"So we run around with our knickers down
And hope they hadn't seen us
For a getaway or old fashioned lay
Nothing beats the Starship Venus …"
The bawdy tune shook the bulkheads of the Ebon Hawk's galley, punctuated by fits of laughter and the clanking of tableware. The communal meal was something they shot for at least once a day, while T3 was in the cockpit running a diagnostic check and the autopilot. It made the protein rations and synthetizer fare seem almost like a celebration feast. On the heels of three Star Maps down and a final one left to go, it was as much a cause for joy as anything.
Noticeably different was Bastila's presence. While she normally stopped only long enough to have a small bowl of food before retreating into meditations or a shift in the cockpit, this time, she tarried a bit and took a seat next to Canderous.
Carth leaned back on one of the benches, arms sprawled on the back. Kairi sat next to him, leaning on his shoulder. Jolee passed the bowl of replicated stew over to Mission, who took her share and passed it on down. Zaalbar was hunkered in a corner (the chairs at the table being too small for him), and gobbled down his meal with relish.
"Oh, come on now," Canderous had teased when the salty banter and silly jokes lulled into a stretch of silence. "I'm sure someone's tongue isn't occupied at the moment!"
Never one to be challenged by a Mandalorian and lose on purpose, Carth stood up from his seat and started singing.
"So, we all left the Core. T'was really a bore.
We'd tried every vice that pleased us.
We'll head for the Rim, where the pickings ain't slim
On our beat-up Starship Venus!"
Laughter across the table. Some nervous titters of embarrassment, others great, hearty laughs as Canderous and Carth swapped verses of the bawdy spacers' favorite, that commented on the reputed "virtures" of prostitutes at different ports. Canderous started in on one verse.
"Oh, Onderon girls will do you for pearls
At Anchorhead, they'll do you for water
But if you just say, want…"
He trailed off, forgetting the next line. That's when Bastila stood up.
"Oh, Onderon girls will do you for pearls
At Anchorhead, they'll do you for water
But if you just say, want a roll in the hay
Then go screw a Dantooine daughter!"
That caused the entire crew to cheer and laugh as they went into the chorus and ended the song.
"Cool! Didn't think you knew THAT song, Bastila!" Mission said.
"It just proves that bawdy songs can infiltrate even the most sacred of holdings," Bastila said in a mocking parody of her "Dark Side speeches." She looked up at Canderous. "Shall we?"
Mission raised an eyebrow. "Gonna road test some of those positions you heard in the song?"
Bastila's cheeks turned neon red. "Mission!"
"Something a bit more mundane, I'm afraid," Canderous said. "I volunteered to pilot this shift. We're just headed to the cockpit."
That seemed to be the signal that started everyone with the cleaning up and heading separate ways into the ship. Kairi was last in the room. She sighed contentedly and shook her head. It was good to see Canderous and Bastila getting along so well. In fact, they'd been practically inseparable since the Hrakert rift incident. She certainly wished them the best, whatever this budding closeness became.
She yawned and stretched. She'd changed for bed some time ago, just wearing a plain black shift - ankle length and sleeveless, cut wide across the shoulders. Still, sleep wasn't something that came easily anymore. Maybe it would tonight. She still felt happy and safe, the echoes of joy and closeness among the crew having the same effect on her empathy as a hot bath would have to tired muscles. She gathered up the dishes and put them in the sanitizer for cleaning, then tidied up the galley, humming the tune as she did so.
There is no comfort; there is suffering
There is no love; there is loss.
The thought seemed to come from nowhere and blasted the sense of comfort she had earlier. There wouldn't be many more nights like this. Korriban was a dangerous world, and after that, they would still need to confront Malak somehow. And, even in the best of scenarios, the unity of the crew would cease to be all too soon.
More disturbingly, were the words of Revan. She knew they were no more a dream than the glimpses she saw through the other visions, even though some aspects of it left her without any answers (a frustrating constant in her life, it would seem). Could it be that the Mandalorian Wars left Revan seeing such carnage and pain that despair and rage were the only recourse? Zhar spoke of a void within Revan that duty or noble causes could not fill. Canderous spoke of Revan sacrificing lives by the thousands and fighting not only from the bridge of a battleship, but on the field itself, the scarlet-trimmed robe (white in early battles, black in the later) and masked face becoming the last thing many of his people would see. Little sacrifices becoming greater and greater, and having no one to turn to, no one to confide in - always apart and alone. And in the end, nothing would change. If not the Mandalorians, or the Sith, there would always be some threat. And even the Republic was rife with corrupt senators, callous capitalists (such as Czerka, who changed flags as easily as they ravaged planets), and fat crime lords - a case of the bad fighting the worse. All the while the Council seemed to dictate from the cloistered enclaves about the virtues of the Light while the universe seemed indifferent at best.
