Facebook  Tweet  Discord

Bridge Intel Recruiting Rogue Squadron   Buccaneer Squadron   Corsair Squadron   Spectre Squadron   RSS   Tac Ops   Lounge  Theatre  Library

Drunken Lullabies

Captain Roy 'Lock' Callahan, Flight Officer Jack "Frosty" McCauley and First Lieutenant Gemilan "Gremlin"

Prologue

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

The room was cold in every manner of speaking: The dull grey of the walls gave a mind numbing feeling adding to the sterile atmosphere. The table was bare but the chairs were not. Two young men, barely turned twenty, sat in the seats. Both men looked faintly bored although one wore something of a smirk on his lips. They shared a similar appearance hinting that blood ties were held between them. The man on the left had longish hair, worn in a messy fashion not quite stretching to cover his eyes. His blondy brown hair was complemented by a neatly trimmed goatee, giving the man a handsome look.

The blonde man gave the other man a look. He on the right had a short hair cut, shaven low so it’s slightly darker brown tones were harder to see. A beard graced his chin helping hide his slight smile.

Behind the mirror transparisteel Detective Horace Sol stood observing the two men. His white hair, slicked back, accentuated his nose which gave his face a pointed look. He turned to the security officer beside him and gave the man a look, “Are you sure this is them?”

The man in uniform nodded simply. “The bartender wouldn’t give us their names, but according to other clients the two frequent the bar regularly and often get in fights.”

“Any precedents?”

“Stolen speeders, some drug related things, fights here and there.” The man in uniform looked down at his datapad. “Nothing ever serious enough to warrant for than two or three nights locked up. They’re the type of scum we can do without.”

Horace sighed. “Right, then.”

The door to the interrogation room opened with a click and Horace strode in, sitting down opposite the two men. “Jack McCauley?”

The shaven man nodded simply.

“Connor McCauley?”

The longer haired man returned a stare.

Horace tapped the table and let out a little sigh. “So. Coruscant born and bred are we boys?”

Connor answered first, “It’s the smell of us right? Us city dwellers always have that smell.”

Horace ignored the man’s answer and looked at his datapad. “You guys still live here?”

“Level 1569,” Jack said calmly. “It’s a pile of frak. Dingy little apartment, about just enough space to breathe between the two of us.”

“City living eh boys?”

“I highly doubt you know what that is like,” Connor said, leaning back into his chair. “Sir.”

Horace sighed irritably and looked back up at the young men. “Do you two realise how much trouble you are both in?”

Silence greeted him.

“Lads, look at you. What the hell would your mother say if she could see you now?”

Connor suddenly glared at the man and Jack leaned forward, resting his hands heavily on the table. “Let me tell you about our mother, sir....”

Chapter One: “Mother”

[South Side, Coruscant, 17BBY]

“Mrs McCauley?”

A small, feminine woman looked up from her shopping bags that she had left outside the front door of the apartment. She turned to face a man in military uniform and immediately her eyes widened.

“My name is Captain Morgan, I’m CO of-”

“It’s about Murphy isn’t it?”

“Ma’am, I’m afraid-”

“I told him not to go.”

The captain blinked in surprise at the woman. He’d never seen them act like this before. He decided to cut to the chase, there was no point skirting round the issue here. “Toseng system mam. Two days ago the Imperial cruiser Justice was overpowered. Your husband was the chief technician on duty.”

The lady looked up at Morgan. “The insurance pay. My boys need the insurance.”

The captain lowered his eyes and handed her over a datapad slowly. “There was a technical fault within the cruiser. It was partly responsible for why it was destroyed. There’s an inquest ongoing and....I’m afraid...”

“They promised us insurance if he died,” she said to the captain, her eyes starting to get moist. “That’s why he went. He said there’d be money for us no matter what....”

“I’m sorry Ma’am.”

“Mam?”

The captain looked round the mourning woman to the doorway just beyond her. Two young brothers, no older than four years, stood watching the woman. “Mam, what’s going on?” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

“Despite what you told me I know your mother didn't raise you alone. I have a man named Sam Dinoco as your adoptive father.” Horace said as he looked at his datapad. He hit a button and then looked back towards them. “Here he’s listed as having served in the Imperial Navy. I would’ve expected you two to have more respect.”

“Pff...” Jack crossed his arms across his chest and looked towards the large mirror in the room.

Connor leaned forward and looked at Horace straight in the eye. “Men don’t earn respect by being a part of something, they earn it by being men.” he told the interrogator. “And Dinoco was not a man to respect.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South side, Coruscant, 7BBY]

It always started like this. He'd get home, a few drinks down, proudly telling them all about His latest success. This time things were looking up. Some old navy friends had got Him some opportunities and He was soon going to be raking it in. Why weren't they all saying well done? He worked so hard for them and they were all so ungrateful. Why isn't dinner ready yet? Why were those two just sitting there? You're lazy, just like your dad was.

Sometimes it ended there. Sometimes He'd be satisfied to log onto the holonet and start gambling it all away. Sometimes for whatever reason that wasn't enough.

It must feel good to do violence, the McCauley twins had decided. Why else would He do it? So one day they tried it and it was true. It did feel good to do violence. Especially when your target was deserving. Especially when you were winning. This was what it meant to be a man; to be powerful.

But the final step was a leap. They couldn't cross the gap, no matter how much they knew they should. They held each other's hands, screamed for each other. Do it. Do it. Do it. But it was no use.

So He would stand again, this time ready more than ever to dispense justice. They would regret the day they were born.

Connor couldn't remember what happened next. He'd tried several times but the memory wouldn't come unstuck. Jack just remembered a hot scarlet light, a sudden sickly thud.

Mary McCauley had never hurt anyone in her life. She just didn't have the capacity for it. But the love for a child can drive you beyond what you know, past who you are. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

Horace frowned at Connor as the man leaned back and turned to his datapad. He tapped it deftly and brought up the details on the men’s mother.

“Mary McCauley,” he said to himself quietly. “Sentenced for murder of a Imperial Officer six years ago, pleaded guilty. Life sentence. I see no mention of you two. Are you telling me that your mother killed that man and neither of you lifted a finger to either aid her or stop her?”

“Unconscious, wasn’t I?” Jack said bitterly.

“She’s a grown woman... she can make her own choices.” Connor replied, looking at his brother for a moment. “And we were kids, what can you expect?”

Horace looked at Connor evenly before turning back to his datapad. “So your mum goes to jail. You’re both kids nearly, barely able to look after yourselves. Where the hell did you find the credits to look after yourselves?”

“Industry district,” Jack said bluntly.

“Factory work,” Connor explained more clearly. “Factories don’t need brains or brawn, just people desperate for credits.”

Horace raised an eyebrow at the two men, “We have droids that can work longer and harder than humans, who needs you in a factory?”

“Droids cost credits,” Jack said slowly. “They break down, they need constant maintenance, they cost initially. People, desperate people, will work damned hard for pretty much frak all.”

“But bills? Medical insurance, training-”

“The Empire got rid of all that,” Connor said. "Anything that will help business.”

“Besides, who needs training, officer? Factory work doesn’t require a brain, unlike the nuances of crime fighting that you carry out, sir.” Jack wiped his nose with his hand. “We’re just cheap pieces of meat.”

Horace took a deep breath and went over their criminal records one more time. “Alright lads, I can see you’ve not had the easiest time. I can see from your record that you’ve tried a few other things to make ends meet and that you’ve obviously got a bone to pick with a lot of people.”

Neither man said anything so Horace scratched his chin and continued. “So it leaves me asking this: You’re here accused of killing an Imperial Officer. Two hours ago Lieutenant Drak Frell was a bright young thing. Now he’s a bloody waste. That’s a bit of a step up from petty thievery isn’t it, boys?”

Another pause, the boys kept quiet. Horace rubbed his eyes. “Were you paid to do it? By alien rebels?”

Jack let out a bark of a laugh, surprising Horace. “Aliens, sir? Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got their place in society, but I ain’t ever having one telling me what to do.”

“Why don’t you tell me what happened, then?” Horace asked.

“Can’t,” Connor replied.

“Why not?”

“I need to take a dump.” He looked at the man dead in the eyes. “Kinda hard to concentrate, old man. Your men dragged us here in the middle of the night.”

“Are you serious?”

Chapter Two: Living In Between

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

Horace Sol was watching Jack McCauley from behind the transparisteel window once more. As Connor was escorted to a bathroom by two officers, he stared at the more quiet of the two brothers. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sighed heavily. He closed his eyes for a moment and re-opened them to see Jack staring back at him... It was impossible, the other side was a mirror and it was impossible to see past it but Horace still felt the younger man’s eyes on him. Horace’s left hand exited his pocket and smoothed his white hair back.

He turned around and looked at the uniformed man from before. “I want to see what footage we have of them.”

“Yes, sir.” he said and punched a few buttons. A few lights blinked and a holo projection appeared in the center of the table in the room. The room dimmed. “This one is the most recent, two months ago.”

“Why were they arrested?”

“Brawl.”

The holoprojector whirred to life and a video began to play showing an interrogation room from a much smaller, dingier ISB station. The officer was standing opposite a very drunk looking Jack who seemed to be swaying ever so slightly.

“McCauley, what the hell were you doing back there?”

“Minding my own business officer.”

“McCauley I got several eyewitnesses that you were seen assaulting members of the public.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure that you’ve got several sir,” Jack said grinning dopily, “Pretty sure I got a good few of them in the eye.”

“Weapons McCauley? Did you use a blade?”

“Blade? Blade sir?! Force no sir, don’t wanna do that sir. Someone might get hurt. Just wanted a good old fashioned brawl.”

The officer shook his head and glared at Jack. “Have you got anything to say for yourself Jack before I kick you in the cells for the night?”

“Yes sir. Could you come here please?”

The officer raised an eyebrow but approached as two other security guards made sure they were holding Jack’s arms tight. When the officer was close enough Jack smiled, leant forward and vomited on the man’s boots.

“You...you....” The man slapped Jack hard across the face but Jack seemed not to notice. “Now you listen and you listen well you piece of scum. This is the third time this month. I don’t care if you bunch of frakking idiots want to spend your time beating the kark out of one another, I ain’t going to waste good officers on stopping you lot reducing your numbers. But you be careful son cause one day you’re going to hit the wrong man then you’re going to end up just like your mom.”

Jack’s smile stayed on his face and he shook his head violently, “No sir, I won’t end up like her sir.”

“Why’s that boy?”

“I’ll never be that good of a person.”

The officer shook his head and gestured to the security guards, “Put him in a cell with the people he beat down on. Without his brother.”

The recording came to a close and a new one started up.

This time it was Connor sitting alone in a room. He was leaning back in his chair with his feet propped up on the table. He seemed to be sound asleep. Suddenly, a man walked in and before Connor could react he had grabbed Connor’s feet and flung them from the table. It caused an imbalance that in turn caused Connor to crash down to the floor.

“Whaa-!?”

“Don’t put your feet on the table, scum!” the officer told him and sat down across from Connor’s now empty chair. Connor used the table to pull himself up to his feet. He was noticeably drunk so he wobbled a bit but managed to stay on his feet.

“The hell you do that for?” he asked, totally ignoring the officer’s comment earlier. He found his chair and sat himself down. He put both hands on his face and rubbed it.

“You’re fighting again, McCauley.” The man told him, strictly business. “It wasn’t a regular fight this time... those are easy to solve. One page of paperwork. You know how many pages of paper work a brawl needs?”

“Whass wrong, offisser?” asked the drunk blonde. “Can’t shove tha’ many pag’ges up yer rear?”

“Damn you, McCauley... you and your frakkin’ brother.” He leaned forward on the table and looked at Connor without breaking character. “You two are smart kids... too smart for your own good. It breaks my heart to see such promising young men become scum such as you are now.” He pulled a datapad out of his pocket and offered it to Connor. “I’m sure that if you joined the Academy at Carida the Empire might forgive all your offenses.”

Connor looked at the datapad for a moment, then back towards the officer. “Y’know why I like flimsy paper more than datapads?”

“Why?”

“Because you can't wipe yer ass with a datapad when it’s full of shavit.” Connor replied. He suddenly didn’t sound very drunk at all. He threw the datapad across the room.

The Officer yelled something that was not intelligible and the security guards inside the room pulled out their sticks and started to beat Connor. The Officer turned towards the camera and made a cut signal.

The image disappeared.

The uniformed man stood back from the holoprojector and shook his head. “Scum through and through eh sir? No doubt they killed him.”

“Yes,” Horace said to himself quietly, “The real thing.” Horace sighed. “But I don’t know... they don’t seem the type of kids who would go off and murder somebody. There has to be more behind all of this... Has the team sent to their apartment gotten back yet?”

“Yessir.” replied the officer and pulled up his datapad. He hit a few keys and started reading the report. “Not much was found, they don’t even have proper beds. Their apartment is just a box really. They found a cooler with ale, many empty bottles of liquor and... uhm... Well, this is odd.”

“What?” The officer looked up, his face still puzzled. “Well, they found flight manuals littered over the floor and a portable simulator.”

“What?... that doesn’t make sense.” Horace looked back toward the room. Two security officers were bringing Connor back inside. “Why would two drunks, no more than factory drones... have a flight simulator and flying manuals at their house?”

He looked back towards his aide and the man shrugged. Horace simply sighed.

“I should go back in.” He said as he made his way towards the door. It slid open and the man stood there for a moment. “But first... I need to check something in the bathroom.”

He left without offering an explanation, leaving the officer confused inside the room.

