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MC: AOTE: Brothers in Arms

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Brothers in Arms

(or 'Out of the Frying Pan...')


It’s been two months since the Echo left the prison planet with Ryshana, Jeez, and Sam. With Oliver and Ryshana dead, Nic presumed so, and Beryl missing, the crew has had some major changes. Cloud is still the engineer, Jack the pilot, but Jana is now captain, Jeez the headhunter pilot/medic when needed, and both he and Sam are the turret gunners.


While Conn and Max are scouring the Galaxy trying to locate Beryl, the Echo has been trying to find a job--but they are having a slight problem. The Empire seems to home in on them every two hours if they are anyplace but the Outer Rim. Makes life difficult when you have an escaped prisoner and a Jedi on board and you are trying to solicit jobs that may not be completely legal. And to top things off, Jack and Sam seem to have a history between them—with one constantly trying to kill the other, discretely of course.


Meanwhile, Beryl and Nic are on Carida—Beryl as a drafted Imperial Officer teaching basic flight instruction at the Academy, and Nic as a prisoner and live-fire target for the Academy’s trainees. After a mishap in a live-fire exercise, Beryl believes that Nic is dead, however he’s actually escaped and is in the city of Carida trying to figure out a way off the planet. Beryl, however, has been making her own plans….




And now for a Holonet news update………


“Thank you for tuning in, and welcome to the update edition of the HoloNet News! I’m Calder Galastar.” The newsreader donned a sparkling smile.


“Our top stories:


“Over two thousand humans were needlessly killed today when their unarmed transport was attacked by Rebel terrorists in the Brentaal System today. According to Imperial Naval sources, some of the victims included a group of fifty younglings on route to a SAGroup camp for disadvantaged youths set up last year by Emperor Palpatine himself. Survivors of the attack were taken to Brentaal Prime for treatment, though many are in critical condition aren’t expected to survive. One eyewitness had this to say:”


A window on the viewscreen opened up next to the newsreader, showing a man, bedraggled and with a carbon smudges on his face, standing in front of burning wreckage.


“…they came in so fast! We… we didn’t even have time to react. It was like… like they knew exactly where to hit the ship to do maximum damage! It was a living hell! We barely made it to the escape pods! Thank the Stars for the Imperial troops that came to our rescue. I’m lucky to be alive..”


The window closed, and the newsreader continued.


“In a special Senate session held just hours ago, Emperor Palaptine personally pledged that he will send in a specialised squad of Imperial Liberators to stabilize the region, to bring those responsible for this horrendous tragedy to justice.


“In other news, Captain Kriss Raikelli has become the first man to receive the Emperor’s Cross, a new award set up by Emperor Palpatine to recognise outstanding bravery and patriotism in service to the Empire. Captain Raikelli was recommended for the award by Admiral Berasmus Quitaan of the Imperial Logistics Service. In a military ceremony held earlier today aboard the Admiral’s flagship, the Eliminator, he had this to say about Captain Raikelli’s actions:”


The second window again opened, and Admiral Quitaan was seen, standing in front of a podium reading a speech.


“It was due to the efforts of Captain Raikelli that the rebel infiltrators were foiled in their attempt to sabotage and destroy the Imperial dreadnaught, the Reaper, as well as attempt to free their fellow collaborators from a maximum security prison. Without regard for his own life, he single-handedly devised countermeasures that saved his ship and his men from total destruction, and allowed the live capture of a rebel infiltrator from who valuable strategic information has been obtained. Because of his selfless actions and bravery under fire, I am please to present to him, the Emperor’s Cross.”.


There was applause as the camera panned out to show Captain Railkelli receiving his award from the Admiral. Then the window closed again, and the newsreader continued with the story.


“The ILS reports that three of the infiltrators were killed in the fierce fire fight that nearly cost the life of the Reaper’s commander, Captain Kriss Raikellii. Two of the deceased have been named as Gordon McClary and Nic Saska. The third remains unidentified. The captured rebel, Garajaminder Falsootaavichykar, was tried by a military tribunal and found guilty of treason, espionage, murder, and wilful destruction of Imperial property. We now give you a live-feed of that execution now taking place on board the Reaper.”


The screen now showed a blonde woman, about Beryl’s height and build, standing in front of a bulkhead in front of five stormtroopers with blaster rifles and an officer holding a datapad.


“Garajaminder Falsootaavichykar,” the officer said, “you are hereby sentenced to death for treason against the Empire. Have you any last words to say?”


“That’s not my name! I’m Cally Hobart! I’m innocent! I didn’t do anything!” The woman cried out as a blindfold was placed over her eyes and she was positioned against the wall. The officer called the troopers to attention.


“Ready, aim, fire!”


As five separate shots hit the woman in various places on her body, she twitched, spasmed, and then fell to the ground—dead.


The newsreader again appeared on the screen. He smiled satisfactorily. “Another victory for a safe and secure Empire.


“And now for your local weather, followed by ‘Win or Die’, brought to you by MerenData. Is your network secure?”


A small advert began to play, advertising a computer security system, and then a screen appeared with local ground weather predictions, and then the propagandist holodrama ‘Win or Die’ started.





Beryl sat in front of a small computer terminal in a common room of the cadet dormitory. The room was sparsely furnished—a few couches, a table and some chairs, a holonet projector, a couple of computer terminals up against the walls, and a small kitchen facility. In some ways, it reminded her of the common room on the Echo, but it was never a comfortable place to relax. Gambling was not allowed, so that ruled out any ‘friendly’ card games. Music and holonet films weren’t allowed either, unless they were on the Imperial Sanctioned list. But the one thing that made the common room most uncomfortable for her was the fact that it was constantly monitored—if not by the other recruits then by the multitude of surveillance cameras that seemed to be in every corner of the entire dormitory facility.


“What are you doing, Quitaan?” Cadet Sunga came up behind her. He was like most of the other cadets here—young, fit, tall and most of all compliant to the will of the Empire. Of course, the daily medications that they forced all of the ‘re-education’ cadets like herself to take seemed to facilitate that. Beryl had taken them, but she had fought off their effects by using the Force. It had taken her a while to fully master the technique, but now, the medications had little to no effect. Of course, she still had to pretend to comply so as not to be discovered, and sometimes that wasn’t easy, but she was managing well enough for the moment.


“Writing a letter,” Beryl replied.


“A letter? To who?” Sunga craned his neck to see over her shoulder.


“My mother.”


Sunga frowned. “Writing to family members isn’t allowed under the regulations.”


“Not without prior permission from the Commander,” Beryl said impassively. “Which I have.”




As Beryl typed, Sunga remained where he was. Finally, Beryl turned around to face him. “Is there something else you wanted, Sunga?”


“You want to watch Win or Die with the rest of us? It’s on just after the news.”


Beryl turned toward the screen, just in time to see the execution of ‘Garajaminder.’ Her memory recalled a time two months ago, when she was on the Reaper with her brother, Admiral Berasmus Quitaan....


”… someone has to be executed for your crimes,” Berasmus said to Beryl. “So, choose who it will be.”


“You want me to just choose some random person to die as Garajaminder?” Beryl asked, horrified. “You’re mad!”


“I told you that you need to face up to the consequences of your choices,” Berasmus said. “Accept responsibility for your actions. Now, choose!”


And Beryl had. And now, the woman was dead.


“No, I think I’ll pass,” Beryl said to Sunga.


“Suit yourself.” Sunga shrugged, and then slinked away towards the group of the other cadets sitting around the holonet projector.


Beryl continued with her letter. Although addressed to her mother, the letter wasn’t going to be sent to her. Instead, Beryl was planning to send it to Jana’s mailbox as part of her plan to escape this hellhole called the Carida Academy. And since her mother had recently moved house, no one would be the wiser.


Beryl’s plan was simple. She had met the Captain that was in charge of the training wing here, Captain Aiken, and with a few sweet words and a small nudge of persuasion from the Force, he had agreed to take her up in one of the two-seater training TIEs on his next leave day, which was in a few days time and just happened to be on Jana’s birthday. She planned to kill the smarmy Captain and then fly the TIE to co-ordinates specified in her letter. Hopefully, Jana would pick up the letter before her birthday and pick Beryl up. Otherwise, Beryl would be left drifting in space, with no fuel and no oxygen and would eventually die. Which, in Beryl’s mind, was still preferable than being at the Carida Academy.

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Nic White limped across the room using a walking stick as he moved towards the window, he stood by the side and peered out the room onto city streets. He watched as a group of Stormtroopers marched pass, using the curtain to help him hide in case one chose to look in through the window.


Ryshana was dead and Nic still felt sorrow for this loss, he felt he had failed her in some way by not keeping his word, not protecting her when she needed it most. Self blame and guilt was nothing new to this man, even if he was there he could not have protected her, but he still felt the negative emotions. The death of his Jedi friend was not the only thing he felt guilty for, he had put the crew he should have protected in danger and beryl was in the clasp of his brother.


He could do nothing to help them in his current situation, he had escaped the Carida academy little more than a week ago and was hiding out in the small nearby city. He had been fortunate to cross paths with an old friend of his, one who knew him by the name Simon.



Two Weeks Earlier


“Colonel Tigh” A Young officer called to the head of training on Carida who was walking down the long corridor to one of the admin offices.


“Yes Lieutenant?” Replied Tigh as the officer caught up with him.


