Sunday, December 10, 2017

MadCap's NaNoWriMo 2017 - "Minos Mayhem" - Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven - "Mindless Philosopher"

An Imperial prisoner transport was hardly a comfortable place by design. For the purposes of a night’s rest, however, it served the purpose. When Calen settled into his small bunk, he did not expect that this night would be any more pleasant than any of the others he’d had. When he awoke in a familiar dreamscape...he found that he was right. The forest, the table with the feast, and Critus sitting at it in his robes and turban.

“Sleeping well?” He asked, pouring himself another glass of some liquid from a crystal decanter.

“...oh, well, of course.” Calen snorted. “I often enjoy dreams where I’m assaulted by strange men in bathrobes.”

“Perhaps my previous attempt to convince you was...overzealous.” Critus said.

“What tipped you off? The blood cup?” Calen asked as he watched the older man sigh, rubbing his temple. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is that annoying? Is it like someone invaded your dreams while you sleep?”

“So you accept that this isn’t a dream, then?”

“I’ve seen enough crazy things over the last few days that I’m willing to believe anything.” Calen was unnerved as Critus smiled a most...unnerving smile, his lips twisted in a way most unpleasant.

“At least you are accepting the reality.” Critus said. “Soon, you shall come to us and aid in our mission.”

“I’m still trying to figure out why exactly I’d do that?” Calen asked. “I ran away from home because a planet blew up. I’m not exactly cult material.”

“This goes beyond the Church, Calen.” Critus said. “There are greater forces at work beyond the simple folk of Pergitor, though they are chosen. As are you. Together, we shall end the woes of the galaxy. The Empire. The Rebellion. They will mean nothing as we bring Ascension to all throughout the many worlds. Star by star.”

“Once you have the Heart of Derriphan, right?” Calen asked. “What is that thing?”

“An artifact of great power. A tool, left by the ancestors.” Critus told him. “Ever since I was a child, I could hear its call. It drew me into the powers I have known, and I have knelt at the feet of the Dark Lady to learn of the ways of Ascension.”

“Who is the Dark Lady?” Calen asked. He doubted the woman’s existence, even having seen the being Critus had claimed to be his muse. “And where is she?”

“Sometimes she is in this place. Sometimes in others.” Critus said. “Her place is her whim and it is not mine to question. It is mine to aid her in her quest to bring others.” Calen wasn’t buying it, the entire thing left a bad taste in his mouth. “You shall see, Calen. You are destined to be at my side for this endeavor. It has been foretold to me.”

“Foretold by who? Her?”

“Yes. And I have been shown the future. And I shall show it to you.” Critus raised his hand, and sparks seemed to spin from his fingertips. Suspended in the air, they elongated and created what Calen could only perceive as a tear in the very air before him. Floating above the table, it opened up into a massive circle with a hollow center. Within it, he could see something else. The image, at first blurry, soon became clear. It was...him. He wore a gray tunic and leggings as he stood on a grassy knoll, dropping to one knee before a man in a flowing, black cloak. “Do you see? One day you shall kneel before me and…”

“That’s...not you.” Calen said simply, as the image winked out of existence.

“What?”

“That wasn’t you. In the image.” The man in the image could not clearly be seen, but Calen could tell it wasn’t Critus. The feel of the man was completely different, projecting an entirely different air.

“It has already been foretold, Calen.” Critus told him. “Snide remarks will do you ill and only delay the inevitable.”

“Uh huh…” Calen clicked his tongue. “So, I’m just...gonna go back to bed now. But, hey. It’s been real.” He waved and started back down the path he had originally come in his dream before.

“You will be at my side, Calen! You will see the galaxy changed!” Critus called after him. “You cannot deny the truth of who you are!!!” Calen stopped. “You’ve decided not to run, then?”

“Go to Hell.” Calen muttered, starting to move again toward a light...that, he hoped, would take him from this dream.

***

Calen awoke and rose, stretching. He wondered about his dream, fairly certain that it was not a dream at all. Critus had been communicating with him, somehow. Had it been...the Force? Niyasa had spoken about it briefly, and Calen had only known about it from old holovids and holonet reports on the Clone Wars. Of course, the Force was known as a dogmatic, antiquated legend that belonged to the Jedi - a bunch of traitors who had betrayed the Old Republic and had forced the Empire into being. Or had they? Recent events were making him ponder all he’d been told since his earliest years.

“You up?” Tessa’s voice came through as the door to his room/cell slid open.

