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 Post subject: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 5:53 pm 
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[Reveal] Spoiler: Notes
I (still) don't own Star Wars.

Penumbra is the sequel to Eclipse, which may explain the title. It opens a few days after Eclipse ends, specifically; I'm trying to it in a way that reading Eclipse shouldn't be necessary, even if it's highly recommended on its own merits :ugeek: I managed to write myself into an expectation of a sequel with Eclipse, so here I am....This time I hope to have better awareness of what the ending implies :P

Penumbra aims, among many other goals, to show that there's more to Star Wars than Force-sensitives swinging lightsabers at each other. It's also an exercise in writing original characters that are neither paper-thin nor overshadow the canon characters they appear with.

Oddly enough, the concept behind Eclipse's ending that led to Penumbra, Ahsoka working "undercover" for Bail Organa to undermine the Empire, was revealed as canon (on Rebels) a month and a half after I published it....Conveniently, Rebels occurs about five years later in the timeline, so it's more like serendipity than conflict.


Quote:
"This is the third time we've been sent someplace else in this blasted spaceport," the muscular human complained as the group walked down another alley. "Is there any chance the part you're looking for is actually here, or are they just taking our money and sending us in circles?"

"My money," Sareena countered, "and if you have a better idea, I'm all ears." Ahsoka reminded herself that the vibrant red braid was attached to the same woman who sported a loose blonde mass when they'd met; human hair was incredibly versatile compared to Togruti head-tails.

"I don't think we're going in circles, Rian." Ahsoka offered casually.

"And how would you know, Laani?" he growled, in an utterly ineffective attempt to intimidate her.

She sighed. She'd just started using the assumed name a few days ago and it was already getting old. "I've dealt with more than a few Rodians. This last guy was worried about you coming back to beat the bantha out of him, if he lied."

"So what, we're just supposed to trust him?"

"Heck no. They've had plenty of time to form a posse. We're heading in the right direction, but we might have some...active company."

"Fine by me," he proclaimed, "all this walking nowhere is getting on my nerves."

A small voice behind Ahsoka snorted. "Easy for you to say, Mr. Gundark," it said.

Ahsoka glanced back at her; the woman made eye contact and gave a weak smile in response. She wasn't sure whether the black attire was a fashion decision, or whether she was prepared to pass herself off as an Imperial officer at a moment's notice.

"Just relax, Beril. They won't want to start a fight in their own chop shop."

She sighed. "I know how shadowports work, Laani. And I'm not worried about them starting a fight," she said as she pointedly glared up at the back of Rian's head.

He scoffed. "It's no fun until they deserve to be beaten to a pulp," he said, cracking his knuckles for emphasis.

Sareena exhaled in frustration. "Don't take a loose view of 'deserving'. We're not here to cause a problem."

"Of course not," he answered with annoyed sarcasm.

Recognizing the sign for the warehouse that was the facade for their destination, Ahsoka spoke up before an argument could ensue. "Here we are...huh. All this exposed framework and no rust?"

"Unlike a space salvager to be this concerned with the appearance of their planetside operation," Beril expounded. "The owner's either wealthy or secondhand, and the only person in this port who might be wealthy is here with us."

Sareena sighed. "Then no one here is wealthy. Now come on."

* * *


Ahsoka and Beril hurried to catch up with the others, after a few awkward seconds where they both waited for the other to go in first. By the time Ahsoka reached the open floor, Beril had already reached the rest of the group, who were already speaking with the proprietor.

"We need a replacement sublight drive for a light-freighter class vessel," Sareena stated.

"Nice of you to show up," Rian said as Ahsoka joined the others. She choked the urge to react stronger than throwing an apathetic glance in his direction. She noticed, however, that the Gran owner's three eyes quickly looked at her, then slowly turned back towards Sareena.

"So I've heard," he said. "But sadly I have nothing that will fit your ship."

Before Sareena could respond, Beril cut in. "Our client isn't picky. Anything in the size range will do, they'll make it fit. Between you and me, I think a catastrophic failure saved them the trouble of removing the old engine."

"Ah, you're not in the market for the vessel you came in. In that case I do have something that I think will suit your needs. Come with me, please."

As the group slowly moved towards the back, Ahsoka evaluated the defenses. A few scattered tables near walls and piles held pairs of guards, each with a blaster rifle close by. Rodians, Trandoshans, Duros...but no humans. Uncertain whether this was coincidence, nor what it would imply if it wasn't, Ahsoka resolved to keep track of the demographics. They seemed wary, but nothing out of the ordinary for the guards on duty.

"You know," the merchant was saying, "I don't usually keep entire engines on hand, everyone needs parts for their repairs. If you'd come by a few days sooner I wouldn't have it, and if you'd come by a few days later it'd have been scrapped for parts. You're in luck today."

"So why did you keep this one on hand?" Sareena asked.

"It was a matter of..."

He cut himself off as Ahsoka quickly walked past him, wanting to inspect the engine as soon as it came into view.

It was certainly the right size, it appeared to be almost as tall as the huge bay doors it was situated near, and presumably the same doors it came in through. The configuration was odd, though: Aside from the main exhaust, it also had multiple miniature ports around its back half, arranged symmetrically but angled in conflicting directions; the computer interface port was in a nonstandard location; and the whole thing was cased in a reflective half-ellipsoid shell that hid the innards of the machinery. So the engine had the ability to stabilize its own flight path without relying on external thrusters or control surfaces, it was intentionally designed to be awkward to maintain, and it was supposed to look good in use from all angles. Which would mean...

"This come from a star yacht or something?" she asked.

"...well, yes." he answered.

"No wonder you've been keeping it around, it's a lot more valuable with that chromium shell in one piece than all the components would be, even if they weren't nonstandard parts that'd be a hassle to squeeze into a standard drive...much like the engine itself would be a hassle to squeeze into a standard ship."

"Still interested?"

Ahsoka calmly looked Sareena in the eye.

"Does it still operate?" Sareena asked, catching the hint.

"I assure you, everything on the sale floor is in working condition."

"In that case, what price did you have in mind?"

"Seeing as this is a viable piece of high-end equipment...Twenty thousand."

Sareena shot an annoyed glance at Ahsoka. Asking Ahsoka if it was worth it.

"If you're that proud of it," Ahsoka cut in, "you wouldn't mind if I ran a few diagnostics first, would you?"

She tensed as the guards around the room slowly rose to their feet. Beril noticed too, and her eyes started nervously darting around the room. Rian nonchalantly glanced at the shopkeeper, but Ahsoka noticed that his aloof posture had become a simple standing position; she noted that he was tall enough that he could probably reach over Sareena to punch the merchant in the face.

"Normally I would mind," the merchant addressed Ahsoka directly. "Competitors with saboteurs, you see. But in your case, my friend, I'll make an exception. Just this once."

"Appreciated," she replied nonchalantly as she looked at the top of the engine, where its dataport was. She caught herself thinking about simply leaping up to it before she did it, and quickly climbed up the footholds she found on the flat side instead. Sareena was the only other person in here who knew she was a Jedi, and Ahsoka wanted to keep it that way.

The smooth, curved surface wasn't the easiest thing to stand on, but it was no problem for her. Nevertheless, she knelt to connect her engineer's datapad to the engine and start the diagnostic procedure; she wanted a complete view of the floor below. The guards were all alert now, half of them watching her and the rest keeping an eye on the other three, but their weapons weren't aimed anywhere, like they would be if they intended to prevent or cause a problem. Their numbers hadn't changed either, so if anyone had followed them here, they weren't willing to come inside.

"So Laani," Sareena said, "What's your estimate of what this is worth?"

Ahsoka watched the pad as the results went by. "Well, the complication is that our client is going to make it work. They'll crack the shiny casing open without hesitation, they aren't going to pay extra for anything past the propulsion. And whether the propulsion is good enough to justify twenty thousand credits is what I'm determining right now."

Rian huffed impatiently. "What if it isn't?"

Beril rolled her eyes. "Then we get a better deal or we walk, duh."

He hissed under his breath, but said nothing.

Since the summary of the procedure had just appeared on the datapad, Ahsoka decided to preemptively interrupt. "Eight years." she said with disinterest. "Older than I'd have guessed, but performance should be just fine." The identifying information she was actually looking for wasn't appealing. It was from a ship of the same manufacturer, model and production run as the ship they were tracking down; but the individual identification didn't match. They'd found a part from the ship's cousin, apparently.

"Age is good," Beril said to no one in particular, "the cheapy ones don't last more than two or three years; that's how you tell which companies sell ships and which sell parts."

Ahsoka pondered for a second. So a part from the same model of ship, produced at the same factory in the same general time frame...was found in the same region of space as the last known location of their target, around the same time their target had disappeared...but somehow wasn't the ship they were looking for?

She didn't believe it. "Anyway," she said before Sareena needed to ask, "I'd like to check the inside of it before I could recommend anything above eighteen."

Sareena quickly shot her an irritated glare. Ahsoka shrugged flatly in response. She was aware that she was basically dictating Sareena's fiscal discretion unless either of them wanted to blow their cover story, and she wasn't thrilled about how coercive it felt; but getting the merchant to let her perform further examination was the only way forward, short of actually committing to buy the engine on a long shot, and his sense of profit was all she had to work with.

"I don't think that request is reasonable," the shopkeeper countered.

Sareena took a deep breath through her nose. "And I don't think eighteen thousand is reasonable."

He shook his head. "I won't go any lower."

"Hey," Beril asked softly, "do you want to go looking for another engine?"

"No," Rian answered flatly before Sareena could respond.

Ahsoka saw the opening. "Look, if everything in there is in top condition, it'll keep our client's project, or ship, or whatever, in working order for that much longer. That's worth at least eighteen thousand, isn't it?"

Sareena looked annoyed, but Ahsoka was sure that was only a show this time. "Fine," she said deliberately.

"Well then." Ahsoka turned to the merchant. "May I?"

He paused, presumably considering his options...and, she guessed, the odds of her planting a bomb inside the engine so his competition would have one less competitor. "And what, exactly, are you intending to look for?"

"Mostly seeing that all the cables are intact, and haven't been marred by fire, moisture, mynocks, whatever. Then running more tests to be sure that the cable positioning doesn't adversely affect readings, which could indicate wires exposed inside the cabling." Also looking for some sort of out-of-place mechanism that could enable falsified identification, but he didn't need to know that part.

He sharply turned his head to the side, and two of the guards swiftly moved over to opposite edges of the engine, watching her intently. They were close enough that she didn't need her eyes or the Force to tell they were taking up flanking positions without actually aiming their rifles at her. Either they didn't know about the echolocation common to all Togruta, or they didn't care.

"You are pushing the limits of my patience," the shopkeeper declared.

"Then help me quit wasting your time," she countered. "Yes or no?"

He sighed. "Proceed."

"Relax guys, I'll be fine," she said as she descended halfway down the flat side of the engine, before any of her compatriots could consider saying anything about her safety. They were in far more danger than she was, after all.

"If you don't try anything," the green-skinned Duros guard to her left said menacingly.

"Like I said," she replied calmly as she opened the panel on the engine casing. "Is the competition really this cutthroat?" she asked idly as she peered at the cables inside the now-open compartment. "This is seriously the nicest ship business I've seen since the end of the Clone Wars."

"Yes," the merchant answered, "and that is why. Everything I sell is in working condition, standards my competitors do not adhere to. They find assaulting my merchandise easier than improving the quality of their own."

She moved her head around, exaggerating the movement while she took in the sights from several angles. Evidence of dust buildup, but no signs of actual damage. Most of the cables seemed tight and had little slack to maneuver, while a few...

"Hmm..." She slowly reached a hand in, keeping her attention on the two guards and her other hand poised against the engine in case she needed to move in a hurry. She gently pushed the loose-looking smooth cabling out of the way...and saw an industrial-looking switch hidden behind them, standing in stark contrast to the luxury motif of the entire engine. Reaching farther forward physically to flip the switch seemed unwise, with so many suspicious eyes on her, so she uncurled her little finger and reached out with the Force instead. The click was definite, but soft, as though the engine chamber was intended to muffle its own noise. Whoever designed this thing must have had a very clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish.

"Dusty," she declared as she withdrew her hand and closed the panel, "but looks undamaged. Whoever owned this last didn't see a need to maintain it beyond functional standards, but that's fine for our purposes. Just one more test to run..."

"Is such really necessary?" the shopkeeper asked with annoyance as she climbed back to the top.

She sighed in annoyance herself. "Look," she said flatly, "Our clients come to us because they want the job done right, much as I imagine your own customers do. So we have to prove that we're doing it right. Besides, you already let me run it once; if you're balking now, after I've already told you what I'd be looking for...I'd have to be suspicious, wouldn't I?"

He paused for only a moment. "Very well."

"Thank you," she replied, consciously pinning her sarcasm away from her voice, as she started an abbreviated version of the diagnostic procedure.

She heard Rian exhale loudly, without saying anything. He was definitely impatient, but apparently capable of holding his tongue; not that she would expect Sareena to bring him along if he was liable to cause problems. Still, realizing that he had been actively choosing to be abrasive towards her altered her perception of him somewhat.

It didn't matter, though. She tried to mitigate her smile at her success: The engine now identified itself as the ship they were actually looking for. The cables read the same too, not that it was truly important now. "I declare this adequate for our purposes."

Sareena looked at the merchant. "Nine thousand now, the other nine when it's delivered to our ship."

"Fifteen," he countered.

She frowned. "Twelve."

"Agreed."

* * *


"So," Beril commented as the four of them walked towards the landing pad and their ship, "our boy was on a star yacht with an illegally modified transponder."

"No wonder the Pantorans couldn't find him," Sareena said. "Wonder what he was up to, if he didn't want them to know where he went."

"He's a government guy, right?" Rian asked rhetorically. "Sounds like black ops, didn't want the Assembly connected to whatever he was doing." Beril smiled, always pleased when Rian acted outside his trifecta of sneering, shouting and smashing.

"Whether they knew or not," Laani added. "Well, we'll ask them."

"Are you serious?" she said incredulously. "You think they're just gonna tell us if we ask nicely?"

"We'd check official spaceport records for the alternate identification signature ourselves too, of course. But if the Pantorans are serious about us finding this guy, they'll either want to know about this or need to tell us."

Beril still wasn't sure what to think of this woman she hadn't even heard of until a few days ago, but clearly she had one heck of a tenacious streak. And the only mechanics she knew who could play a black market dealer like she just did, also happened to be smugglers with ships of their own to maintain. There had to be more to her history than simply serving the Republic Navy during the Clone Wars.

"If he's still alive," Rian countered. "Finding a piece of the ship in a scrap heap? Doesn't sound good for the life support."

"The engine's in really good shape," Laani responded. "Salvagers had to have come across the ship intact and adrift. Whether the passengers had been captured or spaced is still a question, but there had to be some reason for it not to have been blown up in the first place."

"So where's that active company you were talking about?"

"With any luck, they don't shoot paying customers. But we're not out of here yet."

Sareena exhaled sharply in annoyance. "How much would an engine like that normally go for?"

Beril mentally compared the engine specs against known prices. "That size and that speed? A standard engine'd be around 25,000 credits new."

"So you're avoiding how much I overpaid second-hand."

"...yeah," she sighed. She worked with Sareena a few times over the past few years, but she always forgot how attentive she could be. And how cheap. She just assumed someone born into one of the most affluent noble houses in the galaxy would be much less of a spendthrift.

"Look," Laani said, "I'm sorry, but the whole thing would be a waste of time if we couldn't see if it was what we were looking for, and that was the only way I could get him to go along with it."

"He was perfectly fine letting you take that first look for free," Rian insinuated.

Laani rolled her eyes. "Yes, because when we came in he thought I was indentured to some Imperial inspectors. Once I got him to relent on that line of thought, that was as far as I could push."

"Oh is that why you were all bossy."

"You think that was bossy? Never been subordinate to someone who tried to dictate your every move because they knew everything better than you?"

"...point," Rian admitted.

"Besides," Laani continued, "there could be other clues there. Signs of what disabled the engine, or what environment it's been in. Things we don't have the equipment to determine here. If nothing else, it could be fitted into another ship, or maybe there's a similar yacht somewhere out..." Her voice trailed off as she looked over her shoulder, behind the group. "Have you seen any Gamorreans here?"

"There was one at that first cantina, I think," Beril answered.

"Is he the one trailing us now?"

