Releasing a breath he had been holding, Horatio continued to scan the docking bay, almost certain he had found himself in a trap of some kind. The man began to moan as he regained consciousness, recovering from a blow to the side of his head that was continuing to bleed. He was still out of it, though, and hadn't seen him, and Horatio couldn't help the sudden urge he felt to escape. He could leave the man where he was and disappear, avoiding getting caught in the middle of whatever had happened. He had even started to stand up from the floor, but the man stopped him from moving much, gripping his arm.
"You," he groaned with alarm, his eyes only half open, "Sheridan..."
Horatio rolled his eyes. He would stumble upon the one person in the Mid Rim who recognized him, even though they were dozens of sectors from Paneau. His luck was just that good. Surprising him, though, the man continued angrily.
"Where is she? What did you do with her!"
Horatio narrowed his eyes. "I haven't done anything, buddy, I just found you here. What are you talking about?"
Still unbalanced from his injury, he began grabbing fistfuls of Horatio's jacket to struggle with him, getting worked up. "My girlfriend, Yhren, she...she was right here with me. Where did you take her!"
"Hey, take it easy!" Horatio demanded just as intensely, combating his grip. "I didn't do anything to anyone. You already know who I am, but why don't you explain to me what happened, who you are, and what your connection is to the Paneau."
Though he remained wary as Horatio expected, his breathing finally calmed enough so he could answer. "I'm a pilot for the Rys'tihn Family. Yhren and I were returning to the ship and...I don't know what happened. I saw that the ship was already gone, and then...I woke up to you." With a determined effort, he began to sit up. "I have to find her."
Horatio didn't stop him, only shaking his head a bit as he thought back. "I didn't hear anything around here that sounded like a woman. You had to have been out for several minutes at the very least, probably longer. Whoever took her, they're long gone now."
He watched the color drain from the pilot's face as he stood, but he somehow remained upright on his feet. His voice became distant and weak, though, as he looked about the empty bay. "They wouldn't have left without us..."
Standing, too, Horatio wasn't sure the pilot was altogether with it. "They who? The Rys'tihns?"
"And the Natiyrs. Yhren is Rech's sister, and we were all on our way to a week-long vacation."
The pilot suddenly looked guilty, as if he had just given away a well-guarded secret, but Horatio only arched his eyebrows, unsure if he had heard him correctly. "Both families. And you stopped here, on Ord Mantell, of all places?"
"High Commander Rys'tihn fell ill and needed to be treated, and - " He paused, snapping to attention with sudden urgency. "Why am I telling you this? I need to be looking for them, for her..."
He took a few steps toward the docking bay doors, but he stumbled on the third, and Horatio was only barely able to steady him. Though he wasn't sure why he was helping, the words had already left his mouth.
"Not dressed like that, you're not."
The pilot gave him a challenging look, prompting Horatio to explain. "Look, your uniform jacket is a dead giveaway that you don't belong here. Most likely it's what got you targeted in the first place; you look like a bodyguard, and some slavers probably thought she'd be worth kidnapping for ransom."
"Shh!" Horatio quieted him quickly. "Keep it down! They've got lookouts all over this spaceport." After listening and looking a few seconds to make sure no one new was headed their way, he continued. "Do you people not do your research before you land somewhere? This place isn't exactly the tourist destination it used to be. Slavers, spicers, and pirates are all over this city now, and they practically run it."
"You would know, wouldn't you."
Horatio clenched his jaw. So, his reputation still preceded him. Just how many years had it been since he had last been on Paneau? Seven, maybe more?
"I know that they're going to smell you coming a kilometer away. You military types have no clue how to approach a group of criminals without a direct assault. If you want to bring your girlfriend home alive, you'll have to come at them from within their own ranks, with someone who can blend in, and that someone is definitely not you."
The pilot was silent for a long moment before he returned darkly. "Don't tell me you're offering."
"Do you know anyone else here who isn't part of some security force?"
Instead of answering, he posed a question of his own. "How do I know I can trust you?"
Sighing, Horatio crossed his arms over his chest. "You don't. But you have no other choice right now. I'll get your girlfriend back, but you have to do everything I tell you to do, starting with losing that jacket."
