"Delusional," Atton said carefully. "Has to be."

Dustil nodded, face as deliberately blank as Atton's own. "Push a man too far, he'll believe just about anything. I'll…see if we've got anything to help him out."

He backed hastily out of the makeshift prison, leaving Atton along with bodies, one half-conscious old man, and a cold knot of fear in his belly. If Dustil believed what he'd heard - if the pirate kept talking-

He wanted to think it was old reflexes. But fear-driven anger made his fists clench as he leaned in, looming over the prisoner and briefly wishing for something more intimidating than a blaster. Something that would hurt. "Listen, old man, whatever you think you know, keep quiet about it. Or I'll-"

He was cut off by a wheeze that might have been laughter or pain. "You'll what, boy? Kill me? It's too late for that."

He could. Still wanted to, rather than risk his secret, and the knowledge left him sick and shaky. "I didn't come here to hurt anybody. But you don't know what you're saying."

"I'm dying, boy. I see things I couldn't see before. Your friend-"

"Medpacks," Dustil announced, clattering back into the room. "I don't-" He cut himself off before going any further, but Atton could read the rest of the thought in the taut lines of his face. I don't think they'll do him any good.

"Do what you can," Atton said, moving back to give Dustil room to work. "I'll - hell, I don't know what I can do to help-" …half-cocked, half-trained, can't heal worth a damn…

"You want to help?" the pirate asked. "I've got mines. And the power conduits here are half-corroded. Blow this place to shrapnel."


"Take what you want. What you can carry. But destroy this place before you go."

Dustil's mouth quirked in bleak amusement. "Hell of a funeral pyre."

"It's not that," Atton said thoughtfully. "It's-" Fear? The pirate was beyond any concern for himself, but an odd, formless dread still coiled through Atton's Force-sense of the man. "What happened here?"

"Mutiny. I thought." Atton reached out for the dying man, seeing and feeling the things he didn't say. "Sent some folk out scouting. Not many came back." -came back wrong, shadowed and predatory, eyeing crewmates with a hunger that was not physical. "Those that did jumped us-" savagery that didn't feel pain, a hovering, unseen something that clung and drained- "Killed pretty much everybody, stuffed the rest in here." -thin, cold air that sapped the will, swarming presences that battered at his mind- "Don't know what they wanted, but they weren't…them any more."

He was holding something back. It was experience and not the Force that told Atton that, and he blocked away the memory of how he'd gotten that experience, shielding against it as he would have done against another Jedi. "You know more than I do, old man. And if I'm supposed to blow the station I'm standing on, I damn well want to know why."

The pirate took a rasping breath that would have turned into a cough if he'd had the strength. "Stage - staging area. Beachhead."

"For what?" Dustil asked. "We're the only people alive on this hunk of metal."

"Not people. Not…I don't know. But I saw - they took us away, one at a time. Heard the screams. Mostly they stopped and I heard the airlock cycle. Once or twice, saw them walking around instead." Atton didn't quite flinch from the man's memory, of former crewmates now walking with the invaders' empty faces. Of his own pain, and a blurry awareness of something that probed at his mind and demanded surrender. "They left me alone when you two started shooting. They want - some kind of prisoners. Warm bodies, anyway." The memory flickered again, of familiar crewmates with vacant, hostile eyes, and Atton's skin prickled. He didn't understand what had happened here, but what he'd seen made him want to bolt for the safety of the Core.

"I don't get it," Dustil murmured, staring intently at the man. "But he's not lying." He caught himself. "I don't think he's lying. We should go along with him."

Easy enough to rig a timed explosion that would give them space to get clear. Fire to cleanse this place of the taint he could sense but not understand… "You're right. I'll see what I can do with the power systems, if you can get him shipboard-"

"Don't bother. Told you I was dying." The pirate gave them both a fierce stare. "Just get the job done."

Dustil hesitated. Atton didn't. It wasn't likely they'd be able to get the old man to medical help before he died. And if he felt a sneaking relief at being rid of someone who saw far too much - well, it wasn't worthy of a Jedi, but he wasn't much of a Jedi. "Your call. Let's go."

"I don't like it."

"I don't like anything out here. Doesn't change things."

Dustil scowled, but followed reluctantly when Atton got to his feet - not without giving the dying pirate the painkillers they hadn't dared use earlier. It didn't take long to make it to the station controls outside the landing bay, and by unspoken consent, they worked silently at first, slicing the consoles that controlled the station's power consumption. But a few minutes of watching Dustil's set, uneasy expression drove Atton to ask, "So do you believe that story?"

"I believe he believed it. And I believe something's seriously out of line here."

"So what are we doing sticking around?"

"Got to. I can't go back yet." Dustil frowned. "You…don't have to, though. Looks like those pirate ships still fly. You could take one of them and head back planetside - hell, might even turn a profit."

It was tempting, even for the person he wanted to be. New world, new name, the safety of obscurity and a dozen worlds to disappear into. He wouldn't even have to give up searching for Calla; surely there was someone on the Rim who could tell him where to look next…

But she's out there. In the dark. It wasn't logical, and it wasn't - quite - the Force. That didn't mean he could ignore it.

"…naah. Nothing worth going back for."

But the space between the stars had never looked quite so dark.