Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mira_Jade
, Jul 2, 2018.
I was right! And Dewlanna is definitely the mom friend.
HAN! I should have guessed that if Dewlanna's here, he wouldn't be far off. And it all fits: of course he's the one who's been tailing Ahsoka with such eagerness and curiosity! He's such a clever, inquisitive little fellow, and I can see some of Ford and Ehrenreich in him already. And naturally course he's eager and curious to hear all about Ahsoka's story, directly From the Equus's Mouth! Being just a kid naturally leads him to say a few rash things that maybe aren't the right thing at this particular moment, but I'm sure he means no harm—and his comment about never stopping being a Jedi is definitely one for Ahsoka to ponder, as she herself has made similar reflections about her own relationship to the Force: she may no longer be part of the order, but the Force will never stop being part of her.
I just LOVE the way you've given Han his own unique presence or manifestation in the Force, too! I don't know if that's touched on in canon anywhere (I'm going to guess no), but this is one of those revelatory Mira_Jade "of course" moments: of course it makes sense that his unique relationship to chance and luck, his never-tell-me-the-odds-ism, would touch the Force in some way, even in a way that stands in opposition to the Force: "swirl[ing] around this boy without touching him outright" sounds about right. I guess a unique brand of Force connection is one thing he actually has in common with Ahsoka—which then puts their meeting into the trademark Mira_Jade category of "unlikely meetings"! Luvvitt!
The possibility of multiple orphaned children in the Shrike Bros.' employ is definitely an intriguing and concerning possibility... kind of a more sinister version of those "Baker Street Irregulars" who sometimes help out Sherlock Holmes. I'm going to file that away in my head. I wonder if Ahsoka, somewhere down the line, will meet any more of them and/or be able to help them someway, though it's good at least that Han has Dewlanna looking after him. (He clearly respects and looks up to her, too, and that's a good sign.)
And PIRATES! Oh no, oh no, I'm nervous now—or, to put it in SW lingo, I have a very bad feeling about this! I'm with @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha: they'd better leave the Cteibuciiir alone or there are going to be seven Corellian Hells to pay! Too bad Ahsoka has to leave her tasty meal behind, though I'm sure Dewlanna understands, and I know she is going to show her skill and value as a member of the crew in whatever may follow. (This sounds like just the sort of crisis situation that may end up strengthening the camaraderie between her and Ventress, too. I guess we'll soon see...)
Much strength and success to Ahsoka as she goes to help take on the pirates—don't keep us waiting too long to see how this cliffhanger plays out!
I agree with a lot of the above, but if you ask me, the pirates will have nine Correllian Hells to pay if they damage that organ!
Exactly! The poor dear didn't even know what bruises he was pressing, and Ahsoka still has a long road to recovery. But, she's starting down it! That's something we will definitely be examining more of as the plot goes on.
And writing a young, wide-eyed yet already so worldly-wise Han was a treat! This cameo was purely self indulgent, but I can't tell you how much I enjoyed including him and Dewlanna!
You've got it! Pirates are never a walk in the park, to say the least! But, thankfully this crew is more than ready for some action. So, stand by.
Thanks so much for reading, my friend, as always!
You were spot on!
As soon as I knew that I needed Ahsoka to join a crew of . . . ill repute, Shrike's band of gypsies immediately came to mind! Plus, it was a purely self indulgent way to include a very young Han of the EU - whom I still love to bits - into the narrative. In the end, I just couldn't resist.
Exactly! Ahsoka understands that on a logical level, but it's going to be a long hard road for her to come to more fully accept the changes in her life as easily as Han understands here, with a child's particular insight and innocence.
I've officially been in this fandom for too long when I can't remember if it was Legends, or someone else's fanon, or a bit of my own that came up with that theory about Han! It's just how I've always seen him! I don't much care for the theories that he's Force sensitive - you don't need the Force to do amazing things - but he does have such a streak of 'luck' and cannily accurate perceptions and reflexes that lead you to wonder if something else going on there. So, that's what I've come up with to answer those questions for myself, and I'm so glad that you enjoyed that bit of characterization too!
Yep. I can't say that Shrike is the best guardian - EU!Han had some less than positive stories to tell of some of the other kids he grew up with, but sadly its not an unheard of thing, even here on Earth! The "Baker Street Irregulars" really is a great likeness. BUT, he has Dewlanna, at least, who really did much to further his best qualities as a child. Their bond was one of my favourites in Legends, so it's been a treat exploring it here. And, at the very least, I can definitely promise that Han's story is not nearly done in this AU! Some things, no matter how they change, will always stay the same.
A very bad feeling about this! But these particular pirates may have bitten off more than they realized between Ahsoka - and even Ventress, in her own way. But, more about that in a moment.
As always, I can't thank you guys enough for reading and taking the time to leave such wonderful reviews! More will be up as soon as I finish clearing a few more typos from the text . . .
Author's Notes: Alrighty! So, all of this counts towards my November word total, and, as such, it's a bit more unpolished than I'd usually like to make sure of before posting. I'll be cleaning up any rogue spelling and grammar mistakes over the next few days, for which I apologize in advance! But I did want to get this posted for you guys in the meantime.
As always, I thank you all for reading and hope that you enjoy!
Alarms continued to wail as I raced for the bridge. A man’s voice spoke over the comms before I could get very far, warning of evasive maneuvers and demanding that everyone onboard find their pre-designated emergency stations and brace for impact. The words didn’t come a moment too soon – the ship lurched even as he finished speaking, and the gravity field flickered from a subsequent barrage of broad spectrum fire. My boots skid across the deck, but I managed to keep my footing with a wince. Whoever was piloting was definitely not my Skyguy.
Yet, I realized as I entered the flight deck, the helmsman was doing the best he could with what he was up against. My eyes flew towards the viewport just in time to see the stars spin and tell-tale bolts of red plasma miss us just over our bow. That, my gut clenched, was close.
My first instinct was to march up to Captain Shrike and demand to know what was going on – as if this was any other GAR vessel and I was the ranking officer in command. But . . . this wasn’t a GAR ship, and I was near the bottom of the food chain here. Instead, I grudgingly hung back with the few other security hands who'd assembled, there to wait until needed. Ventress, I looked to my right after feeling a warning chill in the Force, must’ve thought the same as me. She was leaning against a bulkhead with her arms crossed and apparently not a care in the world as the Luck dove and spun and dipped. But, no matter the nonchalance she conveyed, I could see where her blue-grey eyes zeroed in on the tactical monitors. Nothing about the firefight was escaping her notice.
“What're we up against?” I edged close enough to whisper while trying not to be too obvious. Ventress’ reply was to first glance at me as if she’d stepped in something unpleasant and I was that unpleasant something. I grit my teeth, half expecting her to stalk away and ignore me completely.
Instead, her sneer smoothed over for a bland expression. “Pirates,” she answered drolly. I waited, but she said nothing more than that.
“Pirates? No kidding, oh wise one,” I shot back. “But, what kind of - ”
“ - you’re far too easy to rile up, pet – that's something you’re going to have to work on if you want to survive away from the Jedi.” I couldn’t tell threat from amusement in Ventress’ cool gaze, the same as always. (It didn’t matter that she was technically, maybe right.) “But, as for your question, our unexpected company seems to be some gang out of Duros who're creatively calling themselves the Scarlet Eyes.” Her curled lip made her opinion on that more than clear. “Their demands are the usual: offer no resistance and prepare to be boarded. They’re claiming to spare the crew so long as we stand down.”
Yeah, right, I couldn’t help but snort. That promise was as trustworthy as the word of a haggling Jawa in an Outer Rim bazaar. At the very least, the Shrikes’ answer was currently more than apparent with the evasive maneuvers we were taking. We weren’t going to go down easily, if we went down at all.
“In that case,” I voiced my next concern, quieter then, “do you think they have any idea about our cargo?”
Ventress glanced at me with an unreadable expression, and then turned back to the monitors again. “I would guess not,” she finally shrugged. “With the Republic intensifying their presence on the hyperspace routes, and the tolls there increasing to tax that protection, gangs like this are mere pests waiting in empty space for those convenient ships who can’t call for help. It’s just the luck of the jump, with the state of the galaxy being what it is right now. Your Republic is doing a lackluster job maintaining order, even this deep in the Core.”
I let out a breath for her last dig, but allowed her insult to pass. It went without saying that she and the side she’d chosen had been the main reason for the chaos in the Republic in the first place. But I had more important things to consider just then - such as: how to get out of this mess? first and foremost. Because, as much as I was grateful that the pirates didn’t have an exact goal in mind, imagining what a band of uncaring brigands could do to the Cteibuciiir through their ignorance and carelessness instead was almost just as bad.
My gaze narrowed as I looked back out the viewport. The pirate crew was small, at least – well, relatively speaking, anyway. The odds stacked against us were nothing when compared to some of the space battles I’d been apart of during the war thus far. Yet, those turbo-lasers meant business, and, if we were boarded . . .
. . . I felt my stomach churn, thinking about the noncombatants like Srink and Dewlanna and Han, and the Force only knew how many other children, who were onboard. No. The pirates couldn’t get that far. This had to end here.
On the pirate’s side, there were six small and nimble DY-17 starfighters buzzing around the Luck like snapping gna-rats chirping to take down a much larger opponent. A Duros Yards Maurader-class light cruiser hung further back from the starfighters, content to let the smaller, more nimble ships do the dirty work for the time being. The Luck, meanwhile, was firing away with its Corellian batteries, trying its best to scuttle the small ships, but to no prevail. The Shrikes had invested in a fair bit of firepower to replace the GAR ordinance KYD had scavenged before reselling, but that would only do us any good if we could actually hit our targets – and that was a big if with the maneuverability of the DY-17s and the light cruiser wisely hanging back out of range. The Luck had four Z-95 Headhunters to its use – good, dependable ships, usually. They had better armor and stronger weapons than the DY-17s, but the Duros ships were still faster – much faster. It was an all out dogfight in space as our outnumbered snub fighters danced with the pirates in a slowly but surely slipping tide. We already had one Headhunter returning to the Luck’s hangar, critically damaged, and I could feel the ebb and flow of the fight spark about my senses. Eventually, the DY-17s would win the day.
And that was before the pirate cruiser decided to entire the fray. Still staying out of range of our guns, the Marauder then unleashed a volley of nebulous silver-blue energy. I frowned, at first not understanding what I was seeing, even as recognition roused in the back of my mind. I knew this weapon, I thought with growing certainty. But, how could it possibly be what I thought it was?
The Luck took evasive action, but not before one of our Headhunters was caught in the range of the expanding blast. “My systems are down!” the pilot’s voice rang across the bridge speakers in panic. “Everything’s gone dark.”
“Which systems, Ryk?” Captain Shrike himself responded to the snub pilot. The remaining two Headhunters swept in to cover their squad-mate, who was suddenly stuck dead in space.
“That’s the thing, sir,” the Headhunter pilot replied. “It’s all of them. All of the ship’s systems spiked before just shorting out completely. I can’t reboot a single thing.”
It was fortunate that his flight-suit’s life-support and helmet comms were separate from his ship’s systems, I let out a breath of relief for the pilot. But that still didn’t save him from -
“ - it’s an ion cannon,” I breathed aloud as my understanding turned for certainty. “Somehow, those pirates got their hands on an ion cannon.”
My words hadn’t gone unnoticed. From further up the bridge, Captain Shrike paused and whirled back to face me. “What was that, Tano?”
Ventress sighed outright and said something that I’m was sure was less than flattering underneath her breath. Ignoring her, I took a step forward, crossing my arms over my chest and trying to stand up taller than I actually was. “It’s an ion cannon,” I repeated for everyone to hear. “That’s why the Headhunter went dead from the blast.”
Down in the crew’s pit, the senior helmsman gave a sniff. “Ion weaponry is just a theory,” he scoffed. “There’s no such thing actually manufactured and in use – you’re jumping at shadows, kid.”
My first, impulsive reply was admittedly hot-headed, and I swallowed back my words. This lot had no reason to blindly listen to me, just because I said so. I had to earn that trust. Being a Jedi - even a former one, gained me nothing here. So, I gave my what I could of my temper to the Force, and argued, “I can confirm that the Separatist navy built a fully functional ion cannon.” And it was put to devastating use in Grievous’ hands, at that. Even then I remembered just how close I’d come to losing Master Plo that day – but I couldn’t think of that, not without also acknowledging: I ended up loosing him anyway, in the end. That wasn’t a thought I could bear just then.
“I know that for a certainty,” I regrouped to continue. “Now, it looks like the Seps have been selling their trade secrets. The weapon I fought against was strong enough to neutralize GAR capitol ships – their mega-cannon could take out entire fleets at a time. Even the condensed version here will be enough to leave the Luck dead in space if we take a direct hit.”
I wanted to glance over my shoulder at Ventress – if anyone could back up my claims with any sort of reliability, it was her, after all. But I could feel her warning as a pins and needles sensation dancing over my shoulders. The Shrikes really had no idea who they’d hired in Allyn Narec, it seemed, and Ventress wanted to keep it that way.
Okay, then. I could figure this out on my own.
“I don’t buy it,” the helmsman still argued. He was a middle-aged male Corellian with bronzed skin and buzzed dark hair, who was working hand in hand with a female Sullustan – the ship’s navigator – and two junior helmsman to keep the Luck spinning through one evasive maneuver after another. But their efforts wouldn’t mean a thing if that pirate ship got close enough with their cannon again. “The amount of power needed to override and neutralize a system the size of the Luck's is - ”
“ - is something the Separatists have figured out,” I didn’t even let the Human finish speaking before interrupting. “I'm telling you: I’ve fought on the front-lines for the last two years; I’ve seen their tech with my own eyes. Trust me when I say that its effects aren’t anything you want to come anywhere close to - ”
“ - and who’s to say that you’re even old enough to understand what you were fighting against in the first place, let alone rightly identify what you’re seeing now? Sorry, kid - I wouldn’t take you out for a few drink at Moonies, let alone trust my life - ”
“ - yet, this kid has the experience you’re so clearly lacking,” I fired back without thinking. I sniffed before looking him up and down. I raised a brow, clearly unimpressed. “And who says I’d be interested in you taking me anywhere, for anything?”
“Enough!” Shrike was done with our bickering, apparently – which was the exact opposite impression that I’d wanted to give. Great. I sighed at myself, frustrated, but Shrike turned his cross gaze on his helmsman, at the very least. “Onrad, there’s a reason I picked up Tano here in the first place. Are you second guessing my judgment and ordering about one of my hires when I am standing right here?”
The helmsman – Onrad, paled for that. Where he had no problem challenging me, his captain was another matter entirely. He was quick to back down. “Sir no sir,” his spine immediately straightened. “Never that.”
“Good, then,” Shrike returned icily. “Now how about you focus on making sure we don’t take on enemy fire? You have a job to do, just as Tano does – so do it.”
His orders came just in time as the Marauder came about for another run – still staying out of range of our cannons and yet flying in close enough to launch another ion blast once they had a lock. The nebulous energy danced with tell-tale forks of blue-white static and silver lightning, but, with a spin and a duck, the Luck avoided the salvo again – yet only just barely.
That was close, I thought, even as I grudgingly admitted that the helmsman was at least reasonably competent with his job . . . unfortunately.
“So, Tano – how’d you beat this cannon before?” Shrike, at least, was willing to hear me out. He’d invested in me, and he was ready for his gamble to pay off. “You have my attention.”
The dying Malevolence had tried to jump to hyperspace while the Dead Moon of Antar was still in its way, I thought with a remembered bolt of satisfaction. That’d been one of my Master’s finest hours – even if Master Obi-Wan hadn’t agreed with Anakin's tactics at the time at all.
“Well, this is a little different than that mess at Antar . . . but, I have an idea,” I said, slowly at first but then with growing confidence. Master Anakin, I thought, would think that this idea was brilliant – which was maybe aa tellin enough sign in of itself. (And, even then, as adrenaline raced through my veins and my heartbeat thundered in my montrals, I couldn’t feel Anakin through our bond – no matter how I instinctively reached for his support and encouragement. He wouldn’t let go of the walls between us . . . even when I was neck-deep in a critical situation.)
