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Path of the Jedi

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Path of the Jedi

Episode I

Sithspit


A massive, elliptical starship hovers over the city-planet of Coruscant, directly over the Jedi Temple. Armour-piercing warheads rain down by the hundreds from dozens of missile ports on the underside of its obsidian hull, the warheads punching easily through the outer layers of the Temple like a red-hot vibroblade through flesh. As each missile comes to rest, either on the Temple grounds or directly inside, it detonates, releasing a noxious red gas and turning the sky a bloody crimson.

Thousands of Jedi are instantly affected. They keel over, howling in pain and clutching their heads. Some of them vomit. Some try to run, to no avail. The lucky ones are instantly killed by the detonating warheads and lethal shrapnel. But all who turn to the Force for aid realize: they can't feel it, as it it had just disappeared, or been ripped away from them.

A lone Jedi watches from the bridge of the starship, horrified, knowing she had failed utterly. She knew the destruction raining down upon the Order was her fault, and her fault alone. As tears of horror track down her face, a voice, sonorous and distorted through a heavy mask's vocoder, sounds behind her.

“I told you it would come to this. That I would deliver glorious retribution upon the galactic cancer that is the Jedi Order.”

“How could you do this? You're a monster. You’re... inhuman.” She finds herself saying.

“I care not for your tawdry insults.” The voice retorts. “But do not worry. You'll be reunited with your pathetic Jedi peers rather... imminently.”

She hears the snap-hiss of a lightsaber blade igniting, and a second later her nervous system flashes in blinding agony, as the tip of a sanguine red blade erupts from her throat. She can't even cry out before she collapses, her vocal chords have been completely burned through . As the world dims, her last thought is of how distraught a blue-haired pilot would be...


****


In the darkness of her chambers, Max Starfield, newly anointed Jedi Knight, catapulted into wakefulness. Within a second, her lightsaber was in her hand and glowing a deadly, white-hot blue. Her eyes darted around the room wildly, searching for any threats, or anything that might cause her harm. After a moment, when nothing attacked her, she shut off the lightsaber and groaned. She reached into the Force, more out of a need for comfort than anything else, and confirmed there was nothing in the room with her.

She realised she was drenched in sweat, and panting, hard. It took a long time for her to force herself to relax. In the end, not even meditating did the trick: she had to reach out and let the current of the Force take her, momentarily surrendering the notion of self, and becoming one with that great, mystical energy flow.

Max opened her eyes, and let out a deep breath. “What the sithspit was that about?” she wondered aloud.

The Force vision, for it couldn’t have been anything else, had been incredibly vivid. More so than usual. She had always had a great affinity for sensing the past and the future; something about the Force wanted her to have an exceptionally strong command, perhaps the strongest in her generation, of how she could view time. This talent had proven to be an invaluable one in all her years as a padawan, and had been instrumental in her rapid ascension to the status of Jedi Knight. She knew she was still considered to be on the young side of a fully-fledged Knight, at only 20, and as such she was determined to not only live up to, but exceed the expectations of her Masters.

But none of that occupied her mind at that particular moment, for Max was still deeply troubled by her vision. It was almost unheard of for them to be wrong: which made her worried that, in all probability, something very, very bad was going to befall the Temple and her fellow Jedi.

She felt the first tendrils of fear worm their way into her mind, gripping her in an icy embrace. No. She thought. You know where that leads. Master Yoda always says fear is the path to the Dark Side. Calm down.

She forced the offending emotions out of her brain, and got out of bed. She looked down, noting her sweat covered sleeping garments. I should probably shower. It’ll make me feel better. Maybe.

She stripped off the damp clothing and dumped it into the generic cleaning compartment embedded into the wall. She heard a muffled whumph as the garments were whisked away, and would be returned clean as a whistle mere minutes later. Now entirely naked, she shivered a little. The Temple’s hab settings were sometimes a little lower than she would have liked.

