To ObiBettina7: I was just noting that most of my stories tend to take detours into slash territory from time to time. At the moment we've got Aayla/Barriss going on...as for any other pairings, it's really a matter of seeing how the story evolves.
To Mo Angel: I know I'm unlikely to get back the reader numbers I had before, but I'm happy with the reviews I'm getting. And as far as the gap in posting goes, right now my studies are more important to me. I will write and update as and when I have time.
"This is Malastare Control. Please identify yourself."
"Malastare Control, this is civilian freighter The Second Chance requesting entry vector," Finula replied. She paused, hand over the booster, waiting for a reply.
"Confirmed. Please proceed on 331-027-ACS to your current heading."
"You heard the man, Jak," Rillien said, leaning back in his seat. "Take her down."
"Yessir, taking her down sir" Jakren said sarcastically. He flipped the comm link to the engine room; "Deploying air brakes. Fire up the retros, Til."
"Roger. On it."
Jak looked over his shoulder. "Watch close, Eban." The youngest of their number had displayed a talent for piloting and Jak was training him. He was currently ensconced in the co-pilot's seat, the chair seeming ridiculously large in comparison to the eleven-year-old seated in it. Eban nodded and fixed his eyes intently on the control panel.
The ship began to shake is she hit the atmosphere, air brakes and retro-fitted engines slowing her descent. The heat-shields glowed a dull, sooty orange. The space lanes were unusually crowded for an outer rim planet, everything from one-man planet hoppers to hulks the size of cities orbiting to wait for their descent vectors. Rillien frowned at the screen in front of him.
"It shouldn't be this busy," he said; "Have we missed something?"
"It's the Vinta Harvest Classic in a few days," Finula reminded him.
Jakren glanced away from the controls. "Isn't podracing illegal?"
"Someone might want to tell them that."
Ground control guided them to a berth in one of the shabbier districts of Pixelito, the capital city. Jakren set the craft down with the ease of familiarity and shut off the atmospheric engines. All around them the whirr of machinery quieted as Tilo continued the shutdown in the engine room, and the crew in the cockpit began unstrapping themselves. They gathered in the cargo bay, standing or sitting in amongst the crates of Corellian brandy that were their latest cargo. Rillien didn't miss the hopeful looks shot at the door: he mentally ran over what had to be done while they were in port, and who'd gone ashore last time.
"Right," he said; "Jak, Tometh, you're with me. We're going to go contact our buyer. Vanis, you and Finula go and stock up on supplies for us. Til...do we need any parts? Thought so – Zel, Akaavi, go with her. That leaves Ti-Ena, Eban, and Cheleka on first watch. Don't look at me like that, you were off first last time. You'll be relieved in four hours."
As they went to leave, Rillien caught Tilo's arm; "We'll go for a drink later, you, me, and Jak. Give us a call when you're finished."
"Will do," she replied, dipping a brief nod. "Good luck."
It took an unusually short time to complete the transaction: barely an hour later they were standing in their cargo hold, watching the buyer's men unloading the crates. Rillien made a mental note to remember this particular buyer, a male Twi'lek named Narec Ashura. It wasn't unusual for the buyer to attempt to double-cross the seller, or vice versa – a nasty blaster-burn scar on Jak's cheek stood mute testament to this, a memento from a deal gone sour some three years hence. It paid to keep track of reliable business partners.
Jak and Rillien elected to stand back and let Tometh direct the unloading. He had been twelve when they fled the Temple, a scared padawan mourning a Master recently killed in the Clone Wars: now at nineteen he was a reliable crewmember. Rillien, Jak, and Tilo had taken leadership of their little band of refugees early on, but they recognized the wisdom of having someone to replace them should the worst happen. That was why Jak was training Eban to fly, why Tilo had taken Zel and Akaavi under her wing to teach them the workings of the ship systems. They couldn't afford for anyone to be indispensable.
Rillien's wrist-comm crackled: he held out his arm and Tilo appeared, pale blue and flecked with static. "I'm finished. Aki and Zel are taking the parts back to the ship."
"Good," he replied; "Where will we meet you?"
"There's a bar called the Twin Sun. It's not far – you can't miss it."
"Okay. See you there." Rillien flipped the comm switch off.
"Shall we?" Jak said.
"Sounds like a plan," Rillien agreed. He turned to those of the crew who were hanging around. "We'll be gone a while. Tometh, Zel, and Finula have second watch."
