could derive a certain grim satisfaction in her apparent confusion at the specter before her. She had given them the coordinates for the Fringe, but he got the distinct feeling she hadn't known what to expect there. Not this, at the very least.
The tall Zabrak woman frowned. "Dock at once," she ordered.
"What do you want us to tell them?" the captain asked, not feeling the need to mention the true nature of the vessel.
"I really do not care," she answered levelly. "I'll be gathering my things. I'll no longer need your services once I'm aboard."
"Of course," the captain smirked. "We'll dock immediately."
She left without another word. The captain smiled to himself, then flicked a switch to receive the incoming hail.
"Unknown craft, state your destination and business." A disinterested voice drawled over the comm.
"What? Stow it, Thadae. You damn well know it's me."
"I'm Vestan, not Thadae. Who the hell are you?"
The captain swore. This exchange was rapidly the draining whatever small reserve of good humor he'd had. "Thadae never teach you how to read the scanner, Vestan? The ship's the Kimbwe, and I'm Tiv. Look it up. Then let me dock already." He growled. This was the last time he'd be taking on passengers. The. Last.
"Sol, you're looking much better," Rumbled Rula He settled into a seat across from Sol at his friend's dining table, where the convalescing man was taking breakfast in his pajamas and robe. Much better, Rula thought to himself, is, of course, relative.
Sol swallowed a bite of omlette, favored Rula with a smile that was more of a grimace, then shoveled some more egg into his mouth. "Thank you, Gerhardt. And what brings you here?" he asked around a mouthful of food.
Rula ignored the impropriety of it, and cleared his throat. "A visit to a sick friend needs an occasion?" He asked, glancing around.
"Of course not." Chew. Swallow. "But I hoped you might bring news."
"I'm uncertain that your breakfast table is the proper venue."
Sol waved a hand impatiently. "As good as any, Gerhardt. What have you to tell me?"
Rula frowned, but spoke anyway. "I've compiled a list, Sol. It is longer than I'd wish it to be, but I believe the girl we seek is on it."
Sol leaned forward, breakfast momentarily forgotten. "How long?" he asked, an intensity in his voice that made Rula worry about whatever Sol might have been told by his doctors.
"I'd hoped to begin sending out for the first ones on the list within the week. We'll have to use unofficial resources, which will complicate matters, I'm afraid. My plan was-" but here Sol interuppted.
"The first ones on the list? How long is the list, Gerhardt?"
Rula answered. Sol's fork clattered to the table.
"Damn Horran," the smaller man rasped.
Rula frowned further. "How long, Sol?" he asked, his rumbling voice as gentle as it ever became.
Sol shook his head. "Less than a year. And of course the last few months…" Sol trailed off, and there was silence between the two friends for a while. "You recall my father, I believe?" Sol finally concluded the thought. Oblique allusion was as direct as he could manage. Rula nodded. There was another long pause.
Finally, Rula spoke, his voice strong with resolve. "I'll send out a swarm, Sol, like one of the sweeps from the early days. You remember how well those worked. We'll have them all brought to the nursery, and we'll sort them out there. We'll find the girl, and the holocron. Everything will turn out just as planned. Horran's departure will be but a minor inconvenience when we look back on it."
Sol scoffed, but gave his friend a grateful look. "Thank you, Gerhardt," he said quietly. "I mean it."
"Yes, Sol." Rula answered, rising from his chair. "I believe I have much to do, now. And must let you finish your breakfast. I'm certain it's growing cold."
Sol looked down at the omlette, as if surprised by its existence. "I suppose so," he replied. "Good bye, Gerhardt."
"Farewell, my friend. I'll come again when I have news."
Jerin allowed her feet to trudge down the well known corridors back toward the docking bay without much input from her brain. She'd spent enough time on the Fringe that mental autopilot allowed her to take meandering walks to think, without a worry about where she might end up, or if she'd lose herself along the way.
Selling the Vaynktein Blaster was a desperate move, but it would bring in the credits she needed. The next time funds were tight… well, she'd damn well need a job before that happened. She snorted as she reflected - drugs to bail out 'Rok, now a Vaynktein so she could keep an eye on Derian. It fit, somehow.
