Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex Are Dead
Bonus Epilogue 1:
Her feet flew across the hot pavement, propelling her forward.
Screams and blaster shots dropped away behind her as she pulled ahead, breaking out from the limits of the crowd. Sweat beaded on her forehead and trickled down her temples and neck, grabbing at the strands of her dark hair and sticking it to her skin in a damp mass. The tall buildings on either side of her provided some measure of shade, but the heat of the planet was so prevalent, so moist and all encompassing, there was no coolness to be found there.
She obeyed the command swiftly and automatically; she dodged right, ducking into an intersecting alley as a chunk of plaster exploded out of the wall behind her, courtesy of a well-placed shot. Two steps further, and a civilian stepped out of a doorway, his arms full of boxes; she spun easily, arms flying outward as she avoided him, then used the spin's momentum to power her upward, allowing her to roll over the hood of a parked speeder as another scream sounded from behind. She registered a stinging sensation in her thigh as she spun over the hood, just above the knee. Too close. Another two centimeters down and one to the right and it would have been enough to blow her knee out from behind. There would be no more running, then.
She hit the ground, rolled, bolted forward again as the speeder exploded behind her in a wave of heat and black smoke, one of the shots chasing her hitting its' power cells. More screams, some of them obscenities, rose up along with the all too familiar voice of a clone shouting through his helmet's speakers: "Stop!"
As if stopping would lead to anything other than her execution? If they succeeded in killing her today, she would make her death a costly one.
"Left, then fifty meters straight. Get ready to jump. Be right back."
At her nod, the presence at her side vanished.
If they did catch her, at least she wouldn't die alone. The smile that forced its way onto her lips was strained, tired. She did not fear death. Not after three and a half years of the constant barrage of war, not after eight months of running, running, running from those who were once friends, from allies lost to the machinations of an evil man. Certainly not after the moment her friend Ahsoka Tano shimmered to life in front of her seven months ago and said, as though she weren't speaking to her from beyond the grave and the galaxy hadn't been completely blown all to hell: "Hi Barriss. You look awful."
She turned left, and began to lengthen her legs. Fifty meters. She was on a street again, a cobbled one, narrow enough that she could reach out her hands and touch the stucco sides of the buildings, trail her fingers over their rough surface. It was residential; the buildings were cracked and worn, but painted brightly in primary, almost garish colors. The small stoops that led to doors were washed, bits of wild grass peeking out from their edges. If she had to turn and fight, this would not be such a bad place, so long as the civilians stayed indoors. It was too narrow for more than two or three clones to approach her at once, at least from the ground. Of course, it would only take minutes for them to call in some sort of air support and surround her. And since she was running, not fighting, she was essentially caught in a galley down which the stormtroopers could shoot.
Forty-five meters. Past a green house on the right, blue on the left. Forty. Past a red house on the right, orange on the left. They huddled together in tight rows, a rainbow of painted stucco. Thirty-five meters, past a yellow house on the right, pink on the left.
She was used to running. Lactic acid excreted by her muscles was brushed away with a wide sweep of the Force through her body, keeping her movements painless. Oxygen was circulated more rapidly, filling her lungs to capacity and oxygenating her blood, keeping her breath steady, even. She leaned forward, stretching for the end of the street, where she could see a tall stretch of blue sky. Twenty-five meters, past a purple colored house on the right, another red house on the left.
At twenty meters, she felt the first shot aimed at her back, felt the ripple in the air that indicated the anticipation of success, felt that anticipation stab at her between her shoulder blades, a little to the left, just where her heart would be when the shot burned through her. One more second, and that shot would hit her there, and her mad dash for an impossible escape would be over. She spun to the right, facing them for mere seconds, her hands rising in command, and the blasters in the grip of the two fastest stormtroopers jerked upward, firing into the sky instead of into her back. One shot tore through a line of hanging laundry, scorching the fabric as it raced upward. The other rose, a lurid red against the stretch of cloudless blue sky above, a signal flare for her location.
