Facebook  Tweet  Discord

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

Shore Leave - Part 4

Major Andrew "Dobber" Dobson

Chapter 13

Dia carefully made her way down the walkway of the ship towards the theatre section, one hand on the railing to steady her balance. Muffled but loud music and voices could be heard coming from the bow location ahead as the speakers relayed the actions of the play, and other cruise attendees made their way to or from the bow of the ship. She was feeling well enough to get up and move around, though her stomach still made the odd somersault. Having a light snack and liquids had helped her feel better, she was looking forward to spending time with Andrew despite her distaste for musicals -- though in fairness, it would be better than puking her guts out again. She’d decided to trade in wearing a dress for once for a pair of navy dark pants and a long-sleeved dark green shirt, and a pair of thick-heeled ankle-high boots. She felt out-of-place compared to the others around her but didn’t let it bother her.

As she got within thirty feet of the event entrance, she heard a low humming sound. Screams and the faint sound of blaster fire erupted ahead of her. Her attention was immediately caught by the sight of a sailing skiff rising up from the side of the ship. Men and alien species armed with blasters began to jump off the skiff to prevent anyone else from leaving, as well as secure as many people as possible. Women and men ahead of her yelled or gave screams of surprise or shock as they were cornered or hit with blue rings of stun lasers.

Her instincts kicking in, she began to double-back as best she could -- until she noticed a squad of Imperial stormtroopers coming up the deck behind her.

Imperial troops, here?! she thought. Gotta find some place safe.

Her options limited, she cut away to her left at a brisk pace and entered a small alcove that had a double-pair of stairs leading to the deck below. As she descended the stairs, she placed a hand on her churning stomach. She heard helmeted voices behind her.

“Squad A, move up and secure the bow. Squads B and C, head down to the next deck and begin a sweep.”

With little choice, she rounded the first corner to her right and briskly made her way down the hall. She could hear the clatter of boots against the metal stairway as the stormtroopers made their way down. She tried the access pad of the first door she came to. It didn’t open.

Locked! Kriff!

She tried the second, with no luck. The third door read maintenance and opened easily as her hand pressed the access pad. The door hissed open to reveal a young male janitor prepping some cleaning gear. He gave her a puzzled look as she pressed the interior keypad, effectively locking the door behind her.

“Hey,” he began, “you’re not supposed to--”

She met him within three quick steps and cupped her hand around his mouth.

“Quiet!” she hissed. “Or they’ll hear you.”

The janitor was about to say something else but stopped when a rap came at the door.

“This one’s locked,” came a voice from the other side. “Keep moving, go go go.”

As the sound of boots quickly faded, Dia let out a short breath and slowly removed her hand from the young man’s mouth.

“How did you?... Who are you?” he asked quietly, a bewildered look on his face.

“My name’s Dia Tann,” she said in a low voice. Her stomach churned, harder this time. “I’m an officer with the New Republic here on shore leave. I don’t know what’s going on, but pirates and stormtroopers have somehow made their way onto the ship.” The janitor’s mouth dropped open in wonder and concern.

“How many are there?” he asked.

“I don’t know. But what I do know is that if we want to get out of this in one piece, I need to contact our ships in orbit.” She quickly glanced at his uniform. The name tag read ‘Rim’. She met his eyes. “Rim, I need your help. Can you help me?”

He nodded his head after a moment, surprised at this ask for help.

“Good. Do you know the ship well? Do you have a map or technical layout?”

“Nothing too technical,” he said, walking back to a small display screen at the back of the room set between two shelving units full of cleaning supplies. “But there is a general layout of the ship. What exactly do you--?”

Her stomach lurched. She dashed for the large square wash sink to her left, emptying the contents of her stomach.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, wiping her mouth before vomiting again. “Just give me a second,” she gasped. She twisted the handle to activate the water flow, and scooped a few handfuls into her mouth to rinse it and her esophagus of the acid. Oddly enough, she felt a bit better. “Okay … okay, Rim. What can you tell me?” she asked as she stood up and walked over to the first rung of the shelving. Rim pressed a button, and the decks of the ship sprung to life.

“We’re here,” he said, pointing to a glowing red dot on the screen. “Security is located on Deck 5 in the midsection.”

“Great,” she said, “only three decks down. What’s the easiest way to get there?”

“More like the not-so-easy path,” he said, some concern spreading across his face. “If Imperial troops are sweeping the halls, there aren’t many places you can hide.” He pressed a button and the view changed to show a top-down perspective of the blueprint. “Main dining halls are on decks three and four.”

“Which they’ll probably be ferrying the crew and passengers to,” she said. “Which means there will be constant movement in those areas.”

“And also means that you could be caught. Easiest way to Security from here is to use the access lifts. It’s what we use to move supplies and carts. If you use the one on this level, you can go down a few decks and make your way across the ship to this access lift here.” He pointed to one half-way down on deck eight. “If you take this one, it’ll place you very close to security.”

“It’s risky,” she said, shaking her head. “But I don’t have much choice. What about the bridge?”

“Easiest way there is taking the access lift on deck four up to deck one. You avoid the stairwells. Wouldn’t the bridge be a priority target, though?”

“It would be,” she said, trying to think the plan through. “But that depends on whether or not they want to steer the ship. Regardless, it’s the only place to broadcast a signal.”

“There’s that,” he said with a shrug. “Or you can use one of the racers in the hangar. They have long-range radios, don’t they?”

She loved the idea, but also realized other potential issues with it.

“They could, but if any Imperial transports landed down there, they’ll be safely guarded. There’s no way to be certain.”

Rim shot her a concerned look. “It’s dangerous either way,” he said.

“I know,” she replied, nodding. “But if we want to get out of this, I have to try.” She turned to make her way back to the door.

“Wait,” he said. “What do you want me to do?”

She turned to look at him. “It will be safer for you here. Keep that door locked, and don’t let anyone in until this is over.”

“One more thing,” he said, fishing in his pocket and walking over to her. “Here, take this.”

He handed her a thin, flat access card with a serial number on it. “It’s my access card. Will get you into any lift or maintenance room you need to.”

“Thank you, Rim,” she added, taking the card. He nodded in acknowledgement.

She opened the door and stuck her head out, checking that the hallway was clear. It was.

“Stay safe!” he said as she exited the room.

Her stomach no longer bothering her, she turned right, towards the screams coming from down the hall.

***

Peeking around the corner, Andrew checked to ensure that the coast was clear. He and Supriya had been able to avoid two pairs of Imperial troops earlier. They hadn’t been so lucky with the third one, though had managed to elude them by ducking into a lavatory room that was conveniently around a corner.

“Okay,” he said quietly, turning back to her. “Coast is clear.”

“Good. Where are we now?”

He searched for the small white plaque with black and red lettering that they’d been using for directions.

“Uhh … deck four, midsection. Security is one deck below us. I think.”

“You think?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t exactly have a map!” he hissed. “I’ve just been following the signs!”

Rolling her eyes, she walked past him and followed the numbers on the doors. Screams and shouts echoed from somewhere near them.

“Quickly now,” she said. “We don’t have much--”

The emergency exit door to her left slid open, revealing two Imperial stormtroopers. Their appearance had caught her off guard.

“Freeze!” said one trooper stepping out of the doorway and raising her blaster. “Don’t--aaugh!”

Andrew barrelled himself into the trooper as hard as he could, knocking her over. Before the second trooper could fire a shot at him, Supriya grabbed hold of him, wrestling him back into the emergency exit stairwell.

Andrew, meanwhile, grabbed his stormtrooper by the collar of her armor and began bouncing her off the wall.

“I’m really sorry for this,” he said. Thwack. “I don’t enjoy hitting women.” Thwack. Thwack. “But you’re a stormtrooper, and you’re in my way!” Thwack! The stormtrooper slumped to the floor in daze, dropping her blaster. He scrambled to pick it up from near her, took a step back to check the setting, and fired. A blue ring of energy lanced forth and hit the trooper, stunning her. He heard a similar shot come from the stairwell, and checked on Supriya. She had similarly stunned her trooper, who lay slumped against the wall.

“They won’t be out for long,” he said to her quietly. Then he reached for and began dragging his trooper into the stairwell.

“I know,” she replied. “But we don’t have anywhere to hide them either.”

Andrew looked at the two unconscious troopers and their gear. Then he looked at the railing with its vertical bars to his right.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Get their cuffs.”

They propped both of the troopers up against the railing, and raised their arms up. Reaching through the bars, he fastened them together at the wrists.

“They won’t be moving anywhere soon,” he said, plucking the personal communicators and cuff keys from their belts.

“Or calling for help,” she said, removing their helmets and placing them on the stairs, which would be well out of arm or leg reach.

Andrew quickly checked the stairwell above and below them. He didn’t see or hear anyone coming. Then he noticed the stairwell sign. Deck 5 Below it read.

“This may be our best chance,” he whispered.

“Agreed,” she said with a nod. “Let’s go. Quietly this time.”

He nodded, and they slowly began to move down the stairwell as quietly as they could. When they reached the bottom, Supriya moved towards the keypad, readying to press it. Andrew lowered his blaster, which she readied hers.

“On three,” she whispered. “One … two … three,” she pressed the button.

The door slid open.

He moved right.

She moved left.

The hallway was clear.

“Lucky us,” she said with a sigh.

“Agreed.”

“Security’s this way,” she said, motioning with her blaster to the sign on the wall. “Come on.”

Chapter 14

Her head throbbing, Suli slowly awoke. She blinked a few times and tried to move her arms and tentacle appendages. Her appendages were bound by pairs of heavy bindings of some sort. Her arms were cuffed together. She tried to move her legs, but found these bound.

“Ah, good. You’re awake,” came Solari’s voice.

“Solari,” she growled, looking towards his voice. She found him sitting in a chair on the other side of the room. He looked calm, though certainly on guard. Miguel and four stormtroopers stood behind him. “What is the meaning of this?”

Solari stood up and began walking towards her slowly, hands in his pockets.

“I’m terribly sorry for all of this, my dear,” he said. “I never intended for you to get caught up in all of this.”

She tried to prop herself up, but couldn’t.

“I should have known better,” she huffed as she tried to move. She shot him a piercing glance. “You always were a snake.”

“On the contrary, my dear Suli.” He bent down on one knee and took her gently by the shoulders, then moved her body so that she was sitting upright on the soft carpet. “You may see me as a snake, but I -- like my mother and father before me -- see myself as an opportunist.”

She gathered what spit there was in her mouth and spit in his face. Saliva dripped down his left cheek. He sighed as he removed a handkerchief from one of his pockets and wiped the spit away. Then he stood up and began slowly pacing in front of her.

“I had tried to plan for your escape, you know,” he said. “Nor did Miguel play any part in my plans. Unfortunately dear Miguel here and his … escort … arrived at the wrong moment.”

She looked past Solari at Miguel, who had a grave, disheartened look on his face. Had she not been tied up, she could have slapped him for working with the Imperials. Then again, his family being kidnapped had certainly given him no choice for his actions.

“You don’t know how hard it was to make this decision, Suli,” said Solari.

“If you’re working with the Empire,” she said bitterly, “you’re a traitor.”

“I am not a traitor!” he snapped, stopping where he was. “I’m saving our people!”

“How?” she asked. “How could a man like you possibly save us by working with the Empire?”

“It’s either this,” said Solari, regaining his composure, “or invasion.”

“Invasion?”

“A few months ago,” Solari continued, “I was contacted by a Captain Gaspra. She brought a message from a man by the name of Commodore Tol Barand. As the leading economic employer and businessman in the region, I was given a choice. Work with the Empire to give them supplies, or risk an orbital bombardment that would destroy all of our major capital cities and population centres within a twenty-four hour period.”

