Chapter Eight

Aurelia's earlier visit puzzled Ja'Ina. The girl claimed that Berini had her bring Soraa and Ja'Ina some food, but Ja'Ina wasn't so sure. Sure, the Captain takes care of her crew as her family, though with some rather unorthodox and sometimes harsh methods. But Ja'Ina sensed something in Aurelia that didn't seem to match up with her claim. Sure, it wasn't really that big of a deal, but still, Ja'Ina wanted to see if she could learn more about the girl. So she went to visit Berini, who was in her quarters on the topmost deck of the Queen Valkyrie.

Ja'Ina rang the annunciator on the entrance to the Captain's quarters. From inside she could hear Berini. "Enter…"

Ja'Ina opened the door and stepped in. She saw Berini and Myrrna sitting at the table reviewing some kind of data on a holoviewer. Their backs were to the door. Seemingly motionless stars filled the views out the ports on either side of the Captain's lounge as they traveled at sublight speed.

Berini turned around and faced her visitor. "Ahhh, Ja'Ina. Come in, come in." The Captain turned back to her Twi'lek First Officer. "Myrrna, we'll pick this up again later."

Myrrna slightly bowed her head. "Yes, Captain." She stood up and walked towards the door, right past Ja'Ina without saying a word or even looking at her.

Ja'Ina was always amazed at how physically strong Myrrna was. The skimpy outfit she still wore from her days in slavery left little to the imagination, making it easy to see the musculature she had built up over time underneath her purple-hued skin. It was no surprise that the Twi'lek was able to take down Ja'Ina with one surprise backhand. If she were more aware of Myrrna that day, she would have been able to dodge that first hit, but Ja'Ina felt that in a straight up brawl she would not be able to compete with the physical strength of the Twi'lek.

Berini addressed Ja'Ina, breaking her out of her thoughts of the past. "Come, sit down my dear."

"Thank you, Captain."

"In here, it's just Berini, okay?"

Ja'Ina nodded and sat in the seat next to Berini.

"So, how have your new comm duties been going? Gartia's telling me good things about you."

"I've been enjoying my new responsibilities aboard ship."

"I'm glad to hear that. I want my girls to be happy with their roles on my ship." Berini leaned back in her chair. "So, to what do I owe this visit?"

Ja'Ina hesitated. "It's Aurelia."

The Captain sat up, concerned. "Oh really? Is everything okay?"

"Yes, yes everything's just fine. She's a very good kid."

Ja'Ina was only a few years older than Aurelia, but she still found herself referring to the teen as 'kid'. They were both kids from Berini's matronly point of view.

"Well, what happened then?"

"She visited Soraa and me the other day. She brought us some food that she made and said that you asked her to bring it to us."

Berini slowly nodded her head. "I see. That's interesting." She shifted herself back up in the chair, still towering somewhat over Ja'Ina. "I never asked her to bring you anything. She must have done it on her own."

"But why?"

"Aurelia talks about you, believe it or not. She likes you and Soraa very much. Ever since you came on board, she was very curious about you. She won't tell me why, but that doesn't really matter. I see Aurelia as someone who is a good judge of character; she just has it in her."

That statement made Ja'Ina nervous. She thought to herself, does Aurelia know that I am Force-sensitive?

"Just be happy that she likes you. That tells me that I have nothing to worry about you and Soraa. I know you're women of your word."

Ja'Ina smiled at Berini's reassurance then changed the subject. "You're worried about going to Orvax, aren't you?"

"You can tell?"

Ja'Ina nervously chuckled. "One doesn't have to have the Force to see it." Her statement was true, but she would not be able to deny that she strongly felt the Captain's concern through the Force.

Berini raised an eyebrow with the young woman's comment. "I see."

"You've said yourself you made many enemies in the criminal world with your actions against slavery. Your presence there could put you in harm's way. However, you're worried more about your crew than yourself."

The Captain was impressed with Ja'Ina's insight. "You've pretty much hit the nerf on the head. Any of my girls could be attacked just for their association with me."

"But they can take care of themselves just fine, right?"

"Most can. But those who cannot will stay aboard on my orders."

"Like Aurelia?"

"Especially Aurelia." Berini's strong countenance faltered. "She wouldn't stand a chance out there…"

Ja'Ina reached out to touch Berini's arm to comfort her. The Captain shook herself out of it and pulled her arm back before the young woman could touch it. Ja'Ina quickly withdrew her hand, worried she overstepped her bounds.

"Don't worry, Berini. I assure you I will do my part to make sure that she stays aboard and safe. She doesn't know where we're going, does she?"

Berini snapped back. "No! And it will stay that way! You understand?"

Startled by the Captain's intensity, Ja'Ina replied, "Yes Ma'am!"

Realizing what she had done, Berini backed off. "Good. I'm glad we're on the same page."

"What about you? You're going out too, right?"

"Yes, but I'll conceal my identity just in case. I'll pass myself as some anonymous spacer so I can direct our activities in person without arousing unwanted attention. I want to leave as quickly as we can."