I grit my jaw, and refused to acknowledge the heat I could feel building behind my eyes for the emptiness in my mind. Fine then. I didn’t need him anyway.
“I’m listening, Tano,” Shrike nodded. “What do you suggest?”
So, I took in a deep breath, and answered:
“Ion cannons have a terrible margin of accuracy – if that was a weakness in the military grade mega-cannons we faced, I doubt these pirates will have fixed the calibration deficiencies in a smaller model,” I theorized aloud. “If we time this exactly right, we can keep close enough to the blast to power down on our own volition and make it look like we’re hit.”
Yeah . . . so that was where the plan got tricky.
“Meanwhile,” I continued, “we can manually calibrate our batteries while waiting for the Marauder to come close enough to board. If we wait for the perfect moment, we can power up and get the weapons back online just in time to do enough damage to the cruiser at close range to make them back off entirely. Because your Headhunters aren’t going to last out there much longer, and it’s only a matter of time before that cannon does strike true. It’s better if we engage them on our own terms.”
“But that would leave us entirely vulnerable in the meantime!” Onrad, predictably, couldn’t help but chime in again. “Captain, she’s trying to get us all killed - ”
“ - that plan would require split-second accuracy,” Shrike held up a hand to silence his helmsman. His eyes were locked on mine, searching my face for even a flicker of doubt. “That’s not something we’d be able to pull off without a computer synchronizing our efforts. What do you propose to fix that?”
“Well,” I let the sharp points of my teeth show when I smiled, “there’s a reason you hired me. Right? So . . . let me pull my weight.”
It only took a moment for my meaning to sink in when I tapped the side of my temple in a clear gesture. “Great, now we’re not just trusting a child,” Onrad couldn’t hold himself back, “but we’re putting our faith in some mystical sorcery too - ”
“ - you are relieved of your duty if you don’t feel yourself equal to the challenge, Onrad,” Shrike whipped about to level his pilot with a dangerous look. “Or, are you second guessing my command again?”
I could feel the captain’s agitation drum through the Force with a low pulse of threat and intention. Onrad was already in a hole, and only digging himself in deeper. Even if we did come through this one piece - even when we came through this in one piece, I corrected myself, I didn’t envy him whatever discipline he had coming in the slightest. This was something I could do, I turned my thoughts away from Onrad and his words - I knew I could.
And then we had our opportunity – and no time for further debate.
“The pirates have fired again!” another ship’s hand warned, and, just like that, a decision was made.
“Go dark at the Jedi’s command; power down all systems,” Shrike instructed his crew. “Have the engineers get ready to manually set the turbo-cannons for these coordinates,” after staring at a tactical display and triangulating a most likely point of trajectory, he rattled off a string of numbers. “Get ready to fire again on her mark.”
It was go-time, then.
No matter the rigors of the battle and the dizzying inertia from the ship’s maneuvers, I sank down to sit on the floor of the deck cross-legged. It had been ages since I’d last immersed myself in the Force for a request of this magnitude, and for a split second I felt doubt creep into my heart. The Force was so, so fickle as of late, only aiding me in bits and bursts before going completely silent. It’d been that way since the moment I was first arrested, leaving me unable to tell up from down or friend from foe. If the Force had truly been with me, why had I not been able to feel the darkness in Barriss, even as she professed to help me as my friend? If the Force was by my side, why had the Council acted so blindly in their treatment of me? And – this was my worst, most heartfelt fear – what if it wasn’t the Council who had failed to read the Force at all? What if, instead, they'd seen something deep inside of me, reflected back from the eyes of the Force? What if they were right not to trust me?
- but no. No. I couldn’t afford the luxary of doubt just then. I tried my best to unearth those thoughts from the root, but their seeds were embedded down deep, and their vines were growing thorns. Please, I voiced wordlessly, trying to summon the Force, regardless, there are people depending on me. They need me to -
- and then, at the very least, I was rewarded with a scant flash of insight. Even as my eyes remained closed, I commanded with more certainty than I felt: “Roll ten degrees to starboard and dive to point 8.1x by 7.9y. Then, power down on my mark.
“Four . . .
"Three . . .
". . . two,” I could feel the ship strain around me as we dove, just as I could feel the approaching negative pulse of the ion energy. Almost.
“One . . .
". . . mark!”
It was close; it was so close. When I opened my eyes, I could still see that last bit of ion energy sparkling about the viewport, dissipating so near to our bow that at first I wondered if we'd been hit. But, as I saw the last of the ship’s systems shut down – and I felt myself float up off the deck as the auto-gravity was disengaged, I knew better. One of the members of the flight crew gave me a thumbs up and said, “We’re dark, Lady Tano. Ready to reboot at your say so."
Now, all there was to do was wait and see if the pirates took the bait. I sucked in a deep breath of rapidly cooling air, all the while knowing that this last flush of heat and oxygen wouldn’t hold out against the vacuum of space indefinitely. Hopefully, the pirates would make up their minds quick, before we were forced to restart the life-support systems again, regardless of our plans.
But, greed and confidence had a way of facilitating speed over caution - this time to our advantage. Just beyond the viewport, the Marauder was moving – leery at first, but then with a clearly growing confidence. They were coming in to inspect their kill.
I closed my eyes again, trying my best to keep my mind steady as my body floated, only listening with half a montral as Shrike sent a crewman to down to alert the engineers of our progress with the comms down. He carried a short range transmitter with him that would let us send a pulse to signal when the time was right.
At my back, I could feel Ventress' prowling aura of agitation. Her every sense was fixed on me, like the dark side of a sunlit moon. Hesitantly, I extended the offer for her to help, not even stopping to consider the impulse as it overcame me. You know, this would be easier to time with the both of us working together, I broadcasted the thought as loud as I could, unsure if she would even be able to hear me without a bond between our minds. Want to help?
Oh no, eventually, I was just as surprised to hear her thoughts in return. You’ve got this; don’t let me interfere.
Okay then, I was on my own. But I . . . I accepted that.
I had to accept that.
Yet, even as that thought settled in my mind to become a cornerstone of my being, I could feel my hold on the Force slipping. My perception of everything I was trying to hold in balance: the pirate ship and the helmsman and the engineers in the weapons bay, turned fuzzy. Instead of being clear and sharply defined, they began to float and distort as my senses swirled and caved in on themselves.
No, not now! I fought a lance of frustration – an emotion I certainly didn't need just then. Frustration and fear lead to desperation and anger, after all, and I would not take the easy course offered by the Dark - I would not. Instead, I tried to quiet my mind, feeling every bit like an initiate being chided by the crèche-masters all over again. Young one, focus you shall, I could hear Master Yoda gently chide as if he was floating in the zero gravity right next to me. Such easy counsel, I felt even years later, was oftentimes the most difficult to follow. Clear your mind, and the Force you will feel.
But . . . I could feel the Force - that wasn’t the problem! The problem was that I could feel the Force slipping from me. It was slipping away, and I couldn’t draw it back, no matter how I tried.
Please, I thought, trying my best to hold on tight with both hands, don’t leave me too.
“The pirates are level with us,” Onrad cut into my thoughts to warn through clenched teeth. “Captain, should we - ”
“ - at the Jedi’s command,” Shrike ordered again. “Just wait.”
But, maybe Onrad was right to doubt me. My ability to tell when to strike felt like trying to find the surface in a dark ocean swell just then. I couldn’t tell up from down, and whenever I felt the need to speak and say now, my voice was seemingly stuck in my throat. I couldn’t tell my reluctance from my own hesitation or for the Force itself telling me to wait. I doubted, and, in that doubt I -
“ - their docking claw has been extended,” Onrad reported tersely.
“Tano?” Shrike questioned me only that once. “We’re cutting this awfully close. Just give us the word.”
Even as he spoke, I felt a thrum of certainty strike me through the Force. Only, that certainty hadn’t originated from me, I belatedly understood. Where the Light always pushed my forward like a warmth blooming underneath my skin, this was a shiver and a thrill racing up and down my spine. Static seemingly sparked at my fingertips; I could feel the shape of every bone, from my ribs to my teeth. I took in a deep breath at first, wondering if I had somehow unwittingly let the Dark Side in, before understanding -
I could feel her presence huff in my mind like ozone building in the atmosphere before lightning struck. Now, girl, she ordered, or do you want to be boarded while we sit dead in space?
Well . . . I guess that was as clear a sign from the Force as any. My eyes flew open as her certainty buffeted my own.
“Now,” I gave the command. “Bring us back to full power, and fire the first and third batteries. Successive blasts; don’t let up.”
Our timing was perfect: with their docking claw extended and the pirates so focused on their prize, they didn’t have time to react as our turbo-lasers tore through their hull at point blank range. Our starboard fuselage was scuffed and battered by debris, but our shields came back online just in time to protect us from the explosions that blossomed from the wrecked Marauder. The helmsman had us wheeling away as soon as our engines were restored to life, and I felt gravity return as my feet struck the deck again. I didn’t have to say a word aloud before the Sullustan navigator anticipated us and announced, “Setting coordinates for hyperspace, Captain – just awaiting your command.”
“Make the jump!” Shrike wasted no time in ordering.
I looked up just as the stars elongated in the viewport, and we escaped to hyperspeed.
As soon as we were safely away, I released a breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding. For a long moment, no one made a single sound. Then:
One of the junior helmsmen gave a cheer; another clapped. The Sullustan woman made a staccato sound that sounded like jubilation in the back of her throat. It took me a moment to realize that they were all applauding for me – for me, when -
. . . they were cheering for me when my doubt had almost gotten us all killed. I didn’t deserve nor want their praise, especially when the Force was still swirling, thick and muddled across my senses. It had yet to return to full clarity, and I missed its presence - its true presence like I would my right hand just then.
I tried to summon what a smile I could, but anyone who knew me would've been able to tell it was forced. Yet . . . no one here knew me, and no one called me out on my lie. For the maudlin shape of my thoughts, I felt the Force retreat from me even further. Bizarrely, I felt my eyes burn, which I most certainly would not give into here, of all places. I would hold myself together if it was the last thing I did.
“Well done, Lady Tano,” even Captain Shrike gave in and clapped his hands together. “You have my thanks. We knew picking you up would pay off for us in the long run.”
Somehow, I managed to nod in reply. But the truth was that I couldn’t escape the flight deck quickly enough following.
It was still cold in the corridors as the life-support systems recovered enough to flush heat through the vents – uncomfortably so as I made my way, for which I was perversely grateful for. The chill helped sharpen my senses – all but for those immaterial one I most wished would refine. Thus, distracted as I was, it took me a moment to realize that I was being followed.
To my surprise, Ventress had broken her unspoken rule, and left the same way and time as I did. When I came to a cross-section in the halls, she only paused for a moment beside me, clearly considering. At first I thought that she would push past me entirely and go her own way, with not a word said for how she’d come to my aid earlier. That would have fit what I knew of her.
Yet, apparently, she was one more thing in the galaxy that I hadn’t even begun to truly understand in the first place. My world was already spinning, I acknowledged darkly; what was one rotation more?
“I’ve only had few certainties in my life, girl,” even so, Ventress couldn't meet my eyes to say, “and yet, of those few certainties, you’ve ever been a constant. Cease letting the actions of others make you doubt yourself. It . . . it is not right.”
I looked up at her with wide eyes, but Ventress said nothing more than that. Instead, she stalked away, a whispered aura of danger and forboding once again returning to cloak her every step. I watched her go until I couldn’t any longer, wondering, then, just how anything could ever be certain again.
Fantastic, literal edge of seatness!
Onrad's skepticism was understandable & Shrike's warnings -- in character, absolutely!
I'm so happy they got away, safely, for all they cut it close.
Ventress' assistance was unexpected & Ahsoka's strategy was BRILLIANT! Another surprise was Ventress' advice at the end.
Is it her doubts that is making Ahsoka's sense of the Force so sporadic? How can she regain her self-confidence? Is it simply just a matter of time?
Oh my, what a close shave! And what an amazing moment of decisive action by Ahsoka—and Ventress! I can only barely imagine what it must have felt like to Ahsoka in that crucial moment to feel like her Force connection attenuating so much (more on that soon). Ventress was a literal lifesaver in that moment, but I still say that she and Ahsoka did this together—after all, it was Ahsoka who recognized the weapon being used and came up with the whole amazing and courageous strategy to begin with. She more than deserved those cheers from the crew—I bet even that naysayer Onrad joined in—and she shouldn’t be so hard on herself! Good on Shrike, too, for respecting her experience and listening to her—sure, for him it may be about getting the most he can out of his “investment,” but he clearly knows the value of respecting his crew members’ experience and expertise, and those are ultimately marks of a good leader.
Ventress’s words to Ahsoka at the end are pretty amazing, really—full of foreboding, as if she knows about something Ahsoka doesn’t—but in a way they are also quite a high compliment coming from her. It’s wonderful to see her growing to respect Ahsoka, though I also don’t blame Ahsoka for feeling kind of nonplussed by it, given their previous history.
I too have to wonder about what’s happening to Ahsoka’s connection to the Force. At first I thought for sure that it was down to her own self-doubt, but the given the way that turbulent and muddy and unclear feeling is persisting even after the danger has been averted, I’m starting to think there is more to it than meets the eye. And I wonder, too, what Ventress’s role will be in helping her (or not helping her) get it back.
Thanks for this wonderfully exciting and suspenseful chapter in Ahsoka’s story—as always, I look forward to more!
Thank-you! Action scenes are just such a pain in the shebs to write, so I'm glad it came across as edge of your seatness! It was an interesting exercise, writing Ahsoka with a crew who isn't used to working with Jedi - especially one so young! I can't say I blame Onrad for his doubts either. Or Shrike, for that matter. He can be very mercenary, true, and he's far from a good guy - but he's the man in charge for a reason.
And Ventress! Her character is one that fascinates me, and I love that canon eventually took a redemption arc for her. Right now, the trick is not pushing her too fast down that path - I'm just giving her a little nudge to maybe sorta reflect on in the future with Quinlan Vos comes calling. Her interactions with Ahsoka are always fascinating to me, so I am glad that came across well here too.
That is going to be quite the plot arc to come. But I will say that Ahsoka is just finding her feet again, in more ways than one, and the Force is never as far away as she thinks it is.
I can't thank you enough for reading and leaving your thoughts, my friend, as always!
Thank-you so much! Action scenes are such a necessary evil with this fandom, and they're not the easiest to write - especially when I was trying to work in a fair bit of plot and character development while doing so. I'm glad that it read well! Ventress, I think, is just as surprised as Ahsoka is that she ended up being so helpful. But hey, her life was at stake too. And she sees a fair bit of herself in Ahsoka right now that gives her a soft spot she'll of course deny to her grave.
But you're too right! No matter Ventress' assistance, this was Ahsoka's plan, and her victory. She should embrace it! But, sadly, this type of high stakes combat is something she's far too used to, and that's bound to leave scars - which we will definitely be getting more into throughout the story, of course. She's all too accustomed to living by the edge of her seat, so much so that it's hard for her to pat herself on the back for a job well done.
Oh Shrike. What more can I say about him? He's such a mercenary, and definitely the opposite of a good guy; but he certainly knows how to lead his crew, and Han did pick up a thing or two from him in the end, no matter how . . . unconventional his childhood was otherwise. Shrike invested in Ahsoka for a reason, and he's not at all ashamed for that investment paying off.
I think, one of the most intriguing things about Ventress helping Ahsoka in canon is that she sees so much of herself in Ahsoka. Ventress even admits that outright to Anakin - which was a nice, powerful moment in the show! Ahsoka and Ventress are fascinating narrative foils for each other, and Ventress understands that on some level. In canon, everything Ventress is stems from a sense of abandonment - the Nightsisters sold her to a warlord as an infant to protect the coven; she grew to love her 'master' as a father, and yet he was killed by pirates when she was still a child. She was then discovered by a Jedi Knight who was sworn to fighting those same pirates, and trained under him for ten years, until he fell to those same pirates too. She then spent so many years with hate and anger fueling her need for revenge, all out of a sense of abandonment, again - and that's when Dooku found her and picked at those wounds to make her his apprentice. When Sidious ordered Dooku to kill her, fearing for her growing power, and he agreed - well, that was just the last straw in a long line of betrayals and lost 'father figures'. Ventress is floundering right now with no clear direction, and she sees that in Ahsoka too. Honestly, her words to Ahsoka are really just words to herself.