She continued on, lost in her thoughts until she reached the bay the Chaos and the now-actually-probably-a-ship Wind were in. She was startled to see a group of strangers going up and down the Wind's loading ramp, until she saw Derian nearby. He stood glaring, arms crossed, watching them closely.
"Hey!" Jerin called as she approached. Derian glanced up at her and she raised her eyebrows and gestured to the gear being loaded into the ship. In response, he waved his hand in a "get over here" fashion, and turned back to watch those on his ship. Jerin rolled her eyes and crossed the rest of the distance, stopping beside Derian. "Did I miss something?" she asked.
Re: The Fifth"Just retrieving some stolen property, Puck," was Derian's terse reply.
She peered at the equipment being loaded into the ship. Her brow furrowed. "Shard's gear," she observed. Jerin longed to go investigate the equipment more closely. Not just for it's technical sophistication and usefulness, but as a way to somehow once again be nearer to an old traveling companion. At least in death Shardlucin was reliably himself, unlike the mercurial Derian. Her eyes turned to Derian. "How?"
"I appealed to the thieves' better nature."
"Anyone ever tell you you're a terrible liar?" Jerin asked dryly.
"Just you," Derian almost smiled at the echo of their earlier conversation.
Jerin squinted again at the new cargo. "What's the other shavvit?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
"Nothing. Don't worry about it."
This was a sure way to get Jerin to worry about it, and the effect was immediate. She didn't get a chance to do much about it, though. Derian sealed off part of the ship with the gear, and usually himself, inside. For days, Derian scarcely appeared, and he spoke even less. Choosing, for the time being at least, not to seek him out and push the matter, Jerin occupied herself otherwise, though not before disconnecting a few key wires aboard the Astral Wind. Derian had probably noticed already. Hell, he'd probably fixed it, but it was an effective way of getting her message to him: Don't leave here without me.
She spent days working on Chaos or on the Fringe, overhauling navigation systems, updating star charts, and repairing worn components. Evenings were spent at Daraay's taproom, or in one of the main casinos. She now had a regular group there she played sabacc with. A laid back group, which was good, since she was frequently interrupted with inquiries about the Vaynktein. These, frustratingly enough, were mostly unproductive - beings who were curious, but not truly interested in dropping the credits required.
One evening, after a particularly futile few hands of sabacc, Jerin sat at the bar in the casino, quietly finishing off a drink before calling it a night. Again, she'd had a few folks ask about the Vaynktein, but nothing serious. She was beginning to get frustrated.
She didn't really pay attention when a human sat heavily in the seat to her left, but then a rodian slipped onto the stool on her right. Jerin shot hateful glare at the rodian. He looked blankly back at her. Jerin turned back to her drink. Thought about leaving. That's when the man started talking to her.
"You're the one hanging around with Derian Tai'pek, ain't ya'?"
She turned to face him. "What of it?"
"What of it!" He turned, spread his arms wide. "Why would ya'? Why would anyone?"
Now the rodian chimed in behind her, in Huttese. That alone set her teeth on edge. "You've heard what they say about him, haven't you?" the tone was that of someone who fully believed the answer was no. Which was not inaccurate.
"No. What's more, I don't care. Get outa' my face." She snarled back over her shoulder in huttese. "And you, too," she told the human. "Get away from me. Now."
Jerin was accustomed to not being very intimidating. At first. Tonight was no exception. The pair continued, huttese in one ear, basic in the other, Jerin grew more and more angry.
"He's had his soul surgically removed."
"He kills beings just to watch them die."
Jerin's left hand dug around in her jacket pocket, the right still calmly holding a glass.
"He used to fly around in a ship full of underage girls…"
"He's working for the Empire."
"Actually made a deal with them to save his skin. Killed all his crew to keep his pathetic life-"
The sound Jerin's brass-knuckled fist made on contact with the Rodian's head was anticlimactic, but watching him crumple to the floor, unconscious, was immensely satisfying.