The streets of Pixelito were every bit as crowded as the skies above it. Being the taller and broader of the two, Jak went in front to clear a path. He had always been tall, easily topping six feet, but seven years of shipboard life – lifting crates, moving machinery, fighting when deals went bad – had given him impressive muscle mass. That combined with his confident swagger and blaster strapped to his hip, the scarring across his cheek, most would think twice before coming up against him.
Rillien had never achieved that sort of height, and his build was naturally slight, but he had an intimidating air all his own when necessary. Together with Tilo – who had adapted to the use of a blaster in place of a lightsaber with almost frightening speed – they were a force to be reckoned with in the world of spacers and smugglers. They were developing something of a reputation.
The Twin Sun turned out to be every bit as impossible to miss as Tilo had said. Mainly due to the huge, glowing sign hanging above it. The bar was also busy, but Tilo had managed to keep a booth free by sheer force of stubborn aloofness. Her demeanour relaxed as she spotted Jak and Rillien – they made their way through the crowd to join her.
"First round's mine," she said, pushing two glasses towards them.
"That's an idea I can get behind," Jak grinned and slid into the seat beside her. Rillien sat opposite them.
"How did the sale go?" Tilo asked.
"Smoothly," Rillien replied; "We'll have to deal with Ashura again."
"We kept some of the brandy," Jak said with a grin; "I feel a party coming on tonight."
Jak rolled his eyes; "Yeah, yeah, I know. Behaviour unbecoming of a J-" Here he caught himself; "Uh, responsible member of society. Or something like that. But we've been working hard. It'd do us good to let off steam."
"He has a point," Tilo said quietly. She looked around warily and lowered her voice further, leaning in to avoid being overheard. "The Order is gone, Rillien. There is no Code any more – the younger ones barely remember the Temple. What exactly do you expect to happen if we let go and have a little fun?"
Rillien sighed. He knew they were right, but it was hard to let go of the Jedi mindset that had been instilled in them. Or rather it was hard for him. Tilo seemed to have adapted easily enough, and there were times when he privately wondered if the Force had ever really intended Jakren to be a Jedi. It was true enough that the youngest of them had only the vaguest of memories of the Temple. He couldn't count the times one of them had mentioned a specific Master or lesson or place only to be met with politely mystified stares.
"You're right," he admitted. "It's just…old habits, you know?"
"I know," Tilo said, looking down at her drink. She brightened; "We should stick around for a few days to see the Classic."
"Yeah!" Jak enthused. "I've always wanted to see a live podrace." He cast a glance at his own drink, now empty, and nudged the glass towards Rillien with a hopeful look. Tilo noticed and drained her own drink.
Rillien gave a resigned shrug and went to get the next round.
When he came back to the table they were discussing their respective protégées. Jak was happily recounting Eban's last turn at the controls, unfazed by Tilo's dry commentary about how much more considerate than him Eban was of the engine couplings.
"How about yours?" Rillien asked, sliding their drinks over to them; "How are Zel and Aki doing?"
"Aki's a natural," Tilo said, glowing with quiet pride; "Zel…not so much, but he learns fast. They could probably keep the ship ticking over on their own. I'm not sure if they could handle an emergency yet, though." She coughed discreetly. "How's the…other training going?"
"It's a bit hit-and-miss, but I suppose that's only to be expected. Especially since we're all teaching each other." He sighed. "Even the best of us only know so much. We weren't ready for the Trials then, and that's not magically going to change."
"At least we can give everyone a thorough grounding in the basics," Jak shrugged. "It isn't as though we can use what we know in public anyway."
They finished that round in companionable silence. It was nice to relax away from the ship and the responsibilities she symbolised. Jak bought the next round in, and Rillien didn't miss the way his arm slid around Tilo as he sat back down. He tried not to speculate on exactly how far their disregard for the Code went. And they weren't even the worst of it. He had no idea how the Masters had dealt with a Temple full of adolescent padawans: there had been some rather suspect behaviour between Vanis and Finula, Tometh was making eyes at Cheleka, and Aki, who'd just hit puberty, tended to blush every time Jak walked into the room. Rillien was tempted to wash his hands of the whole mess and turn a blind eye.
When Tilo returned with their fourth round, she was frowning.
"You were gone a while," Jak observed.
"Guess what a little bird just told me," Tilo said.
"Well don't keep us in suspense."
"They're bringing in a new shipping license."
Rillien patted the pocket where he kept his faked identification; "Looks like Captain Almek gets to have another outing. We'll find somewhere remote to renew it. No problem."
"Problem," Tilo said grimly. "Wait 'til you hear how much it costs…"
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TO BE CONTINUED