. . . not to sympathize with everything she's done as a villain, of course! But she is such an intriguing character, and I found her eventual redemption more than fitting.
And, if you're curious! Here's that clip of Ventress and Anakin, on the subject of Ahsoka:
Wonderful observations! Yeah - poor Ahsoka is caught in a bit of a crisis of self here, and this is one of those unexpected repercussions. So much about anyone's connection to the Force is about feeling - we've seen how strong emotions like hate and love can influence a wielder's connection to the Force, and Ahsoka is currently experiencing several intense emotions all at once on a large scale. Writing Ahsoka at this stage in her life left me with an interesting question to answer: if everything she's so long perceived herself to be has so fundamentally changed in its entirety, how would that affect her connection to the Force - to how she views and interacts with the universe around her? If that makes sense? I'm trying to answer that question here, all the while looking at the repercussions of such intense exposures to combat and death being left on an adolescent, developing mind, and this is how the muse is playing it out! But I can at least guarantee that Ahsoka will find her footing again, and see that the Force is never as far away as she may feel it to be.
And I thank you for the wonderful, thoughtful review, as always! I can't tell you how much I appreciate and look forward to every word.
Alrighty, more will be up in just a moment!
Author's Notes: This is more of an in-between chapter with a fair bit of introspection and exposition, so I apologize in advance if it comes across as rambling. I stand behind the diary format letting me be self-indulgent. But, that said, we should have just two more updates in this plot arc and then we will be moving onwards.
I made my way to the ship’s observation deck after parting ways with Ventress, looking for a place to clear my head and get my thoughts in order. I’d never been much of an ideal Padawan when it came to good meditation habits before, no matter how I tried. I’d always thrived with the more physical aspects of being a Jedi, yet, the spiritual? Well . . . there I definitely had room for improvement.
But, touching the Force felt like pushing on a bruise just then, and I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to fix it. I wasn’t even sure if the strain I felt was something I was projecting onto the Force, or if it was an accurate summation of the true state of our bond. I didn’t exactly have anyone I could discuss my worries with, either. That bridge was now burned behind me, and Anakin had made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with me beyond the strictures of the Jedi Order; so, here I was, on my own.
The only thing I could think to do was go back to basics. I felt like a youngling all over again, knowing of the vast power at my fingertips all the while being unable to do anything more than glimpse its might as it flowed on by. But I'd managed to grow from a youngling once already through concentration and practice; if I had to, I could do it again. Even though I felt ridiculous going through the initiate’s exercises I remembered, I did so regardless. There, in the relative quiet of the ship, I sank down to sit cross-legged on the floor as close to the viewport as I could manage. The floor to ceiling transparisteel panes gave a stunning view of the blue and white whorls of hyperspace, and I let the sight lull my physical senses so that I could better focus on my immaterial ones.
The Force was still there, I knew as soon as I reached out with my feelings. It hadn’t left me, no matter how abandoned I may have felt. Our connection was more like a bad comm call, ran through with static and interference; I couldn't seem to get my messages across, or receive a clear answer in reply. Beyond my own difficulties, I knew that the Force was edged with a deepening shadow as of late – that was something that even Master Yoda acknowledged and knew concern for. But I’d come into the majority of my powers underneath that same worrying pall; I knew how to exist within the Light regardless. This wasn’t that – at least . . . I didn’t think so.
But what was it, then? Was this solely a result of my own doubts and uncertainties? Ventress certainly thought so, and I supposed I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. My entire view of the galaxy and my place in it had been turned around and shaken in such a short period of time . . . maybe my view of the Force had shifted too without me realizing it? Maybe, I just needed to reset our connection, so to speak?
That was my working theory, anyway. More than that, I couldn't even begin to speculate.
So, without asking anything in particular of the Force, I instead tried to clear my mind and simply feel its presence around me. Any relationship took time and understanding, I tried to assure myself. I just had to get to know the Force again, and let it know me in return.
Still, meditation made me fidgety in every sense of the word - as usual. It didn’t at all help that a lingering sense of adrenaline still seared through my veins, keeping me from settling completely. Usually, when his blood was up the same as mine, Master Anakin would go through katas with me – or Rex would run through drills to work on my hand to hand techniques to help us both wind down. The men were always more than eager to blow off steam following a campaign - especially a successful one, and good natured brawls were a common post-battle routine. Now, no matter how tightly I closed my eyes and attempted to drift, I couldn't seem to clear my mind entirely. I had too many thoughts fighting for consideration, each one pushing and racing about the other like a charging herd of alkalope. My fingers drummed against my knees instead of resting calmly in my lap, and I fought the urge to tap my foot against the floor. Unfortunately, knowing what I had to do and doing it were oftentimes two vastly different things entirely.
But, just as I was the reaching the point where I wanted to flop out of my stance and give up – this is hopeless, Master Anakin, I think you’re just teaching me wrong, rang through my montrals as if the memory had just passed – I sensed the presence of a visitor. That was an excuse I was all too happy to give up my sorry attempts at meditation for, and I opened my eyes as my thoughts sharpened into awareness again.
Demír, the ship’s armorer, was standing at the entrance to the observation deck with a plain durasteel case held in hand, waiting for my attention. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she asked, hesitating.
I rose from my pose on the floor, and flashed her a rueful grin. “Unfortunately, you’re not interrupting a thing.”
The Corellian leveled me with a considering look, as if to make sure I was telling the truth. Whatever she saw must have been good enough to convince her, though; she shrugged and came forward to join me as I moved over to the rings of couches facing the viewport. There, we both took a seat.
“I heard about what happened on the bridge,” she started, even as she thumbed the case open. “Those were some inspired moves. For that you have all of our thanks, I hope you know.”
I shrugged, still uncomfortable with any sort of praise for my role in escaping the pirates. It still didn’t feel right. “It was nothing; don’t mention it,” I bit my lip to mumble. “I just had the right idea at the right time.”
Demír looked over the lid of the case, and raised a dark brow. “I suppose you can look at it that way, if you like. But I’m Corellian, hon – we know better than that.”
But, thankfully, she seemed to understand that the subject wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. Considerately, she moved on. “I finished your bracers,” she announced instead. “The pirates struck right when I was doing a few last delicate touches, of course, but this wasn’t the first time I’ve forged under fire and I doubt it will be the last.”
For that, I couldn’t help but grin to see her finished product. The end result was just what I wanted: not a thing was changed. Echo’s broad stripes of blue paint and Rex’s tallies were still there, without a single brush stoke missing. The only thing that customized them for me personally was that Demír had set the white plates into panels of sturdy red leather that I could safely wear against my skin without the black bodysuits the clones wore for their own protection. I couldn’t help but give a trill as I tried them on, eager to see how they fit. It was an easy process to adjust the white pressure seals on the sides, and they comfortably settled into place – all with some added give to the settings that would allow me room for growth, just as Demír had promised. I flexed and made a fist of my hands, and felt the leather creak in response. I was going to have to break these in, I critiqued. But that, at least, was a prospect I was looking forward to.
“I had to shorten them a bit,” Demír narrowed her eyes to comment – an artist evaluating her work in every sense of the word. “The length never would’ve fit you right, otherwise. I also calibrated the comm settings in the right guard – you’re not a part of the GAR anymore, so you should be able to tune into most galactic frequencies now. This band here,” she reached over to point, “is where you can connect the wrist-comm you’ve been using to chat with your man. It should settle right in.”
- wait. What? My mouth fell open to gape in surprise, even as the chevrons on my montrals flushed a darker shade of blue. My mind stuttered to put the pieces together. I didn't understand; when had I ever given her an inkling? I thought furiously. How -
- and, as a side point, Rex? Something deep inside of me wanted to laugh for the conclusions she’d leapt to. Rex was just . . . well, Rex. I shook my head, bemused for even the idea, wondering how she'd gotten that.
“Hold on a second,” but I had to figure out, first and foremost, “I never said anything about communicating with Rex, how did you know - ” yet understanding dawned, and I clamped my mouth closed mid-sentence. Demír was fishing for a story, and I’d just leapt straight into her net. Smooth, Tano, I rolled my eyes.
“I didn’t know,” Demír only confirmed my blunder. Her teeth were very white against her skin when she grinned. “I saw the wrist-comm when you first handed the pieces over. It didn’t take much to put two and two together. There's a story there.”
She gestured to the vambraces, and, more importantly, to the paint I’d asked her to preserve. Clearly, she’d made her own guesses, and drawn her conclusions. It only stood to reason, I supposed, that she was curious to know more. Well . . . I could give her that much. She’d cut me a deal on the price, I knew, and, beyond that, I felt indebted to her for the fine work she’d done.
“My men are all individual, and unique,” I started by saying. That wasn’t exactly common knowledge away from the GAR; sadly, even within the GAR there were too many non-clone officers who didn’t understand the simple truth of that statement. “Giving each other names, and painting their armor is one of the few ways they have of expressing their autonomy. They trade painted pieces of armor as a sign of affection.”
I ran my fingertips over my new bracers as I spoke, tracing the long lines of blue on my left arm with my right hand. Echo had been so proud the first time he’d shown up to roll call with his new paint; he’d spent so long conferring with Jesse over his design – days longer than even Fives had. The entire company had given a round of hoots and whistles in celebration, and even Rex had tucked away a smile for the blue handprint Echo had proudly chosen to keep on his chest.
“This is all that’s left from one of my ARCs who fell in the line of duty,” I explained what little I could manage aloud. “It was . . . a bad spot, even for us; we weren’t able to go back for him without risking our mission.”
I felt a pang then, remembering Echo’s final run to clear the air field for our escape. Echo had still been alive when Master Obi-Wan ordered our retreat – alive but unconscious, and Fives had instead looked to Anakin as if waiting for him to belay that order; he trusted Anakin enough to expect the impossible once more. But even Anakin had realized the futility of successfully retrieving Echo and numbly seconded Obi-Wan’s command. Rex had to physically pull Fives away to get him to fall back, speaking sharply in Mando'a all the while to keep him from disobeying orders entirely – which would have only won him reconditioning or worse with Tarkin’s cold hawk eyes watching our drama with clear disgust. Bile rose in my stomach for the memory alone, and I had to work to control my breathing. Fives had been so awfully silent as we eventually succeeded in escaping the Citadel, and then for days thereafter. But the information stored between Master Piell and Captain Tarkin, then as he’d been, was vital for the safety of the Republic, and our mission demanded that their lives be preserved above all else . . . above anyone else.
On the way back to Coruscant, Master Obi-Wan had taken the time to talk to me when Master Anakin clearly could not. Echo was ready to die for what he believed in, and he had, Obi-Wan had tried to comfort. Rex too said much the same, and even Fives had eventually resigned himself to the knowledge that Echo would have hated it if we recklessly dishonored his sacrifice. But, still . . . that didn’t make it right.
I had fallen silent for too long, though – tellingly so. Demír quietly watched me with black, thoughtful eyes, but she didn't interrupt to coax me on.
“Anyway,” I shook my head to gather himself. “My ARC’s batcher, a man named Fives – oh, the clones, they’re born in batches of five and they stay in those formations from development to deployment,” I regressed to explain when her brow furrowed, remembering that too wasn’t common knowledge. “Fives gave this to me to remember the both of them by. They were the first ARCs who joined the company when I was still new to my command, and they were special to me.”
I still couldn’t quite believe the enormity of Fives’ gesture – and what that said for how dearly he viewed me, personally. I settled the whole of my hand over my left vambrace, and thought I could feel the Force pulse with an echo of memories, slow and mournful underneath my touch. Through the Force nothing – or no one, was truly ever gone, I reminded myself. The Force held each and every one of us as luminous beings once we forsook out corporal shells; that I still believed with all my heart.
For that thought, I couldn’t immediately find my words again. Demír let me gather myself before gently prompting, “And, the other? They’re two different ones, right?”
“That one was my captain’s,” I answered. My voice was already soft, remembering Echo, and I couldn’t help the flush of affection that colored my words then. “He’s . . .” but how did I explain everything that Rex was, and had been to me throughout the war? I didn’t consider him a mentor, no matter that he’d been a guiding light, especially during the early days of my command. Yet, neither was he truly my subordinate, no matter that I technically outranked him on the field simply because I had a connection to the Force that he did not. He was my colleague and my comrade and my – well, he was my captain. That really said it all.
“He’s my friend – maybe my best friend,” I concluded simply. Here, away from the Jedi Order, I could admit that much, at least. It felt refreshing, even, to voice my attachment aloud - here where no one would counsel me for my feelings. “I’ve been keeping in contact with the 501st through him, updating them as I go. He can report to my Master that way, too, when he wants to know.”
That was if Anakin ever wanted to know, I still felt a muffled stab of hurt for the knowledge. But, I couldn’t think of that too closely then – not yet.
“My men all came together to see me off, and they each gave me some sort of parting gift – but the enormity of this surprised me,” I could hear my words quicken as I rushed to finish. I was already well beyond the point where I couldn’t talk about this for much longer. “Even though I knew that we had developed strong bonds – it’s impossible to fight a war together otherwise, I didn’t really realize just how much they respected me . . . just as I respect them. I want to honor that. This way, I can honor that.”
In the end, there wasn’t anything else to say. That summed up my thoughts in their entirety.
Demír, I thought, understood. The expression about her face was soft for my story, and perhaps even wistful. “Then, I am happy I could help,” she finally said. “That’s one of the reasons Corellia withdrew from the Republic, did you know?” her mouth pursed to add. “Senator Bel Iblis was appalled for the use of a clone army – he considered it immoral to breed living, sentient men by the thousands just to fight and die without their consent in the matter. Instead, he wanted more discussions with the actual Separatist Senate, rather than outright war, and our monarchy agreed with him. He thought they could be reasoned with, and their grievances with the Republic honestly addressed if we managed to turn them away from Count Dooku’s leash.”
Her words unerringly echoed many of the opinions Senator Amidala had long held about the politics of the war, I thought with an uncomfortable pang – Padmé and Bail Organa and Mon Mothma all held a similar opinion, and I respected each of their voices. But, at the same time, I never really let myself dwell on their views for too long. I had to believe that we were fighting for a reason, and not just warring about in endless circles; otherwise, Echo’s death and the deaths of so many other good men and women meant nothing.
But, her words did cause another spark of curiosity to light in my mind. Here, sitting next to me, I could see the red piping on the fabric of her pants. Bloodstripes. I knew there was a story there.
“It looks like this war has given us all stories to tell,” I let myself comment with an obvious glance down. “You were a part of the Corellian navy, weren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, I was . . . once,” Demír confirmed after a heartbeat. “I . . . we - the Corellian system is five inhabited planets. We call them the Brothers, and of the Brothers Corellia is Eldest. I wouldn’t let my little brother of flesh and blood go through any battle I could help him fight, and the same goes for our in-system siblings. Duro is our Brother, and when the Separatists attacked . . . there were quite a few of us who couldn’t sit so idly by. I was one of them. A whole group of us ignored direct orders, commandeered weapons and vessels and came to help the GAR – little good as it did against General Grievous, of course. Duro still fell – the planet’s a wasteland now, when I can only tell you how beautiful it was before.”
I myself had still been an initiate at the Temple during that battle, but I had heard report of the catastrophe at Duro with Durge’s Lance. Just days following was when Master Yoda informed me of his intention to pair me with Master Skywalker as his apprentice. With the start of the Outer Rim sieges, every possible hand was needed in the field, and it was my turn to be deployed. Even so, I couldn’t help but wince for her words. That battle had been a sore loss for the Republic – and for the Duros people, most of all.
“What happened after that?” I asked when Demír fell silent. Much as I had traced the paint on my vambraces to tell my tale, she picked at the stitching of her stripes with a restless hand.