She was quickly distracted from that satisfaction when the man behind her pinned Jerin's arms to her sides using one arm, and put her in a choke hold with the other. Fully enraged, she yanked one of her arms free, then quickly used her free hand to pull back hard on one of her assailant's fingers, which broke with a sad cracking noise. He yelped and let go. Jerin spun around to face him, grabbed his uninjured arm which he was using to cradle his injured hand, and pulled him toward her. Simultaneously using her legs to propel herself forward, she slammed the top of her head squarely into his face.
He yelled and stumbled backwards. Jerin was about to go after him when a blow landed on her back, and something flying through the air narrowly missed her head. She turned and discovered the losers giving her a hard time weren't friendless on this boat.
Jerin ducked down and swept the legs out from underneath the one who had just punched her, then rose and kicked his ribcage just hard enough for him to reconsider trying to actually get back up again, but there were still others coming toward her.
She estimated from past observation that she had about three minutes before the Admiral's security officers showed up to put a stop to this. Jerin grinned.
In the meantime, she aimed to do as much damage as possible.
In the thick of what was rapidly turning into a room-wide brawl, one of Jerin's sabacc companions showed up and lent a hand. Jerin grinned at her. She grinned back, and the two continued, back-to-back until security, as predicted, did show up and put a stop to things.
"You hurt?" Jerin asked the other woman, once they were in a clear corridor, away from the casino.
"No real harm done," answered the zabrak calmly. "Scratches and bruises here and there. Yourself?"
"The same. Thanks for the help, by the way."
"I couldn't sit there and let you have all the fun, now could I?"
"Well. Actually, you could," Jerin pointed out. The zabrak laughed at this. Jerin shrugged in response. "Want to go get a drink? Booze? Caf? I know a better place."
"Better fighting there?"
"Better everything. But I'm just aiming for a cup of caf."
The zabrak considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Certainly. Caf does sound good. And forgive me, but I don't quite recall your name."
"Jerin. And you?"
"Pleased to meet you, Jerin. I am Naiya."
"Nice to meet you, Naiya," Jerin said awkwardly. She liked the zabrak, despite her formal manners. "Come on. Can't wait to introduce you to Daraay."
The next morning, Jerin examined her face in the 'fresher mirror. All things considered, it really didn't look much worse for the wear. A bruised cheek and a busted lip weren't so bad. She could have done without the bruised ribs, but mentally shrugged those off - she'd been through worse. A bunch of spacers letting off steam - of which she was one - wasn't too much to get riled up about. Or so she thought until the message from the Admiral came through her comm. He wanted to meet. Immediately.
Jerin finished dressing and hurried to the man's office.
She started out on the defensive right as she came through the door. "Look, Admiral, if this is about last night-"
"It's not," he interrupted, waving a hand. "Though I would prefer not to have a repeat incident. Have a seat, Jerin."
She sat, with some misgivings. The last time they'd had a meeting this formal, Jerin had just been caught sneaking around one of the Fringe's engineering bays. Granted, that occasion had been different in that there'd been a security officer pointing a blaster at her for much of the time, but there was still a certain chill in this blaster-free atmosphere that had her worried.
And so he began. "I am afraid, dear girl, I must tell you and Tai'pek to leave."
Jerin's expression changed from confusion to relief. "Look, if you just give me a little time, I'll be able to pay our docking fees-" she said, thinking of the sale of the Vaynktein.
Again, the Admiral interrupted. "This isn't about docking fees, Jerin."
"What, then?" If it wasn't the chaos, and it wasn't credits, Jerin had no idea.
"Derian has in his possession a very dangerous technology." The Admiral stated.
"What is it?" Jerin asked, thinking back to the strange gear being loaded on the ship.
"I can't tell you."
"Can't? Or won't?"
"Some of both, I imagine," was his infuriating reply. "Regardless, I cannot have it in his hands in such close proximity to my ship. You must convince him to go."
"Why don't you just tell him yourself?"
"Honestly, at this juncture, I would prefer not to anger the man. There are rumors floating around-"
"I've heard." Jerin said forcefully.