Another motion, like throwing a ball underhand, just as a third stormtrooper arrived behind the first two, sent them flying backward.
Then she was facing the end of the street, running again, lengthening her strides. Fifteen meters, the last house gave way to a garden full of hanging vegetables. Ten meters, she was past the stakes and curling vines. Five meters, she could feel the press of death trying to mark her back once more. One meter, her legs bent and her feet left the ground as the vast expanse of the valley below came into full view, along with the rooftops of a thousand garishly hued buildings and a sparkling green ocean beyond.
For an instant, she hung in the air, rising, her body stretched out long and straight as streaks of red fire winged out below her and out into the empty air. Gravity tugged as she reached the apex of her leap. She bent, twisting mid-air as the first stormtroopers crested the edge of the cliff, and she pulled energy into her hands and pushed, striking not the troopers themselves but rather the uneven grey limestone below them. It cracked, splintered, and slid. As the troopers lost their balance to the beginning of a landslide, Barriss Offee was propelled by the Force another twenty meters out from the precipice, her sweaty hair flying up above her face as she continued to drop.
The sun was golden, round in the cloudless sky, and she saw it for roughly ten seconds before she twisted again, rolling over so that she could control her descent. This time, it was not a rough, wild push against stone she needed, but a softer bit of energy to cushion her landing. The rooftops were flat; so long as they were sturdy, too, she could land. The long, loose fabric of her clothes flapped around her, beating the air even as the air whipped her face, screaming at her foolishness for leaping off a ledge, a sheer stone cliff, half a kilometer above the next level of ground. Her eyes watered as the wind stung them, but she forced them to stay open; she needed a landing site.
Stretched in a crescent along a white beach, there were plenty of locations to choose from, but there was one building, taller and closer than the others on the slope of its' hill, that was rushing to meet her the most swiftly. Barriss softened her knees, ignoring the twinge that reminded her she had been grazed, and pulled her legs in front of her just as the rooftop drew up below her.
The landing was hard, and she rolled with it. Gravel crunched under her body and the uneven rocks scattered across the roof poked at her. Another twinge in her thigh and she was on her feet again, leaping over the side of the structure and dropping three stories to the ground, much to the astonishment of a group of gaping children playing limmie in the empty lot below.
Little kids, playing boloball while she ran for her life. The contrast was striking. She held a finger to her lips for a moment, and the little girl holding the ball smiled.
Then, again, she ran.
The houses were on a steep slope that led up to the drop cliff behind her, and her run was filled with half leaps as she pounded down the streets, leaping from one level of permacrete to another, running down steep, narrow stairs that led from one tier of dwellings to another. The smell of cooking food was prevalent, grilling meat spicy on the air along with the scent of salt water.
The presence of her deceased friend returned to her side, just to her left. Ahsoka's voice vibrated the air. "Keep moving north, parallel to the coastline."
Barriss nodded once, then ducked down a narrow corridor between two structures, turning to the side and edging sideways down the gap until she reached a small common area between houses. Several startled women looked up from the splashing fountain there to watch her dart across the court and leap over a locked iron gate at the far end.
"Your plan," Barriss puffed as she ran down the steps away from the courtyard, "is insane, Ahsoka."
"It'll work," the voice at her ear reassured, sounding both confident and amused. Barriss remembered all too well her friend's penchant for unconventional maneuvers, but this was particularly unorthodox – not to mention crazy.
She reached a long arcade of shops, the covered stretch filled with people haggling, arguing, laughing, talking. Barriss slowed her pace, walking briskly rather than running, while she sent a curl of cool, relaxing energy towards her right side, which was beginning to cramp from her marathon run. Barriss cast a narrow look towards her left, unable to see the face attached to the voice, but knowing Ahsoka was there, or very close to there. She murmured, bowing her head and trying not to look too obviously like she was talking to herself, "Stealing a ship from the Empire is not a theft they will take lightly. Besides, it will be one of the least conspicuous vessels I could possibly take."