“Well . . . in typical Corellian fashion, those of us who survived the rout were recognized for our bravery,” her mouth flattened to press in a thin line. “Yet we were still discharged from the navy and exiled from Corellia for our disregard for direct orders and royal decree.”
Well . . . that certainly sounded like a very Corellian thing to do, I acknowledged. Yet, that was a thought I didn’t bother voicing aloud when I saw the conflicted expression on Demír's face – all stoicism and sorrow and yet such pride and determination, so much so that I knew she would make the same decisions over and over again if she was able to, no matter the consequences. It was a sentiment, I thought, that I could empathize with in its entirety.
“But . . . Corellia is slowly loosening its stand of neutrality,” I tried to puzzle out. “I thought that you were even offering up ships and men to help protect the hyperspace lanes into the Deep Core?”
“We are – now, at least,” Demír confirmed. “On that basis, I have put in an appeal to rescind my exile. It’s in the courts’ hands, but I hope to be allowed home soon. I have a brother and a sister still planetside, and nieces and nephews who are growing up too fast. I want to return home to them. Yet, until then - ” she gestured, encompassing the ship and her surroundings, and gave a wry expression.
“Until then, needs must?” I finished for her. That was becoming a common sentiment amongst the Shrikes’ crew, I was finding.
“Yeah . . . needs must, I suppose,” Demír echoed. She gave a humorless huff of breath before shrugging her broad shoulders. “But it’s not so bad, not really – the work’s steady, at least, and Shrike is no worse and no better than many captains out there. I’m content for now, until I figure out what to do next.”
Weren’t we all? That too was something I could only sympathize with.
Demír stayed with me for a little while longer before she had to return to work, chatting about this and that as the blue-white ways of hyperspace swirled beyond the viewport. It’d been a while since I had another woman to sit and talk too, a part of me hadn’t realized until then. Senator Amidala was more and more unavailable as of late, consumed by her efforts to find a diplomatic solution to end the war as she was, and, Barriss . . .
. . . well, she'd drawn away from me before I even had a chance to realize she was doing so. But I had already more than met my quota of heavy thoughts for the day. The ache threatening to grow in my temples couldn’t handle a single one more. So I pushed her memory aside.
Eventually we parted ways, and I took a long stroll of the ship to stretch my legs and pass the time. I made a point of stopping by the cargo hold on my rounds, where Srink was still fretting over his shipment and yet happy to tell me that not a thing had been damaged in the skirmish earlier – at least, as far as he could tell. After leaving Srink behind, I headed back to the kitchens. There, Dewlanna was all too happy to serve me a bowl of the stew she’d been working on earlier, and I ate until I was full while she told me the story of how she and Isshaddik had joined the Shrikes’ crew. She was old, even for a Wookiee, I was amazed to learn – over six hundred years old, and she had seen so, so many things in the length of her days. I did little more than listen in awe as she spoke, grateful as I was to soak in the words of a true elder while I could.
Then, evening eventually came, and we finally made our last jump into the Quellor system.
After clearing planetary customs, Larrad and Isshaddik gathered the small team who were set to go down to the surface to pick up the last of Srink’s shipment – a team that I was a part of. We boarded the shuttle, and I was surprised when a half dozen children joined us. Most were Human, except for another Duros boy, and none could have been older than thirteen. Han was one of the group, and he flashed me a grin as he boarded the shuttle and buckled himself into one of the seats across from me. Once we landed at the spaceport, he and the rest of the children left under the care of a spindly class three droid who had more patched together plates than his original copper coating. The droid ushered the children forward, minding them with the programming of a carrion bird more so than a mother avian. They were here to make a few extra credits scamming and pick-pocketing the crowds that were milling about, I made a face to understand. It was an idea I didn’t care for in the slightest.
Yet, in a queer way, Han seemed only happy, even energized, to be down planetside. He tugged on the cap the eldest child wore as he outpaced the droid, and boasted, “Betcha I bring back more creds than you, Dachee!” before darting off to gain what little of a head start he could. The other boy was fast on his heels to keep up, shouting back with a few choice words of his own, and then the race was on. I stared into the shadows until I couldn’t see either of them, a sour taste growing in my mouth.
But, there wasn’t anything I could think to do for Han – or for any of them. Instead I bit my tongue, and settled for narrowing my eyes in a scowl when I looked over to meet Larrad’s gaze, not bothering to hide my disgust in the slightest. It was as small a victory as I could manage.
Recovering the last of Srink’s shipment was easy enough, at least. We worked together to load the awkwardly sized crates onto anti-grav sleds – this time the cargo containers were incredibly long and narrow, and my mind boggled to imagine the Cteibuciiir when fully assembled all over again. These pieces were to be her tallest crown of pipes, Srink explained as we worked. His voice was soft with reverence as he oversaw our loading up the shuttle, and he bounced about from container to container with an almost giddy energy. She was almost all together, he couldn’t help but enthuse, in one place again as she was meant to be.
I could understand his joy, at least. Now that I knew what my senses were telling me, the crates all but vibrated with a distant cadence. A constant shimmer flushed over my montrals from their resonance, and I could feel a pressure building against my fingertips. Even the Force was drowsy and lulled in the presence of the ancient instrument; it couldn’t help but reverberate with an echo of its melody, and I hummed a song I’d never heard before in the back of my throat as I worked, content to be carried along.
By the time we finished loading up and were ready to ship back out to the Luck, the children returned, right on schedule. I looked around, worried in spite of myself, and yet relaxed as soon as I found Han. A triumphant grin split his face, while the older boy – Dachee, looked ready to spit fire with his own expression.
“Told you, Dachee!” Han crowed. “You owe me your dessert for a month now! No take-backs!”
Alright: clearly he was fine. Even so, I couldn’t help but fret, that kid was going to get himself into trouble when his luck ran out. Or . . . I felt with a flash of knowing, he was going to do truly amazing things instead.
Either way, he was walking a razor’s edge with his life’s path. But, I acknowledged only somewhat grudgingly, weren’t so many of us, with the shape of the galaxy being what it was as of late?
I shook my head to clear my mind, and instead boarded the shuttle to buckle in with the rest of the crew. Now we just had to make it to Corellia, and then the next chapter of my life could finally begin.
I enjoyed that immensely, the abortive attempt to meditate followed by a nice getting-to-know-you talk with Demir. The Corellians have a very interesting history with the Republic and stance on getting in the middle of the conflict versus not, and the particulars. This is the thing that drove Bel Iblis to leave the Senate.
Happy the last bit of cargo was safely retrieved. The resonances of the completely-together instrument is as satisfying as Ahsoka's customized vambraces.
Demír! I knew I was going to like her, and I like her even more now that she has shown herself a true friend to Ahsoka in one of your signature friendship-bonding scenes.
First of all, she's absolutely amazing at her armorer's craft—from the keeping/restoring of the paint to the custom sizing to the specially designed comm compartment, that's some truly detailed and sensitive workmanship, and her respect for the story and history behind the vambraces really shines through in it. Second, she is just such a good listener and friend in this scene—yes, she was indeed fishing for a story there, but not in a "dish your dirt to me" sort of way. She truly is interested in the story of the vambraces, and how they connect to Ahsoka's own story—and the fact that Ahsoka tells her everything shows that she has picked up on her new friend's sincerity. And Demír's own story, in turn, finds a sympathetic and attentive listener in Ahsoka. I have to admire how stoical she is about it, though one can tell she's feeling the bittersweet side of it too—it's a lot to take, being simultaneously decorated for your valor and kicked out of your home. Now that both these women's paths have led them to the same "must needs" situation, I'll be curious to see how their friendship develops, and I'm guessing this won't be their last chat.
Now let me say how immensely relieved I am that the Cteibuciiir safely survived the encounter with the pirates! I'm just as excited as Srink is to see its last components—sounds like an absolutely epic pedal tower that likely contains that 64' or 128'!—finally being collected. And there are those "Baker Street Irregulars" again... oh, those Shrike Bros. and their opportunism. But naturally dear li'l Han is turning it all into a game of luck, even at this age. I too really like your kid!Han, and I have a feeling he still has great things to do on this mission even beyond pickpocketing on demand. Plus, of course we know Ahsoka is right on both counts here:
Thanks for sharing yet another wonderful entry, and I look forward to seeing what will await Ahsoka and the crew on Corellia!
Yep! It all comes together - and I couldn't resist adding the name drop with Bel Iblis. That really ended up being quite a bit of contemplation and stray facts and character moments to lace together in one update, so I'm glad you enjoyed how it all came together. I thank you so much for reading, my friend, as always.
Aw, thanks! At first I worried if I was having Ahsoka make too many friends here, but you know, the Force is pushing her down this path for a reason! And Demír's friendship will definitely pay off in more ways than one. I'm glad you enjoyed their interlude!
Demír was a really interesting character to develop! I wanted to give her a skill to introduce her to Ahsoka, and then a sorta 'honor amongst thieves' backstory to explain her working with the Shrikes and then the rest worked itself out from there. The war really is touching the entire galaxy, all in different ways, and it was so much fun as a writer making their paths intertwine. I'm glad you enjoyed their dynamic too!
The Cteibuciiir is almost to her temporary home in one piece! And I don't mind at all mind spoiling that she'll come through all of this in one piece. I'm too much of a softie for anything else.
I loved how in Legends Han explained this group living aboard the Luck as a 'gypsy colony', basically. And that includes the merry little band of scamps - they are very much "Baker Street Irregulars" again, you're so right! But Han's always had more waiting for him than a life of petty crime, and we will definitely be getting to that here. I'm glad you're enjoying his portrayal! I've really fretted over it.
Thank-you so much for reading, as always. I always look forward to reading your thoughts!
Alrighty, ladies, more will be up in just a few.
Author's Notes: Alrighty, here we go! I'm not going to lie - the action and resolution in the next two updates rather stumped my muse for a bit, but I managed to work through it in the end! So I'm going to let you guys dive right in and enjoy!
After our first run-in with the Duros pirates, we weren’t taking any chances on our final leg to Corellia. We’d come so far, and the last thing the Shrikes wanted to do was risk the entirety of their merchandise through over eagerness. Micro-jumping through the backways of the Core was a slow process, but if it meant a safer route the extra precautions would be worth every inconvenience in the end.
Of course, that ended up being a big if.
When the call came, I was trying to immerse myself in meditation again. I shook my head to break from my trance, but didn’t have to try overly hard to return myself to the here and now. The same as was becoming unsettlingly usual, touching the Force still felt like diving into an ocean swell and not getting wet. But that ocean was still there, at least; I could feel the pressure of the depths, just as I could sense its currents, even beyond my reach. The Force was still there, but I had lost my ability to swim; I just had to find that again.
Which was easier said than done, I was coming to find. Until then, I was rolling my eyes at the unseen entity, trying hard to control my frustration and drift, when -
- I knew that klaxon, and that klaxon was the last thing I wanted to hear.
The same as before, the Luck’s crew rushed to take their places. The same voice barked over the comms, warning of evasive maneuvers. I felt like I was reliving the other day, so bizarrely similar were the circumstances. Only, this time, I didn’t bother hanging back with the rest of the security crew to await orders. I marched right up to Captain Shrike to find out what was going on.
“The same crew?” I was astounded to notice. Sure enough, already looming large in our viewport with its glaring red eyes painted on the hull, the Marauder cruiser had returned. They hadn’t even bothered using their ion canon – or maybe they couldn’t, with the damage we’d inflicted the other day – but they’d still managed to snare us in a tractor lock, and they were forcing a boarding claw over. Wonderful.
“How in the blazes did this lot find us again?” for once, Onrad and I were of the same mind. “We were careful; this doesn’t make any sense!”
Even in the deep, star packed ways of the Core, there were infinite places to hide and slip by the major hyperspace routes unseen. Being found by pirates once was unfortunate; being found twice by the same crew was almost too much to believe. The likelihood was the same as finding a single grain of diagem dust amidst the sands of Tatooine, and then doing it again.
“It’s a bit of bad luck,” I heard a voice in the pit mutter, and for that my eyes snapped to Shrike. A Corellian captain whose crew thought the odds had left them was a captain in danger of losing his command – even I knew that. I crossed my arms, but waited to offer my own opinion.
“Almost too bad a bit, one could say,” Shrike muttered. His voice was low with suspicion – dangerously so. A shiver of threat thrummed over my montrals, reverberating against my senses as a warning. He’d come to a conclusion and was already deciding on a course of action, though what that was I couldn’t begin to properly anticipate. The bigger picture felt hazy to me, as if there was a crucial piece of the dejarik board I couldn’t see. What, my mind raced to wonder, was I missing? What -
- but my confusion was only confounded when Shrike drew his blaster in a practiced maneuver and leveled it at one of the two Duros who’d joined Isshaddik’s team with Ventress and me. I gaped, more than able to understand the threat in Shrike’s actions, even if I didn’t understand why.
Following their captain’s lead, a dozen weapons snapped up to train on the two Duros – the two startled Duros, but not the two surprised Duros, I watched and understood. Apparently, stray thoughts and observations clicked together, not everyone aboard was faithful to the Shrikes’ credits; someone had gotten greedy for more.
“I may play the odds,” Shrike’s gold tooth flashed to say, “but I don’t believe in coincidence – not of this magnitude. They bought you off, didn’t they? You transmitted our location to your buddies; you’re the reason they found us the first time even. What was the deal – we get boarded and you conveniently disappear along with out prize? It’s a pretty plan, if no one would figure you out in the meantime.”
That . . . made sense, I gave, even if I didn’t like the conclusions I was drawing in the slightest. Why would the same pirate crew strike twice after suffering such losses facing us the first time? I tried examining the angles. Maybe bruised pride could move them to a certain extent, true, but why risk such losses without knowing the exact payoff? It seemed like too much, even for the most hot-headed captain. Even if the pirates knew exactly what we carried, the Cteibuciiir was niche in value. To the right buyer, she was of infinite worth, true, but to most others in the galaxy . . .
A thought took root in my mind, and I couldn’t easily shake it away – even as the ship lurched with a tell-tale thud. In a moment, the hows or whys of our situation wouldn’t matter, only action.
“What else are you transporting besides the Cteibuciiir?” I challenged Shrike. I didn’t have time to mince words or dance around the subject like maybe Master Obi-Wan would have done. I needed to know now: what would be worth the pirates wild to strike twice? And, I gave, what aboard would have moved these two to so calmly risk their lives before their plan could succeed? It wasn’t just an antique instrument; all of this fuss couldn’t have been for Srink’s cargo; something else was going on.
“This doesn’t concern you, Jedi,” Shrike replied, not even glancing my way. His weapon had yet to budge. “Stand down.”
The order in his words was unquestionable, all but daring me to cross him. Even so, I stiffened to be so easily dismissed. I opened my mouth to protest, wanting to argue this further and instinctively feeling that there was something more here that could twist the outcome of our encounter one way or another, but -
- from the corner of my eyes, I saw Ventress slip off with the rest of the security team after Isshaddik finished roaring his orders. She didn’t even give the pretense of lingering to hear the outcome of my argument with Shrike. Rather, I got the impression that she was entirely unconcerned, as if the captain didn’t have anything useful to say. Even if this was an interment job for a quick influx of credits, she was putting herself in harm’s way with the rest of the crew. Something about this, the thought struck me and wouldn’t let go, was wrong.
“Take your station with the others and prepare to be boarded,” Shrike waved his empty hand at me, clearly taking my silence as acquiescence. “There won’t be any fancy moves this time, just old-fashioned, honest hard work.”
I leveled Shrike with a dark look, but knew that I wasn’t going to get anywhere trying to force him to say anything he didn’t want to – at least, not in time. Instead, I turned and took off after Ventress.
“Hey!” with a burst of speed I caught up with her. “You know something more about this, don’t you? What else is going on that I don't know about?”
A baleful look slid from the corner of her eyes, and her upper lip curled in a sneer. “How would I know?” her words were silky with scorn. “I am just here to make ends meet, the same as any other honest sentient onboard.”