“Don’t you knock?” Calen asked, getting up quickly, though he was hardly in an inappropriate mode of dress.

“Rook’s got auxiliary working again,” Tessa went on regardless, “We probably have seven or eight hours, though we aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”

“Engines are out?” Calen asked.

“And most of the hull looks like the space-winds chewed it up and spit it out, yes.” Tessa told him. “Let’s hope that Niyasa’s hair-brained scheme works.”

“What scheme?” Calen asked.

“The thing she’s been going on about it since last night.” Tessa said. “Salvaging something off the fallen Star Destroyers.” When she realized Calen was just staring at her, she stopped. “What? You don’t know?”

“Know what?” His brow quirked, having been waiting for her to explain ever since the words ‘Star Destroyers’ had come from her mouth.

“Gesaril. It’s been under quarantine for almost a decade now.” Tessa said. “An entire fleet of Star Destroyers crashed here. No one knows why.”

“What? Just...crashed?” Calen asked.

“That’s what the reports say.” Tessa said. “It’s been a forbidden planet ever since.”

“So they built a prison in its orbit?”

“Where else are you going to put an inescapable prison?” Tessa asked. Calen couldn’t argue with that logic. “Niyasa wanted to see you when you were up.”

“Where is she?”

“Outside. Go on.” Calen snatched his belt up from the bed, noticing a glimmer of metal in the rear-most pouch through the small opening in the flap. Opening it, Calen found something that had completely slipped his mind - the datacard that had been taken from Beedee’s head. He pulled it out, looking at it. ‘How did…?’ He thought, but stopped himself as he realized that Ordos must have slipped it into his pouch before he’d pushed him down that stairwell. His stomach clenched at the thought that Ordos had been preparing for not being able to leave the station.

Pushing that aside for the moment, he set the datacard back into the pouch and resealed it. At the very least, they knew where it was so it could be easily obtained later. He stopped at the door, seeing Ordos’ jacket from where it hung against a hook. He reached for it, but then put his hand down again, shaking his head. With that, he went into the corridor and made his way down to the hatch leading out, moving along the extended ramp to find Niyasa down and working on a small, brown, hovering craft. It was long, sleek, and hummed like a pleased rancor.

“A speeder bike?” Calen asked.

“Found it in the hold. I expect it was only supposed to be for scouting, but...it serves its purpose well enough.” Niyasa said.

“I love these things!” Calen grinned, looking it over. “I had one, back home. I must have worked on that thing for months trying to get it working.”

“Well, this one already is.” Niyasa said. “Now, once I get the wagon up with it, we ought to be good to go.” Calen was about to ask what she meant when it became apparent. A large section of the torn up hull had been repurposed into a makeshift wagon of sorts. At the moment, she was attaching the hovering apparatuses from another bike (in pieces not far off) onto it. “So...what’s on your mind?”

“My mind?” Calen asked.

“You do still have one of those, yes?” Niyasa asked, earning her a look from the human. “That was humor, was it not?”

“Yes. Very funny.” Calen rolled his eyes.

“I meant more of your thoughts at the moment.” Niyasa said. “What with our escape and...well…” The Mrlssi just shook her head slightly, not speaking of their fallen comrade.

“You mentioned the Force.” Calen said.

“Ah, yes. The Force.” Niyasa said. “You know the legends of the Jedi Knights, yes?”

“Well, I don’t know about legends, but I do know what’s part of Imperial record.” Calen said. “They were believers in some mystical tradition and fought for the old Republic, but they ended up causing its destruction when they betrayed it.”

“That’s only half true.” Niyasa said as she attached the final apparatus and then pulled some wiring from the speederbike to make a connection. “The Jedi Knights were warriors for the old Republic. But it wasn’t the Jedi who were the betrayers, they were betrayed.”

“What?”

“The Republic turned on the Jedi.” Niyasa told him, succinctly. “The Empire rose up from the ashes that were left behind, and the Jedi were blamed for all of it.”

“I...there’s...there’s no way that can be right.” A lifetime of everything he’d been told...no, it couldn’t be true. The Jedi had been traitors, they’d brought about the death of the Republic and necessitated the need for the Empire. Every Empire Day, that lesson had been retaught and it was something considered as holy writ.

