Next Time, It's Personal
There's something familiar…
Jaina Solo opened her eyes. She inhaled a long, slow breath, savoring the aromas of the garden surrounding her.
She lifted her hand from her knee and reached out in the Force. Her comlink rattled against the stone floor, then vaulted across the clearing into her open palm. She toggled it on.
"Yes, Lady Solo?"
It wasn't the form of address she preferred, but she understood the droid's decision. She'd asked him not to call her Jedi or Knight, and she lacked any official rank in military service, GA or Imperial. Or any other governmental title, for that matter. And Mistress didn't exactly carry the right connotation. So they'd settled on Lady, and she tolerated it.
"I need to speak with you – and bring the security monitors."
Gracefully she rose from her cross-legged position, stretched her arms high over her head, and strode toward the main entrance to the gardens. The F-series security droid was already entering when she got there.
"Are there any anomalies in the security sensors?" she asked without preamble.
For a moment the droid examined his datapad. "I do not see any – Oh."
The droid lifted his metallic face to meet her gaze. "It appears that four sensors in two separate locations have failed."
The droid turned the datapad so she could see its screen, and indicated the two locations with the tip of a metallic finger. Ventilation tunnels. She suppressed a chuckle. So predictable.
"The odds of that occurring at random –"
"Let me guess," she muttered.
"– are approximately fifty-seven thousand to one."
"In other words, it's not random."
"Well, statistically speaking the probability is astonishingly low. But it is possible that –"
"The Mandalorians are here to assassinate Councilor Fel."
The droid's photoreceptors flickered. It was a very human reaction – a blink. Unbidden, she actually found herself missing See Threepio. After a moment Eff-Two said, "I have seen no intelligence to suggest such an operation is imminent."
"You wouldn't. This is Daala and Fett. There is no intelligence."
"I cannot activate a security protocol simply on speculation that –"
"One," Jaina said, "it's not speculation. I've sensed a danger in the Force. Two, you're not going to activate any security protocols. I'll deal with them myself."
"If you are correct," the droid said insistently, "I cannot countenance inaction in the face of such a serious danger to Councilor Fel's personal safety."
"Yes, I know your objective is to protect the Councilor." She sighed. "I order you not to implement any security protocols."
"Councilor Fel instructed you to obey any orders from me on such matters, did he not?"
"Excellent. I'll contact you if I need further assistance." Jaina stepped around the droid and moved toward the tall doors.
"Lady Solo," the droid called after her, "you are asking – ordering – me to take a grave risk with Councilor Fel's life."
She turned back. "The only way Councilor Fel dies today, Eff-Two, is if I'm dead first. And if that happens, then you won't need to worry about how Imperial justice would punish me for my transgression, now, will you?"
"You make a fair point." The droid was silent for a moment. "May the Force be with you."
Approaching the access port to the ventilation tunnel, Jaina patted the lightsaber on her hip. A habit. Just to be sure. She paused at the control panel and closed her eyes. In the Force, the squad of supercommandos blazed like a nova against the obsidian darkness of deep space.
Mandalorian stealth might be superior against regular security. Against a Jedi, well, that was another thing entirely.
Jaina tapped in the override code. The access port slid open, and she bounded into the tunnel. Muffling her footfalls with the Force, she hurried toward the Mando squad a few hundred meters ahead of her. They weren't all that near to Jag, not yet, so there was no need to rush.
It didn't take her long to reach them. Seven armored figures moving in careful, deliberate procession through the tunnel. She had to be fast. Very fast.
She closed her eyes, focusing her concentration. Opening her eyes, she Force-flashed the group. It would scramble their helmet comlinks, but only for a few seconds.
A few seconds was all she needed.
Extending her hands, she marshaled her strength in the Force, seizing hold of the two commandos in the rear and slamming them together headfirst in a ferocious collision of beskar on beskar. She practically felt them wink into unconsciousness.
Even before their bodies began to slump toward the ground, their blaster rifles hurtled through the air toward her waiting hands. In that split-second of flight, she used her mind to toggle their settings – so that by the time her fingers closed around the triggers, she was firing not lethal blasts of laserfire but powerful stunbolts.
The next four never saw it coming.
The seventh commando she grabbed in the Force, hurling him back-first into the tunnel wall, ripping his helmet from his head to prevent any chance of issuing a warning. In a lengthy Force-powered bound she stood before him. She felt a small sense of relief she didn't recognize this particular Mando.
As the four unconscious bodies clanked to the floor behind her, she bent down and picked up the pinned commando's helmet. She held its open base to her ear, listening for any sign her attack had been detected. Nothing. The commandos were on radio silence. Good. That would make the confrontation with the next squad a whole lot easier.
