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THE KAF OUT OF HYPERSPACE
By: Dragon

An apocryphal record surfaced recently, regarding the period of time the CRS Vigilant spent in the Zavian Abyss after leaving drydock. Said period is nothing but a mystery, rife with peculiar events, and stranger tales, allowing the mind to wander below the dreadful surface of what—at first glance—appear to be placid oceans of blissful infinity. From the moment this record came to light, a handful of pilots have reported difficulty sleeping, complaining of insidious nightmares plaguing their sleep. No one knew what insanity lurked within the bowels of the CRS Vigilant, and no one was truly prepared to face it.

DAY 1 — THE PARTY

Second Lieutenant Kell ‘Dragon’ Arcfire guided his A-Wing carefully into the launch bay of the CRS Vigilant after spending fifteen standard hours on a patrol and reconnaissance sortie in the Zavian Abyss. Orders may be orders, but calling that place a druk hole is a very generous compliment. Dragon muttered as he set the craft down gently. We’ve been running these sorties ‘round the clock. There’s nothing out there. Speaking of which, where’s the glowsticks guy anyway? Dragon flicked some switches, pressed a few buttons, and the A-Wing powered down. He opened the cockpit and jumped out of the craft. The launch bay was uncharacteristically empty, like a ghost town in the middle of a backwater planet—albeit made out of durasteel instead of dust and broken dreams.

“Second Lieutenant Arcfire,” said a female voice.

Startled, Dragon turned around quickly, hand instinctively darting to the hilt of his knife.

“Awfully jumpy today, aren’t you, sir?” Ashley Koura, one of the maintenance techs, saluted him. “More than usual, I mean.”

He returned the salute. “I blame the fifteen hours I spent in the Zavian Abyss.”

“Oof, yeah,” she cringed. “That’ll do it for sure.”

“Where’s everyone at?”

“My best guess is they’re either passed out, or brutally hungover.” Ashley wiped her hands with a rag. There was a wild party while you were out, a real banger as they say.”

Dragon arched a brow. “Given you’re not suffering from either of those conditions, I can only assume you didn’t attend.”

“Oh, I drew the short straw,” Ashley laughed. “Seems you did too.”

“You’re not wrong.” Dragon took off his helmet. “I’m ready for a shower and a nap, in no particular order. I’ll see you around, Ashley.”

She saluted. “Sir.”

***

If the launch bay was a ghost town, the halls of the CRS Vigilant were a cemetery. Either the party was as wild as Ashley said, or no one can hold their liquor around these parts. Given how most of the crew is either a high-functioning alcoholic, or a compulsive Kaf drinker, I doubt it’s the latter. As he made way through the ship, Dragon spotted strange black smudges and patches of coarse black dust on the ground. Must have been monumental. He chuckled. Even the cleaning droids are hungover.

Dragon reached his quarters without incident, and his door opened with a soft hydraulic hiss—as it always did. The place looked almost brand new. No problem. He then froze when the door closed and he found out there was a rather large and revealing poster of Darlene adhered to it. Where the kark did this come from? Dragon pulled out his claw-knife, but the blade didn’t even nick it. He sighed. What the kriff is going on? He got out of his flight suit and took a swig from his silver hip flask, emptying it in one go. The powerful brew stung as it went down, dulling his physical senses but lifting his spirits. Nothing like a taste of home. Time for a refill.

He walked to the far wall and carefully released the latches holding the air vent cover in place. He pulled out his flashlight and crawled into the poorly-lit duct, advancing until he got to a fork. He turned right and kept moving forward until he reached a small alcove deep in the bowels of the CRS Vigilant. With ease derived from hours of practice, Dragon used the pipes to climb down to the entrance of an unused maintenance tunnel. He input a code on a semi-hidden keypad and the door opened with a short hiss followed by a mechanical whine. Needs some oil, I’ll be sure to bring some next time.

Following a specific set of directions—right on first wall, right on second, left on third, right on fourth, left on fifth and sixth, and finally right on seventh—Dragon arrived at a mid-sized room that housed his large, makeshift alembic. He tried to refill his flask, but the apparatus was dry. Blast it, I forgot to start the drukking thing! Dragon flicked a few switches and turned a couple valves. There, it’ll be ready in a week, or two. He sighed. I blame the Zavian Abyss. Nothing good ever comes out of this karking place.