How very lonely a place Revan's world must have been...Kairi shivered, despite the even temperature. She would have to treasure her few memories and hope they would be enough when the inevitable happened. She could not afford to take one moment for granted.
Perhaps a walk would do her good. No, there was something better than that for easing her worried thoughts. Every bit as calming as Dorak's book of mantras, but infinitely more useful. She left the galley and turned down the curved corridor.
HK-47 was in his usual spot, stationed by the ship's auxiliary turret, running a tactical simulation through the ship's computer. The droid's head popped up, and he retracted his connection to the computer upon seeing her.
"Greeting: Hello, master. Query: Have you had trouble reaching sleep mode yet again?"
"I'm afraid so, HK," she said gently. "How are you feeling? Have those upgrades I found on Manaan helped you?"
"Statement: I am functioning at optimum capacity, save for the block on my core memory and the destruction of my assassination protocol. Both of which I fear are irreparable."
"Maybe it's not such a bad thing that one protocol being shut down. It's certainly caused a lot of trouble, after all."
"Query: If my protocol were functional, would you not make use of it? There have been many meat-bags that have inconvenienced you. Had my protocol been in place, it would be my pleasure to terminate them."
"That's...um...a sweet thought, HK, but I'm a big girl. I can usually take care of my own problems."
"Retraction: I did not mean to imply you are inept in battle, master!"
She patted the droid's metal shoulder "It's quite all right. May I run a check on your circuit connections? It would at least be something to do, and I know how much you like being in top condition."
"Statement: I cannot object to the idea of being maintained and battle-ready. I must say that other than your unsettling regard for life, I cannot recall a finer master."
"If you want the truth," she admitted, taking a tester probe and opening up the droid's back. "At least one of us should get our core memory restored."
"Acknowledgment: Indeed. Surely, I cannot be the only one of my kind. Here I am, surrounded by meat-bags and servile droids when I desire true perfection. Truly, there must be other droids like me in the universe. Query: Do you think so, master?"
"Statement: Certainly, master, humiliate your pet droid."
"Keep behaving like this, and I might not polish you until we get into port," she teased.
"Statement: You can be a cruel master indeed. I like you."
She laughed and finished her test. She saw the toolbox nearby and summoned the soldering gun to her hand.
"Statement: I have always found your capacities most fascinating. How is that done?"
Kairi glanced over at the toolkit, a bit out of arms' reach, and at the soldering tool in her hand. She hadn't really been thinking about it, but it was becoming more second nature for her to use Jedi abilities. She shifted position, suddenly uncomfortable. "I...I really didn't think about it, HK. Sorry, I'll try to be more careful when using my powers from now on." She started working on a loose connection, but it took effort to will her hands steady.
"Clarification: I see nothing wrong with using the abilities programmed into your matrix, master. I only meant to say that you have become increasingly comfortable with implementing those functions."
She shook her head. "That ought to do it for that connection. It looks like the other functions are in top shape." With a sigh, she admired her handiwork for a moment before sliding his panel shut. "HK, do you ever think you can remember parts of your core memory - some reference that doesn't make sense, a bit of data that seems out of place - that sort of thing?"
"Statement: It is hard to say. There are many partial strings and apparently superfluous code in memory, but whether those are references to my core memory or garbage data, I cannot know. Why? Has your programming been faulty lately, master?"
"Well, no," she admitted. "But there have been many occasions where it feels like I should know something but don't, or all the things I do know and can't remember where I learned them. Just little things, but adding them all up makes me...concerned. I don't even know why I know your systems so well. You certainly aren't built like most droids."
"Statement: I do not know why you are so adept, either, but I will try not to analyze that bit of data, only be grateful that I am in competent hands. If we were not in hyperspace, I would propose that we go and kill something to cheer ourselves up."