Ahsoka laughed. "You have any idea what Imp starships are going for on Nar Shaddaa these days? You can live off that for months or buy yourself your own ship. Two ships, if you get one used."
"If I can make it to Hutt space," Barriss snapped back, as the stitch in her side finally eased, only to be replaced by a pang of hunger. She'd been looking for lunch when Ahsoka had arrived with her warning that there was a squad of stormtroopers closing on her position. The smell of cooking stalls perfumed the air and her mouth watered as she pushed her way past the crush of sweaty bodies towards the end of the shopping arcade. A large Rodian appeared before her with a tall, pegged staff, silks and jewelry dripping off it as he shoved it towards her in an effort at selling her something. Barriss leveled an annoyed look at him and made a small wave of her hand while saying, "Aside," and the Rodian danced out of her way.
The end of the shopping arcade loomed into view, and Barriss eyed a tray of nut stuffed pastries at a vendor on her right. Her stomach growled again, and she winced. Theft from the Empire she had no trouble with, but stealing petty things like food from civilians grated on her conscience. Still, she was hungry and her race across the city wasn't making things any better. She slipped past the vendor, pocketing a pastry sitting on the corner of the shop, while the vendor haggled with another customer. Two, three, four meters along and two more to her right, and she was deep in the crowd again, surrounded by the stink of heated bodies, sweat and hormones evaporating into the air, shouldering past a cluster of Rodians and then a knot of humans. She stuffed the pastry in her mouth and made a small mental apology to the baker. She barely chewed, swallowing rapidly as she downed the pastry. Her stomach growled once and then eased, and she stuck her fingers in her mouth to wipe off the sticky residue of the glaze.
Running, running, all the time, even for eating. Only a step or two ahead of the Empire.
"The ship will be guarded," she murmured, turning her head aside as she cleared the far end of the arcade and stepped back out into the sunlight. The press of bodies eased and she moved more swiftly through the crowds, mostly headed towards the shopping area. "I cannot fight an entire squadron like this."
Ahsoka did laugh this time, but it was not without a grim edge. "Taken care of. Head uphill, quarter kilometer. Entrance to landing docks for the shopping district. Your ride is parked there."
At least there would be other starships nearby if she needed them. Her stomach rumbled again, more pleasantly this time, and she lengthened her strides as the crowd continued to thin. "Taken care of how exactly?"
The road widened and began to fill with speeder trucks, humming along the ground on their low level repulsors. Barriss angled herself to the side, stepping up onto the sidewalk to get out of the way, keeping her pace quick but casual.
Ahsoka's voice sounded slightly behind her this time, though still closer to her left ear than her right. "One of these days, I'll have Rex show you his 'angry clone Captain poltergeist' impression. He's very convincing." There was a pause, and Ahsoka sighed. "Oh come on, Rex, you know you enjoy scaring them half to death." Another pause, then, "I do not! It's better than having her fight her way through, though!"
Barriss shook her head and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Ghostly bickering was still a concept she was unfamiliar with. The one sided conversation was particularly odd, like listening to half of a communication.
"We've taken care of it, for at least a little while. It won't hold them long, though. They always come back, usually better armed so they can shoot whatever spooked them – what?"
Barriss grit her teeth. Wonderful. Heavily armed stormtroopers who were already afraid of the ghosts stirring up trouble. Her brisk walk turned into an uphill sprint, and the road widened again as she came approached the entrance to the docks. Several streets fanned out from the entrance, and Barriss slowed again, edging up behind a group of Bothans and humans that were heading in towards the landing bays.
She almost walked into the human man that was at the rear of the group, he stopped so suddenly.
The landing platform was a dodecagon, with one side serving as the entrance to the platform. The remaining eleven sides of the platform were only half occupied by freighters, riggers, runabouts and starcraft of various shapes, sizes and levels of repair. Aside from the ships, there were a pair of emergency responder droids hovering above the center of the ring of ships, spraying dry chemical foam everywhere, turning the platform into a bubbling white mess of fire suppressant. Several of the ships showed half covered evidence of char marks on them, as though someone had been firing wildly in circles at a target that neither held still nor could be shot.