“We had to through prisoner 5672 back in solitary, Sir.” He informed holding a datapad infront of the colonels face.


“What did he do this time?” He asked snatching the pad from his hand and looking down at it.


“He was in another live fire training exercise, he killed three trainees and pt another five in the infirmary… two of them need a week in bacta to heal from the burns.”




“He lured them into a mock building and then set it alight with them locked inside.” The young officer informed.


“Isn’t he injured?” The colonel asked looking curiously at the datapad.


“Aye Sir.” The lieutenant agreed “He got shot in the leg and we haven’t had it healed he’s limping around.”


“And he’s doing all this with a disability. Why is his threat level still so Low?” The colonel asked reviewing the rough profile on the prisoner in question.


“The assessor has been back logged for weeks, it’s based off of his known history and it’s obviously not accurate.” The Officer explained opening the door to the admin room for the colonel.


“Well then we should sort that out now.” The colonel explained as he stepped into the office and looked around the room until his gaze fell upon one of the female officers in the room. “Ah Assessor Sendri please come here.”


The Women in the officers uniform quickly stood up from her desk and quick marched to the Colonel. “Yes sir?”


“I have a priority Prisoner Assessment for you.” He explained. “Prisoner 5672, a Nic White.”


The female officer seemed taken aback by the name and a confused look came across her face.


“Do you recognise that name Sendri?” The Colonel asked.


“Yes sir, but the Nic White I knew died almost 11 years ago.” She stated still looking confused.


“Well perhaps it is a different Nic White.” Colonel Tigh held out the datapad for Sendri to take a look at. She examined and eyes widened in shock, shaking her head obviously not believing what she was seeing she looked at it again. “So is it the same Nic White?”


“No Sir this is Not Nic White.”

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"Try Zeek!" Jana Vincent exclaimed, absently toying with a curly strand of hair next to her right cheek. "He always has something."


"We've tried Zeek three times, Jana," Reibe reminded her patiently. It wasn't the first time Jana had run through the list of everybody they'd ever done business with. Zeek and his people were tight-lipped and unwilling to take the risk. Especially not after the first time they'd willingly opened their arms to the Echo. The Empire was too close on their tail.


And Carmen? She'd not even taken calls from Jana since Nic had failed to come back from their suicide mmission. They'd come across a few other contacts along the way, but now all of them were afraid of what they so accurately named, 'Imp Bait'.


"What about that... what's his name?" Jana tried, now desperate for any kind of job.


"Kassilar?" Reibe allowed herself a nose-wrinkle of disgust. "You really want to try him?"


Jana slouched deeper into her chair. "No..." Jon Kassilar was slime of the worst sort. They'd only done business with him once and it would take a truly massive pile of desperation for them to repeat that mistake.


"I could provide a job for us," Reibe suggested cautiously. Jana gave her 'the look'.


"After last time?" she shot back, dubiously. "Not in a million years."


"Well we have to get something," Reibe said. "If you can't provide for your crew, let me do it."


A crackle of some form of energy sounded below their feet and Jana jerked her feet upward, banging her knees on the table in surprise. A hiss of annoyance swept through Jana's lips.


"Cloud!" she snapped. "Conduit worms!"


"I know," the mechanic grumbled, entering the common room. "We've got at least three of them. I've been meaning to get to it... cap'n, but..."


"But what?" Jana demanded. Cloud frowned darkly.


"Nothing," he mumbled. As he left, Jana barely made out his grumbled complaint, "It was Beryl's job..."


There was silence at the table for just a moment. Then, Jana spoke.


"Two months, Reibe," she said. "Two months and nothing's ever been the same since. Don't think it ever will be."


"That's called growing up," Reibe replied gently. "You live, you learn." She allowed herself a small smirk. "Mostly we've been learning how to evade Imps in a damn hurry."


"Mostly thanks to you," Jana offered generously. "But it has to stop. Somehow, they're one step ahead of us. It doesn't take too many steps before we slip up and they get what they want."


"We'll get through this, Jana," Reibe offered supportively. In her voice, Jana detected a confidence she did not share.


"I hope so," Jana murmured. "I hope so."

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Two Months Earlier


"What are you going to do now?" Cloud asked Jeez from across the table in the Common Area. Jeez was sitting there for the moment still consumed in thought. In his mind, he could still see the flames consuming Ryshana's body in the ritual burial back on Tatooine. Sitting down at the table, Cloud sat still and waited for an answer as he slid a flask of Corellian Ale over to Jeez.


Catching the flask with his hand, Jeez looked at it for just a moment, and then he slid it back across the table. "That depends. I guess I'll just follow after the will of the Force," Jeez finally answered.


""The will of the Force?" Well, that's a new one," Cloud responded. "I guess you don't have much of an option though, do you?"


Shaking his head as he looked up at Cloud, Jeez replied, "I never did."



Present Time


"Cloud!" she snapped. "Conduit worms!"


"I know," the mechanic grumbled, entering the common room. "We've got at least three of them. I've been meaning to get to it... cap'n, but..."


"But what?" Jana demanded. Cloud frowned darkly.


"Nothing," he mumbled. As he left, Jana barely made out his grumbled complaint, "It was Beryl's job..."

As Cloud started to walk towards the engine room, the room to Ryshana's quarters (which is now Jeez's quarters) opened. An arm stuck out of the door and stopped Cloud from continuing. "What did I tell you about the conduit worms?" Jeez asked as he peered around the corner.


"Yeah, I know. Use the Force. Look, I just haven't gotten around to it yet," Cloud replied.


"So??" Jeez asked rhetorically. "Get it done now."


Pausing for a second as he looked for the right words, Cloud then said, "But I need to take care of the transverse power coupling. It hasn't been firing the way its supposed to."


Shrugging in indifference, Jeez then asked, "So?? Its a two minute job if you use the right technique. The Echo isn't going to fall apart because of that power coupling, is it?"


"Well, not really-"


"Then what are you waiting for?"


Breathing in deep out of slight frustration, Cloud then said, "Look, no disrespect intended, but I need to operate on my own schedule. I'll get to it, OK??"


"So, in other words, you're not going to do it today?" Jeez asked. As Cloud started to flinch out of increased frustration, Jeez then said, "OK, fine. You know what? I'll do it. It'll be your turn next time, though."


"Yes sir," Cloud replied as he relaxed.


"That's better. Now get to it," Jeez stated as he ducked back into his quarters.


"Yes sir," Cloud stated as his eyes followed Jeez into the room. Standing in the doorway, he caught sight of holoframe that was active. In the frame, Cloud could clearly make out Jeez holding Ryshana from behind as they were looking out over some sort of a railing as they smiled together. "You miss her?"


Looking behind him, Jeez looked at Cloud and then followed his gaze to the holoframe. As Jeez looked at the holoframe, he then looked down at the floor for a moment. "Yeah," Jeez replied. "Yeah, I miss her." Shaking his head, Jeez then continued, "But that's not going to change anything. What happened is done. It was her time to die."


With a puzzled look on his face, Cloud looked back over at Jeez as he remembered Aerith. "How can you look at this from so far away? I mean, isn't her death personal in some way or another? Or is it all just destiny and the "will" of the Force to you?" Cloud asked somewhat judgmentally.


"All of the above," Jeez replied calmly as he looked over at Cloud. "I miss her, yes, but missing her isn't going to bring her back. Vengeance won't bring her back, and keeping my focus on that particular point in time isn't going to bring her back. I live in the here and now, and I can't dwell on what's happened. She was murdered, and it was her time to die, plain and simple. Its all just apart of the Force. There is death, and there is life.


That doesn't change the fact that I'm constantly reminded that apart of myself died along with her, but as the Force moves on, so will I. You would do well to do the same."

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Cloud took the ladder down to the cargo bay. He intended to rumble through the box of small spare parts to see if there were some replacement points for the transverse power coupling. He was just about to take his last few steps down to the deck when he heard someone say, "Stop! Don't move!"


Cloud did, and slowly looked down at the deck. Just below the ladder, Sam was prone on the floor with her ear pressed to the deck. He raised a brow. "Sam, what are you doing?"


"Shhh!" Sam hissed. She was quiet for a few seconds, until Cloud let out a sigh. "I think I found one."


"A conduit worm?"


"No." With her hand pressed flat to the deck, she moved it slowly back and forth as if searching for something. Suddenly, she paused, then slammed her fist against the deck.


From out of an empty cargo container in front her, an energy projectile shot out of the box, over Sam's body, and impacted the wall just below where Cloud was standing.


Sam stood up and smiled at Cloud. "Ok, you can come down now."


Cloud did, but was giving Sam a very strange look. "What the hell was that?" he said, pointing at the cargo container.


"Energy bolt slingshot." She grinned. "Neat, huh? Wish I'd thought of that."


"Who did think of it?" Cloud wanted to know.


Sam shrugged. "Not me," she answered. "You down here lookin' for conduit worms?"


"No, here to rumble for some points for the transverse power coupling."


Sam held up a finger, then rumbled through the pockets of her trousers. "Here." She tossed him two points.


"Thanks," Cloud said slowly, then cocked his head to one side. "You always carry coupling points in your pockets?"


"Only when I've got the room," Sam replied. She headed for the ladder. "I'm going to get a snack. You want something?"


Cloud shook his head. "Thanks, but no. I've got stuff to do."


As she clambered up the ladder towards the common room, Cloud stared at the points in his hand and then at the empty cargo container and the singed mark on the wall. "Strange girl...," he muttered, and then headed back up the ladder himself to engineering.