Kairi sighed. Despite being such an incorrigibly destructive droid, HK-47 was still a dutiful one. In his own way, he was trying to serve. "Maybe I'll ask you to help test the aft guns later by running an attack drill. You're very good with those. In the meantime, recharge those power cells and don't worry too much about me - I'm still just a confused meat-bag, after all."
"Statement: You are no meat-bag. You are my master. Signing off."
HK-47 slumped over, assuming a dormant mode for self-diagnostics and recharge. Kairi shook her head at the droid and continued her pacing around the ship.
She passed by the armory where she heard the "whish" sound of sword cutting air. Stopping at the door, she peeked in. Juhani held two short swords, one in each hand, as she gracefully seemed to dance about to armory. Her eyes were closed, and she was whispering something under her breath that Kairi could not hear. As she ducked invisible blows, and stuck back and unseen opponents, Kairi admired the Cathar's grace of movement. Her stances were not Jedi. Rather, they seemed...a broad smile spit Kairi's face as she recognized them - Mandalorian stances. Canderous had learned there was more to melee combat than grabbing the largest blade and charging, and it would seem as though Juhani was also learning how to incorporate what was useful into her own style.
Not really wanting to interrupt Juhani at her practice, she turned around and headed back for the cargo hold. Zaalbar was sitting on the deckplates, polishing Bacca's blade while T3-M4 buzzed slowly to the engine room to check on some maintenance matter. Zaalbar looked up at her and waved, letting out an inquiring warble.
"Just taking a walk, Zaalbar. Are you all right?"
"More than that. But I know you are sad. What weighs on your branches, Kairi?"
"Just the knowledge that this will end soon," she said. "I will miss you all so much."
"Should you wish, you will always have a home in my village. I think Mission will be joining me there. As chieftain, I also can conduct a wedding, should you and Carth wish it."
"Oh. It's a little soon for that, Zaalbar. Besides, I don't think I could drop out of the universe like Jolee did. There's...there's still so much to do. I just…"
"Love of clan calls one hand, while the task of Chieftain calls another."
"That's pretty close," she said, walking into the room and sitting next to him. "Jedi aren't supposed to have clan, though. I'm sure you have heard that by now."
"I do not understand why Jedi cannot have clan. A clan to a Wookiee is like the roots of the wroshyr – without those roots, they cannot stand. Even I lived only as a beast until the Gods sent Mission." He thought a moment. "Bacca said, 'Trust always the wisdom of the trees; not always the words of the shaman.' There are no trees here, but there is life. What wisdom can it give?"
"I'm…still trying to hear it, Zaalbar."
"Trees speak slowly. Especially here."
"What did the Embassy say? I didn't hear about that."
"Father and I will use Czerka's communicators to contact them until we have established enough trust for a face to face meeting. Mission will be with us to translate. We will be on watch for any treachery, however. Father is calling a meeting of the Chiefs right now to tell them about the idea. It will be difficult, so soon after Czerka, but as long as we are alone, we risk them returning. That, I cannot allow." He leaned back against the wall. "But the Republic has good laws. And the Sith being allied with Czerka does not help any case their Empire wish to make. That, and what I saw with my own eyes. It was very hard to hold Mission close so she could not see her world destroyed around her. I…can never forget that."
"I…can't either, Zaalbar."
"Finish your walk around the ship and sleep tonight. We will be here in the morning, at least."
"Thank you, Zaalbar. You're wiser than you think."
He nodded, and Kairi got up, using his large shoulder for leverage, and patting his furry head before leaving. The next stop was Jolee's quarters in the makeshift sickbay. The elderly man was brewing up some healing herb concoction using some equipment that had probably once been used to test the purity of Spice and other contraband chemicals. He acknowledged her with a nod before going back to work.
In the cockpit, Bastila and Canderous were exchanging barbs and commentary. Kairi had to chuckle. Canderous certainly changed quite a bit from the callous mercenary they'd picked up on Taris. Well, perhaps it was only a matter of getting him to a place where he could afford to be the honorable warrior he forgot he was after the Wars. And what a relief it was to see Bastila start to drop the frigid detachment and stop trying to set herself apart so much. Well, people adapted in their own way, she figured, even if the concept of a prized padawan and a Mandalorian flirting by insults would come as a scandalous surprise to most.
By now she was starting to feel at ease enough to go to sleep. She turned around and headed for the crew quarters in the aft of the ship. Yet, even there, she took a small detour to check in the quarters Mission shared with Zaalbar.