She met the gaze of the Mandalorian. "Who's leading the mission?"
"Go to hell."
"Who's leading the mission?"
The man blinked. Hard.
She hadn't expected him to be particularly weak-minded, and he wasn't. But he wasn't strong in the Force. He was only a Mandalorian. "Who. Is. Leading. The. Mission."
Not Fett or Beviin. Not Mirta or Ghes. Jaina almost laughed. No doubt Fett had promised Daala he would send the best. But he hadn't – not by a long shot.
He was still a crafty shabuir, Fett. She hadn't believed the intelligence that no hit was coming on Jag – and he hadn't believed the security reports, which continued to insist that Jaina was at Shedu Madd with the Jedi, not here on Bastion with Jag. Good for him.
"Thanks," she said, and knocked the Mando out cold with his own helmet.
She pondered the mass of sprawled armored bodies around her. This had to be the backup team. Fett might not have risked his best, but he wouldn't have sent two squads of supercommandos on a total suicide mission, either. If you can't do the job, get out of the way of those who can, right? For an assassination target as high-profile as the chairman of the Moff Council, no less than a dozen commandos would be on the primary strike team.
Jaina needed an advantage. Surprise and the Force were two, and they probably would be enough. But against that many Mandos? Having a third would make things a lot less stressful.
Furrowing her brow, she raised her comlink to her lips. She toggled a double-encrypted channel, then opened the line. "You there, Eff-Two?"
"Pinpoint my location and get a cleanup crew here. I've made a mess."
"As you wish. Should I also inform the morgue?"
"Not this time, Eff-Two. Just some sleeping beauties who'll need to wake up in a holding cell."
"It will be done, Lady Solo."
"Copy that, and thanks."
Stashing the comlink on her belt, she went to place the helmet on the ground next to its unconscious owner. Just like that, inspiration struck.
She paced from Mando to Mando, inspecting them all. It didn't take long to find the shortest, smallest one. A woman, it turned out. That was a bonus. The hips and chest would definitely fit better this way. Jaina smirked. Actually, she'd have room to spare in the chest – so much for her fear of a tight, painful squeeze. Still, the woman was a good bit taller than Jaina, but this was the best she could do. Quickly she stripped off the woman's beskar armor and strapped it on herself. Legs first, then torso, then arms. It was a good thing she'd watched Mirta armor up a few times, otherwise she never would have been able to fit all the pieces together properly. After a couple of minutes she was ready to go.
Jaina scooped up one of the discarded blaster rifles and confirmed it was still set to stun. With her free hand she popped the female Mando's helmet onto her own head, then drew her lightsaber hilt from her belt. Holding it inert in her hand, she took a deep breath. Gun in one hand, blade in the other. This could be interesting.
In the end, the fight wasn't as difficult as Jaina had feared.
She had waited on the balcony just outside the tall windows of the conference room where Jag was meeting with four Moffs. When the Mandos had burst into the room through the main door, they'd only sent three members of their squad. Presumably they'd been expecting the main defense to come from guards rushing down the corridor – not a woman in Mandalorian armor crashing through the glass with lightsaber blazing and blaster rifle firing.
Jaina vaulted atop the table, blade deflecting the Mandos' first shots, stun bolts sailing toward the commandos as fast as her finger could pull the trigger. This time she couldn't have taken out the whole group at once even if she wanted to; instead, the inside of her helmet filled with the screams and shouts of Mandos under attack.
By the time the next wave came through, Jaina stood on the floor at the end of the table farthest from the window, closest to the door. In the Force, she felt the battle develop around her. Jag's icy calm, taking cover behind his chair, reaching for his blaster. The four Moffs, not even close to as battle-tested, scrambling for cover under the table. The Mando squad leader, still in the corridor, barking orders. The next wave of four commandos, full of vicious will and murderous intent.
They didn't get a shot past her lightsaber. One took a deflected bolt in the shoulder and spun to the floor. Another took a stun bolt square in his faceplate and crumpled like a ragdoll. Jaina flicked her wrist, jerking the barrel of the blaster rifle through an arc that hurtled one armored body through the air straight into the other, leaving a tangled heap of beskar on the floor.
The three after that fared no better. For a moment she wondered whether the final members of the team, still in the corridor, would even bother to try, or just flee.
But they were Mandos, so they tried. And they lost.
When the last one was down, she tossed the blaster rifle aside and ripped the Mando helmet off her head – just in time to glance over her shoulder at Jag, who had both a blaster pistol and an utterly befuddled expression trained on her.
"Hey," she said. "It's me."
"I, uh… see that." He lowered the pistol, but kept it drawn.
