26.9 APC

Though none wanted to admit it, every cantina in the known galaxy was the same. Some were dressed up to appear more expensive than others in order to draw in a classier crowd, some were tailored to a specific dominant species or particular job class based on their location, but they all boiled down to the exact same framework: secluded booths to keep conversations from being overheard, private backrooms for riskier, more illicit business deals, and a healthy supply of untrustworthy beings from across the stars, all as dangerous as the next.

Regulars and familiars returned to their usual tables and seats daily, and even some casual visitors seemed to know which areas to avoid, as if invisible warning signs were posted overhead or deflector shields kept them away. Horatio Sheridan wasn't a casual visitor, but neither was he a regular. He fit into no category, which made him even more wary of the other patrons around him. He was minding his own business with his glass of Corellian ale, but that didn't mean he was going to be left alone.

Tired from a lengthy and physically draining trip spent on Malastare, he sighed as he massaged his scarred, aching chest. He had spent the better part of three days hauling cargo around from his late sister's secret estate, and his fifty-two-year-old body was again reminding him just how damaged he was and how much abuse he had taken over the years. Frustrating him routinely, he still lacked full strength in his left arm from a cantina brawl that had nearly killed him almost twenty years prior. The stab wound he had suffered left a pronounced scar, and his breathing occasionally rattled from the residual internal damage, as well. Deilia Rys'tihn had saved his life and repaired what she could in the days following his injury, but he hadn't been the same since, in more ways than one...

Sipping his ale to rid his mind of his wandering thoughts, he returned his attention to the patrons surrounding him in the cantina. No one seemed to be minding him any more than he was watching them, which still kept him on edge. He had to be careful to not become complacent and fall victim to a surprise attack simply because he suddenly looked like a weak, easy target. He met any gazes directed his way with a hard glare, keeping his hand on his blaster holstered at his side just in case.

Someone else had caught the attention of everyone present, though, much to Horatio's relief. He took another swig of his ale before he looked to the cantina's entrance where all eyes were locked. At first glance, he wasn't surprised why there was such a response; the new visitor was a gorgeous, young redheaded human woman, a stark contrast to all the aliens and rough spacers that populated each seat. She stood out like a beacon, drawing all focus to her immediately as chatter about the room slowly became inaudible. What Horatio wasn't expecting, though, was that after a few moments...he realized that he recognized her.

He turned his face away from her quickly, hiding his obvious reaction from her as well as from the others. It was as though he was suddenly staring at a memory that had materialized in front of him, a part of his past he had purposely long forgotten. He had to be hallucinating; what exactly had the bartender put into his ale?

Without turning back or even hearing her footsteps, he could feel that she had made her way to his table, stepping up beside him noiselessly. She remained silent as the seconds ticked by, though, so she had to be a creation of his fatigued mind. There was no way it was her...

"You... You know who I am."

Her soft voice, especially her distinct Coruscanti accent, took him a moment to process. It caught him completely off guard, unless... No, it couldn't be. She didn't know who he was, did she? Even as he looked up at her and studied her face he'd known for years, he still wasn't sure she was real.

"We've never met."

Though he would have told a stranger the same thing, he was telling her the truth, if she was actually there. She didn't seem fazed.

"But you recognized me. I saw it in your eyes."

Beginning to sense the attention of the entire cantina solely focused on the two of them, Horatio was desperate to find a way out. "So what if I do?"

"I think I need your help."

He narrowed his eyes, already wary. "You think so? And what makes you think I'll give it to you? I'm busy."

Still, she remained at his side, no longer able to mask her hesitation. "Please," she begged quietly, "I don't know where I am, and...I don't know who I am."

Stunned, Horatio stared up at her, waiting for some minute tell to become evident in any facet of her expression. He was even less convinced he was sane anymore.

"Is this some kind of a joke? Did your mother put you up to this?" The stares from around the room bored into him, setting off his flight reflex honed by years of living in the shadows and on the run from powerful crime lords and organizations...

"No, it's no joke," she countered carefully, completely oblivious to the rest of the guests around her. "I can't remember anything."

Nearly seething, Horatio met the stares with a dark look of his own. "You are getting me a lot of unwanted attention, Red..."

"If you knew my mother...will you help me?"

As much as he knew he was going to regret it, he couldn't let her face the rest of the cantina on her own. Releasing a deep sigh, he nodded to the open seat across from him, glad that at least she took it quickly. After another scathing sweep of glances around the room, he returned to her and studied her a moment longer, unsure why his luck had to be so...frustrating.

"You name is Cordira Natiyr. Your parents are Rech and Mand Natiyr. You have two younger sisters, Aruun and Arlen Natiyr. You were born on Paneau, and you're a Jedi. Ringing any bells?"

She was motionless as she absorbed the flurry of information he had flung at her, but she remained perplexed. "No, nothing. Where are we?"

"Myrkr. Not exactly a resort destination for you Jedi. How did you get here? What do you remember?"

She remained genuinely concerned. "I don't remember much of anything past a few hours ago. I woke up alone in a small room down the street. It was empty, except for a gray slab against the wall. I was...cold, shivering when I came to, and I couldn't see for a while. I got up when I was strong enough and saw this cantina, so I thought I would try to find someone who could help me here."