"Probably the only idiotic ones."
"They were that," Jerin muttered under her breath.
"I'm sure you can see it would be much better if he felt like he were leaving of his own accord. I believe you can persuade him."
"Uh huh," said Jerin, rolling her eyes. "That won't be a problem at all."
"You must," said the Admiral, "or I will send my men to come confiscate the tech."
Jerin snorted. "Over his dead body."
"And probably that of several others. I know. I would like to avoid that eventuality."
"Then don't try to take the gear!"
"I'm sorry, Jerin, but there are other considerations here. I am fond of both of you - truly - but the risk is too great. I hoped he would have already left on his own by now, but clearly that hasn't happened. I'm giving you three days, which is still against my better judgment."
Jerin closed her eyes and shook her head. Then she leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Fine then. If this is so important, let's make a deal."
The Admiral raised an eyebrow in annoyance, but Jerin could see his grudging approval behind the expression. "What is it you want, you insufferable little grease monkey?"
"A few things."
"Force save us from haggling mechanics," the Admiral muttered.
"Supplies. Rations, mainly, but a few other odds and ends I reserve the right to pick out myself."
The Admiral appeared to consider this, but Jerin knew he wouldn't say no. If he was truly this frightened of whatever Derian had laid his hands on, she could probably ask for a share in the main casino and get it at this point. After a few moments, he nodded. "Supplies. Certainly. After all, I am rushing you out the door."
"And" Jerin continued.
"And?" the Admiral countered, with false despair.
"I don't know how this will play out. I may need to lock down my ship in deep storage here. No fees. Give me your word on that and the supplies, and we have a deal."
"You drive a hard bargain, Mistress Puck."
"And you ask the impossible, Admiral."
"We have a deal, then." The Admiral pushed a button on the display at his desk to open the office door. Jerin was clearly dismissed. "Three days."
"Three frelling days. Got it."
Re: The FifthJerin found Derian in the main hold of the Astral Wind, looking over the new provisions that had been brought on board while sampling one of the bottles of beer included in the supplies.
"I'm hijacking your ship," Jerin annouced calmly.
This got Derian's attention.
"You're what now?"
It was three days later. Jerin was now at the tail end of having begged, borrowed, stolen, and generally using every means necessary to meet the end she'd had in mind. She dropped the large duffel bag she'd been carrying to the deck of the hold, and crossed her arms.
"Your ship. I'm hijacking it. As of now," Jerin answered.
Derian took a swig from the bottle he was holding. "Fascinating thought, though not your most brilliant. Exactly which army are you planning on using to do this?"
"'Ey, Naiya!" Jerin yelled out into the corridor.
Naiya appeared in the doorway, smiling faintly, and gave Derian a little wave. He looked at her critically.
"I see," he concluded. "Your strategy is interesting, kid, I'll give you that, but it needs some work."
"I'll put this another way. We need to leave. We need to leave now, we need to leave together, and right now it's your turn to trust me. And 'cause I'm nice, and 'cause this is your ship, I'm giving you the chance to call dibs on the pilot seat."
"You got a job lined up?"
Jerin indicated Naiya with a nod of her head. "Naiya needs to go kill someone. Possibly several someones."
"I know the feeling," Derian looked meaningfully at Jerin, who rolled her eyes. Derian was quiet a few moments. "Trust you?" he added.
Derian finished off the contents of the bottle. "Prep her to fly."
Jerin first suppressed the relexive "Go krong yourself," which was any Stelton employees' pat answer whenever anyone but Stelton told them what to do. Then Heathro was in the bay with them, giving Derian one of her dramatic, sloppy salutes. Jerin blinked and the vision vanished. She nodded once, swung the duffel bag up over her shoulder, and left the bay without another word.
Derian turned to Naiya. "So. You're a bounty hunter?"
"An assassin exploring new career options, let's say." Naiya replied.
"Exclusive contracts weren't exciting enough?"
"I'm competitive. It gets dull." Naiya offered by way of explanation.