“But Korwin,” she said, “you know that we have loose ties with the New Republic. We have some security forces. Their cruisers are currently docked here for repairs.”

“I know,” he said, continuing to pace back and forth. “But it wouldn’t have been enough, Suli. The Vigilant sustained significant damage; the Sovereignty is the only other major ship with them. And our security forces, while reliable, pale in comparison to a Star Destroyer with a full complement of TIE Fighters and supporting cruisers.”

Can’t argue with him about that point she thought to herself.

“Surely you would know that the New Republic would send aid,” she said.

“But not in time!” he said, pointing a finger at her. “And risk bringing the galactic civil war to our front doorsteps? I think not.” He stopped where he was moving to face her, then began gesticulating his hand in the air. “The New Republic is too spread out, fighting on too many fronts that Imperial forces hold -- and are still holding. I will not risk an open war that will take millions of innocent lives and billions of credits from our economy.”

She sighed and shook her head.

“So you decided to make a deal with the devil, then?”

“No! No. I made a choice based on the hand I was given. I’m not proud of it, believe me. But it is for the greater good. And once something is started, a Solari always sees it through. A Solari is always successful.”

She watched as he made his way over to a small table and poured himself a drink. Suli knew that if she kept talking to him about the issue, they would end up arguing in circles. It was then that a new thought popped into her mind.

“The pirate raids … the citizens and visitors being kidnapped … did you also make them a part of this?”

Solari froze, mid-drink. He lowered the glass from his mouth slightly.

“Not initially,” he said after a moment.

“Oh, Korwin,” she said disheartened. “What have you done?” “What I had to,” he said, taking another drink. “One of the stipulations of the agreement to not have an orbital bombardment was to increase production from our mining operations. It wasn’t my idea, truthfully. But Gaspa said they needed resources, and increased production timetables -- without raising too much suspicion from my competitors. It was she that enlisted the help of local pirate gangs.”

“And yet you knowingly employed them against their will.”

“Yes,” he said bitterly, draining the drink from his glass. “I’m not proud of it. But yes.”

She stared at him, letting the tension between them rise.

“You’re pathetic,” she said, finally. Solari’s gave her a sour look.

“At least your husband’s safe and being taken care of. Without me, he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he has,” he said after a moment.

Something in her snapped with this new piece of information. With all her strength, she used her appendages to try and pry the bindings apart. The first pair wouldn’t budge, but the second began to slowly come apart. She managed to slide out one of her left tentacle appendages, and sent it flying towards Solari. It grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground.

“You monster!” she spat. “How could you?!”

“She’s breaking free!” called one trooper.

Two troopers rushed forward, blasters read. Solari hung in the air, both hands clawing at the tentacle around his neck, gasping for breath. Each fired a stun shot at her.

Her body went limp. Solari fell to the floor, the tentacle loosening from around his neck. One of the troopers made to help him, but he was waved off.

“I’m fine,” Solari choked out. “I’m fine.” He picked up the glass that he had dropped on the floor and moved to place it back on the table, rubbing his neck as he did. He stared at her lifeless form, wishing that everything could be different. Could be better. “Make sure that she is rebound,” he said to one of the troopers. “Securely this time.”

As the troopers began to work on Suli, one of the ones near Miguel tapped at his helmet.

“Understood,” he said, stepping forward. “Mister Solari, the transports will be here shortly. We need to go. Shall we bring her?”

“We will,” he said after a moment. “She knows too much.”

***

Standing just out of sight behind the corner of one of the connecting hallways, Andrew quickly peeked around the corner. There was a large booth that was made of half-glass, half metal. None of the ship’s security members were present. The four Imperial stormtroopers in the room, however, presented an entirely different problem.

“How many?” she whispered as he concealed himself once more.

“Four,” he said quietly. “Though with that many on the security systems, it’s a miracle we made it this far.”

“It’s a big ship,” she said. “They’re probably still figuring out the security system and floor plans.”

“I don’t think we’ll--”

They both heard footsteps coming down the hall. Supriya raised a finger to her lips, indicating silence. Andrew held his breath, readying his blaster. Two voices began speaking, then trailed off as the troopers began to move down the hall again. When he could not hear the troopers anymore, he let out a breath.

“That was close,” he said under his breath. “What’s the plan?”

He saw her think for a moment, trying to devise a plan.

“Best thing to do is draw some of them out,” she said. “Like an ambush. I can lead at least two out and then--”

“Hey!” said the voice of a white-clad stormtrooper as he rounded the corner. “You’re not supposed to be--”.

Supriya slid past Andrew with lightning-like reflexes and put the trooper in a choke hold.

“Not a word,” she said gruffly into his helmet, “or I blow your brains out.” The trooper didn’t move or say a word. Supriya motioned with her head for Andrew to follow. “Now, you’re going to move. Slowly. And take me and my friend to the security room.”

The trooper gave a slight nod and began to walk forward.

Well, there goes the element of surprise, thought Andrew as he fell in behind her.

As they passed through the doorway, he could just make out the other troopers monitoring the security system and giving instructions.

“Nobody move,” she barked as she and the stormtrooper stopped a few steps in the doorway. She pressed the blaster to his helmet, this time firmly. “Move and he gets his brains blown out.”

The other three stormtroopers froze where they were. Andrew tracked one that had made to go for his blaster and pointed the blaster he held at the trooper before he could reach it.

“Blasters on the floor, hands in the air” she barked. “Now!”

The three troopers complied, placing their E-11s on the ground, then raised their hands behind their heads.

Andrew saw Supriya’s glance and slight nod out of the corner of his eye. As she pushed the trooper she held away from her, he began firing stun shots at the two nearest troopers to him. She, in turn, shot the third trooper and the one that she pushed away. All four fell to the ground with a muffled yell and a thud.

“That was easy enough,” she said, throwing him a wink. He stood there, his mouth agape.

“How did you know that would work?” he asked her as they collected the blasters and sat down at the main security console.

“I didn’t,” she said. “But they didn’t know that we had our weapons set for stun, did they?”

“Touche,” he said, beginning to cycle through the cameras. “Looks like they’re holding the bulk of the passengers in the dining halls,” he said. “Others look trapped in other spacious areas. Then there’s the people on the bow, and--”

As the screen switched to a new vantage point, he saw Dia exit a service elevator, blaster in hand.

“Oh no,” he said.

“What is it?” Supriya asked him. He gave her a quick glance.

“It’s my partner. Looks like she’s trying to make her way to somewhere.” He switched the screen again, which showed a hallway from another angle. Dia began to make her way down it. A sign near her read Deck 8. She began pressing buttons on one of the nearby doors. It wouldn’t open. Suddenly, a blaster bolt exploded against the wall near her head. She spun around and fired several shots at her off-screen opponent, then began running down the hall. He tried to find her again, but the screens began shifting to other cameras on other decks.

“Dammit!” he cursed.

“I’m sure she can handle herself,” Supriya said, gently placing a firm hand on his shoulder. “Now, let’s see if we can pull up other major areas.”

He continued cycling through the camera feeds until he found the bridge. It was empty, but sparks rained down from some of the main consoles while smoke continued to fill the room.

“Looks like the bridge has been sabotaged,” she said. No way we can get a message out if that’s the case.”

He pressed the security feed buttons a few more times. The hangar bay with the racers came up. He saw the racers sitting on the floor with a handful of stormtroopers guarding them or patrolling the hangar bay. Three small freighters which he didn’t recognize also occupied the hangar bay.

“That must explain how they got on board,” she said, pointing at the screen. “Arrive concealed in shipping freighters presumably carrying supplies. Docking ramps open, and Imperial troops descend instead.”

“Catching everyone by surprise,” he finished. “I don’t like our chances of taking that hangar bay alone.

“Neither do I,” she said, “but we have no choice. But if we’re careful, we might manage it.”

“Doesn’t seem like we have much of a choice,” he said with a disheartened sigh. One of the other screens in the room, he had noticed, had changed to show a squad of four troopers making their way down a hall they had used to get here earlier. “Looks like more trouble on the way, and no time to change into their armor.” He looked back at Supriya earnestly. “Only way we’ll be able to get a message out is to use the racers. They have long-range radios. Imperials are probably jamming radio frequencies from the ship, too, so we’ll have to get airborne.”

“Then it’s a good thing I know how to fly,” she said.

He glanced up at her with a raised eyebrow.

“What?” she asked, putting a hand on her hip and gesticulating with the other. “I had to start my career somewhere.”

He turned his chair to look around the room, finding a deck schematic on the opposite wall.

“We’re here,” he said, standing up and pointing a finger at the red dot. “Hangar is another twelve decks down by the looks of it.” He began tracing the staircase and lift locations.

“Any one of these points once we get to deck nine will take us there,” she said. “If we’re careful, we can make it.”

The stormtroopers behind them began to stir, moaning in pain. Supriya shot all four of them with bulls-eye accuracy. They crumpled to the floor again with groans.

“What?” she asked Andrew as he gave her another puzzled look. “I like to spend time on the blaster range, too.”

“Remind me to never get on your bad side,” he said. He moved to the doorway again and checked the hallway. It was clear. “Come on, let’s go.”

***

Dia sprinted down the hallway as best she could, twisting to fire shots back at the stormtrooper pursuing her.

“Just my mother-kriffing luck,” she panted to herself, “taking a wrong turn and running into this mud-skupper.” Two blaster bolts zipped past her head, causing her to duck in reaction. She pivoted and dropped to her knee, raised her blaster, and fired. A stun run ripped forward and caught the trooper in mid-run, causing him to crumple loudly onto the floor. “There,” she said with a laugh. “Solved that problem.”

She got up and tried to get her bearings, doubling back to take the trooper’s blaster. Unfortunately, in the chase with the trooper she had gotten turned around and didn’t know exactly where she was.

“Sithspit,” she cursed, not seeing a sign. “Guess I’ll have to use a woman's intuition for this one.”

She made her way down the hallway where it connected into a four-way corridor. As she rounded the right corner, quickly checking her left to see if anyone was coming, she crashed into someone coming the other way. Both let out a yell of surprise and pain. Without thinking, Dia lifted one of the blasters.

“Don’t shoot!” came the familiar voice. “Don’t shoot!”

Dia refocused her attention on the person in front of her. It was Seela.

“Seela!” she said.

“Oh my goodness,” Seela said, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m so glad I found you!” She hugged Dia in thanks. “There’s stormtroopers and pirates everywhere. It’s horrible!”

“Okay, easy now,” said Dia, gently pushing her back. Seela began to wipe away the tears on her face. “Come on, we can’t linger here.”

As they briskly made their way down the corridors, taking turns when it was safe, Seela recounted to Dia how Solari had been behind the whole operation. How she was being escorted away by Imperial troopers after she woke up, only to be ambushed by some security guards who were trying to take back sections of the ship unsuccessfully. She’d had other close encounters until she met Dia.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” Dia said as they came to another set of corridors. “Where are we anyway?”

Seela gave a sniff and rubbed her nose. “Deck four, near the entertainment section I think.”

“Sithspit,” said Dia, “I’m not even close to where I want to be.” A sound came from the other end of the hall. Then another. As a door flew open, Dia dragged Seela around the corner so that they could hide. Heavy footsteps came down the hall.

“I don’t see why the captain wants us to scour the entire ship,” came one voice. “Shoulda left that job for the Imperials.”

“Cap’n wants us to round up any stragglers. The more we round up, the more the Empire pays us,” said the second voice.