After making sure his little homebrew operation was securely locked, he headed back to his quarters. He dropped on his bed like a sack of rocks and quickly fell asleep.

DAY 2 — DRY LAW

Dragon woke up at the crack of noon, to the high-pitched beeps of his alarm clock. He went through his ‘morning’ routine on auto-pilot, and then checked his datapad. No sorties today? Huh. Strange, but I’m not going to complain. Time to hit the SSD! As soon as he stepped out of his quarters, however, his nostrils were brutally assailed by the stench of used Kaf beans. Two technicians he didn’t recognize turned to face him. Their eyes darted erratically, and their behavior could best be described as feral. One of them, the tall one, yelled a few choice expletives and charged towards Dragon like an enraged Mudhorn. Unfazed, Dragon got out of the way almost casually, and his attacker slammed hard against the metal wall. The tech’s limp body slid down to the floor, like a sticker without glue. The other tech, the short one, merely stared at the ceiling in no particular direction, not even acknowledging Dragon’s presence.

Why do both of these guys stink of used Kaf? What’s going on around these parts? He shook his head. Are they bathing in the stuff now too?

The eventful trek to the SSD led Dragon past the bustling Medbay. Medical personnel were frantically hauling in bleeding soldiers and personnel by the gurney-load. Some of them gave off that nasty aroma of used Kaf beans as well. He stopped for a moment, trying to make sense of the spectacle unfolding in front of him. I think there was a memo somewhere, and I missed it.

“Whenever there’s trouble, I know I’ll find you in the thick of it, Second Lieutenant.” Darlene frowned, staring intently at Dragon.

Dragon arched a brow. “Pot, meet kettle. Why are you even here?”

“That’s classified.”

“I see.” He crossed his arms. “Isn’t that code for ‘New Republic Intelligence sent me on a druk assignment’?”

“Shut up, Arcfire!”

“Dragon.”

“I SAID SHUT UP!” Darlene hissed.

“Whoa, did you miss your beauty sleep again? Tsk, shame on you.” Dragon shook his head. “Now, let me guess. I’m under arrest for reasons unknown. Do I have the right to remain silent, or . . . ?

“WHAT PART OF SHUT UP DIDN’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”

“In basic, please.”

“Cuff him!” Darlene growled at her subordinates, who were trying very hard not to laugh.

“What are the charges, Darling? Did I finally steal your heart?”

“WHAT? IN YOUR DREAMS!”

“Oooh, why are you blushing then?” Dragon grinned.

“YOU . . . INSUFFERABLE, PIECE OF . . . BANTHA-BRAINED SLUG SPAWN!” Darlene glared at her subordinates, her face red as a zherry. “WHAT IN THE NAME OF KRIFF ARE YOU FOUR IDIOTS LOOKING AT!?”

“Ah, n-nothing ma’am, apologies.” The troopers struggled to keep a serious face.

Poor bastards . . . Dragon thought. I’m sure working under Darlene qualifies for hazard pay.

Darlene massaged her temples. It’s too kriffing early for this druk. “To the brig, NOW! CHOP CHOP!”

***

CRS Vigilant
The Brig

“What do you mean you can’t lock him up?”

“Sorry ma’am, the brig is full,” said the Warden.

“What?” Darlene growled. “WHY?”

“Uh, well, the crew’s been irritable and rowdy due to certain logistics issues.” The Warden shot Darlene a concerned look. “There’s been a lot of fighting . . .”

“So what?” She interrupted. “This piece of druk here has been distilling liquor on a military vessel!”

The Warden clasped his hands, slightly annoyed at the interruption. “While illegal, distilling liquor is a non-violent crime. We have more pressing concerns at the moment. Besides, you’ve not provided any concrete proof to substantiate the accusation.”

“One of our trusted informants singled this man out as the mastermind behind all homebrewing operations in the CRS Vigilant.”

“That’s all well and good, Captain Orvan, but it merely amounts to the word of your informant against the word of Second Lieutenant Arcfire.” The Warden sighed in frustration. “I can’t just lock people up on what amounts to hearsay. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.”

“LISTEN TO ME, YOU . . .”