Chapter Three: Shank

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

Jack looked as if he was falling asleep as Horace entered looking a little ticked off. He stepped past Jack and immediately stood behind Connor. Connor started to turn in his seat but before he could react Horace’s hand had dived into the young man’s pocket and pulled out a rather sharp looking object. Connor stared at the man in disbelief.

“I’m not stupid McCauley. I checked the toilet and I admit you hid it well but not that well. Pretty ingenious the way you put the panels back to cover up the material you had ripped out.” Horace turned the home made knife over in his hand. “You realise this is pretty strong evidence against you?”

“Wasn’t the body enough?” Jack said coolly.

“You’re admitting it then?”

“We’re not that drunk,” Connor interjected.

“Indeed,” Horace said turning the knife over in his palm. “Just what were you going to use this for?”

“Make sure I didn’t get a bit too intimate with whatever neanderthal you jail me with detective.”

“You feel that confident about the case eh?”

“He’s just panicking,” Jack said smiling slightly, “Doesn’t realise that you ain’t stupid.”

Horace turned to look back at Jack and put the knife away in a sheath on his uniform. “Tell me lads, you like to act stupid. You want me to think you’re just generic thugs without half a brain between you. I admit the footage I saw certainly holds up to it but....”

Connor and Jack exchanged a glance.

”Tell me, how does a thick thug not only get their hands on space simulator software but actually sets some pretty decent scores?”

Connor didn’t say a word but Jack leant back and crossed his arms. “Maybe we’re very very lucky thugs.”

Horace turned to look at the two before leaning in closer to Jack’s face. “So, tell me what you want with flight sims.”

Connor interjected, “We want to learn to fly.”

“Why not join Imperial Academy?”

Jack snorted and rolled his eyes. “That ain’t flying...”

“What do you mean, McCauley?”

“Do you know what freedom is, detective? Real freedom?”

Horace looked at the man and shook his head simply.

“Space, detective. Thousands upon millions of klicks of space, beautiful empty space. You know on the outer rim the Empire is nothing more then a name? Can you imagine that?” Jack let a smile spread onto his face, spreading his hands wide. “No one to beat down on us but ourselves. The opportunity to make credits, live life to the full. That, detective, is freedom.”

Horace arched an eyebrow, "You're from low level, McCauley. Have you even ever seen the open sky?"

Jack stayed silent.

“I hear there’s some pretty nice girls on the outer rim too,” Connor piped up. “Twi’leks.”

Horace glanced at the two of them before settling back in his chair. “So what, you just planned to buy a ship and run away?”

“More or less.”

“That seems a bit simple to me.”

“What can we say?” Connor said, “We are after all just thugs.”

Horace shook his head at the two. “Seems wanting to escape the Empire like that, combined with your step father’s death, give me pretty strong evidence that you hate the Empire.”

“Hate the Empire sir?” Jack said and let out a hollow laugh. "I just dislike anyone telling me what to do.”

“He’s got authority issues see,” Connor said with a big grin. “Never does what I say.”

“That’s cause you’re the brawn, not the brain.”

“I’m everything man, you’re just here to make up the numbers.”

“Frak you! Without me-”

“Gentlemen,” Horace interrupted. “I can see we are getting nowhere. So, let’s go to step one. What did happen in the cantina?”

Neither man said anything initially but Horace let a stern look creep onto his face, “You know I probably have enough evidence to convict you, so if you don’t make a compelling defence....” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Level 1600, South Side, Imperial Centre, One day before arrest]

“I’m not saying that it’s right Lawson,” Jack said, gesturing at the big man next to him. “I’m just saying it’s what has to be done.”

“I dunno....” The big man said slowly, “Imperials are pretty nasty....”

“Rich though, Lawson. So rich! Imagine the credits you could have if you helped me pull this off.”

“Yeah....the money would be good.....”

“Right! Right. You know how good a pilot Pip is too, you know between me and him we could get any old freighter full of cargo off this planet. Off this planet and to anywhere we wanted to go.”

“I dunno, Frosty....” The big man said seeming uncertain. “Grayson says you’re not trustworthy. He says you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. He says you don’t trust no one.”

“Lawson!” Jack exclaimed. “I am hurt! To say I’m not trustworthy. Let me tell you I don’t trust you because of a matter of principle man. You know how I only put my faith in that brother of mine. I can’t trust you otherwise that’s breaking my morals. Do you understand me man?”

“Yeah....morals....yeah....”

“Good man. Oh, do me a favour?”

“Yeah Jack?”

“Don’t tell my brother about this yet. Still got to work a few kinks out of this plan.”

“What you talking about, Jack?” Connor said, setting the drinks down beside him. He waved at a girl who walked past them, they had obviously come from the same place. He turned back to his brother and tried combing his hair a little bit. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, man. Nothing.”

Connor glared at Jack before turning his gaze on the thickset Lawson who was making his excuses and leaving the table. He’d get it out of the big guy later. He took a slurp from his drink as voices towards the back of the bar were raised. “What’s with them?”

Jack leaned out the booth and spotted some very drunk looking men, one who seemed to be arguing with the barman. “Seems someone is being a barve with old Ren.”

Connor looked past Jack’s shoulder and a grin spread onto his cheeks. “You know, do you remember what happened last time we helped Ren out with troublemakers?”

“I got punched in the face.”

“Besides that.”

“You got kicked in the stomach.”

“Besides that.”

“I got slapped by that girl that you tried to-”

“Besides that.”

Jack thought long and hard. “We....got free drinks?”

“Bingo! Want to get some more free drinks?”

“I don’t know, there’s four of them.”

“They’re all drunk, Jack. Come onnnnn, it’ll be fun!”

Jack shook his head, drained what was left of his pint and pulled himself out of the booth. Together he and Conor sauntered over to the table, laying a hand each on Ren’s shoulders.

“What’s up, old man?” Connor asked with a cocky grin on his face.

“These men claim they don’t need to pay their bill,” Ren said, suddenly looking a lot brighter. “Claim they’re big around these parts.”

“Is that right Ren?” Connor said looking at the drunks. “You’re big guys, are you?”

“Yeah!” one sneered, his face plastered with a drunk grin. “I got contacts.”

“Frak off,” Jack said simply, suddenly very cold.

“Whadda you say to me?”

“He said frak off, genius,” Connor said, his grin widening. “You’re not big around here. You know how I know that?”

“Whu?”

“Cause we know everyone here. We know who’s big with the crime lords, who’s best friends with the bounty hunters and not a single one of them has made a step forward to help you out.” Connor cracked his knuckles, “So lads, you can either pay for your drinks or we can take the money from you.”

“I prefer it if I punch you,” Jack said, his face blank. “You have a very punchable face.”

“Why you-” One of the drunken man lashed out at Jack. The poodoo hit the fan.

As fists started to fly, glasses up in the air and cantina patrons gathered round to egg the brothers on Connor stepped back and shouted above the din. “Ren! Put the music on!”

Behind the bar Ren nodded and hit the play switch. The sudden noise of heavy music came on, drowning out any noises that might bring the ISB down on the cantina. As the music pulsed the brothers bundled the four drunks out of the cantina, Connor deftly lifting credits out of each one’s pocket as the men were dumped down on the street floor groaning. Going back inside he chucked the credits to Ren and sat next to Jack at the bar.

“He got me in the face,” Jack said holding his cheek and frowning. “Not hard, but he still got me in the face.”

“Shouldn’t of been so slow,” Connor said taking his free drink from the old bartender.

“The face....always the damn face....” Jack took a Corellian Whiskey off of Ren and sipped it. “Always aim for my damned face....”

“Better your face than your balls.”

“My balls ain’t much use if no one wants to look at my face, Pip, but thanks for the concern.”

“I guess it’s up to me to continue the family name.”

Jack glanced at Connor and shook his head. “As long as it isn’t a Twi’lek McCauley, I’m happy. Can you imagine that? A Twi’lek called McCauley. Jeez.”

Chapter Four: Confessions

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

“You didn’t kill anyone.” Horace said, looking at them, confused. “And the body was found three clicks south of Ren’s bar.”

Connor shrugged. “You wanted to know what happened, right?”

“That’s what happened.” Jack corroborated quickly, then glanced around. “We don’t go around killin’ people y’know... not even Imps. We’re on Imperial Centre, we’re not dumb. We know what can happen.”

“Let me get this straight then.” Horace said. He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose for a few moments before finally looking back at the pair. “You two kicked these four trained Imperials out of the bar and they left, correct?”

“Yeah ... it’s pretty simple.” Connor replied, and pulled a packet out of his pocket. He hit it against the table a few times then opened it and pulled out a deathstick. He brought it up to his lips and used the flame on the packet to light it. He inhaled and a few seconds later he blew a large gray cloud out. “Why?”

“Because I need to know.” Horace said and hit a few buttons on his datapad. He glanced at Connor’s pack on the table. “There’s a reason they’re called ‘deathsticks’ you know?”

“Yeah, and?” Connor replied. “This ain’t a deathstick.”

“Never mind,” he said and looked at Jack. “So... what else happened last night? As you were leaving the bar?...” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South Side, Imperial Centre, One day before arrest]

"I’m telling you, it’s a brilliant plan!”

“You’re mad, Jack. Even for a McCauley.”

“What’s wrong with it? Where does it go wrong?”

The streets were wet, slick with the rain that had managed to get down to the lower levels of Coruscant. The McCauleys had only seen real rain a couple of times, most of the time it only reached the lower levels by way of gutters. Everything down here was simply cast aside by the top.

“Lets see,” Connor said, holding up his hand to tick points off. “We don’t have the codes to get into an Imperial base. We don’t have the codes to unlock a freighter. We don’t have the codes to get past Imperial Centre border security.”

“Yeah, well.....”

“Oh and we haven’t practiced with this type of freighter yet.”

“All YTs are the same, Connor, you know that!”

“Maybe, maybe... but who says we’re going to be able to get the YT? I just think that-”

“Oi you!”

The brothers looked away from one another and spotted four men, soaked to the skin by the downfall. Jack shook his head but Connor simply grinned. “Gents, how can we help you?”

“You cocky piece of scum! I’ll get you for what you did.”

“What I did? I didn’t try to get my drinks for free in a rough part of town. I’m not stupid, unlike you.”

“Don’t believe him,” Jack interjected. “He can be pretty stupid.”

“Says you, I aced you in the Nav test we tried.”

“Only cause you cheated.”

“Cheat?! What? How?”

“You-”

“Would you two shut up!” The group’s leader's face was flushed and he looked rather angry. “I want my credits back!”

“Ain’t got them,” Jack said, shrugging.

“Drunk them,” Connor said, his smile looking slightly less sober.

The leader screamed at the top of his lungs and pulled out a vibroblade. “I’ll show you, you gutter scum!”

He charged. The McCauleys stepped aside. The floor was wet. Physics decided it was time to play its part and newly graduated Imperial Officer Lieutenant Drak Frell slipped over, sliding past the two brothers and over the edge of the walkway. In upper parts of Coruscant there would have been tractor nets to catch falling pedestrians but it was far too costly to install those on the lower levels. The thump was distinctive, as was the meaty sound of flesh on metal.

“Alright, don’t lose your head over it,” Connor said, glancing over the side of the walkway.

“That was really tasteless, Connor.”

“Then why are you grinning?”

“I’m not a good man.”

“You guys are going to pay for this!” One of the other drunks was screaming. “Killing an Imperial Officer like that - we’ll make sure you go to Kessel for certain!”

“Now, let’s not get hasty,” Connor said raising his hands. “We didn’t.........wait. Imperial Officer?”

“Oh frak,” Jack said. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One month before Alderaan]

“He slipped?” Horace asked, his face dumbstruck.

“It happens,” Jack said simply. “Lost a young child a week back to that. Not that ISB cared then.”

“If he just slipped... and neither of you were guilty... why do I have a report of four injured officers when they went to arrest you?”

The two brothers looked at each other. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South Side, Imperial Centre, One day before arrest]

“Mmm... Connor...”

“Mmm.. you like that, huh?”

“Y-yes... mmm...”

Jack tried to ignore the sound coming from the two bodies under the covers in the bed next to him. His eyes were skimming down a datapad with information on YT class freighters. The sounds next to him were getting louder and more exaggerated, and he was just about to start yelling at the two when there was a sudden knock at the door.

“ISB! Let us in, we are here under Imperial Orders!” said a voice from behind the door.

Jack immediately looked up from his datapad, sliding it into a secret location in his bed and got up just as his brother Conner pulled himself out of bed. Connor was completely naked as was his companion, a beautiful dark-skinned human who pulled the covers up over her breasts. All his brother did to hide his nudity was pull on the first pair of pants he saw.

“Think it’s the guys from before?” Jack asked as neared the door.

“Does it matter?” Connor asked, tossing him a blunt object.

“Open the door or we will hack in and enter!”

“Frak...” Jack held onto his pipe and looked to his brother. “Ready?”

“Aye.” Connor grabbed what seemed to be a bat. The two put themselves on either side of the door.

Jack glanced towards the woman in Connor’s bed. “Wait... what about her?”

Connor looked over. “Uh... stay there, don’t get shot. I’ll finish with you in a little bit.”

Before she could respond ISB was talking again. “This is your final warning! We’re coming in!”

“Get ready!” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ]

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

“Seen our records, haven’t you, detective?” Connor said grimly. “It’d be open and shut, wouldn’t it? Four upstanding Imperial military members versus two petty thieves.”

“So you thought you’d fight your way out of it?”