She turned her head as if talking to Rian, who was walking besides her to her left, and checked her peripheral vision. Being only 1.5 meters tall had its disadvantages, among them that looking up at Rian's 1.9 meters constituted a pain in the neck; but even though each and every pedestrian on the street blocked her view behind them, the porcine features she was looking for were unmistakable, even in glimpses.

And having had both a homeworld and prior employment where Gamorreans were a common sight, she could distinguish such identifying characteristics as tusk angles and snout size. "It's him," she said with some resignation as she looked forward.

"How long's he been following us?" Sareena asked softly as she flexed her fingers.

"First saw him after we left the warehouse," Laani said in a similarly quiet tone. "He was keeping his distance until now."

A mix of snorting and squealing came from behind them, the volume indicating he was closing rapidly. "'Only one shot at this?'" she quoted in translation. "At what?"

"Doesn't matter," Laani said quickly, "we need to get out of the open. We're on the edge of the street; Side road."

As Sareena and Rian complied, turning past the corner of a large building, a squealing shout was punctuated by the sound of multiple blasters being armed. Evidently he brought friends.

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 12:54 am 
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The Phiend wrote:
Penumbra is the sequel to Eclipse, which may explain the title. It opens a few days after Eclipse ends, specifically; I'm trying to it in a way that reading Eclipse shouldn't be necessary, even if it's highly recommended on its own merits :ugeek: I managed to write myself into an expectation of a sequel with Eclipse, so here I am....This time I hope to have better awareness of what the ending implies :P
Well, since you brought it up and no one else has asked, and I feel someone should, I guess it's up to me...was this your main reason for writing this? I only ask because it seems like that's what you're suggesting here, and have done so on other occasions too.
The Phiend wrote:
Penumbra aims, among many other goals, to show that there's more to Star Wars than Force-sensitives swinging lightsabers at each other. It's also an exercise in writing original characters that are neither paper-thin nor overshadow the canon characters they appear with.
I certainly think it's succeeding very nicely in that respect, I'm finding the new "extras" to be quite interesting and compelling in their own right. 8-)

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 1:04 am 
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CWS wrote:
The Phiend wrote:
Penumbra is the sequel to Eclipse, which may explain the title. It opens a few days after Eclipse ends, specifically; I'm trying to it in a way that reading Eclipse shouldn't be necessary, even if it's highly recommended on its own merits :ugeek: I managed to write myself into an expectation of a sequel with Eclipse, so here I am....This time I hope to have better awareness of what the ending implies :P
Well, since you brought it up and no one else has asked, and I feel someone should, I guess it's up to me...was this your main reason for writing this? I only ask because it seems like that's what you're suggesting here, and have done so on other occasions too.
Pretty much. Granted, I don't think I'd have come up with the idea for the ending of Eclipse in the first place, if I didn't think it had some degree of merit...But at the same time leaving a thread dangling so obviously kind of annoys me, which is why I'm surprised I did do it in the first place :P Ah well; live, learn, persevere, overcome...and I think "level up" fits in there somewhere.

CWS wrote:
The Phiend wrote:
Penumbra aims, among many other goals, to show that there's more to Star Wars than Force-sensitives swinging lightsabers at each other. It's also an exercise in writing original characters that are neither paper-thin nor overshadow the canon characters they appear with.
I certainly think it's succeeding very nicely in that respect, I'm finding the new "extras" to be quite interesting and compelling in their own right. 8-)
Why, thank you. Note to self, post next chapter Friday; maintaining a quasi-consistent schedule is something else I'm trying to do here....

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 6:31 pm 
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The Phiend wrote:
Why, thank you. Note to self, post next chapter Friday; maintaining a quasi-consistent schedule is something else I'm trying to do here....
I don't seem to be doing that well...and it appears I forgot to post the last chapter here too o_o Well, let's make this a two-fer, then.


Chapter 2 wrote:
Beril turned around just in time to see the Gamorrean charging straight at her. She started to run behind the building, despite thinking she couldn't get out of his reach; but he simply shoved her into the alleyway as he went by. Struggling to stay on her feet, she wasn't able to react when he plowed into Laani, who she had to guess was his intended target all along, nor when the three Rodians behind him brandished their blasters in her direction.

Their attention, as well as hers, was quickly drawn back to their boss. She wasn't sure how, but Laani had turned him around and he crashed into two of the Rodians he'd come with, knocking them to the ground before tripping himself. The last man standing barely dodged the blue stun bolt from Sareena's blaster, but he couldn't respond in kind before Laani caught up with him, pulling the pistol out of his grasp and tossing it aside with a single swift motion of her hand.

He brought his fist back for a punch, but she couldn't see what happened next; she felt a hand plant itself between her shoulders and shove her towards the opposite side of the alley. She stayed on her feet and managed to stop just before she hit the wall of the building, behind a set of sealed crates.

"Down," Rian commanded as he strode forward from where she had just been.

Snarling, she defiantly remained standing as she drew a blaster of her own. She found no good target, however: the Gamorrean was presumably outside her field of vision, the two Rodians hadn't picked themselves off the ground yet, and the third was exchanging blows with Laani...for some definition of the word "blows".

Beril was no expert on martial arts, but Laani seemed to be deflecting every swing of the man's fist with the platinum bracers on her forearms, then using the same forearm to hit him with her fist or elbow. As near as she could tell, he wasn't hurt much but he had yet to actually hit her. She seriously doubted they taught that in the Republic Navy.

Rian continued to walk out of the alleyway, while Sareena quickly moved into position behind the corner. They seemed to have the same idea, keeping the downed opposition down, but Rian acted first: He simply walked between them as they got to their knees, then swung his elbows into their faces as he made a show of cracking his knuckles, sending them sprawling to the street once more.

Laani's assailant, tired of getting beat on with nothing to show for it, abandoned restraint and lunged towards her. But even with as little distance as there was between them, she sidestepped out of his path and behind him. His anger was palpable, but it didn't matter; she was far enough away that friendly fire wasn't a consideration.

Beril fired her blaster at him; but without having time to aim, her quick shot went wide. He wasn't so lucky with Sareena's second attempt, and he fell to ground shortly after the blue bolt hit him directly in the chest.

The sound of bodies colliding drew everyone's attention, as Rian stumbled backwards into view with one hand over his face. He was still moving backwards when the Gamorrean appeared, squealing angrily as he charged with his head forward.

With an abrupt shift in posture, Rian's erratic footwork became resolute footing and he swung an uppercut, hitting his opponent square in the snout. The force of the impact was enough to halt his charge, but he had enough weight to remain standing. Beril'd seen Rian do this not-really-dizzy routine several times, however, so she wasn't surprised when he followed with a haymaker to correct the situation.

He grinned as he looked at the four unconscious bodies. Then he snapped his head towards Beril, and his face instantly took on an irritated expression.

"Nice shot," he said sarcastically. "I told you to stay down!"

"Yeah," she spat back, "and I didn't listen!"

"Guys," Sareena cut in, "if I could have a moment of your time, please?"

Rian wordlessly turned away and walked to where Sareena and Laani were trying to figure out what provoked the unprovoked attack. Beril sighed in annoyance and rolled her eyes before joining them.

Laani snarled in disgust, as she looked at the datapad one of the Rodians had dropped. "Damn it," she said, "I'm going to be harassed by every bounty hunter who can't tell Togruta apart, aren't I?"

Beril absentmindedly reached for the datapad before stopping herself. Laani didn't look in her direction, but she did hand the datapad over.

The absurdly large number on the bounty posting practically spoke for itself. "'Two million credits alive'? Yes, we are going to be harassed repeatedly."

"At least we know why we were attacked," Sareena said weakly.

Beril, meanwhile, was darting her eyes back and forth between the image on the bounty and Laani. The sienna jumpsuit looked the same, other than Laani's bracers...same orange skin tone...the pattern of the facial markings looked dissimilar, although the bounty picture looked slightly out of focus for some—

She shifted her head to look askance at the image. She'd almost missed it, but there were telltale signs of pixelation...and the artifacts weren't in line with the image itself. "Geez," she said, "They couldn't find a quality image anywhere?"

"It's a fake?" Sareena asked. Laani exhaled slowly.

Beril shot a curious look at Laani before answering. "Don't think so; they'd have tried to mask the image artifacts if they doctored it. If I had to guess, I'd say a zoomed-and-rotated image off of out-of-range surveillance footage was the best they could do." Realizing she hadn't actually read the rest of the posting, she quickly glanced at it. "Only fifty thousand dead? Yeah, this is no Hutt after..." She looked at it again, but the name appeared too unusual for her to parse correctly. "How do you pronounce that?"

"Ahsoka Tano," Laani answered fluently.

"Thanks." Her guess on the surname was wrong. "Someone in the Empire is after this Ahsoka, whoever she is. Moff with a severe grudge, I'd guess."

"Why do you say that?" Sareena asked.

"Which? The Empire, because no crime lord is so secure that they bet 1,950,000 credits on keeping a target alive. A Moff, because no one lower has that kind of monetary clout. A grudge, because the Empire normally frowns on bounty hunters; the only reason an Imperial would post a bounty is to get it done outside the Imperial system, away from Imperial eyes."

"You seem to know a lot about bounties," Laani commented.

"I guess," she answered dismissively, "like I imagine you know a lot about Jedi from your time in the Republic Navy." She didn't feel like getting into the story of finding herself the target of a bounty several years back.

Laani paused briefly. "I wouldn't say a lot, but your point is taken."

Some swift motion registered out of the corner of each of Beril's eyes. Her peripheral vision was good enough that she recognized the beige uniforms of local security—which, this being a shadowport instead of a legal spaceport, amounted to a squad of ordained thugs.

"Step back!" a helmet-filtered male voice commanded, as several blaster rifles were leveled in their direction. No one defied the order, as right now their best defense was that they hadn't actually done anything wrong.

While a few troopers checked each of the bodies on the ground for vital signs, Beril noted to herself that her implied connection to bounty hunters was taken quite calmly by Laani. In fact...other than finding herself targeted over a two million credit bounty, she hadn't even sounded stressed. She hadn't actively noticed before, but even Sareena was breathing a little more heavily, working off the adrenaline, and all she'd done was fire a couple shots from a blaster.

But somehow Laani, who'd redirected someone literally twice her weight, was taking it like a walk in a park? That was far too suspicious, no matter how she'd survived after the end of the Republic Navy...assuming she was ever there, something Beril realized she shouldn't take at face value. Certainly some 'restricted' database in the Empire had to have archive records on Laani Sy, she just had to find it. Even if that wasn't her name, it's not like there would be a ton of non-clone crew during the Clone Wars to dig through.

"Move along," the same voice ordered.

"What?" came a separate, but similar voice next to him.

"Are you questioning me?" he countered angrily, turning his head slightly to the side.

"Sorry sir, but you know Boss'll ask."

"Fine. What we have here, is local scum attacking paying visitors over an Imperial bounty. Even if she were the actual target, the Empire wanting her is reason for us to deny it. And no one died, so this is all a waste of our time. Like your questions are a waste of mine!"

"Sorry sir!"

The apparent squad leader snapped his head towards Laani. "I said, move along!"

"Alright already," Sareena answered for her as the four of them started down the street, which was slowly repopulating now that the fighting was definitively over.

"So...now what?" Beril asked.

"We get our engine and we go home," Sareena answered.

"I was thinking we could get something to eat at one of the diners," Laani said, "but now I just want to get out of here as soon as we can."

"Yeah," Rian agreed, "this place is boring."

"What?" Beril said mockingly. "You're not going to run around with your holocam, capture all the vistas?"

He scoffed. "The dull grey surface of this shallow crater, the dull grey mountains in the distance, or the dark grey street we're walking on? This port's clean for a heap, but it's still a heap."

* * *


Sareena took a deep breath before the cockpit door of the freighter opened.

The blue light of hyperspace travel bathed the various consoles, highlighting the seemingly-empty pilot chair.

Of course, she knew it wasn't actually empty. "Beril."

"Sareena," she responded, as she poked her head past the side of the chair. "Don't suppose you're here to free me from the tedium."

She sighed. "You know you're easily the best pilot here."

"Well, obviously, but that's the opposite of making it entertaining."

"Look," Sareena stated with irritation, "If I could make a tunnel of air from here all the way to Alderaan—"

"But you can't, so there isn't, so I'm bored. The autopilot can handle trivial space navigation."

"Normally, I'd agree with letting the autopilot handle it. But in case you forgot, we were seen in port where at least four people think we're carrying millions of credits worth of personnel, I don't want to give any 'surprises' a time advantage."

"Easy for you to say. You're not the one stuck up here, staring at space with no one to talk to and nothing to do."

"So...you want me to stay up here."

"...Yeah, actually. And since you brought her up, let's talk about the new girl."

Ahsoka's name is Laani, Sareena mentally reminded herself as she moved to the side by Beril's seat. "She was staring out one of the windows, last I saw her."

"That's not what I mean. The way she talked past those guys, and fought past the other guys. You really think she learned that in the Navy?"

"No," she answered honestly, "but the Republic Navy as we knew it only existed for three years, it can't have been the majority of her life."

"You think she just picked that up?" Beril asked incredulously.

"Where did you pick up slicing into Imperial archives remotely?" she countered.

"Taught myself with Republic archives when I was a kid, but that's completely—"

"So why couldn't someone have taught Laani when she was a kid?"

"Who teaches a little kid stuff like that?!"

"I can't say, the Empire hasn't been kind on Shili's recordkeeping." She kind of suspected the Jedi Order taught it to Ahsoka, but she wanted a location less prone to eavesdropping before asking her directly.

Beril paused. "She's actually from the Togruta homeworld?"

Sareena took a deep breath. "Yeah, at least originally. She moved to Coruscant at some point prior to the Navy. And after the Navy...well, I think she was intentionally avoiding making it into records, a situation I know you can appreciate. Incidentally, I hear the bounty on you has stayed withdrawn these past few years."

She scoffed. "Of course it has, my ex-boss wouldn't want the other Hutts to know I was still valuable. No, when Xanna finds me it'll be through her own agents. But speaking of bounties...What do you think: Could that Ahsoka actually be Laani?"

Sareena clenched her teeth to hide her initial reaction of discovery, before realizing that Ahsoka being Laani would be the converse of the actual situation of Laani being Ahsoka; Beril wouldn't have phrased it the way she did if she'd already figured it out. "I'd like to think our people would've noticed if there was such an unusual bounty on anyone traveling with us." She intended to have a little chat with someone about that very subject when they got to Alderaan, in fact. "Are you saying she matches the image on the posting?"

"I'm not exactly an expert on Togruta physiology, but I'd say she's at least a false positive given the quality of that image. My guess, this Ahsoka had disabled all the security at whatever compound she was in, and some out-of-range accidental footage from some security camera was the only thing they could pull a picture from."

"Not too surprising," Sareena muttered.

Beril turned her head sharply towards Sareena. "Oh? You know something I don't?"

Sareena exhaled slowly and looked at the ceiling, trying to pull up memories that would make it seem like she hadn't seen Ahsoka during the past week and a half. "Possibly, though I don't remember it well. Ahsoka Tano was a Jedi, on trial for murdering a witness to the bombing of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, near the end of the Clone Wars. I was actually on Coruscant for my medical training at the time, so it was kind of a hot topic. She was acquitted after another Jedi came forward and confessed to framing her."

"A Jedi? Wow...Well that would explain two million credits at least. But doesn't the Empire have its own agents specially trained to track down Jedi? Why would there be a bounty? Especially one with one-fortieth the sum dead and without even hinting that she's a Jedi; everyone's going to find out the hard way."

Sareena shook her head. "That's what worries me. Someone's invested two million credits to get bounty hunters in over their heads, and Laani's gotten mixed up in it all." Another thing she intended to go over when they got to Alderaan. Ahsoka'd gone saber-to-saber with the strongest arm in the Empire and survived, what chance did unprepared bounty hunters have? There had to be some ulterior motive to the bounty, because it made no damn sense otherwise.

"So what does she have to say about the whole thing?"

"She told me, 'We got what we came for, and no one died. I'd call that a victory.' Sounds reasonable to me, too."

"That's fair, yeah. So we're going to drop the engine off on Alderaan?"

"With the assignment we're on, I imagine we'll be contacted once we enter the system, and get directions to dock with whatever station or ship is available to analyze our cargo. Then we'll land on Alderaan itself."

"Need to report to the Senator in person, Miss Organa?"