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"You sure this is the right place to be looking?" Conn asked Max as they manuevered their way through the thick mass of people. Such crowds were commonplace in Oradin and in most of the other cities on the smallish planet of Brentaal IV. Conn was no stranger to such an atmosphere, having endured far worse under Imperial service, so this was not the reason he seemed impatient at the moment.


"No, not really," Max snapped back at Conn, shooting him a look over her shoulder as she pushed through towards a cantina tucked in between two large skyscrapers. "Just like I've not been sure for the past few Maker-forsaken planets we've visited. This isn't really an easy thing you've tasked us with, Doc."


Her words struck him like a gaffi stick to the face. "Sorry Max," he apologized, feeling quite bad for using an exasperated tone with the ex-Trustee. Max had been the one who'd gotten him out of the Imperial facility, located suitable transportation for the both of them and used her contacts to help him search for Beryl. So far, very few leads proved warm, but it wasn't for Max's lack of trying. "I shouldn't've---"


"Stow it, Harlowe," she replied, cutting him off. Her words were curt, but her tone was easy and she gave him a tired smile as they came to a stop just outside the door to the cantina. "I know you're worried about her. That's a bad habit of yours, you know."


Conn sighed. "Can you blame me?"


"Not really, I guess," Max conceded. "But she's a scrappy one, so she's probably all right. Let's just focus on finding out where she is for now, okay?"


"Gotcha," Conn agreed as they pushed the doors open, admitting them into the hazy cantina. It was like any other dive they'd seen countless times before, which meant that there were most likely seedy and clandestine dealings happening in the darkened recesses around the room.


Max headed straight for the bar where an elderly one-eyed Twi'lek bartender stood, cleaning a flagon. He had immediately noticed their arrival and subsequent approach. He placed the flagon down carefully as Max and Conn took seats in front of him. "What'll it be, travelers?" he asked.


"Gralish liqueur for me," Max responded, flipping a credit chit onto the counter while surreptitiously placing a datapad within easy view of the bartender.


"Whyren's Reserve, if you have it," Conn said. A few seats down at the bar, a long-haired man cast a look at Conn, then turned back to his blonde companion.


The Twi'lek nodded and moved off to procure their orders, stopping just for a few fleeting seconds to glance at Max's datapad. Once he'd turned his back, Max quickly pocketed it. She stared at Conn in silence as they waited, neither one of them willing to break it. The bartender returned with their drinks and placed them in front of Conn and Max. Turning to stare outside the large bay window of the cantina, he commented, "The weather sure is clear today."


Conn had to repress a snort as he looked outside. The skies were cloudy and dark with smog.


Max didn't miss a beat. "I hear on Chandrila, it's better," she replied.


"So it would seem," the Twi'lek concurred, blinking his one eye slowly. Leaning towards them, he put a hand to his chin and asked, "What can I do for you today?" He didn't ask it as a bartender. Conn shook his head at all the skullduggery. Max's contacts certainly liked their secrecy.


"You're up to speed on the latest Imp news?" Max said, businesslike.


The Twi'lek nodded. "Of course," he replied, unfazed by Max's seeming lack of confidence.


"Anything specific out of the Belderone sector?"


The bartender tapped his chin with an empty pint glass. "Heavy activity there about a month ago," he said. "An Imp Admiral was in the area."


Conn swallowed, remembering the nearly-botched escape from the Imperial facility. "Do you know who?"


"No, 'fraid not."


Conn furrowed his brow in thought. After a few moments, he asked, "Have you heard of someone by the name of Beryl Quitaan?"


Before the bartender could respond, a jovial voice answered Conn's question. "Beryl Quitaan?" Max and Conn looked over to see the long-haired man and his blonde compatriot sitting right next to them now. They had been so engrossed with talking to the Twi'lek that they had not noticed the two men approach. The blonde let out a chuckle. "What'd she crash this time?"


Conn eased his grip on the pistol inside his jacket. He'd gone for it the moment he'd heard the man's voice. They didn't seem hostile however, judging from the casualness of their demeanor and the off-hand way the blonde had responded to his question. "Er, she didn't crash anything, per se," Conn replied. "You know her?"


"Yeah, I know her," the man replied. "Best test pilot I've ever seen. Per se," he added with a sly grin. "Last time I saw her was on Station A12-76." He nudged his friend. "You remember her, right? The blonde with the attitude we met at the gym?"


"Jyot, every woman gives you an attitude," his raven-haired companion retorted. "Especially blondes." At Jyot's crestfallen look, he laughed. "Yes, I remember her. Spitfire, she was."


"Test pilot? You were in Incom?" Conn asked.


"Nah, CEC," Jyot replied. "I was a deck hand, she was a pilot..." He shrugged. "She tested those new CR-90 series Corvettes." He rolled his eyes. "Bastards to fly single-handedly."


"CEC..." Conn repeated. "I don't recall..." He looked up at the man named Jyot. "When's the last time you saw her?"


"Told you, back on Station A12-76, 'bout 12-13 months ago," Jyot replied. "And she gave me quite a few bruises to go along with that sweet demeanor of hers."


Conn raised an eyebrow. "You got into a fight with her?"


"Wasn't so much a fight as a beatdown," the black-haired man interjected. "Chick was sparring with people in the gym. Jyot here just happened to step into the ring."


"It didn't quite go down like that, Latch, and you know it," Jyot retorted, giving his friend a punch in the arm.


Conn sighed. "So you haven't seen her recently," he surmised.


"Nope," Jyot said, shaking his head. "Why, is she in trouble or something?"


Max and Conn looked at each other, then back at the two men. "You could say that," Max replied.

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Two Weeks Earlier


Within the cold dark windowless room that was the cell for solitary confinement Nic sat in the corner looking in the direction of the door. He had no idea how long he had been in here this time but he had been inside it between each and every training exercise he was the target in. Nic was trained to disappear and then strike without being seen or heard, he only killed them as he knew it was going to be him or them, but each time he killed they would through him inside the lightless and claustrophobic room.


The familiar sound of the door opening began to echo through the tiny room and quickly swung wide open. The light shone in and temporarily blinded Nic causing him to raise his hand to block the light shining into his eyes.


As his eyes adjusted Nic could see two silhouettes of people, one was the Stormtrooper guard who he heard pass his door every 2.4 minuets. The other was wearing a officers uniform with the cap, definitely a women from the body’s form and the smell of imperial issue perfume, he couldn’t make out the women’s facial features.


“Leave now.” The officer told the guard.


“Are you sure Sir.” The Guard protested. “This one is dangerous.”


“Leave!” The officer simply repeated and the guard responded by stepping out of the cell and then closing the door behind them making the room dark once again.


“You should have listened to your guard.” Nic informed the Officer.


“I’m unarmed and mean you know harm and I know you only kill when your life is threatened Simon.” The officer Stated as Nic could hear that she was crouching a couple of foot in front of him.


“I guess if you know that name you’ve spoken to Captain Raikellii.” Nic asked thinking that was how the imperial officer knew his former name.


“I haven’t spoken to your brother in almost 10 years.” The Women replied as Nic heard the sound of her placing something on the floor. “I know your Simon cause I also know you as Sharp.”


Nic was shocked once again at hearing that name, a name he left behind before he even lost Simon. The name only seven people ever called him by and only one of them was a women. “Twist?”


The Officer pushed a button on the device she had placed on the floor and a fairly dull blue light filled the room, this allowed Nic to see the face of the officer he had been talking to and his suspicions were right.


“Yeah, It’s me.” Assessor Sendri replied looking worriedly at Nic. “How do you get into these messes.”




Sendri shook her head and look down at the floor. “I thought you were dead.”


“Sorry.” Nic apologised reaching his hand out to her chin and raising it gently. “But I had to get away.”


“So what happened to your Leg?”


“A Corellian Firecracker.”







Nic sat at a table in the small house he was hiding in looking at a large sheet of flimsy with the plans to the Carida Academy on it. He had circled the Shuttle bay in red and was trying to work out the best way to it and then to get off the planet, all the effort he spent trying to get out of that imperial hell hole now he was trying to work out how to get in.


From the door behind him entered Jessi ‘Twist’ Sendri, his old squad-mate from Naboo and his Ex-girlfriend. It was her house Nic had been hiding in for the past week and she had helped him escape the academy in the first place. She was not the typical imperial, she never wanted to be one but the imperials needed skilled assessors for their academies and they threatened her daughters life. As well as helping Nic now she was also involved in discreetly aiding the Rebels by giving them much needed information about the imperial training academy.


“There’s a window.” Jessi announced as she walked up behind Nic. “There’s sensor maintenance in three days, You should be able to take the shuttle and break atmosphere before they can even get one Tie in the air.


“Thanks, I’ll break in then.” Nic informed not taking his concentration off the plans.


“We’ll break in then.” Jessi corrected.


“Jessi you’ve done more than enough.” Nic explained. “I can do this alone.”


“Well I don’t like to leave a job unfinished.” She stated looking down at the plan as well. “So how are we getting in.”

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The Echo was adrift somewhere on the Mid-Rim. It wasn't for lack of power; it was for lack of a destination. Jana knew they had no contacts left open to them. She could force her way in to see Carmen, but the crime lord would refuse to do business with them, just as everyone else had... though perhaps not for the same reasons.


