Galactic Era: Imperial Period Time: 5 ABY, 8 months after The Last Deep Breath (MB1) Keywords: Metellos, Gotal, Mon Calamari, VAAT/e Characters: OCs Beta Reader: @Findswoman Flight to Safety Mardo & Bess: 2 Nighttime on Metellos. A VAAT/e twists away from the laser fire of two smaller fighter craft giving chase. The pilot of the heavy gunship weaves through the spindles and spires and the elevated freeways of the world-city, while inside a young human male more accustomed to genteel life struggles with his wild rescue from Kanorge the Hutt. The baron's stomach strained at his diaphragm as his arms lifted at his sides. Baron Basmere, not familiar with free fall, grinned dumbly from his seat as his vomit floated away. Across from him, the Calamarian's mouth was moving as if in slow motion. Basmere shook his head to show that he did not comprehend, but the movement clashed with the disorientation of weightlessness and his stomach contracted again. The fish-headed alien's name was Mardo—Mardo Tel—and he was moving towards Basmere even in zero lift. One boot kicked off the floor, and Mardo jetted across the cargo space like some open seas native. He caught the cord drifting at the baron's left shoulder and traced it down to a port on the sidewall. Sound rolled through Basmere's helmet earphones. "—His Highness doing?" a flat voice asked over the commlink channel. It lacked intonation, yet it was unmistakably feminine. "I'm a baron," Basmere attempted. But that small something which had played at his boot heels climbed quickly towards his rump and reeled his lower spine towards his uncomfortable chair. Gravity bowed Basmere's shoulders and his head threatened to flop over backwards except that his gray flight helmet thumped against the metal hull behind him. Mardo settled on the deck plating. He crouched in front of the baron, taking care to avoid the new splack of sick nearby. "He is fine," he said into his silvery headset. "A little pale at the gills." "Scopt sal Eben!" Basmere did not immediately place the latest voice in his ear. A blue-skinned face had peered down at them from the forward viewports when he had been shoved into the hanger bay by Mardo Tel and Bess Heiger. His senses clicked and the shock of the last two hours peeled away. Basmere was in the company of a mercenary, a Dark Jedi†, and whatever blue-skinned reprobate manned the helm of this bucking airship. "He said to hold on to something," Mardo said as he snaked a webbed hand around the chair frame bolted to the sidewall next to Basmere. The airship tilted to a hard angle, and Basmere found himself looking down at the top of Mardo's hairless domed head. Disconcertingly, only one of Mardo's enormous eyes was fixed on the baron. The other flicked elsewhere in an uncomforting, beastly manner. The cockpit sat a little higher than the main hold. From Basmere's angle, the silhouette of Bess Heiger with her pair of blunt cranial horns was unmistakable in the copilot's chair. "Starboard gun, Mardo," she called out over the radio. Mardo let go of the chair and slid down the sloping floor towards the opposite wall. That is, until the ship abruptly canted the opposite direction. His hand found one of the tie-downs recessed in the floor, and his quick grip stopped his slide back to the baron. "Hutt'l forwenic tath doh issnmot. Kvizt!" the third voice—the unseen pilot, Basmere correctly guessed—said. The airship leveled and Mardo dashed to the starboard gunner's station. He clipped his chest harness into the dangling restraints to secure his stance behind the mounted gun. One large eye swiveled towards the sideview port above the gun as his hands fitted around the firing controls. "Where, Cami?" he asked the pilot. The pilot's bizarre language alluded Basmere, but Mardo pivoted the gun on its mount so that the barrel outside pointed down and aft. The big gun coughed out a short series of muffled bangs. "Good one, Mardo!" Bess crowed over the channel. "They didn't like that." "Eddah xas!" "Mardo, attack Bandit One," Bess ordered. Mardo flipped his headset monocle down over one eye. "Tally Bandit One. Coming in high and hot. Slight left rudder, Cami." "Comentrata." The rear of the aircraft swayed to clear Mardo a line on his target. "What language is that?" Basmere asked. No one paid him the slightest attention. Mardo's gun spoke again, its power carried through the airframe to Basmere's feet in wuffing thumps. This time, Mardo's gunfire was answered by a red streak that sizzled past the rectangular viewport in the wide door across from Basmere. Then, the rear of the airship took a hard, teeth-clicking jump. "Kanorge must've changed his blubbery mind," Bess said, and audibly winced as another crash sounded at the rear of the ship. "They're shooting at our engines." Basmere alerted on the name of his father's business associate. He had been held to ransom for six months by Kanorge Besadii Porl; kidnapped by the Hutt who refused to pay a new tax Basmere's father had levied on all of Kanorge's planet-side properties. "The slug must have spat out the remote detonator I tossed down his throat," Mardo replied. Basmere heard a stout whack! at the rear of the ship as the pilot popped out the speed brakes. The nose of the airship immediately plummeted as speed was traded for direction. The