The bootsteps grew louder against the steel plating of the floor. Dia held her breath, and Seela did her best to not let a whimper escape her lips. As the two men came around the corner, she saw that one was a Quarren while the other was Gotal. Luckily, they had their backs to the two women.

“Another junction,” said the Gotal. “Which way should we go?”

Dia raised the blaster in her right hand and pointed it at the two men.

“Right here is just fine,” she said with a smirk. The two men whirled around, surprised to find the two women there. Each received a stun blast from Dia that dropped them like stones, all while Seela gave a cry of surprise.

“Here,” said Dia as she moved to stand over the two men. “They won’t be out long. Take their blasters.”

Seela stared for a second at the men before removing their blasters from their hands. Dia, meanwhile, took note of the signs that were posted on the corridor walls. She was happy that she had options as well as directions.

“This way,” she said, pointing down the hallway. They made their way down it, then turned right.

“Where are we going?” Seela asked.

“To get you somewhere safe. Here,” she said, pointing to a pair of doors that read Lounge. Pressing the button on the panel, the door whisked open.

She took maybe two steps inside before seeing a pair of stormtroopers guarding a group of people.

Seela gave a cry of surprise, as did some of the people.

Someone yelled “Watch out!”

The troopers spun around and raised their blasters.

But Dia was quicker.

The troopers dropped to the floor. Gasps arose from the small group of people.

“Good heavens,” said a gentleman in a long and richly decorated flowing overcoat. “You saved us!” The rest of the individuals behind him began to stand up.

“Is everyone all right?” Dia asked, now realizing that everyone in the group was dressed rather unusually for a cruise. It then dawned on her that they were wearing costumes, and that these must be actors for the play.

“We are now,” piped up the Rodian standing next to the first man who spoke, “thanks to you.”

“Who are you? Why did they put you here?” Dia asked. The lead gentleman stepped forward, removed his wide-brimmed fedora with its feather, and gave a sweeping bow.

“I am Reginald Thirdbottom the Fourth, my good lady,” he said, standing back up. “And the good men and women you see with me are members of The Royal Duchesses’ Acting Troupe. Say hello, troupe.”

Those standing behind Reginald Thirdbottom gave gentle waves and a unified “hello!”

Dia would have rolled her eyes if it wasn’t impolite.

Just my luck she thought. Actors.

“To answer your other inquiry,” Reginald went on, “we were escorted here by the stormtroopers you so timely disabled. It would appear from overhearing their conversation that we are being separated into groups to be transported away.”

Dia raised an eyebrow, curious at this last statement.

“Did they happen to say where or why?” she asked.

“Sadly, they did not, m’lady,” replied Reginald.

“It could be part of the pirate attacks,” said Seela as she stepped next to Dia. She then explained briefly the rash of abductions over the last number of weeks and months.

“That explains a lot,” Dia said, then turned to face Reginald. “Look, I can’t stay here long. I need to find a way to get to a place that can broadcast, or at least help control the ship. You can either join me, or stay here and lock the doors and tie up these two,” she said, pointing at the stormtroopers.

The actors began looking at one another nervously, some wringing their hands or fiddling with their costumes.

“There might be a slight problem with that, m’lady,” said Reginald. “You see … we’re trained as actors. Not fighters.” The others nodded in agreement.

“And I respect that,” said Dia. “But if what Seela says is true, people’s lives are at stake. Any troopers or pirates on board aren’t firing to kill; they are firing to stun. If I can contact one of the New Republic ships in orbit, I can radio for help. But I may not be able to do that by myself against a ship full of enemies.”

Reginald knuckled his moustache and thought for a moment, then let out a sigh.

“If you will give us a moment to confer with one another, m’lady. Perhaps while you take care of the two white-clad gentlemen yonder?” he said, pointing at the unconscious troopers. As Dia began to cuff the troopers and remove their essential gear and communication devices, Reginald called for the actors to huddle. They spoke in low voices.

As she propped the second unmasked trooper up against the wall, the troupe of actors broke from their huddle.

“We have held a quorum on the matter,” he said. “While some would prefer to remain within the safety of this room, there are several of us -- myself included -- who wish to help.” Several of the troupe members nodded their heads in agreement.

“Excellent,” said Dia. The blasters were divided amongst the members who felt comfortable handling them, while one was left with Seela. “As soon as we leave that door,” Dia said to her, “lock it. Don’t let anyone in until it is safe. And keep your eye on these two,” she said to the remaining members of the troupe while motioning to the two stormtroopers.

Reginald and his group gathered around Dia, blasters -- and surprisingly enough, stage props such as swords and clubs -- in hand.

“M’lady,” said Reginald resolutely. “We are yours to command.”

“Okay,” said Dia with a partial laugh. “The first thing you're going to do is stop calling me ‘M’lady’. Secondly … could you drop the eccentric act and talk normally?”

Reginald exchanged a glance with the members behind him, then with Dia.

“Of course, Lady Dia,” he said. Dia rolled her eyes when he said this. “And, it is important for me as an actor to maintain my character. Also,” he said after a moment, “I’m rather terrified and being in character helps me cope with this situation.”

Dia gave a mild scoff as she turned around and exited the door. “Actors,” she muttered.

Chapter 15

Stun bolts whizzed past the pair as they ran down the hall. A pair of stormtroopers weren’t far behind.

“I guess it’s a good thing they have terrible aim,” Andrew huffed. Supriya reached back and fired two shots at their pursuers, which missed.

“I’m not doing much better,” she said between breaths. “And I’m not even wearing a helmet!”

They rounded the corner to their left -- and met another pair of stormtroopers running down the hall towards them.

“There they are!” called one of the troopers. “You there! Stop!”

Andrew and Supriya doubled back and began running down the new corridor. Supriya shot at one of the troopers from the first pair as they were much closer now. The trooper hit the floor like a sack of bricks.

“Nice shot,” he huffed.

“Thanks,” she said as more stun rings whizzed by.

The end of the corridor with the emergency exit was quickly approaching. Andrew was the first to reach it. He pressed the button and made to dash through the door, but ended up slamming into it instead. It was locked.

“Ugh,” he grunted. Supriya stopped short of the door and turned to face the three troopers. She was about to fire when a live blaster bolt shot past her head and left a fiery black mark on the side of the wall.

“Freeze!” called the trooper. “Drop your blasters!”

The two companions froze.

“I said drop them!”

They were about to lower their blasters onto the floor when the lights went out, leaving them all in pitch-black darkness -- except for a pair of bold blue eyes racing along the floor behind them a few seconds later.

“What the--?” said one of the troopers.

“Switch visual processors to night vision,” said a second.

The third gave a quick scream as something began clawing at his legs. That something also gave a distinct series of hoots and chittering noises.

“Get it off!” called the trooper. “Get it off!”

Andrew and Supriya didn’t waste any time sending shots into the troopers’ general direction. As the blue rings lit up the dark hallway, a few of the several shots connected with the troopers.

The lights came back on a few seconds later, revealing the troopers in a heap on the floor -- and BDB2 standing triumphant on top of them.

“Bee-Dee!” Andrew said enthusiastically. “Am I glad to see you!”

BD gave an enthusiastic whoop.

“You know this droid?” Supriya asked.

“I do,” he said, “and it’s a bit of a long story. Come here, boy,” he said placing the blaster underneath his armpit. Kneeling down, he extended his arms. The droid complied happily and let Andrew pick him up. “Now, think you can open this door for us?” BD-B2 hooted enthusiastically.

“Wait,” Supriya said.

Andrew and BD turned to look at her.

“Continuously running into stormtroopers is slowing us down. The more time we waste, the less chance we have of contacting the ships in orbit and helping people. Fastest way to the hangar would be in disguise.”

Andrew looked at the three troopers behind them.

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said.

They dragged the three troopers into the stairwell after BD-B2 opened the door. It only took them a few minutes to put the armor on, and they made sure to cuff the troopers as well. Supriya also hit each of them with another round of stun blasts just to be safe.

“Okay,” he said through the helmet mic. “Which way?”

“Finding a service lift would take time,” she said. “I say we go straight down. Have Bee-Dee scout ahead.”

The droid looked up at them, and gave a hoot of approval before hopping up on the railing and using it as a slide. He did the same as he raced ahead down the next set of stairs.

“He’s not a very conspicuous droid, is he?” Supriya asked.

“Only when he wants to be,” Andrew said. “Let’s go.”

***

Dia and her companions knelt behind two abandoned dining carts that had been abandoned in one of the entrances to a large reception area. Pirates and stormtroopers were escorting small groups of people at regular intervals to what must have been one of the dining halls. She took a quick peek over the top to take in the scene before concealing herself again.

“There’s too many people to do anything,” she whispered. “They’d mostly be between us and the pirates or troopers. We’ll have to wait.”

Reginald gave her an antsy look. “Yet we cannot wait here forever,” he said quietly. “We need to keep our momentum, lest we be found.”

“Agreed,” she said. She heard footsteps coming down the adjacent hallway. Everyone held their breaths.

“Move along,” growled one of the pirates. “We haven’t got all day.”

A few sobs came from some of the people being escorted down the hall.

Everyone froze as a set of footprints came towards the carts.

“Hello,” said a high-pitched raspy voice, “what do we have here?”

“Marko,” bellowed another voice. “What in blazes are you doing?”

“Aw, come on, Brixx!” he complained. “We haven’t had a decent meal in days, and this cart looks loaded with delicious foods.”

Dia saw part of the alien pirate -- a green-skinned Falleen man with a long, black ponytail -- walk backwards towards the cart. Her eyes went wide. No one breathed a word, though they all slowly pointed their blasters up at the man.

“Marko! Get back over here! You can think about your stomach later.”

“Aww, come on, not even a little?” Marko turned and lifted the metal lid off of one of the trays. “It’ll only take....” he trailed off, now noticing the small group of wide-eyed individuals beyond the dining carts. “Oh kriff,” he managed to say before several blue rings hit him squarely in the chest. He toppled over backwards and hit the floor.

“Over there!” came Brixx’s voice. Several pairs of boots began pounding their way.

“So much for the element of surprise!” Dia said as the group spread out along the cards. They rose and began exchanging shots with the oncoming pirates and troopers. People nearby began screaming and trying to move out of the way. The entire area erupted in chaos.

“We can’t stay here,” said an actress with golden hair styled into ringlets to Dia.

“Can’t argue there,” Dia said as she dropped a stormtrooper with a blaster shot. “I’m open to suggestions!”

Reginald lowered himself behind the cart fully, deep in thought. Suddenly, an idea struck him.

“We have to split up,” he said.

Dia ducked down behind the carts as the others continued to fire.

“Why?” she asked.

“If we split up, it would provide a distraction. I can take one group and lead them away, while you take the other and make your way to the bridge.”

Dia thought about his plan. It wasn’t the best idea to proceed forward with so few, but right now they didn’t have much of a choice. If Reginald and his troupe was willing to take the risk, it may provide her with a small opening to draw troops and pirates out of her path.

“Alright,” said Dia, looking at him. “It may be our only choice. Whatever you do, rendezvous at the bridge as soon as you can.”

Reginald nodded.

“Take Mister Holden and Strong-armed Sally,” he said, pointing to a middle-aged man with dark hair and the woman with golden ringlets. “The rest of us will keep this group occupied.”

The firing had momentarily stopped as the other crew members had finished shooting their opponents. The troupe stood up.

“Right this way, folks,” said Reginald, stepping out in front of the carts and waving for people to move past them. The small groups of people wasted no time making their way towards them, while the troupe members pushed the carts out of the way to provide more room to move. Suddenly, a door at the end of the opposite hallway burst open, revealing a pair of Aqualish and Arcona men, plus several other troopers.