“If the Empire did rise to cleanse the Jedi, then why do they still exist?” Niyasa asked. “I don’t see many more Jedi out there any more, do you?” He hadn’t, not that he’d known. The last records he’d ever seen of the Jedi were from during the Clone Wars, when they’d fought against the droid armies of the Separatist movement. Though that had been all before his time, there were clear symbols and signs that they’d existed. The old Jedi Temple still towered on Coruscant, though now as the Emperor’s Manor. They had been taught to him by his mentors as the greatest evil the galaxy had known, and that they should all be grateful that the Empire had risen up to stop them.

“I...I don’t…” His head was spinning. This could not be true. It couldn’t be.

“Tell me something, Calen.” Niyasa said. “How did you end up in a place like this?” He was caught off-guard by the question. “I mean, here in the Minos cluster. Not here specifically. I want to know.” Calen stared at her for a long moment. “I do. Honest.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with-” Calen started, but she cut him off.

“Trust me.” Niyasa said. “Tell me.” He took a deep breath, and he did. Calen told her about running away from home. He told her about meeting up with Caius and his crew, coming onboard as a pilot. He told her about the fight on Skorr II and his battle with the Gamorrean. He told her about hunting down Caius’ killer and how that path had led them to Glin and then to Beebus and then even the Church of Infinite Perception before his eventual arrest and imprisonment on Gesaril. “Hmm...I see.”

“So what does that have to do with anything?” Calen asked.

“Well, as I told you last night, the Force is with you.” Niyasa said. “You said yourself that you somehow pulled the blaster back into your hand when you fought the Gamorrean.”

“I said I might have.” Calen said. “I don’t know. I was losing a lot of blood and-”

“You did do it.” Niyasa said. “By accident, surely, but you did do it. I sensed it in you the moment that we met.”

“You mean, so...those things you can do...I can do them, too?” Calen asked.

“With training, you can even do them on purpose!” Niyasa said enthusiastically. “I can even teach you what I know. What little of it I know, anyway.”

“So...are you a Jedi?” Calen asked. The bird-woman stopped suddenly, and Calen could have sworn he saw a glimmer of irritation in her eyes, her face contorting into (what with the beak) he could really only classify as...a grimace. Or maybe a scowl. But, only for a moment.

“No. I’m not.” Niyasa said, her usual jovial attitude seemingly coming back in force, finally sticking another wire through from the speeder to the wagon. “I’m just a hen with a few tricks up her sleeve.”

“So how did you learn to do all this?” Calen asked.

“Trial and error, mostly.” Niyasa said. “Sometimes, I’ve picked up a piece of Jedi lore or learned something from other Force traditions, though both of those are rare.”

“Wait, others?”

“Oh, yes.” Niyasa chortled. “There’s a religion for every star in the sky, even you should know that by now. There were plenty of religions built around the Force in the old times. Even to now.”

“This is really making my head hurt.” Calen muttered, rubbing his temple.

“For now, don’t worry about it. Just focus on the here and now.” Niyasa said, a thought seeming to occur to her in mid-sentence. “Actually, that’s a good idea. Focus on the here and now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Focus on the here and now. Forget everything else. Forget the jailbreak and everything that’s going on up there and just on here. On this planet.” Niyasa told him, leaning down to tap the grassy earth they stood on. Calen did try. After a few moments, he closed his eyes and took a few slow, deep breath.

“I’m really not sensing any-”

“It’s not a conscious effort. You just...feel it. Clear your mind...and feel.” Niyasa’s voice came through, he could still hear her coming from right in front of him. So, he kept trying.

‘Clear your mind. Clear your mind.’ He kept repeating the words in his head. After a few moments, nothing seemed to have changed. Then, there was something...a feeling, for lack of a better term. Calen didn’t rightly know what to call it, but it felt like a sort of humming in the back of his mind. It was soft, ethereal, feeling almost like the rush of running water against his hand, but it permeated his whole being. It was a part of him...and it was completely divorced from him. It was as if he was some boulder that had been dropped into a lake, and the ripples of the water hit something...a being in front of him. Niyasa. He could sense her. Behind him, as well, he could sense something...a presence that was getting closer...and closer...the ripples intensifying...until…

“Are you two still not out yet?” Tessa’s voice came from the remains of the ship. “You’re burning the daylight!”

“We’re going, we’re going!” Niyasa said as Calen’s eyes snapped open. He heard the humming of the attached wagon. They were in business.

“I could sense you.” Calen muttered, stunned.

“That’s the Force for you.” Niyasa said.

“No, I mean...both of you. Her...and you.” Calen elaborated. Niyasa nodded.