“Please, ma’am, I know NRI calls a lot of shots around these parts, but I’m just doing my job. The brig is currently reserved for personnel who’ve engaged in violent behavior.” The Warden grimaced. “With all due respect, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented state of emergency. It’s a jungle out there, and the natives have come out in force if you catch my drift.”

Darlene threw her arms up. “FINE! Have it your way.” She turned towards her troopers. “Report back to NRI headquarters. I’ll continue the investigation on my own.”

The troopers saluted and left.

“Well, Darling,” Dragon rubbed the spot where the cuffs had bit into his wrists. “Now that the power trip is out of the way, am I free to go?”

“Unfortunately, but you’re stuck with me. I’m not leaving you out of my sight. If you walk, I’ll be right behind you. If you breathe, I’ll be close enough to hear it. If you go to the lavatory . . .” Darlene cut the sentence short, well aware she’d made a mistake.

“You’re going to help me with THAT?” Dragon arched a brow.

“NO! YOU . . . GAH! SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!”

Dragon shrugged and started walking towards the SSD.

***

CRS Vigilant
The SSD

Simmons Schock Deck was deserted to the point you could figuratively see the tumbleweeds rolling. The only patrons were a few pilots from Skull Squadron, and even they seemed to be leaving. Dragon walked up to them, while Darlene sat at a discreet corner table.

“Afternoon, ladies and gents,” Dragon said.

“Dragon,” Skull Squadron Leader Alexander ‘Scythe’ Tane, and two others nodded in greeting.

“What’s the news, Scythe? It seems the Vigilant has gone to the Jawas.”

Scythe took a sip of water and chuckled. “We’re out of Kaf, Caf, and booze. It’s just the natural progression of things.”

“Say what? How?”

“Word on the launch deck is some over-enthusiastic joker deemed the aforementioned to be non-essential, and ordered multiple crates of vitamin-rich mineral water instead.”

“But, the Vigilant runs on Kaf, Caf, and booze,” Dragon groaned. “I thought Iggy was in charge of these things.”

“There’s little Iggy can do if someone from high up shoves their grubby mitts into things they don’t understand.” Mia ‘Crossbones’ Desik grumbled. “I’m sure they’ll pin the blame on us Skulls, too.”

“Can it, Crossbones” Scythe said in a sympathetic tone. “Tensions are high as it is. We don’t need more excuses for Dragon’s boys and girls to pick fights with us.”

“Sorry, chief.” Crossbones went back to her food. “Just saying what everyone else is thinking.”

Dragon grunted. “I suppose some people think we’re still working for the Emperor, hm?”

“Yeah, the Emperor,” Scythe punctuated the words sharply, like hot coals hitting water. “I’m glad that piece of bantha druk died in Endor. Wish I could’ve offed him myself.”

“I hear you.”

“Well, it’s high time we head out, Dragon.” Scythe stood up. “My gut tells me things are going to get much worse, and I’m sure trouble will come find us if we stay here.”

“Well, if anyone gets out of hand, give me a call, alright? I’ll be happy to help sort things out.”

“Ooh,” Crossbones whistled. “That won’t make you very popular around these parts.”

“How is that any different from now?”

Scythe and the Skulls laughed. “Good point. We’ll be seeing you, Dragon.”

Dragon saw the Skulls disappear through the threshold, and then turned around to find a raging Bulldog and an irate and erratic Frosty—who also stank of used Kaf beans.

That gut of yours never fails, eh Skull Leader? “Howdy boys, how’s it hanging?” Dragon said.

“Would you look at that, Bulldog? Dragon’s all chummy with them Skellies,” Frosty said icily.

“I saw that. Why were you chummin’ with them, buddy?”

Dragon folded his arms. “I was just getting up to speed on current events. It seems the Vigilant is out of essential supplies. Big drukking problem if you ask me.”

Bulldog got in Dragon’s face. “Oh, but you have some, right buddy?” He pulled out his cred stick. “Usual rate?”

Vardak’s blood, Bulldog! This is NOT the time! Dragon felt Darlene’s piercing gaze on the back of his head. “I . . . uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What?” Frosty threw his hands up in the air. “You start hanging out with Skellies and NRI Agents and suddenly we’re no longer good enough for you?” He turned to face Bulldog. “Man, these ex-Imps cannot be trusted. I’m sure he’d sell to the Skellies.”