“You there! Stop!”

Reginald grabbed hold of one of the carts and began pushing it towards the new opponents.

“With me, men!” he called. “Forward! Forward!”

A valiant cry arose from the troupe members as they moved down the hall behind Reginald, also using the second cart as cover.

Dia just shook her head.

“Actors,” she muttered as she and her two companions cut through the swath of people and made their way towards the bridge a few decks above them.

***

Andrew, Supriya, and BD-B2 stood in the stairwell, looking through the window to the hangar. They could just make out the group of racing pilots and their guards. Other stormtroopers milled about the hangar.

“There’s maybe eight or ten that I can see,” he said quietly as they moved away from the window. “But there may be more.”

Supriya nodded. “Rushing in there with blasters blazing isn’t the best plan,” she said. “We need to create a distraction.”

Andrew looked down at BD-B2, who looked up at him and titled his head.

“Think you want to work your magic, little buddy?” he asked.

BD-B2 gave a few quick whoops and beeps, nodding his head.

“Okay. We’ll open the door and let you go first. I need you to create some havoc. Mess with one of the forklifts if you need to. Create a distraction for us so we can take care of the troopers. Understand?”

The droid whistled an affirmative.

“What about us?” he asked Supriya.

“I say we play up the fact that they need help on the decks above to track down two people causing disruptions,” she said.

“Works for me,” he said. He moved to the door and pressed the button. It hissed open quietly, and BD-B2 carefully began to race his way across the deck, taking cover behind refuse bins or boxes and crates of material. Andrew and Supriya walked out several seconds later, slowly making their way towards the group of stormtroopers.

It was then that he noticed more stormtroopers to their left, waiting by the freighters. A lot more stormtroopers.

“We’re in over our heads,” he said quietly into the comm to Supriya.

“No turning back now,” she said. “Let me do all the talking.”

As they came to the racing pilots on the ground, Andrew saw Ledwin and the other racers with their heads bowed low.

“Who’s in charge here?” asked Supriya through the headset as they approached the group.

The troopers exchanged glances. The closest one spoke up first. “Captain Connelly is,” he said. “He’s over there.” The trooper pointed to the rows of stormtroopers a number of meters away from them. One had the familiar orange shoulder-pad, indicating their status as the squad leader.

“What’s the problem?” asked another trooper.

“Word from the upper decks,” cut in Supriya smoothly. “Some runabouts on the loose causing havoc above. We were ordered to come down and get more men to hunt them down.”

Just then, some of the troopers led by Captain Connelly began to move, jogging towards the lift that would take them to the upper decks. Captain Connelly, meanwhile, quickly made his way over to the group.

“Orders from upstairs,” he said. “We need to reinforce our troops in the above decks to deal with some troublemakers. Keep this hangar secure with the others.

As Captain Connelly made his way to join the others, one of the stormtroopers near Andrew turned to look at his partner.

“I don’t understand,” she said to the other trooper. “Why would they send two troopers down to report the need for help, then radio it in?”

The troopers began to exchange glances as the door to the lift shut and the squad led by Connelly made their way up using the lift. Then all eyes turned to Andrew and Supriya.

“What are your operating numbers?” one of them asked.

“Uhh,” Andrew said.

“Tee … Ex … dash … 1138 and 1139…,” Supriya said slowly.

The troopers raised their blasters and made to fire.

It was then that a series of screams came from the other end of the hangar. A forklift was barrelling towards the troopers lined up near the freighter. On that forklift was BD-B2, one foot on the wheel, another plugged into the operating console.

“Lookout!” came cries from the troopers as they scattered. Blaster fire erupted towards the forklift with little effect. The droid was simply moving too fast for them to hit it with enough shots to stop it.

Without wasting any more time, Andrew and Supriya raised their blasters and stunned the four troopers around the group of racers. Each tore off their helmets.

“Major!” cried Ledwin, looking up.

“No time to talk, Ledwin,” Andrew said. “Get everyone to safety in the Lounge. We’ll take it from here.”

The group rose quickly and dashed towards the racer lounger while Andrew and Supriya took cover behind a pair of crates a few meters away. They began exchanging shots with the troopers ahead of them. BD-B2 spun the forklift around, then accelerated full throttle towards a pair of troopers. They weren’t able to get out of the way in time, and were sent flying and screaming a number of feet away.

“Watch the left side!” Supriya said as a trio of troopers rounded the left-most freighter.

Andrew moved his blaster and began tracking them. He was about to fire when a series of stun rings shot out from his left and hit all three troopers. Ledwin slammed himself against the side of the crate next to Andrew.

“Need a hand?” he asked.

“The more, the merrier!” he replied, tracking another trooper and firing towards him.

The entire ordeal was over in a matter of minutes. BD-B2 took down the last of the troopers by pinning them with the forklift against a row of containers, piercing the metal siding. The droid hopped down from the controls and scurried their way, hopping up and down and hooting in excitement.

“Well now,” said Andrew. “I’d say after all this is taken care of, you might just have earned yourself a medal.” The droid hooted in agreement and whirled around in a circle. “Ledwin,” he said looking at the Duros, “we have to make contact with my ship in orbit. The way to do that is with some of the racers. Can you help us prep them?”

The other racers had begun to exit the lounge and make their way over to the trio, seeing that fight was over.

“We can,” he said, nodding, “though it will take a few minutes. What do we do with the troopers?”

“Use their cuffs to bind them in case they wake up. Keep them all in the same area,” Supriya said. “We’ll need to move quickly.”

It took several minutes, but the group managed to round up and cuff all the troopers, deprive them of their weapons, plus prep two of the Z-95s for launch. Andrew and Supriya had also stripped themselves of the stormtrooper armor into their regular clothes, and gathered two flight helmets.

“Major,” said Ledwin over the noise of the engines as he took the ladder away from the Z-95. Andrew looked over the side of the cockpit to see Ledwin give him a quick salute. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Andrew said, returning the salute. “Don’t forget to watch the lift and stairwell door.”

“We will,” Ledwin said as the cockpit closed around him.

Pulling back on his stick, the Z-95 lifted off the deck. Retracting his landing gear, he glanced over to Supriya, who gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement. Pushing forward, his Z-95 began to exit the hangar, Supriya right behind him. He flicked a few switches to begin charging his ion lasers and shields, just to be safe.

“We’ll need to get some height,” he said as they cleared the hangar, “and connect with the right frequency. Keep me covered.”

“Copy that,” Supriya said as the two crafts rose and made their way towards the clouds as the sun was on its journey to set for the evening.

Chapter 16

Solari walked out into the fresh evening air aboard the main deck of the SS Starfish. His personal shuttle was waiting for him on the landing pad some distance away. Lines of people streamed down each side of the ship’s deck towards the gathering area, pirates and stormtroopers standing guard. Suli exited a few moments later, her mouth gagged. She was flanked by Miguel and the stormtroopers from the room earlier.

He heard the distinct whine of a shuttle approaching, and the low scream of four Imperial TIE Fighters in the distance. Gaspra was about to land.

“Wait here, sir,” said one of the stormtroopers. Solari nodded in acknowledgement.

As the lambda-class shuttle landed on the landing pad in front of them, the four TIE Fighters continued their slow escort before breaking off into pairs to maintain a patrol pattern around the ship. He watched as the ramp to the shuttle hissed open and lowered. A squadron of death troopers marched down the ramp and set up a protective perimeter. Behind them, Captain Gaspra strode down the deck, four regular stormtroopers in tow. She looked different in person than her hologram did.

Her eyes were a cold piercing grey. Her raven-black hair was cut short, but neatly and appropriately for her grey Imperial captain’s hat and uniform. Her face was youthful and collected, almost as if she could pose for a beauty agency. But it was her cold, grey eyes that caught his attention. They were like piercing daggers as she looked at him.

“Solari,” she said with a nod, greeting him.

“Captain Gaspra,” he nodded in exchange. “Welcome aboard.”

“How goes the operation?” she asked tersely.

“We’ve begun loading the transports as requested,” he said. “Though with a ship of such a size, moving the people on board will take time. We may need more ships.”

“Ships that we can’t afford to bring,” said Gaspra coldly, “lest we want to arouse suspicion. I’m taking a risk being here personally, Solari.”

“I understand, captain,” Solari said coolly, maintaining his composure. “Though I am sure that with the added workforce, we can meet your … ambitious targets.”

Gaspra glanced behind Solari to see Miguel and Suli.

“And what of these two?” she asked.

“Captain Miguel has been rather helpful with the entire situation. If you have, in fact, captured his family, I see no reason why they should not be released. As for Miss deChenzzi, I will take full responsibility for her and see that she is taken care of.”

“Once we are done here,” she said, “that can easily be arranged. As for Miss deChenzzi, she will be sent to the mines.”

Korwin took a few steps forward, his brow narrowing

“The mines are no place for her,” he said emphatically, “and if she disappears it will cause disruption in the markets, and to the tourism industry.”

“Small disruptions do not concern me, Mister Solari,” Gaspa said. “She knows too much, and needs to be taken care of. I am sure that once she is on board the Monarch we can come to a mutual understanding.” Suli began to make some noises in protest. A stormtrooper next to her hit her with the butt of his blaster to make her stop.

“That was never part of our agreement,” Solari said, taking a few more steps forward. Two of the death troopers raised their blasters, causing Solari to stop short.

“It wasn’t,” said Gaspra, “but circumstances have changed.”

Korwin clenched his fists and was about to give a rebuttal when he heard the engines of two ships from somewhere ahead of him. He looked up to see two Z-95s making a break for the clouds while the TIE Fighters continued to circle overhead. Gaspra turned around just in time to witness what Solari saw.

“You’re right, Captain,” he said as she turned back to look at him. “Circumstances have certainly changed.”

***

Dia crouched as she exited the stairwell to the second deck with Holden and Sally, blaster in hand.

“Look,” said Holden, pointing up and across the deck from them. “There’s the bridge.”

“Finally,” Dia said.

They began to make their way across the deck, being careful to use what cover they could to avoid detection. When they were about half-way across the deck, she heard the sound of an Imperial shuttle and four TIE Fighters behind her. The noises were loud for a moment, then trailed off as the fighters moved away and the shuttle landed.

“We have to hurry,” she said. “We don’t have--”

“There’s three!” came a stormtrooper's voice from behind them.

The trio whirled around to see a pair of stormtroopers standing at the top of the stairwell they had come up, and had begun to fire shots at them.

“Sithspit,” Dia cursed as she grabbed a nearby table and flipped it over. The three took cover behind the table. Several shots hit the table, inching it backwards.

“I’ll take these two,” said Holden. “You two get to the bridge!”

Dia and Sally nodded and made a break for the bridge while Holden used the table for cover and fired at the two stormtroopers. They were just about to the stairwell leading up to the bridge when another pair of stormtroopers rounded the corner. Sally fired a shot at one trooper, dropping him where he stood, and then began to grapple with the second. It wasn’t difficult to see why Reginald had called her Strong-armed Sally.

“Go!” she called as she threw the stormtrooper against the side of the railing. Two more rounded the corner.

Dia fired a shot, dropping one trooper, while she raced for the stairs and bound up them two steps at a time. She saw two Z-95s take off from the stern of the ship as she was about to round the stairwell. It took her a few more sets of stairs before she was able to get to the bridge door. Pressing the access panel button, the door whisked open. Smoke began to pour out of the doorway. Her eyes stung from the surprise, and she coughed a few times, but went in anyway -- only to see that a number of the control panels were destroyed. Sparks flew out of two of them.

“No,” she said between coughs, trying to find the radio. “No, no, no!”