“That’s the Force, yes.” Niyasa said. “It’s generated by all living things, but only one in a million beings have an innate connection to it like you and I do.” She moved over toward the speederbike. “You said you know how to drive one of these, right?”

“Yeah.” Calen nodded, and she gestured for him to get on. He did so, and she slid herself on right in front of him, his back to her.

“I took the scans off of the sensor logs right before we crashed. We need to head that way.” Niyasa said. “About twelve kilometers.” 

“We’ll make sure not the crash the ship while you’re gone!” Tessa yelled down to them, her hands cupped around her mouth to project.  Calen gave her a look, then hit the accelerator and they took off through the jungle. Further away from the fallen ship they went until it became clear what their target was. In the distance, only a few minutes away, was a wreck that Calen found the sight of all too familiar: an Imperial Star Destroyer. Or, rather, the wreck of one.

“There she is!” Niyasa seemed enthused.

“What exactly are we planning to do?” Calen asked as Niyasa signalled for him to stop them. The Destroyer was a marvel even in its dilapidated state dwarfing them what seemed an infinity of times over.

“Well, Star Destroyers tend to have some extra vessels in armament. TIEs, transports, shuttles.” Niyasa said. “With twelve Destroyers crashed here, there bound to be at least some parts we can scrap for the engine.”

“This seems like a pretty big gamble.” Calen said. “I mean, with everything here...how do you know any of it is in working condition?”

“I don’t.”

“...what?!”

“I don’t. But I have faith.” Niyasa told him, pulling a grappling hook from her belt.

“In what? The Force?” Calen asked, following her as she approached the nearest side of the ship.

“No. In my tech skills. C’mon.” Niyasa said, taking aim and firing her hook, which careened up into the sky. The liquid cable jerked as it clearly connected with something. “Alright, hang on.”

“Hang on to wha-?!” Calen cried out in surprise as Niyasa grabbed him around the leg and they were both quickly pulled up toward whatever the hook had grabbed onto. What seemed like minutes went on by as they ascended.

“Get ready to grab the edge.”

“The edge of wha-?” Calen started to ask, though it quickly became apparent as their destination became clear - one of the hangar bays. He reached out, grabbing onto the edge as soon as it was within his reach. Niyasa detached the cable and quickly scurried up Calen’s back, her taloned feet pressing a bit against his head as she hopped into the ship prop.

“Sorry,” The avian woman chirped as she knelt down to help him up.

“Yeah, no...it’s fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.” Calen was doing his best to not look back, and he couldn’t help but noticed how the entire place felt like it was slanted just slightly to the direction behind him. He tried to push that particular thought from his mind. “So...what are we looking for?”

“I told you. Ships to scrap.” Niyasa reached into one of her pouches again, pulling out a miniature fusion lantern. It lit up, illuminating the darkened bay. With its light, Calen could see a few ships that had either been damage in the crash or by environmental factors after. “Let’s start looking.” The two got to it, moving from wreck to wreck. Niyasa would get in the ones she could, examine for a bit, even tearing out the paneling to expose the remains of systems. Sometimes, she’d take a few pieces and hand them off to Calen, but otherwise seemed...displeased.

“I still don’t understand it.” Calen said.

“It’s a compressor cuff. We need another four of these if we want to get the engines working.” Niyasa told him.

“No, no...not these.” Calen said, gesturing to the bundle of gizmos in his arms. “I mean...the Force.”

“What’s there to understand?” Niyasa asked.

“What is it?” Calen asked. Niyasa, who had been working on tearing out some of the coils from a hyperdrive motivator, stopped.

“Well, it’s like I told you before. It’s generated by all living things.” Niyasa said. “Think of it like...energy. Whether or not we use it, it exists. It just is. I can’t really explain it more than that.”

“Except you believe in it.” Calen said.

“Oh, absolutely.” Niyasa said. “But you don’t have to understand something to believe in it. I mean, I’ve tried studying it for almost twenty years now and I’m really no closer to understanding it than I was when I started.”

“Wait, you’ve been studying this for twenty years?” Calen asked.

“I’m twenty-six. How old did you think I was?” Niyasa chortled.

“Well, I didn’t-”

“Nevermind it, nevermind it.” She waved it off. “But that’s the best way that I can explain it. I’m not a Jedi and I’m certainly not a philosopher of any kind.” She yanked out another compression cuff.

“Okay...another thought.” Calen said.

“Yes, Tessa’s always like that.” Niyasa said before Calen had even asked.