“Osik!” I spat, not buying her words for a second. “You clearly know something more, and I - ”
“ - you what?” Ventress wasn’t going to give me a single millimeter. Even trying to get her to talk felt like banging my fists against a duracrete slab – only, duracrete was usually more giving. Around me, the pall of the Dark Side buzzed with static, leaping like a pack of hounds at Ventress’ side, eager for action. I clenched my own fists and ignored the way the shadows beckoned. “I only know that we have a threat at the door, and I will see it neutralized. You too have your orders, girl. See them through.”
Alright, then. Ventress was clearly going to be another dead end, and I didn’t have time to reason with the ronto-headed ex-Sith assassin just then. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure why I expected anything different in the first place.
Instead, I skid to a halt as the rest of the team raced on past me. I bit my lip, for a moment considering just following them and figuring things out as I went. I could improvise, and handle events along the way.
But, on the other hand, I didn’t have the back-up here that I was used to depending on. I had to be careful with making leaps in judgment, knowing that I was jumping alone. I had to figure this out first, all of this. Ventress and the rest of Isshaddik’s team would be more than capable of taking care of the pirates on their own until I found the answers I needed.
My mind made up, I reversed course and took off in the opposite direction.
As I ran, I was joined by a smaller presence, struggling mightily to keep up with my longer stride. And no – not happening. This was unacceptable.
“What are you doing here?” I shot the boy a cross look. “You heard the sirens – you shouldn’t be out here. Go find Dewlanna and hide with the others.”
But Han stubbornly shook his head. I swallowed a growl, knowing that this argument, at least, I refused to back down from.
“But there’s something wrong,” he argued. I wondered if he meant the pirates, or that something more I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “And you’re a Jedi, so you’re going to help. I want to help too.”
The earnest simplicity of his words twisted at something deep inside of me, but I didn’t have time for those emotions. Not then. I stamped them down as far as they would go, there to hopefully stay.
“Kid, I can’t afford any distractions right now,” I said. “You won’t be safe.”
“I’m not a kid,” Han scowled to protest. “I can help.”
And didn’t that sound familiar? But I’d come a long way since Christophsis, and as a Jedi – even a Jedi Padawan, service was expected of me. My life was willingly assumed as forfeit if it meant honoring the needs of the greater good. For Han, however . . .
“I know how you feel,” I acknowledged, my voice softening. “But I don’t know what I’m getting into here, and I like you. Worrying about you is something I can’t afford right now.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Han insisted, a dimpling smile cutting into his cheeks. That smile was going to mean trouble in the future, I didn’t need a premonition to know. “Besides, who’s around to worry about you -”
- for that, however, I did wince. No amount of adrenaline could keep me from doing so. “Han!” I finally snapped. “Go and find Dewlanna now – I’m not arguing with you about this. Got it?”
That, at least, seemed to do the trick: he backed off. And while I didn’t trust him to be completely obedient – even then my eyes narrowed to watch him disappear down a side-corridor before I quickly outpaced him – there wasn’t anything else I could do to assure his safety just then. I could only press on with what I knew I needed to do.
To that end, I reached the cargo bays only a moment later – where Srink, sure enough, was buzzing around the stacks of crates with a nervous sort of energy. The Cteibuciiir was as secure as could be, but that wouldn’t matter against a determined bunch of pirates. Srink knew that as well as I did.
“But we are so close, so close,” he rasped, watching me as I dropped lightly from the catwalk to land between the crates. I wasn’t sure what I was searching for, only that I would know it when I found it. “Why would the Scorekeeper be so unkind as to sunder our path right at the end?”
“No path is being sundered just yet,” I countered. This war had taken so much from too many, and I refused to let the Cteibuciiir become one casualty more. “Not by a long-shot.”
But no matter my determination it was still a tricky business, looking for something out of place amongst the cargo. The Force, as ever, was lulled and distracted by the presence of the Cteibuciiir (obviously that had nothing to do with my connection, I hoped beyond hope), and my own natural senses were muffled by the resonance of the instrument, even resting in pieces. My montrals thrummed with vibrations from every direction, unable to differentiate between one crate and the next. It was, I thought with a gnashing of my teeth, frustrating to the utmost degree.
“What are you looking for?” Srink asked, following me down into the bay. “Maybe I can be of assistance?”
“I’m looking for something may be hiding with your shipment,” I muttered, reaching out a hand to touch one crate, and then another. “I don’t think you’re the only client Shrike is doing business with.”
For that, Srink’s sharp teeth flashed in a jagged snarl. “Impossible – these crates are sealed. No one has tampered with them since - ”
“ - do you know that for sure?” as gently as I could, I countered before he could even finish his sentence. I rapped my knuckles against one of the crates as I knelt, trying to sense the vibrations as they echoed back to me. My montrals were still a growth-spurt or two away from full spatial awareness, and my lack of development frustrated me all over again. I really could have used every possible advantage with the Force being so unreliable. “Have you looked inside any of the crates?” I asked next.
Srink made a sniffing sound, wringing his lacquered claws together in distress. “No,” he answered. “We used scanners to confirm what’s inside, and it was as it should have been: just the pieces of the Cteibuciiir.”
That was interesting. Whatever else was in the crates was something small, then. Maybe it was something that could hide within the resonance of the instrument? Something, like -
- I frowned as a ghosting suspicion hit me. Something at the back of my mind was teasing, just beyond my ability to fully comprehend. I could sense the Force as it swirled, and I tried so hard to reach out and understand what it had to say. The answer was there, right there in front of me; I was close.
Without another word I dropped down to sit between the stacks of crates. It was difficult to sink into a delicate meditative session in the middle of a pirate raid, but I had to know. If the Force could give me the barest of clues, that would help. It couldn’t have retreated from me further than this.
“Please,” I muttered under my breath, “point me in the right direction. I just need a nudge.”
Again, I became aware of that endless sea around me, connecting my own essence to the dense webbing of stars surrounding us to the flickering of lives onboard to the ancient humming of the Cteibuciiir. Even if I was finding it difficult to draw on the Force, or even accurately interpret its premonitions, I could still trace those lines with my immaterial eyes, awed, as always, for just how vast the universe was and how the Force connected everything and everyone within its reach. There, tiny and inconsequential, I looked, and saw -
- or, rather, I heard what I thought was singing. I felt like I was hearing a choir from deep underwater; a muffled chattering of a hundred small voices. Only, I couldn’t quite understand, they were not voices at all. Recognition thrummed from deep inside of me as I concentrated, and my eyes snapped open wide. I’d heard this before; I suspected that I knew what I was sensing.
Or, I admitted to myself with a scowl, he would.
“Srink,” I turned to him with a wince, hating what I was about to say but knowing what needed to be done regardless, “is it possible to open one of these crates?”
Srink, predictably, looked at me in horror. “Impossible,” he shook his head, the quills of his crest fanning in distress. “Each crate has specific settings that control temperature and humidity to preserve the integrity of the instrument inside. Opening them up to these conditions, with these . . . these ruffians coming is - ”
“ - what’s in there could be . . . explosive,” I interrupted bluntly. “If it's what I think it is, at least.” Even then, the aura of singing voices grew louder, now that I knew what I was looking for. I was amazed that I had ever missed it in the first place. “Opening the crates may damage what’s inside, but it’d be a controlled risk, and something we can ultimately fix. We can’t fix something that’s blown to atoms.”
My point hit its mark. Srink looked like he’d rather swallow his own tongue, but he looked at me with determination in his eyes. “Whatever needs to be done, then,” he gave, “we will do.”
“Thank-you,” I reached over and put a hand on Srink’s shoulder, squeezing briefly and hoping to share a bit of fortitude. “I know how much this means to you and your people. I promise you: I will do everything in my power to make sure that the Cteibuciiir makes it home. She hasn’t sang for the last time – not by a longshot.”
A heartbeat passed. “I believe you, Lady Tano,” Srink gravely intoned. “You have my blessing.”
“Good,” I gave what an encouraging smile I could. “Let’s get to work, then.”
But as I turned back to the crates, I felt myself smack into something that felt like an invisible wall. The tell-tall static thrum of the Dark side stank like ozone building in the atmosphere before lightning struck. I could feel tar in my veins and taste metal on my tongue. The Dark was all poison and ease and temptation, and it was edged with danger then. Danger, and intention.
I spun back around just in time to see Ventress land atop one of the crates. Like me, she no longer had sabers of her own thanks to Barriss, but she had a blaster leveled in as clear a threat as any. My hand dropped to the vibroblade at my side, but she made a clucking noise of disapproval. If my speed was pitted against hers, the winner would be debatable. Unfortunately, I grudgingly acknowledged.
“Now, now, girl – you know as well as I do that there are . . . unstable elements onboard,” Ventress gave a sly smile. “Now, back away from the pipes and do exactly as I say.”
So many twists and turns, and an awesome evil cliffie! I am PERCHED ON THE EDGE OF MY SEAT!
Two Duros in on the scheme, and Ventress. I always thought she was up to something but I always thought it was just her own end-goal. I never thought she was working for the other side.
That lovely organ isn't out of the woods yet. I think Ahsoka is on the brink of regaining her nuanced use of the Force again, just in the nick! Han is a darling with those fatal dimples! Trouble to come indeed.
The way Ahsoka described the additional cargo she sensed - small, singing in the Force - I suspect, possibly......Khyber crystals?
I feel so terrible for the evil cliffie, but I am so happy that that is every bit as action-packed as intended. There were just so many twists and turns to add into a few thousand words! It looked a lot easier in my outline than it was in actuality.
Yeah, there's no honor amongst thieves, is there? And Ventress has, as always, quite the agenda of her own to see to.
Ack, so many great insights, and so much I can't say! So I will just end this reply by saying that I loved your comments, and thank you so much for reading, as always!
You are a most perceptive reader, as always. Your answer can be found in the next update . . .
I thank-you all so much for reading, as always! More will be up in just a moment.
Okay, so, just to make sure I fully understood my predicament: I had pirates to think about – check.
And, not just the distant threat of pirates, but pirates who'd already boarded the ship and were now making their way towards the cargo – double and triple check.
Then, there was a load of dangerously sensitive, uniquely explosive material aboard that didn’t at all appreciate rough handling, whether it be from pirates or anyone trying to help alike – oh, you betcha.
Now, as the zherry on top, I had one deadly serious ex-Sith assassin who was staring at me with steel in her eyes and the pall of the Dark pressing in behind her, ready to aid her command. Humorlessly, she gestured with her blaster again, and I put my hands up, scowling fiercely all the while.
“You,” I couldn’t help but scoff, regardless of her threat, “aren’t working with the pirates, are you?”
“Me, work with pirates? Even I have standards,” Ventress sneered. “No, my aims are not so pedestrian as petty robbery.”
Pointedly, she waved her weapon when I didn’t immediately move as instructed. I knew that Ventress was fully capable of putting a plasma bolt through a random crate – or worse, through Srink – if she thought it’d motivate my cooperation, and so I grudgingly complied. Thankfully, although Srink was clearly distressed as he glanced between us with wide eyes, he too raised his hands as biden. Mentally, I balked against factoring in any sort of heroics on his part, and I hoped that his compliance would last; I was already juggling too many variables at once as it was.
“So, Ventress,” I said from between grit teeth, “you know exactly what’s being smuggled here, don’t you?”
“Oh, I have an idea. Don’t you worry your horned little head about it,” Ventress all but purred as she herded us along. I turned when she motioned, still keeping my hands up and following the very persuasive pressure of the blaster jabbing into my back to keep me moving forward. It didn’t take a genius to figure out her aim: the cargo bays were connected to the hangars, and the escape pods by extension. That would certainly be a quick and easy way to get rid of me. But getting shot down by pirates thereafter – or worse, floating through the vast emptiness of space until I suffocated or starved to death was not how I planned on ending my days. I set my jaw for the thought, my mind racing. Think, Tano.
Okay then, if I couldn’t solve this like Master Anakin, there were always Master Kenobi’s methods to consider . . .
So, here went nothing.
“You know who the Shrikes’ buyer is,” I blurted, struggling to put the pieces together. I thought, then, of the credits I’d seen changing hands the morning we left Coruscant – it had to be a credit chip that Larrad Shrike received from that senatorial page. Yet, who in the Senate would authorize a shipment like this? Many worlds in the Republic were frustrated with the war, true; that was far from a secret. Entire planets were declaring their independence through neutrality or seceding to the CIS every day as the war drew on with no clear signs of ending. Though it should have been impossible that there was Separatist activity going on in the heart of the capitol, I wasn’t nearly as surprised as I should have been. But, was that it? As far as I could tell someone had authorized a shipment from Coruscant through illegal means with the hopes of it ending up – somehow, through another broker on Corellia, maybe? – in Separatist hands. A sour taste filled my mouth, imagining what the likes of Count Dooku could do with the contents of those crates -
- wait, Count Dooku?
“You,” I found myself stating with cool certainly, “are doing this to get back at the Count, aren’t you?”
I could feel as Ventress tensed; even the air around us took on a warning chill. When I darted a glance over my shoulder, her expression was low and smoldering. It was not, I thought, a look wholly inspired by me.
“You know, you don’t have to do this if that’s your aim. I can help you – I’d be glad to help you, even. Believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to make sure that Dooku doesn’t get his hands on this shipment.” Even then, my stomach twisted for the thought. Just what, my mind raced to wonder, was he planning? There were all sorts of theories about using this material as a source of energy, and usually not for altruistic means. The Sith had certainly proved that time and time again over the course of history. If it was experimental superweapons the Separatists were dealing with, again –
- then it seemed that I’d finally figured out exactly why I’d ended up with the Shrikes’ crew in the first place. It had to have been the will of the Force. As such, I couldn’t allow this to happen; I wouldn’t allow this to happen. Dooku, nor anyone else for that matter, would get their hands on this shipment while I was here to stop them. It was that simple.
“Nice try,” Ventress finally sneered – but, I thought with a renewed surge of confidence, she’d hesitated a second too long. I still had a chance. “You’ve misread my motives, though. There’s a fortune waiting in those crates next to the Saurin’s little charity project, don’t you know? I intend on selling that fortune to the highest bidder. A bit of revenge along the way is just . . . oh so sweetly satisfying.”
Alright then, I could well believe that. Another point against me then was that she knew I would never let that happen. I was right back where I’d started. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth as I struggled to find my words. This was not how I preferred to deal with things after the first shot was fired, and I felt out of my element in every way.
My fingers flexed as I weighed my chances of attacking anew. But, no matter how I worked the angles someone was going to end up hurt. I had no choice but to keep talking.
“It wasn’t too long ago that you were trying to help me, out of a sense of justice,” I pointed out. “Don’t you remember that?”
“Do not turn my actions on Coruscant into anything more than what they were. I was trying to help you so that you, in turn, would aid in clearing my record,” Ventress scoffed. The next jab of her blaster was pointed. “And just look how well that turned out.”
“No – I’m not buying it. What does a clean slate even mean to you if you’re unrepentant?” I retorted. “If you’re so comfortable with your course, why seek a pardon in the first place? The idea of starting over shouldn’t have been able to move you to do anything you didn't want to do.”
Finally, my words struck a chord. She paused, and I held my breath, hoping beyond hope that I had reached her. I truly didn’t want to fight; and, if I was looking at this from a solely pragmatic point of view, I didn’t have the time to fight her with the boarding party on the ship, even. We had to figure this out, one way or another, now.
“You are looking for things that do not exist, girl,” Ventress said – but softly so. “It is futility.”
No, I didn’t think so; not yet. I shook my head, even as I grasped for something, anything, that would end this without violence or worse. I still didn’t much care for the idea of being stuck in an escape pod careening through space, and that was one of my better options just then.
“If someone would have asked before my trial, that’s exactly what I would’ve agreed,” I bluntly seconded her words. “But your actions have said something else entirely. I think you want to help me; you want to do the right thing, you just can’t admit it to yourself.”
“What I want is to sell the Shrikes’ blasted contraband to the highest bidder and then retire somewhere in peace – away from all of this,” Ventress growled. “You’re simply in the way of that happening. Call it bad luck on your end, dearie.”