Looks like the druk is served, and it’s steaming hot. “Choose your next words carefully, Frosty.”

“Oh, OH! You’re threatening me? Are you not afraid of breaking a nail, then?”

Dragon looked in Darlene’s direction out of the corner of his eye. You’re loving every second of this, right Darling? I can picture you licking your lips, tasting the sweet, sweet blood, and getting high on the intoxicating aroma of victory. He grinned. I’ll give you some blood alright.

With a primal roar that shook the SSD, Dragon bared his teeth and dropped into a low battle stance, like a predator ready to rip and tear its hapless prey.

Bulldog and Frosty looked at one another, glanced at Dragon and his now bleeding left arm, and then looked at each other. “We, ah, we were just leaving, uh, Second Lieutenant, Dragon, um . . . yeah.” Frosty saluted haphazardly. “Right, uh, good to see you, yes? Yes. Good. Later!”

Frosty and Bulldog slipped out of the SSD faster than a womp rat seeking cover from the scorching suns of Tatooine, while Darlene sauntered towards Dragon, enjoying every step.

“Usual rate, huh?” She grabbed his left forearm. “You’re under arrest for illegally brewing and selling liquor on a military vessel, and for threatening New Republic personnel with violence. I will . . .” Darlene yelped when she felt a sticky, warm substance on her hand. “B-blood!? Why are you bleeding!?”

“You tell me, Darling.”

Darlene glared.

“Blood on your hands, seems familiar, doesn’t it?” Dragon’s eyes turned to slits. “Perhaps I should remind Command of your history of violence, erratic behavior, abuse of power, and assault. You broke my jaw last time, remember?”

Darlene hissed. “I . . .” She quickly pulled out a handkerchief in an attempt to clean her hand as best she could. “Gah, you’re insufferable!”

“Should I press charges then?” Dragon said in as deadpan a way as possible.

Darlene’s blue eyes opened wide. “Y-you wouldn’t dare . . .”

Dragon leaned in and whispered. “No, but you should’ve seen your face.”

SLAP!

“Feel better, Darling?”

Darlene felt her face heat up as water filled her eyes. Her migraine was making a legendary comeback as well. “NO! I HATE YOU!”

“Shame, you’re cute when you’re angry,” Dragon teased.

“SHUT UP!”

“Suit yourself.” Dragon started to walk away.

“Wait, you can’t leave! You’re under arrest!”

“Just drop it, Republic Patrol. I’m going back to my quarters to sleep through this logistical nightmare. Feel free to tag along. I mean, you said you’d help me in the lavatory anyway.”

Darlene ground her teeth in frustration. “IS EVERYTHING A JOKE TO YOU?”

Dragon gave her his best druk-eating grin and left the SSD.

***

CRS Vigilant
Dragon’s Quarters

“Welcome to my humble abode,” Dragon said. “Make yourself at home.” Three, two, one . . .

“WHY IS THERE A RISQUE POSTER OF ME ON YOUR DOOR YOU DEGENERATE BASTARD!?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t put it there.”

SLAP!

“I’m your biggest fan, I guess?”

SLAP!

“You look good though.”

Darlene tried to tear the poster down, but it wouldn’t budge. The material itself seemed indestructible, as nothing she tried even creased it. “Hmph!” Defeated, she folded her arms petulantly and sat down on the couch without saying another word.

Dragon headed to the bathroom and brushed his teeth. “I’ve been meaning to ask. Why are you always so angry?”

“I’m not!”

“Sure . . .” Dragon rinsed his mouth and spat in the sink.

“I’M NOT!”

“Clearly.”

“STOP DOING THAT! GAH! YOU’RE, HANDS DOWN, THE MOST INSUFFERABLE MAN I’VE EVER MET!”

That moment, a light bulb turned on in Dragon’s mind. “Ooh, I get it now.”

“Whatever you might be thinking, stop.” Darlene frowned. “Just STOP, okay?”

Dragon shook his head. “Suit yourself. You can take the bed, and I . . .”

“I’m not sleeping in your bed!” Darlene hissed.

“Your loss,” Dragon shrugged. “It’s a good bed, for a military vessel that is.”

“I don’t . . .”