“...okay, that wasn’t quite where I was going.” Calen said.

“The Force, unfortunately, hasn’t given me precognition.” Niyasa gave a...Calen still felt strange calling it a grin. “Beak-grin”? “What is it?”

“We’re trying so hard to scrap parts out of these ships, why don’t we just take one of the ships and get off-world with it?” Calen asked her. The Mrlssi stopped, staring at the broken hyperdrive for a long, long moment. “Uh...Niyasa?” He asked, softly at first, then asked a little louder. “Niyasa? Ni-?”

“Oh, I am an idiot!” The bird woman shrieked.

Monday, December 4, 2017

MadCap's NaNoWriMo 2017 - "Minos Mayhem" - Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten - "A Real Short Trip"

Once more creeping up behind set of crates after set of crates, ship after ship, Calen found himself no closer to locating any sign of Ordos. This was a stupid plan, and he knew it well. Knowing Tessa, the rest would be taking off the moment they got that transport running, no questions asked. Some allies! Of course, Calen supposed he couldn’t blame them. To be a member of the Rebels was a death sentence, so perhaps he was in good company. It seemed even this far out in the galaxy, the War wasn’t something that could be so easily avoided. Stuck in the middle of it now, he made the choice to save Ordos, if he could.

The deck was still crawling with Stormtroopers, all searching. Calen watched their patterns, did his best to get through them without arousing suspicion. The lights were apparently on his side (either through Dax’s machinations or poor maintenance as had been with the stairwell’s coolant system), but how long would that last? How long could he creep from shadow to shadow to find what he sought? How long could-his eyes caught the movement, seeing the older man moving to a docking control terminal.

What is he doing?’ Calen thought, watching him manipulate the interface. It began to loudly shriek out yet another alarm.

There he is! Stop right there!” A Stormtrooper was drawn to the sound and received one of Ordos blaster shots to the head for his trouble. Three others were moving in on him, Ordos ducking behind the lowered ramp of a freighter to avoid their fire and return with some of his own. Calen immediately began to rush forward, hoping to assist him in his defense and get him to the transport without further incident. It was then that Ordos managed to take out not one, not two, but all three of his attackers in rapid succession. It was then that the old man noticed him.

“You shouldn’t be here! Go, now!” Ordos snapped.

“I was just trying to-” Calen started.

“Go, to the transport! Get out of here!”

“I’m not leaving you behind!”

“Like Hell you aren’t, boy! Go!” Ordos shouted. Calen was taken aback. “Don’t make me put some fire behind that.” Ordos warned, lowering the blaster to face the younger man.

“This is insane!” Calen protested.

“Go!” Ordos roared, then gasped as a blaster bolt tore through his hand and forced him to drop the weapon. Calen turned just in time to have his own shot from his grasp, luckily with only the weapon itself harmed. He turned, too, to see a familiar visage coming down the way toward them, flanked at either side by Stormtroopers in black armor - an elite guard.

“Well, well, well…” Ayro’s black eyes stared at both of the men. “I do not believe this is your holding cell. We should rectify that.”

“Why did you have Caius killed?!” Ordos snapped. Ayro backed slightly, his eyes going wide. The troopers flanking him raised their blasters, but Ayro’s raised hand stopped them from opening fire. “Answer me, you son of a bitch!”

“I? Kill Caius?” Ayro snorted. “Hardly. The affairs of the Gauntlet and that worm Daheel are not my concern. They are merely convenient pawns.”

“Wait, what?” Calen asked.

“Haven’t figured it out, have you, boy?” Ayro asked. “I have made effective pawns out of the Gauntlet and out of Critus’ little band of fanatics.”

“What?!” Calen snapped. ‘That’s insane! The Empire shouldn’t be working with criminals and zealots!” Ayro threw his head back and laughed.

“Who makes better pawns than those willing to die for their cause, Darkhaven?” Ayro asked.

“That’s what they all are. Pawns to you.” Ordos said.

“A position you’ve found yourself in before, haven’t you?” Ayro snorted. “Tell me...does the boy know about your record?”

“That’s ancient history.” Ordos replied.

“Is it?” Ayro asked. “So CT-983 is…?”

“A dead man.” Ordos cut him off. Calen stared at him, his eyes widened.

CT...that’s an old Republic code. That’s reserved for…’ Calen’s thoughts were cut off as Ayro spoke again.