“You know what will happen if you do that. Even if not sold to the Separatists, these items shouldn’t belong to anyone. More than a gross sacrilege, it’s dangerous. And who’s to say that they won’t eventually end up in Dooku’s hands anyway? You know, even better than I do, any number of pet projects he has that would benefit from a concentrated power source of this magnitude. Do you really want to let that happen? You’re better than that, Asajj.”
I could sense her hesitation when she didn’t immediately snap a rejoinder in reply. Instead, there was only silence but for the sounds of the nearing firefight. Daring to hope, I held my breath.
“Credits will always be there,” I gave one last effort, “but this is as good an opportunity as any to foil Count Dooku’s plans. The question is, will you take it?”
A long, tense moment passed; it seemed like an eternity between one second and the next as my heartbeat thundered in my montrals. I readied myself for either outcome: Ventress was going to agree to help me, or I was going to have to take matters in my own hands and hope for the best. Either way -
- but, just when I’d resigned myself to reach for my weapon, the pressure of the blaster’s muzzle fell from my back. Deeply, Ventress sighed.
“You’ve spent far too much time with Kenobi,” she grumbled – a grudging acquiescence, but it was one I would take. Gladly. "He's ruined you."
I turned, not even bothering to fight the smile that split my face. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” I only just held back a triumphant trill. That was one threat knocked off my list, at least, and I was happy for my small victory.
“So, now that’s settled,” Ventress’ narrowed eyes promised that she still hadn’t wholly dismissed the idea of jettisoning me just yet. I’d still have to tread carefully from here on out. “I assume you have a plan?”
“I have an idea,” I clarified as we turned back towards the cargo at a run, “one that may vaguely become a plan if you give me a second.” It was the best I could do on such short notice.
“Ah, and there’s Skywalker’s influence shining through,” Ventress growled, rolling her eyes as if she couldn’t quite believe the course her life had taken. That was okay, though – honestly, I couldn’t either. “It’s amazing that you’ve survived for as long as you have.”
“And yet you haven’t been able to beat us yet,” I pointed out cheekily. As always, ducking away from a near-death experience was a great boost for my mood. If I was being completely honest, I’d missed the adrenaline I could feel searing through my veins just then; it’d been too long. A part of my spirit was thriving for the interlude, no matter how dangerous the circumstances were.
“Careful, girl,” Ventress leveled me with a dark look, “or I may just disregard the escape pod entirely and find a convenient air lock.”
Got it; message received loud and clear. Only a fool would ignore a threat from Asajj Ventress, I knew better than to dismiss her words. And, really, it was time to return to the more pressing matter at hand: namely, the rather explosive tag-alongs to Srink’s shipment and the pirates who were all too keen to get their hands on the impressive payday they promised. The deck shuddered underneath our feet, even as the thought crossed my mind. That was definitely some sort of hand grenade, I had experience enough to know, detonating further off in the ship as Isshaddik’s team fought against the Duros. Around us, klaxons continued to wail and emergency red lighting flashed. We were going to have to be quick about this.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where the majority of them are located, would you?” I asked Ventress as we reentered the cargo hold. I tapped a short message into my wrist-comm, and hoped that she’d be able to make it in time. If not, I was going to have to use my back-up plan – and I only had so many of those left up my sleeve.
“From my understanding, they should all be in the largest crate,” Ventress gestured. That, I was relieved to hear, narrowed it down at least.
“What? Inside the console?!” Srink, silent until then and slightly out of breath as he struggled to keep up, gasped in righteous indignation. “The Scorekeeper be kind, but they wouldn’t.”
“They have,” I turned to say, as gently as possible. Whoever arranged this had to have been careful to set the contraband into place without disturbing either component of the dual shipments. But we didn’t have the time to be equally as careful in extracting what we needed – not with pirates knocking at the door. I had no idea of the numbers we were up against, and there was no guarantee that Isshaddik would be able to hold them off indefinitely. We needed to be prepared for the worst.
“I’ve resigned myself to opening the crates,” for that, Srink’s teeth flashed in a jagged expression of displeasure, “but to open up the Cteibuciiir herself, I don’t know if I can - ”
“ - remember, whatever happens to her today we can fix,” I put my hand on Srink’s shoulder again. “I promise you that we’ll get her through this. But, Srink, you have to understand - ”
“ - oh, this is not the time for coddling,” Ventress sneered in disgust. “Pull yourself together, Saurin,” scorn dripped from her voice as she marched up to the largest crate – the one that was so massive that it thankfully had nothing else stacked atop or around it, and tapped the commands to open the pressure seals without another moment wasted.
Srink sucked in a breath, horrified, and I too steeled myself. Grimly, I acknowledged, there was nothing else to be done – especially when a wave of power assaulted my senses. My skin prickled as reverberations danced up and down my montrals, not wholly from the ancient resonance of the Cteibuciiir, but, rather from . . .
A single leap took me to the lip of the crate, where I perched to peer down into what had been revealed. A burst of warm, oxygen rich air hit me – just like the atmosphere on Kashyyyk – before dissipating into the cool, dry expanse of the cargo hold. Within I saw the massive base of the instrument – devoid of its keyboards, but transported in one piece for how solidly the Cteibuciiir was constructed. My eyes widened for the exquisite details of the carvings etched into the richly stained wood, but I didn’t have any time to stare just then. Instead, I could only focus on the angry chorus I could hear raking up and down my montrals from further in. I had to ignore the somewhat childish urge to reach up and muffle my horns, glad for the first time in a long time that I didn’t have an adult Togruta’s full sensitivity just yet. Even Ventress made a look of distaste for the sound, and her hearing was nowhere near as acute as mine.
The Force, then, was screaming with hundreds of dissonant voices. In reply, every cell in my body recoiled from the onslaught.
“Yeah,” I forced the words out, “you better believe those are kyber crystals – and a lot of them.”
“There should be two-hundred and seventy-five,” Ventress provided helpfully, “all secured in the interior of the instrument for safe-keeping.”
I sucked in a breath for that. Just one crystal was enough to perpetually fuel the awesome power of a lightsaber for untold millennia. On the black market, a single imperfect gem could go for a million credits at least, and that was before the bidding wars that tended to break out between collectors. For a shipment of this magnitude . . .
I let out a low whistle, inspite of myself. The stakes were now just that much higher.
“Well, we’ll have to make sure we get them all,” I swallowed, feeling momentarily lightheaded for just how massive our task had just turned. Just one imploding crystal could easily take down the Luck, and these gems were notoriously unstable when under pressure. That was one of the reasons why – besides our believing in the spiritual aspects of the Gathering – the Jedi did not harvest them prior to an initiate seeking to build their own lightsaber. Too much could go wrong, even for those experienced in their handling.
“It’s just,” I admitted, wracking my brain for ideas, “I’m kinda stumped as to how.” There was no obvious way into the console itself – not that I could see, and while the interior of the instrument was hollow, it was dense with the mechanisms that ran the entirety of the Cteibuciiir. This would be no easy feat without damaging either cargo.
“There should be an access panel,” Srink walked around the crate from the outside, guiding me to the opposite wall. I moved to where he indicated, looking down as he said, “It’s hidden to look a part of the vines, but can be removed.”
It took me a second to see the cleverly hidden grooves, and another second to disable the jets of air pockets that settled the instrument safely in the crate. Due to the uneven shape of the base there was just enough room for someone small to slide down and duck into the panel . . . only, I realized after a moment, that someone was no longer me. I could stand in the abscess, sure, but I couldn’t bend down as necessary to duck into the opening – the growing shape of my crest definitely wouldn’t let me, even if I could by some chance get the my torso to fit. That was . . . a frustrating revelation, I made a face to realize. It seemed like that part of my youth was officially over.
Still looking over the top of the crate, Ventress made a face, understanding the schematics without me having to say a word aloud. “Alright, you’ve had your turn,” she made a snap decision. “We’ll have to cut our way in - ”
“ - no!” Srink protested, just as I said, “Are you crazy?” in a highly pitched voice. “Do you really want to go sawing through a bunch of angry kyber crystals - ”
“ - do you have a better idea?” Ventress leveled me with a contemptuous look to interrupt. “Because I’d love to hear it.”
. . . well, no. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t come up with something, if I only had a moment to -
“ - you don’t have time to think this through,” as if reading my mind, Ventress held out a hand. “Give me your vibroblade. We need to be quick about this.”
Srink squawked in clear outrage, and I winced for the idea. Even just one crystal overloading would kill us all as surely as any other threat breathing down our necks. No, I wouldn’t, instead –
“ - I betcha I can fit in there.”
My head snapped up, and I leapt from the bottom of the crate as a dark look crawled across my features. He hadn’t listened to me; I’d clearly been disobeyed.
But, I couldn’t explain how happy I was to see the kid just then, even as I scowled – understanding then, as I hadn’t before, the many times when Anakin and Master Obi-Wan had just been done with me during the war. Someday, I acknowledged with an inward grimace, I needed to apologize for everything I'd put them through.
. . . that was, if we managed to get out of this particular predicament first.
“Han,” even so, I didn’t hold back from snapping, “I thought that I told you to go find Dewlanna.”
“Well, you're lucky I didn’t,” he shrugged, as if it was as simple as that. “I knew that you’d need my help, so here I am.”
The Force, hazy and unhelpful as it'd been up until that point, swirled in a way that I could only describe as giddiness. It wanted this boy to help, I sighed in resignation to understand. What was more than that, I was out of ideas, out of time, and out of options. In the end, it was his life too on the line if we couldn’t figure something out here; if he could provide some much needed assistance, I was prepared to let him. We’d just have to be very smart about this, and very careful.
“We’ll talk more about which way smart, mature sentients run from danger later,” I glared. I still wasn’t over just how easily he’d put himself in harm’s way – not by a long-shot. “Until then, you’re right – we could use your help. But, Han . . . this is something very dangerous, and very delicate. If you don’t think you’re up for what we need you to do at any time, I need you to tell me, do you understand?”
“I understand,” solemnly, with an age far beyond his years, Han nodded. “Now, tell me what you need me to do.”
Alright then, I resigned myself; for better or worse, we were committed. Taking in a deep breath, I gave my reservations to the Force and steeled my resolve as I looked Han in the eye.
Really, what could go wrong?
Fantastic persuasiveness and just in the nick of time for Asajj to be talked out of doing something everyone would regret. And Han Crucial to saving the precious cargo and keeping the crystals out of the hands of the pirates.
Mega-catch-up time for me, it looks like, and not too soon either—what a tense and action-packed couple of entries this has been! Pirates round 2 + snitches on board the Luck + secret and highly volatile cargo + Cteibuciiir + Ventress being Ventress + little!Han wanting to be right there in the midst of it all = our shields canna absorb edge-of-seatness (to borrow an expression from @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha) of this magnitude, Captain! Through it all Ahsoka is the model of grace and decisiveness under pressure—given the volatility and quantity involved here (and it looks like @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 was right on in her guess of kyber crystals), and the close connection to the Force, the Luck is very... well, lucky to have Ahsoka as part of their crew right now; it’s really thanks to her combined Togruta and Jedi senses that they’re able to take action at all to secure both the cargo and the ship. I’m so glad that Srink understands the implications here, too; the Cteibuciiir might get a little dinged along the way, but it’s surely nothing a good technician wouldn’t be able to fix (and I know that fixing organs is as much and as authentic an art as playing them or composing for them). And I’m not surprised that Ventress knew about the kybers and had plans of her own concerning them. Good on her for seeing reason and letting up on Ahsoka at this critical moment—she, like Ahsoka, is in an especially good position to know what these crystals are capable of—and absolutely fantastic “frenemies” interaction between the two women.
And HAN! There he is, ready to help, because he knew they would need his help! Yep, he really does have his own unique kind of connection to the Force, doesn’t he? And I’d say that goes for his adult self too. I had just been thinking they could use someone nice and small and cagey for this work. And brave, too: it’s clear Han has true courage, even for his young years. I love that you gave him such a crucial role in this story and such a chance to shine! Really, absolutely amazing ensemble dynamics and cooperation all around here, from Ahsoka to Asajj to Srink to Han and even that cranky Mr. Onrad. As always, I’m on the edge of my seat to see what comes next—Forcespeed to Han on his “dig” through this very unique cave of crystals!
Alrighty! I have more ready to go in just a moment. Action scenes are a pain in the butt, that's all I have to say, so hopefully my posting schedule will get back on track now that this particular update is out of the way. I'm so excited to delve into the next part of the plot, at long last.
But first, some replies . . .
Aw, thank-you! Yep, everything is coming full circle here. As wonderful as it was to have these unexpected meetings, the Force really does work in its own way, and everything leading to this point was most definitely set in place for a purpose. I almost pity the pirates - they had no idea who they were messing with for a quick and easy payday.
As always, I can't thank you enough for reading, my friend! I always appreciate your support and encouragement.
Thank-you! I'm so glad to hear it read that way. Writing these scenes is a paragraph by paragraph battle of its own, it seems, and I never feel a hundred percent confident when I hit the post button. But Star Wars is Star Wars in the end, and action is hard to get around! Especially for a character like Ahsoka.
Sadly, a pirate raid is on the 'business as usual' scale for Ahsoka with the war so far. It's still so strange to call a sixteen year-old a veteran, but she really is. She's not hit the point where it's time to panic yet. The crew of the Luck is indeed very lucky - the Force knew what was needed and set the right pieces in place.
Srink is such a dear! With how old the Cteibuciiir is, it's undoubtedly going to need some TLC to get it back in top shape anyway - a few more dinges won't kill such a mighty lady as her. She's stronger than that. And, in the end, no matter how priceless, sentient life is always more important, and Srink is bravely putting on his game face.
And Ventress too! It was so much fun writing her! At this point in canon she's a bit of a lost soul, and only existing to be a thorn in Dooku's side. Interrupting a shipment like this for the Count would definitely qualify as doing so. And she likes Ahsoka, no matter how much she wishes she didn't. So yay! Frenemies.
Thank-you!! He really is taking his first step into a larger world here, and he doesn't even realize it. When I first plotted this story, I had a hazy idea of what was going to happen here, but Han really developed to take on a life of his own. It was so much fun including him! I really have no regrets, and I'm thrilled that he has read so well for you too.
Aw, thank-you so much. As always, I can't say how much I appreciate your words, and hope that you continue to enjoy this tale as it goes!
Little though I liked it, Han’s appearance really was a Force-send. He was small and flexible – perfect for crawling into and maneuvering through small spaces, and he had nerves of steel to go about his task. I wondered, as Srink gave instructions for where the kyber crystals were most likely to be secured and I chimed in with a brief overview of their handling, whether it was because he didn’t fully understand the dangers of our predicament, or because he had the ability to rise above his fears and act in spite of them. In the end, I suspected it was a fair bit of both.
The fit was a tight squeeze, even for Han, but he managed to make it through. He peeked his head back out to assure us, one last time, “Don’t worry, I can do this.”
“Just remember,” Srink still fretted, “do not touch anything that - ”
“ - I know, I know,” Han’s voice faded as he was swallowed within the base of the instrument. “Not a scratch.”
Srink’s crest of quills flared as he hissed out a breath. “Cheeky little hatchling,” he muttered, but there was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes, no matter the stress of the situation.
Ventress, however, was not nearly as moved by Han’s bluster. “That child is going to get us all killed,” she scowled. But, no matter how deep her misgivings were, she didn’t try to prevent Han from his course. He really was our best hope for walking away from this encounter unscathed; our odds weren’t nearly as comforting otherwise.
But, pragmatically, she moved on to ask, “Alright then, let’s say that the boy actually does succeed in moving the crystals,” the derision in her voice made her opinion on that likelihood perfectly clear, “what do we do then?”
Thankfully, as if arriving on cue, a new presence in the cargo hold brushed against my senses, preventing me from answering outright. I didn’t at all bother fighting the moment’s relief I felt, both for the interruption and Demír. Good; she’d gotten my message. We now had one less variable to worry about.
Ventress, however, had none of my prior knowledge and spun around to level her blaster at our visitor, anticipating a threat. Quickly, I reached out to stay her hand, even as Demír exclaimed, “Whoa! – we’re all on the same side here. There’s no need for that.”