“Off to the couch with you, then.” Dragon sat on the bed. “I’m tired, annoyed, and I just wanted a drink after spending fifteen hours in the Zavian Abyss yesterday. The Vigilant’s gone to the Jawas, and nothing makes sense.” He pushed a button on the digital alarm clock. “Oh yeah, and for some Force forsaken reason, there’s people out there who think that bathing in Kaf is normal, perfectly acceptable behavior.”

Darlene raised a brow.

“They kriffing stink!”

“What are you talking about?” Darlene said, perplexed.

“Nothing, Darling. Sleep or don’t, your choice. Just keep the noise to a minimum, yeah?”

Darlene sat on the couch, grumbling. I’m here only because I know you’re brewing alcohol on this ship; I just can’t prove it yet. She kept repeating that in her mind, trying to convince herself. Darlene felt tears well up in her eyes again, but she shoved them back forcefully. Idiot. She leaned against the backrest and soon fell into uneasy sleep.

DAY ??? — MAW OF THE ABYSS

An unnatural, piercing shriek woke Darlene up. The horrible sound had originated somewhere on the hallway outside Dragon’s quarters. She frowned, her eyes nervously scanning the penumbra. Suddenly, a visage with rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth materialized in front of her. She screamed in surprise and fear, and fell off the couch. She drew her blaster, but the terrifying face was nowhere to be found. Darlene frowned when she perceived a faint aroma of used Kaf beans in the air.

What in the Force . . .? Darlene dashed towards the bed and shook the sleeping Dragon. “Wake up! Wake up, please!”

“W-wha?” With great effort, Dragon opened an eye. Everything was blurry. “I’m trying to sleep here. Didn’t I tell you to leave me be?”

“I s-saw . . . s-something!”

Dragon sighed, clearly annoyed. He sat up on the bed and rubbed his eyes. “It was probably a nightmare, go back to sleep.”

“NO! No, I was awake. It was a face, a floating face with razor-sharp teeth.” Darlene’s eyes darted around nervously. “I heard shrieks coming from the hallway too. Something’s not right.”

“Are you sure? Perhaps your mind is playing tricks on you.”

Another sharp shriek, followed by howling and chanting, echoed throughout the hallway.

Darlene shot Dragon a smug ‘I told you so’ look. “SEE? There’s something out there!”

He was about to respond when a powerful blow made a sizable dent on the door.

“Yep, there’s definitely something out there, and it seems angrier than you are,” he teased.

Darlene ignored the jab and raised her blaster pistol. Dragon picked up his twin D-44 blasters and took aim. There was another impact. It left a second dent, slightly bigger than the first.

“These doors are reinforced durasteel!” Darlene hissed. “HOW!?”

“You said it, Darling. Something’s not right.”

“Kriff, sometimes I hate being right,” she said.

“Oh, I very much doubt that,” Dragon chuckled.

“This isn’t the time, Arcfire!” Darlene growled. “We might die here!”

Dragon kept his blasters trained on the door. “I know, get my knife.”

“You got a pair of blasters, what do you need a knife for?”

“Just do as you’re told for once,” Dragon snarled as his feral instincts kicked in. “If you want to live, that is.”

“Is that a threat?”

“NOW!” Dragon roared.

Darlene took a step back and complied, while a third blow struck the durasteel door, punching a hole cleanly through the material. Darlene’s poster, however, remained undamaged. Dragon stood perfectly still, both blasters at the ready. Fifteen seconds passed. Nothing but silence. At the minute mark, Dragon began to inch closer to the door.

“What are you doing?” Darlene hissed.

Dragon focused on listening past the door, and into the hallway. He heard chanting in the distance. The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. The sound grew fainter by the second. He turned to Darlene and made a hand gesture indicating her to cover him. He holstered one of his blasters and pressed the button to open the door before moving out of the way. The door opened only partially due to the damage it’d sustained. Darlene kept her blaster trained on the opening, fully expecting that horrific visage from earlier to surge at her. Minutes crawled by but nothing happened.

Dragon sniffed the air and made a face. “It stinks of used Kaf beans out there,” he said as he backed away from the door, never taking his eyes off it. “I also heard weird chanting, something that could’ve been taken out from a cult as depicted in a holo.” When he turned to face Darlene, he froze, and then aimed his D-44 blaster in her direction.