She turned back to the pile of wounded and unconscious bodies before her. It hadn't been a fair fight, really. A dozen Mandos against a Jedi Knight, and it wasn't even close. If she'd been trying to kill them, it would have been a massacre. For a moment she closed her eyes, pushing back memories of the last time she'd seen a fight like this – Darth Caedus on Nickel One, slaughtering a Mando strike team without hesitation or conscience. She sighed. How gratuitous his rampages had been, how unnecessary his evil choices. Everything he'd wanted to accomplish, Jacen could have done in the light, without the dark.
Jaina felt that truth better than anyone, and she would never make her brother's mistake.
Opening her eyes, she strode to a fallen body in red-and-black adorned armor. This one she'd made sure to leave conscious. Standing over him, she used the Force to yank his helmet off his head and fling it dismissively into the wall a few meters away.
After it clanged to the floor, Jaina put her armored knee squarely into the Mando's chest and pushed her body weight down – hard. "You," she growled. "You're Tarex Venn, yes?"
The Mando swallowed visibly, then nodded.
She raised a hand and summoned his helmet back into her grasp. "Contact your extraction pilot."
He glowered. "What? You haven't captured enough of us?"
"Oh, I've captured plenty. I'm going to let him come get you."
Despite her weight on his chest, he chuckled. "You think I'm some kind of idiot? Why should I believe Imperial scum would just let us out of here?"
"Because they'll do what I tell them to do."
His eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
She grinned. "The human bottle opener."
For a moment she wondered if his eyes would bug right out of his head. But they didn't, and he said nothing.
"Call him," Jaina said.
The man nodded. He took the helmet from her and toggled a switch. After a burst of static, he spoke in Mandalorian. Jaina heard a faint reply over the comlink before he offered her the helmet.
She held it to her face. "Put your recorder on. I have a message for the Mandalore."
There was a short pause, then a simple, "Go ahead."
"You know who this is, Fett, so I'll cut right to the power cables. The first time, it's just business. I understand that, so you'll get your little hit squad back in one piece. You come after my riduur again, though, and they won't be so lucky. And neither will you." She paused, taking a slow breath. "Jedi don't kill unless we have to, Fett. But that doesn't mean we won't kill when it's necessary. We both got what we wanted from each other when I took down my brother. Since then, I've come to like having an empty needs-to-die list. But don't think I'd shed a tear if I had to add a name back to it. Understood?" She paused again, just for effect. "Oh, and please tell Mirta I said hello."
Without more she simply handed the helmet back to the Mandalorian. He spoke into the comlink, then looked up at her. "You're really letting us go?"
"Yes." She pushed off his chest and stood. Just inside the door stood Eff-Two, and she indicated the security droid with a wave of her hand. "The droid will help you gather up your men and give your pilot a landing location to retrieve you."
The Mando rubbed his beskar chestplate, sat up, and pushed himself to his feet. He hesitated, his face crossed with befuddlement. "Uh, thanks."
"You're welcome." Jaina grinned. "By the way, I'm keeping the armor."
The Mando snorted. "Like I was gonna try to take it from you."
Jaina motioned to Eff-Two, who spoke into a comlink. Instantly a group of Imperial soldiers hustled into the room and, in pairs, grabbed each of the prone Mandalorian commandos by their armpits and dragged them unceremoniously from the room.
She turned to see Jag ushering the Moffs out a different door. They seemed more than happy to leave. On their way out, they cast glances back at her. She couldn't tell whether their expressions were awe or disgust – or fear.
And just like that, Jaina and Jag were alone.
She looked at him, and raised an eyebrow. The corners of his lips curled, and he strode over to her. He stood before her, hands clasped behind his back.
"You let them go," Jag said.
"Perhaps I would have ordered them executed, to make a statement about what happens to those who threaten the peace and stability of the Empire."
She canted her head. "Oh really? When did you become a ruthless tyrant?"
"I'm not. But now I have missed an opportunity to demonstrate my resolve to the Moffs, and intimidate them into respecting my power."
"Trust me, when those four eyewitnesses start spreading their story around, every Moff is going to know that Daala's making empty promises, and trying to take you out is just signing their own death warrants."
He scowled. "Nonetheless, it was still my decision to make, was it not?"
"When I have to show up to save your sorry Imperial butt? Not really, no."
Jag couldn't hold the painfully serious Moff Councilor mask any longer, and laughed. "I suppose I walked right into that one."
She grinned up at him. "You certainly did."
He took a step back and appraised her. "I like that look. Armor is very becoming on you."
"You think?" She looked down at herself, then up at him. "Because I was just about to go back to our quarters and take it off."
She turned to go. "Joining me?"
"Of course." A single long stride brought him to her side. "I prefer that look even better."