“You can stand down,” I shoved Ventress’ arm, glaring for emphasis. “I called her; she’s here to help.”
Without pausing to see if she’d listen, I ignored Ventress entirely. Instead, I stepped right in front of her, better trusting that she’d curb her more violent instincts if she understood exactly what Demír carried with her and why her presence was necessary. Not wasting another moment, I asked, “Did you bring it?”
It was more difficult for Demír to turn her back on Ventress, with her having no idea what she’d just walked into. She leveled a dark look at the ex-Sith, little appreciating the weapon still pointed her way, but, finally, the clear and imminent danger of our situation made up her mind for her. “Yeah,” she answered, her voice shadowed with uncertainty. She carried two cases with her, one in each hand, and she held them both up to continue, “I’ve got your munitions cases, as requested. They’re the strongest onboard, with your message being wonderfully vague and all. So,” her question was clear to continue, “what’ve we got to move?”
I flashed her a rueful look. “Let’s just say that it’s something . . . excitable.”
“Excitable? Now you’re speaking my language,” in spite of the gravity of the situation, Demír flashed her teeth a smile. She handed the first case to me, and I knelt down to pop it open. Inside, I judged with a critical eye, were rows and rows of small chambers, with multiple layers that detached for a surplus – perfect for storing plasma cores and other such tetchy material while she was working on repairing weapons of all sorts. I nodded my head smartly, doing the math. It would be a tight fit, with all of the crystals, but it would do.
As I looked the case over, Ventress couldn’t help but comment, “Only a scant few days aboard, and you’ve already assembled quite the curious collection of riff-raf and scum. You truly are of Kenobi’s line.” No matter that her words were shaped as a statement, I heard the question coloring her voice. By my side, Demír bristled for the description, but Ventress was less than impressed by the Corellian’s ire.
“It’s called making friends,” I retorted, distracted. “You should try it sometime.”
I glanced up in time to see the way Ventress narrowed her eyes, but her mouth grudgingly curled upwards in reply. “This,” she finally gave, ignoring my last jab entirely, “just might work.” She gestured to the case instead, indicating her change in subject. I flashed her a look for the surprise in her voice. Of course this was going to work.
. . . well, hopefully.
“It really just depends on what we’re trying to transport,” Demír shrugged the broad line of her shoulders. Her expression turned with consideration as she glanced between us, and then over to Srink and the open Cteibuciiir crate. “Ah,” her voice flattened in understanding. “It seems like I’m asking the wrong questions. What else are the Shrikes transporting, and why has it managed to attract so much friendly attention?”
“They’re smuggling kyber crystals,” I answered bluntly, “and a lot of them.” With that said, I felt movement in the crystals’ song, and leapt back up and over to the base of the instrument. I was able to make my way down into the abscess just as Han poked his head out of the open panel.
“I think I’ve got the hang of it,” he declared. His eyes were bright, even if he was slightly out of breath. “I’ll be faster now.”
The kid had rashly – bravely – ignored orders, I saw. Instead of just one gem, he had an entire handful of crystals. Their song was all but bellowing in the Force, violently juxtaposing the way their jeweled casings delicately clicked as they knocked into each the other. I sucked in a breath for the discord in their cadence, ready to voice a sharp retort, but he shook his head to cut me off, “There’s no time! C’mon, you can yell at me later, but for now let’s go.” And with that he disappeared from view again, ignoring my reaction entirely.
And, well . . . he was right. I didn’t like it – I didn’t like the risk he was taking at all, but we were running out of options, and time. There was no choice but to do it Han’s way.
After that, we quickly adopted a sort of assembly line to speed the process along. Han handed the crystals to me, and I took them up to the top of the crate where Ventress brought them down to Demír, who secured them in the munitions case. We were mostly quiet as we worked, with each of us understanding just how little room we had for error. The time we did have was entirely due to the prowess of Isshaddik’s team, none of us fooled ourselves otherwise – that was the only reason that the pirates weren’t upon us yet. But I didn’t trust our fortunes to hold; the war had taught me better than that.
- as if summoned by my thoughts, the sound of blaster fire was now very, very close. My nose twitched for the tell-tale odor of discharging plasma cells and electrical fire from the stray bolts cutting through the ship’s plating and circuitry underneath. My montrals throbbed, caught between the clamor of the approaching firefight and the angry cacophony of the crystals. I sucked in a breath, trying to use what I could of my sporadic connection to the Force the center myself. I needed to find and keep my balance; I couldn’t let my control slip in the slightest.
“Well, that’s our cue,” Demír stood, drawing an impressive riffle from where it had been strapped to her back and disengaging the safety. She unholstered the smaller blaster from her hip and tossed it to Srink. “C’mon – it’s time to do our part.”
Srink looked down at the weapon in his hands as if its very existence was abhorrent to his being. He cut quite the sight, with his jewel-tone silk vest and dapper suit at odds with the weapon in his hands. But he flexed his claws and flashed his mouthful of teeth, regardless. “As is needed,” he gravely accepted his task, the 's's in his speech slurring from the genteel timbre he’d adopted until then, “I will fight.”
“Good,” Demír nodded her head in a sharp gesture. “You’re with me, then.” She turned and stared at me with a sense of finality in her expression. “We’ll buy you as much time as we can. Good luck, Tano.”
I didn’t need luck, not when I had the Force, I wanted to say – but there wasn’t any time for parting remarks as Demír and Srink ran off to cover the nearest entrance to the cargo hold. I just dearly hoped that those words were true, then; I couldn’t afford for them not to be. Standing just next to me, I could feel the weight of Ventress’ eyes as her gaze bored into me.
“You know what you have to do, then?” I asked, ignoring her stare. I still didn’t trust her not to make her own way with the crystals, but . . . well, I had no choice but to put my faith in her just then. I couldn’t pull off this trick alone.
“Of course I do,” she responded. “Yet, do you?”
I grit my teeth against the query that pulsed underneath her question. I didn’t need the likes of Asajj Ventress second guessing my connection to the Force, no matter how grudgingly we were working together. Instead of answering her, I jumped back up into the crate – for the last time, I hoped. I hated to pressure Han about such a delicate task, but we were out of time. This was it; now or never.
But, just as I opened my mouth to call inside and check on him, Han peeked out. He flashed me a wide grin, looking for all the world like a Loth-cat who’d just stolen the cream. “I got the rest of them!” he crowed before I could ask. “Now let’s go.”
I helped him slide out, and then picked him up and vaulted both of us out of the crate to land neatly on the grating below. Han looked a little disoriented for a moment, but his triumphant expression remained stuck to his face as he looked down at the now full case of crystals we had to show for our efforts. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this without you,” warmly, I thanked him. “Everyone aboard owes you their lives.”
“Don’t look to me for thanks, child; I’d sooner have let the pirates kill you all than offer my aid,” Ventress scowled to say, just as quickly. “I would run along now – and this time, stay hidden, if you want to live.”
“You do need to go find Dewlanna,” I hated to second Ventress, but there it was. “Keep your head down until this is done. I mean it when I say there’s nothing more you can do; you’ve done more than enough.”
Han looked at me as if still debating his chances for arguing; it was a look I was becoming more than familiar with. But he nodded his head, at least, and I trusted his acquiescence a little more this time around. “Alright,” he said. But, just as he turned to leave, he looked back over his shoulder to add, “And . . . may the Force be with you.” He flashed a very small, very young smile my way, and then he was gone.
His words hit me square in the chest, and I sucked in a breath. I couldn’t help the full feeling I suddenly felt as my hand fell to rest on the hilt of my weapon. “And you too, kid,” I muttered, even if he couldn’t hear me.
Beside me, Ventress loosed a long-suffering sigh. “That boy will make it to manhood when Hutts learn to dance. He is foolhardy, and stupidly reckless.”
“I don’t know,” I couldn’t quite agree with her, “you’ve said that about me before, and look at me now.”
“And I don’t think I’m wrong yet,” Ventress parried as she picked up the case. “Only time will tell.” But she paused after her words. “Just . . . be careful, Tano,” her voice turned uncharacteristically soft to say – grudgingly so, if the expression on her face was anything to go by. She looked like she had just swallowed something sour. “I expect to see you alive when all this is through.”
Her words – and the use of my name, even – drew me up short. I took a moment, and met her eyes. “Yeah . . . me too.”
Ventress tilted her head only once in acknowledgment, and then she ran off with the case in the opposite direction Han had gone. I, meanwhile, stood my ground by the open Cteibuciiir crate and unsheathed my vibroblade. In my opposite hand, I held the second of the two cases Demír had bought. Alright then, I was ready for this.
And not a moment too soon, it seemed.
Two Duros pirates burst into the cargo hold just then, blasters held at the ready and looking around with a single-minded determination for their target. Another three quickly appeared behind them. I didn’t yet know how many of the raiding party were left alive, or where they were in correlation to Isshaddik’s team, but these ones, at least, I could deal with.
All I had to do was give them a target to follow.
For that end, I whistled, keeping my register low enough so they could hear me. That got their attention fast, sure enough, and their weapons snapped to turn my way. I flashed them a teasing grin – the same one Obi-Wan used to get under his opponents’ skin – and held up the case in my hand. “Looking for this?” I asked in a sing-song voice.
It didn’t take long for the pirates to understand what I’d inferred. Good – as long as they left the Cteibuciiir alone, I could ask for little else.
And, with that, I turned on my heel and ran.
Time, I thought furiously as I wove through the back corridors of the ship – I needed to buy Ventress time, as best I could. I knew the Luck by then – and knew it well thanks to all of my careful recon upon arrival. But still, it ran contrary to every instinct within me to present myself as a target to pursue. Even without my connection to the Force, I was born from a proud line of hunters, and every ancient impulse in my blood was screaming that this was wrong. Being Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan on the front-lines meant that we didn’t retreat except in the most dire of circumstances; I was used to fighting; I had grown accustomed to holding my head up high on the battlefield and standing my ground. I didn’t want to show my back.
But, taking a stand and dealing with the pirates myself was not what everyone else aboard the Luck needed. And I needed to be careful, I reminded myself as I obeyed the Force and ducked as a blaster-bolt flew by overhead, still dangerously close to my back lek for comfort. I missed my lightsabers then – again. Vibroblades were useful, true, but I could probably deflect only one long range bolt before toasting the weapon completely, if I was lucky. I couldn’t deflect their fire, nor did I have the familiar presence of my Master and Rex by my side, watching my six and covering my blind spots. I had to think fast, remembering, all the while, that I was alone. Keeping my wits about me, I played a dangerous game of tooka and vrelt as I slowed down just enough to make sure they could keep up with me and yet stayed far enough ahead to avoid the range of their weapons.
Mentally, I focused on counting down in my head and there – now. That was all the time Ventress needed.
I finally slowed my stride as we came to a long corridor, one where the familiar geometrical design of interlocking triangle windows offering a view into space, right before the bridge. I could see the star dense expanse of the Core, this deep into the galaxy, while, just to the left of my view, I the Marauder ship was visible from where it was still docked to the Luck. Perfect.
I exaggerated my breathing as the Duros caught up to me, making it look as though I was tiring, and held the case in a defensive slant against the center mass of body. Even the most reckless pirate would think twice about shooting around that target.
“Stay back,” I called out in warning. “You know what I’ve got in here, don’t you?”
“Of course we do,” one of the pirates scoffed – a mean looking one who, true to every cliché in the holovid industry, even had a cybernetic eye glowing alongside his natural one. The rest of the raiding party seemed to defer to him, I noted. “Hand us the case, Tog, and you won’t be harmed.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” I didn’t have to act to let my voice drip with scorn. Not one bit.
“You can’t,” the Duros responded bluntly. “But, you’re out of options.”
Even as he spoke, I felt two more presences approach my back, flanking me. The Force flickered in warning, and I heeded the feeling. More pirates, I acknowledged the threat. But, beyond them . . .
Responding to the blasters trained on me from behind, I loosed a deep sigh, and put the case down on the ground. I felt as the first pirate behind me took my vibroblade – which I would get back. The second took the case and brought it to the Duros in charge. I bit my lip to hide my grin as he opened up the case to see, inside -
- it was almost as beautiful, watching the understanding dawn on his face for the empty case, while, just outside the viewport, a truly dazzling display of fire rocked the Luck from where the Marauder's docking claw broke away just in the nick of time. I forgot, I acknowledged then, just how beautiful kyber crystals could be in their death throes. I felt a wave of shock and mourning pulsate from the Force as the crystals detonated, one after another, illuminating the darkness of space in shades of bright greens and acidic yellows and startling purples before they gave way to the more familiar orange-red blooms of an exploding ship. Ventress, I thought with no small bit of satisfaction, had done it. She’d followed through, and the Luck – and all those aboard her, were safe.
“Got you,” was all that I allowed myself to say in triumph before using the Force to call my weapon back to me.
It took a moment for the Duros to recognize the threat I posed – and between their shock from the destruction of their ship and my ploy with the empty case, I made quick work of dispatching the pirates who remained. They couldn’t do much with their blasters in such close quarters – especially with their split forces and the risk of a crossfire – and my vibroblade was the clear, superior answer to what they attempted in hand to hand combat. Even with an unfamiliar weapon, it was relatively easy to subdue the group in the end. Sadly, after everything I had seen and endured in the war, they were . . . paltry in comparison to what I had been trained against.
The last pirate fell just in time for Isshaddik’s team to catch up to me. I let my eyes flicker about, pleased to see Demír and Srink standing with the group - the odds were slim, I had known, but I'd let myself hope, regardless. They both caught my gaze, wide grins cutting across their faces, and their joy was contagious as I smiled back. The Cteibuciiir was safe, I allowed my relief to pulse through me, and a dangerous shipment of kyber crystals had been kept from Separatist hands. Even away from the Jedi and the front-lines, I felt as if I had done my part to aid the war effort. This little corner of the galaxy was now that much safer, and I would sleep a little easier that night for the role I had played.
For now, there was just the clean-up to be seen to, and taking stock of our losses and the damages we had taken. Then, still before me, Corellia loomed, and where I would go next from there.
Superb handling of the pirates and the crystals. Han was definitely an essential part of the team and Ventress is right about him: he's foolhardy and reckless. Correllian to the DNA
Eager to see what doors open for Ahsoka next.
Some really amazing ensemble work here! All of our main cast get to play pivotal roles here in securing the crystals, defusing the threat of the pirates, and all around saving the ship and everyone on it. Han bravely crawls into the Cteibuciiir console and digs out all the crystals (of course not following the rules he was given, though he definitely was kind of right about time running short). The cool and collected Demír shows up with the protective cases, and she and Srink both take up their blasters against the pirates to allow Ahsoka, Ventress, and Han to continue their work—and to protect the Cteibuciiir. And even Ventress carries out her part of the plan with quite literally flying colors—because if I have it right, she seems to be the one who went to “liberate” all those crystals onto the pirates’ ship during Ahsoka’s diversionary run with the empty case! And that when she could just as easily have run off with them for her own purposes too. So that’s definite frenemy progress, I’d say. That kind of cooperation makes some of the most beautiful music in the Force that there is—as beautiful as the song of any Force-sensitive crystal out there. Even though Ahsoka no longer has Rex or Anakin by her side, she has gained a group of true friends—and sincere respect even from the one who isn’t exactly a friend.
And now it’s home free to Corellia, at long last! I will be very eager to see what awaits Ahsoka there. She deserves a break after all that, though if you have more cool action scenes up your sleeve for us, I won’t say no to those either!
Author's Notes: *walks into thread, blows off dust* Hello, dear readers! Sweet Force, but it's been a long time since there was an update here, I know! So, to begin, I first have to apologize for the unforeseen and now lengthy hiatus this story has taken. I can assure you that wasn't at all the plan, but rather the result of DRL being particularly heavy hitting these last few months. However, this isn't a story I want to abandon, so here I am now! I'm going to try to stick to an unofficial DDC schedule throughout the rest of the year to hopefully finish this as it deserves to be finished. Because I still have plans for this 'verse, but we need to get from point A to point B so that those stories can be told.