Ja'Ina was surprised by Berini's current demeanor. For the first time, the young woman saw a crack in the Captain's confidence. The haughty 'Pirate Queen Berini' was replaced with a woman who was concerned, if not afraid, for the welfare of her crew. The strongest of these sensations surrounded Berini's thoughts of Aurelia, the teen whom she rescued from a nasty Hutt crime boss. Ja'Ina could feel the struggle inside the Captain as she regained her normal composure.

Berini quickly stood up and cleared her throat. "We're not going to hang around that infernal hole any longer than we have to! Now if you don't mind, I have other matters to attend to."

Ja'Ina stood up, nodded her head and left Berini's quarters. She knew the 'matters' the Captain had to attend to were really to rest up before the ship arrived at Orvax.

The day had come when the Queen Valkyrie arrived in the Orvax system. The fourth planet was their destination, the location of some of the largest slave fairs in the galaxy. Captain Berini called for another crew meeting. Everyone on board was in attendance with the ship left to autopilot. Even Spiaré was present, though he simply stood silently against the back wall, not expecting to contribute to the discussion.

This time, everyone was quiet. The tension from the threat of attack en-route to the system was replaced by tension from the uncertainty of landing on the slave world. More than half the crewwomen were former slaves, which stirred strong but mixed emotions. Berini knew that she had a difficult task in keeping her crew focused on the mission at hand and avoid any unnecessary complications.

Berini sat in her chair at the head of the U-shaped table. "Alright ladies, this is it. We have finally made it safely to the Orvax system. We're now en route to Orvax IV, and should be there in a couple of hours." She paused to let her words sink in.

"We have a few things we need to accomplish here. First, we need to repair the ship. Next, we'll take care of our seriously wounded. Orvax IV does not have formal medical facilities, but I know someone who has a bacta tank for hire in the capital. Yifu, Fenn and Soraa need to be transported there for bacta immersion treatment. It will take some extra time since it's the only tank on the whole forsaken planet." She looked up at Spiaré. "Master Jedi, what is the status of your patients?"

Spiaré was annoyed with being referred to like a doctor, but he let it go. He cleared his throat. "Well, Yifu and Fenn sustained the worst injuries. I've been able to keep them stable at best. Soraa's condition is improving, but very slowly."

The Captain crossed her arms. "Then we have to set the priority with Soraa last."

The decision to make Soraa wait for the others stung at Ja'Ina's heart, but she knew that it was the best choice given the circumstances.

The Captain continued. "Care for our ship and crewmates will require every credit we have. This leads to our third task – acquiring money and supplies. You're pretty much free to do this in any way you see fit, short of killing anyone. Is that understood?"

None of the women said anything; most silently nodded their heads 'affirmative.' Deoni wore a big smile on her pretty face. This sort of thing was the Zeltron's specialty, and she looked forward to working her charms again.

"Good! Whatever you do, try to keep a low profile. It's been a while since we've engaged in any real piracy. We need to be as civilized about it as possible." Berini gave a thin smile to try to lighten up the atmosphere.

Berini pushed herself up from the table and scanned around the room, locking eyes with each of her crew one by one. "Remember, no one is to attempt to rescue any slaves whatsoever! Anyone who gets caught during such an attempt will have to reap the consequences of her actions! I would dearly miss any one of you, but at the same time, I wouldn't want such an incompetent, disobedient fool in my crew! Understood?"

Everyone responded in a jumbled chorus of responses such as 'yes Ma'am' or 'yes Captain' or 'yes My Queen'. Spiaré watched the motley crew in amusement, but he also hoped that they would follow her order.

The meeting continued on with the formation of teams for the different tasks. Myrrna would stay on board in command. It was for the best anyway as her urge to attack slavers would most likely be too great to suppress if she left the ship. Berini would supervise the care of the wounded in the medical facility with two of her crew. Three teams would work on 'obtaining' money and supplies. Ja'Ina, Kurloh and Deoni comprised the first team, Rann, Marka and Juun were the second team, and yet another team of three. Another two teams of three would work on getting everything needed to repair the ship. The rest would remain on the ship, including those working on the repairs. Fitty, the orange-trimmed astromech, would offer his valuable functionality to aid in the repairs.

Young Aurelia was also to stay on the ship as she was too fragile to be out and about in a slave market, even if she was well-escorted. Berini gave her crew strict orders to ensure that the girl remained on board. The Captain almost chose to lock her in her suite in the top deck, but decided that she'd be fine to roam the ship.

Berini also chose to not tell Aurelia what kind of planet they were going to; just that it was a bad place that she didn't need to leave the ship for.

The Jedi Knight Spiaré chose to remain on the Queen Valkyrie to avoid the potential of revealing his true identity. With Jedi being rare and considered dangerous, bounties were high and unsavory beings eager for such lucrative jobs were not in short supply on Orvax IV. Spiaré offered to help in any way he could on board.