"Reibe," she said softly. The Sith Hunter had looked as though she was sleeping, stretched out lengthwise in midair with her eyes closed. Immediately, her eyes opened and she 'sat up' in midair.


"I know you don't like doing business through me, Jana." It was the answer to Jana's unspoken words. "Look, not everything I can come up with is as life-threatening as... well, you know."


Jana wrinkled her nose. "You lead us into a mess like that again and I'll skin you alive."


Reibe laughed softly. "We both know you wouldn't... even if you could. Face it, Jana. You've learned more in these last two months with me than you would have in a year with..."


Jana's expression turned stone cold and she snapped, "Don't say it."


"But it's truth," Reibe argued calmly. "And I mean no disrespect to Ryshana... or Jeez. They're both quite... proper examples for Jedi. But your destiny is not that of a Jedi and therefore, your training cannot be overseen by one."


"Job," Jana demanded. Reibe laughed.


"Oh, you're not going to like this one bit," she said. This time, Jana didn't bother with the reserved reproachfulness of 'the look'; she full-on glared.




Reibe smiled serenely. "Retreat."


Jana couldn't believe her ears. "Come again?"


"I said, retreat," Reibe repeated. "I know it's not something you're a big fan of... but it's the ideal course of action. The Imps have some sort of tracking system, but if you go far enough, you'll fall out of reach. Trust me, I've evaded things like this before. Chances are, one of your conduit worms has something he hasn't fully digested yet. So get to the Outer Rim for a day or two. Then, slip back in."


"Anything sounds better than 'Imp Bait'," Jana confessed. She pressed the ship-wide intercom, as she wasn't entirely sure where Jack was. "Jack, I need you in the common room for a moment."

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"So we get to run now, ehh?? Hmm, well, it wouldn't be my first choice either. Still, laying low for a while will do us some good," Jeez commented as he entered the common area. With a carrying strap on his shoulder, they could see that he was carrying a set of tools.


"The problem is if you have enough parts, money, food, and more importantly patience to lay low long enough. If not, then perhaps just tucking tail and running may not be the best course of action.


If you want my opinion, we'd be better off finding some legitimate work as a cargo transport for a small mining company on the Outer Rim. It won't be easy work, but if the Imps do catch us, they can't slap us down for smuggling. Its not too hard to lay low if we're out far enough anyway.


Just look on the bright side: running towards something familiar is a far sight better than just running blind."

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"Jack's on his way," Jack replied from the bridge who was only more happy to get up and walk if it meant leaving his cockpit where the only entertainment, thanks to the conduit worms and crap holonet signal in the current location only allowed Jack to watch 'Win or Die', which Jack described as 'simply god awful'. As soon as he received the order to head to the common room, he was up and gone.


Three nights earlier

Jack had just made finishing touches to ensure that their most recent fast hyperspace entrance didn't end horribly. He cursed the two Jedi Knights that had got him and his ship into this crap. Jack had half the mind to try and convince Jana to hand all the force users to the imperials, but then the realization that he was the only crew member who didn't wield the force. Of course there was the constantly randy lesbian next door, but Jack didn't see her as a crew member. She was just an annoying passenger the crew didn't feel right throwing over board.


As soon as Jack entered his room, he felt a burning sensation in his throat. It was followed by a pounding headache with knock Jack off his feet and onto his knee. He lowered his head to his knees and clutched them as the pain continued. Net followed a violent cough which ended soon enough, taking the rest of the symptoms with it.

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"So retreat is really your 'job' for us?" Jana asked Reibe softly.


"My 'job' for you is survival," Reibe corrected, descending from midair to the chair next to Jana. "Retreat is the next logical step in that job."


At that moment, Jack entered the room and Jana turned to face him.


"I think we've been stalled enough," she said. "Reibe has coordinates for you."


Reibe gave the coordinates and added, "Before you ask, yes I do realize the coordinates seem to lead to a blank spot in space... but trust my word and don't come out of hyperspace too fast. There is a planetary system there and if you come in too fast, you'll make the same mistake I did the first time I visited... crash and burn."

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In his office overlooking the Carida Academy parade grounds, Commander Thalmon pondered the file he was reading. It was a personal letter written by one of the ten female cadets he had under his command in the Imperial Re-education Program.


The Re-education Program was for cadets who were private sector professionals, but who lacked the military training necessary to be an Imperial officer. Doctors, scientists, pilots, engineers--they came from all areas of society, and whether they had signed up for military service in lieu of a punishment for some indiscretion they had committed, or from just a desire to serve the Empire, they all needed training in discipline and military protocols. The particular cadet standing rigidly at attention before him had been one of the ones pressed into service, and Thalmon had had his doubts about her. But she had surprised even him with how well she had progressed in the 8 weeks she'd been in the program, so much so that he had accelerated her training and had already started her into her career post—a flight instructor at the Academy.


"Normally, Quitaan, personal letters are not allowed at such an early stage of training." He looked up at her. "But I see here that your re-education team leaders recommended that you write this."


"Yes, sir," Beryl answered without expression. "Major Gant and Dr. Ferrana suggested that it would enhance my concentration and performance if I re-established communication with my mother. And it’s my duty to the Empire to perform to the best of my ability, sir."


The Commander’s eyes flicked back to the datapad in front of him. "Yes, I cannot deny that your performance in the program has been exceptional--top of the class in every area and no incident reports. Except for that 'friendly fire' accident on the training range, which was hardly your fault,” he added. He again eyed her over. “You recovered from that rather quickly."


"Yes, sir," Beryl said. "It was only a minor concussion and I didn't want to be excluded from the outdoor survival exercise that was coming up the next week, sir."


"Such dedication to duty in a re-ed is quite... unusual. I’m surprised at how well you adapted to the regime here. I must confess I had doubts about you." His eyes narrowed. "You are still taking your daily meds as ordered?"


"Yes, sir. Every day without fail, sir."


The Commander let out a low grunt, not sounding completely convinced. He began to peruse her letter once again. "It says here that you are interested in taking leave to visit your mother at some point?"


"Only if it does not interfere in my training or teaching my class, sir."


"Yes...." Thalmon leaned back casually in his chair. "Tell me about your class. Quitaan. You're teaching basic flight at the moment, is that right?"


"Yes, sir."


"And how do you find your students?"


Beryl paused as if she were thinking. "Permission to speak candidly, sir?"


He nodded. "Permission granted."


"Half of them are a waste of space, sir."


Commander Thalmon raised his brow, obviously amused by her statement. "Oh? How do you mean?"


"I mean, sir, that it is a complete waste of Imperial resources to attempt to train people who are obviously not ever going to pass basic flight instruction."


He tapped a finger to his lips. "And what would you suggest we do about that?"


"Develop an improved screening program, sir, with specific criteria that can identify those who have a potential to be pilots before they are even accepted for enlistment."


"A pre-pre-application screening...." He nodded thoughtfully. "I'll keep that in mind, Quitaan." Again, he looked down at the letter and then eyed her. "Well, I don't see anything in here that appears contentious, however...." His mouth twisted and his brow knitted together. "This isn't the address we have on file for your permanent home of record."


"No, sir," Beryl answered promptly. "My brother informed me that my mother has moved from our family house to a smaller, more manageable sized apartment in Coronet City. She therefore has a different address for correspondence now." For the first time since Beryl entered the room, she showed some feeling in her expression. She arched an eyebrow. "Is that a problem, sir?"


He paused a moment or two before answering. “No, I don’t suppose it is.” He removed one of his code cylinders and swiped it across the datapad. “Your letter is approved to send off-world,” he said, handing the datapad across the desk to her. “Dismissed.”


“Thank you, sir.” Beryl snapped off a salute which the Commander returned and then she left his office and headed for the communications station to send it.


But not to her mother... to Jana's private CMG mailbox account.

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Jyot ran a hand through his short, spiky hair and leaned back in his chair. "Geez, it's that bad, huh?"


Conn nodded grimly at him from across the table. He, Jyot, Max and Latch were seated in a booth and the two Corellians had just been told of Beryl's plight. "Max and I have been across nearly half the galaxy and we still don't have any leads," Conn said.


"You haven't considered the possibility that she might be dead?" Latch asked, his elbows on the table, long fingers interlaced in front of his face.


"No," Conn replied, shaking his head. "She was sedated, not shot. Her brother obviously wanted her for something." He clenched a fist. "Besides, I know Beryl. She isn't one to go down without a fight."


Max took a swig of ale from her mug, then rested it on the table. "We know that certain things are obviously out of her control, but there's no way she'd go along with her brother's wishes."


Jyot shook his head. "Still sounds to me like you're on a wild bantha chase," he said, rubbing his chin.


"Tell me about it," Conn grumbled.


The table was silent for a few moments until Latch spoke up again. "You said that her brother had plans for her?"


"Yeah, some sort of Imperial training program," Conn responded. "Beryl wasn't too specific on the details of it and given our situation, I didn't ask for anything more."


"Training, eh?" Jyot echoed. "Have you tried checking out planets with Imperial training facilities?"


"Of course we have," Max said. "But it's not like we can just waltz up to the front door and ask for her. Besides, the Imps have facilities on almost every single planet you can think of. She could be anywhere."


"Easy there, short stuff, I was only trying to help," Jyot soothed, holding his hands up in mock surrender and winking at Max, who rolled her eyes at him. "And you're right," he continued. "The Imps do have facilities everywhere, but for training, especially under the auspices of an Admiral, I'd think that they'd take her to one of the major academies, like Prefsbelt IV or Carida or even Corulag."