Though he remained reluctant, he slowly unbuttoned and shrugged off his jacket, handing it to Horatio with a wary, skeptical gaze. "Now what do we do?"
Horatio didn't waste any time turning the jacket inside out to hide its rich, unique colors, keeping his response curt. "We aren't going to do anything. I'm going to find the slavers' base of operation while you stay out of the way."
The helpless, disappointed look on his face inexplicably compelled Horatio to answer more. "I've seen a few of them hanging out in a cantina a few blocks away."
"...you know them?"
"Not personally," Horatio bit back, only just able to refrain from further spite. "I know what they look like. More specifically, I know how they look when they're scanning the crowd, when they're on the hunt for marks. I'll find them and follow them back to their base."
The pilot hesitated again, but eventually he nodded, accepting his plan. Horatio wasn't finished, though.
"Do you have a way to track where your ship has gone?"
He shook his head. "No, but there's someone at home on Paneau who can. I'll find a comm station and contact them."
"Use my ship."
Yet another skeptical stare from the pilot earned an explanation once more. "It's sitting in docking bay 45-C-2."
His eyes narrowed. "Does it have any encryption? Any security?"
Horatio matched his condescending tone. "No, but it's better than using any of the networks here that are most definitely being sliced, buddy. If you want to call even more attention to yourself and make sure that every single vandal and mercenary on this planet knows who you are and just how vulnerable you and your friends are, then by all means, use whatever you can find."
Silenced by his challenge, the pilot seemed to back down, following Horatio's logic though he still struggled with it. He half expected an apology as worried and reticent as the man remained when he spoke up once more.
"It's Lieutenant Wip," he informed Horatio weakly, and Horatio nodded.
"Well, Lieutenant," he continued, watching him warily, "once we leave this bay, you'll call me anything you want besides Sheridan, got it?"
Getting an agreement from him, Horatio began to leave, carelessly tossing his uniform jacket into a nearby dumpster.
"And my ship better still be there when I get back."
Quieting her movements as best she could, Cordira bit her lip as she peered over the edge of the spiral staircase leading down into the main hold. Kaydee and Tops slowly kept up behind her, although they thankfully maintained some distance because of their noticeably noisy servos. What Cordira wasn't expecting, though, was further commentary from the droids.
"Mistress Cordira," Kaydee spoke up in a hushed tone, "I fear it may be far too dangerous for you to approach these men, whoever they are. I would advise that you not leave this deck."
Making sure that their two abductors weren't within earshot before she responded, Cordira shook her head. "I have to, Kaydee. I have to make sure my parents and the Rys'tihns are okay."
Tops gave a quiet, timid whistle that Kaydee immediately disagreed with. "Because she is unaffected by their sedative, discovering her awake and mobile will most likely elicit a far more violent reaction than not. It would be best for us to not risk being seen."
Cordira furrowed her brows in determination. "I can hide if I need to. You two are staying up here until I get my father's lightsaber."
Without waiting for further protests, Cordira carefully slipped down the steps, keeping her footsteps light and silent. She hardly breathed as she moved, and peeking around the edge of the stairs before she reached the bottom, she looked up towards the bridge, finally getting a glimpse of the two men who had attacked them. Both had their backs to her, facing the viewport as they sat at the controls and navigated the ship, but she could still tell that neither were human. The broad, larger one she assumed to be Kreg had two horns down the sides of his face, and seated next to him was Xallar, a scrawny, twitchy man with what looked like two antennae atop his head. She watched them for what felt like an hour before she took another step, slowly making her way toward the rear of the hold with her heart beating in her throat.
Seeing her mom and dad laying motionless on the floor beside Koril and Elena was much harder for her to handle than she had anticipated. She could feel her entire body trembling as she knelt down next to them, extending a shaky hand to feel their pulses. She most worried for Koril after his episode the day before, but as far as she could tell, he seemed to be in the same state as the others, just asleep. How desperately she wanted to wake them up, any of them, just to ask them what she should do...
"...did you hear that?"
Before Cordira could even take in a startled breath, she saw Xallar whip around in his seat on the bridge and stare straight back at her.