young baron clutched his seat as the world wheeled around in tight circles. There was a popping noise overhead as chaff and flares exited the ship. "Heater inbound!" Bess shouted. Mardo was pressed hard into the wall as the ship banked to the right, but he muscled his gun into position. Blam! Blam! "Lo pe, Mardo, sha! Mis doh im rellenaesc!" "Tell that goon up there to speak Basic!" Basmere yelled. "Shut it!" Bess yelled back, her monotonous Gotal voice taking the rare inflection. "Mardo?" The airship yanked upwards again as the pilot tried to throw the heat-seeking missile off of their tail. Mardo peered down his boresight as the ungainly ship veered and twisted like a bee-stung bantha. "Almost there," he said in a calm voice. He held off the trigger for a flipper full of seconds, and then… Ba-bam! Bam-bam! Bam-bam! BAM! "Scratch one Heater. Tally Bandit One chasing. Cami, come to up to 2-7-1." "Comentrata." The pilot glided the ship onto the new vector and Mardo opened up with the cannon again. This time he held down the firing control for a full four seconds. "Scratch Bandit One. He crashed into that tall blue tower back there." Mardo said, his voice calm." Mardo swiveled the big gun around seeking the other snub fighter. "No joy on Bandit Two." The airship surged forwards as the pilot pushed the throttle to full military power. Basmere slew in his chair despite his sweaty death grip on the seat straps. "Why doesn't this maniac just set us down before we all are killed? My father can negotiate a fairer price for my ransom. You all may—" The airship jumped upwards and then dropped even more rigidly. "Really!" "I'll educate you on the maniac Cami'rytha, survivor of the Telfrey Holocaust, if we make it to the landing zone." Bess's voice scolded over the mic. "Never been out on the Triellus TR have you?" "Never a more stang-speckled collection of—" Basmere gasped suddenly as the gunship rolled onto its right side and the large side door opposite him shot up into the ceiling. Seat restraints sliced into his shoulders, bound his thighs, and mashed his groin; his feet stretched out to the opening below. Basmere saw down into the jeweled maw of Metellos. Golden worms of air traffic glided through the dark chasms of the metropolis, alive—and beautiful. The rushing wind punched through the open door and slapped him in his face. Cami'rytha spat something fluid and elaborate over the comm. "He says: 'You are free to leave'." Mardo summarized for Basmere. The maneuver afforded a wider angle on the airspace behind them and Mardo's gun swiveled in a new direction. "Tally Bandit Two. Cherubs 6—" Mardo paused, his one eye fixed outside the open door, the other on the inside his monocle. "One-oh-eight. Out of range." Basmere, meanwhile, had dispensed more sickness through his mouth that the rushing wind graciously removed to the rear of the cabin. The ship righted and the door snapped shut with a chattering clang. Basmere's helmet cracked back against the wall strut. "Bloody mercs," he muttered, massaging his mashed area. "Missile inbound," Mardo said. "Making two contrails." "Boombots!" Bess responded after a second's pause. "They painted us and just got wiggly. I can't jam them." Boombots were proton torpedoes fitted with droid brains. Their price was exorbitant with just one of the suicidal drones costing as much as a dozen regular torpedoes. The Empire had banned semi-sentient weapons‡, but boombots remained in the favor of the Hutts and crime syndicates out in the Wilds for their clever lethality. The most effective way to defeat a boombot was with a widespread electromagnetic pulse. As such, to use them within the Empire—even on Metellos out here in the Negs—was presumptuous. Bess Heiger, dressed in an all-black modified battle uniform, exited the cockpit and swept over to a storage locker in two strides. She raked the baron with her yellow eyes as she brought out a long rifle. She rammed a magazine into the gun, cycled the bolt, and passed the gun over to Mardo's waiting hand. Basmere felt the skin at his neck collar prickle under that cold gaze. "On my mark, Cami. We're moving now," Bess said, dismissing whatever her feelings for Basmere. Mardo unbuckled his restraint harness and went to the side of the large door. Bess followed him and sneaked her hand through a canvas loop hanging from the ceiling. With her other hand, Bess touched Mardo's neck as he knelt on one knee. "Open her up, Cami." The Dark Jedi closed her eyes. When the door sang upwards into its recess this time, the view was more sensible except for the two lunatics standing in the opening without anything other than that tiny loop of fabric securing them to the airship. "Dark magic," Basmere said, hiding his words under a loud exhale. - Mardo squinted down the sight of his long sniper rifle on a target out in a dizzying night of flashing city lights and roaring wind that bounced and pulled their airship. Chaos. Cacophony. - "Calm yourself." Basmere heard Bess murmur to Mardo over the radio. "See the shot and the rocket meet. Bring them together in your mind," she said. An electrical white-blue flame leapt from the muzzle of the rifle. There was no sound as a pulse of electromagnetic destruction raced away. Seconds later, the sky lit with a brilliant blue flash as the EMP