She found it a few seconds later. Its screen was cracked, and the main console had several shots riddling it.

“Freeze!” came a voice behind her. She whirled around to see three stormtroopers enter the room, one of which had an orange shoulder pad on, blasters drawn. “Don’t move!”

Karabast! she cursed to herself.

“Lower your weapon. Slowly.”

She lowered her weapon to the floor, then made to kneel and placed her hands behind her head. There was no escape for her now.

***

Captain Quelle sat in his chair on the bridge of the Vigilant, coordinating the repair and reload operations. It had been a busy few days since they had arrived at the dockyard. A full assessment had finally been done, and while some progress had been made to repair the cruiser, other issues had begun to crop up. What was more problematic was that some decks were off-limits due to the multiple hull breaches the ship had suffered, which caused the flow of personnel and repair materials to get held up at certain junctions as the personnel moved about.

“Captain,” came a voice from behind him. It was the comms officer.

“Yes, lieutenant?” he asked, not looking up from his data pad.

“It’s Major Dobson, sir,” he said. “Calling with an urgent message for you.”

The Major’s supposed to be on vacation he thought as he swiveled the chair around. What could he want?

“Put him through, lieutenant,” he said. Andrew’s helmet-clad face appeared on the holographic communicator.

“Captain Quelle!” said Andrew. “I’m glad that we were able to finally make contact with you.”

“What seems to be the problem, Major?” the captain asked. “Shouldn’t you be enjoying the sand on the beaches?”

“Would that I could, sir,” said Andrew, “but the Empire is here on Eudora.”

“The Empire?” the captain asked. “How do you mean?”

“It’s difficult to explain,” said Andrew, “but Imperial stormtroopers and pirates have taken control of the cruise ship I was on. Captain Supriya is with me, and we have taken control of two modified Z-95 racers to reach out to you. I believe this is part of a larger issue in the region…”

“TIE Fighters, incoming!” came Supriya’s voice over his headset. Quell was just able to make out this news and her voice.

“I have to go, sir,” Andrew said, checking behind him. “Please, send as much help as you can! Dobson out.”

His holographic face disappeared. Several crew members looked to the captain in surprise of this news.

“Tactical,” called the captain, “scramble the remaining pilots of Rogue and Corsair Squadrons immediately. Have commandos and medics loaded into Sabre Flight. I want a flight and security team down to Major Dobson’s location as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Lieutenant,” he said to the comms officer. “Get me the Sovereignty, now!”

***

“Imperial forces on Eudora,” came the voice over the loudspeakers in the hangar. “Scramble Rogue and Corsair Squadrons! Scramble Rogue and Corsair Squadrons!”

Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds’s boots pounded across the metal deck plating of the hangar as he exited the hallway leading to the flight equipment room. The remaining members of Rogue and Corsair weren’t far behind him, running as fast as they could.

As they reached their fighters, he noticed squads of commandos and medical personnel bolting for the U-wings on the other end of the hangar.

Grabbing onto the metal rungs of the red ladder, he hauled himself into his X-wing as his astromech was being loaded into its socket. He began flicking buttons, powering on his ship and beginning the pre-flight check. All systems were go. Lowering the canopy of his fighter, he looked to the flight crew members to each side. They gave the signals that his craft was prepped and fueled. Giving each a thumbs up, they backed away. He pulled back on his stick, the X-wing rising off the deck. Maneuvering to face the hangar exit, his craft smoothly made its way forward and passed through the blue magfield.

“Form up,” he said into his headset as the rest of the fighters joined him.

A string of affirmatives spilled over his headset.

“Rogue Leader, Vigilant,” came Captain Quelle’s voice.

“Go ahead, captain.”

“Coordinates are being sent to you and your flight for rendezvous at Major Dobson’s location. Imperial TIE Fighters are present, and you are free to engage without discretion. Be wary of any civilians in the area. U-wings will launch with troops to reclaim the cruise ship shortly.”

“Affirmative, sir,” said Reynolds. “Alright, you heard the man ladies and gents. Set throttle to full. We have a vacation to rescue.”

***

Putting their crafts into a spinning roll, Andrew and Supriya raced forward, narrowly avoiding the incoming fire from the pair of TIE Fighters climbing to greet them. Taking them head-on would normally have been suicide in a Z-95, but at this moment they didn’t have much of a choice. The four craft miraculously avoided one another.

“They’re coming around,” Supriya said as she glanced over her shoulder.

“I see them,” Andrew said, checking his six. “You break right, I’ll go left. Bracket them on the way by.”

“Copy,” she said.

Andrew cut his stick to the left while using his free hand to rebalance his shields to a forward position. As he completed his turn, seeing Supriya’s fighter complete hers as well, the two TIE Fighters split apart a mere second before they were able to fire.

“I’ll take the high one,” he said, “you go for the low one.”

As the four fighters continued their dance, Supriya arced and dove down towards her TIE Fighter, ion lasers firing, while Andrew continued to climb after his. Suddenly, his TIE Fighter spun around and plummeted downwards in one swift movement.

“Karabast,” Andrew cursed, changing his course again. “Watch your six!”

Supriya looked over her shoulder, seeing the bolts of green laser blasts coming toward her. She rolled her craft and broke right. Andrew continued his dive, closing ground on the two TIEs.

“Watch yourself!” Supriya said as she formed up on his wing.

Glancing to his eleven o’clock left, two more TIE Fighters burst through the thick cloud cover around them, lasers firing.

“Gah!” he said, twisting away. A laser blast clipped his shields, causing them to drop significantly. He dumped some laser energy into them and continued his maneuvers.

“We have to get out of this cloud cover,” Supriya said as she cut left to stay with Andrew.

“Agreed,” Andrew said, quickly trying to find all four TIE Fighters. He only noticed three of them. “Let’s hit the deck, get on a level playing field.”

“Music to my ears,” Supriya said. “Setting shields to rear, full power to engines.” Andrew did the same.

The two Z-95s rocketed downwards, putting themselves into a full spin. As they burst through the cloud cover, the dimly lit ocean and the Starfish lay below them. Behind them, the TIE Fighters were just out of direct distance, but that didn’t stop them from firing. Both Z-95s kept spinning so as to not permit the TIEs to have a lock.

“Five thousand meters,” Supriya counted. “Four thousand … three thousand….”

“Pull up hard at one-hundred meters,” he said, “then boost your engines.”

“Two thousand … one thousand ….”

At five-hundred meters they stopped their spin. At one hundred meters they both leveled off and booster their engines, which caused both of them to be shifted backwards in their seats. Green laser blasts splashed against the water behind them. By the time they had leveled off, they were mere meters above the ocean, the speed of their craft pushing against the water and sending it flying in a spray behind them. The Starfish was dead ahead.

“Care to try a fancy maneuver?” he asked. The Starfish began to loom closer.

“It’s risky, but worth a shot.”

“I’ll cut high right, you cut low left. Drift when you get to the stern and do a one-eighty. We’ll cut across the mid-section where the landing pads are, and hit the TIEs on each side.”

He rolled his Z-95 over hers, the two craft cutting towards their side of the ship. Giving full power to the engines and shifting his shielding forward once more, he raced along the side of the ship. He could just make out lines and pockets of people on the deck.

“Get ready,” he said as he approached the stern. “Now!”

The two Z-95s met at the front of the ship, one above the other to avoid a collision. Moving as one, they cut their throttles and began to drift, sliding around the front of the ship at an angle.

“Boosting now,” he heard her say over the comm.

As the two Z-95s leapt forward, he could see that the TIE Fighters were still paired together, a set coming down the ship’s left or right side.

“Get ready,” he said as their crafts raced towards the incoming laser fire. “Now!”

He cut hard to the left and nearly buzzed the deck below him as he crossed the mid-section. Supriya was but a second behind him. As the two Z-95s cut across their paths, blue ion bolts lanced forward to the two pairs of TIE Fighters, hitting one in each pair. A TIE Fighter on each side surged with electric energy and remained mid-air momentarily before plunging into the ocean below.

“Splash two!” Supriya called with a hoot of enthusiasm.

***

Dia, Holden, and Sally marched with their hands cuffed forward, a pair of stormtroopers on either side of them. It wasn’t long before they were taken to where the transports were being loaded.

“Come on, come on!” growled one of the pirates nearby to a group of people being ushered onto one of the ramps. “We haven’t got all day.” The cargo freighters hovered near the edge of the ship, their ramps having crushed the nearby railing.

“Kneel,” ordered the stormtrooper behind her. When she didn’t immediately reply, he repeated the order and struck her in the back with the butt of his blaster. “I said kneel!”

Her back aching, she begrudgingly knelt.

“Guess that’s in then,” said Holden quietly.

She was about to say something when she heard two Z-95s roar past the sides of the ship.

“Hopefully,” she said, glancing at Holden, “not just yet.”

***

Solari and those around him ducked as the two Z-95s roared overhead, lasers blasting away. Seconds later, two TIE Fighters plummeted into the ocean. A roar of cheers rose from the civilians on either side of the deck, and elsewhere on the ship.

“Well now, it looks like that would be my exit call,” Gaspra said, turning back to look at the stormtroopers behind her. “Put deChenzzi in my shuttle, then prepare for takeoff.”

“No,” she heard Solari say behind her. She turned to see a blaster pointed at her. The blasters of the troopers in the general vicinity clicked as they were raised and pointed at Solari. “She’s coming with me.”

Gaspra raised an eyebrow and gave a mirthless scoff.

“Really, Solari?” she asked. “Whatever do you think you could possibly do here?”

Before either one could continue, the sound of footsteps came echoing up the stairwell. A mixed group of people, some looking like elaborately dressed actors, others like cruise goers, charged up the stairs and onto the deck.

“For the Starfish!” yelled the lead man in a rich overcoat and large fedora with a feather in it. His followers echoed a similar sentiment or simply yelled.

The stormtroopers were shocked only for a moment at this surprise, but it was long enough for Miguel to tackle the trooper nearest him. Blaster fire began to erupt between the two parties, but it wasn’t long before the stormtroopers and death troopers were locked in hand-to-hand combat with their new attackers. Chaos erupted on the deck.

“Leave her,” Gaspra ordered as she began to make her way backwards, the stormtroopers shielding her. She was mere meters away from the ramp of her shuttle when she heard an overbearing scream come towards her. She turned to see a TIE Fighter spinning out of control, and a Z-95 with a smoking engine breaking away. As she dropped to the deck, the TIE Fighter hit the shuttle with enough force to send it moving.

Anyone in the general area scrambled to get out of the path of the two ships. The lambda shuttle tipped over onto its side, pinning Solari’s shuttle, while the TIE Fighter kept bouncing along the deck until it cleared the railing and plummeted into the ocean below.

Gaspra stared in disbelief, mouth agape, at the condition of her shuttle. Blaster fire and shouts rang out around her.

“Ma’am,” said one of the death troopers in a garbled voice, helping her up. “We have to go. There are transports nearby.”

Rising from the deck, Gaspra began to make her way forward, death troopers in tow shielding her. Amidst the chaos, and as the final TIE Fighter plummeted into the ocean, the last she saw of Solari, he had taken hold of Suli and was leading her somewhere in the other direction.

***

Andrew struggled to maintain a leveled approach as his Z-95 made its way towards the opening of the hangar at the rear of the ship. Black smoke streamed from his port side engine on the craft.

“Come on, baby, hold together,” he said as his craft bobbed from side to side. Gritting his teeth, he began the landing sequence, pulling his nose up as best he could. The Z-95 bounced a few times as it hit the deck just inside the entrance and slid to a stop not far from the three freighters parked ahead. Supriya landed past them several seconds later.