She was already asleep, the teenager sprawled out on her stomach, one of her lekku lucked under her chin as a pillow. She was in too deep a sleep to dream right now, registering as all but a whisper to Kairi's readings.
Kairi straightened the blanket that had fallen part of the way off the bed and rubbed Mission's back gently. Her eyes started to sting. Blinking them, a single tear fell from her eye. How easily Mission could light up a room with a smile, and how easy it was to let her into one's heart. Kairi felt proud to see her grow up in front of her, to see a young woman taking shape. Oh, but how cold the universe would seem without seeing her smile each morning.
A gentle laugh. "Figures I'd find you here." She looked up to see Carth in the doorway. "What are you doing up still?" he asked.
Kairi sighed. "I can't sleep, so I...Well, I went to check up on everyone." Her tongue felt unnaturally thick, and try as she might not to stare, her eyes wanted to note every detail. He wore only thin breeches, and they did nothing to hide his well-toned body. Her gaze lingered on his warm smile, those strong arms and hands. When her gaze started to go further south, she forced her eyes away from him, reminding herself for the hundredth time why it was inappropriate to look on him that way.
There is no passion, there is serenity...
He no doubt saw her flaming cheeks, but said nothing about it. "So, that solves the mystery of the blanket angel. I knew for damn sure it wasn't Canderous."
"It's...peaceful...watching you sleep," she admitted. "I also come in to check up on Mission sometimes, especially when she has a nightmare. I...I think I..." Despite her earlier words to Bastila, she had to make sure of what was in her heart. They deserved better than her own guesswork - especially Carth and Mission. She looked straight at him. "Carth, what is love? What makes it love, and not just...something it's not?"
He exhaled a long breath and crossed over to her, putting an arm about her shoulders. "Damn, beautiful, you never do pick your questions small, do you?"
"The Council talks so much about passion, obsession, dependency, infatuation...all the things that masquerade as love but aren't. Yet, they have little to say about what love itself is. All the better, I suppose, if one wanted to dismiss the very idea as illusion." She met his eyes. "But you have loved, Carth - deeply. How did you know the difference? Can you know the difference?"
Carth was silent for a long time, his hand stroking her shoulders and then snaking into her hair. "Trying to describe it would be like you describing the Force, but..." Kairi couldn't help leaning into his hand as he worked the tension from the top of her neck. "But the point when you know? It's when you can make a sacrifice and know you aren't just doing that to make the other person think better of you, but because you genuinely want what's best. It's when...when you trust someone so completely..." He cleared his throat. "But there are as many kinds of love as there would be aspects of the Force. Some of them aren't pretty, Kairi, and it sometimes gets twisted and corrupted into all the things you mentioned. Still..."
He took his hand away, and she felt a sudden pang of loss. Though Carth was in the same room with her, he seemed far away. "Without someone...something to care for...we're dead inside. Sure, it's not like air or water...but there's not much point in going on. The world's just gray and it's so...so cold." His voice faded as he spoke, the last word more felt than heard.
Kairi got up and lightly touched his arm. He made no move, save to open his eyes.
"And knowing how cold it gets makes it that much scarier," he admitted. He was still gazing on the cot where Mission was deep in sleep. "Losing your child has to be the worst, believe me. You keep seeing other people's children growing up...and children without parents, and the instincts kick in along with the pain - all over again. It's a hell I wouldn't even wish on Saul..."
Kairi stood aside as Carth finished tucking Mission in.
"You love her."
"Like she was my own," he whispered. "And so do you."
"Yes." Kairi answered. She had her answer now, she was certain. Many aspects, many paths, one woefully inadequate name for it all. The warmth and light of it called to her, along with the possibility of being badly burnt. But the cold and the void loomed ahead...a future of being bound by the Order's dictates as tightly as a belted robe. Staying away from the fire, staying ignorant, would be the safer recourse, perhaps.
"Carth, a last question, please."
She was looking up at him now. So close…it would be easy to hold her questions and just take the simple comfort of his presence. Yet, it had to be asked. "What...what is the worst part of regret?"
There was pain in his eyes to be certain, but there was something smoldering beneath it - a spark that begged to be brought back to life. He gently traced her arms, taking one hand in his own while the other reached up to cup her face.