"See if you can limit that to holochess when you're on board. As long as you don't kill anyone here, we should be fine. Exta quarters in a room just past the engineering bay," Derian nodded out the corridor. "And if you'll excuse me, it appears I need to go fly us the hell out of here."
Re: The FifthIt's a big galaxy, and it's the sort of thing that happens sometimes. If any being had been collating the data, they might have noticed an anamolous rash of disappearances of young women from several different moons and planets who shared more in common than basic demographics.
Talitha Vaughn disappeared while walking home after a long day in surgery.
Cas Rennarty left the garage for a smoke and never came back.
Asren Halith had vanished by the time the back-up police she had called for arrived, as had whoever had placed the initial call.
Sena Pesh, however, shot both the intruders in her apartment.
Aniya Wellow jumpped from the moving speeder she'd been forced into, and was helped by passers-by.
Kirst Nolan, accustomed to being underestimated, had a heavy metal pipe in her walking cane. The authorities kindly took the unconcious form of her would-be attacker away.
Many more were taken. A few died.
Swiftly and silently, some of the youngest veterans of the Rebellion vanished without a trace.
Naiya found herself left alone in the ship's hold to make her own way to the quarters that Derian had mentioned. There was but one main corridor, circular, each room a spoke off that hub. She could not possibly get lost. Naiya, accustomed to the sprawling city-planet of Coruscant, had felt cramped during the weeks aboard the Lunatic Fringe, so this was just shy of claustrophia inducing.
She mentally mapped each room at a quick glance as she passed it, until she came to her new home away from home. After a quick assessment, Naiya dropped her bag on the bunk that gave her the best view of the door. No other belongings were in the room - certainly not the huge duffel that Jerin had been carrying. She frowned. Jerin and Derian were bunking together? That was… unexpected.
The intercom cracked to life and Derian's voice told her, "You might want to strap in. We'll be jumping to hyperspace here in a minute."
Naiya's eyebrows raised in surprise. She hadn't realized the ship had even left dock. She looked around the room for a way of following the Captain's advice, but seeing none, opted for sitting on her bunk and gripping its support with both hands. Naiya closed her eyes and breathed slowly. She really didn't care for space travel.
Alarms were sounding and people were yelling, far away. A faint smell of smoke tickled her nose, and Naiya felt heat radiating from the surfaces around her. The ship lurched and Naiya's eyes snapped open. The heat was gone, along with the noise and smoke. Naiya frowned. For her weak skills to have sensed it, something must have gone - or would go - horribly wrong on this ship, but when or why, she had no idea. More information to file away.
Back in the present, boots sounded on deckplates, getting louder, and muffled voices became clear. "-lot better once the cycles are balanced right."
"Guess you'll be seeing to that soon so as we don't stumble out of hyperspace like we just stumbled in."
The pair leaned on either side of the doorway to Niaya's quarters, seemingly content to carry on their conversation without Naiya's involvement.
"Pff. You were born with two hands, just like the rest of us." Jerin commented pointedly.
"Actually, it was three," Derian said to Naiya, "but there was a terrible accident. These damn Nar Shaddaa urchins," Derian nodded his bald head at Jerin. "Can't get a day's work out of 'em."
"Charming, Der. Keep it up and I'll hawk that pretty watch of yours to Niaya here. Then you'll never get it back."
Derian checked his wrist. "Again, Puck?"
"Gotta' keep my skills up." Jerin tossed the watch back to Derian. "I might need something to fall back on if this pilot and mechanic thing doesn't work out."
"Or I could chuck your thieving hide out the airlock now, and spare someone else the trouble. How's that sound?"
"But just think of how smoother your sailing will be if you wait until after I tune the cycles to throw me out the airlock."
"And just think how much quieter it will be if I throw you out now." Derian raised his eyes, as if seeking patience there.
Jerin took this opportunity to give Derian the universal sign to krong himself.
Derian shook his head in mock despair as he addressed Naiya. "As you can see, ma'am, you can take the kid out of Nar Shaddaa, but you can't take the Nar Shaddaa out of the kid."
"Wait, wait. How is it that she's 'ma'am' and I'm still 'the kid'?"