Powering down his systems and engines, he opened the canopy. Hanging on to the ledge of the Z-95, he lowered himself over the side and dropped the last few feet onto the deck. As he rounded the nose of the craft, he saw Ledwin racing towards him.

“Are you all right?” Ledwin asked.

“Yeah,” Andrew said, “though something should be done about that engine.

“I’ll take care of it,” Ledwin said. “Go see the others!”

He took off down the hangar and around the freighters. Supriya was climbing down the ladder someone had put up against the Z-95. BD-B2 scurried towards him, hooting and whistling. Imzi wasn’t far behind with a pair of blasters in her hands.

“I saw some commotion on the main deck above,” Andrew said to her. “Any idea what’s going on?”

“We’ve been listening to the Imperial comms while you’ve been gone,” Imzi said. “It looks like others are fighting back and slowly re-taking the ship.”

Supriya held her arm out, taking one of the blasters from Imzi.

“Well then,” she said, looking at Andrew and cocking the blaster, “up for another round of fun?”

“The more, the merrier,” he said, taking the other blaster. BD-B2 began hopping up and down. “Yes, Bee-Dee,” Andrew said, “you can come too.”

Without wasting any more time, the trio made their way towards the lift. As the gate behind them shut, Supriya hit the button to activate the lift and they began their upwards ascent.

Chapter 17

Dia watched as the squad of death troopers and a woman in an Imperial captain’s uniform appeared around the corner of the far side of the deck. The stormtrooper captain that had captured Dia and her compatriots briskly walked over to greet them. She couldn’t hear all of what was being said, but she didn’t need to leave much to the imagination with the shouts and blaster fire in the distance, not to mention the four TIE Fighters plummeting into the water around the ship. She saw the trooper captain nod several times, then touch his hand to his helmet. Most of the stormtroopers in the area began to stream towards one of the pathways along the deck and head towards the commotion, leaving only a few -- including a good number of the pirates -- to guard the crew and passengers being held prisoner.

One of the docked freighters began to close its hatch, its cargohold full of people, and when it was sealed the freighter took off while another one took its place. The death troopers and the Imperial officer were the first to board this one. She heard the echo of blaster shots from inside the ship. Shortly thereafter the ramp began to raise and it took off at full speed away from the ship.

Typical Imperial cowardice she thought as she heard blaster fire getting closer and closer.

“You three,” said a stormtrooper as he walked over to them, blaster pointed. “Stand up and get in line. Move!”

With little choice, the trio did as he commanded. They moved step by step with those ahead of them, though it was still taking time to lift up and load people and beings on to the transports. By the time she had moved half-way up the line with the others, she heard a cacophony of sounds. Some were shouts, while others were the distinct sounds of engines. The moaning roar of eight TIE Fighters could be heard in the distance as they approached at full speed towards the ship.

“Look!” someone near her called. “Up in the sky!”

Looking up, she saw the distinct profiles of a group of X-wings and A-wings barreling towards them, S-foils locked in attack position.

“Who was able to call them?” asked Holden beside her.

“I have a good idea who,” said Dia with a smile.

***

“This is Rogue Leader,” said Reynolds as the fighters dove towards the ship. “Engage the eyeballs. Watch your fire around the ship.”

“Copy, Rogue Leader,” came a string of replies.

The fighters finished their dive and leveled off, racing across the body of the ship, pouring a slough of red laser fire at the oncoming TIE Fighters. They, in turn, fired back with green lasers.

The two parties clashed, breaking off and maneuvering to engage one another.

“Rogue Leader this is Corsair Leader,” came Syntax’s mechanical voice on the radio.

“Go ahead, Corsair Leader,” Reynolds said.

“Looks like those transports are being loaded with the ship’s crew. They don’t look friendly.”

“Copy that,” said Reynolds, banking his craft right and sending a hail of fire into a TIE Fighter. It exploded brilliantly against the evening sky. “Rogue Five, Rogue Six, pursue and disable any fleeing freighters.”

***

As the starfighters engaged in combat overhead, lighting up the night sky, Dia heard the shouting grow even louder. She turned to see a large group of people led by Reginald come pouring around the corner, blasters and props raised to meet the stormtroopers and pirates alike.

“For victory!” she heard him cry.

The entire deck erupted into a chaotic mess of shouts, screams, and people trying to get out of the way or attack and defend. Using the chaos to her advantage she turned and body-checked the trooper behind her with her full weight, sending him to the deck. For good measure, she kicked him twice.

“Lady Dia!” Reginald said as he made his way to her. “Are you all right?”

“I will be once you get me out of these bindings,” she said. He switched the blaster to fire mode and shot the cuffs apart, freeing her hands. He did the same for Holden and Sally. Dia stooped down and picked up the blaster from the trooper she had knocked down, then stunned him for good measure. Blaster fire continued to erupt in every direction around them. Some people were stunned, while others were shot dead where they stood.

“Time to join the party,” she said with a smirk, and began firing at what targets she could.

“You know,” said Reginald, hitting a pirate that had approached them over the head with his cutlass prop. “Fighting fictional pirates on the theatre stage is one thing. But I have to say, fighting real pirates is much more exhilarating!”

Dia could only laugh at this comment as she downed another target, and the sky above erupted into more explosions as the TIE Fighters were cut down one by one.

***

Solari moved forward as quickly as he could, one hand holding his blaster, the other guiding Suli forward. She continued to make noises through her gag, but he ignored them. The service lift was just up ahead. If he could get there, he knew he would stand a better chance of being able to flee safely. Anything after that he would have to fix himself.

The light above the service elevator lit up, and the doors whisked open to reveal two individuals and a droid standing in the middle.

“Solari?” asked Major Dobson. “What are you…?”

A lie ran through Solari’s mind.

“Good to see you, Major,” he said, coming to a stop. “Pirates and Imperials have taken over the ship. I’m seeing that Miss deChenzzi gets off the ship safely.”

“Then why is she bound and gagged?” he asked.

“Ah, about that,” Solari said, “it’s a very complicated matter. Best to get her to a safe location first lest we be found by our enemies.”

He watched as Dobson glanced at the woman next to him. The droid near his feet gave a titter of beeps.

“I’d say she’s in good company now. Wouldn’t you agree, Suli?” he asked.

Suli nodded her head quickly several times. Solari saw the dark-skinned woman next to the Major lift her blaster.

“Major’s right,” she said. “Here is as good a place as any.”

Solari gave a sigh and lifted his blaster to point it at the two of them.

“I don’t want to do this,” he said, panic beginning to rise in his voice. “But I need to get off this ship. No harm will come to her, of that I can promise.” He slowly moved his blaster from one target to another. “But you need to step out of the lift and let us pass.”

He saw the Major raise his blaster.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

Solari cleared his throat and met the eyes of the Major directly.

“A Solari never wavers from their commitment,” he said intently. Solari was about to pull the trigger when he felt the distinct heel of one of Suli’s shoes jam into the top of his foot. He gave a cry of pain, then felt himself being knocked backwards with Suli’s weight. It was enough to send him toppling backwards, and he let go of Suli to reach for something to keep his balance. As he hit the floor, a stun ring hit his blaster arm.

“No!” he spat as his arm went numb and limp. He grabbed the blaster with his free hand and began to clamour backwards as best he could. The Major and his friend raced forward; he to take care of Suli, and she to get to Solari. He scrambled to fire two shots, one of which missed. The other hit her shoulder. She let out a cry of pain, but kept moving forward. She made to kick him once, but his years of athleticism and training saw him kick the leg she was using as support out from under her. She collapsed partly on top of him, and partly on the floor.

As Solari heard several blaster shots in front of him, he saw the bindings and cuffs being broken free of Suli. Solari raised his blaster again and was about to fire when the woman’s hands reached up and grabbed hold of his blaster arm. The two began to grunt as they wrestled. His finger unintentionally hit the trigger of the blaster, sending blind shots in any direction the blaster was pointed. He heard someone yell in pain.

“Drop it,” spat the woman grappling with him. She began to bash his hand against the wall. “Drop it!”

Solari intentionally let go of the blaster. A tingling sensation in his other arm indicated that he was getting some of the feeling back, and with all his effort he clenched his first and swung his numb arm into his attacker while grabbing onto her with his good arm and rolling to the side. She bounced into the wall, dropping her blaster, and he broke away from her.

As he stood up, quickly grabbing her blaster, he was tackled from behind. He hit the floor again and rolled to meet his new attacker. It was Dobson.

“You don’t know when to quit,” he spat as he began to grapple with Dobson. It was difficult with his numb arm, but he used his strength to his advantage. The man was able to get a clear punch or two into Solari’s solar plexus, but Solari used his good arm to reach for the Major’s throat. As he grabbed the Major’s flesh of his throat, he squeezed and began to choke him. The Major’s body began to go limp, and he clawned at Solari’s hand to try and pry it away. Rising up, Solari slammed Dobson into the side of the wall three times before his body went limp.

As the Major slumped to the floor, Solari reached for one of the E-11 blasters and grabbed ahold of it. He fired a shot into the Major’s body, though it was not what he had intended. Instead of a red-orange blaster bolt, a ring of blue energy hit the man. Solari made to flip the setting of the blaster to kill when he felt a tentacle wrap around the wrist of the arm his blaster was holding. Immeasurable pain shot through his arm as the grip tightened and he dropped the blaster with a cry. Three more tentacles grabbed hold of his body and whipped him around -- to face Suli.

“Hello, Korwin,” she said, arms crossed and fire burning in her eyes.

“Suli,” he said frantically as one of her tentacles moved to wrap around his throat. “I can explain!” he gasped as it began to squeeze his neck.

He felt her shift her body, and the last thing he remembered was him being pulled towards her quickly while her knuckled fist connected with his face.

Chapter 18

Andrew awoke groggily in a bed. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out, but his throat still hurt and his arm stung. He looked to see his bandaged shoulder, and also took note that he was in someone’s private quarters.

“Ah, good. You’re awake,” came Suli’s voice. Supriya was standing with her arm also bandaged next to Suli. “And in good timing, too. How do you feel?”

“Like I got hit with a train,” he said hoarsely, rubbing the back of his head. “What happened to Solari?”

“He’s being taken care of,” cut in Supriya, “and is currently being held for questioning in the ship’s brig -- along with the Imperials and pirates that the New Republic has yet to transport off the ship.”

He gave a weak smile. “That’s good,” he said, leaning back into the soft pillow.

“Captain Supriya here tells me that it was you two who were flying those Z-95s earlier,” Suli said, “and that it was your idea to get word to the ships in orbit.”

“It was,” he said after a moment.

“You do realize that you damaged part of my ship in the process,” she said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” said Andrew nervously. “Sorry about that.”

The Contessa looked at him intently, a wry smile spreading across her face.

“You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble here, Major,” she said. “But I know just what you need.”

He felt himself being lifted simultaneously by her pair of hands and the tentacled appendages protruding from her back. As the appendages curled around his body, he felt them change from a firm grasp to one where he was being squeezed to the point of not being able to breathe. Where her appendages touched his skin, he could feel the softy, velvety suckers grasping his skin. Sitting upright, staring her in the eyes, uncertain of what she was about to do next, it almost felt as if he was having the breath squeezed out of him.

“This,” he half-gasped, “isn’t really necessary.”

The Contessa’s eyes glinted, like a creature about to make the final move against its prey. She gave a low, throaty laugh of amusement.

“Oh, but it is, Major,” she said, constricting her grip a bit more.

He tried to take a gasp of air, but had difficulty doing so.