“Well, you are quite right, after today.” Ayro snorted, lowering his arm. “Take aim.” He ordered, and his troopers obeyed. It was in that moment, that small split second that Calen’s mind went back to the incident on Skorr II. The place where this had all started. How he’d pulled that blaster back into his hand. Yes, he was sure of it now. When the Gammorean had stabbed him, and his need had been most dire, he’d done it. Could he do it again? His eye had caught a thermal detonator on the belt of one of the Troopers. Maybe it had been a trophy taken from a fallen enemy. If he could pull it from the chain it rested on...if he just…

He tried to reach out, his hand raising. “Fire!” His eyes snapped open and he ducked down, reaching for his blaster and aiming a shot right at the detonator in question. The blaster fire from the opposing side ended as a bright light seemed to engulf them. Even Ayro’s screams of rage were drowned out by the deafening explosion. Calen rolled backwards, keeping his eyes from the blinding light until he was sure it had passed...and delighted to find that he’d only been lightly singed by the experience.

“Ordos! C’mon! Let’s-” Calen looked over to find that Ordos was slumped back against a bunch of crates that had been knocked over either by the explosion or by his impact into them. “Ordos! Hang on! We’ll get you back to the shi-”

“No…” Ordos managed out as Calen slipped an arm under his shoulder, lifting him up. “I’m done.” Ordos’ torso looked like it’d been blasted and burned, his prison uniform ripped to shreds by the blaster fire he had taken to the chest. “Looks like my number’s up, kid. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t talk like that, we’re getting out of this.” Calen said.

“Keep up the fight for me.”

“We can do it together. We’re gonna get back to Karideph. We’ll see this through. We have to.”

“Promise me.”

“We can-”

“PROMISE ME!” Ordos shouted out with great effort.

“You know I will.” Calen said to the man slumped against him. “But you will, too. We both will. Alright?” He kept moving. There wasn’t much chance to sneak around, he knew. And even Dax wouldn’t be able to distract everyone for so long. They had to move, and they had to move now.

“I’m sorry.” Ordos said, finally.

“There’s no need for that.” Calen told him. The transport was in sight.

“I wasn’t saying it to you, kid…” Ordos’ voice dropped lower and lower as he spoke. Calen was standing within feet of the lowered ramp when he realized the old man was lying dead against him. He pushed through it, his heart pounding as his body was pushed into full alert. He didn’t even hear the blaster fire hitting the hull of the ship as he pulled Ordos’ body aboard.

“I hope you’ve got this thing working!” Calen shouted down as he laid Ordos down on the floor for the moment, having nowhere else to set him.

“You better believe it!” Tessa shouted back. Calen rushed into the cockpit to see that Tessa had taken up the navigation terminal, Rook was sitting in one of the twin pilot chairs, and Niyasa was minding the engine control terminal. That left one seat for him, foregone conclusion. “Where’s the old man?”

“He’s dead.” Calen said simply, checking that everything was good to go before they took off. “If you’ve got those access codes, punch them in. We need to get out of here. Now.” He said, grabbing the yoke and lifting them up from the platform.

“Doing it now.” Tessa said as she began to punch in the code. The docking bay was still circular to adhere to the curve of the station, so Calen made his adjustments with acceleration, moving along the curve as best he could with the ship’s bulk. The proximity alarms were going haywire as Calen still managed to avoid colliding with other ships that were docked, if only just. “The tower’s scrambling TIEs.” Tessa’s words proved true as the sensors were picking up several brand new vessels in pursuit.

“Rook, does this tub have any weapons?” Calen asked. The Wookiee’s growls and barks were understood as positive, even if the words were not. “Let’s put them to some use. How long until we hit the doors out?” Within a split second, the lasers had warmed up and were firing on the TIEs, which quickly broke into a more staggered formation to avoid the barrage.

“At our current rate of speed...fifty-eight seconds.” Niyasa reported.

“The code’s still going through!” Tessa shouted. The ship was tossed as some lucky laser blasts tore at the back.

“Shields are holding.” Niyasa chirped. “Ninety-four percent.” Another hit. “...Eighty-seven.”

“Let’s not give them the opportunity to fail.” Calen said, pushing the ship forward. The bulky craft tore its way through to its target, which came into view as they passed the next part of the curve. It was a straight shot out from there, all they had to do was get there before it was too- “The lockdown is still on!”

“I’m working on it!” Tessa shouted, working frantically with the lines of code at her terminal. “The uplink still hasn’t gone through!”

“Forty seconds.” Niyasa said.