She stepped into the small en-suite bathroom, anxious to feel the warmth of the powerful, soul-cleansing shower. Sure, Jedi surrendered all possessions and attachments, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy the occasional creature comfort. Opting to forego the sonic shower setting, she went straight for water, and pressed the activation button. As the hot, steaming liquid hit her skin, Max sighed. There was nothing the pounding pressure of almost scalding water to ease the mind. She spent a long while in the shower, electing to simply stay under the steady stream once she had finished her usual routine.

Eventually, she shut it off, not without a lingering sense of regret. She quickly towelled herself dry and headed for her room’s modest wardrobe, where she selected one of several sets of grey robes with white trim. As she tugged the tunic over her head, she noticed a blinking light on her comlink, indicating a waiting holo-call. With a flick of the Force, Max pushed the relevant button. An image flickered into being, resolving itself after a brief second into the friendly face of Master Grant.

“Master Grant.” Max greeted her with a bow.

“Max.” She smiled and bowed back.

“Can I do something for you, Master?” Max queried. “This is kind of an early hour for a call.” She continued, noting for the first time that the hour was indeed still early.

Master Grant smiled again. “Apologies for disturbing you at such an early hour. And it’s not me you can do something for, but the Council. They’ve requested your presence, as soon as possible.”

Max’s stomach dropped. “The Council... Did they say why?”

Master Grant shook her head. “They said nothing else, but I got the impression it was important.”

Max squared herself. “Very well. I’ll go to the Council chambers immediately. May the Force be with you, Master.”

“And also with you.”

The call terminated, leaving Max with a million thoughts. “This can’t be good.” She groaned to herself.

She had no idea how right she was.


****


The Temple was practically deserted as Max walked towards the central turbolift, save for a few early risers, who were either speaking in hushed pairs or deep in study. Max recognised a few, and whenever she was noticed, she received a nod in greeting. She politely nodded back, and continued on her way.

As she approached the turbolift, the security attendant stationed outside clocked her, and after giving her a quick once-over and glancing at a datapad, waved her on. She mumbled a thank you as she passed, which the attendant acknowledged with a tip of his hat.

She entered the lift and pressed the button that would take her to the central Council chamber. As the turbolift began its smooth ascent upwards, she squared her shoulders and mentally composed herself.

I hope I’m not in any trouble. I mean, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong... At least not recently. She thought, casting her mind back to the time a few weeks ago when Jocasta Nu, the Temple archive keeper, had found her asleep and drooling on a fairly important record.

Max was spared however, from the embarrassing memory by the turbolift passing by several tall windows, affording her a spectacular view over dozens of miles of Coruscant’s mottled grey landscape. The sun had just begun to creep over the edge of the artificial horizon, saturating the mists and vapours generated by the city-planet in a fuzzy orange glow. It really was a breath-taking vista, Max reflected, knowing she was extremely privileged to be enjoying such a view. Not everyone on Coruscant was that lucky.

After a minute or so, the turbolift slowed and came to a stop. The doors opened with a soft hiss, and Max was greeted by the large doors, emblazoned with the millenia-old Jedi insignia, that led to the inner Council chambers. With a hint of apprehension, she strode forwards.

The doors opened silently, as if they were inviting her in. The sun also shone directly through them, blinding Max for a brief instant. When her vision cleared, she saw that all twelve Masters were present. That was definitely Not A Good Thing, according to her. Hesitantly, she shuffled into the middle of the chamber, feeling twelve pairs of eyes watching her. She had never been in the chamber when every member had been present before.

“M-Masters.” She greeted them, unable to keep her voice from wavering, a clear sign of how nervous she felt.

Master Yoda was the first to speak. He smiled a wry, oddly shrewd smile that had Max convinced he knew exactly what she had been thinking.

“Worried, you should not be.” He intoned, amusement evident in his voice. “Nothing wrong, you have done.”