“Now,” she said, gently pursing her lips, “it’s time to get the reward you deserve.” She drew him close to her, her eyes closing, her ruby-red lips pursed to give him a kiss.

It was at that moment that the door to the room slid open.

“AUNTIE SULI!” shouted a voice. “Put him down this instant!”

Everyone in the room turned to look at a perturbed Dia standing just inside the doorway, a gentleman with a feathered fedora and elaborately constructed overcoat behind her.

“Dia?” Suli asked, looking at her. “You’re here?!”

“She’s your aunt?” Andrew croaked out in surprise.

“The man you hold is my partner. Release him.”

“Very well,” Suli said with a sigh, exchanging glances with her and Andrew. “Though I don’t see why a simple kiss as a reward for heroics should be an issue.”

Dia crossed the room to meet Andrew as Suli set him down on his feet.

“You have uncle for that,” Dia said, looking at Suli intently. She turned to look at Andrew, noticing the gauze padding taped to his shoulder. “What happened to you?” she asked incredulously.

“I, uh,” Andrew began, “may have taken a blaster shot to the arm while saving your aunt,” he said.

A blue palm raced towards his face and slapped his cheek.

“Ow!” he exclaimed in surprise. “What was that for?!”

“That’s for getting yourself shot, you nerf herder,” Dia said crossly. “And this,” she said, grabbing onto his shirt collar and pulling him towards her, their lips locking together. “This is for calling for help when we needed it.”

Supriya stifled a laugh by placing a palm up to her face. The man in the fedora raised an eyebrow.

“I am so confused,” Andrew said as Dia hugged him, wincing as the sting in his shoulder.

***

The rest of the evening went by in a blur. The commandos from the Vigilant were operating security and relief efforts as shuttles from New Republic and the local resort were ferrying crew to the mainland. While the ship had been retaken, a number of passengers were critically wounded or killed in the firefight. Most people were shocked and scared, and simply wanted off the boat. It would take some time to use tractor beams to tow it back to harbor, but that could wait. Rogue and Corsair Squadrons maintained a general patrol in the area just in case, and had handily dispatched of the TIE Fighters, not to mention forced some of the freighters to surrender to the New Republic forces -- though it was noted that Gaspra had managed to escape before the Rogues could catch up with her.

Aboard the small ferry shuttle, Andrew and Dia sat in a corner at the back, she leaning against him. They had given a quick debrief with the commanding New Republic officer before being loaded onto the transport with Reginald and the others. Sitting at the back afforded them some privacy. BD-B2 stood propped up against the back of one of the seats, looking out the window at the moving transports and glittering lights.

They said nothing for most of the journey, letting the hum of the engines fill the air around them. It was Andrew who decided to speak up first.

“Some vacation, huh?” he asked, looking down at her. She, in turn, looked up at him.

“It would have been nicer had the Empire not gotten involved,” she said. “But most of it was pretty good.”

“I’ve been doing some thinking,” he said a few moments later. “About your reaction earlier.” She pulled away and sat up, meeting his face.

“Our job is full of dangers,” he said. “And today is evidence of that. If you don’t want me to put an application in for Rogue Squadron, I won’t.”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, taking hold of his hand. “If you are intent on applying, you should apply.”

“It’s dangerous,” he said.

“It is,” she replied.

“I could get shot down or captured,” he said.

“It’s possible,” she replied.

“I could even be killed.”

“That’s supposed to be my job, not the Empire’s, you nerf herder,” she said.

He gave a slight laugh. “So. You’re really okay with it?” he asked.

“If this is something you want to do, then you should do it,” she said. “But just understand that if you do apply, I’m applying too.”

“What?” he asked. “Why?”

“Someone has to watch your handsome butt when you’re flying amongst the stars. And it might as well be me.”

“Well now,” he said with a sigh, “I guess it’s settled then.”

“It is,” she said, squeezing his hand.

By the time they arrived back at their lodging in the resort hand in hand, it was nearly midnight. Opening the door, Dia activated the lights while BD-B2 scurried off upstairs. The day’s events weighed heavily on them, and they trudged up the winding staircase. He was about to wish her goodnight when they reached the top of the landing when she gave a gentle tug and led him towards her room.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

As they reached the doorway to her room, he saw BD-B2 standing in the middle of the floor.

“You,” said Dia, thumbing at BD-B2 towards the door. “Out.”

The droid gave her a quizzical look and scurried out of the room without further protest. Andrew watched him go.

“I know it’s late,” she said, placing a palm on his cheek. “But I’m not ready to let you go just yet.”

“You’re sure?” he asked her.

She nodded in reply.

“Okay then,” he said as she let go of his hand. She moved to close the door, and locked it behind them before reaching up with her hands and pulling his mouth to hers.

***

The next day was a flurry of debriefings with the Vigilant staff. Captain Quelle had been impressed with their efforts, and granted them a few extra days of vacation while the entire ordeal -- including the operation Solari was embroiled in on Baterron. They even made the news as clips from the ship and their valiant efforts were recorded or described by others. The play, meanwhile, had been rescheduled to resume later this evening in outdoor amphitheatre.

Supper was spent with Suli, as expected, who had been in a flurry of meetings with New Republic officials, as well as business representatives from her partners as well as Solari Enterprises. Supriya and Reginald had also been invited to join them.

“It would seem Solari Enterprises has taken quite a hit from this scandal,” Suli told them as their meal plates were taken away by the waiting staff. “The board of directors has reached out to several individuals, myself included, to take Solari’s place.”

“Do you think you’ll take the position, Auntie?” Dia asked.

“I might,” Suli said, swirling the liquid in her glass. “Though it would create problems in that I’d effectively be running two major businesses, thus potentially creating a monopoly. The trade board and local governments would never allow that.”

“What about uncle?” Dia asked. “Surely when he recovers, he could be a strong candidate for the position. Or even run your business ventures in your absence.”

Suli raised an eyebrow as the dessert was delivered.

“This, my niece, is why I love your perspicacity,” Suli said.

Dia shrugged. “I learned it from you, after all.”

Reginald, meanwhile, gave a sigh as he sat slouched in his chair, a knuckled fist pressed against his cheek.

“What’s wrong, Reginald?” Supriya asked as she cut a fork through her chocolate dessert.

“Oh, it’s the play,” he said. “The gentleman we had to play the role of the Vice-Admiral’s Major General was diagnosed with a concussion earlier. There’s no way we’ll be able to have the show this evening and find someone on such short notice who knows the part.”

Supriya and Dia looked at Reginald, then to Andrew. Andrew stopped to look at them, a fork full of dessert lifted half-way to his mouth.

“What?” he asked, looking at them.

“You know the songs,” said Supriya.

“And you’ve told me how much you enjoy Gilbert and Mulligan musicals,” said Dia.

“Well now, Reginald,” said Suli, raising an eyebrow. “It seems as though the show shall go on after all.”

“It will?” Andrew asked.

***

That night, Dia, Suli, Seela, and Supriya sat in the private tent that had been erected off to the side of the amphitheatre stage, giving them an excellent view of the stage and the action despite the terrain. The area was overflowing with guests and theatre goers who wanted to see -- and in some cases, finish -- the play from the cruise ship. The first half had been better than Dia expected, and she was beginning to enjoy the musical -- especially Reginald’s scenes -- by the time the intermission happened.

“When does he come on?” she asked Supriya.

“Soon,” she said with an amused smile, “and I think you’ll quite enjoy it.”

It wasn’t long after the third act had begun that the next musical number started. Reginald was on stage, in character, and trying to protect several of the pirates that were attempting to capture the female characters and hold them ransom for credits.

“Hold, brigands!” sang Strong-arm Sally, “Before your troupe proceeds to capture us all, bear in mind that our father is the Vice-Admiral’s Major General!”

Holden’s character, one of the pirate lieutenants, scurried up to the pirate leader.

“Danger may befall, we’d better stall, their father is the Vice-Admiral’s Major General!” he sang.

“Yes, yes, he’s the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” sang the women in unison.

The curtains opened and out strode Andrew, dressed in a khaki soldier’s uniform with a slough of medals attached to it, plus polished boots, and a fake beard and moustache. He regally held a hot pink umbrella used to keep the sun’s rays out of one’s face.

“Yes, yes, I am the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” he sang as the actors made way for him as he walked upstage.

Dia couldn’t contain her laughter and almost fell out of her seat.

“For he is the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” sang the cast, “Yes, he’s the Vice-Admiral’s Major General….”

“And it is, it is a glorious thing to be the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” continued Andrew as he moved about the stage.

“This,” Dia said between laughs, wiping tears away from her eyes, “this is the best!”

“Told you,” Supriya said, leaning over to her.

Suli leaned over to whisper in Dia’s ear, and gently placed a hand on top of hers.

“You sure know how to pick them,” she said. “He’s a keeper for sure.”

“Yeah,” Dia said, shooting her aunt a smile. “He is.”

***

With the play over, the cast had begun to filter out onto the stage to take a final bow. Waves of applause rose throughout the night air. Suli made her way on stage from behind the curtains, with Dia and Supriya in tow. Dia stopped next to Andrew, and whispered in his ear.

“You are wonderfully talented and hilarious in that costume,” she said. “I think you’ll enjoy tonight even more.”

Andrew’s face turned a shade of crimson as he began blushing.

“Thank you,” Suli said into a microphone as the applause began to die down. “Thank you all for coming. I hope,” she continued, pausing for a moment, “that you enjoyed tonight’s entertainment. We have much to be thankful for after recent events, and much to think on for those who were lost at the hands of the Imperial and pirate forces. I’d like to reassure you that the New Republic is working in tandem with our local security forces to ensure that an event like this does not happen again.” A round of applause arose from the crowd.

“The play you enjoyed this evening,” she said, looking around the amphitheatre and at the actors and actresses, “was a play of swashbuckling adventure and good fun. The characters, both good and bad, mere fictitious creations of two very talented playwrights. It was created for entertainment, and has been enjoyed by countless peoples throughout the decades. But fiction and fact are two very different experiences.

Many of you in attendance took part in the cruise events these last few days. Tonight would not be possible without the action of a few key individuals who turned the tide, and allowed us to be here. If I could have Major Dobson, Captains Tann and Supriya, and Reginald Thirdbottom the Fourth step forward please.”

Murmurs rippled throughout the crowd as the four of them stepped forward near Suli.

“Three of the individuals before you were here, like many of you, to be entertained and enjoy some shore leave after their valiant struggle against the Galactic Empire. Yet, by their own volition, they employed their skills, ingenuity, and integrity to not only save my life, but yours as well. I am also told,” Suli said, nodding to Reginald, “that Mister Thirdbottom was instrumental in rallying members of his acting troupe and passengers into a mobile force that overwhelmed their opponents. It is my great honour to award each of them the Baterron Silver Star, the highest civilian award that Baterron and Eudora have to offer to individuals in times of great need and service to the public.”

Seela appeared from behind the curtain carrying a small box that was open. One by one she reached into the box and removed the star-shaped medal with its sea-themed designs and colors, pinning it to the coats or shirt of the individuals and then shaking their hands. The crowd wasted no time in giving an extensive round of thunderous applause, whistles, and cheers to the four individuals. In the front row, Andrew could see Ledwin and Imzi clapping enthusiastically. As Ledwin gave a sustained whistle by placing two fingers in his mouth, Andrew nodded his thanks to each of them.

“How does it feel, Reginald,” Suli asked as she pinned the medal to his costume, “to be a hero?”

“It was good while it lasted, m’lady,” he said above the applause, “but I think acting and playwriting will suit me just fine from now on.”

“Indeed it shall,” she said, as she gave him a peck on his cheek. Reginald blushed slightly as she pulled away. “Though I think you’ve earned the bow of your career. The stage is yours, my noble sir.”