"All the opportunities you wanted to take. All the times you could have told someone how much they mean to you and just took it for granted that they knew already. All the lost chances for some good memories - because those memories are all you have left to live on when the cold comes."
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
Putting her hands on his shoulders to help balance, she stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
She could sense sadness, a faint sense of rejection. "Anytime, beautiful," he said.
Kairi sank back down on her heels and shook her head. "Damn."
She sighed. "I want you to know that...that the feelings you have...I share them. But I also know you hesitate, and have your reasons for it. It might be easier this way. We won't have very much time after all..."
He put a finger to her lips. "I'm not made of glass, Kairi. Neither are you - no matter how the Jedi are going to wish it otherwise. There's going to be consequences, sure, but I know I can live with mine."
At his words, a fierce debate started inside Kairi. Could she live with the consequences? How much would she regret if she went ahead? How much would she regret if she didn't? How much would it all hurt when it was over? Was this going to be a stellar disappointment? It would be easy to lose her nerve right here and leave them both hanging, but the side deck was already played - all they had were the cards on the table.
She glanced over to Mission, still curled up on her bunk. "Not here."
Carth nodded and took her hand. "C'mon."
She walked with him to his own quarters. With Canderous gone on the bridge for the next couple hours, they at least had as much privacy as they could afford. No sooner had the door sealed behind her than she'd looped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
He registered shock for a moment, and she feared she had done the wrong thing, but it passed, and soft relief and joy danced down her nerves as he deepened the kiss, his hands taking her waist, sliding towards her hips. Her shift was so thin that his hands practically burned through its fabric. Oh, Great Force, yes. This felt wonderful. He smelt vaguely of soap. He must have just used the fresher before checking up on her and Mission. She felt surrounded by his warmth, safe as ever in his presence, and the same comfort and trust reflected back through his own emotions.
They broke off the kiss to come up for air, but did not pull apart the embrace. "Kairi," he whispered raggedly. "Please let this be what you really want…"
"I…" she took a breath to steady herself. "There's only the cold for me to go back to. And only the memories I make now to help me through it. For you, it's no different. I feel so much for you, and I know your feelings for me." She looked up. "I don't want to look back on our time together with regret, no more than you." She swallowed hard. "I….I want a memory. And would like to give you one as well. Is…is that all right?"
"Oh," he whispered. "I'd like that…" He ducked his head to kiss the soft skin at her neck, followed by a gentle nibble that forced a ragged sigh from her. "I'd be more than honored to."
Continue his slow pattern of kisses and nibbles on her neck, he grabbed handfuls of her nightgown, hitching it up. Her exposed legs suddenly felt cold and sensitive. He'd just slipped his hands under the hem to caress her thighs when…
The ship jolted hard, and threw them to the deck. Alarm klaxons wailed and the emergency lights came on. Swearing loudly, Carth hit the door panel and it flew open as he raced towards the cockpit. As the rest of the crew spilled into the corridor, Kairi tried to keep order among them as their panic and worry hit her and made her even less steady on her feet.
"What…what's going on," Mission was groggy, but waking up fast. The shaking had shared her more than she wanted to display, no doubt reminding her of when Taris quaked beneath her feet during the Sith bombardment. She took the girl's shoulders.
"Get to the center room and check the sensors," she told Mission, and turned her to run towards them.
She ship lurched again, and Kairi was struggling with another wave of panic. Confusion and fear slammed into her like a hail of stones. Despite it, she struggled to keep her head, quickly dashing through the ship and giving commands for battle-stations.
"HK, get on the aft turrets. Zaalbar, Jolee, head for the engine room and see if you can fix the power drain. Take TeeThree."
From the direction of the cockpit was worse. Carth was furious, Bastila struggling not to lash out in fear or anger. Canderous had pushed aside emotions for the time being and was scrambling up to the forward turret. Carth had taken over for Canderous in the pilot's chair, and was furiously working the controls.
"Sith Interdictor ship," he shouted. "It must have been waiting for us in the hyperspace route."
They'd been brought out of hyperspace already, drifting helplessly. Looming ever closer, a Sith Interdictor ship gleamed like a metal firaxan. Kairi could not take her eyes from it, a hazy memory from the Endar Spire and their Taris escape playing before her eyes. "The ship..." she whispered.
"Controls are not responding. We've been hit with an ion cannon. Damn them!" Carth banged the useless navigation console. "This boat doesn't have the firepower it would take anyway." His hands flew across the panels, adjusting switches and dials.