“Always thought going out in a blaze of glory was better then dying slowly in a cell,” Jack said, taking a death stick off of Connor and lighting it for himself. "Not that I'm keen on dying anytime soon."

The silence was only punctuated by the inhaling of Jack and Connor. Horace stared at the two evenly before leaning back. “I do find it hard to see you two as actual born killers. After all you didn’t kill a single ISB officer that tried to arrest you.”

Hope started to shine.

“But the evidence is against you.”

Hope died. Nearly.

“Can I make a few points, detective?” Connor said.

“Shoot.”

“Well Jack was talking and suggested there should be proof of a fight in terms of bruises on the dead Imp-”

“The body is a mess from the fall.”

“That’s not just it,” Jack said, interjecting. “If we chucked the Imp over the walkway, why didn’t any of his mates stop us? Why didn’t anyone do anything?”

“They claim that you ambushed them before they could do anything.”

“Two of us against four of them? Trained Imperials? We’d had a bit to drink by then and they had probably sobered up a fair bit. Does that not seem odd to you?”

Horace looked between the two and leant back in his chair. Tapping the table, he closed his eyes. “You will not leave the planet without my explicit authorisation and you will report in daily to your local ISB station. If I find out either of you have lied to me, I will make like any other ISB officer and haul your asses to Kessel. Do you understand?”

They understood. They had just witnessed a miracle. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, One year before Alderaan]

They stepped outside and Connor tossed his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it putting it out. Jack looked at him. “So, where to?”

“The bar?” Connor asked, putting his hands in his pockets as he looked around.

“Deal.”

Chapter Five: Escape

[Imperial Security Bureau Station 14A, Imperial Centre, one week after arrest]

Horace Sol sat at his desk in his office tapping away at the data screen in front of him. It’d been a slow process but his investigation was starting to reveal more and more evidence that the McCauleys were actually telling the truth, as unlikely as that seemed. Horace was so absorbed in his work that he completely failed to notice his superintendent enter his office.

“Sol?”

Horace looked up from his report and nodded at the elder man. “Hello, sir. I was just finishing that report you asked for. It should be ready for you in about an hour.”

The superintendent nodded, looking slightly awkward. “I’m not here about the report, Sol. I’m here about the Lieutenant Frell case.”

“Right sir, I’m still working on-”

“Why are the McCauleys walking free?”

“Sir? I sent you my report.”

The superintendent sighed and eyeballed Horace. “I read it. But I don’t think you understand, Sol. I’ve got Frell’s family breathing down my neck and his instructors causing a fuss. Imperial officers aren’t a dime a dozen, you know. I need someone charged.”

“But they’re innocent, sir.”

The elder man raised an eyebrow at Horace. “Really? Their criminal record speaks for itself and their mother is hardly a guiding light.”

“Yes, but-”

“No buts, Sol. I don’t give a crap if they’re innocent for this crime; they’re just another piece of lowlife scum and the Lieutenant’s family want justice. Have them in the cells by tomorrow or I’ll have someone else take over, understood?”

Horace tapped the desk and nodded irritably.

“Good man. Keep working on that report.”

Once the superintendent had left the office Horace put his head in his hands. This wasn’t the first time this had happened and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Letting out a sigh he stood up, grabbed his coat and started to head out of the station. He only made it to the main reception before a security guard came rushing up to Horace, grabbing his arm.

“Detective!”

“What is it, man?”

“Report of a shoot-out, south side. A freighter was stolen.”

“Suspects?”

“They haven't been identified yet, two human males dual-wielding blasters. Looks like something right out of a holodrama!"

“Good gods....” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South Side, Imperial Centre, Thirty Minutes Later]

It took Horace Sol thirty minutes to reach the scene of the crime. As he walked in he was surprised by the controlled chaos that reigned inside the clandestine hangar bay.

The hangar bay wasn’t large at all, it was enough to fit a single YT cargo ship that belonged to some smuggler that was probably not up to any good. The Detective inside of him was pleased that this smuggler, an actual criminal, was being brought to justice. The man inside of him worried whether the two brothers were going to be alright. How did he know it was them? Well... just by looking at the mayhem caused it wasn’t difficult to figure out.

He walked slowly around the hangar for a few minutes, inspecting the scene of the crime. Eventually an officer walked up to him. “Sir?”

Horace turned to the man. “Officer Hela. Do you have witnesses?”

The man nodded. “Yes, sir. We’ve talked to all of them and have managed to piece together more or less what happened. The security holo-cams were, uhm, disabled so we can’t really see what happened...”

Of course. Horace sighed. “So, give me the run down...” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South Side, Imperial Centre, One Hour Earlier]

“You got to relax, it’s going to be fine.”

Two men in uniform were pushing a box on a basic hover platform towards a small hangar bay.

“It’s all under control, Jack.”

The man on the left of the box tapped the box impatiently. “Yeah, like it’s always under control when you’re involved, Connor.”

“Well it was your friend who scan-proofed the box for us. Is it not the real thing?”

“Of course it’s the real thing!” Jack said, glaring at Connor. “He likes credits so he does the job right.”

“I hope so, I mean that was all our savings...”

“It’ll be fine. Like you said.”

“Right, like I said, relax, Jack. It’s too late to turn back now. I hope you’re ready, brother.”

“This ain’t no bar brawl, brother.”

“No it’s not.”

They left the hallway and entered the small hangar. Occupying more than half the space was a YT-2000 Light Freighter, in prime condition. She was called the Dropkick Murphy, a real beauty. Almost a shame to do to her what they were about to do. Her pilot, the Weequay smuggler named De’ethra, and crew were off to the left, mostly standing around as two full squadrons of storm troopers and their commanding officer looked through the massive amount of illegal cargo they had just confiscated off of it. A little less than two-thirds of them were on their knees digging through the cargo, two guarded the ramp onto the ship and another two accompanied the officer who was speaking with the pilot. Two more stormtroopers greeted the brothers as they entered the small hanger. They both held up their hands to stop them.

“No unauthorized personnel beyond this point,” said the stormtrooper on the left. His voice was mechanical and inhuman.

“We’re here to make a delivery,” Connor replied, his face a mask of calmness.

“What sort of delivery?”

This time it was Jack who responded. His tone was cool as it always became in these situations. “The private kind.”

“To make things simple,” Connor injected before the stormtrooper could reply, “if you want to know what we’re delivering, we’re gonna need some identification.”

The stormtroopers looked completely dumbfounded.

“Excuse me, sir?”

“You heard me, officer. This is private delivery.”

“I’m pretty sure this is the other way around.” the second stormtrooper said.

“I’m pretty sure that by law I need to see some identification.” Jack replied. “This is a private delivery. You should know the regulation.”

The two stormtroopers looked at each other and shrugged. They reached into their chip holder and started to pull out their identification. They offered it to the brothers. Each of the two brothers took one from each of the stormtroopers and looked at it for a few moments. They then traded and did the same to the other, then finally handed the ID chips back to the wrong trooper. The troopers looked at their identification for a moment, puzzled, and then traded amongst themselves.

“Thank you, officers.” Connor told them. “Now that that’s done with, we’ll be on our way.”

They started to push the cart forward. Jack looked to the one on his side and gave him a curt nod. “Have a good day.”

The troopers were even more confused by now. They watched the two leave for a moment.

“I can’t believe that worked.” Jack whispered to Connor, who was interrupted before he could respond. Damnit.

“Wait!”

The two froze. They were half way across the hangar and the trooper’s voice had been loud enough to make sure that everyone turned towards the two pushing the cart. The silence was complete, and the brothers could feel the eyes of everyone in the room right on them. It seemed as if they had nowhere to go.

”Yes, officer?” asked Connor, after what felt like an eternity.

“You didn’t tell us.”

“Told you what?” asked Jack. He turned his head slightly to look at the stormtroopers.

“What’s inside the cart?” The stormtrooper took a step forward.

Before he could take another step forward the craziest thing happened. It was something someone would only really see in South Side Coruscant because, honestly, no one else was as crazy as Connor and Jack McCauley to come up with a plan such as this one. Well, perhaps someone else who was crazy enough to follow through, but they had been programmed to do it.

The top of the cart suddenly popped off, its heavy duty metal flying towards the trooper and flooring him. The other troopers turned to respond but it was too late: the McCauleys had already grabbed their blasters from within the crate and were firing at the troopers as they backtracked to cover. Out of the box came a screaming R2 unit, its little wheels propelling it towards the waiting YT freighter as Jack and Connor tried their best to keep the troopers pinned down. Connor managed to catch one stormtrooper in the weak point in his armour between the thighs.

“Low blow, brother, low blow.” Jack shouted over the laser fire.

“See that? That’s a one in a million shot. No way you could get a hit like that in.”

“No way? I’ll show you, try and match this!” Jack swung his blaster and caught a trooper with a shot in the neck.

“Too easy brother, too easy,” Connor mocked, “I could have done that with my eyes closed!”

“Connor, you’re so full of sh-”

The firefight was really getting intense now, the lasers flying back and forth. Neither Jack nor Connor let up, Jack’s trigger finger itchy as he sent hot light flying towards storm troopers. One more went down, the laser blast catching him in the eye piece of his helmet. Jack dived to cover by one of the boxes, hearing one of the smugglers cry out. “My cargo!”

The crate was not able to withstand the blaster fire and it had eaten through the metal, spilling precious spice onto the floor of the hangar. Laser bolt after last bolt sent spice flying into the air, a thick red cloud that started to mix with the smoke from flaming blaster bolt impacts. Jack placed his blaster over the top of the box and began firing sporadically, trying to down the storm troopers still stupid enough to not be in cover. Looking round the hangar Jack spotted the smugglers had taken refuge in a corner of the hangar, well away from the firefight. “Sorry about this!” Jack tried to shout over the blaster fire, a mad figure covered in red dust. One of the smugglers, a Weequay, made a throat-cutting motion back at him.

“Sorry?” Connor shouted from elsewhere, “Why be sorry? It’s their fault they got caught, not ours!”

“Connor? Where the frak are you?”

There was no reply as the laser fire intensified. The dust cloud had enveloped the entire hangar and the twins could barely see each other, or even the stormtroopers. Jack pulled himself to his feet, dashing towards the Dropkick Murphy, before immediately getting slammed to the floor. He rolled over and pointed his gun at his assailant, a thick mop of blonde brown hair making him angry.

”You hit me!” Connor and Jack shouted at each other, each throwing curses at one another. More blaster fire raced over their heads, to the screams of stormtroopers. In the cloud of smoke the Imperials were accidentally shooting each other. On their bellies Connor and Jack crawled, towards the safe harbour of the freighter. As they touched the boarding ramp there was a rush of warm air from the engines, the little astromech droid aboard screaming with delight as it finally got the ship started. Together the brothers pulled each other aboard as the repulsorlifts started to kick in and the Imperials finally concentrated their scattered blasterfire onto the smuggling ship.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Jack shouted, running for the blaster turrets. Connor had always done better in the flight simulators and Jack had no problem in allowing his twin to fly whilst he covered their backs.

Connor arrived in the cockpit and simply tapped the faithful R2 on the head before strapping into the pilot seat. Jack was swearing up a storm trying to climb the ladder to the turrets. “There’s only one seat!” he shouted. “There’s only one force-be-damned seat between two gun turrets, Connor! It slides between the two!”

There was a sudden thump inside the ship and Jack felt his body pressed down into the seat. “What the...”

Meanwhile Connor was at the controls, grinning ferociously. The little R2 unit of his had got the engines started up and Connor was very gently easing the cumbersome freighter out of the hangar. That is, as gently as a McCauley does these things. The freighter shot out of the hangar, narrowly avoiding colliding with a parked speeder, as Connor hauled back on the flightstick whooping in delight. The R2 unit screamed as it clattered down the corridor and there was a similar scream from Jack as he struggled to belt himself in the gun turret seat.

She flew like a drunken pig in a tornado: without grace and making a lot of noise. But the McCauleys didn’t care; they were flying free. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[South Side, Imperial Centre]

Horace looked to where the freighter had supposedly been an hour ago and sighed. “So, where are they now?”

Chapter Six: Flying Madmen

[Skies Above Imperial Centre]

“FLY AROUND THE BUILDINGS, PIP, FLY AROUND THE BUILDINGS!”

The Dropkick Murphy just about managed to fit between the two skyscrapers, making the pilot look graceful. He was anything but. “Jack, do you remember how to dial up the inertia compensator on these models?”

“DO I REMEMBER?! YOU’RE FLYING THE KRIFFING THING BUT YOU DON’T KNOW HOW THE CONTROLS WORK?!”

“Chill out, Frosty, you know we’ve not really had the proper training. You don’t need to shout, you know? There’s a comm built between me and you and-”

“BUILDING, CONNOR! BUILDING!!”

The YT freighter climbed rapidly at the last minute as Connor figured out just which lever would reduce engine speed as he hit the control pad. Jack struggled to hold his lunch down as sky views were exchanged for buildings opposite.

“I got it figured, Jack - if I slow down, it makes it easier for me to manoeuvre this thing.”

There was silence from Jack as the little R2 unit plugged into the engine’s maintenance point wailed quietly to itself. Inside its dome it was calculating the odds of survival if it stayed aboard the freighter; it did not look good. But the astromech would not abandon them, mostly because its programming forbade it to, but also because it held extremely important information to the McCauleys. If they did not have this information, they’d be doomed.

The Dropkick Murphy began to slow down slightly as Connor got more used to the controls, relaxing the pace of things. Jack, however, did not relax for long. “Connor! I can see two TIEs coming for us!”