“We’re gonna end up a lot flatter!” Calen shouted back to Tessa.

“I’m trying!” Tessa snapped, working. “There, resending!” At the current rate of acceleration, there was surely no way they could stop in time...Calen closed his eyes, embracing himself for the end.

Aim for the tops of the spires on either side.’ Calen heard the voice...Niyasa’s voice. Just as he had heard Critus’ voice in the Temple on Pergitor. ‘Do it now! We don’t have much time!’ Unlike then, Calen listened. Switching off the targeting computer, he maneuvered the controls as quickly as he could to hit the targets as described. The laser blasts went off, and both sections of wall they hit exploded into a macabre flash of light and color. The blast doors that held closed the bay were forced open, sliding open just as they approached.

“We’re clear!” Tessa exclaimed in surprise. Calen, too, was elated. “Setting a course for Karideph and preparing the jump into hyperspa-” The ship was jolted again as something else hit it.

“Shields down to sixty-six percent and falling!” Niyasa shouted. “And the engines are offline.”

“Get ‘em back!” Calen shouted.

“Working on it!” Niyasa quickly patted her way down to the far end of the cockpit and exited out into the corridor.

“Tractor beam!” Tessa growled, slamming a fist against her console. “Shields down to forty-four percent...and we’ve got TIEs coming our way.” Again and again, the ship was rocked as it floated, dead in space. “Have we still got weapons?”

“Not without power.” Calen told her. “The auxiliaries aren’t going to keep us flying, much less fight back against anything.”

“Shields at forty-three percent.” Tessa said, reading the slowly dimming terminal. “No, wait...thirty-eight…”

“Niyasa, c’mon!” Calen yelled.

“Thirty-three...twenty-six…”

“Don’t need the countdown, thanks!” Calen snapped. “Start charting a path through hyperspace for when-” The engines hummed back into life. “There we go!” With power restored, Calen took aim and fired at the point of origin for the tractor beam. Three laser blasts saw it blasted into atoms and the ship freed.

“Path charted. It’s gonna take us right over Gesaril!” Tessa said.

“Awesome!” Calen said, more than happy to punch it. Even with their course correction, the TIEs remained in hot pursuit. They remained well within the sensors. “Any luck with the shields?”

“Not so much.” Niyasa said as she came back up, resuming her spot. “I could only stabilize it at twenty-two percent. It should be enough to get us out of here.”

“Should?” Tessa asked.

“Statistically speaking.” The Mrlssi coughed.

“Well, it’ll have to do.” Calen said, moving along the path that Tessa had programmed in, making variations every so often to get out of the way of the attacks. They were cresting within the outermost layer of Gesaril’s atmosphere as they took yet another hit.

“Eighteen percent!” Tessa shouted. The entire ship and everyone within it suddenly lurched forward...and then stopped. “What in the hell?”

“We’ve...stopped.” Calen said. No matter how much he accelerated, the vessel would not move. They were caught again. “That tractor beam can’t possibly have this great a range!”

“It’s not a tractor beam.” Niyasa chirped. “How are you not feeling that?” It was only then that Calen realized the question was directed at him.

“Me?”

“The TIEs are breaking off engagement.” Tessa said. “That’s at least one problem solved.”  Suddenly, an alarm went off. “Oh, spoke too soon…”

“Engines are failing!” Niyasa reported. The whole ship was being pulled downward toward the nearest center of gravity - the planet of Gesaril...

The crash that followed was sudden and violent. Niyasa had barely kept the ship together through what seemed like sheer dumb luck. The shields failed thankfully just after they’d fallen through into the atmosphere proper. Calen had done his best to steer them toward a clearing in a sea of large, gnarled tropical trees. He’d missed it by several kilometers as the Imperial prison ship tore through the terrain, taking down tree after tree as they bent and snapped beneath its massive bulk.

The crash webbing had deployed. The ship had finally, finally come to a stop, surrounded by the jungle that it hadn’t destroyed in its descent. Calen finally allowed himself to breathe again. He could feel every muscle aching from how he’d been jarringly thrown around, but he was alive.

“Niyasa? Rook? Tessa?” Calen called out. The lighting coming through from Gesaril’s sun wasn’t sufficient to illuminate the whole of the cockpit. Calen theorized that they must have landed at some point in the late afternoon.

“I’m alright.” Niyasa’s groan could be heard behind him. Rook’s growling could likewise be heard, though muffled somewhat. Looking back, Calen witnessed the Wookiee having been slammed back into his seat by the crash webbing.