Conn arched an eyebrow. "We've been to Prefsbelt and Corulag, but what was that second one you mentioned?"


"Carida," Jyot repeated. "Big military academy there. Once had to make a delivery there with some of the most volatile cargo I've ever seen."


"Volatile?" Max asked, arching an eyebrow.


Jyot favored her with another smile. "Rancors, pretty eyes."


Max made a face at him. "Do you ever turn it off?"


"Only when I get it to turn you on."


"Ugh," Max groaned, crossing her arms.


Conn couldn't help joining Latch in grinning at the exchange. "Rancors, huh?" the doctor said. "How'd you get to doing that?"


It was Jyot's turn to grimace. "I lost a bet," he explained. "Back when I was working on Cloud City, I made a bet with my friend that I could get this girl to go out with me. He though he could get her first, so he bet that if he won, I'd have to take his transport run." He let out an exasperated sigh. "Bloody git cheated too. Used his damn Zeltron phero-whatevers to get her. So I got stuck schlepping rancors around."


Probably not a great time to mention I'm part-Zeltron, Conn thought. "Sounds awful," he intoned, hoping he sounded sympathetic enough. "So Carida, huh?" He rubbed his eyes. "Probably tough to get to, like they all are."


"Not really," Latch chimed in. "It's on the Perlemian Trade Route, so passage there is easy enough. You could hop the hyperlane right off-planet. Of course, once you're there, finding out if she's actually around is a whole different story, but I trust you can do that."


Conn looked at Max and after a few seconds of eye contact, nodded. "So Carida it is, then." Turning to Jyot and Latch, he said, "Thanks for you help, guys. I'll pick up the tab."


Jyot smiled and shook Conn's hand. "Anytime," he said, then turned to Max. "So cutie, once you're done with your rescue mission, do you think I could take you out for dinner sometime?"


Max stood up and moved to the side of the table, slapping down a few credit chits. "Sorry Jyot, but you're just not my type," she said, a forced smile on her face.


Undeterred, Jyot responded, "Well, then what is your type?"


Max thought for a moment. "I guess you could say I like my men like I like my Corellian whiskey." She put a hand on her hip and looked the engineer straight in the eye. "Mature." And with that she turned on her heel and stalked towards the door.


Conn gave them an apologetic look. "She's got some fire of her own, I know," he told the two Corellians. "Again, thank you for your help." He took off after Max.


Latch chuckled and threw an arm over Jyot's shoulders. "Shot down again, buddy."


Jyot shot his friend a rueful grin. "I don't think I even got off the ground." He shook his head, then glanced over at the bar. "Heeeey now..." he started, pointing a finger. "Check out those two brunettes over there...I think I like the right one, what do you think?"

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Totally unconcerned and apparently disinterested with Jana's and Reibe's conversation, Sam had been rummaging around in the cupboards for a quick snack. It was only when Jana had used the intercom to call Jack that she showed just the slightest bit of interest--pausing for a whole three seconds before continuing her 'cupboard rumble.'


But when Jack finally did enter the room, Sam covertly watch his every move from the corner of her eye. Her rummaging style changed, too. Never was her back turned on him, and to a well-trained eye, one could tell that her muscles were tense and ready to spring into action if needed.


Finally finding a package of Selonian prawn flavoured foodboard, Sam settled down in one of the chairs to eat.


"There is a planetary system there and if you come in too fast," said Reibe. "You'll make the same mistake I did the first time I visited... crash and burn."


"Crashing's bad," Sam mumbled with her mouth full. "And burning's worse. Don't want to crash or burn." She swallowed. "Don't want to get hit by any more energy beams that shoot out of perfectly innocent looking supply crates from stepping on pressure sensitive triggers set up on the deck of the cargo hold when trying to do an inventory for the Captain either." She grinned sardonically as she shot Jack a quick look.


"Captain Jana I've counted about twenty-four blaster cartridges and ten grenades packed in the crates down there. Oh, and there were some spare engine parts, some bacta packs, and a few computer components in one of those compartments near the back. And a portable flight sim unit near the toolbox for the Headhunter. Well, pieces of one anyway. Looked like someone was either putting it together or taking it apart--hard to tell.


"Oh! And there's a swoop bike down there too. Nice new red one. If we do need to sell something to make ends meet, I'd bet that would bring in a good price."


She took another bite of her food board and sank back into her chair, all the while keeping Jack in sight.

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Jack listened to Jana's words and watched as the annoyance entered the common room to eat something. After Riebe, the second annoyance of the crew, spoke Sam felt it was her duty to point out the obivous by mumbling with your mouth full of Selonian crap "Crashing's bad, And burning's worse. Don't want to crash or burn."


It was then Jack's duty to making a snappy reply and he did so by saying "Is it? Jeez, I thought I would of known that you know, we be being a crack pilot and all. I guess that just goes to show Sam is an idiot... So, middle of nowhere was it? I'll get right on it," Jack said before heading to the cockpit, hoping Jana didn't hear the trap bit Sam blurbed out.

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The Synergy Cantina was a small tavern on the edge of Carida city and not to far from the training academy. It was different from the other Cantina’s in the city as it was perhaps the only place where organised crime operated on the entire planet. It was ran by a Crime Lord who many believed had the Imperial colonel on the Payroll to have him look the other way for its criminal activities.


Nic limped in to the Cantina using an old walking stick to help carry his wait, he Looked around the room to see the usual suspects around Gamblers, Alcoholics, other scum and a Veknoid Wearing a robe. He walked over to the bar area and took a seat by it, the bar man walked over to where Nic was seated and smiled.


“The usual Nic?” The Bar man asked, Nic nodded so the barman grabbed a bottle of Naboo Ale from a nearby fridge and began to pour it into a clean glass. “Can I ask you a question?”


“Sure!” Nic replied as the glass was placed in front of him.


“You’ve come in here everyday for the last week order the same drink and stay here watching the door for three hours.” The barman stated.


“Yeah.” Nic agreed.




“I’m waiting for someone.” Nic answered taking his drink and sipping from it.


“Must be a women.” The Barman stated. “Someone special?”


“Yeah.” Nic smiled. “She is definitely special.”

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Jeez just shook his head. Crack-rate crew indeed, Jeez thought to himself. More like cracking at the seams.


Heading down to engineering, Jeez caught site of Cloud. Peering over his shoulder, Jeez watched his work. In front of him on the floor, the power couple had been almost completely disassembled. Curious, Jeez looked past Cloud and noticed that he had hot-wired a couple of relays together so they would run through one of the power converters used by the engine. As a temporary solution, it was pure genius. As a long term solution, well, Jeez knew that Cloud needed to finish the repairs on the power coupling.


"Good work," Jeez commented.


Jumping about a foot into the air, Cloud quickly turned around to face Jeez. "You could give me some kind of warning, you know. The work I'm doing here is rather delicate," Cloud commented annoyed.


"I could, but you could prevent that with a bit of work, you know."


"And take my focus off of what I'm doing here?" Cloud stated dryly. "Wait, I know. 'Be aware of your surroudings.' I know, but its hard to do that and do quality work at the same time."


"Practice it a little bit sometime. Like you said, its not easy, but it can save your life someday. It may not matter for naught at the moment, but if you can figure out how to do it, being in a hot situation won't be quite so bad," Jeez said calmly.


Catching sight of Jeez's bag of tools, Cloud then asked, "You really are going to take care of the conduit worms, aren't you?"


Turning around towards the access door to the crawlspace, Jeez replied, "I'm always a man of my word. When I tell someone that something is going to be done, then its going to get done."


Nodding his head in reserved agreement, Cloud then said, "Yeah, I guess your right." Starting back to work on the power coupling, Cloud listened as Jeez crawled into the crawlspace. "Good luck in there."


As Jeez controlled his breathing in the tight space, he couldn't help but to think that at least he didn't lose any of his athleticism back at the Facility with his constant self-training. Heading towards the first power conduit, Jeez reached down and pulled the bag of tools up close. Using the Force, Jeez levitated several of the tools out of the bag. Seeing the one he needed, Jeez floated the tool to his hand while the rest of the tools floated back down into the bag.


Using the tool, Jeez removed the cover to conduit and was greeted by a mess of entangled wires. A good mechanic, yes, Jeez thought. An organized mechanic, no. Concentrating on the Force, Jeez felt around the conduit for any signs of life. After a couple of seconds, Jeez could feel a small pulse of life near one of the connections. Concentrating with the Force, Jeez carefully pulled the life form from the connection.


As it stretched length-wise, Jeez could see a small, fat worm that looked remarkably like a wire connected to one of the cables. Reaching up, Jeez carefully squeezed the worm around the head and felt a bit of a tingle as electricity arced from the cable into his hand. Finally, the worm let go of the cable, and squirmed around as it tried to attach itself to a new cable.


Refusing to let go, Jeez held onto the worm carefully. Using the Force yet again, Jeez levitated a jar out of his bag of tools. Bringing it closer, Jeez used the Force to unscrew the lid, and Jeez dropped the worm into the jar with a slight plop. Screwing the lid on tight with the Force, Jeez then carefully placed the jar down back into the bag.