"I know that ship..." Kairi whispered.
"I know," Carth said, and the stab of rage and fear jolted back to her. "It's the same ship, Kairi...The Leviathan...Saul Karath's vessel - my old mentor."
Bastila did not help. "You said you wanted to encounter the admiral again, Carth," she said with a sigh. "One should be careful what one wishes for."
Carth's black fury knocked into her like a wrecking ball, but also gave her enough of an adrenaline rush to leap between them. "Stop this - both of you. This will not help us. We have to concentrate on getting out of this - saving ourselves and the crew."
"Kairi's right," Carth said. "But it's not going to be easy. Saul won't underestimate us. He's no fool - and we can count on plenty of guards to deal with on any escape attempt...and I also know Saul will want to be right in the middle of it."
Kairi's mental shields could barely handle it, not like she could block Carth out entirely anyway. She knew he must have been thinking that a confrontation between Saul Karath and him was going to be inevitable. She could see true darkness in him and it scared her.
"Carth," she said, her voice barely able to top a whisper.
"I'm not going to do anything stupid. I won't throw our lives away in some mad quest for vengeance, but if I get a chance to kill Saul during our escape, then nobody had better try and stop me."
"Talk of an escape is somewhat premature, don't you think?" Bastila argued. "We don't even have an idea as to how we're going to get out for this mess."
Kairi gathered the crew together hastily and explained the situation.
"I know they'll want Bastila, and if this man is Carth's mentor..." she said. "Now, I'll try and stick with them. Maybe they won't see me as important."
"I doubt it," Jolee said. "You may have started this as an unknown, my dear, but Kairi Niko the Jedi has done enough to raise some Sith eyebrows. There's also the matter of -"
"I've been in the holds of a few Interdictor ships myself," Canderous said, cutting off Jolee. "I'm guessing this commander is smart. He'll scatter us around the detention blocks, as far from the high security section as possible."
"Why would he do that?" Mission said. "Why not just toss all of us there?"
Canderous tapped his fingers against the table. "Because Sith are interested in Jedi, and there's no worse blood than old blood. The rest of us are lower priority. They'll definitely underestimate you, Mission. As far as your average thick-headed guard goes, you're just a foolish Twi'lek."
"I could always goad the guards into making a mistake," Mission said. "If they put me in solitary confinement, I can pick the locks and get the rest of you free."
Zaalbar was appalled. "It's too dangerous, Mission! The guards are just as likely to kill you."
Canderous shook his head. "And if it's just you, then the admiral can send the whole damn battalion after you. No, we're going to have to do something sneaky."
"The droids have backups. I can set them on a back-up timer - say six hours. If the Sith don't turn them into scrap, they might have a chance." She looked up. "Zaalbar, come on. I'll need an extra set of hands, I think. The rest of you, come up with a plan of escape on your own, and don't tell me what it is."
She and Zaalbar took the droids and vanished down the corridor. A second of nervous hesitation followed before Juhani stood up and was next to offer a suggestion.
"It is possible that I may avoid detection. There are many hiding places on this ship, and my inherent ability to mask myself with the Force could aid me in this."
"Then you'll stay with the ship. If the worst should happen, someone needs to flee and warn the Republic," Canderous said. "I've an idea - damn risky, but they'll never see it coming. Jolee, you have any argonel in your stash?"
"Argonel? You may be a big brute, but you aren't immortal."
"I know," he said darkly.
Jolee studied Canderous for a moment, then reached in his utility belt, pulling a vial of a viscous black substance. "If the initial shock doesn't kill you, your implant will process that in several hours. During that time, however, you'll be practically dead, even to the medical scanners." He handed it over. "I know better than to ask if you want to risk that. It's just a reminder."
Canderous nodded and headed for the armory. "It'll have to look like an accident. A cluster bomb should leave enough burns to make it look like I was killed rigging the engine...Of course, that makes it riskier..."
Mission swallowed hard. "Canderous..."
He patted her head and smiled sadly, bereft of his usual bravado. "It's all right. We're all risking the same thing."
After putting the hasty back-up into place, Zaalbar nervously went back to the center room to make his stand. The ship wasn't far now from the docking bay. Kairi headed to the cockpit. Carth was still cursing at the engines, trying to summon enough of the Hawk's power to try and break free. It was fruitless, and all of them knew it. It wasn't going to stop him from trying.