Max could be seen to visibly relaxed, something that wasn’t missed by Master Kit Fisto. “Master Nu may have other opinions on that.” He intoned, a grin on his face.

Max flushed, two large scarlet blotches appearing on her cheeks.

“Don’t tease the poor girl.” Interjected Ki-Adi-Mundi, before turning to her. “You must be wondering why we summoned you here?” He gently prompted.

“Yes, Master.” Max replied gratefully, eager to direct the conversation away from the subject of Jocasta Nu’s wrath.

“We’ll get right to it.” Mace Windu spoke up. “Though before we do, we trust that none of what you are about to hear will go beyond these chambers, and that you will treat this matter with the utmost discretion?”

“Of course, Master Windu.” Max said, though internally, her curiosity was piqued.

“Very well. Two nights ago, the secure archive, containing thousands of years of Jedi lore, was broken into. I probably don’t need to tell you how serious something like that is, as our security is nigh-impossible to get through.”

“The thief only took one thing.” He continued. “An ancient book, containing some... sensitive information about the Jedi that we would rather not become public knowledge. It could prove to be incredibly dangerous for us if it did.”

“Wait, an actual, physical book? Not a record?” Max interjected.

“We did say it was ancient.” Said Ki-Adi-Mundi.

“Yes. And that’s led us to believe the thief knew exactly what he was looking for.” Plo Koon added. “This was a targeted strike, with a clear objective.”

“But, what’s in this book that makes it so dangerous?” Max asked.

“That’s for us to worry about.” Mace said, with an air of finality that suggested she should not take that particular line of questioning any further. “What we want you to do, is find whoever took the book, and retrieve it before they can do anything with its knowledge.”

Max almost blanched. The Council wanted her for this mission? Surely there had to be some kind of mistake, or someone else they could send? There was no way she was the right person. No way.

“Y-you want me to- to do this?” The young Jedi found herself saying. “I only just passed the Trials... I mean no disrespect, but surely there’s someone better suited?”

Yoda tapped his cane on the floor, and all attention turned to the diminutive Jedi. “No one more suited, there is.” He spoke in a solemn, yet strangely comforting tone. “Confident we are, in you, young Jedi.”

“But... why me?”

“An extraordinary aptitude, you have, for sensing both the future and the past. Prove vital, this could, for your investigation, and for the survival of the Jedi.”

This time, Max did blanche. The survival of the Jedi? What does he mean by that, surely he can't be serious?

A brief silence fell upon the room as Max digested the information she’d been given. A silence that was broken shortly by Adi Gallia.

“We suggest seeing the head of Temple security first.” She said, offering Max an encouraging smile. “He may know more about the break in.”

Her words brought Max back to the present. “Then I shall start there. Thank you Master.”

“After you’ve seen him, go to the Temple requisition station. We have given permission for a droid to assist you in your task.” Adi finished.

Mace once again picked up the thread. “Now, unless you have any further questions, we wish you to begin at once. And one more thing, this mission is not for the record, and is to be carried out in secret. No one can know, understand?”

“Yes Master.”

“Good. May the Force be with you, young Master Starfield.”

“May the Force be with you.” The other members echoed.

Max bowed deeply, and, shaking slightly, took her leave from the chamber. She summoned the turbolift once more, and only once she was safely inside did she release the giant panic breath she’d been holding.

“Well, Sithspit.” She said.

 

 

Chapter Text

Episode II

The Droid and the Duel

 

Okay. So. No big deal. It’s your first mission as a Jedi Knight, it’s not even official, and the fate of the entire Order possibly rests on tiny little me. No pressure Max, you got this.

Max groaned.

I so do not got this.

She stepped off the turbolift, and made it a few paces before she had to lean against a wall to stop herself from feeling overwhelmed. She placed a palm onto the cool stone and closed her eyes, letting herself sink into the bottomless ocean of Force energy that permeated every square foot of the Temple. Its calming presence grasped her warmly, like a hug from an old friend. Mere moments later, she felt calm and ready, and she was going to give this mission her all.