Sareena rolled her eyes. Yes, she was a blood relative of Senator Bail Organa, which technically made her a member of the Royal Family of Alderaan. But even if she were inclined to care, he was her third uncle; her own father just shared a great-grandparent with Bail. The connection was too distant in her eyes for nepotism to even be a possibility; little Leia was going to be the next Queen of Alderaan, no one was going to look at her third cousin for anything.

Beril enjoyed bringing it up though, like there should be something magical in the name itself. Which hadn't ceased to feel like an affront to her as a person over the last couple years. "No, Miss Iset, but I expect he'll want us to handle whatever the next step ends up being, so we may as well land somewhere in the meantime. It'll be nice to look at something besides ramshackle buildings and spaceship interiors."

"If you say so, leader ma'am," Beril responded playfully.

Sareena exhaled slowly. Was she trying to be accommodating or infuriating? Either way, pressing the subject felt unwise.

Beril seemed to agree. "So what 'next step' are you expecting, anyway?"

Sareena looked up at the ceiling as she quickly evaluated the scenario. They had transponder signatures the Pantorans wanted, which they wouldn't want broadcast, in something they could acquire physically..."They'll want to get the engine for themselves, and I doubt they'll risk drawing attention by sending a ship to Alderaan. Probably plan on making a dead drop to transfer the engine without either of us seeing each other."

"At a location of their choosing, closer to Pantoran space than ours, I'm sure. Could easily be a trap."

"Could, assuming my guess is right, but it seems unlikely. We'd just be making a drop off, the only thing they'd want from us is what we'd be giving them anyway."

Beril paused. "Again, you know something I don't?"

Apparently, Beril hadn't been given details of where this operation fit into Bail's strategy...which meant Rian hadn't either, or she'd have gotten them from him. Since she wasn't at liberty to fully disclose those details..."As I understand it, this is basically a favor trade. The Pantoran Assembly will do something for Senator Organa once they've recovered, or at least located, their missing man. That will be our 'payment', not a transfer of assets."

"Huh. I thought Pantora and Alderaan were, like, Senate buddies."

"Wasn't enough, I guess. Hmm." Some thoughts had started ironing themselves out in her head. "Hey, tell you what: You go get some rest or take a break or something, I'll handle the pilot seat from here."

"Really? I'm still the better pilot, you know," Beril commented in jest.

"Not when you're bored out of your mind, you're not."

"Eh. You've got a point. It's all yours," she said as she quickly got out of the seat and jogged towards the cockpit door.

"Hey," Sareena called out before she left, "Don't go rewriting the autopilot again."

"You just said I shouldn't be bored!"

"Remember how far off course we ended up last time?"

"It was only a couple hours, and only because the navicomputer rebooted before I could debug the software! Laani can keep it—"

"Beril," Sareena said sternly.

"Fine! Spoilsport," she muttered as she walked out.

Sareena rolled her eyes, again, as she settled into the seat. Beril was talented, no doubt about it, but she let her judgement lapse in the face of her own entertainment. If she didn't let herself be talked out of her ill-advised boredom breakers, she'd be impossible to work with. In fact, Sareena guessed that was why Beril didn't just bury herself in a more secure, and more tedious, working arrangement.

She couldn't be talked out of her curiosity, though, which is why Sareena hadn't directly tried. All that'd have accomplished was make Beril even more curious about "Laani" and what someone was trying to hide. If she still intended to go poking around wherever she did her poking and research the name "Laani Sy", well...Ahsoka wasn't the first Jedi who benefited from a false identity and all the documentation that entailed, and the people responsible for setting that up were not the same as those responsible for keeping her informed of developments like multi-million credit bounties. With any luck, Beril would get bored before she found anything out of order.

What she said about "Senate buddies" concerned her, though. Sareena was there for that meeting, and Senator Chuchi was certainly enthusiastic that Bail had brought Ahsoka along. Sareena didn't really understand how a Senator and a Jedi found time during the Clone Wars to form a friendship in the first place, but it was obvious that the Imperial era was not a time for taking such things for granted; and she felt that the Senator and Ahsoka were more pleased just to see each other in good health, than that Bail had brought them together to further their goals. Nevertheless, the gesture moved Senator Chuchi to intercede with Pantora's planetary government, and they responded almost immediately, leading to the search-and-investigate mission of the past several days.

But the immediacy of the response seemed odd. Especially since during the course of their investigation, it turned up that the ship carrying their quarry had left Pantora a week prior. It was urgent enough that he was foremost on their minds, but yet not urgent enough to send investigators of their own after him. At the time she'd assumed they didn't want anyone on Pantora to know he'd gone missing, but it was looking more and more like they didn't want anyone to know what he was actually doing.

Which would put the four of them in a rather precarious position, depending on how things concluded.

Or more accurately, put Beril, Rian and herself in a precarious position. She didn't want to believe Senator Chuchi would put Ahsoka in harm's way, but she quickly realized that putting Ahsoka at risk would be quite a feat; she'd witnessed first-hand how severely Ahsoka outclassed the Empire's Jedi-hunting "experts". And Ahsoka certainly wasn't worried either; she said she accepted "Laani" not for her protection, but for their protection, because the Empire wouldn't think twice about obliterating them if they saw the slightest chance of catching her in the carnage.

So was the Senator from Pantora naive enough not to know the risks they were walking into? Was she connected enough to know for certain there was no actual risk? Or was she shrewd enough not to let them take that risk until someone who could trivially negate it was available? Sareena had no way of knowing.

She supposed her only option was to raise her concerns when they got to Alderaan; someone there could figure it out, assuming the answers weren't already waiting for their arrival. All that was left was to get there.

Looking at the blue tunnel of hyperspace travel outside the cockpit, she accepted Beril's assessment of the monotony. But boredom was safe. She could handle safety in extended doses. Because until the Empire fell, she could never rely on it being there when she needed it.


Chapter 3 wrote:
"I'll be honest," Ahsoka said as she took her seat, "I kind of assumed Sareena would be running the debriefing thing."

"She'll arrive when she can," Bail Organa answered from another chair at the conference table. "She wanted to find out for herself how a two million credit bounty could be posted without her being informed."

"Her and me both," she muttered, idly tapping her fingers on the fine wooden table. "I don't like surprises these days."

Even the basic conference rooms at the Aldera Royal Palace were grandiose. Living on the run more-or-less continuously for the last ten years, and under Jedi austerity in every memory before that, she felt uncomfortable; as if the bronze walls themselves were going to demand she explain why someone like her deserved their company. On a more practical level, she knew the place was ridiculously expansive, in a way the massive Jedi Temple on Coruscant could only pretend to emulate. And as with there, any surprises strong enough to come here would wipe out the entire place before anyone knew the full extent of the threat. It was kind of how she felt about herself, if she was being honest.

"I suppose not," the senator commented before Ahsoka could get too far into introspection. He seemed to have a talent for timing his delays to her state of mind. Maybe it was a diplomat thing? "So how did the mission go, roughly?"

"We tracked the path of the star yacht, the Silver Sparrow, from spaceport to spaceport; Sareena asked nicely where the spaceport staff was amenable, Beril sliced quietly elsewhere. We found a leg the yacht never reached its destination in, and investigating nearby systems revealed there was a pleasure craft found abandoned and adrift by Imperial authorities. They left the ship unattended, and salvagers did the rest; we tracked the salvagers' part-trading and eventually acquired the engine, which of course is where ship identification transponders are to verify we tracked the correct ship. Incidentally...could I get eighteen thousand credits?"

He tilted his head. "I thought you didn't want credits?"

She sighed. "Well, I kinda put Sareena on the spot getting the engine, and—"

"Say no more," he stated firmly. "I'll just get it to her directly, if that's OK with you."

"Fine by me," Ahsoka agreed. Then curiosity started poking her in the head. "Sareena seemed unhappy. Was that a problem?"

"Don't worry. Sareena just prefers having things ready in advance. So what's your assessment of what happened to the Silver Sparrow?"

Ahsoka paused briefly at the change of subject. "I have a hard time believing the Empire would take prisoners and then leave the ship for anyone to find. It was probably abandoned when they found it. It's also hard to believe they'd choose to leave a ship behind after they found it, so I have to guess something drew them away. Which would make it incredibly convenient timing that the ship was salvaged before the Empire got back to it."

"So you're thinking it was a cooperative effort between the raiders and the salvagers?"

"Yeah, assuming they weren't one and the same. No idea what the Sparrow was doing out there, but the engine had false identification in place when we found it. They could still be trying to identify the presumably-rich passengers to know where to send ransom demands."

A chime echoed in the room, a mere second before one of the doors slid open. Sareena strode to an empty chair at the table, scowling.

"That bad, huh?" Ahsoka said nonchalantly.

Sareena exhaled slowly as she sat down. "Said the bounty wasn't on Laani Sy, so they didn't think we needed to be informed. Told them we were attacked by people who thought the possible payday was worth the risk of misidentification, and to inform us of any activity specifically targeting Togruta. Before I have to start holding them responsible for such unpleasant surprises."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes. She was beyond sick of being viewed as interchangeable with every other member of her people. Whatever reasons anyone imagined they had to justify it, she hoped for a day when she could expect to be judged for who she was, not what she was. Even here, among allies, she couldn't quite shake the feeling that her erstwhile Jedi status was the main source of their acceptance.

"So what'd I miss?" Sareena continued.

"Ahsoka was just telling me her theory about the passengers," Senator Organa answered.

"The Raider-Empire-Salvager scenario?"

"Yep," Ahsoka confirmed.

"It's quite a plausible sequence of events, but I don't like what it does for the odds of the crew still being alive. Dumping the hostages would be less risky than ransoming them."

"True, but I'd like to think we'd have heard if there were bodies found on or around the ship. Taking the passengers away only to dump them later makes no sense. They'd have to have at least planned on checking if they were worth ransoming, or they wouldn't have bothering capturing them at all."

"That we hadn't heard about your bounty doesn't fill me with confidence, but your point is taken. Speaking of bounties...What was with throwing the Gamorrean around?"

Ahsoka looked askance at her. "I wasn't going to stand there and get flattened, if that's what you mean."

"I saw how you dodged the other guy. You could've just gotten out of his way, without the risk of blowing your cover!"

Ahsoka caught the nearly-accusatory tone that time. "I didn't want to see if his friends were going to shoot you guys, so I distracted them. With him. Most of that 'throw' was his own momentum anyway!"

Sareena took a deep, deliberate breath. "I'm just worried about what will happen to the rest of us if the Empire finds you."

"So am I. But letting you die just so the Empire can't kill you makes no sense. And like I was getting to, the guy was charging in such a hurry he couldn't decelerate himself; it was a pivot, not a throw. Don't need to be a Jedi to pull that off."

"That may be, but you certainly aroused Beril's suspicion."

Ahsoka decided to deflect the subject, since she already knew she made the best decision. "So why aren't she and Rian in on this with us, anyway?"

Senator Organa leaned forward. "It's need-to-know," he said. "If the Empire finds out, it's all over for us; it's too great a risk to spread."

"Besides," Sareena added, "Rian will best do his part unknowingly."

Ahsoka narrowed an eyebrow. "And what part is that?"

"He enjoys showing off, I'm sure you've noticed. All the better to draw attention away from you...if he doesn't know his displays of force are competing with displays of Force."

Ahsoka shrugged. "So noted, I guess."

Sareena sighed. "So anyway, assuming the Assembly still wants us to find the guy...Our technicians didn't find anything on the engine other than what Ahsoka already told us, so our next step should be heading back to where the Sparrow was found adrift, see if we can backtrack who set it adrift."

"Don't know how else we'd find the passengers," Ahsoka agreed. "We may as well plan on heading out there, we can call it off if the Pantorans want to finish this on their own."

"In that case," Senator Organa said, "plan to head there in a day or so. Hopefully our contacts will find out about any unpleasant surprises in advance this time."

"I'd appreciate that," Ahsoka said.

"As would we all," Sareena commented. "And while we're talking about unpleasantries, the scenario is concerning me. The Pantorans didn't tell us how long ago the Sparrow left their space, and I'm forced to assume that's the ship's actual name. If they wanted the ship's itinerary hidden, would they want us alive to spread it around?"

Ahsoka frowned, feeling an insult by proxy. "You think Chuchi set us up?!"

Sareena rolled her eyes in response. "No, but there are a lot of planetary officials on Pantora to assume she would balk if she knew we were being set up."

Ahsoka blinked. "I suppose. Why would they want to sabotage us, though?" At least she resisted the urge for making a strong outburst.

"Compared to other near-human worlds," Senator Organa stated, "Pantora's retained a great deal of independence. Excessive caution could make them...unwilling to accommodate the facility we want to establish in their system."

Ahsoka groaned. "Stupid speciesism again. It doesn't even make sense, Palpatine had all sorts of hand-picked advisors when he was Chancellor."

She quickly covered her mouth, as a sickeningly oily memory squeezed her stomach. After the sensation had passed, she coughed and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. "Sorry. Vader told me it was because the Emperor was too weak to rule without enslaving the galaxy, but I don't see a connection." Shortly before Vader had tried to execute her, a weeks-old memory that was still quite rancid in her mind.

Senator Organa sighed. "Whether he genuinely believes in it or not, it's certainly allowed the Empire to do as he commands from day to day, by keeping the galaxy too busy feuding amongst itself to notice."

Ahsoka sighed in annoyance. "Pit the galaxy against itself, and he comes out on top. It's the Clone Wars all over again."

"Somewhat. But he isn't cloaked in secrecy this time. He doesn't care who knows he's an enemy, and that complacency will give us an opportunity to strike when the time is right."

"While we're talking about opportunities to strike," Sareena cut in, "I imagine the Pantoran Assembly will want us to deliver the recovered engine, for their techs to examine themselves?"

"Yes...but in light of your concerns, I'll see if I can make alternative arrangements. In the meantime, if there's anything either of you want to do here on Alderaan, this is a prime opportunity."

"Does wandering aimlessly around the palace count?" Ahsoka asked sarcastically.

"I believe that's a palace tradition, so yes," Senator Organa answered with a smile.

* * *


"Again?" Beril growled in annoyance. "Geez Rian, didn't you take enough pictures of mountains when you were still living on Corellia?"

"No," he answered flatly, as he carefully adjusted the zoom to frame the distant city between two peaks. "Didn't have the time, it was still a new hobby when I had to leave."

"When we had to leave, you mean."

There she went again, trying to make everything about her. "You didn't need to leave."

"I certainly did when I picked you up in the airspeeder. You know, you never told me: How were you planning to get offworld if I hadn't found you?"

"I'd have figured something out," he said as he finished his recording. "Probably involving explosives, threats and pilots."

"Wanted a side of hijacking charges to go with the police murder, huh?"

He shrugged. "I worked for planetary law enforcement too. They had my record, they wouldn't have shot at me if they wanted to live." It was insulting, really; they only sent seven guys against an elite shock trooper? "They couldn't kill me any harder after that, we wouldn't arrest someone who terminated several of our own."

"I suppose not. So...why'd you come with me, a perfect stranger at the time, anyway?"

He glanced at her. Still as scrawny as she'd looked then, the few intervening years hadn't changed her much. "You had a speeder right there and frankly, I could knock you out easily if you tried anything."

She hissed indignantly.

"So why'd you decide to help out such a violent man?" he quickly interrupted, before she could waste more of his time with complaints.

The abruptness of the question only distracted her for a split second. "I kinda saw the shooting from a distance, kinda intercepted the report saying you slaughtered them before they could even draw their weapons...which would be a really neat trick since they started shooting you first...Smelled like a ripe scam for thwarting. Plus, at the time I didn't know how big an ass you are."

"Everyone I didn't have to kill to escape should appreciate your lack of foresight," he countered sarcastically.

"So what do you think about the new girl?" Beril abruptly asked.

Having expected some kind of feeble comeback, Rian was momentarily thrown off by the lack of transition. Although he guessed this would explain why she agreed to land on the side of this mountain without much protest, she didn't want any chance of eavesdroppers. "Taller than you," he said nonchalantly.

She scoffed. "Seriously, Rian—"

"If you're serious," he cut her off with annoyance, "then quit trying to lead me around and tell me what your problem is!"

"Do you think she's really who she claims to be?" she said angrily.

No pause. She was serious. "Laani hasn't said much about who she is," he answered with irritation, "and I don't see why she couldn't have been who she claims to have been."

Beril scowled. "You punched the guy she tossed around, you can not tell me that's a normal thing for someone her size to be doing!"

"It looked more like a pivot to me."

"Not the point!"

"Then what is the point?"

"You just don't get it, do you?"