Darlene’s eyes opened wide. “I knew it! You’re still working for the Empire you filthy traitor!”

A barrage of laser fire whizzed past her. The air crackled as the superheated energy bolts punched through two hominid silhouettes.

“DROP THE BLASTER, NOW!” Darlene took aim.

Dragon holstered the gun. “None of those shots were meant for you, Darling. Look behind you.”

“What?” She risked a glance and saw two sizzling piles of dust that stank of used, and now burnt, Kaf beans. Faint plumes of smoke rising from each one of them. Darlene pointed her weapon at the piles and backed away slowly. Her hand began to shake slightly. “W-what in the kriff is going on? What are these things?”

“I don’t know, but we got to get out of here. It’s not safe. Do you have my knife?”

Darlene extended the weapon to him. “We should try to get off the Vigilant, I fear the entire ship might be compromised.”

“That would be the best course of action if we weren’t in the middle of the Zavian Abyss,” Dragon said.

“What about the bridge? We could try to send a distress call to nearby New Republic forces.”

I’d love to have that conversation. Hey, we’re under attack by humanoid monsters made out of Kaf, send help. Having cavalry support would be nice, regardless. Dragon nodded. “Let’s do it.”

The pair stepped into the hallway, blasters at the ready. The pungent smell of used Kaf was stronger than before, both overwhelming and nausea-inducing. As Dragon and Darlene advanced through the hallway, they noticed colors fading all around them, slowly turning into gradients of sepia. Past the first fork on the hallway, wedged in a small corner, sat a cheerful-looking store with a neon sign that read: Space KAF-3.

Darlene rubbed her eyes. “Are you seeing this too?”

“Yeah . . . unfortunately.”

She raised her blaster. “Perhaps the lights malfunctioned. Maybe there’s an anomaly in the Zavian Abyss that’s causing us to experience hallucinations. There has to be a logical explanation for all this, right?”

Dragon looked at her in silence for a moment that felt like an eternity. At this point, I am pretty certain logic has left the vessel, but I don’t think that’s what you want to hear. “Yeah, there has to be.”

The Space KAF-3 bustled with activity. There were humanoid-shaped silhouettes inside, but they looked, and felt, wrong. When they moved, their skin parted, and one could clearly see ground Kaf beans shifting in lieu of muscle, bone, blood vessels, and organs.

“Oh kriff,” Darlene whispered. “More of those blasted things!”

“Let’s get going, quietly. Stay low and keep your head on a swivel.”

She nodded, visibly tense.

Other than the strange atmosphere and décor, the layout of the Vigilant had not changed. The pair made it to the Medbay without any further incident. When they took a peek inside, they found it empty.

“This place was full yesterday. The docs were ferrying injured people here by the gurney-load!” Dragon frowned. “Also, look at all that Kaf residue on the beds, and on the floor. I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Oh no . . .” Darlene tensed up, remembering the floating, teethed face. “Do you think those creatures got them? Are they all dead?”

“Possibly, and that would be the best-case scenario.”

“What?” Darlene hissed. “How can you say something like that!?”

“Keep your voice down, Darling.” Dragon cautioned. “Now, imagine that these things, whatever they are, don’t kill their prey outright, but rather assimilate it. What if someone’s consciousness gets subverted, or even trapped, becoming a pawn for these creatures, or worse?

“That’s . . . horrifying.”

“I’ve seen much worse, but yes, it is.”

“Where? In horror holovids? Because that’s what it sounds like.”

“No, in nature.”

“WHAT?”

“You really don’t get out much, do you?

“LISTEN TO ME YOU . . .”

Dragon grabbed Darlene and pulled her down, his hand over her mouth. “Keep your kriffing voice down,” he whispered in a flat, irritated tone. “Haven’t you realized the predicament we’re in? Our current reality, if you haven’t noticed, makes even less sense than what I just said.”

Darlene struggled for a moment, but she gave up, acknowledging the gravity of the situation, and Dragon released her from his grip moments later. Uncharacteristically, neither yelling nor attacks followed.

“Sorry about that, but I’d rather not have a horde of Kaf monsters show up because we’re making a ruckus,” Dragon said.