Focusing his attention back on the conduit, Jeez felt yet another life form. Curious to see how long it was going to take, Jeez concentrated on the Force to feel for similar life signs. Around him, Jeez could feel dozens of worms in the single conduit alone. Most of them were juvenile forms, but there was obviously a lot more work to be done.

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Even in hyperspace, the trip was long. As it turned out, their destination was not just on the Outer Rim. It was practically past the Outer Rim. By the time they pulled out of hyperspace, Jana wondered if they hadn't gone beyond the edge of the galaxy itself. But there was a planetary system there.


Jana stood behind Jack's seat, staring out at the system's sun, which was almost out of view.


"Planet's straight ahead," Reibe informed Jack. "By now, I'm sure you can see why coming out of hyperspace too late could be a problem."


Sure enough, the planet was dead ahead and the Echo was mere minutes away from entering the atmosphere. Reibe turned and left the cockpit, saying, "Be careful where you land, pilot. There's a single city in the northern hemisphere. You should be able to find it."


Jana grimaced at Reibe's bluntness. She didn't think the strange woman made mistakes in her estimates of people, but she was always speaking to the crew as though they were worthless. Jack and Cloud, Reibe called 'competent at best'. Sam was utterly detested, ever since the first time she tried a half-hearted attempt at flirting with Reibe. She held a higher level of respect for Jeez, but she typically referred to him as 'that Jedi'.


And as for Jana herself... well, Reibe held her to a very high standard. Two months ago, Jana had agreed to begin training to use her Force-given talents and Reibe was a ruthless instructor. Jana smiled ruefully, remembering the short-statured woman's instruction in the TCTA. While not as ruthless, Reibe had been every bit as demanding. Even now, her short, barked commands and thinly veiled insults rang in Jana's ears...


... or maybe that was the previous evening's instructions.


"What are you doing, Jana?" Reibe snapped sharply as Jana failed to block another hard slap to the face. "I'll tell you what you're not doing. You're not fighting. So what is it? Directing traffic?"


Jana gritted her teeth. "You're frustrating me... isn't anger the path to the Dark Side?"


"Listening to the Jedi, are you?" Reibe mocked. The fighting ended. "They have such power at their call and yet they cannot fully access it. Anger is not wrong. It can be used for great wrong, yes. But the Dark Side is one stop on a long road. You don't have to stay there. Sure, some people find it hard to leave..." She grinned. "But some people don't have teachers who've been there and beyond."


"Beyond?" Jana echoed.


"I won't dare be arrogant enough to say I have a full understanding of the Force and all its aspects," Reibe answered. "Even I have things I could still learn..."


Jana sighed at the memory. That had been the end of the friendly chatter. After that, Reibe had attacked again. The routine was never the same. Sometimes, Reibe would approach and take Jana away to the cargo bay; other times, she'd attack wherever she found Jana. At first, it was hard for the crew to get used to; now, they just made sure they weren't in the way.


With a sigh, Jana pushed the thoughts of training from her mind and went to find Reibe. It was time to learn a little more about the place they were landing...

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Nic had remained in the bar area for three hours watching the door the whole time, he was here because this was where he agreed to meet Beryl after she managed to escape the academy. He had only seen her twice since she left with Ryshana to the prison and neither time was in the best circumstances. The bar itself was a good place for Nic at the moment, as far as he could tell the whole of the cities Stormtroopers were looking for him since the escape. Fortunately the Synergy Cantina was off the search for all troopers by order of the imperial colonel so Nic would be safe here.


Nic turned back around and waved the bartender over and without saying a word the barman knew that Nic wanted another drink as he has done the past week.


“Hey what’s his story?” Nic asked as he took the bottle from the barman with one hand and pointed at the robed Veknoid.


“I don’t know.” The bar man honestly replied. “He turned up about a week ago and started making some soup. When I asked him why he’s here he just said he’s a leaf on the wind and was guided here for something.”


“What?” Nic asked curious.


“He said he’d know once it found him.”


“So he’s insane then?” Nic stated with a grin.


“I think so.” The barman replied grinning back, “but he don’t cause any trouble so I leave him be.”


Nic laughed and then took a large gulp from his drink, he turned back around and noticed that a Rodian, Weequay and Human were standing behind him holding pistols out at him. Nic looked at all three of them and realised instantly that they were obviously bounty hunters out for the recapture money on Nic’s head.


“Oh how I wish Jana were here.” Nic stated out loud to himself knowing how bad things were at the moment and how if only Jana was by his side this situation would be resolved much more easier. Although Nic would never admit it sometimes shortstuffs short fuse did get them out of trouble that couldn’t be avoided like the one Nic was in now.


“<You’re coming with us.>” the rodian spoke in his native tongue.


“No he’s not.” The barman argued as he pulled a shotgun out from under the bar and aimed it. “You know the rule; No collections on the premises.”


“You’re lucky.” The Rodian replied as him and his associates holstered their weapons. “Watch your back.”


The three thugs all walked out of the cantina leaving Nic to ponder his own safety, it would bebetter to leave now and never return to this cantina. But he made a promise and he intended to keep it.

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It was 6:30 in the morning and the sound of two thousand voices repeatedly shouting, “Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace! Safety, Security, Justice, and Peace!" reverberated through the Carida Academy. It was the cadets’ daily inspection assembly out on the parade grounds, and Beryl stood in formation with her fellow re-eds at rigid attention repeating the slogan like everyone else. It was probably the hardest part of being here—trying to not be influenced by the constant barrage of Imperial propaganda and protocols, while at the same time, regurgitating the rhetoric back to her superiors on demand. The longer she was here, the harder it was for her to resist thinking like an Imp. As it was, she was already saying ‘sir’ as routinely as she would have sworn in her civilian life.


The Academy’s Training Commander, Colonel Tigh, stood up at the podium on the raised dais at the head of the formation lines. He held up his hand, and said, “At ease,” and silence immediately followed. It was time for his ‘inspirational’ speech which he religiously gave at the end of every week.


“Speak, with a single voice,” Tigh said, his hollow-sounding voice echoing from the loudspeakers. “Act, with a single hand. Obey, without question. This is your mandate. This is your responsibility. This is your duty as soldiers of the Empire….”


He continued with his Imperial propagandist remarks for another twenty minutes, until finally, it was inspection time.


Beryl stood fast, staring straight ahead as their platoon commander Lieutenant Roxtrom walked the line inspecting uniforms, while the DI followed behind him with a datapad in hand to take note of any infractions.


Everything was going pretty well, until the Lieutenant came to stand in front of Cadet Penwick, who just happened to be standing next to Beryl. No matter how much help and advice he had from the other cadets, Cadet Penwick never performed well and never looked tidy in his uniform. And today was no exception.


“Penwick—boots dirty,” Lieutenant Roxtrom started, as the DI began to record the discrepancies. “Creases--flat. Gig--not in line. Hat—askew.” Roxtrom suddenly frowned. “Cadet, empty your pockets!”


Penwick had been carrying a holopic in his pocket. “Who is this?!” Roxtrom wanted to know. Beryl felt a tremor in the Force. Something decidedly bad was about to happen.


“My wife, sir,” Penwick replied, his voice cracking with tension.


“Quitaan!” Roxtrom shouted.


“Sir, yes, sir!” Beryl answered.


“What’s the rule about personal items?”


“Personal items will be kept in a cadet’s footlocker compartment at all times, sir! At no time will a cadet carry such items on their person or display them for public view, sir!”


“And what is the punishment for breaking that rule?”


“Forfeiture of said personal item and a suitable physical punishment, sir!”


Roxtrom’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Penwith, who was now sweating, and then back at Beryl. “Quitaan, do you think that running ‘The Grid’ is a suitable punishment for this cadet who has had more than his share of demerits?”


The Grid. For all intents and purposes it was simply torture, although it was deemed by the Academy to be ‘a physical test of one’s ability to deter pain.’ It consisted of a net mesh suit made from an electrical conducting material which the person would wear while negotiating an indoor obstacle course. Every 10 seconds the suit would discharge, shocking the person with a painful electrical current, each shock more intense than the last. Only the very fit, or very lucky, people ever survived the course. Penwith was neither. Beryl was essentially being asked to condemn her fellow cadet to death.


Yet, she didn’t hesitate to answer. “Sir, yes, sir!”


Roxtrom grinned. “Do you think that Cadet Penwith will survive ‘The Grid’ exercise, Quitaan?”


“Sir, no, sir!”


“And why not?”


“Because, sir, an Imperial officer should be clean, sharp, and ready for duty at all times, sir,” Beryl answered, her face as impassive as if Roxtrom had just asked her what day of the week it was. "Penwith is never clean, sharp or ready for anything. He is dead weight in this platoon and a disgrace to the Empire and the uniform, sir.”


Roxtrom smirked. It was obviously the answer he had wanted to hear. “Very well. Sergeant, introduce Cadet Penwith to ‘The Grid.’”


Penwith’s eyes were wide with fear, and he started to open his mouth to protest, but then must have thought he would get another punishment for complaining. He obediently, and silently, fell out of formation and followed the DI.


“Platoon, dismissed!” Roxtrom announced.


The platoon began to gradually fall out of formation, each heading for their respective duty assignments. Beryl took one look over her shoulder at Cadet Penwith, knowing that she would never seem him alive again. She thought she should be feeling at least regret or even sadness, but… she felt absolutely nothing.


He’s just like Nic, she thought to herself. Here one day, dead the next. This place is hell.