“What?! Where?”

“Go down, man! Go down!”

The old freighter grunted and groaned as Connor’s inexpert handling sent it into a dive it did not want to take, causing Jack to be pushed against the harness in his seat. “Shoot at it, Jack!”

“Trying!” Jack shouted back simply, slapping the gun controls. The turret did not respond. Jack continued to pump the trigger, slamming random buttons until he managed to hit the one that removed the safety. He managed to send a hail of red fire towards the TIEs; it missed them by miles but was able to at least scare them into breaking off their initial attack, diving below the YT and to relative safety.

“What’d you miss them for?”

“What’d you not fly straight for?”

“So we wouldn’t die!”

“Well we look we’re going to die unle--FRAGGING HELL, PULL UP CONNOR!”

The TIEs were coming back at the YT with a vengeance and Jack rotated the turret to fire at them but it was simply too slow to respond. Its controls felt sluggish and strange compared to the very basic simulators he had practised on. He fiddled with some more switches and suddenly felt the turret become much looser; he aimed at a TIE and squeezed the trigger, whooping when his lasers punched into one of the TIE’s wing plates.

“I got one, I got one!”

“Nice shooting, brother!”

Jack grinned out the window and suddenly saw that the TIE was fine, just the owner of a few scorch marks. Its screaming engines announced its intention to rip the freighter apart completely as it came bearing down on the YT’s tail.

“FULL SHIELDS TO AFT!”

“What? You said you got it!”

“SHIELDS TO AFT, SHIELDS TO AFT!”

Connor swore at the control panel, desperately searching for the button which would allow him to move the deflector shields rearwards. Jack gritted his teeth in the gunner’s seat, firing uselessly at the TIE. Connor meanwhile grinned manically as he released flares from the freighter’s tail before finally, just in the nick of time, finding the switch which allowed him to move the shields rearwards. The TIE’s green lasers punched into the shields of the Murphy. They paled but did not collapse, giving the brothers a few more seconds of life yet.

Connor was swearing up a storm in the cockpit, punching every other button in an attempt to master the controls. The display flashed up and Connor let out a whoop as a joystick became active, allowing him to pilot with much more ease. He grabbed it and immediately wished he hadn’t as it failed to respond like normal. “Kriffing thing is inverted - why’s it inverted?” he muttered to himself. He began hitting more buttons to try and get himself out of the situation, luckily causing the freighter to flip on its side and miss the laser fire of both TIEs. He hit another switch, unbalancing the repulsorlifts in the freighter, causing it to initiate a sudden loop that the TIEs at first had difficulty following.

“That was cool,” Pip said, grinning, before the manoeuvre caught up with him and made him vomit on his control panel. Likewise in the gun turret, Jack was doing the same. “That was not cool.”

The little R2 unit started screaming over the sound of laser fire from both Jack and the TIEs and Connor’s attempts to break the atmosphere with the freighter. “What’s it shouting about, Connor?”

“Says it’s got our course plotted!”

“Well, let’s get the frakk out of here then!” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Smugglers’ hold, Dropkick Murphy]

Gemilan swore as she bounced around the narrow compartment despite her attempts to brace herself against the remaining cargo. The Imps may have thought they’d seized the spice but the really precious stuff was safe, packed into the secret hold and protected by the youngest member of the crew. Not that Gemi could have done much against fully-armed and armoured stormtroopers, but she’d figured that the others probably wanted to keep a Zeltron female well away from temptation - on both sides.

That didn’t explain the blaster fire she’d heard, though, or this lunatic flightpath. She’d barely managed to avoid throwing up all over the cargo. It would make sense if they were trying to avoid the Imps, but after handing over most of the spoils and no doubt paying a substantial bribe into the bargain, she’d have expected De’ethra to chart a far more sedate course off-planet.

Another lurch, another stomach-churning manoeuvre. Muttering a curse, Gemi pushed past a tumbled bundle and unlatched the hidden door, cannoning off the walls as she tried to stagger to the compartment behind the cockpit where the crew usually sat. A blastcouch would be much more comfortable than the smugglers’ hold!

When she reached the crew area, it was empty apart from a battered R2 droid, one she didn’t recognise. Another wild swerve set the Murphy groaning and sent Gemi thumping against the bulkhead. It was the final straw. Furious, the Zeltron stormed into the cockpit, coming up hard against the co-pilot’s seat as she yelled, “Are you drunk, you crazy …..”

Her mouth dropped open as she saw who was flying the craft. A human, fuzzy-haired, turning to look at her, his eyes widening as he took in the irate red-skinned woman. Gemi fumbled for her blaster; the human shouted, “Who the frakk are YOU?”, taking his eyes off the sky for a fraction of a second. The ship shuddered as one of the TIEs seized the advantage, hitting a stabiliser and sending the Murphy shooting upwards. Coolant fluid poured from the damaged component as both fighters swooped towards its vulnerable belly.

“Oh kriff,” Connor said aptly, clinging to the controls to keep himself at the helm.

“Oh frakk,” Gemi said accurately, flailing as she fell out of the cockpit and careered on her stomach towards the turret ladder access, her blaster skittering far out of reach.

“Son of a schutta,” Jack said poetically, throwing his head forward in despair. Forward and onto a large red button labelled “Dropkick.” His seat dropped suddenly, hurtling down the access ladder with him still intact. He passed the entry to the main floor of the ship, shooting past Gemilan, who was barely managing to hold herself out of the turret ladder access. Their faces were centimetres apart for a fraction of a second, barely allowing them to note each other’s presence before they flashed out of sight.

Before Jack had managed to comprehend what was happening, the seat arrived at the lower turret. The lower turret which was pointing directly at the TIEs, who wrongly assumed that it was inoperable. Not wasting this precious opportunity on doing stupid things like thinking, Jack simply lined up the turret and squeezed the trigger. The TIEs blew into several beautiful little pieces of shrapnel.

The astromech, meanwhile, warbled happily at the maintenance access point, having got the stabiliser issue under control with no help from any of the crew. The Murphy broke atmosphere, giving the entire group a moment to breathe and look at the stars. That … and the Golan battle stations and Imperial Mark I Star Destroyers on patrol.

“Connor, better broadcast that code the R2 has!” Jack shouted, unable to take his eyes off the rapidly departing Coruscant.

“Right,” Connor said simply, punching it into the computer and broadcasting it. Not a single ship came screaming towards them, the Murphy having broadcast the proper authority it needed to leave the planet but it was only a matter of time before the Imps on ground informed the Navy of the situation.

Gemi pushed herself onto her knees, scanning the cluttered crew compartment for her blaster. The gyrations had shaken equipment free from its moorings, hiding the gun. “No - wait …!” she began, stretching out one hand towards the cockpit as she realised what was about to happen.

“Punch it, Connor!” Jack shouted, a big grin on his face.

Wielding an even bigger grin, Connor hauled back on the hyperspace lever, causing the view to turn blue. As Gemi watched, horrified, the Dropkick Murphy left the Coruscant system.

Chapter Seven: Stowaway

[Deep space, unknown system]

The Dropkick Murphy dropped out of hyperspace, to the sound of much shouting.

“Who the hell is this, Connor? Why are we not in hyperspace? WHY IS THAT DAMNED CONSOLE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE?!”

Gemilan crossed her arms, awarding both men a cool look. “We’re not in hyperspace because the Murphy’s systems are fragged, thanks to your flying.” She glared at the long-haired one - Connor, according to his friend - before adding, “The console’s making a noise because it needs to be repaired. I can do it. I am the engineer, after all.” She left out the word ‘apprentice’ - it sounded better like that.

With a defiant tilt of her head, she looked from one man to the other, frowning. “And while we’re asking, who the hell are you?”

“McCauley,” Jack said, still frowning.

“I’m also McCauley,” Connor said, grinning. “Connor. He is Jack.”

“Don’t tell her that! She might be working for the Imperials.”

“But you already told her our last names!”

“Oh. Yeah.” Jack turned to the woman, “So, who are you?”

Gemi, who had been trying to spot her blaster amid the clutter strewn across the crewroom, dragged her attention back to the McCauleys. If they were against the Imperials - and all clues pointed to that - then she should be safe enough to reveal some of the truth. At least until she could find her blaster, fix the ship and somehow ‘convince’ them to return for De’ethra and the rest of the crew.

“Gemilan. I’m the … engineer here. On the Murphy. I was left on board when the Imperials seized the ship,” she said slowly, watching them both, weighing their responses. Her empathic senses could come in useful in the most unusual situations - like being shanghaied on her own vessel. “So why did you steal the ship? And what’s happened to the others? My crewmates?”

“Steal is a very harsh word,” Connor said, flicking the control panel to turn off another red light. “I prefer appropriated.”

“To get the hell out of Coruscant,” Jack said, slightly more honestly. He looked Gemilan over and gave a brief shrug. “You’re an engineer if you say you are. Connor, shut the ship down and let Gemilan fix our hyperdrive. We’re kind of buzzed without it.”

”Your crewmates are fine by the way. Probably. They got left on Coruscant surface but I imagine that they’ll bribe their way out of the problem," Connor said with a grin, looking at Gemilan. She gave him a stony stare in return. Knowing that he was probably right - De'ethra always carried a stash of cash for such eventualities - didn't make her feel any better. She was still on her own with these two. Now if she could only find her blaster ...

Jack snorted and walked over to a pile of debris, kicking at it. Gemilan’s blaster sat underneath so he scooped it up and twiddled it on his finger. “Sure. Gemilan, you got anything to drink on this tub?”

She fought down frustration mixed with fear. Her fingers were twitching with eagerness to reach for her weapon, but she dared not make a move - not yet. At least they seemed to have believed her lie about being the ship's engineer. Gemi kept her voice light. "Drink? Yeah. We have water, juice and synthale. The non-alcoholic stuff," she added with a smirk, knowing they wanted precisely the opposite. "There's a galley in there." She nodded to a small corridor leading from the crew space.

"You can get some for me. Juice. Iced. And let me in to these controls, Connor." She invested the name with extra bite. "I can't mend them from here." Her mind was working busily, trying to come up with scenarios for overcoming the two men and flying the ship back to Coruscant. Just as long as the Imperials didn't vapourise them first and ask questions later when they arrived.

Connor stood back from the controls, still grinning. “You see how I flew that thing?”

“See, Connor? I threw up all over the gun controls. I’m glad I couldn’t actually see.”

“Such a grump sometimes, brother. Can I get a drink too?”

“No, you can get your own.”

Grumbling, Connor followed his brother to the small galley. Foolishly Jack had set the blaster down on the co-pilot's seat, obviously not realising Gemilan was not as trustworthy as she may look. The Zeltron glanced from the firearm to the McCauleys' retreating backs, unable to believe her good luck. Slipping the blaster back into her belt, she flicked the switch that activated the internal comm system - listening only - and settled down to do a quick check on the console to the backdrop of the brothers' voices.

Jack made himself a juice and looked at Connor. Their gaze turned to the small viewport in the galley, looking out to space. Hundreds upon thousands of millions of stars winked back. Suddenly unable to contain themselves the two brothers wrapped each other in a hug, shaking excitedly. Connor broke into a huge smile. "We made it! We made it off planet!"

"It's so big. There's so many places we can go! We're free! Just like we always dreamed of." Jack looked his brother in the eyes, his own twinkling. “We did it. We really did it.”

They stepped away from each other and Jack shook his head at Connor. “We’re alive. We’re actually alive.”

“You expected us not to be?”

“Well, I don’t know. I didn’t expect the plan to work.”

“Of course it was going to work.”

“Why d’you say that?”

“Cause we didn’t come up with it,” Connor said, taking a sip of his drink. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[One week ago, Coruscant, South Side]

“We’re still in trouble, man,” Jack said, taking a glug from his ale. “We’re well and truly screwed, you know that?”

“You worry too much,” Connor said, his face flat on the table. “Drink. Have one.”

“I think you’ve had enough lads,” a familiar voice said. Both McCauleys looked round, Jack’s eyes unable to focus on the face. Connor, however, was quicker on the uptake. “Detective? Not a good place for you to be, detective, people don’t like ISB around here.”

“So don’t go flapping your mouth that I am one,” Horace said, taking a seat. He removed Jack’s ale, taking a good long drag of the drink. “You lads are in trouble, aren’t you? I mean, you struck lucky meeting me. The moment the case gets passed on, and believe me it will get passed on, you’re dead men.”

Connor raised an eyebrow at Horace whilst Jack simply tried to stop the room spinning. “What are you saying?”

“You have a choice. Either be inside a jail within the week OR do as I say and get not only your life back,, but also be able to break off this miserable rock like you’ve always wanted.”

Connor glanced to Jack, who in turn glanced at his ale mug. “That’s mine, isn’t it?”

Shrugging, Connor turned back to Horace. “We’re listening.”

“Good,” Horace said, swatting at Jack’s outstretched hand. “Now, I have a friend who is very interested in you.”

“What kind of friend?” Jack slurred, glaring at his ale.

“Alliance.”

The brothers went very quiet.

“I know what you’re thinking. If you boys turn me over, you’ll not only get me frakked but they’ll arrest you for the murder and your only escape will be gone.”

“We weren’t thinking about selling you out,” Connor protested.

“I was,” Jack said.

“So I thought,” Horace said, glancing at the twins. “Either way, here’s the deal. I’ll give you a freighter to grab, the codes to get past the Navy forces in orbit and in return you’ll go on to Pantolomin and hear it out about rebel recruitment.”