“It’s fine, I shouldn’t have yelled.” Darlene made a brief pause. “Do you hear that?”

“Chanting.” Dragon poked his head out of the Medbay. “Seems to be coming from the SSD.”

“Okay, we’ll head in the opposite direction then,” Darlene said.

“SOMEBODY, HELP!” Yelled a familiar voice at the top of his lungs.

Dragon and Darlene exchanged glances, and she closed her eyes, fearing what would come next.

“That’s Wolf,” Dragon said. “We have to help him.”

“It could be a trap, you know?” Darlene began to pace nervously. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with here. Kriff, that might not even be Wolf, but a doppelganger or something.”

“True, but at least we know where they are. One known variable in an ocean of unknowns. I’ll take that over walking around in the dark without knowing what to expect.” Dragon checked the hallway. “Besides, if it’s truly Wolf, we cannot just let him die without doing anything about it.”

“Yeah, yeah . . . I guess you’re right.” She sighed. “Why is this happening?”

Dragon put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s find out.”

Dragon and Darlene scurried to the threshold leading into the SSD, and peeked through the open door. Frosty, wearing nothing but a durasteel mug, a belt with the legend ‘The People’s Champion’ inscribed on it, and warpaint fashioned out of Kaf, stood at the center of the SSD, leading a group of ten of the Kaf creatures. Two of said creatures were carrying a thick, slightly bent, pipe, to which Wolf, Corsair’s Squadron’s XO was hogtied. He looked unharmed, but his voice hinted that a mental breakdown was on the horizon.

“Frosty, look, you don’t have to do this! If it’s about the paperwork, I . . .”

A guttural noise that sounded all but human interrupted him. The Kaf creatures deposited the tied-up Wolf on the ground and began walking in a circle around him, chanting. Frosty pulled out a crude cleaver from his belt. The weapon was fashioned out of a rusted metal rod and a Kaf grinder blade.

Dragon drew his blasters and whispered. “Shoot the Kaf monsters, don’t kill Frosty.”

Darlene’s first instinct was to argue, but she pushed it aside and nodded, taking aim.

The SSD lit up with blaster fire, and the smell of used, and now burnt, Kaf saturated the atmosphere. Wolf began to howl incoherently. Frosty turned around slowly. He saw the smoldering remains of his compatriots and immediately flew into a rage. He raised his makeshift cleaver above his head and charged.

“AYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Frosty yelled at the top of his lungs as he swung his crude weapon towards Dragon’s head.

Dragon dropped his blasters and side-stepped to his right. He grabbed Frosty’s arm by the wrist and twisted until the weapon clattered to the ground. Dragon advanced one step to take Frosty’s neck, but Frosty, in his Kaf-induced rage, hit him in the chest with an open palm strike.

Dragon flew backwards, slammed against the wall and fell. Stars and spots filled his vision. What the kriff . . .? He coughed up blood. Blast it, that Kaf packs a punch.

While Dragon was trying to get up, Frosty ran up to him and delivered the ‘People’s Elbow’ onto his chest. Dragon felt at least three of his ribs snap and groaned, doubling over in pain.

Frosty stood and raised his arms. “AYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

At that point, Darlene made a judgment call and fired her blaster twice, hitting Frosty squarely on the back. To her surprise, her shots did absolutely nothing. Frosty merely turned around and started laughing maniacally. He then sprinted out of the SSD, filling the dark hallways with echoing laughter.

Darlene rushed to Dragon. “Are you all right?”

“Not quite, no.” He sat up groaning.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go to the Medbay and get you some painkillers.”

“No, it’s too dangerous out there.”

“I can take care of myself.” Darlene growled.

“I know, but it’s horror holovid 101.”

“What?”

“The moment the group splits, people die.” Dragon winced and put a hand over his chest. “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want you to die.”

“Hey, um, guys?” Wolf said. “I hate to interrupt, but, a little help here, please?”

Dragon pulled out his knife and extended it to Darlene. “Take care of Wolf. I’ll be fine, just give me a few minutes.”

She took the weapon. “Don’t be ridiculous, you look how I feel after two days of unrelenting migraine. We’ll go get you some painkillers.”

“I have some!” Wolf said.

Darlene cut Wolf’s restraints. “What in the Force is happening, Wolf?”