"That we're working with someone more capable of defending herself than you are, and you're protesting only because you don't know why?"

"...Yes!" she yelled with exasperation. "Is that so wrong?"

Rian shook his head. He'd never have gotten anything done if he insisted on knowing everything in advance; it had to be relaxing to make a living away from the front lines. "Being too worked up over it is wrong, yes."

She stared him in the eyes, which looked like it was straining her neck. "You, of all people, are telling me not to be suspicious?"

He snorted. "No. But if you're wrong, you're just going to wear yourself out over what should be good for us."

"But—"

"And if she is...I don't know, an Imperial double agent or whatever you're thinking, tipping her off that you need to be silenced is the last thing you should do. Is there any reason to think she's a threat to us?"

"...No," she admitted.

"Should find a reason to be worried, if you want to be worried. Digging up secrets is what you do, isn't it?"

"You know I do a whole lot more than—"

"Yeah, yeah," he cut her off dismissively. "Put that energy of yours to work, isn't that something else you do?"

"You..." Beril interrupted herself this time, with a deep breath. "You're right," she said confidently, in that self-assured voice she could put on without notice. It wasn't going to fool him, and she should know that, but maybe she was too busy fooling herself. "Flitting around like a mynock isn't going to do any good. I need to figure out who I'm dealing with here, before anything else. I should've realized this sooner."

"You certainly should have realized that sooner," he agreed.

She exhaled sharply in frustration. "Why do you have to be like that?" she demanded, dropping her vocal facade.

"Getting stuck in your own epiphany has never been much of an improvement," he answered, ignoring her tone.

She growled as she shook her head. "Can we just go back?" she said impatiently, turning back towards the pilot seat of the speeder before she even finished the sentence.

"Fine by me," he declared as he approached the opposite side of the vehicle. "Let me know when you find out."

"Well duh."

* * *


"Sending the same people to the same asteroid on the same ship," Rian commented the next morning. "Giving up on sneaking, are we?"

"Sort of," Sareena answered. "Someone needs to go back and ask about the same subject, which will look connected to us whether it's a different team or a different ship. Why go to the trouble of getting someone else up to speed or looking like we've got something hide?"

"The direct approach really saves time," he agreed, cracking his knuckles for emphasis.

"Doesn't popping your joints like that hurt?" Ahsoka asked, as she briefly glanced at his short brown hair. As frequently as he did it, she imagined some sort of deterioration would be a possibility.

"No."

"Anyway," Sareena cut in, "We'll be looking in the opposite direction from last time. That asteroid's where we picked up the trail that led to the engine, so we'll backtrack to where the ship was taken apart in the first place. There should at least be a connection to where any passengers, like our target, were taken."

"You really think he's still alive at this point?" Beril asked.

"I don't know how else we'd find out," Ahsoka said.

Beril slowly turned to look at her. "I suppose it's a good place to start looking," she eventually said. Seemed like an odd way to express agreement.

"It's a long shot," Sareena admitted, "but the Pantorans would be much more grateful to get him back alive."

"Another favor?" Rian said with some disdain.

"More likely several," Sareena answered flatly. "In any case, the ship'll be ready for launch in...twenty-seven minutes; so unless you want to hang around here in the cargo bay, go get whatever you need and meet back in half an hour, so we can head off immediately."

"Wait," Beril said, "didn't they want the engine for themselves?"

"Senator Organa's made arrangements. The Pantoran senator will be here in the next few days, and she'll take it back with her."

"Really? Senate buddies indeed..." she said softly, sounding distant.

"Is that a problem?" Ahsoka asked, a little too quickly.

Beril's reverie ended. "No, quite the opposite in fact. An owed favor's only as good as the leverage it can exert, and modifying the itinerary of a Senator takes at least middling influence."

Ahsoka suppressed her sigh. In the days of the Republic it'd have been more of a feat; the Imperial senate was little more than an advisory council, for the Emperor to disregard as he saw fit. Granted, he had a lot of leeway during the Clone Wars as well, but internal strife in the Senate was on occasion noteworthy even to the Jedi; the Senate had to have been important. It was just a collection of people with empty titles now.

Of course, Chuchi wasn't a typical Senator; she'd calmly walked straight aboard that Trade Federation battleship all those years ago, unafraid. Padme was the same way, really...And Ahsoka supposed Senator Organa was at least in the same category. It felt strange, that she met so few average people while she was with the Jedi Order...But then, that could explain why so many of the Jedi Council understood normalcy only in the abstract; why they placed their interpretations above their perceptions as blatantly obvious as...

As her dedication to the Jedi Order. Which didn't lapse until the Council broke it themselves. Maybe they were victims of their own self-fulfilling prophecies.

"You alright, Laani?" Sareena asked with mild disinterest.

Ahsoka quickly snapped back to attention, having determined that Bail Organa's sense of timing was unlikely to be a family trait. "Sorry," she said as she quickly shook her head, "I was just remembering how the Senate was during the Clone Wars. It'd be a much more impressive sign then."

"True," Beril agreed, "the Senators would have a much easier time getting someone else to do this kind of work."

"More impressive to use their own resources than their system's, I say," Rian commented.

"Huh," Ahsoka said. "Never thought about it that way..."

"Guys," Sareena said over the three of them, "we'll have plenty of time to discuss sociology after we leave Alderaan, alright? We've got a job to do, and limited time to gear up for it. I doubt raiders turned kidnappers are courteous, so expect combat."

"Good," Rian said. "Feels like time to bring out the good armor, anyway."

"And the weapons that go with it."

"Even better," he agreed.

"While I hope we won't need that kind of firepower..."

"Yeah that's a safe bet," Rian countered sarcastically.

"No kidding..." Sareena darted her eyes between Ahsoka and Beril. "What about you two? Various hardware to break into secure systems or vehicles or droids?"

"We didn't use any of it last time," Ahsoka said.

"So unless we're bringing an airspeeder to an asteroid," Beril declared with annoyance, "we're already ready already."

"...what she said," Ahsoka agreed after double-checking her parsing of the sentence.

"Alright. If you need to change your mind, you've got twenty-five minutes to do it. See you all then."

Rian turned and headed down the cargo ramp, and Beril quickly followed.

"And what about you?" Ahsoka asked.

Sareena rolled her eyes. "My rifle, wilderness survival pack and field surgery kit were aboard before I called any of you here." She paused to look around the empty cargo bay with a suspicious expression. "I assume you're still all you need?"

"And I brought a couple blasters, too," Ahsoka answered with slight disgust. She wasn't exactly good with pistols, but appearances had to be kept, and she could use two with the same mediocrity as one. Blasters didn't handle like lightsabers, but her ambidexterity hadn't lapsed over the years.

"Two, huh...I keep forgetting to ask, didn't you used to fight with two lightsabers?"

"I've found it easier to be versatile with a hand free." She'd also realized how overdependent she had become on having two lightsabers, when Barriss beat her with a Ventress impersonation after she'd dropped one of them; but she figured the best way not to dwell on those long-ago events was not to give anyone else a reason to bring them up.

Ahsoka slowly noticed that the shouts of the hangar crew and the hiss of steam venting, which were certainly audible while she came up the ship's ramp, were now mottled behind the background noise of machinery; despite the wide door to the hangar still being open. "Did you really cover the entire cargo bay with a sound dampening field?"

"I'm sure at some point, the ship hauled vocal livestock that spaceports don't want to hear," Sareena confirmed obliquely. "It's a subtle field, softening voices enough to thwart surveillance without suspiciously cutting all sound," she added pointedly.

"Are you still going on about that?" Ahsoka countered incredulously.

"Even during the Clone Wars you had a reputation for impulsiveness, and it seems well-deserved. We're trying not to draw attention to you, if you'll recall."

Ahsoka frowned. "Are you saying I can't control myself?" she accused.

"Oh I know you can," Sareena answered flatly. "But I don't think it's natural, you have to pause to think about it first. And when you don't pause you fight, and you're simply too much of a fighter not to draw attention to yourself."

Ahsoka took a deep breath through clenched teeth. "You're underestimating me," she declared defiantly.

"Then do me a favor and make sure I'm wrong."

"With pleasure," Ahsoka agreed with a smirk.

Sareena rolled her eyes.

Ahsoka supposed Sareena had something vaguely resembling a point. She'd never been one for letting a problem go unresolved. In her experience "subtlety" usually meant "don't do anything about it", and all the subtle Jedi might as well be dead for the good they were refusing to do. But at the same time, to imply she was incapable of self-restraint when the situation required it? Who ever heard of a Jedi without self-discipline, anyway? "So do you have any other prudent-yet-insulting questions for me?" she asked with irritation.

"No," she answered coldly. "I'm sure you'll find out if I come up with one."

"Of course I will," Ahsoka countered sarcastically. "Make sure it's prudent. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be anywhere else."

"Fair enough. Don't get lost, twenty-three minutes."

Rather than answer, Ahsoka quickly turned around and walked briskly across the cargo bay and out the door, hearing the sounds of hangar activity gain clarity as she went. The difficulty of resisting the urge to stomp her way out was seriously undercutting her evaluation of her own self-discipline, but she emerged victorious in the struggle. It was still worrying her, though.

She knew Sareena was responsible for the well-being of the four of them, and the kind of attention looking for Ahsoka would be incredibly detrimental. Why did it feel so insulting, when she was fully aware it wasn't an insult? And even if it were an insult, Sareena's disdain simply wouldn't be important enough to be worth caring about. It shouldn't bother her...so why did it?

Ahsoka sighed, as she decided to pace around the corridors surrounding the hangar. As much as she didn't want to think about it, Sareena's analysis would describe Anakin quite well. And he had the exact tendency Sareena was worried about, charging into things without stopping to think about anyone else who might be involved. She kept up with him easily, but the clones in their command weren't always lucky. And these days...

She briefly clinched her eyes shut and let the thought, that Anakin himself was as much a victim of Darth Vader's oppression as the rest of the galaxy, slide through her mind without stopping.

The thought of turning into another Anakin, letting her own determination bring tragedy to everyone around her, was frightening. And to think that it had already happened and she just hadn't noticed—

No.

However she felt about him, and whatever she learned from him, she was not Anakin. She, nor he, nor anyone else could afford for her to inherit his weakness. She would fight him off inside her own heart, if she had to. Exercising more control over her impulses should be a breeze by comparison, so if that was all it took, so much the better.

She hoped that was all it took.

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 9:25 pm 
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Chapter 4 wrote:
The solitary asteroid visible outside the cockpit was their destination, but it didn't look identifiably the same as where they'd been several days ago; Sareena had been to several asteroid outposts, and giant brown rocks were a blur in her memory.

The eager young voice on the traffic control channel, however, she remembered. "Hey," he said, "weren't you guys just here?"

"Yes," Sareena affirmed, "and our client was so pleased with what we found, they want us to see if there's anything else they're looking for here."

"Really?" he answered with suspicious disbelief.

"Hey, if they want to pay in advance to even look for their long shot, who am I to complain? Maybe we'll even find something."

"Sounds like a nice job....You've been cleared to dock, landing beacon is active. Have a nice visit!"

"Thanks," she said before turning off the comm. He seemed pleasant enough.

Of course, he was also just the guy sitting a room chatting all day. She looked at Beril in the pilot seat beside her. "I get the feeling they're not used to repeat guests like us," she said, "so keep an eye out for any...surprises."

"Trivial," Beril declared with boredom.

"Alright," Sareena said as she looked back at Rian and Ahsoka. "We'll be landing in a couple minutes, so let's go over the plan one last time: The dealers are unlikely to have detailed records of origin, so we'll need to 'borrow' the station's traffic logs. Beril and Laani will handle the computer network, while—"

"Actually," Beril cut in quickly, "I've been thinking about it, and Laani should go with you; I can slice a system myself, and you might need her mechanical familiarity."

"Whatever," Ahsoka answered noncommittally.

Sareena blinked. "I'm a little worried about a fight breaking out while you're preoccupied."

"Don't worry, I won't be anywhere near the ship."

She sighed. "It's not the ship I'm worried about, Beril."

Beril paused for only a second. "I appreciate that, but—"

"Trade?" Rian asked.

"Whatever," Ahsoka answered in the exact same tone as before.

"...that'll work," Beril agreed.

Sareena darted her eyes between Beril and Ahsoka suspiciously. "Fine," she sighed. "Beril and Rian will handle the computer network. I'll still be checking out the traders, in case they've got helpful information about the salvagers or whoever. But Laani, I don't want anyone seeing you by yourself and hoping to luck into a couple million credits, so we'll both check out the traders."

Ahsoka crossed her arms. "You're really going to leave the ship unoccupied," she said with disapproval, "just to keep an eye on me?" She clearly wasn't thrilled with the idea. Sareena didn't particularly like it either, though she suspected Ahsoka was actually more concerned with the pairing than the vehicle.

But she saw no alternative. She knew Beril's habits, the girl brought this up at the last minute to keep Ahsoka away from her. Ordering Ahsoka to go anyway was going to provoke a volatile battle of wills at best. Rian couldn't guard the ship and Beril at the same time, and his presence would make the traders far too nervous. And having Ahsoka handle the traders on her own would be even riskier than having her stay behind at the ship, as a great many more people would see her in public.

So it was time to find out how well she and Ahsoka worked together, without a thrill between them. "None of us are expendable," Sareena stated emphatically, answering that angle of Ahsoka's statement. "Not Beril, not you, not Rian. I bet there's another light freighter ready to go at the drop of a hat back home, while we can't be replaced. And if that isn't enough, a fight breaking out will draw as much unwelcome attention as Beril slicing right outside the door would. Now, if any of you have a better arrangement in mind, let's hear it."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, but no one said anything.

"Alright then," Sareena said. "Beril, can you set the ship's security systems to notify us via comlink if there's a break-in attempt or someone loitering in bug-planting range or whatever?"

"Of course I can," she said cheerily.

"Good, that'll give us extra time to react if there's some sort of problem."

"And I assume we won't want Rian too far from the ship?"

Rian scoffed. "Duh."

Sareena continued before Beril had a chance to say anything in response. "If you guys can find a spot to watch the ship without looking like you're watching the ship, all the better. Now, are there any other last-minute alterations I should know about?"

"That depends," Beril said, "on whether those guys with the blasters are waiting for us. That'd be new...."

Sareena shot a look at the viewscreen. Just behind the open landing pad, there were two uniformed men with blaster rifles, flanking another uniformed man with his hands crossed behind his back.

"It certainly looks like a customs inspection," she said. This was officially a colony of some neighboring planet, after all.

"Unless we're acting suspicious all of a sudden," Beril noted, "we're set to land in about thirty seconds."

That didn't leave much time for dilly-dallying. "Rian?"

"Doubt it's an ambush," he answered the implied question, "they'd be easy prey if we had any 'aftermarket' shipboard weapons. Who walks into that? You and I meet them at the bottom of the ramp, we'll play it by ear. And maybe upside their heads."

"I'll have our escape ready if it gets ugly," Beril declared.

"Don't worry about me," Ahsoka said casually.

Fortunately there was nothing to argue about, with the time she didn't have to argue. "Alright, let's go."

* * *


Rian followed behind Sareena as she walked down the loading ramp at a deliberate pace, as the trio of human officers approached the bottom of the same ramp. She was the registered captain with the accredited license, after all; dealing with officials would be her job. Even better, he looked bigger when compared to her, even before considering the height the angled ramp gave him; and the three men had noticed, judging by their nervous looks.

"Can we help you gentlemen?" Sareena asked earnestly.

"We're here to inspect the freighter," the middle man answered, easing his face into a neutral expression. Rian noted that the man, who he presumed was the lead officer since he wasn't carrying a rifle like his buddies, was only slightly taller than Sareena. That meant he was quite short; Sareena was in fact noticeably taller than average for a woman, but still within the normal range and nowhere near tall enough to offset the male/female average height difference. His build didn't suggest significant musculature either, so he wouldn't pose a primary threat if a fight broke out.

"Well that should be easy, since we're not carrying any cargo," she answered.

"Not the cargo," he declared as his guards reflexively squeezed the grips of their rifles, "the freighter."

"Is something wrong with the ship's registration?" she asked after a brief, and presumably calculated, pause.

"No. Now I'll have to ask you to step aside."

Rian plotted quickly. Both of the blaster rifles were facing off to the side, away from Sareena and himself. Presumably to avoid provoking him, which was wise; the three were close enough that he could overpower them before the two guards could take aim.