“I’m not so sure-” Jack began but Horace cut him off. “Prefer the spice mines of Kessel, McCauley?”

“Wait? What freighter? How? Who?” Connor glanced between the two. “Care to fill us in?”

“I’ll tell it from the top,” Horace said, taking another sip of ale. “I am involved with Alliance Intelligence. We’re always on the lookout for talented people like yourselves who are stuck in a rut.”

“You mean you like to blackmail people into working for you,” Jack said simply.

“Most people enjoy it after the initial resistance,” Horace countered. “But that is not my point. In precisely seven days the freighter Dropkick Murphy will arrive at docking bay 37-B at southside. One of the ISB captains already knows and is going to go give the crew a shakedown. I want you two to go grab it whilst they’re busy negotiating. Take onboard a R2 unit I’ll provide which will have the clearance codes when you break atmosphere. Head to Pantolomin and meet my contact.”

“You trust us to meet your contact?” Connor said, a little dubiously. “Just like that?”

“The Alliance is one of the only operations capable of keeping you safe from the Empire’s deathmark on you.”

“We have a deathmark on us?!” Jack spluttered.

“You soon will have,” Horace shrugged. He looked at the twins. “So, what’s the decision?”

“I’m in,” Connor said instantly. Jack shrugged back at Horace. “I go where he goes.” ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Deep space, unknown system]

Jack took another sip of his juice, bringing an extra cup to give to Gemilan. “You’re not seriously considering heading on to Pantolomin, are you, Connor?”

“What else we going to do?”

“Outer rim, man. Outer rim.”

Connor didn’t get a chance to reply as the pair arrived back at the cockpit, to be confronted by the muzzle of a blaster pointed squarely at Jack's head. "Sorry, boys." Gemi didn't sound sorry at all. "The only place we're going is back to Coruscant to get the rest of my crew. You can come along - De'ethra's always looking for some likely smugglers to join his crew - or you can take a quick walk out of the nearest airlock. Your choice."

“Did you give her the blaster, Jack?”

Jack ignored Connor and stared at Gemilan calmly. “Come now, miss, you don’t want to do that. You’d only get us all in trouble.”

“Try me.” Gemi met his stare with a calm look of her own, completely blanking Connor.

“I can’t believe you just gave her the blaster...”

“See, they’re looking for us on Coruscant now, aren’t they? We wouldn’t get past the outer layers of security, no matter how good you might think you can fly.” Jack raised an eyebrow, “You can fly, can’t you? Cause I don’t trust Connor to get us back in.”

”Course I can …” she started to say, stung into responding, but Connor took offence.

“You can’t trust me? Me?! I’m not the one who handed her over the frakking blaster, Jack!”

“Shut up, you!” Gemi swung the blaster from Jack to Connor, annoyed by the other McCauley’s complaining. She was beginning to realise the truth of Jack’s remarks. The Murphy would get shot down by the might of the Imperial navy long before it could get close to Coruscant, never mind being able to land and find her crew.

“So, Gemilan, is this really a good idea? There’s two of us and one of you. If you shoot one of us the other will grab you. Just get us to the outer rim and then you can have your ship back. No questions asked.”

The blaster muzzle didn’t waver from its target of Connor’s head, but Gemi was calculating the odds. Jack was right: shoot one brother and the other would exact his revenge. It went against the grain to admit it, but his solution was probably the only one - as long as she could trust them to keep up their end of the bargain. Of course they’d have to trust her too, it went both ways … and she was the only one who could not only fix the ship, but fly it properly. On balance, then, the odds were in her favour, as long as she could get the Murphy working again. She opened her mouth to speak but before she could answer the scanner kicked into life, wailing. There was an Imperial transport heading straight their way.

“Sithspawn,” Jack said simply.

“Gemilan, is there anywhere to hide on this rust bucket?” Connor said, looking at her desperately.

“Of course there is! We’re not smugglers for nothing!” In the face of immediate danger, potential threat took a back seat. Gemi holstered her blaster, fingers flying over the console as she coaxed information from the well-used board. “Kriff, they’re telling us to prepare for boarding! They probably think we’re waiting for a rendezvous …” She touched a loudspeaker button and the amplified voice filled the cockpit.

“... we will fire! Unidentified freighter, respond to our hails and prepare for boarding. This is Imperial Patrol shuttle 141-AG. Don’t try to escape or we will fire! Unidentified freighter, respond to our hails …..”

Gemi snapped the channel closed. “Right.” She turned to face both brothers, her expression determined. “Normally De’ethra bribes his way out of situations like this, but he’s back on Coruscant - along with the credits. If we’re lucky, this will work, but you’ve got to trust me. All right?” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Deep space, unknown system]

The stormtroopers wore full armour and carried their blasters in the ready position. As soon as the airlock showed green they cycled open the door and made their way cautiously into the empty corridors of the stranded freighter, footsteps echoing on the deckplates.

“What did she say - they’d abandoned her when they couldn’t repair the engines? Do you believe that?” The speaker’s voice sounded tinny through the comm grilles of his helmet.

“Who cares how she got here? If she’s been on her own for a while, she’ll likely be pleased to see us - know what I mean?” The helmet hid his lascivious wink.

Cautiously they progressed through the deserted corridors, passing a deactivated R2 astromech next to a maintenance port, and entered the crewspace, weapons raised.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” A young woman ran towards them, clad in skimpy, torn clothes which showed more of her red skin then they hid. “You’re the first ship which has come this way since they left! It’s been weeks! They kidnapped me and brought me here - oh, I’m sure there’ll be a huge reward for finding me; my family are incredibly wealthy … thank you, you’re my heroes!” Gemi clasped her hands in front of her and looked imploringly at the stormtroopers.

She would never win any prizes for acting, but fortunately the boarding party weren’t evaluating her performance. When Gemi first appeared they reacted instantly, covering her with their blasters, but as she blurted out her story they visibly relaxed, exchanging glances when she mentioned her family.

“Kidnapped?” the taller Imperial repeated. “Where from? And what’s your name, miss?”

“Zeltros. My father is head of the biggest hologram manufacturer on the planet. They kidnapped me when I was going shopping …” Gemi shook her head, feigning the onset of tears, “and drugged me - subjected me to … terrible things ….” She groped for a blastcouch and sat down heavily, burying her face in her hands. The Imperials stooped over her, each seeking to comfort a potentially lucrative source of income.

Unfortunately for them, the blastcouch just happened to be located opposite a narrow cupboard which usually contained the ship's stores but which, when emptied, was just large enough to hide two men. Gemi had thoughtfully provided them with blasters which were now poking into uncomfortable parts of their anatomy as they waited for the ideal moment to arrive.

“Oh, it’s been terrible - I wish I’d NEVER BEEN BORN!” Gemi wailed loudly, raising her face from her hands just enough to ensure that the sound echoed. She dissolved into fake sobs, hiding her face once again, as further down the corridor the astromech blinked back to life at the sound of the codewords.

The droid began the complex task of secretly slaving the transport’s controls to his programming while inside the smelly storecupboard, the McCauley brothers were having the time of their life. That is, if the time of your life consists of sitting too close to your twin brother, with a blaster digging in your crotch, unsure as to whether the woman you just met is going to sell you out or help you out.

When the code was shouted Jack gave a little nod to Connor. Connor tried to nod and bumped his head on the wall. With grace and poise they rolled out of the cupboard, blasters drawn.

At least, in a perfect universe they would have. However this was no action holo; instead it was painful reality, so the lads fell out the cupboard in a sprawl. But luck and surprise was on their side and Jack and Connor made efficient use of the stun blasts from their blasters on the floor. The two troopers fell to the floor, unconscious.

The little R2 twittered to itself happily, telling the unlikely alliance that it had slaved the Murphy to the transport and there was no way the transport could get out of there. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Deep space, unknown system]

The crew of four aboard the shuttle looked a little worried when Gemilan stepped through the docking tube but relaxed when the familiar presence of the two stormtroopers followed her.

“What the hell was that racket about?”

“They saved me!” Gemilan shouted happily.

“But the noise? TK2129?”

The trooper on the right raised his blaster and his comm clicked to life. “Lights out.”

The two stormtroopers fired their stun bolts. The four crewmen went down before they could reach their own blasters.

“Lights out?” Connor said after he’d dragged his helmet off. “What the hell was that?”

“I wanted to say something cool!” Jack said.

“Well, that wasn’t cool.”

“Oh, I don’t know - I thought it was cool …” Gemi poked one of the stormtroopers with her foot, checking he was really unconscious. Satisfied that he was, she crossed to the controls, checking the unfamiliar boards. After her brief experience of Connor’s alleged ‘piloting’ skills, she wondered if he would be able to cope with the transport’s set-up.

Jack shrugged and nodded at Gemilan. “You go and check to see whether you can get the Murphy flying again. Connor, go grab the other two stormies and bring them back.”

Gemi would have preferred to accompany Jack back to the other ship - there was something about him that was strangely appealing - but she nodded acceptance and jerked her head in Connor’s direction, expecting him to follow her. Grumbling, the young man left the shuttle and returned a short while later, a stormtrooper being dragged by the feet in each hand. Jack checked to see if Gemilan was in earshot and when he confirmed she wasn’t, he helped Connor unload the unconscious bodies into the escape pod. Fiddling around with the delicate electronics he yanked out various cables, happy in the knowledge the escape pod would vent all the oxygen it possessed.

“Kind of feel guilty, don’t ya?” grunted Jack as he loaded a sleeping Imp into the escape pod.

“Why?” Connor said, kicking one in. “Killing an unconscious man?”

“What? Nah, they’re Imps. I meant lying to Gemilan like that.”

“I can’t believe she was dumb enough to believe that we’d let them live. What would we do when they came around?”

“She’s not so dumb,” Jack said closing the escape pod and jettisoning it off into the darkness from inside the safety of the shuttle. “She’s just not like us.”

“Not like us, whatever, brother,” Connor snorted to himself. “Waittttt a minute. You like her!”

“What? Shove off, she ain’t human!”

“She’s not far off, though. She’s your kind of girl too. Bubbly and all that.”

“Shut up.”

“I knew it!”

There was the noise of footsteps and Jack and Connor shut up, turning to meet Gemilan. “Dumped them in the escape pod,” Jack explained when she arrived. “They’ll get picked up eventually but we’ll be so far gone they won’t be able to find us.”

“That’s good … great.” Gemi seemed distracted; she had strapped her toolbelt around her narrow waist and now she fiddled with a calibration spanner before looking at each brother in turn. “The Murphy’s engines are burnt out,” she stated simply. “It’s going nowhere till I get some spare parts.” And a fully qualified engineer to help fit them, she thought to herself, but didn’t reveal that to the brothers. “I should be able to find them on Pantolomin, so … I was wondering …. what if I came with you?” she finished in a rush, trying to overcome any possible objections. “I can give you both some piloting training while we travel, so you know what you’re doing when you’re on your own. Once I’ve got what I need, you can bring me back here and we’ll part company.” She looked from one brother to the other. “So what d’you think?”

The brothers exchanged a glance. Connor raised an eyebrow at Jack and in return Jack gave a little shrug. Of course the answer was yes; there was no way either of them was going to let the other fly. But it wouldn’t do not to make Gemi wonder.

“Weeeelllll,” Connor said, stroking his chin.

“We’re not ones for taking people on board,” Jack stated calmly. Gemi was about to respond when Connor interrupted.

“But we admit, you’ve got a certain charm about you.”

“Even if you do cause technical gremlins everywhere we look.”

“Aye,” Conor nodded. “Gremlins everywhere.”

“Gremlins?” Gemi was baffled. “What are ‘gremlins’? And how do I cause them?”

“You’re in on one condition,” Jack said, looking her in the eye. She was instantly quiet, meeting his gaze.

“You give Jack a footrub.”

“Right, you give - wait, what?”

“What? You don’t want a free footrub?”

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“Right, so obviously it’d make sense to-”

“Shut up,” Jack snapped at his brother. “You’re in if you promise to do exactly as we say.”

She folded her arms, eyeing Jack cautiously, then muttered, “All right.” It was two against one; Gemi had no desire to be shoved into an escape pod and jettisoned like so much flotsam. Even though the pods were equipped with emergency beacons, she could be drifting for ages before someone picked up the signal. She’d die of boredom!

“Right,” Conor said with a smile. “I’ll have some food to start with, perhaps then-”

“Shut. Up.” Jack waved an arm at the controls. “Let’s move.”

“Well, we should bring the R2 across first,” Gemi pointed out, pragmatically. “Has anyone checked the food and supplies on this ship? We might have to fetch more from the Murphy. I’ve got some personal belongings I’d like to bring, too. Why don’t we leave in an hour? That should give us time to get everything sorted out.”

Even if Jack insisted on leaving immediately, Gemi was still prepared. She’d secreted some supplies about her person, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t welcome the chance to organise more.

“Do I look like an officer to you? I don’t know anything about preparing,” Jack grumbled. “Just come shout when you’re ready.”

He walked off to the cockpit to see what was what. Connor simply shrugged at Gemilan. “He’s always like this if we’re not moving forwards. Here, I’ll come help you move the stuff over.”

She hid her disappointment. “All right. Let’s be quick. All we’d need would be another shuttle to come looking for this one!”

Within the hour the ‘requisitioned’ shuttle jumped into hyperspace, leaving the Dropkick Murphy drifting in space, broadcasting a warn-away plague beacon to deter any potential boarders. --------------------------------------------------------

[Deep space; Imperial Patrol shuttle 141-AG]

”I can do it, I can do it! Just let me have my go!”