“I, uh . . . I don’t know for sure, but our new Kaf machine went rogue somehow. It’s been driving people into insanity, and creating monsters out of leftover Kaf beans.”

“How?”

“It’s the Zavian Abyss.” Wolf pulled out an injector and administered a hefty dose of painkillers to Dragon. “We should’ve never come to this blasted place.”

“Where’s the rogue Kaf machine now?” Dragon grunted.

“I don’t know, I lost track of it when Frosty and his cronies jumped me.”

Suddenly, the durasteel floor of the SSD cracked and burst open, and a multitude of monstrous Kaf tentacles surged forth. At the center, a pulsating mass of Kaf obscured something that resembled a geometrical shape. One of the tentacles shot out towards Darlene, but she managed to avoid it by diving behind the bar. Wolf pulled out his blaster and started firing as he ran for cover. Dragon wasn’t so lucky. The ‘People’s Elbow’ had done quite a number of him, and a tentacle grabbed him by the neck.

“Gah!”

Wolf kept firing, but his shots had no effect on the creature.

“Arcfire! Catch!” Darlene threw the claw-knife at Dragon, who barely managed to catch the weapon by the blade, slicing open his palm in the process.

Dragon swung the claw-knife with as much force as he could muster. The blade cut through the Kaf tentacle. Dragon dropped like a bag of rocks, but all he felt was a numb tingling. The severed tentacle turned into dust, and the creature howled, a horrific sound that was a mix of laughter, pain, and something otherworldly—clearly not meant for human ears.

Issss . . . thisssss . . . reality? Dragon heard in his mind. He shot a glance at Wolf at Darlene. Seems they heard that too.

“What?” Dragon said.

Infinite anglessss . . . meet, dissssolving into vasssst expansssesss . . . sunsssss will risssse and fall. All life will go. Ssswim, and float. There’ssss no essscape.

“Yeah? Kark you!” Dragon summoned whatever strength he had left and charged the creature. He felt a tentacle punch through his stomach. He cut it off, and then slashed the Kaf layer protecting the geometrical shape at the center of the creature, the actual Kaf machine.

“KILL IT, NOW!” Dragon yelled.

Wolf and Darlene pumped shot after shot into the Kaf machine, punching holes through its metal and cast-plas components. The creature let out a horrific gurgle, followed by a long-drawn blood curdling screech as it propelled itself into the SSD’s trash chute. The screech became fainter as the monster plummeted towards the trash compactor, and eventually faded out.

Dragon collapsed in a pool of his own blood, and both Wolf and Darlene rushed to his aid.

“I guess this is the end of the road, Darling.”

“Oh no, oh kriff no. Don’t do this. Don’t you bloody die on me, Dragon! I FORBID YOU TO DIE, YOU HEAR? I FORBID IT!”

“I hear . . .” Dragon croaked before passing out.

DAY 17 — SALVATION

Dragon woke up inside a Bacta tank. He shuddered as memories of Imperial torture flooded his mind. He noticed Darlene was sitting on a chair, watching the tank intently. When she noticed Dragon was awake, she quickly called in a medical droid. After a battery of tests, Dragon was satisfactorily discharged.

Dragon and Darlene left the Medbay and walked down the main hallway of the Vigilant in silence.

“How long was I out?” Dragon asked.

“About two weeks, I think.”

“Were you watching over me this entire time?”

Darlene nodded.

“Thank you for saving my life.”

She nodded again. “NRI has called off the investigation, you’ll be free of me for a while.”

“Shame, you never did help me out in the lavatory.”

Darlene closed her eyes and chuckled. “Yeah . . .”

“So, what’s going on in the Vigilant? Did anyone die? What about the damage to the SSD?”

“There were lots of injuries, but, thankfully, no one died. Only a few seem to remember the incident. I spoke to Wolf, he remembers it. So does Frosty. The rest of the ship’s crew is oblivious to whatever nightmare we had to live through.” Darlene sighed. “High command is out for blood, but the official report stated a weapons malfunction caused by an anomaly in the Zavian Abyss.”

“I hate that place.” Dragon grumbled.

“Makes two of us.” She checked her datapad. “My shuttle will leave soon, walk with me to the launch bay?”

Dragon smiled. “Aye, aye, Captain.”