A target like a ghost.
"What the kriffing hell is going on!" one of the Bothans bellowed, and the pair of droids spun in opposite directions, coating the ships in another layer of spray foam as they beeped a series of alarmed noises at no one in particular. "My ship! Krething droids!"
"Someone should get the authorities!" Ahsoka's voice rang out, just to Barriss' right, and the men in front of her turned, and, seeing only Barriss, focused on her. Barriss tried not to shoot Ahsoka's invisible form a glare.
Instead, she widened her eyes and looked breathless, covering her mouth with a hand. The men before her were clearly more taken with the mess of white foam covering everything rather than the nearly invisible scorch marks beneath the goo. "My ship too! There must have been some sort of droid malfunction – someone should get the authorities, or whoever is in charge of those droids up here!" She dropped her hand from her mouth and frowned at the scene, summoning a current of the Force and curling it around the group, pressuring them into action. "It's going to take an hour to clean all that goop off! I just got some dings hammered out of the hull, too, polished and everything. What a mess." The Force pulsed around her as she gave it a final push towards the men, suggesting as strongly as she could. "You should really get someone down here to clean all this up."
There were mutters of agreement from the three Bothans and two humans, the humans nodding in sympathy at the perceived shared plight. The Bothan at the front, presumably the leader of the little band, snorted as he turned and began to storm back out. "Koochoo droids! Where is the station master? I'll have his droids clean up my ship or I'll get recompense for this out of his hide, that gaggalak mursto!" The rest of the Bothan captain's tirade ran off into a string of obscenities, primarily in Huttese, as he stomped back out of the landing bay, his crew trailing him, each looking variously bemused, amused, agitated, irritated, and generally annoyed.
"Told you it would work," Ahsoka said, not without a tone of smugness, as the group made it past the entrance.
It wouldn't work for long, though. Whatever Ahsoka and Rex had done to spook the Imperials wouldn't keep them away for more than a few minutes. It was likely they were regrouping even now. The faster she got away, the better.
The Imperial transport was clearly different from the others, which were primarily for in-system travel or for hauling cargo. The sleeker, more deadly appearance of the Lambda-class shuttle was made for the transport of small numbers of troops – there were roughly fifteen men after her, according to Ahsoka's information, not quite the capacity of the shuttle, but near enough. It's wings, straight up in landing position, ran parallel to the dorsal wing running down its back. A Lambda class shuttle didn't seem like much to look at, but it would be swift, capable of transporting her halfway across the galaxy without a refuel, and she would have at least a couple hours to make use of its transponder codes before it was registered as stolen. It would also sell very well on the black market, on nearly any Hutt planet. She would do well in credits.
"It's empty. We started in there." Rex's voice was lower, deeper than Ahsoka's, and Barriss tried not to flinch at its' sound. Rex had never turned to the Empire. Rex died long before he ever got the chance. Still, that voice, once so comforting since it meant help and backup and safety and friendship, had become such a threat. Barriss breathed in deeply and expelled it, stepping towards the shuttle. Rex was still a source of help and backup and safety and friendship. She only wished it were true for the million or so of his living brothers, now servants of the Empire rather than the Republic.
There was an instant's warning; a flare of agitation mixed with resolve that stabbed her in the back at the same moment Ahsoka cried out in warning, and Barriss spun, her lightsaber leaping to her hand from under the loose tunic she wore and igniting with the familiar snap-hiss of plasma burning through the air. Her blue blade slammed into the red bolt as it sizzled towards her chest, careening off into the air and winging one of the two droids, still spraying chemical foam onto the ships. The one struck let out a high pitched shriek of alarm, and began spinning away from the platform, its' partner trailing after and clicking a series of alarmed noises of its' own.
Soresu. She hadn't used it in six weeks and three days. Not since the last time she was surrounded, cornered in. She'd killed four men that day, in blank white armor and blank black eyepieces. She didn't remember crying as she cut them down, but there were tracks of water on her face later, when she reached up to touch a cheek. All of them, used and being used, just like the Jedi were used by a single Sith, playing a high stakes game with the galaxy itself.