For the past few days it had gone like this. As they travelled through hyperspace Gremlin had kindly offered a few flying lessons and the brothers weren’t too proud to say no. They’d find a safe spot, revert to realspace and the lessons would begin.

Jack twisted in his seat, aiming a fist at Connor. In turn Connor grabbed him, as they fell to the floor of the cockpit, swearing and hitting one another. So far nearly every lesson had this happen.

”Kriff!” Gemi shut down the board and surged to her feet. “IF YOU DON’T STOP THIS RIGHT NOW …” I sound like my mother! she thought wearily, “I - I WON’T TEACH YOU ANY MORE!”

The scuffling stopped - or at least, it grew less violent, but Gemi could pretend to ignore the occasional kicks or muttered curses. “I mean it!” she threatened, putting extra venom into her voice. “How d’you think you’ll be able to pilot a ship in a crisis if you can’t keep your tempers?”

”Sorry,” they both muttered, exchanging a glance. Jack started first, “It’s just he knows how to-”

”-get under my skin,” Connor finished, grinning. Jack shot him a glare and Connor shrugged. Placing himself back in the pilot seat Jack took the controls, moving them slowly and deliberately; smooth motions very different to the way Connor was more violent and reactive with the controls. Even in this short time they had shown varying approaches to flying.

With Jack fully concentrated on looking at the instruments, Connor leaned in close to Gremlin’s ear. “Put your hands on his, to guide him. Go on. He needs the help.”

”He’s actually doing quite well,” she started to whisper in return, then caught herself. “Uh - maybe. Erm, okay.”

Clearing her throat slightly, she stepped alongside Jack, studying the way his fingers gripped the yoke, the combination of strength and control … she blinked, trying to keep her thoughts on her teaching role. There were always improvements that could be made. Gemi leaned forwards, messy plait of purple hair falling over one shoulder to brush Jack’s arm.

”If you put your fingers here - like this,” slim red hands gently corrected his grip, “then you’ll find she’s much more … responsive.” Her empathic senses, so chancy at the best of times, chose that moment to kick in - or maybe it was her proximity to Jack which set them off. “So how does that feel?” she blurted, her cheeks flushing a deep purple.

”Yeah, that’s uhhh, yeah. She, er, feels amazing." Jack continued to stare out of the viewport, at first his arms stiffening from her light touch and then loosening up again as he felt her soft hands. She was so gentle and soft, but direct too. As she guided his motions, he felt safe in this moment. He wasn’t used to feeling safe. He glanced back, taking her body in as the heat in him rose. This close to him he could smell her, sweat and grease mixing in an intoxicating cocktail with the scent of the shampoo in her purple hair. Somewhere inside him a light winked on, warning him that this wasn't quite as ordinary a crush as he was used to. Struggling to regain his composure, Jack tried to sound cool, calm and collected. "You've done this before, haven't you?"

Out of the corner of one eye Jack noticed Connor, grinning broadly as he filmed it all. ”CONNOR!”

”Here we see Gremlin and my brother acting out one of the titular scenes from the pivotal holonovella, ‘What The Galaxy Knows’, a stirring read and one of Gremlin’s favourites from what I can tell on her datapad here,” Connor placed himself the other side of the datapad camera, struggling to conceal his laughter, as all three were now in frame of the video lens.

Jack struggled to get out of the seat and past Gremlin, pulling her close in an attempt to wriggle past and give chase, “CONNOR I SWEAR!”

Gemi, meanwhile, was trying just as violently to reach her property. ”Connor, you son of a schutta - that’s PRIVATE!” She writhed in Jack’s arms, reaching fruitlessly for the datapad before the two of them shot out from behind the console like pods from a Saleucami popper-stalk. Together they crashed into the laughing Connor, sending them all to the deck. ----------------------------------------------------------

[Deep space; Imperial Patrol shuttle 141-AG]

Jack placed the steaming mug of hot chocolate down carefully on the small table, smiling a genuine smile. “I wouldn’t have thought that big bad Imperials would have hot chocolate of all things in their supply cupboard, but there you go. Expect the unexpected in life.”

Elsewhere aboard the shuttle, Connor’s snoring reverberated around. Jack didn’t mind anymore, he was used to it. He took a sip of his own hot chocolate and sat down carefully next to Gremlin, his eyes locked on her briefly. “Look, if I’m being rude here then you can sack me in the nuts, okay. But I’ve heard things, rumours, and always wanted to know the actual truth. What’s Zeltros like?”

She had returned his smile, enjoying the chance to spend a little time alone with Jack. Not that she disliked Connor; he was easy enough on the eye and fun to talk to, but there was something … special … about Jack. She picked up the mug of hot chocolate and gave a cautious sip. It wasn’t Zeltron spiced wine, but it was surprisingly delicious.

His question made her smile again, but more wistfully. “Zeltros … it’s - well. How can I explain this? If you go to Zeltros, you’ll see one part of it - the pleasure domes, the holo-palaces, the casinos and clubs and bars. You’ll probably be in one of the big cities, because that’s where the tourists go, and you’d have a good time - I’ve no doubt of that! Everyone has a good time on Zeltros.”

She cradled the mug of hot chocolate, enjoying its aromatic scent - it reminded her of the blooms of the lessi tree that grew in the garden of her family’s rambling, chaotic home. It had been so long since she’d seen them. She missed them so much ….

“There’s another side to Zeltros, though. It’s about … family. And friends. And lovers. And we - Zeltrons - we look after each other. We care for people, we want to make sure they’re happy.” She slanted a glance at Jack. “That’s what Zeltros is like, for me at least. Does that answer your question?”

He looked at her, strangely. A mixture of fascination, grief and jealousy. “You’re the most alien person I’ve ever met, you know that? Home is so different for me. I’m not sure we have one thing in common.”

Taking a sip of his hot chocolate he tried to imagine a place like Zeltros. “On Coruscant. Hells, I don’t know where to start. My mam raised us by herself, working sixty hours a week on top of it. We got kicked out of apartments more times than I can remember from not being able to afford rent. She did everything she could for us and in turn she got sent to prison when we were fourteen. Me and Connor, we had to look out for each other and no one else. Some folks tried to help, you know, but no one had anything. Some people would turn on each other, anything to get some credits. You can’t afford to care.”

Jack realised his hand was hurting, he was squeezing the life out of the scalding hot mug. Relaxing his hand he looked back down to the hot chocolate, frowning slightly. He hadn’t talked to anyone about his life in, well, ever. “Ach, you didn’t ask about my life story. I got carried away there. Zeltros sounds amazing, what in the galaxy dragged you away from there?”

Gemi listened to his story with well-concealed horror. The childhood he described … it was as different from her upbringing as anything she had ever seen on the holonet. She flinched when he realised his hand was burning, her empathic senses also picking up on the undertones of shame, despair and hatred which underscored his words. But there was a flare of love and pride when he mentioned his mother and that, at least, she understood.

Tentatively, she placed one hand on his arm. “I don’t mind hearing about your past. I’m sorry you had such a difficult time, the two of you - and your mother. But you’re wrong, Jack - we do have something in common.” Gemi smiled, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. “We both have mothers who mean a lot to us - and that’s why I’m here. Well, not here specifically,” she nodded to indicate their current ship, “but that’s why I joined the crew of the Murphy - I’m the oldest of a big family and my mother needed the money.”

"Family is everything," he said, nodding at her words. "I'd be long dead without Connor by my side. I'd do anything for him."

”That’s it, yes. Family is everything.” With a little sigh, she sat back, her free hand falling from Jack’s arm. “Ma couldn’t afford me going to university so my birth father, who’s a pilot, got me a berth on the Murphy. ‘Course, he didn’t tell me - or ma - that the ship has a sideline in smuggling! And I’ll admit, I never thought I’d be sitting here - in an Imperial shuttle, no less - talking with someone who snatched me just a couple of days ago.” She grinned at him, mischievous, looking younger than her years.

She was so innocent, he thought to himself. She had no idea what life was like out here in the galaxy, with the Empire and its violent oppression. He wished for her that she wouldn't, for some time. "Well, I'm glad you met us. First time stealing an Imperial ship, first time getting hijacked, first time meeting real genuine criminal masterminds." He gave a wink. "There's a lot of firsts for you to experience out here. Me and my brother are just the tip of the iceberg." He didn't mention his own firsts he'd yet to experience: touch real grass, feel real rain, see open sky above him.

Gemi laughed at the ‘criminal masterminds’ part. “Oh yes, you and Connor are definitely that!” She grinned at him over the edge of her mug of hot chocolate. “So if these are all firsts, what are we going to do for seconds?”

Jack studied her, his green eyes twinkling. An idea came over him, “Gremlin. Your old captain was an idiot. He lost his ship to the first pair of fools who came to take it. You need to make money? Me and Connor know all about making money. Join us. We’ll take the Murphy and start making real credits, quickly. You know it’d be fun, wouldn’t it?”

Fortunately she was taking a drink when he spoke, which hid her expression when Jack mentioned taking the Murphy. What did he mean by ‘join us’? Us? The Murphy was her ship now - not theirs!

That was the moment when Gemi realised that, whatever happened on Pantolomin, she had no intention of returning the ship to its captain-owner, the Weequay De’ethra, and going back to being an apprentice engineer. Not after she’d been given the chance, though Jack and Connor’s intervention, to escape from the role she’d held for almost two years - and although she was grateful for the opportunity, she was also cautious about tying herself into a partnership with ship-thieves she’d only known for a few days. Even if one of them was Jack.

Cradling the mug in both hands, she glanced down, long eyelashes sweeping her red cheeks. “Yes … it would be fun. And I’m sure you’re both good at making money,” she glanced up, eyes wide and trusting, hoping her Zeltron pheromones would help encourage him to believe her outrageous lie, “but - don’t you think you should speak with Connor first? I mean, he may not want me to stay with you. When we took this shuttle, you were both clear that we’d only stick together until you’d done whatever it is you’re going to do on Pantolomin.” She shrugged one narrow shoulder, affecting reluctant concern, then waited with genuine anxiety to see what his response would be.

Jack looked into her eyes and felt absolute confidence that he’d won her over. Easy as. Free ship plus cute girl. “Ah, don’t mind Connor. We were just playing hardball, making sure you didn’t get any foolish ideas about turning us over to the Imps or anything. You’ve had nearly a week in which to murder us in our sleep or anything worse and yet here we are, sharing hot chocolate and learning about your favourite romantic holonovellas.” He took a big gulp, basking in the warmth of success. “Really, he won’t mind. We needed a few more people to crew the ship really, it’d make sense to start with someone who has your talent.”

With every word, Gemi became more convinced that she would never be in any crew which involved Jack McCauley. Or Connor! Of course, they could be in her crew - but that was getting too far ahead of herself. She was still in a challenging position, as Jack had just reminded her: the brothers could easily decide that she was a threat to them and hand her over to the Imperials. Her dreams of flying the Murphy would be long gone then.

But it wouldn’t do to let Jack know she felt like this. “Well … if you say so,” she gave an uncertain smile, “then I’ll definitely think about it. We’re still a few days out from Pantolomin. You might change your mind - or Connor might - but, well, it’s good to know you think I have … talent.” Gemi buried her nose in her mug of hot chocolate, feigning shyness, but she was already thinking of ways to ditch the brothers at Pantolomin and make her own way back to the Murphy.

Yes, she could definitely stay, McCauley thought to himself confidently. Connor might protest initially, it had always been agreed they could only trust each other. But they would need a crew and Gremlin was hot, gullible and definitely holding a furious attraction to him. He looked at her drinking the hot chocolate and felt a little red on his cheeks. Okay, maybe the crush was mutual. Placing his mug down carefully he moved closer to her, reaching out one hand to place on hers. “Look, I know it’s being a little...wild. We did, maybe, sort of ‘accidentally’ kidnap you and take you out to deep space by yourself. But I promise you, no matter what happens, I’ll see you to safe harbour. But, there’s something here, right now, right?”

She didn’t answer immediately, setting her mug on the table next to his and keeping her gaze fixed on it. There was definitely something between them, it would be foolish to deny that. And Gemi was a healthy Zeltron female who was used to following her own desires - but at the same time, she was effectively his captive. “There is … something … between us,” she admitted, eventually, “but you - well, you did kidnap me. Accidentally or otherwise.” She’d been going to say more, but Jack surprised her.

He removed his blaster from his belt, placing it on the table and pushing it over to her. “You have every right to tell me to get frakked. If you’re not interested you just say and I’ll back off. But, would you like to….” He leaned in closer, his hand squeezing hers slightly. “You know….maybe…”

Oh, she knew. And it had been a long time. And he was good-looking. And even though her common sense was telling her not to get involved, her treacherous body was straining towards him, pheromones a riot of amorous enthusiasm. Gemi placed one hand on the blaster, tracing the lines of its stock, then looked sideways at Jack. “Yes, I would like …” she breathed, lips parting in mute invitation, and they met in a kiss that was sweet from the hot chocolate and strangely gentle.

The stun shot enveloped both of them in a blue haze, their lax bodies sagging together in a parody of an embrace.

“Oh, kriff! Didn’t mean to get you too, Jack, but she was gonna pull that blaster on you!” Connor sprinted towards the table, pulling his brother’s limp form away from the red-skinned Zeltron. She flopped forwards onto the table, upsetting a mug and sending its remaining contents oozing across the surface.