"I...think I need to know why first," Sareena countered with just a hint of irritation. Surely she already knew their uniforms weren't Imperial, and the local authorities had more legal restrictions to uphold.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss it," he replied matter-of-factly.

Rian scoffed. "Yeah, I bet you're not at liberty to discuss the absence of a scanning crew for a ship inspection either," he said sarcastically, slowly straightening his posture to add a few more centimeters to his height.

"No," he replied sourly, "I'm not."

Rian was ready to disarm them, but Sareena interrupted before things could escalate. "Look," she said firmly, before lowering her voice. "You're about two people short for a customs inspection anyway, so why don't you tell me what's really going on here, hmm?" She then did something with her hand, though he couldn't tell what; the subtle movement of her shoulder was all he could see.

He didn't have to wonder for long, as he did see the officer take an object from her. A credit chip, specifically. "Customs has flagged numerous ships docking here for inspections," he whispered, "including yours, and we don't have the resources to fully examine each and every one."

"So you're rushing inspections that look thorough instead of prompting Imperial Customs to place a garrison here to support agents of their own. Examine our empty cargo bay, if that's what you're after; we don't want to waste your time any more than we want to waste ours."

Before they had a chance to object or agree, Sareena walked calmly around them, to the right. When she was directly to the side of the men, she quickly thrust her right hand a short distance from her hip, with her fingers and thumb spread apart but slightly curled. She just as suddenly relaxed, but the meaning of the gesture, hidden from the officers by the rest of her body, was obvious: the near man was going to discover how quickly she could draw and fire a hidden blaster if there was any trouble.

She then turned to face the three of them. "Come along," she said, "You won't need to worry about our pilot." That hint was equally obvious: They didn't need to know about Laani in advance. Or preferably, at all.

Rian simply took two steps to the left, keeping the group in striking distance; they could go past him on their own. "Think you could buy some load lifter droids with our fee this time?" he asked. Maybe they'd prefer to think his job was hauling crates instead of pounding heads.

"I'm sure I could," she responded noncommittally, as the officers warily made their way up the ramp.

Sareena cautiously moved up the ramp well behind them, stopping at Rian's side. When the officers were out of view, she sighed.

"Great," she added sarcastically under her breath.

"This isn't suspicious at all," he said with the same sarcasm.

"Certainly more attention than I'd like."

As if on cue, there was a sensation of motion at the edge of Rian's peripheral vision; he turned his head in that direction. The landing area was quite sparsely populated, but it wasn't empty; three technicians were busy on other ships, all of them too far away to overhear. All he saw at the point his vision had indicated was a vacant corridor entry. There was no way to tell if someone had been watching or not; much less if they were watching the ship, the inspectors, or the two of them.

Not that it would make that much difference now, any possible observer was already gone. "And more than I think we know about. That could change things."

Sareena exhaled sharply. "We better get inside before they think they need free run of the ship."

* * *


The customs people, fitting Ahsoka's expectations, didn't find it worth their time to actually search beyond the empty cargo bay. If they had, they could possibly have found the concealed compartments with Rian's military-grade gear, Beril's hidden supplies, or Ahsoka herself. Not that she would have a problem using the Force to "convince" them they didn't need to search for anything they'd get killed over, but no action meant no possibility of a trail leading back to her.

As it was, they had left of their own accord, leaving no short-term problem but unpleasant long-term implications.

"I don't like surprises," Sareena was fuming as she walked circles in the freighter's cargo bay. "Especially not a second time in a row," she added, glancing at Ahsoka.

"Local customs probably didn't like the surprise either," Beril guessed. "It's not like Imperial Customs is known for its transparency, they likely mentioned it when we started docking and not a moment sooner."

"I suppose," Sareena said, "but he said numerous ships that frequent here. What are the odds that they aren't looking specifically for us?"

"Slim," Rian declared, "but if they recognized us they'd have locked us down already, not given us advance warning. And this is the same ship we took here before."

"They could be trying to backtrack the engine to find us," Ahsoka suggested, "same way we're trying to backtrack the engine to find the ship it came out of."

Sareena stopped pacing. "But how would they even know—"

"The bounty," Beril cut in. "You know, the one on a Jedi that didn't mention the fact, with a big enough price tag to guarantee a capture attempt?"

Ahsoka's heart sank. Was the Emperor truly after her as Vader had claimed, or was Vader trying to beat him to it? His determination certainly hadn't waned over the years, any more than her own. "So you think the whole thing's a ploy to provoke a spectacle?"

"It worked, didn't it?" Beril countered. "Besides, they wouldn't have to pay unless one of them actually managed to capture a Jedi alive."

"Assuming that claiming the bounty wasn't a ruse for an execution," Rian commented.

"Great," Ahsoka commented with all the sarcasm she could muster, "now the Empire's after me because some thugs can't tell Togruta apart."

Sareena took a deep breath. "If they aren't following the engine itself, we should be safe once we get out of here. But if they're after you...or more accurately, who they think you are....OK, change of plans: We're not going to check out the traders if Beril and Rian find enough to follow up on. Laani and I will stay onboard...in the cockpit, so we'll be ready in case the Empire is just slow on the draw and we need to take off while Beril is coming up here."

Rian turned his head slightly to look directly at Sareena. "Too early to think they aren't after the engine, isn't it?"

"Well, if they're after both then the point still stands, we'll just have more hassles after we leave."

"Wouldn't make an immediate difference," Ahsoka agreed. She wanted to protest the part of the plan where she was stuck in close proximity to Sareena, but she couldn't see a way to do it without undercutting her earlier statement of wanting to stay inside the ship. And the thought that her own pettiness could be turned against her was more of a concern than anything that might jeopardize the mission or inconvenience her personally.

"So anyway," Sareena continued. "While you're in there, Beril, see what you can find out about the ships in the other inspections we just heard about; I'd like to avoid relying on nice-sounding guesses."

"Piece of cake," Beril answered dismissively. "You know...it's going to look really suspicious if we haven't even looked for anything here to haul off, especially after you told the one guy we're here specifically to look for something."

"True...well, one step at a time; we'll figure the rest out after you and Rian get back. Speaking of, it's been long enough for customs to get back to their duties, so I don't think there's any need to wait longer. You already grabbed the encrypted comlinks, right?"

"Yep."

"Let us know if things turn bad...and only if they turn bad, we'll do the same. Don't want to risk someone asking why we're encrypting our comms."

"Sheesh, Sareena, don't you have a treatment for acute paranoia? This isn't exactly an Imperial installation, here."

Sareena exhaled slowly. "Look. The whole bounty-ploy plot we're assuming? Means nothing without some way for them to actually deal with a Jedi. And if the search is ongoing right here...." She looked at Ahsoka, and pointedly asked, "Do you want to deal with the frustrations of whatever the Empire values at two million credits?"

So she was asking if Ahsoka wanted to deal with her own frustrations. Cute, though not cute enough for her to answer the oblique question. "I'd rather face an army of battle droids. All they'd do is kill me; the Empire would want to be completely sure who I was before killing me. And they don't ask nicely."

Rian scoffed. "There's an understatement...."

"So the sooner we get this done," Sareena continued undaunted, "The sooner we can get out of this mess. Let's get a move-on."

Beril and Rian walked down the ramp together, while Sareena headed up to the front of the ship. Ahsoka paused, wondering if Beril had a point about Sareena's degree of caution. She closed her eyes and reached out with the Force, attempting to ferret out any sense of danger; but it felt as though she was the biggest threat in the vicinity, herself.

"Come along, Laani," Sareena commanded down a corridor.

She growled softly, before jogging towards the cockpit herself. She didn't need the assistance of the Force to beat Sareena to the door.

"Do you enjoy bossing us around, by any chance?" Ahsoka asked sarcastically.

"No," Sareena answered flatly, "I don't."

The imperfectly disguised sadness in her voice, and the way she actively avoided eye contact as she walked past, defused Ahsoka's immediate irritation. There was something there she didn't have time to figure out. "Why do both of us need to be up here, then?" she asked neutrally. "There isn't even a copilot console."

Sareena took a long, deep breath; and stood with her back against one of the side walls. "I know you flew fighters during the Clone Wars, you have more defensive piloting experience than I have. And you're a highly competent engineer, that's officially why you're here in the first place. But, while I'm sure you could almost pull it off, you can't actually be in both parts of the ship at the same time."

"So you're the backup backup pilot."

"Yes. If both the talented pilots are unavailable, it falls to me."

"What about Rian?"

"Rian, the career foot soldier? I'm sure he could handle flying casually, but it'd be more of a flying casualty scenario."

Now that the chances of an internal conflict seemed nil, Ahsoka turned her attention towards the chances of an external conflict; she could deal with Sareena later. "Speaking of avoiding casualties....I doubt Beril deactivated the outside cams before she left."

"Seems unlikely," Sareena agreed as she turned around, and worked some controls on the wall beside her. "And sure enough," she said as a set of screens came to life, "there they are."

The screen showed Beril walking with dominant body language, as though she owned the place; and Rian keeping up with her, the movement of his feet awkwardly slow to avoid outpacing Beril's much shorter legs. It'd have been comical, if it hadn't made her think of how it must have looked to the Jedi Masters when she tried to lead Anakin around all those years ago. She took a deep breath, and shoved the memories away.

"Problem?" Sareena inquired curiously.

Must have been a deeper breath than she thought. "Nothing in particular," she responded. "Let's hope it stays that way."

"I hear that."

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 9:29 pm 
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I could apologize for posting two chapters in a row after forgetting for so long but...I'm not gonna :P

Chapter 5 wrote:
The first rule of getting free run of a place: Act like you already have free run of the place. That was Beril's approach to the mission. She had questions, the station had answers; getting the two to meet was just details. Details like pulling the wall panel off its wall, exposing the inconsistent mass of cabling.

Rian was there to help with the second rule of getting free run of a place: Convince everyone that you better have free run of the place. It didn't take him much effort either, he simply looked like cooperation was in everyone's best interests.

Setting the panel aside didn't take any mental effort, so she quickly considered the surroundings while she gently lay it aside the wall next to her. It was hardly the fanciest docking bay in existence: Metal sheeting comprised the floor, the bottom two meters of the perimeter, a small expanse around each corridor access, and a large section around the single large bulkhead door; the rest of the place was exposed rock. Which made each doorway obvious, and the density of traffic through each easy to gauge; she'd found this secluded computer terminal before she even stepped onto the dingy floor.

This wasn't the docking bay they'd been guided to during their recent visit, that one was shiny and well-lit. And quite a bit larger than this little run-down retrofit cavern thing, which was going to struggle with the next light freighter that tried to find a spot to land. Beril didn't like fancy docking bays anyway, but that wasn't the important part: This bay would be intended for maintenance personnel, not traders. If the Customs dragnet thing was severe enough for them to break out the bottom-of-the-barrel landing areas....

She'd ponder all the implications later, she didn't want to hear Sareena complain about "stalling" again. The wires were an intertwined mess, but there was an open socket in easy reach; she pulled out her custom datapad, plugged it in, and got to work. She'd taken the liberty of acquiring some access codes during the last trip, and the outpost's security procedure proved too ineffective to have invalidated them since then.

Her fingers danced over the keypad as she navigated across disparate systems. Maintenance records, environmental history, traffic logs, inspection documents, accounting....She chose general housekeeping as the first place to make some adjustments.

"Company?" Rian whispered. Knowing that was the signal for potential "interested" visitors, she quickly finished copying biometrics into the record she had just added. The transfer completed right as she heard the approaching heavy footfalls.

"What do you think you're doing?!" demanded a gruff male voice. The degree of insistence suggested he didn't want an argument, and the "halt" command not conforming to Imperial protocols meant this wasn't Imperial security. The combination was good for her, not so much for him.

Placing a stern look on her face, she quickly forced herself to a standing position, using the distracting motion to push the datapad out of sight. Glaring at the source of the noise indicated not only that the young man was lacking an Imperial uniform, unlike herself, but also that he was accompanied by some type of humanoid-shaped droid. The Empire frowned on droids in public-facing positions, as a matter of de facto policy.

"Imperial business," she answered, deliberately sounding aloof and impatient at the same time. "A better question is what do you think you're doing, hmm?"

"Officer Mar," the droid stated in a clearly synthesized voice. Almost certainly a security droid, then; she made a mental note of the conclusion. "Your arrival was not on record."

That was why she planted the falsified credentials first, after all. "Clearly organization is not the word of the day," she declared snidely. "Now if you'll excuse yourselves, I have work to do."

"But...I have procedures to follow," the security man said, clearly uncomfortable.

She rolled her eyes. "So do I. But I guess if you want to shut down landing pads so I can follow protocol properly—"

His eyes widened. "I'm not sure that's—"

"Don't worry," she cut him off nonchalantly, "it'll be fine. Protocol says my escort here is supposed to be in armor too, I bet everybody would love to see a stormtrooper behemoth firsthand. Maybe they'll tell all their fellow merchants about it."

"...maybe procedural details aren't worth causing headaches for the administrator."

"Well then," she said flatly, "Perhaps you should leave me to do my system inspection, while you prevent interference with normal operations from occurring."

"Very well, Officer Mar," he said after a short pause, clearly trying to put on a facade of decorum. "Come along, Tee-Eight," he ordered his droid companion.

Beril slowly returned to a crouching position, watching the two of them walk away from the site of her operation.

Sucker.

She turned her head to look up at Rian behind her.

He was simply standing there with his arms at his sides, staring at the wall as if he were a trooper standing at attention. His eyes did swivel to meet hers, however.

"What?" she asked softly, dropping her facial and vocal facade.

He wordlessly crossed his arms in response.

She shrugged. "Yes, I know, I got work to do."

"We do, so do it."

She ignored him, and picked her datapad back up. She enjoyed the brief periods of his silence, and they lasted longer when she didn't give him something to respond to.

She navigated to the station's security logs. Their buddy T8 clearly had a connection to pull her forgery over....

"OK," she muttered to herself, "The droid didn't log us while they were standing here, so no need to rush out."

"Didn't see droids working for the port last time," Rian commented quietly.

"Me either, or I'd have handled it in advance. Better get our stuff in case someone starts a rumor."

"Getting something extra?"

How did he keep doing that? "Maybe. You know what."

The station had an active HoloNet connection, with which she could tap into Imperial databases without anyone being able to connect it to Beril. That was why she ditched Laani, it was unlikely she'd appreciate being a subject of inquiry, and Beril didn't want to risk her finding out.

After setting her search up to bounce around the station, she turned to the trivial task of gathering the logs Sareena wanted. The frequency of customs inspection log entries for the last couple days was furious, compared to the lazy couple-a-day rate it was before. While downloading those days' entries, she checked the arrival and departure logs for every ship between when the Silver Sparrow was last spotted and when they had left this station the last time.

Interesting...she intended to go over all the data in detail back on the ship, away from so many obnoxious eyes; but from the vehicle identifiers she remembered, every ship that'd been inspected had also arrived during that time period at least once. Unlikely to be a coincidence. It could be a really lousy day for any ship with a Togruta crewmember....Which included their ship, of course. It was a good thing no one knew Laani was even there.

Speaking of Laani, a blue blinking shape in the corner of Beril's datapad screen indicated the search had concluded. Something else she'd have to examine in depth later....A quick glance didn't reveal anything that looked more unusual than a non-clone serving in a role usually reserved for clones, but the records looked sparse, like she was deployed very infrequently. Which could be true....

Beril glanced around. No undue attention....She started another search, this time for whoever that Ahsoka was. No sense being bashful about the subject of the bounty, Laani'd already been dragged into it whether she wanted it or not.

While that was running, she checked through her finally-downloaded records for the ship they'd followed from here that eventually led them to the Sparrow's engine...And found it had arrived once, and departed once, in the middle of the timespan she was checking. Highly convenient; for it to have left with the engine, one of the ships before it had to have brought it, which narrowed the range of the ship search significantly.

The datapad notified her of the search's completion again. Quite a few more records of "Commander" Tano's deployments...and to Beril's recollection, the rank would mean Ahsoka was an apprentice to another Jedi, who would have the rank of General and likely lead the battle group she was deployed to. More for her to figure out later; the next leg of their journey was likely to be a boring trip to a barely-inhabited system, she'd have time to burn anyway.

A cold shiver suddenly manifested on her shoulder. She quickly turned her head to look behind her, in her best guess of the direction the "you're being watched" sensation came from.