charge detonated. "Splash one ADAAM," Mardo breathed over the radio, using the military specification for the boombot. "Nenna jekjek tar, Mardo. Jekjek tar xas." "Thank you, Cami. Second ADAAM is evading," Mardo said. "Vjanditotsu?" "Still no joy on Bandit Two," Mardo answered. He gripped the doorframe and leaned out of the airship, his large head turning this way and that. A plume of white smoke thundered by mere feet from the door. "ADAAM Two!" Mardo shouted, yanking his head back inside. There was a crunching crash overhead, a punch of pressure, and a bright flare of orange. "Are we hit? Are we hit?" Basmere cried, thrashing about in his seat restraints with his flight helmet wobbling on his head. "No." Bess answered, now also leaning out of the door to see. "ADAAM Two exploded safely. Must've had a faulty proximity fuse. Those things do run a little hot in their circuits." Mardo pointed out to a spot below the airship. "Bandit Two is 7-0 low and climbing." He clicked the gun's safety and shouldered the rifle. "Shoot it!" Basmere yelled from his seat. "Shoot it before it shoots us!" "Can't. The rifle won't work on ray-shielded craft." Bess explained. "Scopt," Cami'rytha warned. The ship rolled in and dropped towards the crowded city. The mirrored glass of a skyscraper rushed past the open door like a speeding mag-lift. The world was a-tilt again, but Bess and Mardo remained rooted like park statues. The old ship hauled itself out of the dive, and its nose raised back to level. A loud screech and honking blast abruptly faded as Cami'rytha cranked them leftwards. Basmere felt the harsh maneuver try to drag his rump through his seat. He gagged on his tongue. "Unregistered VAAT, Kinrath 33. Squawk ident. Over." A tinny voice said over the radio. Bess's hand slipped out of the loop and she adjusted the microphone near the corner of her mouth. "Kinrath 33, verify with Huuson code." Baron Basmere's head jerked up. Huuson was the ancient, ancestral name of his family. "Roger. Kinrath One is zapping code now." "Mis doh tolima. Xas. Il benaesc. Radeeo maniraat comentrata," Cami'rytha said over the comm, apparently satisfied the code was correct. "Kinrath One contact on Isk-Isk-8 now." Bess said. There was a click in Basmere's earpiece as Cami'rytha switched the radio to a prearranged frequency§. The newcomer spoke again, his voice clearer on the secure channel. "Squawk 8821, continue turn left to 2-1-0. Climb to four thousand one hundred and maintain. Kinrath 33 is a two-ship element of V-Wings entering from the south. On the deck." Bess nodded at Mardo. He rose and buckled himself in again at the starboard gunner's station. Bess reentered up into the darkened cockpit as the payload door rolled shut. "Kinrath One, Lasersword acknowledges. We have Screaming Ewok onboard. We're blind on Kinrath flight and bandit is danger close. M3-A Scyk now 3-0-0 on the nose, closing. Defending." "Roger that, Lasersword. 8821 now Kinrath Three. Two, route to Three." Yet another voice joined the stream of conversation. "Two moving." "What's going on?" Basmere asked. "I don't understand any of this." "The reinforcements have arrived," Bess answered over the radio. The ship leaned sharply left, standing on edge before slamming level again, causing the baron's chin to strike his chest. The airship's forward gun made a BRR-RIP-P-P noise. Bess Heiger was on the comm again. "Three is attacking M3-A, marked as Bandit Two. Kinrath One clear to engage. Three bearing 2-1-0 to Besh Outbound." "Roger that, Three. One is engaging." "Two, with me?" Bess asked. "Roger that, Three." "Who are you all talking to?" the baron asked the comm. He fumbled with his mic. "Who is this? Who is out there?" "These are your father's men," Mardo's head turned slightly. "They will escort us to the landing zone and the final rendezvous point where you will be safe." "My father?" Basmere asked. "Yes. The message that asked us to free you from Kanorge came from your father." "Preposterous. Ransom is just the politics of trade, man." Basmere snorted at the Mon Calamari. "My father would not risk a war with Kanorge the Hutt because of the businesses he would lose. "Never," He sniffed. "It'd probably bankrupt him—his companies. Ever since the Imperial cred was devalued, our stockholders have watched for—" A concussive pressure wave clapped the ship and the howl of twin ion engines ran by overhead. Piercing laser shots sounded aft of the airship. "Scratch Bandit Two," Kinrath One said over the radio. "Three, proceed to FRV." "Copy that, One." Bess answered. "Your father just declared war on a Hutt," Mardo told Basmere. "He's fighting for his son." End Spoiler: Footnotes † Declared a Dark Jedi (some sources: fallen Jedi) by the Alliance to Restore the Republic in the absence of a Jedi Council. So named for actions taken while defending Imperials, who had planned to surrender, from attacks by a rebel cell. ‡ Intelligent weapons intended for complete destruction in the neutralization of a hostile target. This excludes automatons that serve as a weapons platform (e.g., drone ships, warbots, &c.). § It is understood that Cami'rytha, Bess, and Mardo operate the radio effectively to switch between internal and ship-to-ship conversations and that mission parameters were known to them and Kinrath 33.