"You a paying passenger and I missed it?"
"No. I only rebuilt your ship for you. Nothin' major," Jerin grumbled.
Naiya piped up. "May I take a moment to interrupt what is clearly a fascintating exchange of opinions?"
Derian and Jerin looked at Naiya. There was a pause. Jerin looked at Derian. "Yes." He said, simply.
"How long do you expect our travel time will be?"
"We should arrive just under a day from now. Once you let me know which port we're sailing to, I'll be able to give you the local time for arrival."
Naiya nodded. "Thank you. I will let you know soon. At the moment, I'm not sure myself."
Derian shrugged. "There's time yet."
"Well, Derian, you gonna' give her the five credit tour? I have a hyperdrive to go beat into submission."
Re: The FifthAfter retrieving tools and doing the necessary preparatory work in the circuitry bay, Jerin made her way down the corridor and stopped outisde of Engineering.
"Hello?" she called through the doorway. The door typically remained open, and two partitions on either side of the entrance shielded the interior bunks from view until one actually went a decent way into the bay.
"Yeah," came Derian's reply.
"Been called indecent by more beings than I care to count, but I'm clothed, if that's what you mean."
"I'll take it," Jerin answered as she entered. She rounded the partition to the left to see Derian seated on his bunk, rummaging through a large bag at his feet. He paused when Jerin entered, one hand still holding the mouth of the canvas bag open.
"And what brings you around these parts, Puck?"
Jerin raised her left hand, indicating the assortment of tools and few stray wires in her grip with the other. "Hyperdrive, remember?" Derian grunted in affirmation, and resumed looking through the bag. "That's Shard's gear," Jerin observed.
"May I? Probably something in there that would be better for tuning the drive."
Derian stopped again, looked at Jerin critically for a moment, then spoke. "As long as I get it back after."
"Goes without saying." Jerin dropped to one knee to look through Shard's old inventory; Derian left off his search so they wouldn't get in each other's way. "So, what do you think of our passenger?" With no immediate reply, Jerin glanced up at Derian to discover him smirking and rolled her eyes. "Yeh, yeh, I know. Attractive Zabraki woman. Besides that."
"Seems alright, if a bit formal."
"She is that," Jerin agreed. "She had my back when I managed to get this one, though," Jerin added, pointing at the once-black-now-yellowing eye with a free hand.
"Been meaning to ask how you managed that one."
"Guy in a pub, right? They're all over the galaxy," she answered, plucking a small contraption from the bag. "This'll do," she muttered to herself, then took a seat on the deckplates, back leaning against the partition. Now that she had cleared the space, the Captain of the Astral Wind resumed his own search.
"Here's a tip," Derian said. "You're supposed to deck them if they can't take the hint."
"Pretty sure I've got that one down," Jerin rolled her eyes again.
"Thought I remembered teaching you how to throw a punch."
"Force knows I already knew how to take them. You're halfway there at that point."
"So, what did happen?"
"Just your standard bar brawl," Jerin shrugged.
"Not much of an answer. Glad to know you're still an evasive little tehomm."
"I try," a ghost of a grin flickered across her face before disappearing. The two of them lapsed into silence. Jerin watched as Derian intently and methodically examined item after item, she took in the still unfamiliar scars on his head, neck, forearms, and hands. You should tell him. You should tell him, you should tell him it's your fault… "Look, Der," she began.
"Yeah?" He stopped and looked at her again.
Jerin lost her nerve and fell back on making plans. "I know we're headed toward the fringe, but we've got a couple of options. Did Naiya tell you?"
"She may have mentioned something in passing. Why?"
"Well, I have us headed fringe-ways because Naiya has a possibility there, and because I thought maybe it might be useful to you. For something. Seeing as you were on Nar Shaddaa and wandered off on Tatooine and all. But she's a core worlder, not used to the fringe, and if we lost her there obviously we don't get paid. We could jump deeper into the galactic center, instead, for the type of gig she's used to, though she might need our help for the one she has in mind, which means more risk for us, but also more credits. We thought we'd float it by you. What do you think?"