“Jack! Jack, wake up!” Connor slapped his brother’s cheeks a couple of times but he lay unresponsive, tongue hanging from his mouth. “Dank farrik! Why’d you let her take the blaster again, you nerf-brain?” With a sigh, Connor sat back, eyeing the liquid trickling across the tabletop. It smelled of a childhood treat he hadn’t tasted for years. Dipping one fingertip into the puddle, he gave a cautious sniff, then licked the rich brown droplet.

“Hot chocolate! Where’d you find that?” Tucking Jack’s blaster safely into his own belt, Connor set off to find the source of the drink. It’d be a while till they both started to come around, he rationalised; he might as well get some for himself because once they reached Pantolomin, hot chocolate would surely be the last thing on their minds. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chapter Eight: It all hits the fan

[The Girly Gundark; Pantolomin]

Whoever had had the bright idea of making a strip-club the meeting place for a rebel cell was a frakking genius.

The two brothers walked through the myriad of what seemed like at least a dozen beautiful women dancing completely naked on various tables in various parts of the bar. The natural mood setting was red--all the lights were reds, oranges, yellows... colors that set ablaze one’s passion. The music was deafening, the hard beat was enough to get even the most somber man excited “about life”. If not for the large “No Touching” sign that could be found at the entrance, Connor might’ve thrown himself at one of them. Especially at that Twi’lek dancing in the corner... Connor bit his lower lip and winked at her.

She winked back!

He couldn’t help but have a grin on his face as he made his way through, always behind his twin brother. Jack himself was following a rather large looking Gotal to the backroom. The brothers had ditched the Zeltron female back at the hotel. They’d done her the favor of tying her to the refresher whilst Jack and Connor handled business. They couldn’t have her running away either, could they? They needed that pilot, and they couldn’t take any chances of her going to the authorities. In any case they had left her a bowl of food and water and the holovid turned on (although, in retrospect, they probably should’ve uploaded more holomovies... all they had bothered to download the night before had been hardcore pornography--that red Gremlin would probably enjoy it anyways, now that Connor thought more about it).

The Gotal reached the backroom’s entrance and held open the door for the two McCauleys to pass through just as a second nude, female Twi’lek stepped on stage and started spanking the first one. Connor tried to crane his neck to watch as much as possible as he stepped in but Jack hauled him in before the Twi’lek twins could get to the good part. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Hotel Majestic, Pantolomin]

With hindsight, Gemi reflected, she should have expected something like this.

Probably she had grown too trusting on the trip to Pantolomin, thinking that she and the McCauley brothers had formed some sort of accord. She had felt herself growing close to Jack but knowing that he was considering captaining the Murphy, which she now thought of as her ship, had made her cautious about establishing a deeper relationship with him. Maybe if she had slept with him, though, she wouldn’t have found herself tied up next to a smelly refresher unit in a low-budget hotel - the only thing ‘majestic’ about the place was its name.

”I’m sorry,” Jack had told her, although he’d kept grinning the whole time. “But what we’re about to do could be dangerous. You’re foolish enough to follow us, even if we say to stay, so I think it’s best we do it like this - right, Gremlin?” She hadn’t dignified that with an answer, though her glare had said it all.

Sighing, Gemi tugged again at the hand that was tied securely to the pipework. She’d eaten the food and drunk the water, manipulating the bowl awkwardly with her free hand. She’d grown bored with the holo-porn quite quickly - human imaginations were so limited - and now she was ready to attempt an escape.

In the adjoining bedroom, the R2 unit woke up at her whistle. During the voyage to Pantolomin, Gemi had worked while the McCauleys were sleeping, reprogramming some sub-systems so the droid would seem to accept instructions from others while ultimately obeying only her. Beeping happily, the battered R2 unit trundled into the ‘fresher. Gemi smiled and held out her arm, keeping the rope taut. “Cutting gear, I think!” The R2 squeaked approval and set to work. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[The Girly Gundark; Pantolomin]

“I must say that I was pleasantly surprised when you came here,” the bearded man was saying. His beard was thick and bushy, making him look like some sort of eccentric scientist, but his eyes twinkled with a very different kind of intelligence. “Our friend in Coruscant told me that he wasn’t sure if you’d come at all.”

Jack was about to say something when Connor stopped. “Let me handle this,” he told his twin in a low voice. Connor then turned to the bearded man. “Listen, we’re not talking nothing about anything unless we get a drink.”

The bearded man turned to Jack. Jack nodded solemnly. Sighing, the man reached under his desk and withdrew a bottle of Corellia’s finest whisky. He poured three glasses and handed the brother’s one each, taking a sip of his. He closed his eyes briefly to enjoy it but when he opened them again he found both brothers’ glasses empty, both sat in front of him, both giving him a look which made it quite clear what was needed.

He poured out more. “You understand what you’re being asked to do?”

“Maybe,” Jack said, staring at his whisky glass.

“I know a man who you know who I know who my brother knows who knows that we might know how to be useful to you and that he’d thought you’d like to know,” Connor stated as if any part of that sentence made sense. The bearded man gave them both a quizzical look and Connor took pity on him, draining his whisky. “Officer Horace is a spook. He said we should become spooks.”

“I begin to wonder why,” the bearded man said, looking frustrated. He glanced at the Gotal but the Gotal shrugged: Pains in the arse they may be but the alien couldn’t detect any falsehood about them. They were telling the truth.

“Thing with becoming a spook,” Jack said, still admiring his whisky, “is that it’d make us loyal rebels, wouldn’t it? I don’t see that being very us.”

“Nah,” Connor said in agreement, “We’re more lads of debauchery.”

“Criminal activities.”

“Petty crime.”

“Thievery.”

“Agents then,” the bearded man said happily. “Such talents that you possess come in handy for agents. You’ve also both got the gift of the gab.”

Both Jack and Connor looked at the man more closely now. ‘Gift of the gab’ was a phrase they’d only ever heard their mam use before. “What about loyalty?” Connor said carefully.

“Well, gentlemen, there’s the small matter of the Imperial Death Mark on your heads. Wouldn’t want to upset the people that are keeping you hidden, would you?”

Neither brother replied, instead choosing to drink their whisky.

“Right then. Let’s discuss the details a bit more...” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[The Girly Gundark; Pantolomin]

Whoever had had the bright idea of making a strip-club the meeting place for a rebel cell was a frakking nerf-brain. It might have worked well enough for humans, but a Zeltron in such a location was seen as only one thing: part of the entertainment. Gemi had already removed sundry hands, paws and tentacles from various parts of her anatomy. Next time, she promised herself, she’d do it with her blaster.

Gemilan had picked up enough information on the trip to Pantolomin to know that the McCauleys were meeting with a contact from the Rebel Alliance. She had no desire to join the rebellion; all she wanted was to find someone who could mend the Murphy’s engines and then high-tail it back to her ship as soon as the brothers had finished whatever business they had in this joint. The little R2 droid had quickly given up the address for the McCauley’s rendezvous and Gemi had decided to surprise them, if only to see their faces when they realised she had escaped. It would be sweet retribution for tying her up in the first place.

She walked across to the bar, growled at a predatory Rodian and flashed a low-value credit at the barkeep. The Zeltron spiced wine was probably watered, but at least she could have a drink while she waited for the McCauleys to appear. In the meantime, there were some interesting things happening on stage …. with a smile, Gemi settled down to watch. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[ Outside The Girly Gundark; Pantolomin]

Pantolomin was a pleasure planet, coming second only to Zeltros for parties; it was home to many a casino, hotel and bar such as the one the brothers were currently in. Even so, being close to the core there was very little need for Imperial Forces on a planet like this - who would want to rebel on a party planet, anyway?

That was why it was so unusual to see Stormtroopers standing around. Even in the seedier parts of the planet there was little need for law enforcement but there, brazen as brass, was a group of stormtroopers. Residents quickly began to move away: Only a fool would hang around at a time like this.

The stormtroopers looked to their captain, or that is to say a captain. The man was with Imperial Intelligence and, as is often the way with spy games, this was a personal case of spy versus spy. There was history between the bearded man and the Imperial Captain, unknown to any but themselves.

For the McCauley brothers and Gemilan, they were soon to learn that life with the Alliance wasn’t all fun and games. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Hotel Majestic, Pantolomin]

Solid. Solid and dependable. Yes, the wall behind his back was solid and dependable. Not like those walls back at the Girly Gundark, with their strange collapsing ability. No, these walls in the hotel room promised to not collapse and manifest themselves as legions of storm troopers. These walls were his friends.

There was a shape in front of him, red and blurry. Pretty face. Gremlin? Gemilan? Yes, she was his friend. She was holding something to his head, it was cold and soft. A towel. White, but looked kind of darker now. Red. Blood. Ah yes, he was bleeding. Not badly though, right? If it was bad he wouldn’t feel as perfectly fine as he did now.

He could see her lips moving but he couldn’t hear her words. His ears were still ringing from the blast. Was that ringing? Sounded more like waves. Blood rushing perhaps. He looked back at her eyes. She looked sad, was squeezing him on the shoulder. Trying to reassure him. He nodded at her, smiling, to try and reassure her in turn. Not that he knew what she was upset about. “I’m fine,” he tried muttering through broken lips. “It’s okay. I’ll stay right here.”

She disappeared, probably into the bathroom. Her hands had looked a little bloody. Why? Why so much blood? He closed his eyes and tried to remember.

So this wall was solid. The other had not been. There had been the bearded man, with the nice whisky, and the Gotal friend. Odd aliens, Gotals, as if all aliens weren’t odd, but with those horns apparently they could know stuff. This one had known something cause he’d started to shout and suddenly everyone was running. He’d ran with his brother too, cause that’s what you do when it all goes wrong. Run back into the main part of the club. Mistake.

Yes. It had been a mistake. In the office everything was fine but in the club the front wall was missing and there were lots of stormtroopers. Stormies hadn’t been careful with their fire; after all, who cared if some no-name pole dancers died? There’d been a lot of them. He’d gone left whilst his brother had gone right. That’s what they always did since their first fist fight, split up and take them from both sides.

The Imps weren’t there for them, the man thought as he held his towel to his head, why would they be? They wanted the bearded man and the Gotal. But they were shooting anyone so they’d fought back. He remembered moving to the bar, firing over the top of it. Remembered meeting up with Gremlin somehow, thinking how much easier that made it. With two of them heading left it’d been so much easier to cut through the men.

So, with luck, they’d got through. There were still troopers everywhere but suddenly there were more of the bearded men’s friends. Not enough though, he remembered that much. Nowhere near enough. He had seen the bearded man get shot down and still the stormtroopers kept marching forward. The moment he and Gremlin stopped firing the troopers ignored them and concentrated on the rebels.

They’d waited near the wall, in cover, waiting for his brother. That’s right, he thought to himself as he stood unsteadily, they’d waited for him there. But there’d been two of them heading left, and only his brother heading right. They waited but then he’d seen it. His brother. On the floor. Blood everywhere, his brother on the floor. His brother. Connor.

Jack took an unsteady step towards the window, his breathing becoming more heavy. He remembered grabbing Gemilan’s hand, telling her to shut up, and dragging them away. He remembered fleeing the battle with her, not looking back for his brother. Never looking back.

But he remembered the body on the floor.

Jack picked up a chair and flung it against the window; it broke but did not break through, balancing atop the broken window pieces. He could hear again now and he could hear screaming. He picked up the computer terminal and threw it against the wall. The screaming; why wouldn’t it stop? Who was screaming?

Down below, at reception, the manager simply turned his music up louder. This wasn’t uncommon in this neighbourhood. After all, drugs did terrible things to a man’s mind.

The screaming was barely human, he thought to himself in a calm way as he pounded the wall with his fists. There were words, swear words, kriff and frakk and others he barely recognised. But it was also more guttural, like an animal enraged. How odd, he thought to himself as his fists splintered through one thin wall, cutting his knuckles, how very odd that someone would feel moved to that kind of level of emotion.

There was a hand on his shoulder, someone trying to stop him. He spun around and saw her. He raised his fist to her: if she hadn’t been there, everything would have been fine. He could have been dead with his brother. That would have been fine.

He stared at her. The screaming had stopped. He had stopped screaming. Then, with a wave of realisation, he sank to the floor and began to cry, quietly at first until big sobs broke through. He felt her arms around his shoulders and he did not shrug them away. Not this time. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Hotel Majestic, Pantolomin]

Some time later Gemi sat on the edge of one bed, watching the man who lay on the other. She had sat like this since Jack had fallen into an exhausted sleep, his wounds bound, tended by her rudimentary first aid skills. She had no idea, though, how to tackle the trauma he had experienced in the nightclub. His breakdown the previous night had terrified her but then, if she had seen what he had seen, would she have reacted any differently?

Gemi pulled the worn blanket more closely around her shoulders. She didn’t like to think of Connor lying on the ground, blood blooming over his body like obscene flowers. He had been irritating, definitely; arrogant, ignorant and headstrong, but he didn’t deserve to die like that, cut down by Imperials in the middle of a firefight. Gemilan sighed, palming her hands across her purple-rimmed eyes. She wanted to cry again but couldn’t because one of them at least should stay strong and she couldn’t very well ask it of Jack, who had just seen his twin brother …

Her breath caught; she closed her hands into fists and opened her eyes to see Jack looking straight at her.

“Jack?” Gemi slipped off the bed and knelt next to his. She automatically reached out with one hand but pulled back before she touched him, remembering all too clearly the outpouring of grief from just a few hours ago.

”We need an engineer,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Pantolomin is a big planet and we can hide a while but it’s too risky to stay here for too long. We need to grab an engineer and hightail it back to the Murphy.”