Her view went across the entire width of the hangar bay to end at the exposed rock on the opposite side. Rock so dimly lit, it almost didn't qualify as lit. She didn't see anyone milling around in that direction, though she couldn't be sure that meant no one was there. And she'd already checked for surveillance equipment and hidden alcoves in the rock; if anything mechanical had been deployed it had to have been done after she was already on the floor, and she'd like to think someone would've noticed.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rian's otherwise stoic form cast a look of suspicion in her direction. No sense hanging around to guarantee someone could be watching. "Thought someone was watching us," she whispered as she began disconnecting her datapad from the socket.

"I thought so when the 'captain' and I came out, too," he commented in the same hushed tone.

Not mentioning Sareena by name would mean he wouldn't need to check for eavesdroppers, she supposed. "Well, no sense wasting more time here," she said as she put the panel back where she found it.

She got on her feet and, after putting her datapad away, deliberately walked towards the nearby corridor entry, with Rian following behind her. As the door slid open, she noticed the corridor was much better lit than the expanse of the docking bay. A matter of width, she knew; providing adequate light across a few meters was a heck of a lot easier than doing so across a few hundred meters.

As soon as she determined there was no one ahead of or behind them, she quickly removed the Imperial insignia she was wearing, relaxed her posture, and shifted her pace to a casual speed to end up walking besides Rian rather than in front of him. Without the Imperial markings or bearing, she just appeared to enjoy wearing black...which was true, after all.

"Well that was fun," she commented playfully. No one who hadn't seen her in character would recognize her as the same person, and taking the long way around to the ship should keep anyone who had seen her in character from noticing her now.

"Anything genuinely helpful?"

"Of course."

"About our job or your curiosity?"

"...Yes."

* * *


Back in the ship's cargo bay, Rian stood in the corner, watching and listening while the other three were holding a discussion a few meters away.

"Obviously," Beril was telling Sareena, "the ship that brought the Sparrow's engine here had to have arrived before the ship that took it away actually took it, and after the Sparrow went missing."

"So if we have a list of every ship that arrived between those two times," Sareena said while she thought through the statement, "one of them has to be the one we're looking for."

"There aren't many that could actually hold the engine," Laani added, "so we go through the list."

"Starting with the one that's docked here now," Beril suggested.

Rian remembered way back, when he was first starting out at the Corellian Security Force, that a few of the lieutenants were particularly dismissive towards women officers. It always seemed like willful short-sightedness to him, like it was simply convenient to have a low opinion without finding a reason to have a low opinion first. He preferred to avoid the unpleasant surprises that came with ignoring the exceptional. A great many people over the years assumed he was just a dimwitted brute, after all; the list of people who didn't come to regret that assumption was quite a bit shorter.

Not that he had any pretensions about his intelligence on this assignment. He was looking at a girl who had danced around computer security since she was a teenager, a lady with a genuine medical education, and a woman who had to be on par with mechanics who were literally trained from birth to be engineers; he wasn't there for his brainpower. But viewing it as a competition was just more willful short-sightedness. They all had their roles to play, and the only people worth competing against were the opposition.

That was something he learned from Commander Sal. Or Thera Sal, technically, since she was discharged from CorSec shortly after he'd left...and quite probably because he left, being his commanding officer. She knew how to run a squad...which was the main reason he didn't think she had anything to do with the failed attempt on his life when he left, she'd have been there herself and not let the attempt be so disorganized, if she were in charge of it. Sareena was no Thera...but then, Sareena wasn't leading a team of law enforcement agents so elite they bordered on paramilitary; why would she need to be the same?

"Something wrong, Rian?" Sareena asked.

"Besides the thought that we're racing against some sort of Imperial anti-Jedi squad?" he countered. He hadn't been daydreaming, after all. "What could the Empire have that wouldn't make short work of a freighter like the one we're in? It's not like conventional blasters are even an option."

"The Empire has a number of...I don't know, evil Jedi or something similar," Sareena explained.

"The point stands," Laani said firmly, "even if they just settle for a squad all armed with missile launchers. Not something I'd want to be on the receiving end of."

"It isn't a race unless we both know we're racing," Beril said pointedly.

"Right," he agreed, still facing Sareena. "Which means I'm staying here, since I was in both the welcoming party and the you-better-be-welcoming party—"

"You know that's how these things work!" Beril cut in defiantly.

"—and Laani's staying here," he continued without a pause, "because if this whole theory is correct then she's their trophy."

Laani sighed. "That's sure how it looks," she agreed with resignation.

"So the immediate question is what you and Beril will do."

Beril rolled her eyes. "I did say we'd start with the ship that's still docked here."

Sareena turned her head sharply towards Beril. "Can you find where the crew is now?"

"Of course, but why would that matter?"

"Suppose they're here to meet clients...or as clients."

Laani leaned forward slightly. "And if they're not?"

"Our pre-arrival plan was to track down traders, which we'd have to start by looking somewhere. Any arbitrary location is as good as any other, may as well be one that could give us other leads."

"Hmm. And I suppose our plan if it fails is the same as if we didn't try: getting official itineraries for the whole list."

"Yep," Beril chimed in, "I acquired all their transponder codes. If they're legitimate, or trying to look legitimate, the Bureau of Ships and Services will have records of every legitimate spaceport they've ever docked at."

Rian snorted. "Because we already found the only engine in existence with fake transponder codes?" he asked sarcastically.

She sighed in exasperation. "Of course not, but the codes I found had to be used here to be in the spaceport records in the first place, duh. We can at least rule out the squeaky-cleaners, and check for gaps in the ships' travel time for clues on where their shadowports might be."

He shrugged. That amounted to finding a series of systems to guess at looking in, but it was still a vast improvement over checking the entire galaxy. A tolerable backup plan, at least, if Sareena's long shot at finding the trail here didn't pan out. "Then what are the two of you waiting for?"

"First and foremost," Sareena declared, "for Beril to find the crew."

"And after the triviality?" Beril prompted in response.

"We'll head there with...alternate uniforms."

Laani frowned skeptically. Her eyes darted back and forth between Sareena and Beril, with a noticeable diagonal motion. "You really think you can disguise your...heights?"

"Dunno about Miss Organa over there—" Beril started blithely.

Sareena hissed, cutting her off. "I'm far more worried about being placed here together," she explained, "than I am with either of us being spotted individually. Disguises will work well enough for our purposes."

Laani's face relaxed. "Well then, if Beril will get me the list of ships, I'll start filtering out the ones that can't house the engine."

Beril paused, but only for a split second. "Sure," she said with fake enthusiasm, "I can do that."

Laani's eyes widened slightly, before glancing suspiciously at Beril. "Good."

"And I guess I'll stand here and look foreboding while you do the real work," Rian added sarcastically, before Beril went beyond simply tipping her hand on her suspicion.

Beril snorted. "You are an expert, after all," she said playfully.

"The time for beating people into submission is later," Sareena said firmly. "Come along, Beril."

Beril rolled her eyes, but followed Sareena deeper into the ship, clearly feeling she'd pushed Sareena's patience enough. Beril was good at deciphering social cues, as any infiltrator had to be; But self-interest deeply colored her concern for others' emotions, to the point that it was rarely noticeable that she cared about anyone else. Rian knew better, of course, and not purely from first-hand experience.

Right then, though, that experience was telling him he had his usual part in Beril's games: drawing attention away from them. "So why couldn't we have checked this bureau's records back home?" he asked once Laani was the only person left in sight, before she had the chance to wonder about Beril's tone.

"Two reasons," Laani answered. "Most obvious is that we still don't know if these were all reported back to the Bureau of Ships and Services. If they neglected to send some of them to BoSS for their own convenience, we'd have no way to know, short of coming here for their internal records anyway."

That was right. No sign of naivete there.

"Equally important," she continued, "is that the compiled information regularly distributed to spaceports doesn't include complete histories, and their databases are keyed off transponder codes. To even try to narrow it down by location and time would require breaking into their private staging data, assuming something suitable even exists, or getting the history of every ship in the galaxy and then going through it all...which would be pointless if the visit wasn't reported in the first place. Meanwhile, looking up a bunch of transponder codes is trivial, at least from a technical perspective."

At least the gist of it was correct, as he didn't know that much about the minutiae himself. She was at least knowledgeable about the subject, which was outside her stated area of expertise. Which likely meant his question was too simple to throw her off Beril's trail, so he added another step just in case: "And you think the local records are going to be accurate?"

"Probably, yes. This outpost is a colony, answerable to its parent planet, and all activity comes in or out through the spaceport. Falsified records here mean someone's padding their account in a highly visible way, it'd be a huge risk. And if that is happening, it'd be even more suspicious for anything BoSS has to be missing from the local records, not to mention it'd make no sense. It's a draw at worst."

"Makes sense," he concluded. No sense letting her know she passed his test, that he was testing her, or that the test itself was a distraction. He figured he'd done enough to keep her from wondering about Beril.

"So is Beril really as good as she thinks she is?" Laani asked.

Or maybe not. But there could be a new opportunity there.

"Usually," he answered with only a slight pause. Beril liked bragging about things she was talented with, after all. "Are you as good as Sareena thinks you are?"

She was taken off guard, but only for a second. "I don't know how good Sareena thinks I am, so how could I tell?"

Distraction: Successful. "You didn't seem the sulky sort the first trip," he explained, "but that's how you sound whenever Sareena says anything to you now."

She glared at him briefly, before sighing. "Sareena thinks I won't blend in," she admitted, breaking eye contact.

"More than before?" he asked. "Hey," he protested when she scowled again, "I'm not the moron who decided the best way to ensure everyone was safe is to intimidate everyone who isn't human. Moron probably thinks calling Coruscant 'Imperial Center' makes sense, too."

"She thinks I could fit in," she said with a slight growl, "just that I won't."

He wouldn't dispute Sareena on that. Not that he'd have voiced his suspicions without more evidence backing them up, but Sareena was the boss so making calls like that was her responsibility. And the defensive pride in Laani's tone of voice didn't do her any favors. "Try harder to prove her wrong, then," he said bluntly.

"You think I'm not?" she countered defiantly.

"You sound too worked up over blending in to blend in," he replied snidely.

She looked right at his eyes with a frown across her face. He stared right back, slowly folding his arms. It'd take more than a staring contest to intimidate him, especially since it was looking like a draw; but he started to feel that she wasn't trying to cow him into submission with no hope of success.

It was an intense, unwavering glare Laani was shooting at him. Being no stranger to this kind of contest, Rian knew wanting him to back off would have an icy glaze like the one he was using himself, and full-on murderous intent would flare like a nova. She had no fear, and didn't even consider him a threat. He was no stranger to that critical oversight, either, though rarely from someone who wasn't packing heavy weaponry.

Nevertheless, she sighed and firmly turned her head to her left. "Fine," she muttered unconvincingly as she crossed her arms.

Rian thought Beril could use that kind of self-restraint, he'd long since given up on counting the times he had to bail her out of a mess she confidently dove into. The two of them could both use some improvement with their threat assessment, though. "You might do fine," he said, "if you quit stabbing yourself in the back."

Laani had turned her head to look in the opposite direction as he said the last word. And as he guessed, Beril came into the room. She was calmly walking to Laani with a datapad in her hand...and some sort of atrocious brown spiral of hair on her head. "Lost another bet?" he asked her mockingly.

"No. Maybe. Shut up." she responded defensively.

"No," he countered flatly.

Beril sighed sharply. "Here," she said to Laani as she held out the datapad, "have a list of ships."

"Thanks," Laani said as she took the datapad by the corner. He noticed she didn't even glance at Beril's transmogrified hair. Of course, Togruta didn't have hair of their own, maybe it just wasn't any stranger to her than it was before.

He heard Sareena before he saw her, and her heavy steps resembled marching more than walking. "No time to waste, Beril," she said as she strode through the cargo bay. Long black hair, a jet black jacket and deep blue pants...all in stark contrast to her cream-colored shirt. Must've been a sale at the "Smugglers Without Fashion" boutique.

Beril groaned as she left, since she had to break into a run to catch up with Sareena's determined pace.

"Comms," Laani called out after them, without actually looking in their direction. He almost missed her sliding the datacard out of the datapad Beril handed her.

"Got it," Sareena half-yelled in response, reminding him that the bay's sound damping field was active. He didn't miss Laani picking up a datapad off an empty crate and putting the datacard into it. He'd have been suspicious, if he hadn't seen Sareena put it there after some phase of the earlier discussion; as it was, Laani didn't trust Beril not to have done something to the datapad.

Which she wouldn't do. Beril liked seeing the excitement in her schemes, she'd only do something subtle if she was there to feel clever over how she was fooling everyone. But Laani didn't know Beril, any more than he knew Laani; it was prudent suspicion.

"So," Laani said while she was doing whatever with her datapad, "You want to keep an ear on the comm system? I'm just going to be hitting 'yes' and 'no' a lot with this thing."

"Where?" he asked.

"If it's all the same to you," she answered, "I was going to route it out here so we can both hear it."

She intended to respond too? "You do realize you're more likely to draw trouble than they are, right?" he inquired.

That drew her attention away from her ship triage. "Yes," she said with some annoyance, "but if it's bad enough that they're calling us, it's going to be too late for subtlety. We'll get through things faster if both of us are there."

No wonder Sareena didn't think she would blend in. "Fair enough. I doubt they'll get into anything Sareena can't handle, though." Sareena would talk Beril out of getting into something they couldn't handle. Again.

"I hope you're right."

* * *


Beril squinted as she took another sip of her bantha milk; the flavor was quite a bit more intense than she was used to in beverages. Which was why she ordered it, keeping her gustatory sense active would ensure her other senses stayed sharp.

From her seat in one of the cantina's booths, she could see and hear the nearby tables, where Sareena was asking pointed questions to anyone who looked like they might be reselling starship components. It was all part of the plan: while they travelled near the cantina's entrance together, they entered separately; Sareena was already working the crowd when Beril got up to the bar.

Beril was keeping an eye and ear out for indirect reactions from that crowd. So far, that had been limited to a couple whispering to each other about how stupid Sareena's stupid shirt looked. Beril did agree that the vertical cream-colored stripe didn't go with the otherwise dark wardrobe; but the simple fact that no one had even glanced in Beril's direction since she sat down told her what Sareena had been thinking.

Sareena was paying attention too, of course. Beril knew because when the bartender gave her a weird look for wanting a drink as soft as bantha milk, she explained how she had to be ready for take off at a moment's notice and her captain was too cheap to buy provisions with any flavor; Sareena paused midstep for a quarter of a second. She was partially exaggerating, of course, and hadn't actually indicated Sareena one way or the other, but it was still funny.

Right now, though, Sareena was in the midst of what seemed like a fruitful conversation. "You'd really pay that much for a hyperdrive?" a suspicious male voice was asking her.

"Of the same type, yes," Sareena confirmed casually. "My client can afford to be picky, so I can cover your expense of locating something so specific. If this were easy I'd have already found one."

Beril's attention was briefly distracted by a Trandoshan in a beige flight suit walking in front of her on his way to the bar. "—but I can certainly put the word out for what you're offering," she heard the man. She had her hidden monitoring device set to record both comms traffic and normal sound; if she really wanted to hear the first half of his sentence, she could replay it later.

"That's for intact," Sareena clarified. "As long as the chromium casing is all there, or nearly all there, I can make it work; but my repair costs would have to come out of the final payment. I'm sure you understand."

"Of course. Now, about my fee...."

Now a Zabrak walking in front of her draw Beril's attention...or more specifically, the horns rising out of her head. Beril's mind wandered over a series of hairstyles which would be improved if she had natural horns of that type, none of her attempts with prosthetics over the years had ever justified the cosmetic maintenance involved.

Realizing she had gotten distracted again, Beril reached for her overly strong beverage. But before she could put the glass to her lips, another sight grabbed her attention. One that looked like she should've been paying attention to it already.

"Hey," one of the two human men walking towards the bar said with an air of control, "we don't like your kind here, lizzy." Trying to boss Trandoshans around made them feel better about themselves, apparently. And safety in numbers was the traditional support system of speciesist stupidity. Though two was a pretty small number on their part, the claws weren't cosmetic.

Their target sighed softly. "Let me get you sssomething," he said casually, as he slowly turned in the direction of the bartender. Beril did note the attempt at patience, but it wasn't foremost on her mind. She'd known several Trandoshans during her childhood on Nar Shaddaa, with varying accents on their Basic...and the drawn-out hiss this guy was using was a blatant fabrication. It'd likely fool anyone who didn't know better, but why would he be trying to fool anyone over it in the first place?