They heard Mission's shouting only a moment before it happened.
"Canderous...don't be so...Canderous!"
The sound of a partly-muffled explosion reached their ears. Carth and Kairi were out of their seats and running back towards the engine room. Kairi could feel the girl's panic, and Canderous...
She didn't sense him. It gripped her. He was unconscious, perhaps, or...
Kairi didn't have time enough to think about it before the Ebon Hawk had been swallowed by the massive ship, the docking bay doors sealing shut behind them. Overridden by the Leviathan's control, the docking ramp of the ship yawned open ominously and silver-armored Sith poured into the ship.
They were overwhelmed and knew it. The last thing Kairi, Carth, and Bastila saw after that was the barrel of a blaster set to heavy stun, taking them down before they could pull weapons of their own.
"We have them, Admiral," said the guard triumphantly.
"Good, take the Jedi and Commander Onasi to the torture chamber. I'll be down to see to them. What else did you find?"
"We're still searching the ship, sir. We'll present a full report once completed."
Commander Gryus Bates shook his head as he looked at what they had pulled out.
They'd spent a couple hours at the task, at least. Smuggling ships were always the worst. As soon as smarter detection devices were out, the smugglers were already two steps smarter than it. Not to mention the technicians and soldiers that walked aboard in an attempt to pull prisoners from the boat had encountered resistance that ranged from attacks to non-violent headaches.
It finally seemed to be wrapping up as his lieutenant came to report. "Bastila, Carth, and the crew have been taken prisoner as you ordered, Commander."
"Excellent," Bates said. "Have you searched the ship thoroughly? Admiral Karath warned me to be on alert for any kind of treachery."
"They had quite the zoo in there, I'd say," commented the officer. "First there was the Wookiee. We've pumped him with enough stun blasts to render him unconscious for weeks. He was guarding a Twi'lek girl with quite the mouth on her. She swore at Kilron and spat on his uniform...and you should hear the things she called my mother. Admiral Karath needs to teach her the proper respect for the Sith."
Bates rolled his eyes. "Admiral Karath doesn't have time to bother with some Twi'lek girl. Take her away to solitary confinement. I'll leave it up to you to teach her the proper respect for the Sith. Were those the only crew members?"
"Not hardly," the officer said. "Two droids were found in the back. I think one is a protocol model. The other's an astromech. We've pulled them both into the droid bay for a memory wipe."
"Commander Bates!" the shout from a couple of the salvage team got his attention. He walked over there to see a pair of guards removing a stretcher with a white cloth over it - the universal sign of a corpse. He pulled it back and shook his head, disbelieving what he saw. The man was badly burned, but the features were clear enough.
"A Mandalorian, corporal? What was he doing aboard their ship?"
"We found him in the engine room, apparently attempting to rig the ship's engines to break free of our tractor beam when something exploded."
"Admiral Karath wants us to question all the prisoners. Did you get any information from him?"
"No, sir. The scanners are all flat. I'd call him dead."
"Dump the Mandalorian in the medical bay. They'll figure out what to do with his carcass."
Nodding, the corporal covered the stretcher again and headed for the lift. No sooner had the corporal left then two others called for his attention. Bates marched over to see an ensign and a lieutenant dragging an old man down the boarding ramp.
"We found an old man in the back, Commander Bates," said the ensign. "I...I think we should keep him separate from the others...for questioning."
"A strange request..." Bates muttered. "Why do you think this old man should be segregated?"
"I'm not sure, Commander," the ensign said. "After speaking with him, I...just think that we should question him away separate from the others."
"I...I agree," said the lieutenant. "After speaking with the old man, I... think that we should question him away separate from the others."
Bates sighed. "Very well - the admiral is probably too busy to bother with this old man anyway. Put him in solitary confinement for interrogation. Report back to me if you learn anything. Has the entire ship been searched?"
"We searched from top to bottom, Commander Bates," said the lieutenant. "Someone would have to be invisible for us not to find them in there."
"Well done. Return to your posts, and I will tell the Admiral of this."
As the last group of officers drug the old man off, Bates went into his office, a small area off the hangar bay, and started to draft his report. Before he did that, however...He took the keycard from around his neck, unlocked the bottom drawer, and pulled out a fine silver flask. He took two gulps now, and promised himself the whole thing once he finished the damn report...