As Suli stepped out of the way, the four took a step forward, waving to the crowd in thanks. Reginald removed his feathered fedora, and took a sweeping bow, which earned him an extra round of applause and recognition from the audience.

The night over, the crowd trickled away, and the heroes were left to their own volition.

***

“I do wish we had more time to spend together,” Suli said as she hugged Dia in front of the apartment, her small mountain of luggage behind her. Bixby was working away, loading it into the back of the speeder that had been rented for them.

“As do I, Auntie,” Dia said, hugging her back. As the two broke their embrace, they smiled. “But duty calls once more.”

They heard a rapping on one of the windows. BD-B2 had removed the curtain and stood on the interior windowsill of a second-level window, indicating that he wanted out.

“Almost forgot!” Dia said as she headed into the house to retrieve him. Suli turned to look at Andrew.

“I wish I could get to know you better, Major,” she said, cupping his hands in hers. “You will always be welcome here, though I know duty calls for you as well.”

“It does, ma’am. And if I may, I’d like to thank you for your hospitality. It’s been an experience beyond my wildest dreams.”

Suli caught a glance of Dia retrieving BD-B2 from the window.

“My dear niece is clearly enamoured with you,” she said. “And as it would seem, you her. Do be careful. And watch after her for me.”

“I will, ma’am,” he said.

“And,” she said, letting go of his hands and raising an eyebrow in amusement, “if you two ever decide to get married -- and I strongly suggest you do -- do let me know. Weddings are one of my many specialities.”

Andrew gave a nervous laugh, and as the door to the apartment opened he was distracted just long enough that Suli reached behind him and gave his bottom a pinch, just like Dia would. Andrew stifled a yelp of surprise despite jumping slightly, while Suli merely winked at him.

“Do give uncle my best when you visit him in the hospital later,” Dia said as she held BD-B2 in her hands and gave Suli a kiss on her cheek.

“I will, dear,” Suli said, kissing her back. “You two take care!”

Suli left and walked towards the speeder that Seela was driving, and waved as she drove past them.

“Your aunt’s nice,” he said as the speeder turned the corner.

“Nice is just the beginning,” Dia said as the two of them turned to finish loading the luggage.

“How are you going to store all of this when you get back to wherever you’re stationed with General Syndulla?” he asked, place one of the luggage bags in the back of the speeder.

“I’ll send most of it home to Ryloth,” she said. “Auntie arranged for it to be sent via special transport.”

“Figures,” he said with a wink.

It didn’t take them long to finish packing the luggage. Bixby drove them to the shuttle platform, where two shuttles were being prepped for take-off. He gave an affirmative “Roger-roger” when told to take the luggage to Suli’s courier transport.

“Guess this is it, huh?” Andrew asked, slinging his duffle bag over his shoulder and hitching a hand inside a pocket.

“Yeah,” Dia said, a little disappointed. “For a little while, anyway.”

“All the craziness aside,” he said, “this was a vacation to remember. I can’t thank you enough for suggesting it.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, slipping her arm around his waist as they began to walk towards the shuttles. “So what are you going to do with the prize winnings?” she asked as they reached the last section before the ramps.

“I’m sure I can think of a few things,” he said, looking down at her. “I did earn it after all.”

“That you did,” she said with a small laugh.

“Though I’m sure,” he finished with a wink, turning to face her, “I can think of a way to spend it on someone special.”

They kissed one final time before parting ways, waving to each other as they boarded the shuttle ramps. A knot filled in his heart, knowing that it would be some time before her would see her again, though he also knew it would not be the last.

Chapter 19

The door to the SSD Lounge whisked open as Andrew walked into it. The familiar hum and buzz of patrons talking, laughing, or playing a variety of games filled the air.

“There’s the man of the hour!” called Reynolds from across the room. Andrew saw him at one of a trio of tables filled with pilots from Rogue, Buccaneer, Corsair, and Spectre Squadrons. “Three cheers for the Hero of Eudora!”

A series of cheers arose from the pilots at the three tables. Andrew also noticed that Captain Supriya had joined them as well as he grabbed an empty chair and sat down.

“Please,” he said over the cheers, “alright, that’s enough. It was nothing.”

“Exposing and foiling an Imperial operation is no small matter,” said Syntax.

“Which,” Andrew continued, “I would not have been able to do without some of you. Or Captain Supriya.”

“Hear hear!” said someone.

“So, Captain,” Andrew asked as Iggy walked over with a fresh round of drinks, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”

Supriya reached for one of the mugs on the tray and took a drink from it.

“I had to meet with Major Murg before he headed down to a meeting on Eudora,” she said, placing the mug on the tabletop. “And, since I have some time to kill before my shuttle leaves, I thought it would be a good idea to get to know some of the members of the Renegade Wing.”

“So tell us, Major,” asked Gremlin, finishing a sip from her drink, “how was your snuggle time? I mean,” she quickly corrected herself with a quick giggle, “downtime?”

Andrew shot her a look of disapproval. She, in turn, gave him a wink and a wicked grin.

“Come now,” said Reynolds, picking his mug up again. “I’m sure the Major enjoyed his downtime.”

Before he could say anything more, Reynolds stood up, cleared his throat, and raised his mug.

“A toast,” he said, “to Major Dobson.”

Captain Supriya pulled a small harmonica tuner from her pocket and blew into it, providing a musical key that was all too familiar.

“For he is the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” Reynolds began to sing.

“Yes, he is the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” followed everyone else at the table.

Andrew looked around, bewildered.

“How did you?...” he began.

Gremlin leaned closer, mug in hand. “The show was broadcasted across the local Holo Net channel. I just so happened to record it.”

Andrew stared at her in disbelief, then at everyone else. They were eagerly waiting for him to continue the song. Supriya grinned and gave him an encouraging nod. Grabbing a mug from the tray, he held it aloft with Reynolds and the others.

“Yes, it is, it is a glorious thing I’m the Vice-Admiral’s Major General,” he continued to a round of cheers.

As the pilots of Renegade Wing and Captain Supriya continued on with the song, Andrew let go for once and enjoyed the moment for what it was.

He was home. And there was no one else, except for Dia, who he’d rather be with.

***

The door whisked open to the viewing room of the local security force. Mogazz Murg entered the dimly lit room, making his way to one of the two empty chairs that sat facing the one-way glass. In the room on the other side of the glass sat Korwin Solari in an orange correctional jumpsuit, being grilled by two officers of the local security force. A lawyer sat next to Solari.

“Suli,” said Murg as he sat down in the chair. “Good to see you again.”

“Hello, Mogazz,” Suli said, glancing at him. “It’s been some time since I’ve seen you last.”

“Perhaps a bit too long,” he said. “Though I’m sure you appreciate the tireless work of the New Republic Intelligence Department.”

“That I do,” she said. “I’m sure you understand the many contributions I’ve made to the Rebel Alliance, and now the New Republic, over the years?”

“All of which we are very thankful for,” he said, bowing his head in acknowledgement. “It’s very fortunate that someone like Korwin Solari was apprehended. He can provide us some vital information regarding his dealings with Captain Gaspra, and ultimately Tol Barand.”

Suli shifted in her seat.

“I hope so, Major,” she said. “Threats of orbital bombardment are very serious. Even more serious is the amount of material that Solari was able to give them in the time period they were working together.” She turned to look at him in his seat. “I fear that something big is on the horizon.”

“As do I,” said Murg, lifting up the data pad he held in his hand. “How is Solari, anyway?”

“He’ll eventually get over that broken nose I gave him,” she said, a small smile spreading across his face.” Murg glanced to see a small bandage covering the bridge of Solari’s nose. “But he’s been surprisingly forthcoming about the entire debacle.”

Murg nodded his head a few times, clearly pleased at this information.

“What you should understand, Major,” Suli continued, “is that men like Solari are capable of many things. His is a history of success at all costs, and he is now paying the price for that whether he likes it or not. The irony of all this is that one of the motivating factors for him that was not explained earlier was that the Empire told him they had information on the accident that destroyed his family, specifically his sister. Something about rectifying a mistake.”

Murg held up the data pad in his hands.

“I believe I can provide an answer for that,” he said. Suli gave him an intrigued look. “As you know, a number of years ago the Solari family’s personal ship was attacked. The official story was that marauders disabled, boarded the family transport, and killed all aboard. In reality, it was the Empire that killed his parents and kidnapped his sister.”

“Really?” Suli asked. “To what end?”

“We’re not entirely sure,” Murg said, “but what we do know is that two years after the fact, his sister was rescued during a raid by Saw Guerrera’s forces on an Imperial plantation. Due to Saw’s … unique position within the Rebel Alliance at the time, not to mention being pursued by the Empire, he was unable to return her to Eudora. She essentially spent the next number of years serving under Saw’s forces, including when he split from the Rebel Alliance and became a radical.”

“You’re kidding?” Suli asked.

“I wish I were,” Murg said.

“But weren’t Saw and his forces destroyed on Jedha?” Suli asked.

“Most of them, yes,” Murg nodded, “but a number of individuals who served with him at one point or another still exist. I’m still pulling as many strings as I can with my connections, but I have reason to believe we may have found her in the Outer Rim region. If it is her, every effort will need to be made to de-radicalize her if necessary.”

Suli contemplated on the news that had been given to her.

“Will you tell Solari that?” she asked.

“In time,” Murg said as he stood up and made his way towards the door. “It would be best to extract as much information from Solari as we can before we can give him some peace of mind. If peace of mind can be had.”

Mogazz Murg pressed the button to open the door and entered the room. As the door closed behind him, Murg took his seat in an empty chair. Suli watched the rest play out with interest.

Epilogue

Captain Gaspra looked at the cold, glaring eyes of Tol Barand through the holographic projector from her desk. She had appraised him of the loss of their most recent venture.

“I must say, Captain,” he said slowly, “I’m not pleased about the ending of our venture with Solari. He could have proven to be a useful ally, in particular economically.”

“I agree, Commodore,” Gaspra said carefully. “Though with so little of our resources used in this affair, I would say we still came out ahead.”

“Perhaps,” Barand mused, “though not as much as I would have liked. Especially,” he continued, his stare boring into her, “with the loss of a squadron of TIE Fighters and stormtroopers to members of Renegade Wing. And a group of theatre actors,” he finished with venom in his voice.

Gaspra maintained her composure, but could feel the sweat forming on her brow underneath the captain’s hat.

“If I may offer one more suggestion, sir,” she said, her mouth feeling dry. “I may have an idea to strike back at Renegade Wing.”

Barand raised an eyebrow in query.

“We’ve already crippled their forces,” he said. “For the time being we must turn our attention elsewhere.”

“I agree, sir,” Gaspra said with a nod. “But given the casualties they sustained, I think it is time for something more … insidious.”

“Go on,” Barand said after a moment.

“I’ll still need to work out the details with you, sir,” she said. “But Baterron and Eudoran media have identified a handful of members of Renegade Wing or other factions that we may be able to do something about. And, with the recent decline in Renegade Wing pilots, it could provide us an opportunity while they rebuild.”

“An interesting proposal, Captain,” Barand said. “Develop your plan, then present it to me accordingly.”

“Yes, Commodore,” she said. His holographic image disappeared. Pressing a button, the image of two figures appeared in front of her. One was of a blue-skinned Twi’lek. The other a human male. The names ‘Dia Tann’ and ‘Andrew Dobson’ were underneath each image.

“Chief,” she said, pressing the comm button to the bridge on her desk. “Have our intelligence officer report to my ready room immediately. We have some planning to do.”

The End

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3