The brown-haired man of the two declined by throwing a punch. It failed to connect, however; the Trandoshan, in an unusual display of agility for his species, pushed himself into a standing position before he could be hit. He wasted no time in slamming his opponent's head against the counter. His blond-haired accomplice clumsily charged forward, but his red-scaled target simply dodged before shoving him off to the side...and into the table Sareena was at.

Sareena jumped out of the way without taking her eyes off the fight, while her conversation partner was knocked over along with the table. She quickly stepped next to the support column separating two booths, putting her out of range of the fight while still in position to observe it. Beril knew the look in Sareena's eyes; she wanted to intervene on the Trandoshan's behalf, but couldn't justify the amount of attention she'd draw.

As the two men picked themselves up off the table, two others stood up and ran over, intent on entering the fray. Their target simply faced the center of the room, rather than any of the four combatants. Beril decided to release her grip on the glass she'd unconsciously set down on the table, deeming the container an inadequate weapon should the fight break in her direction.

The nearest man, not expecting to be seen from behind, charged in. He also wasn't expecting a Trandoshan to move fast enough for a scaled palm to strike his stomach, if the look on his face was any indication; the elbow that slammed into his face on his head's ground-ward descent didn't leave an opportunity for more facial evaluation.

Another human brandished a vibroknife, enough of a display for the other two humans standing to hold off. The Trandoshan exhaled loudly as he gently stepped away from the body on the ground, assuming some sort of defensive posture.

The vibroknife-wielder attempted to hit the Trandoshan with an overextended plunging motion from overhead, instead of the short stabbing thrust someone who actually knew what they were doing would try. Beril mentally sighed. What was the galaxy coming to when even bar brawls were full of more incompetently amateurish incompetent amateurs?

A blur of red motion deftly illustrated the oversight: the Trandoshan grabbed the other man's arm on both sides of the elbow, and forced the knife into the human's own belly. Beril couldn't tell whether the man's cry of pain was a direct result, or because of the claws being dragged across his upper arm. Probably both.

"No blasters! No blasters!" the bartender yelled before diving behind the counter. Why did bartenders always do that? Did anyone, in the history of ever, actually put their blasters away in response?

With a snarl, the Trandoshan used a single hand to push his bleeding adversary off his feet. For a brief instant it seemed he had his own areas of incompetence, getting rid of a body to block blaster bolts with.

That brief instant was all it took for him to produce a glowing length of red energy. Beril hadn't been living under a rock during the Clone Wars, despite the feeling that she was living on one at the time, so she of course recognized a lightsaber. The instant that passed before the firing started wasn't long enough to congratulate herself for recognizing the Jedi-bait ploy, she'd have to do that later.

With a smooth arc, the lightsaber intercepted the first shot almost as soon as she heard it fired, and the deflected bolt hit some spot on the metal floor. She hadn't seen anyone standing in the direction of the shot's origin before, though. A quick check of her peripheral vision suggested there were about two more men, and one woman, in position to open fire around the room.

The Trandoshan didn't appear concerned. He calmly swung his lightsaber around himself in close arcs, blocking each of several blaster shots with little more than a twist of his wrist. The nearest shooter didn't even have the chance to be surprised when a single wide swing severed his arm...followed closely by his neck. The shooter's accomplice didn't have a chance either: an angled thrust blocked his next shot and punctured his heart with the same motion, before the lightsaber exited through his shoulder to intercept a bolt from behind.

Most of the would-be assailants were already fleeing the cantina by this point, while Beril knew that getting out of her seat would guarantee she'd be the next target. A realization shared by all the other bystanders, it seemed. Unfortunately for the remaining shooter, the last shot had earned her something she could only wish to return: the Trandoshan's attention.

He quickly turned to face her, adopting some weird stance with his right arm held behind him but pointing his weapon forward, with his other hand open a short ways in front of him. After a brief pause, he stretched the clawed fingers of his open hand, and the woman's blaster pistol was somehow pulled straight out of her grip, and flew through the air several meters to rest in his hand. He nonchalantly tossed the weapon towards the tip of his own, not even flinching at the sparks produced when the two made contact.

The disarmed woman turned to run. But with a snarl, the Trandoshan thrust his empty hand forward, and she was lurched through the air just like her blaster had been. It sounded like she had started to scream, but Beril couldn't tell; the lightsaber lazily bisected her skull while she was in mid-air, along with the rest of her body. The energy blade didn't counteract inertia, and both halves slammed into the booth to Beril's left with a slightly squishy thud. It seemed as though energy blades were effective at cauterizing flesh as well, as the only smell Beril could distinguish was burnt hair.

With the floor clear of other combatants, and with a noticeable trail of blood from the clawed and knifed man, it certainly looked like the fight was over. Beril resolutely stayed where she was, though; the continued presence of a lightsaber's hum meant a new conflict could start with minimal provocation, and end with another corpse just as quickly.

While the Trandoshan was slowly shaking his head at the aftermath, Beril spared a glance for her royal compatriot. Sareena appeared unharmed, but her eyes had that stoic gaze of hers, directed at the red-scaled man. As if she was studying his every move. Sensible to be sure, although Beril really wanted to know what Sareena intended to do if she were to become his target.

Beril had heard the heavy footfalls approaching from outside the cantina, but the sound hadn't seemed like a priority. Which was just as well: The running steps came into view, revealing the white armor of Imperial stormtroopers that made them; and that was a much higher priority in its own right. Beril tried not to look panicked at their arrival, which was rather easy when there was a slaughter machine with a lightsaber in the same room to be panicked about instead.

The Trandoshan faced them directly. "The situation does not require your attention," he declared as the red beam receded into the device in his hand. Beril noticed the counterfeit hiss was completely absent now...and no particular accent of Dosh took its place. Basic was his primary language, as far as she could tell. "Return to your posts."

"Of course, Inquisitor," the lead stormtrooper said with a salute. The Trandoshan Inquisitor sighed, a vocal display anyone else would assume was a low hiss, before heading out into the corridor behind the Imperial troops. He was gently shaking his head on his way out, but Beril was pretty sure he'd made direct eye contact with her for a split second.

The rest of the cantina started clearing out in a hurry shortly after the stormtroopers were out of sight. Not getting trampled by walking into the flow of traffic seemed like a good idea, so she opted to remain in her seat for the moment.

The bustle of the mass exodus threatened to overshadow Sareena's voice, but Beril had experience with this kind of focused listening. "Will you be back in a week?"

"What?!" answered the man she'd been talking to earlier, before he was knocked to the floor he was presumably getting off of as he spoke. "With stormtroopers wandering around here? You're crazy!"

"Crazy enough to still pay your fee for doing your job, yes," she countered calmly.

By then, there were enough gaps in the outward stream of people for Beril to make out where Sareena and her hopeful hire were standing.

"Fine," he responded after a brief pause. "No promise anyone can make it here or have what you're looking for."

"The fee covers your time and effort, does it not?"

He nodded. "It does, and you will have them," he agreed on his way out of the door.

The cantina was all but empty at that point. Sareena casually walked over by Beril's booth, where Beril got out of her seat to walk out beside her.

"I thought there wasn't a garrison here," Beril asked, as the two of them headed towards the exit.

"So did I," Sareena answered without looking back.

"And what exactly is an 'Inquisitor'?"

"Follow me," Sareena commanded as the door opened, without answering the question.

Beril complied. The original plan was to split up to head back to the ship, much as they arrived at the cantina from different directions, but that was before there was a risk of being ambushed by Imperial forces. A risk, she mentally noted, that would last at least until they left the asteroid behind.

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 12:38 am 
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The Phiend wrote:
I could apologize for posting two chapters in a row after forgetting for so long but...I'm not gonna :P
Not denoting the chapter breaks very clearly, either (or at all?) :P

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 1:04 am 
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CWS wrote:
The Phiend wrote:
I could apologize for posting two chapters in a row after forgetting for so long but...I'm not gonna :P
Not denoting the chapter breaks very clearly, either (or at all?) :P
Oh. I suppose I shouldn't forget that....There.

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2016 2:22 pm 
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Chapter 6 wrote:
"Sounds like he's a Soresu practitioner," Ahsoka said thoughtfully in the transient privacy of the crew quarters on their freighter, "especially with the stance at the end."

Sareena had been intently observing the Trandoshan's actions throughout the conflict, with the hope of describing them well enough to get Ahsoka's input. Finally, one of her decisions was paying off. "What does that mean?"

"Oh, sorry. It's a thoroughly defensive lightsaber style. Let me guess: He deflected the blaster bolts with calm changes to his motion, and few of the bolts seemed to hit anything in particular?"

"They seemed to fly around randomly, in fact. He certainly didn't fight like you."

"Yeah, Shien is all about the counterattack, particularly with blaster shots. I don't doubt he could do the same in less strenuous circumstances....But I'm sure you have more pressing questions."

Since she was inviting questions likely to annoy her..."Couldn't you sense the Inquisitor or something?" Sareena asked.

Ahsoka rolled her eyes and shook her head. "It's not that simple," she responded with a slight air of protest. "It's much easier if it's someone I have a personal connection to, or someone particularly strong in the Force; but ultimately it's up to the will of the Force whether I can feel their presence in a populated area like this."

Sareena took a deep breath. "Strong in the Force like...you?"

Ahsoka shot a glare back for a split second. "I've discovered a talent for hiding from this sort of attention. I'd be long gone otherwise, and I certainly wouldn't drag any of you with me. And a conscious attempt to find someone would make me easier to find; I already tried within the limits of safety and didn't find anyone Force-sensitive."

It sounded like a special kind of guessing game, more than anything else. But rather than see how that comment was taken...."Since I'm sure Beril's going to be telling us what she found from her recon equipment soon, one last question: What exactly are the Inquisitors, anyway?"

Ahsoka turned her head slightly. "Officially, the Inquisitorius is a branch of Imperial Intelligence, with the special tasks of tracking down Jedi and providing...'enhanced interrogation', for those occasions where conventional torture isn't up to the task. But they report directly to the Emperor."

Sareena paused for a moment. She knew what that meant. "So unofficially, they could do anything in his name."

"Pretty much," she confirmed, "the Emperor and others reporting to the Emperor are their only real restraints. As to their abilities as individuals, they vary wildly; I've seen everything from erstwhile bounty hunters to failed Jedi Initiates. My guess is the Emperor's criteria are too restrictive for him to be picky. I've only noticed two things they all have in common. One, they're skilled with the dark side of the Force, though not impressively so."

"And the other?" Sareena asked after another brief pause.

"They're no match for me." Ahsoka answered firmly.

It sounded like arrogance to Sareena's ears. But she'd recently been thrown across a room by one of those lightning-throwing darksiders, as she later learned they were called...after she'd been shot in the shoulder of course, which put a haze of searing pain over her recollection. That was how she met Ahsoka, who didn't even seem annoyed by the threat. Ahsoka could very well be more powerful than Sareena could imagine, if only because she didn't know enough to imagine the full scope of the power involved.

And of course, Ahsoka was there precisely because she could deal with such unconventional threats. If all the team had needed was a mechanic, there were candidates far less likely to draw attention to themselves for Sareena to have chosen from. "I hope you're right," Sareena said with a hint of worry, "though not as much as I hope you don't have to prove it."

Ahsoka paused for a second. "Well either way, I won't let you down."

If nothing else, she didn't have to worry about the strength of Ahsoka's motivation. "I know."

A soft beep accompanied the door sliding open, and Beril waltzing in. "I've got good news," she said cheerily. "I am awesome."

Sareena rolled her eyes. Just what she needed right now, another ego. "You'll have to be specific."

"You're no fun. Your guy started talking to his ship before he was out of range, so I found out which ship it was. It was on the list that survived Laani's filtering, but that isn't the awesome part."

Now it was Ahsoka's turn to roll her eyes. "If you keep this up, I'll have to question whether you're actually awesome."

Beril scoffed. "Did you determine his comms encryption was a simplistic algorithm? Or match the recorded sound to the recorded traffic to decrypt it? Or hear the guy on the other end of the once-encrypted conversation specifically mention the area where they picked up 'that sublight engine'?"

"...no?" Ahsoka replied noncommittally.

"Didn't think so."

Sareena sighed in relief. "Finally, all this trouble is getting us something. Where?"

"'Like that sublight engine we got about six parsecs off Eriadu?', is what he said. Eriadu, of course, is where several hyperspace trade routes intersect, so having it nearby would be highly convenient if you're in the business of selling or reselling."

"Eriadu is also Grand Moff Tarkin's homeworld," Ahsoka added darkly.

Beril glared at Ahsoka, but only for a fraction of a second. "As much as I'd love to argue with Laani, she's right. Cavorting around a Grand Moff's pet sector is a problem waiting to happen for anyone who's not a friend of the Empire...like, us."

Sareena looked at Beril. "And I suppose we'd have to check all the systems five-to-seven parsecs from Eriadu in every direction, and hope the salvage depot we're looking for isn't well-hidden. Except of course, these guys are also pirates so they'd have a hard time operating near a major system without being well-hidden."

"Right. Enough merchant traffic goes through Eriadu itself that we could get there without much suspicion, but a system-by-system sweep is another matter entirely."

"Well, that settles it. Our next stop is Eriadu."

Beril and Ahsoka both looked at her. "And then what?" Beril demanded.

"I know a guy," Sareena explained. That wasn't counting the time she helped staff the local resistance's hospital, though...."Actually several. They'll know the region, and we'll need to be in the general vicinity anyway, so it's worth a shot. In any case, get our course plotted now; the sooner we get away from lightsaber maniacs, the better."

"I hear ya," Beril agreed as she turned around and left the way she came.

Ahsoka didn't speak until a couple seconds after the door closed. "I hope you're right about losing him so easily."

Sareena took a deep breath. She was expecting something indignant about being called a maniac. "Me too. But he couldn't have seen you since you were in here the whole time, so why would he even consider tracking us? No sense worrying about him finding us instead of preventing him from finding us."

"True enough."

* * *


Beril sighed. "Do I have to stay on the ship?" she complained at the other two occupants of the cargo bay, which had somehow become the unofficial meeting area.

"Yes, you do," Rian said firmly as he crossed his arms.

"Well I won't stop you," Laani said, "but there's nothing worthwhile out there for us."

Beril rolled her eyes at Rian. "So Sareena gets to go out for fresh air while I'm cooped up...we're cooped up here?"

Laani snorted. "If Eriadu's resistance is cautious enough that they wouldn't care if she vouched for us, they're probably not the partying sort. And as the person who hasn't set foot off this ship since we left Alderaan, I can assure you that whatever scent wafted in while the cargo bay door was open, it was not 'fresh air'."

"Typical," Beril said patronizingly as she slowly shook her head. "Natives of Alderaan, Corellia, Shili....Maybe if you came from a modern world like Nar Shaddaa instead of fetid nature-dominated planets, you'd have a better appreciation of what civilization is supposed to smell like."

"Let me know when Nar Shaddaa stops importing food from those so-called 'fetid' places," Laani countered snidely. "And the ulta-urban Coruscant didn't impress me, but its air still managed to smell like air instead of chemicals."

"Well duh, Coruscant is a world for bureaucrats; all they do is look progressive without any progress. Real progress is real creation, and you can smell real creation."

"Funny, that's how I feel about fresh air. Weren't you saying that's what's outside the door in this little corner of the spaceport?"

"Yes, because I know what fresh air actually is. And it's not the stale stuff circulating in here, or the fragrance-masked stuff I had to tolerate back on Alderaan. Sure, it does the job air is supposed to, but it's strictly substandard."

Laani paused for a second, then looked askance at Beril. "Are you really so bored that you're arguing about air pollution standards?"

"Why, would you rather talk about Coruscant instead?" Beril countered sarcastically, ignoring the accuracy of Laani's comment.

"It'd be a short speech," Laani responded, "a handful of sprawling estates floating on an ocean of urban towers. The Navy didn't hang around on the surface enough for sightseeing, you know."

Beril's mind raced. During the trip she'd gone over the records she acquired from the Empire, and the biggest overlap in Laani's and Ahsoka's records was at Coruscant. A prime digging point if ever there was one. "Not even the...Jedi Temple? What'd that thing look like?"

Laani paused, but only briefly. "Like five horns rising out of a metal block," she said softly, "watching the rest of the planet without seeing they were never part of it."

Rian rejoined the conversation. "Not a fan of the Jedi, I'm guessing?" Good, he caught the hint she didn't have to give now.

Laani turned her head sharply to face him. "Well they were supposed to keep maniacs with red lightsabers from running around and killing as they pleased." She then turned back towards Beril. "I'm not impressed with the quality of their performance. Are you?"