She was relieved beyond words to see that he was no longer half-mad with grief. After the last few terrible hours, she would have agreed to anything he said. “Yes, but …” she began, only for Jack to swing his feet out of bed with an energy she didn’t know he possessed.

He stood up strongly. It was done. Time to get back on with things. “If we’re lucky, they never properly ID’d us last night. Connor didn’t have ID on him, we never do, so they won’t learn anything from his body. But nevertheless, that’s a big if. We need to move and quickly.”

Gemi almost overbalanced when he stood so abruptly. She scrambled to her feet, one hand outstretched to stop him doing too much. “Jack, wait - take it easy …”

He headed towards the refresher. He needed a shower, badly. “You’ve got an hour. Find an engineer, get back here and then we move. To the Murphy and then....Hutt space.”

”All right, but ….”

”When we get there,” Jack paused at the doorway. He tapped it as if figuring out something to himself. “When we get there you leave. We’re not to see each other again.”

”Wait - what …?”

He headed into the refresher and shut the door behind him. He did not want to hear her protests, not now.

She was left alone in the room, watching the door, her mouth open in shock. The coldness in his voice had been absolute, as if he had never cried in her arms just a few hours previously. “Jack …?” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes.

From its resting-place in the corner of the room, the little R2 unit hooted mournfully. Gemi sucked in a shaky breath. She had an hour to find an engineer - and the journey back to the Dropkick Murphy to change Jack’s mind. Wiping away tears with the back of her hand, she checked her blaster was in place and moved to the door. “Don’t you let him leave, all right?” she warned the astromech, sounding fierce despite the catch in her voice. “I’m relying on you to keep him here!”

The droid whistled, its lights flashing with determination as the door closed behind her. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Dropkick Murphy]

The Murphy hung before them in space, the beacon still broadcasting its warn-away. Her new engineer, a Sullustan, was already taking readings of her condition with the shuttle’s sensors. Gemi, in the pilot’s chair, glanced sideways at Jack. Though he was in the co-pilot’s seat, he had been in charge for most of the journey, swapping watches with Gemilan to prove his fitness to fly. She had tried several times to engage him in conversation about the future but he had resolutely refused to change his mind; her one attempt at seduction had been thoroughly rebuffed.

Now, with the final destination in sight, she was determined to try one last time. “Jack, please,” she began, turning to face him, “surely we’d be better sticking together. We could sell one of the ships - I’d even sell the Murphy, Force help me - and that’d give us credits to set up business together …” She spread her hands in mute appeal. “Please, Jack, it makes more sense than splitting up!”

Jack did not make eye contact with Gemilan, instead staring out of the viewport. She’d held back until now but he knew sooner or later she’d ask. She had every right to but he still didn’t want to hear it. “Gremlin,” he said, trying to put a stern voice on. “No. You go one way, I go the other. All right? You were there when Connor died. I don’t want to see you because….because it hurts. Maybe I’ll see you another day. Maybe.”

He stood and walked away from her and the cockpit. “I’m going for a nap. Call when you’re ready to depart.” He shook his head briefly. “I am not changing my mind on this, do not push me today. If I’m lucky, then we won’t meet again.”

Chapter Nine:Opportunity

[Mid rim, Hutt Space, Y’Toub System, Nal Hutta, Moon of Nar Shaddaa. Eight months before Alderaan.]

The city was home to almost every type of scum you could care to mention. Big scum, small scum, scum with guns, scum who like fun, scum who like big guns which are fun that drink a lot of rum. Nar Shaddaa was, in essence, the home of scum. If Mos Eisley was a hive of villainy then Nar Shaddaa was the bee keeper’s house.

It was, in short, the perfect home for a McCauley. Especially a McCauley who was currently halfway through a pint of whatever cantina this was best’s ale. Jack kept a slightly dopey grin on his face, even when the seat opposite him was filled. Sure it was always dangerous when a stranger sat near you in Nar Shaddaa but Frosty didn’t have any enemies. He always got the job done, always paid. Sure he might delay the payment or even persuade the person in question to reduce the payment by talking till they agreed, but everyone agreed he was a good lad. Reliable, fun and adventurous. No one saw any sense in taking McCauley down.

Plus the person opposite him was pretty damned pretty. Her skin was pale, her eyes a bright blue, whilst her face was sharp and angular. Combined with the silver, not grey but silver, hair she held an air of intensity. Jack was immediately attracted.

“A drink?” he said, holding his mug, his hand shaking slightly.

“No thank you.” The voice was cold too, but not off putting.

“I didn’t mean you,” the cocky man said, taking a gulp. “I meant I would like a drink, miss.”

There, a brief flash of a smile. Not much but enough to make the heart race. “I don’t think you’d like my kind of drink, Mr McCauley.”

“Not so much of the mister, thank you miss,” Jack said, not caring that she knew his name. “I’m only twenty. So what kind of drink is your drink?”

“Poison,” the voice said dispassionately. “Preferably the colourless odourless kind. Very effective.”

Jack smiled. This was a very novel way of flirting. “So, you’ve poisoned me?”

“You, Mr McCauley? No. I was simply answering your question. There is no point in poisoning useful tools.”

Jack set the mug down slightly more carefully this time. “So I’m a tool, am I?”

“Yes.” Again there was no passion in her words, just truth. “A useful tool for the Alliance, if you can be wielded properly.”

Jack didn’t reply, simply taking another gulp of the drink instead. She continued to talk, “You have been a hard man to find, Mr McCauley. There were many loose ends to tie up after Pantolomin. But sooner or later your work here meant we would hear of you. You have established quite the foothold here. Made a reputation for yourself.”

Finishing his mug of beer, Jack began to stand. He immediately stopped when he felt the boot on his stomach. The heel pushing in. “You think that will stop me?”

“No,” the truthful woman said. “But the men outside will. They will knock you out and then we will have to do this conversation with you in cuffs.”

“Might be more fun,” Frosty said in an attempt to improve the atmosphere. The woman simply looked at him and wrinkled her forehead in confusion, trying to figure out the joke. Jack sat down again.

“Perhaps your previous contacts did not make it very clear, Mr McCauley. You are not free. Nor will you be whilst the Empire is intact. There is a death mark on your head, Mr McCauley, and until the Empire is gone that threat is ever present.”

“They can’t touch me out here,” he said cockily. “The Empire is nothing in Hutt Space.”

“No, it is not. But credits are. They’ve increased the bounty on your head, since they discovered a connection between you and Alliance Intelligence. If you do not help us then I will be forced to tell your friends of the well-paying bounty on you. They are not very good friends, Mr McCauley.”

Jack sat very calmly and stared the woman down. It was impossible to stare her down. “They didn’t discover a connection, did they? You leaked one.”

“My methods are often very effective.”

“So what now? This is it? You come along, ruin my life, get my brother killed and I just become your little agent, do I?”

“I will be your handler, yes.” She pushed a datapad over. “You will take a freighter I have procured for you, the Rimward Liberty. You will run supplies for the Alliance. You may be needed for other duties, escort of important peoples, search and rescue of downed pilots, insertion of and picking up special forces.”

Jack crossed his arms. “Fine. But what does this have to do with Alliance Intelligence?”

“You will be given assignments by me at various times. We will require you to assess your peers.”

“My peers? You’re afraid of your own people turning on you?”

“It is a very stressful life in the Alliance. Sometimes people make some very....foolish decisions.”

“Fine. Fine. So you just waltz into my life and now I’m part of the Alliance, not even able to trust my new friends in it, doing what you say?”

“Yes, Mr McCauley. Also what your other immediate superiors say.”

Jack put his head in his hands. “Fine. Just....fine. It’s not like I was enjoying myself in this life out on the edge anyway. Obviously. One question though: Where the hell do they find absolute schuttas like you to do their dirty work?”

The woman smiled, for the second time that evening. “Imperial Intelligence.”

“They should have kept a hold of you. You fit right in with them.”

The woman nodded at Jack. “I will be in contact with more details shortly.”

He was left alone at the table, with just his beer. I better get paid. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Outer rim, hyperspace. Eight months before Alderaan.]

At night, the ship echoed with voices. Dim, half-remembered voices that could still bring a smile to the lips or raise memories that stung. It was odd, she mused, how she had hated the nickname at first. Gremlin. A mythical creature that messed up mechanisms, eviscerated electronics - no wonder she'd complained! And the more she had protested, the more they had teased her.

Gemilan sighed, her eyes on the flickering holovid. It had been taken months earlier, on the trip to Pantolomin, after one of the flying lessons: herself with Jack and Connor, the family resemblance quite obvious once you knew they were twins. They were laughing; their lips moved but she had switched off the sound so the words couldn't be heard. Gemi tried not to look at Connor: memories of his lifeless body still haunted her nightmares, though at least these didn't occur as frequently as in the immediate aftermath of the firefight.

She watched Jack instead, wondering what he was doing now. The galaxy was huge; the chances of the meeting up again had to be vanishingly small, especially as she kept rigorously away from Hutt space and any mention of her previous career as a smuggler. The tradeship once christened the Dropkick Murphy, now known as Luck Runs Wild, followed a route between various planets in the Outer Rim, turning a small profit that kept her youthful captain and crew in a relatively comfortable lifestyle. Gemi still sent a proportion of her profits to her mother and sibs. One day, perhaps, she would feel secure enough to return to Zeltros to see them. One day ...

A clatter from the crew section warned her just in time to shut off the holovid and check the controls before the ship's engineer came through to take over the watch. She completed the handover and slid out of the pilot's chair, making her way through the dim-lit corridors to her cabin. The door slid shut behind her and she sighed, thumbing the holovid to life once more.

Nobody called her Gremlin now. She wished someone would. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Epilogue

[South Side, Coruscant, Seven months before Yavin]

Horace Sol’s apartment was a dingy thing, holding very few trappings or luxury items. It was the sign of a good officer: A good policeman is so busy with his life on the force that they never bother with home. At most it’s a place to sleep, use the refresher and eat some crummy takeaway food with your drink of the night.

It was in a dank looking chair Horace sat, his box full of cheap takeaway food making him look like a pathetic man. He certainly felt it right now: Another day, another case, another time to butt heads with his senior officer. He didn’t have much of an appetite right now but he was forcing himself to eat. His datapad suddenly buzzed and Horace looked down at it. A single solitary message, from an unknown contact. Its message was blunt: YOU ARE COMPROMISED. RUN.

Horace tossed the food container aside and took a step towards the door but the door opened before he could get to it. Blue beams came flying through it and hit him, creating immense pain as his muscles went numb and he fell to the floor.

The stormtroopers walked past him, checking the room for other contacts but they found none. Horace looked up into the face of an officer, with an insignia on his shoulder that struck fear into Horace’s heart. Imperial Intelligence. “Mr Sol. Oh, Mr Sol, you didn’t really think you could get away with it for long? We find you all in the end, Mr Sol.” The man smiled, but it did not show any sign of happiness. “TK2367, have him cuffed and bring him to the station. Mr Sol has a great many things to talk to us about ...” -------------------------------------------------------

[Unkown Location, Seven months before Yavin]

Once again Connor was awake.

It was rare that the man had the opportunity; since the fiasco at that strip joint he had been awake only a few times. Once, when he was in the hospital being cured in a bacta tank and the other when he’d been interrogated by the Imperial Officer. Connor knew nothing about whatever the man could want to know and even if it did it would take a lot more before McCauley loosened his tongue. Who did they think he was? He was from Southside. There you learned to keep secrets or they would be finding your body in some dumpster in time.

The rest of the times he’d woken during some transition, some move, and there was always someone there to administer the next dose of sedative. Wherever he was going, it was obvious that the Empire did not want him knowing. Connor had heard stories about Imperials doing stuff like this… but never with private citizens, usually it was only with Rebels and such.

Oh, wait. Was he a Rebel? Connor couldn’t remember for the life of him.

His head ached and he rolled on the hard mattress. Laying on his left side he started forward and saw the run-down refresher before him, with some brown stains running down the bowl and a few other things that Connor didn’t care to take in. The young man didn’t remember getting here, but apparently here he was. He took a deep breath and decided to get up. It was difficult at first. His body sagged somewhat as he forced himself to sit up and then move his legs so that his feet touched the floor. Getting up from the bed was an odyssey in itself.

“Ugh…”

“Careful there, kid,” said a voice from above.

Connor looked up and saw a man in the cot above him. He looked pretty beat up, with long white hair and a long white beard. The man grinned at Connor. “So, why are you here?”

“Uh… I don’t remember,” Connor said. It was true, he had no recollection almost of what had happened when he’d been shot and caught by the Imperials. Jack would know, but Jack wasn’t here. For a moment, Connor felt completely alone in the Galaxy… he’d not spent a day separated from his brother and now that Jack was gone… What would Connor do now? The man on the cot was silent, watching as Connor went through his realization without really knowing what was going on in the guy’s head. After a moment, he said “Well, I know.”

“You do?”

“Aye, you were there with me when I was captured.”

“I was?”

“Plus, there’s only one reason that people get sent to this place.”

“Which is?”

“Hehehe… you’ll see.” The man gave Connor a wide grin. A good part of his teeth were missing and the rest were black and yellow. “For now, though, let me be the first to invite you into the Rebel Alliance.”

“Kriff that, those guys suck,” Connor said immediately. The man in the cot’s smile suddenly disappeared, he was totally confused by Connor’s reaction. “Kriff the Rebellion, does that ‘fresher work? I got to take a piss.”

The man shrugged and Connor moved over to the fresher anyway. Rebellion, my arse. Just got to figure how to get out of here...