As she headed off to her duty assignment--teaching her flight class--she began to go over in her head her plan to escape. There was a base leave day coming up soon, a time for the cadets and other authorised personnel to have a day off—rest, relax, go into the city, have some recreation time—and she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her day. Escaping.

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Setting aside the access grate, Cloud carefully laid a small box of tools into the access tube. Pushing it in, Cloud laid on his back and followed it in. Crawling in, Cloud headed for the first conduit panel on his left. Opening the tool box, Cloud pulled out a couple of tools and started work on removing the conduit panel. Peering over to his left, Cloud was careful not to smack his forehead on a conduit pipe just in front of him.


Carefully sliding the access panel down towards his feet, Cloud pulled out a fiber lantern from his box and placed it just inside the conduit space and activated it. As the bright light illuminated the workspace, Cloud reached up and took a small jar and unscrewed the lid. Placing it just off to his left, Cloud breathed in deep as he readied himself for the job.


"So, you decided to help me after all," Cloud heard inside of his head. Surprised, Cloud jumped, and a solid thump sounded inside of the small space as Cloud's forehead connected with the conduit pipe above him. Groaning in pain, Cloud instinctively placed his right hand on his now sore forehead.


"You ok?" the voice stated inside of his head once again. This time, Cloud could tell that it was Jeez using the Force to place thoughts inside of his head.


"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bump to the head, that's all," Cloud replied as the sound of his voice was swallowed by the empty space and the humming noise in the backround.


"So, you're finished with the power coupling, then?" Jeez asked.


"Yeah, its done. Besides, we need that coupling once we leave hyperspace. It was a simple fix," Cloud replied as he started checking the wires for worms in the conduit to his left.


"That's good. My jar is starting to get a bit full. How long has it been since you did this last?" Jeez asked.


"Not too long ago," Cloud replied as he found a worm. Pinching it by the head, Cloud carefully unwound its body from the wire it was connected to. Accustomed to the occasional shock, Cloud didn't even flinch as he felt a bit of electricity arc into his hand. "Why?? Are you still on that first conduit junction?"


"Yeah, and there's still a couple of them left," Jeez replied.


"Hmm, you aren't getting a lot of juvies, are you?"


"Oh yeah. Must've had a bunch hatch out recently."


"How?? I can't hardly see the adults much less the juvies."


"With the Force, I don't need my eyes. Hmm, well, I thought that would be how you do it considering how Ryshana gave you a bit of training. She taught Beryl to do it that way.


"Yeah," Cloud said somewhat absently as he remembered some of Ryshana's teachings. Placing the worm in the jar, Cloud reached up and moved around some more cables as he looked for more worms. Spotting a juvie, Cloud closed his eyes and concentrated on the juvie. Feeling its small, fragile life in the Force, Cloud slowly became aware of other small life forms in the conduit to his left. Indeed, there were lots of juvies as Jeez had noticed, and Cloud almost audibly groaned as he realized that there was a lot of work to be done. At least now it wouldn't take as long, and the job would be done much more thoroughly this time.


"That's more like it. Remember, even in the smallest and most medial of tasks, the Force is always your greatest and most trusted ally. Don't ever forget that, Cloud. Don't you ever forget that."



Leaning against the wall in the small walkway leading to the cockpit of the Echo, Jeez just waited calmly. Feeling the Echo leave hyperspace, Jeez looked up towards the cockpit. A moment later, Riebe came walking out of the cockpit. Stepping in front of her so she couldn't go any further, Jeez studied her for just a moment.


She appeared to be young and near the prime of her life, but Jeez could see and feel the ever lengthening years inside of her eyes. He knew what she had been, and he remembered the stories trickling in before he went to the Facility about how she had betrayed the Jedi. Looking into her eyes, though, Jeez wondered how much truth was actually in those same rumors.


"So, what exactly do you have in mind? Running blind helps none except the one that seems to know precisely where they're going," Jeez stated as he crossed his arms over his chest. He obviously didn't trust Riebe, and Jeez was definitely hinting that he suspected Riebe of manipulating the crew to accomplish her own ends.

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"You and Tinker-Boy get the conduit worms taken care of, Jedi?" Reibe asked in return. But she didn't wait for an answer. "You're right. Running blind is hell. We've just come out of hyperspace in a system that hasn't been known to to the Empire or the Republic before it for centuries. Recall if you can the legends of the Black Space Pirate Fleet. Buried within the legend was a strand of truth. This planet was their base of operations until the Republic scattered them."


The legends of the Black Space Pirate Fleet were well-known throughout the galaxy, and this reference gave Jeez a possible glimpse into Reibe's age; if she knew the truth of the legend, then she had to be at least 2000 years old... maybe closer to 2100, which would have easily explained the longevity displayed deep within her eyes. She pushed past Jeez and entered the common room. Jana came in behind her, listening to the story, just as Reibe gestured to the window where the planet was visible.


"The system was conquered for the Republic," Reibe went on. "But they soon lost interest, for the system had little in the way of natural resources. Nevertheless, it was named and documented in the databanks. Vars is the sun. Gerv is the only habitable planet. Over the years, Vars' name was lost and Gerv was bought by a rather eccentric - and very rich - old man..." She smiled faintly as if remembering. Then, she shook her head. "He set up an observation station..." She gestured out the window once more, to what looked like a tiny scrap of shrapnel in orbit.


"It's seen better days," she admitted. "But it still functions for something." Waving a hand dismissively, she went on, "The system became known as the Watchtower system. And so it was known for years until it faded out of memory. The planet below still has the remains of a great city. That is where we are headed. Though the city is long deserted, the planet is far from it."


"Underground," Jana murmured. Reibe laughed softly.


"You read my mind," she said. "That was a freebie, Jana. I know you've been trying to crack me open... but for all your power, you have little knowledge of its use." Turning to face Jeez, she went on, "Yes, the true civilization here is below ground. It is the hub of an information gathering - and in some cases, altering - network I have worked hard to put together. Here, we can regroup and finally lose our Imperial hunters."


"It's been two months since we've had a chance to stop for..." Jana began.


"You've been labeled Imp Bait and you want to find the latest news from your mother?" Reibe laughed. "Yes, Jana, you've got the option of checking your CMG mail here." For now..."


The Echo touched down on a landing pad near the outskirts of the old city and Reibe smiled, completing her sentence, "... come meet the Hunter Information Network."


"I don't get it," Jana said, following Reibe further toward the back of the ship, preparing to depart. "If you have an information network hub here, wouldn't the Empire have discovered it?"


"Not a chance," Reibe answered firmly. "The people here all get along famously. There's no need for wars, as they all work for the same governing authority and that authority works to be sure everyone is treated as they ought to be. It's good incentive to combine intelligence and knowledge to come up with fascinating new technologies... like the alloy used to build my fighter."


"That came from here?" Jana asked, surprised. Reibe nodded.


"That's right," she confirmed. "And here, we're going to make some slight modifications to the Echo so's I can access the fighter quickly and efficiently if necessary. It's awkward to climb out an airlock and crawl carefully over to it. Modifications will be easy and won't do a thing to disrupt the present internal design... save to add an access hatch at one of the catwalks in the cargo bay. Easy stuff for the geniuses we have at work here."


"So they've come up with technology that... what, masks their very existence?" Jana wondered. Reibe chuckled.


"Something like that," she agreed. "Energy masking. Everything you can think of has some form of energy output. You find a good enough mask, it'll hide anything you don't want known. They have the brains and the ability to do so. And so they have."


They stepped outside the ship to a startling picture. The city was just as Reibe had described; it looked as if it hadn't been occupied in centuries... if not longer. Sand had swept in through the streets, often burying the first and sometimes even up to the third floors of all the buildings.


"Alright, so where are we going?" Jana wondered, staring out at the ruins of the city. Reibe laughed softly.


"Down," she answered. At that moment, the landing pad began to descend. Down and deeper down it went until the sky above was barely a pin prick. Then, the pad moved sideways and bright lights flashed to life all around them. A second landing pad, rose to fill the place that had been left by the one presently occupied by the Echo


"Welcome to my world," a new voice announced. An old man stepped forward to greet them and with an eager laugh, Reibe sprinted forward to meet him halfway. With a laugh of pleasure, he lifted her up and spun her around.


"My little Aryn," he exclaimed. "It's been far too long, Reibe. And you haven't aged a day! What's it been... twenty years? Thought you'd come back sooner."


"I've been busy, Shaam," Reibe confessed. "And I wish I could say you haven't aged either."


The old man laughed. "I'm old and very glad of it," he said. "Growing older every day. I don't think I have the level of constitution it would take to live as long as you have."


"Shaam," Reibe said, turning his attention to the crew. "This is the crew of the Echo. Captain Jana Vincent, pilot Jack Goren, mechanic Cloud Strife, Jedi acting as medic, turret gunner, and headhunter pilot is Jeez. And Sam mans the other turret."


Jana was impressed. For once, Reibe seemed to get over the idea of downplaying the skills of the crew.


"A pleasure to meet you all, I'm sure," Shaam said kindly. "I'm sure you're all very tired. You ought to rest. I'll send someone to take you to private rooms where you can get some rest. Reibe and I have some catching up to do..."


"Jana, you're coming with us," Reibe announced firmly. Jana was in no mood to argue and submissively followed Shaam and Reibe as they began chattering about the 'old days', which Reibe called the 'not so distant past'. Just as they went out of sight, four young women entered the room and each one approached one of the remaining crew members.