“Tessa?”

“Uh...did someone get the number of...whatever that was?” Tessa’s voice groaned out from her seat, covered in the crash webbing as well. Calen quickly pulled himself free and went over to assist her in removing herself. She jerked from his hands as he did so. “I’ve got it!”

“Geez, take it easy! I was trying to help!” Calen held up his hands, palms open to her, in protest.

“Well, I don’t want any help from you!” Tessa snapped as she pulled herself free. “We go through all that mess back in the prison and now we’re on a quarantined planet for who knows what reason with a crashed ship and no real means to fix it, so we’re probably going to die here!”

“Tessa, we-” Niyasa started, having gone over to pull Rook free.

“I really don’t think you should be giving me any grief!” Calen replied. “After all, it was your codes that weren’t working to get our escape route open! I thought you Rebels were supposed to be experts!”

“You both, we ought to-”

“How dare you even talk to me like that?” Tessa snapped at Calen. “I’ve done plenty of ops that went along just fine. If you hadn’t brought back those Stormtroopers, I would have had time to take the lockdown out when we were still on the deck! But you had to bring them back after running off on your suicide mission and-”

“HEY!” Niyasa shouted, getting the attention of both. “This isn’t helping! Let’s figure out exactly where we’ve landed. I may have an idea.” With that, she headed back for the rear door and...it didn’t open. “Rook, do you mind?” The Wookiee lumbered over and pressed against the door, forcing it to slide open. “Right. Thank you.” The furry creature growled and nodded. “Now...if I remember correctly, there are at least two speeder bikes in the cargo hold. Provided they still work, we can use them.”

“Speeder bikes aren’t going to give us the parts we need.” Tessa insisted.

“In a sense, they will.” Niyasa said.

“What in the hell do you mean?” Tessa snapped, clearly still irritated.

“Take five, Tessa. You and Rook can stay here, Calen and I will go out.” Niyasa told her.

“Out where?” Calen asked.

Out.” Niyasa pointed a claw toward the cargo hold. Calen did not look back to Tessa, though he could feel her eyes on him as he moved past her. “Don’t take it too hard. She’s not in the best of moods.”

“That I can sympathize with.” Calen muttered as they moved down the corridor...and found the body of Ordos once again. Calen stared at it. It had clearly been thrown around by the crash, showing some heavy bruising. It was strange to Calen, in death the man seemed...peaceful.

“We’ll tend to him later.” Niyasa told him. Calen didn’t like the thought of just leaving it...him...there.

“No, I want to bury him.” Calen said. “Or set a pyre. Something.” The Mrlssi hesitated for a moment, then nodded.

“I think there’s some ignition fluid we could use.” Niyasa intoned. “Just need some wood.” Calen pressed the button to activate the rear hatch, which opened and provided a ramp downward. Behind them, where they had come, deep uprootings of the ground were filled with utterly destroyed trees.

“I have a strange feeling that isn’t going to be too hard.” Calen said darkly. Over the next few hours, Calen did indeed gather several bunches of wood with Niyasa’s help, eventually, even Tessa and Rook came out to join in. They laid Ordos out, after stripping him of all by the tunic and leggings he wore, upon the makeshift pyre and set it ablaze with the fluid. Calen stepped back, watching the flames leaping up to consume.

“I’m sorry, Calen.” Niyasa said, offering a small, sad smile. Calen wasn’t sure how to answer her, or even if he was capable. At the moment, words were lost to him. Now, he was the last one of the crew of the Dawn. Caius, Burke, Santo, Beedee, and now Ordos had been consumed by this adventure. For that night, he resolved, he’d just stare at the fire and remember. Hours had passed and it was well and truly dark when Niyasa spoke again. “Tomorrow, we’ll have to go out.”

“And do what?” Calen asked. The tears had been shed, quietly. He felt the looming weight of fatigue upon him, not remembering the last time he had gotten a restful sleep. The worst part of it was the knowledge that this wasn’t over. Tessa and Rook already had returned to the skeleton of a ship they had. Niyasa gestured for Calen to follow her, and he did so. It was safer than remaining outside at any rate.

“Look for our way out.” Niyasa said. “I wouldn’t worry. The Force is with us.”

“The Force?” Calen asked.

“You have a lot to learn, Calen.” The Mrlssi said as they ascended the ramp. “But yes, Calen Darkhaven. The Force is with you.”