Now, that said, I have to thank those of you who are still interested in reading, and hope that you continue to enjoy this story as much as I am thrilled to revive it! You guys are the best.
The cleanup from the pirate raid went quickly after that. The Shrikes’ crew was unsettlingly efficient with the disposal of the fallen, both on the pirates’ side and their own. The ship’s engineers and mechanics were still toiling about long after the last shot was fired, taking stock of the damages and directing the droids in their repair work. Meanwhile, most of the crew made their way to the mess hall for an impromptu celebratory meal and round of drinks. (Or, more than a few rounds, that quickly seemed to escalate.) Captain Shrike, for his part, did little more than nod at me in gruff acknowledgment, and that was all the thanks I received for helping to liberate the crew of the Luck from a far different fate against the pirates. Shrike was still no doubt stewing over the credits he’d lost from the lost shipment of kyber crystals – and whatever undoubtedly unpleasant conversation he no doubt had coming with Count Dooku to explain what had happened in transit – but I couldn’t begrudge any sort of sympathy for him. He didn’t invite me to stay with the crew beyond Corellia, but that was fine by me. I wouldn’t have accepted the offer even if it was extended.
Some hours later, Srink still had yet to left the Cteibuciiir in favor of flitted about, inspecting for damages as best he could while hindered by the restraints of the crates. For my part, I was simply glad that there would be a tomorrow for the great instrument. I came to say my goodbyes to Srink, and gave him what contact information I could so that he could find me again in the future. When the war was done, I wanted to know when the Cteibuciiir was whole again and preforming. After all of our shared adventures together, I felt attached to her song; it was only fitting to hold onto the hope of someday hearing her sing in her full glory.
Srink inclined his head and solemnly promised that he would do so. Our parting was warm, and there was a bounce to my step as I left the cargo bay behind. I felt a bit of my equilibrium return for knowing that I’d helped someone just as much as I’d been helped in return since leaving the Order. Even if my connection to the Force was still hazy – and that I would need to focus on as soon as I was settled – I was content with both myself and my choices. At the end of that particular day, I felt grounded for knowing that I’d honored the principles of service that had so long defined my life; for now, just that little bit was enough.
I next sought out Demír to say goodbye. Surviving under fire together never failed to forge a unique bond, all its own, and her strong hand was heavy but fond as she squeezed my shoulder in farewell.
“A part of me hates that I can’t follow you,” she said. The quirk of her mouth was wry, but there was a moment's sadness that clouded her gaze as she paused. I thought of everything I’d too left behind me, both unwittingly and by choice, and felt my heart twist in sympathy for her plight.
“Maybe not yet, but you’ll make it home soon.” As soon as I gave them a voice, I felt as the words settled inside of me with a strong sense of knowing. Corellia was not yet closed to Demír, not irrevocably, of that I was nearly certain.
Demír just looked at me following my pronouncement, her brow furrowing as if she couldn’t quite decide what to make of my pronouncement. But a moment later she only gave a rueful huff, and shook her head. She didn’t answer my words outright, but instead surprised me by saying: “You know, if you’re looking for work planetside, my sister runs an inner-system transit operation. The business has been in the family for generations. She’s always looking for pilots, especially those who can double with mechanical skills and dock labor. Her contact info is on the chip; she’s expecting your call once you're settled.”
Huh . . . that was not something I was expecting, not in the slightest. But still, I felt my chest swell with relief for the opportunity she was offering me. I took the datachip from Demír, my eyes wide with gratitude. That would . . . well, that would answer so many of my questions about what comes next quite nicely. A job and a place to stay, beyond that, I couldn’t ask for anything else. Both, then, could serve as a springboard while I figured out just what path I wanted to take my life.
The Force truly did work in mysterious ways, didn’t it? Even though my connection was still flickering and unreliable, it’s presence was still undeniably there, linking me to the wider universe around me. I felt content in that moment, feeling, for the first time in a long time that maybe, just maybe, I’d made the right decision by leaving the Jedi Order behind.
I finished saying goodbye to Demír, and then, not wanting to deal with the ruckus in the mess hall, I went right to the source to find a bite to eat for supper. Dewlanna wasn’t there the galley, but Han was, dutifully cutting up what looked like oli-onions and fragrant white greelik. The boy was good with a knife – clearly, this was a familiar routine for him – and he hummed as he went about his work. The smell in the air from the pots of stew and freshly baked bread was delicious, and my stomach rumbled.
Han’s smile was crooked but wide when he saw me. The Force seemed to spark and crackle around him as his eyes crinkled to light up with joy. He was still clearly cresting on the high of our misadventure against the pirates, and thrumming with leftover adrenaline. I felt a small smile twist in reply, remembering my own first experience with actual combat with Anakin over Christophsis. I had felt like nothing could touch me for days thereafter, so thrilled as I was by the success of our victory. “This is still a war, verd’ika – remember that or it’ll kick you in the shebs one day,” Rex had given a dry chuckle for my enthusiasm, and, sure enough, with every battle that followed . . . with every casualty report Rex and then Anakin had to sign . . . and especially with the days that we couldn’t save, when we lost as much as we gained, I never quite found the same joy as I knew in the earliest days of my apprenticeship again.
But Han deserved this moment. He’d successfully fought for and defended his home; his bravery had, without a doubt, helped saved the lives of every crewmember onboard the Luck.
“Well: I’m grounded for forever now,” Han made a shrugging motion to gesture from the apron he wore to his knife and cutting board. “Dewlanna howled right into my ear when I finally made my way back to her and the others. I’m going to be peeling mounders until my hands fall off – her words, not mine.” He scrunched his nose to make a face. “I hate mounders, by the way. They’re gross and starchy and taste like dirt.”
I couldn’t help but shake my head, even as I gave an amused trill for his words. Oh, Han – I hoped he never changed.
“If peeling mounders is the worst of it, I think you may have gotten off easy there, kid.” I completely understood why his guardian had a fit over Han’s actions that day, and didn’t all disapprove with Dewlanna’s decision. I'd felt much the same before it became apparent that we had no choice but to use the assistance only Han could provide. “It’s clear that she cares about you.”
Han ducked his head, just slightly, to hide his blush. “Yeah,” he muttered, “she does. She just wants me to stay safe – but, what she can't seem to understand is that I was keeping all of us safe, her too,” there, his voice turned stronger to insist. “Sometimes you need to be in danger to get out of danger – there was no way around that today.”
His words were a philosophy I had long since lived my life by, it was true. But, I still wanted to be careful with how much I encouraged Han’s reckless streak with whatever I would say next. Besides, I knew with a flash of certainty, it was never wise to get on the opposite side of a Wookiee – and Dewlanna had clearly made her opinion on Han’s acts of heroism known loud and clear.
“You did good today,” I settled for saying, as simply as I could. Not just for the crew of the Luck, I knew with a flash of certainty, but for every life that was inevitably spared from whatever machinations Dooku had in mind for the kyber crystals. I felt a twinge of apprehension, thinking of the superweapons the Separatists had designed to this point in the war. It was concerning, the idea of what further ends they hoped to seek with designing anything more monstrous than they already had.
“Thanks,” Han said, his knife pausing from its easy motions. “It felt good, doing something good, you know? Was it . . .” but he hesitated, biting his lip before looking up at me again. “Was that how it felt to be a Jedi? Fighting in the Clone Wars? With Anakin Skywalker himself? Being a hero?”
I don't know . . . was it?
His words drew me up short, and I thought about it then, really thought about it. For every battle we had won, and every battle we had lost . . . for the bonds I’d formed with my men, even the ones who'd fallen in the line of duty . . . for fighting side by side with Anakin and Rex and Kix and Fives and Echo and Jesse and Tup and Hardcase and Coric . . . for knowing that, through my service, I was making the Republic a safer place . . .
I knew then, with a jolt of certainty, that I’d felt more at ease with the GAR then I ever had within the Jedi Order. While I couldn’t go back to the one, I missed the other then more than I could properly express with words aloud. I’d found a meaning and a purpose with a 501st, and had reveled in each. I missed that sense of duty and belonging now.
“Yeah, it was,” I finally answered. It seemed like there wasn’t enough room for both my heart and my lungs in my chest then; my breath felt tight as I inhaled as deeply as I could, and then let it go.
“Are you going to go back to the Jedi?” Han tilted his head curiously to ask.
“No.” I didn’t have to think for my answer; my voice was soft with finality. “I can’t.”
Han clearly didn’t understand; he stared openly at me, his brow furrowing and his mouth opening and closing before he finally huffed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t understand,” he stated bluntly. “There’s nothing on Corellia, it’s just Corellia. I think you’re crazy to want to settle down there, when you could be a Jedi instead.” For a moment his voice turned wistful, and I remembered: I used to imagine the Jedi would come and find me, but Captain Shrike did instead. I had to fight to keep my face impassive.
“Call me crazy then,” my words were dry in response. “It’s just . . . complicated.”
And wasn’t that an understatement?
Han shrugged. “I’ve noticed that adults like to make a lot of simple things complicated, but Dewlanna says that it's none of my business and I shouldn’t pester you,” he had no qualms about saying outright. His honesty was refreshing, in its own way. “But, still . . . even if you’re not going back, I have something for you.”
Did he? I was admittedly curious, both by his phrasing and the idea that he had something he could share with me. Han didn’t have much to his name, and no easy way of procuring more. I didn’t want him to go through any trouble – or worse, be in any trouble – and I tilted my head, wondering what it could be before coming up stumped. That was, until he reached into his pocket and held out his hand to reveal -
– kyber crystals. Two of them, their cases milky and white over a bright, pulsing center. The gems hummed against my senses – which were admittedly still reeling from all of the discordant ruckus earlier in the day – pulsing like twin heartbeats in the palm of Han’s outstretched hand. I couldn’t help myself: my eyes turned wide, and I gaped at him.
“Han,” I was stuck between exasperation and amazement, “how did you - ”
“ - before you get mad,” he rushed to interrupt, “I didn’t steal them, I saved them. It didn’t feel right, to destroy them all. I know they’re special; everyone knows that kyber crystals are special. And . . . you’re still a Jedi,” for that, his voice was firm to say. “That’s why you helped us, right? A Jedi should have a lightsaber. And you . . . you always had two, I know that much from the ‘net. So . . . here. These are for you.”
In the end, what could I say to that? I closed my mouth and huffed out the same trilling sigh that Master Ti all too often used to use on me. “What are we going to do with you, Han?” I still couldn’t help but narrow my eyes at him, even as I reached out to accept his gift.
I remembered picking my own crystal through the Gathering on Ilum, but that was so long ago now. Even going back to select the second crystal for my shoto 'saber seemed like it had been ages ago. I could still remember the thrill of the hunt and the certainty of my selection. I had been so proud when I’d presented my completed lightsaber to the initiate Masters for approval. The first time my green blade blazed into existence, a jolt had gone through me. I’d felt a rightness settle deep in my spirit for the weapons I’d forged with my own hand. Those crystals had sang to me; I’d known from the start that they were destined to be mine. These two didn’t reach out to me as my original crystals had – instead, their song plucked against my senses as if they were curious about me, but still waiting to make up their mind. I wondered, then, if I could even forge a lightsaber with a crystal I hadn’t bonded with. Yet, for the possibility of once again having a lightsaber in my hand, as I felt I was meant to wield . . .
“Thank-you.” In the end, that was all I could say for the enormity of his gesture. I didn’t think I could quite express how I was feeling with words. I reached out and accepted the crystals, before I smiled at him. “You know you’re a good kid, right?”
Han flushed, but still managed to give an expression that was caught between an embarrassed scowl and a cocky smirk. “Just don’t tell anyone,” his tone somehow managed to sound like a wink. “I’ve got a reputation to protect.”
For that, I couldn’t help but snort. “Your secret is safe with me,” I responded gravely, and that was that.
I felt a pang as I settled down with my bowl of stew, and watched as Han went back to his chores. I wished that I could take him with me, or at the very least see that he was set on a better path than the one he was currently on with the Shrikes – but I had my own path to figure out before I could aid anyone else with their own. But, maybe someday, when I was in a better position to help Han as much as he had helped me . . .
The Force, I was nearly certain, was not done with Han. We’d meet again.
It was still early by the ship’s time when we came into orbit over Corellia’s day-side. I joined the portion of the crew that was taking the shuttle down to the planet's surface, my few belongings slung in the pack over my shoulders and my pockets now much heavier with the credit-chip I’d received for my efforts with the crew. At the very least, I had enough to get settled while I established myself with a line of work – hopefully, with the contact information Demír gave me for her sister. Maybe I’d find a room to rent, and start putting credits aside to save up for a ship. I had possibilities now, and a plan while I figured out what I wanted next from my life.
I stuck close to the viewport as we swept in over the planet. Though Corellia was a highly developed world – as befit an ancient seat of ship-builders and hyperspace pioneers back from the bygone days – I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the planet was still glittering blue oceans and rolling hills and majestic snow-capped mountains. The massive urban clusters looked like star bursts against the green and blue of the sphere from space, but there were clearly defined boundaries between the cities and the rural countryside. Most of the Corellia's ship-building was done in orbit around the planet now; apparently, the Corellians had once come close to ruining the natural beauty of their home due to over-industrialization, before drastic steps were taken to right the planet’s biosphere a few hundred years ago. Since then, they were careful to balance the urban with the natural, and their efforts had paid off.
Corellia had three continents, and on the southernmost coast of its primary continent, bordering the eastern sea, was the planetary capital of Coronet. On our descent, the first thing that stuck me was the tall, elegant spires of the city. At first, I was reminded of Coruscant, but the architecture of Corellia swayed, was the best way I could describe the design of the buildings – like the ancient sails that the Corellians mariners had first used to explore their own seas before taking to the uncharted ways of space. The ocean waters were still glittering and blue, and wide open parks and green spaces intersected with the sprawl of the metropolis. As we flew into the massive expanse of the Coronet Spaceport – which was famous for being one of the largest in the galaxy – I could spy out Treasure Ship Row on the coastline, and the easily identifiable Corillian Capital building and old Berethron Palace that was now the seat of power for the Diktat. I was already itching to get out and explore, even as I thought: Anakin would've loved it here. My Master was never one for reading, but he liked the old Corellian classics that were all epic adventures and swashbuckling deeds, and he was actually a good story-teller while we killed time between campaigns. We’d passed more than a few sits listening to Anakin recount their legends, like Omer’s Wayfarer and the Seven Stories of Soleiman. Anakin appreciated the Corellians' love for shipbuilding, along with their values of duty and community when mixed with a spirit of exploration and adventure; I couldn’t help but echo his positive opinions with my own.
We landed, and without much fanfare the short-hires for the crew disembarked and went their separate ways. In the hustle and bustle of the spaceport, I almost missed Ventress peeling off from the group entirely. She’d kept to herself following our defeat of the pirates, and I hadn’t sought her out. Yet, now -
“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” was all I said in farewell. Surprisingly, I found that I meant my words. We’d had a checkered path together, Asajj and I, from fierce enemies to reluctant comrades, and it was still odd to consider that there was any sort of similarities between our paths. Yet, for those similarities, I truly wanted her to find balance and serenity; I hoped the same thing for myself.
Ventress, I thought, was taken aback by my words. She paused, as if she was uncertain of how to receive any kindly intended sentiment, and maybe especially so from me. She'd too long lived a life defined by the dark to expect anything else, I supposed.
Yet: “And you too, girl,” she muttered as she brushed past me. “You too.”
She did not stop to look back as she walked away, but that was okay. I watched her go until she disappeared into the crowded throng of people, and then I too turned on my heel, and made my way.
It was a new day here for me on Corellia, and I intended to make the most of what the planet had to offer.
How delightful to read this update, where Ahsoka takes a fond farewell from Srink and Demir. Demir giving her a solid and practical bit of help with her sister will give Ahsoka the respite she needs to consider her next steps.
Super reflections and introspections about where Ahsoka felt most "at home" emotionally, with the 501st in lieu of the Jedi. And then there was the topper, her talk with Han and his gift. You have his voice so incredibly perfect: curious, outspoken, and so happy to have "made a difference".