Again Horatio couldn't believe what he was hearing. Had he heard her correctly? Just what kind of situation had so casually walked up to him?

"A gray slab," he repeated for confirmation, studying her expression. When she nodded and remained clueless as to what he had already figured out, he let out a weary sigh. He was far too involved to back out now. "You were frozen in carbonite. You have hibernation sickness, that's why you can't remember anything."

Finally understanding the gravity of her predicament, she looked down, seeming to concentrate even harder on what she could remember. "Carbonite... For how long?"

"A fairly decent amount of time if it's affected your memory so much. I think the more important question, though, is who would have done this to you, and why."

Worried, she bit her lower lip as she thought, briefly transporting him to his decades old memories of his former partner...

"Can you take me home?"

Snapped back to the present, he narrowed his eyes. "I'm not running a passenger service."

"I'll pay you once we get there."

"You couldn't even remember your own name. How do you know that you'll have anything of value to pay me with once we get there?"

She had begun to answer him, but realizing she couldn't, she remained silent, looking even more lost and inadvertently making him feel guilty. He sighed with frustration, feeling his conscience slowly getting the better of him. He wanted to stand up and just walk away, as he'd wanted to do numerous times in the past, but his muscles refused to move. In the back of his mind, he knew she was a clone of her mother, but it was becoming harder for him to look anywhere but at her familiar face...

Movement at the extreme periphery of his vision caught his attention briefly, and turning to look, he felt his pulse quicken. Three armed men had entered the cantina and were rapidly scanning the crowd, and he could already tell they were looking for her before they saw her.

"Go, out the back. Now." She only answered his command with confusion, heightening his urgency. "Move!"

He gripped her upper arm to pull her along with him, leading her out of the cantina into a dark, narrow back alley with few paths and even fewer exits. He chose the direction that would take him to the spaceport where his ship was docked, although he wasn't too satisfied with how vulnerable it left them to attack from behind. With his blaster in one hand, he shoved her ahead of him, keeping her quickly moving forward as he glanced back. As he expected, the three had followed them, and they were rapidly closing the distance between them. He swore under his breath.

"Who are they!"

Releasing a succession of blaster bolts behind him as cover fire, Horatio suppressed a growl. "I would assume they're the ones who want you back in carbonite."

They turned a corner that led back out onto the main street, and Horatio sprinted with her across the way to the spaceport, having to dodge a dozen beings that were ambling about in their way. Though the spaceport was a maze, they just had to make it to the right docking bay and raise the loading ramp to escape their pursuers. His ship would take off in less than five seconds -

Piercing him from behind, a terrible pain tore through his left shoulder, stealing his breath. He called out in pain and stumbled briefly, but regaining his balance, he pushed Cordira further, protecting her and directing her to the docking bay door just ahead of them. He fired another several bolts at the men and felled one as he sealed the blast door behind himself, hopefully earning him those few extra seconds to get airborne. She tried to tend to him as he holstered his blaster and gripped his left arm, but he shook his head through gritted teeth.

"Get inside and strap in," he demanded, already losing sensation in his arm and feeling the pain from the bolt's damage subsiding. Thankfully she complied and stepped up into the ship, taking her seat beside him in the small cockpit after raising the ramp behind them. Everything was as he had left it, and though operating the controls with one hand was going to be challenging, he didn't waste any time. The Cloak's engines fired up and its repulsors lifted the modest freighter from its landing struts, and Horatio quickly directed it out of the spaceport and into space, leaving Myrkr and their pursuers behind within minutes. Only after making the jump to hyperspace did he finally let go of a breath he had been holding, but his relief was short lived. As he looked to Cordira seated next to him, he wasn't expecting to see tears streaming down her face as she stared blankly at the console in front of her. Afraid that she had been injured, too, he looked her over briefly.

"...are you alright?"

Her quiet voice shook with an emotional quiver he wasn't prepared for. "He died in my arms..."

Though it was good that her memory was returning, he wasn't sure he wanted to press her for more about something that had visibly upset her so. "Who died?"

"I can't remember," she breathed, sounding weaker by the moment. "A man that I loved deeply... I wasn't fast enough. I didn't get to him in time... It's my fault."

It had been some time, but he knew those feelings all too well himself. He couldn't offer her much in the way of comfort, a stranger to her even before she'd lost her memory, but at least she wasn't alone as she suffered through her past a second time. How old was this memory she was reliving? Would she have to work through every traumatic experience she'd had in her life? It was going to be a very lengthy trip to Paneau...

Calming herself, she took in and released a number of shaky breaths, drying her cheeks in slight embarrassment. "I'm sorry... It hit me so suddenly, I wasn't ready." Unsure of what to say, he shook his head to dismiss her apology, watching her as she wavered in her seat. "I feel...I feel strange..." Before he understood what she meant, he noticed her entire body slump in her strapped seat, her head rolling to the side as she slowly fell unconscious.

"Cordira?" he called to her, reaching across to feel her thready pulse that was weakening moment by moment. Save for her breathing, she was no longer moving, sending him into a brief panic. "Blast it!" he spurted as he pulled the Cloak from hyperspace, changing course. She was rapidly becoming critical, and he wasn't going to get her to Paneau in time.