She opened her eyes, set her robes straight, and made for the security station. It took her a good ten minutes to travel there, the Temple was vast and the security nexus was located deep within one of the most protected parts of the Temple. As Max approached, slightly out of breath from the long walk, a Temple guard stepped into her path, blocking her with a raised hand. He tilted his head, no doubt receiving some kind of internal communication behind his expressionless mask. After a moment, he nodded and stepped aside, waving Max through.

She nodded politely at the guard, who didn’t react in the slightest, then stepped towards the doors. They whisked silently open, and when she stepped through, shut just as soundlessly. A Jedi sat at a desk in front of her, reading a datapad with a slight but still perceptible frown drawing his brows together. Unlike most senior Jedi, he had his hair cropped short, eschewing the longer fashion more prevalent in other Jedi of similar rank. His jaw was covered in five o’clock shadow, something that seemed out of place given how tidy the rest of his appearance was. He wore navy blue robes, with a dark grey cloak thrown over the back of his chair.

He looked up as Max entered, and surprised her by greeting her first with a slight nod.

“Master.” She greeted him in return, accompanying the honorific with the customary bow.

To her continued surprise, he grimaced.

“I don’t go in for any o’ that “master” kriff.” He said, in a gravelly, slightly drawling voice that Max recognised as coming from the southern parts of Corellia. “You can call me David. And knock off the bowing while you’re at it. Damn Jedi politeness is gonna be the death of us.”

“Well sit yourself down.” He said when Max was a little too flabbergasted to respond, gesturing to one of the two seats in front of his desk.

She promptly did so. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could do so, David cut her off.

“You’ve probably heard of me. Or, at least, you know my reputation.” He said. “The Council, and everyone else for that matter, tend to view me as kinda irascible. Stubborn, even.” An odd expression adorned his face, something between pride and perhaps resentment. “You heard anything like that?” He finished.

Max swallowed. “Maybe just a little bit Mas- David.” She quickly caught herself.

“Hrm. Thought as such.” He cracked his knuckles, each producing a popping sound, painfully loud in the otherwise quiet room. “They’re right about me. I am stubborn. I’ve been pushing for better security for years, saying it’s only a matter of time before someone had some hare-brained scheme and made us look like idiots. It’s probably why they shoved me down here,” he chuckled, “Probably to shut me up. But I was right, in the end.” He said, somewhat ruefully.

“That’s-” Max began.

“Why you’re here, I know.” He finished for her.

Max nodded. “Are there any leads? Anything to go on?”

His eyes narrowed. “Just one.” He reached below the desk, and pulled out a thin, hexagonal device, glossy black in colour, but otherwise with no distinguishing features. “Whoever broke into the archives left this.”

“What is it?” Max queried.

“It’s a type of disruptor. It nullifies security fields and jams any kind of holocam. And while it can’t fool line of sight, it renders the user practically invisible to any kind of electronic device. It’s also top of the line, military grade tech, and highly illegal.”

Max frowned. “How would someone even get something like this?”

“Normally, you don’t. But luckily for you, I did some digging with a few old contacts. And there just happens to be a shipment on sale, right here on Coruscant. Whoever broke in likely got it from the seller.”

Max’s heart rate spiked. “And the seller could point me to the thief!” She exclaimed. “Where do I go?”

“That’s the problem.” David grimaced again. “It’s on level 1313.”

Her stomach felt like it had dropped through the floor. “1313...” She whispered.

“I’m afraid so.” David said gravely. “Home to the worst scum and villainy on the planet, and dangerous even to a Jedi. You best keep a low profile. Oh and a bit of free advice, when you go: don’t wear a robe. Dead giveaway that you don’t belong.”

Max nodded, momentarily too nervous for words.

David handed her a datapad. “Here’s where you wanna go: the Buss’ka district. You’re looking for a Rodian called Peej. He shouldn’t be hard to find, guy’s kinda... flamboyant. Likes to dress fancy.”