"Follow me, please," each one said to their respective crew member. "I'll show you to your room."

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The speeders and guards of the Naboo Royal Security force were all in a panic outside the Palace entrance staircase. They all watched in horror at an unknown terrorist who had dragged the queen out at gunpoint threatening to kill her in front of the whole city of Theed. He was a separatist agent who had taken drastic action on hearing of the death of Count Dooku and was demanding that the Planet surrender to the Confederacy.


The Guards all aimed their weapons at the terrorist but all knew they couldn’t shoot without putting the queen at risk. The Terrorist and the Royal Guard had been in a stalemate for about ten minuets now, neither one had done anything to act.


In a nearby building on a balcony that looked over the great steps to the palace a lone man stood holding a sniper Rifle aimed at the terrorist.


“Raikellii do you have a clean shot?” A voice asked through the earpiece of the Sniper.


“Check that sir, just need the authority order.” Simon Raikellii replied not taking his gaze off the terrorist.


“You’re Clear Sharp!” The voice authorized. “Make it Quick and clean!”


Then Simon Fired his Weapon hearing the sound of the energy rapidly escaping the sniper rifle followed by a Women’s Scream…



Nic awoke up in a sweat breathing heavily from the dream he had just had, the memory of a mistake he made all those years ago. The mistake that made him leave his old life behind and head to the fringe and living a life as a mercenary.

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Listening to the Riebe woman go on and on, Jeez just listened carefully. With his arms across his chest, it was painfully obvious that he was not impressed nor was he at all dissuaded from what he felt. She was old, but Jeez had to wonder how much wisdom this woman actually had. Intelligence?? Definitely, but did she have the wisdom to discern who Jeez really was??


As the Echo landed, Jeez returned to his quarters to retrieve a couple of items. Catching sight of the holoframe of him and Ryshana, he picked it up gingerly and turned it over. Carefully examining the backside, Jeez then turned it back over and paused a moment to look at the frame. Warmth filled him for a moment, and then, he deactivated the frame and carefully placed it in his bag. Taking a couple of spare changes of clothing and a small set of tools, Jeez then shouldered the bag and headed for the cargo bay.


As Jeez looked out into the hangar, he looked around carefully and studied his surroundings. Catching sight of Cloud, Jack, and Sam, Jeez walked up next to Cloud on the left as they stood watching Riebe and Jana leave with Shaam.


"What do you think?" Cloud asked as he looked over to him.


"Me?? I think that somehow, we're just supposed to be along for the ride," Jeez answered as he continued to study the hangar. As the four ladies walked up to the passengers, Jeez discreetly dropped a small data packet into Cloud's open bag that was lying next to him.


As the ladies escorted the group, Cloud looked over at Jeez in silence. Concentrating for a moment, he could somewhat sense that Jeez was almost completely removed from the situation. If Jeez was removed from the situation at hand, then there had to be something else more pressing on his mind. Concentrating on Jeez's thoughts, Cloud then did his best to insert his own thought into Jeez's mind. "Something's wrong?" Cloud asked.


Jeez's eyes darted over to Cloud for a moment, but then they moved back to looking in front of them as they now stood in front of a lift that would take them to the guest quarters. "I'm not sure, to be honest. That's part of what has me concerned," Jeez replied inside of Cloud's head.


"But she's just trying to help, isn't she?" Cloud asked in reference to Riebe. "Heck, I don't trust her that much, but she is just trying to help. Right?"


Smiling, Jeez then replied, "Your naivety is rather amusing. Haven't you noticed how this woman refers to us? You're the "Tinkerer" in her eyes, Jack is just the "pilot", and I'm just the "Jedi". We're all just tools to her except for one."


"You mean Jana? From what I've gathered, she wants to train Jana for something or another," Cloud commented.


"And to what end and purpose, I wonder? This woman has intent and reasoning for what she's doing. We are not here to hide from the Imperials despite what she says. That was said so that it would satisfy our present need for escape. We did have other options open to us, but it seems that those options were not present," Jeez said. As the lift decended, Jeez closely watched to see how far down they would go.


"But why did she do that? Does it have something to do with Jana?" Cloud asked.


"Those are the questions that I've been asking myself among others. Stay close if possible. We need to find the answers, and it can't be accomplished by myself alone," Jeez ordered calmly. With a slight nod of his head in agreement, Cloud could feel the lift coming to a halt. From what he could tell, they hadn't descended far from the Echo.


As the door opened in the lift, it revealed a small room that opened into a hallway to the left. The ladies escorting Cloud and Jeez stepped out of the lift and beckoned them to move on while the escorts for Sam and Jack remained in the lift. Taking a right out of the room, Jeez and Cloud followed their escorts down the hallway. Cloud's escort stopped in front of a door on the right just two doors away from the lift while Jeez's escort stopped in front the door just down from Cloud's.


Watching the woman press her hand on a pad just to the right of the door, the door then slid open to reveal a small but well appointed room. Instructing Jeez to do the same, Jeez placed his hand on the panel. Feeling a slight wave of heat pass over his hand, a small light indicated that his hand print was now able to open the door to his room.


With the usual accommodating introduction to the available services, the woman explained to Jeez a couple of rules for security purposes. Nodding his head and eventually dismissing the woman, she left his room, and the door closed behind her. The room was fairly basic. It had a small bed, a nightstand, a desk, and a bathroom area with a small wash station and a toilet.


Setting his stuff down on the floor, Jeez then wondered what could possibly happen next.

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Carida Academy—1150hrs


A holovid image of a TIE about to crash into a meteor suddenly paused.


“Stop,” Beryl ordered. “Rewind and repeat. Slow playback.”


The image of the TIE reversed until it was just approaching the edge of the meteor field, and then the entire sequence began to play again in slow motion.


“Now, what mistake did the pilot make in this example?” Beryl asked her class.


A young cadet, Vyyk Draygo, a Corellian whom Beryl had identified as having great potential, raised his hand and said, “He flew a ship that wasn’t made by a Corellian.”


As the rest of her class sniggered at Vyyk’s remark, Beryl had to smile as well. “Okay… what other mistake did he make?”


Another cadet raised his hand. “He underestimated his rate of acceleration in relation to the gravity of the meteor band?”


“Maybe,” Beryl said. “Anyone else?”


“He was depending on his scanners too much.”


Beryl’s brow raised. Soontir Fel was her best student. “Go on, Fel.”


“The refresh rate of the scanners on the TIEs is too slow for tracking moving objects like the meteors when you are traveling at an accelerated rate. You can’t solely depend on it for navigation.”


Beryl was visibly impressed. “Very good, Fel.” She clicked the remote she held in her hand and the holovid image disappeared. “That’s what I want you all to read up on tonight,” she said to the class. “Alternative forms of navigation, Chapters 8, 9, and 13. When your scanners are damaged or something interferes with them, you’ll still have to be able to navigate yourself home by some other means.”


The chime sounded, signaling the end of the class. The cadets stood up and came to attention.


“Class, dismissed.” Beryl started to tidy up the classroom, when Cadet Draygo approached her. Like most of her students, he was young, about nineteen--fit, handsome and full of spirit. It killed her to see how the Empire was taking the next generation and molding them into soldiers and pilots.


“Excuse me, sir,” he addressed her with the honorific used for all officers or higher rank. “But can I ask you something… erm, something personal?”


Beryl cocked an eyebrow. “Ask away, cadet.”


“Well, some of us cadets, the Corellian cadets,” he clarified, “were going to have a sort of a … well, we were going to sort of meet up in the city on the leave day to kinda have…


“A party?”


Vyyk grinned sheepishly and shrugged one shoulder. “Yeah. Anyway, we were wondering if….”


Beryl held up her hand. “I’m flattered by the offer, cadet, but no. Thank you.”


Vyyk lowered his voice. “But, you’re one of us, sir. And you never really socialise with anyone.”


“Oh? And where did you hear that?”


He shrugged “Corellian grapevine, where else? Point I’m trying to make, sir, is that… well, it’s not... natural for people like us not to socialise.”


She understood his point exactly. She had been here for just over 8 weeks and in that time had purposefully avoided socialising for pleasure. Yes, she was lonely, but like Jeez had said she needed to get a grip on her emotions. Focus on the task at hand. And that task was survival and escape. “I’m your instructor, Draygo. It’s against the regs for me to ‘socialise’ with students,” Beryl said. “Even Corellian ones.”


“But you’re a cadet as well, aren’t you?” Vyyk pointed out. “Sure you’ll be a Lieutentant right off the reel once you’re all finished with your officer training, but right now, you’re still a cadet like the rest of us.”


Beryl bit the inside of her lip, wanting to say ‘yes, I’ll go’, but knowing she couldn’t without consequences. She was planning to escape the very next day. She couldn’t be drawing attention to herself now. “It’s against the regs for me to ‘socialise’ with students, cadet,” Beryl repeated. “Besides, you don’t want to hand out with an old hag like me.”


“Old hag?” Draygo snorted, grinning roguishly as he gave her a quick once over. “None of us would ever call you a hag,” he said rather frankly. “Sir,” he added as an afterthought as he came to attention and saluted.


Beryl shook her head with mild disbelief, and then sighed. “I suppose I'll take that as a compliment,” she said to him. "Dismissed, Draygo," she said, returning his salute. She finished stowing away her class materials, and then headed out the door.

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