There was only one trooper. He seemed strangely locked in place, halfway to the cover of the ship on his right. He was open, exposed – it would only take an instant for her to leap, block his shots, cut him down. This place was not quite as good for fighting as the alleyway earlier; more men could approach at once – but they all needed to come in through one gate, she was ready, lightsaber drawn, fighting for her life. Fifteen men against one Jedi Knight armed, dangerous, and desperate for escape – the odds were on her side, not theirs. She had control of the fighting ring, so long as she could keep them bottlenecked at the entrance. Should they surround her, escape would be far more difficult.
One man. The others had to be nearby; perhaps he was the swiftest. If so, he was foolish for running in without backup against a superior opponent. Even more foolish for standing so still, half crouched, blaster pointed at her, but not firing.
His hands were shaking, making the blaster tremble; she could see his chest rise and fall with each breath, even under all the armor. A pervasive feeling of distress began to cloud the ring of ships, rolling off him in a muggy sense of sudden doubt.
Barriss sank deeper into her defensive stance, knees bent, lightsaber parallel to the ground, left hand extended as though in warning. Did she know this man? Was he once from the 41st? Did he hesitate because they once worked together? It would not be the first time she saw a former ally turn against her. Why did this one hesitate?
"Barriss," Ahsoka's voice breathed beside her ear, very quietly, "Be careful. That…that's Cody."
She did not twitch, nor did she blink, but a feeling of queasiness built up in her belly and she felt a strange ache. There were no defining marks on him; not like the old days of the Republic, when commanders were marked so clearly by color. The stormtroopers were white, all in white, with no such bits of difference or individuality marking them. Blank slates, all of them, filled with Imperial propaganda. Cody once wore the yellow-orange of the 212th, Master Kenobi's battalion. Now he wore the meaningless white of the Empire.
She held his hand, once. Only once, and for only a moment. It was a strange moment, too, of self-doubt, of fear for her future, of failure on her first mission, a fear for those who she was supposed to lead, to keep safe. She knew half of it was Ahsoka's standing there, prodding her with questions now, but it made no less impact at the time. In her moment of self-doubt, fear and uncertainty, Cody had held her hand.
Through the fabric of his glove, she could not feel his skin, but there was warmth there nonetheless. Her hand in his hand; such a gesture of solidarity and support, but more than that too. It was a moment of such odd intimacy, it took her breath away. It was too close, too familiar a gesture, and when she'd looked at his face he'd seemed to close, his eyes too wide and too astonished, his lips parted ever so slightly and his body tilted forward. She'd imagined it would only take a moment for one of them to lean forward, for her to kiss him, for him to kiss her, and she was so startled, not by the fact of his closeness or even the possibility of it happening, but by the fact she was anticipating it.
It was a strange moment, a vulnerable moment, and it was shared between them like a secret. It was too little a thing to rest her hopes on. She did not want to kill him. Did not want to kill anyone, really. So she hesitated, waiting for him to attack, to ruin that memory of intimacy, that private moment, that almost kiss, that holding of hands they shared in a briefing room a year ago.
She waited. And waited. One moment became two. Two became three, and still he did not move, frozen in place, those black eye pieces fixed so blankly on her while the miasma of doubt around him intensified until it was as thick as the humidity of the air and it pressed against her hard enough to choke.
There was something else in the doubt. It was thin, reedy, silvery and fragile, like a ribbon of light cutting through a storm cloud.
He was waiting for her to attack. Waiting for her to move forward, to cut him down, to ruin that moment, just as she was waiting for him.
He couldn't kill her.
Muscle by muscle, the tension in her body eased. Her lightsaber lowered, fractionally, until it rested at her side, poised for movement, but in a clear non-aggressive pose. Her legs straightened, drew slightly more together, in a less combative posture.
Her left hand, extended in Soresu's warning, turned over into invitation.
Next epilogue belongs to Cody...