Beril shivered. She had heard about and seen video of those guys, but it was a very different sort of apprehension to actually be in the same room with one. People who walk into firestorms, eviscerate whoever they like, and leave unharmed; just as easily as she breathed..."Heck no. And the Jedi worked with the Republic, which is now the Empire that's fielding those guys. Someone in one of those horns screwed up big time."

Laani sighed. "They most certainly did."

That wasn't particularly informative, with what Sareena said about that Ahsoka being framed by another Jedi she would have a dim view of the Jedi leadership herself. Maybe throwing her on the spot would knock something loose...."Do you happen to know that woman the bounty's actually for?"

A scowl immediately formed on Laani's face. "Why?" she demanded. "The Emperor's human, do you happen to know him? Maybe you'd like to ask if I met Shaak Ti, too?"

"Well since you apparently know how to pronounce their names off—"

"They're not outlandish Togruti names," Laani interrupted vehemently, "and no. Despite the other assumptions that all Togruta who share a skin color automatically know each other—"

"—That's not what—"

"I was never assigned directly under either of their commands, though course I had heard of each of them! Are there any other stereotypes you'd like me to disabuse your technophiliac self of, or are you good?"

"...sorry?" Beril offered sheepishly. Whether she'd overextended her attention or just been outwitted, subtlety was out of the question for the near future and it'd be best if she didn't admit that.

Rian sighed deeply as he shook his head in disapproval. "Shortsightedness aside....Where were you actually deployed?" Was he rubbing it in or trying to help her recover? She couldn't tell the difference anymore.

Laani took a deep breath as she slowly turned to face him. "Well, the world I remember the most is Felucia. Giant phosphorescent mushrooms everywhere...now that was a fetid nature-dominated planet."

Time to dodge attention. "Weren't you sent there a while back, Rian?" Beril said.

"Yeah, they needed some muscle to cover the extraction of some refugee village. Poisonous lifeforms, hostile lifeforms, poisonous hostile lifeforms, the occasional Imperial blaster....Ranged from 'obnoxious' to 'nothing my powered armor can't handle'."

"Is your armor really that good?" Laani asked, her attention suitably dodged.

"If CorSec wanted it back," he declared, "they should have gotten it before failing to kill me. And when your job is raiding criminal hideouts, your armor better be tougher than a few pistols or knives."

"...and they needed you to extract a village?" Laani asked skeptically.

"That's what they said. But for how small the village was, there was a lot of cargo being loaded and the walkers were overkill. Maybe Sareena knows what the operation was a cover for, there have to be professional snipers they can tap before calling her in for a marksman role."

Wait, what? "Walkers?" Beril repeated. "Sareena? You didn't tell me either of those were there!"

Rian scoffed. "You never asked. Sareena was already there, which I assume is why I was assigned in particular; and we took down their command speeder elsewhere to draw off the AT-STs, we never actually fought them."

"So why didn't you ask her? I wanna know now!"

"Sareena wouldn't tell me while it was going on, it didn't matter after I left even if she would tell me then, and now that you know about it you're going to try slicing it out when we get back to Alderaan anyway so what difference does it make?"

"Am not!" There weren't going to be actual records on a connected system if there was a cover story in place throughout. She'd have to do an actual investigation, and that sounded like work.

"Good. You exercising self-restraint would be refreshing."

"Guys," Laani said loudly. "This is turning into kind of an awkward dialog to be overhearing, so how about we talk about something less...personal? Like how we're going to find our Pantoran hostage at the pirate base."

Complete distraction...perfect. "Weren't you with the Navy when they did this kind of thing?" Beril asked.

"As I'm sure you can imagine, the Navy was into orbiting fleets. And fleets that dropped off the infantry and vehicles which actually did the ground operations. This isn't quite the same thing."

"I guess not," Beril said. "Well, assuming one of those nature planets with a single hidden base....My preference would be to descend into the atmosphere well away from their base powered down, and once we're in the air we go live and approach the base low to the ground. Depending on the geography we could land within walking distance without them ever having a chance to detect us with scanners. Standard scout-and-infiltrate from there."

"Assuming he's still there," Rian added pointedly.

"Not really," Beril countered. "If he's there, we get him out. If not, we find our next lead. We have to check the place out regardless, it's just different sorts of hassles after that."

"What worries me," Laani said, "is what happened to everyone else. He was a passenger, and we haven't even heard if there were any other passengers, much less what happened to the crew."

"We'll see when we get there," Rian responded.

"True, I suppose."

A chime, indicating an incoming transmission, cut the conversation short before Beril could come up with a response. "I'm back," came Sareena's voice over the speaker on the nearby terminal, "open the cargo door."

Beril slowly walked over to the terminal, lost in thought. Once in front of it she sighed, disappointed that she couldn't come up with some new way to tease Sareena on short notice, before hitting the button to respond. "Got it, opening," she said as she entered the command for the cargo bay door to open and the ramp to extend.

As the door slowly opened, she chose to offset her failure of imagination by imagining a fanfare playing in the background, trumpets signaling the arrival of someone distantly related to some important dignitary who happened to be her boss. Sareena's disgust at the mocking extravagance would be hilarious.

"What did you do?" Sareena asked with a suspicious eyebrow creased.

Apparently she'd imagined Sareena boarding while Sareena was boarding, and the smile she imagined on her own face was actually on her face. "Nothing!" she answered too quickly and too playfully to be believable.

Sareena's eyes moved a little to the side, glancing over where Rian and Laani were. "Anyway," Sareena continued as she rolled her eyes in annoyance, "We've got a location. Close the door, and get ready to take off."

* * *


As Sareena watched the blue mottling of hyperspace out the cockpit window from the command seat, the view shifted to a burst of streaking lines, which soon resolved themselves into individual stars.

"And here we are," Beril announced from the pilot seat, "back in realspace."

"Comm channels are clear," Ahsoka said from a terminal to Sareena's left, "and that looks like the planet your contact described: Stormy, mostly ocean, irregular rocky islands dotted with jungle. No ships showing up on passive scans."

Only passive scans? "I take it you're not actively scanning?" Sareena asked.

"No," Ahsoka answered. "Odds are very good that the pirates will detect an active scan, and without anything worth scanning for—"

"They'll think we're onto them and be on their guard," Sareena concluded.

"No sense broadcasting that we're onto them," Rian agreed from a seat to Sareena's right.

Sareena took a deep breath. "I was ready to try fast talking a ship into letting us land. Since there's not one here....Beril, what's your recommendation?"

Beril sighed. "Since you didn't manage to get coordinates for the precise location, I'll have to determine exactly where we're supposed to sneak up on. And since it turns out the storms are intense enough to block our passive scans, I'll need to write a program to piece together passive scan data from the clear portions of the atmosphere, until we have something resembling the island the base is on. That'll take days if the weather isn't cooperative, and odds are they'll have 'guest' ships spotting us if we're here that long. So we'll have to do active scans to have any real chance of success, unless Laani has some brilliant idea."

"Sort of," Ahsoka said. "Act like we're doing some basic planet assessment. Go into orbit, send generic 'anyone there' comms, do active scans of the surface, and head off to one of the life-hostile planets in the system."

"And then we slingshot around it," Beril added to the proposal, "approach this planet unpowered, and head toward the base in-atmosphere. They'll think we left the system, the fools."

"Getting ahead of yourself, aren't you?" Rian asked patronizingly.

Beril shook her head with an exaggerated neck motion, which Sareena could only tell by the jet black hair peeking out the sides of the pilot seat. "Big deal, it sure beats sitting around in space long enough for our unwitting pirates to become suspicious pirates...like could happen any moment now. Setting course."

No sense waiting around, then. "Go for it," Sareena said.

"Since we headed straight here," Rian said as the ship's forward motion began, "can you explain why we have a hassle instead of actual coordinates now?"

Sareena mentally pieced all the information together. "The resistance isn't actually supposed to know there's a base here. The base is built in a cavern system inside a mountain, with the hangar situated behind a natural cave opening, and with all the rock in the way it doesn't output enough power to show up on ships' sensors during normal operations. They only found it existed because one of their freighters was trading supplies with another freighter out here, and spotted a starfighter-sized vehicle disappearing into a mountain without leaving a crash site."

"And since they lazily assumed there was nothing of interest on the planet," Beril continued with annoyance, "they didn't go to the negligible effort of establishing a navigational frame of reference for it."

"Whatever the reason," Sareena jumped in before Beril went on a tirade, "the guess of the base's location with respect to the planet only narrowed it down to about an eighth of the entire surface, so the scanner image of the island it's on is the best reference we have."

"At least we know it's on the half of the planet we're facing right now," Ahsoka added.

A rapid beeping filled the cockpit for a moment. "Speaking of guest ships," Beril said, "one just jumped out of hyperspace behind us. Looks like a Gozanti freighter, the Tranquil Star, heading towards the same planet we are."

"Imperial?" Sareena asked with some concern.

"Nah, this is the classic pre-Clone-Wars model. Severe hassle if you're trying to capture it, but doesn't have the speed to chase anything down."

"Wait," Ahsoka said to no one in particular, "'Tranquil Star'? That sounds familiar...."

"No sense being bashful now," Sareena said. "Beril, see if their comms are open. And be ready to outrun it all the way into the atmosphere, just in case."

"Got it," Beril replied.

"Umm..." Ahsoka said uncertainly. "It's familiar because that was one of the ships docked back at the asteroid. Transponder codes match."

Beril quickly peeked her head out from her seat. "Back like when we were tracking down the engine?"

"Back like just now," Ahsoka responded.

"That's not suspicious at all," Rian's sarcasm contributed.

Sareena took a deep breath. This wasn't the time to panic.

Beril withdrew into her seat again. "No standard channels are open," she declared. "Want me to try...other channels?"

Ahsoka slowly rose out of her seat. She was looking forward, but Sareena noticed the eye looking straight at her. Sareena turned her head slightly towards Ahsoka, and in response Ahsoka crossed her arms. The motion was deliberate, except for when she practically slapped one of the platinum bracers on her forearms.

The bracers she kept her lightsaber in.

Sareena turned her head farther. On that ship? she silently mouthed. Ahsoka gently nodded in the affirmative.

OK, this still wasn't the time to panic, but that he'd somehow followed them here would at least make panic understandable.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Sareena declared. "Laani, head back to the engine room in case there's fireworks we need put out. Beril, get us some more distance from our visitor."

"No," Beril countered coldly as Ahsoka wordlessly walked out of the cockpit.

Sareena blinked. It was so rare for Beril to take things seriously that it always came as a surprise. "Why not?"

"We're already gaining distance, they're holding speed, and they've got no chance of hitting us once when we get in the atmosphere. I'm not rushing a shootout in their favor."

"They're holding while we're gaining? Must be counting on something at the other end."

"I'm sure it's a trap, but that doesn't change our options. Rian, I have the shields ready, push the button when the fireworks start."

"Acknowledged," Rian said as he faced the terminal at his seat.

"I'm in position," came Ahsoka's voice over the ship's comm.

Everything was primed. "All that's left now, is to wait for the trigger." Sareena announced.

For a few seconds, the only sounds Sareena heard were the air softly whistling through the ship's air circulation system, the gentle rumble of the sublight engines, and the firm pace of her own heart. She had no idea how the Inquisitor could have known they were here, much less how he could have followed them; but it seemed clear he didn't come this far to be reasoned with.

"And there it is," Beril said, "starfighters launching from the planet. Showtime."

There wasn't time to even wonder what that entailed. Sareena was pushed backwards against her seat as the ship's inertial dampers struggled to counteract the sharp acceleration, and the slowly growing image of the planet out the window expanded with alarming speed. Laser fire screamed from behind, but no shots connected.

It didn't take long for shots from the front to commence, as the fighters realized they were being rushed by a ship they couldn't know was unarmed. In the small fraction of a second Sareena could clearly see the fighters before Beril charged through the middle of their formation, she noted their main feature was a long beige rectangle, and not the twin gray hexagons of TIE fighters.

There was a brief pause in the sounds of blaster fire, as the view out the window made the subtle transition from direct to ambient lighting as they entered the atmosphere; but sparse firing resumed amid the roar of the ship's engines, presumably from a couple fighters intent on pursuing them.

As the view leveled off from a straight dive, revealing a rainy gray sky and a cluster of colossal trees rising out of an island ahead, Sareena found her anxiety had become palpable. The artificial gravity had been specially enhanced precisely because Beril could operate at this speed, but the negligible shift in momentum meant Sareena's only physical indication of their direction was out the window...and the motion blur on the ocean below meant they were moving faster than she'd ever be comfortable with. It didn't help that the firing sounds were her only clue of pursuers. Next time she ran a mission, she was going to insist that readouts be available directly from the commander's chair.

It didn't take long to realize they were headed directly towards one of those gigantic trees. "Are you really—"

"Busy," Beril cut her off with a detached, but loud, tone.

As if on cue, the room shook violently with a soft boom, and the ship briefly lurched to the right.

"That was one of the port engines," came Ahsoka's level voice over the ship's comm. "I've compensated for now, but we better land soon."

"Got it," Beril responded. Sareena hadn't even noticed a reduction in speed...which spoke of both Ahsoka's skill and Beril's recklessness.

With a sharp counterclockwise motion that Sareena could almost feel, the view out front turned on its side, as the ship deftly flew just past the trunk of one gigantic tree, and narrowly avoiding another. Trees that until that moment, Sareena was unaware were many times larger than their ship. A series of explosions rang out behind them.

Followed by one to her left, violently shaking the entire ship around them.

"...and that was the other port engine," Ahsoka calmly reported. "Nice work splashing the patrol, but now we're landing soon whether we like it or not. Probably not."

"Options!" Sareena demanded, hoping the terror she was feeling didn't show.

"We crash, or we crash with style."

"Style," Beril declared coldly.

With nothing she could do, Sareena clenched her mouth shut and watched the view ahead. Now that they were past the trees, it looked like the ship was racing parallel to the edge of a cliff, and slowly losing altitude and speed. The angle was wobbling unsteadily, but Sareena eventually recognized it as Beril manipulating the aerodynamics to eke out as much distance as possible. There was a trick the typical space pilot wouldn't know how to pull off.

The ship started veering to the right towards a beach near the face of a cliff, though Sareena couldn't see why. Judging from the placement of the wide-mouthed cave, there was no way the beach was long enough for them to—

Cave?

She wouldn't...what am I thinking, of course she would.

As the interior of the cave was lit by the activation of the ship's forward lights, Sareena gave up, closing her eyes and hoping Beril actually knew what she was doing.

It was only a second before the ship made contact, grinding and scraping and dragging and jumping against the ground. After a few seconds that felt like an eternity in an earthquake, the motions and sounds finally stopped.

Sareena consciously controlled her breathing to avoid hyperventilating, as she assessed her surroundings. Shattered screens, loose panels and emergency lighting aside; the cockpit seemed intact. Rian was undoing his seat restraints, the exterior lights still functioned, and the view out the window showed that they had stopped short of actually colliding head-on with the rock wall of the cave.

"Status report!" Sareena yelled once she had enough breath.

"Ready for duty," Rian reported. He looked disoriented, but that was to be expected.

"No harm done," Ahsoka said...causing Sareena to turn her head to verify that she had entered the cockpit. She didn't even look perturbed by the ordeal.

A snort issued from the pilot's seat. "I...am...awesome!" Beril declared in her usual energetic voice, which probably qualified as psychotic in this scenario.

"She has made worse landings," Rian admitted as Sareena undid her own seat restraints and went to check Beril's physical status.

"I give you a nine for the dive," Ahsoka said, "but a two for the landing."

"Whatever!" Beril protested.

Sareena sighed, trying to be keep the situation in perspective. "As pleased as I am that we're all in good spirits, we don't have time to waste. Beril, you alright?"

"You mean besides my piloting being—"

"Beril!"

"Yes, I'm fine, sheesh!"

Apparently she was the only one still soaked in stress. "Sorry. Beril and Laani, you two triage the ship, see exactly what we have to work with. Rian and I will secure the perimeter in case someone else followed us here."

As fragments of ideas whirled through her mind, Sareena found one thought foremost past the immediate concerns: They were down half their engines before they hit the ground. If the ship couldn't be made spaceworthy, or at least airworthy, calling the crash a "complication" would be a ludicrous understatement.

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 Post subject: Re: Penumbra (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2016 4:10 pm 
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That was a truly spectacular crash sequence. Plus, y'know, everything else. :rbg:

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