“I’ll make sure to remember that.” Max said. “Is that everything?”

“Yup.”

“Very well. Thank you, David.” She rose from her chair.

“Good luck, kid.” David said, leaning back in his.

She nodded, and made for the door. Just as she was about to step through, he called her name.

“Max. May the Force be with you. You’re gonna need it.”

With that ominous tone, the door slid shut.

 

****

 

Thirty standard minutes later, Max was reasonably confident she had assembled everything necessary for a trip into Coruscant’s seedy underbelly. She cast her eye over the array of items spread across her bed once again, scanning for anything obvious she had missed. Satisfied, she turned her gaze onto herself, inspecting her new outfit. It was mostly black, and strategically tattered, to give it a hopefully worn appearance. She flexed her toes within the confines of the hard leather boots. They were definitely much less comfortable than her standard Jedi-issue pair. She scowled at them, willing the boots to be more comfortable. The boots did not oblige.

Grumbling under her breath, Max gathered the rest of her items and made a swift exit from her chambers. What do I need next? She asked herself. Oh right! The droid I was given. I should probably go pick it up. She made an about-turn, and headed the opposite way down the corridor, in the direction of the dual workshop and droid bay.

When she arrived however, out of breath for the second time that day from another unnecessarily long walk (Why do we have to walk everywhere? What’s wrong with using a few hover platforms? Master Yoda gets one...). She found the droid bays were practically empty, save for one bay containing a pile of parts, and another with a battered-looking astromech.

“Excuse me?” Max said, turning to the nearest attendant, who put down the spare part she was tinkering with and looked up, greeting her with an open expression.

“My name is Max Starfield. I’m meant to be picking a droid up? The Council told me one had been reserved for me.”

The attendant frowned, and then her expression cleared as she appeared to remember. “Ah yes, we did receive that message. Though unfortunately,” she gestured to the empty workshop, “We don’t have a lot of choice. Demand for droids has been abnormally high for the past few weeks, so I’m afraid the only one left is this little guy.” She said, pointing to the battered astromech in the corner.

““Guy”?” Max said, a little perplexed. “I thought all we just called all droids “it”?”

“Oh this one’s definitely a guy.” The attendant told her. “He’s too fond of getting into mischief to be a girl.” She bent down and removed the restraining bolt. The astromech promptly powered up, emitting a series of almost delighted-sounding beeps and whistles.

“Max, this is W4-R3N. W4-R3N, this is Max. She’ll be your new master for the foreseeable future.”

Max knelt down, bringing her face level with the astro’s camera port. “Hey little guy.” She raised a hand in greeting. “I’m Max.”

W4-R3N tootled something, his camera nodule whirring quietly as it focused on Max’s face. She got the sense that, if the droid could have tilted its head, it would have. It whistled again, seemingly pleased.

Max looked at the attendant. “Um, this is a little embarrassing, but I don’t know any droidspeak. What’s he saying?”

The attendant, surprisingly, was masking some slight giggles. She cleared her throat, trying and failing to pass her amusement off as a cough. “He, uh, he said you have pleasingly symmetrical facial features for an organic.”

“Uh, thanks? I think?” She cast a vaguely perplexed look at the droid.

W4-R3N simply emitted a series of beeps that sounded suspiciously like “You’re welcome.”

The attendant chuckled. “Don’t encourage him too much, he likes to flirt.”

“A droid that flirts, huh?” Max said.

“Oh don’t worry, he’s harmless. Just give him a thump on the dome if he does irritate you, though.”

Max giggled. “I’ll be sure to do that.” She motioned to the astromech. “C’mon, we’ve got work to do.” She gave a short bow to the attendant, who smiled and returned the gesture. Then, she made for the doors, with W4-R3N in tow, whistling happily.

 

****

 

Max walked through the endless corridors of the Temple, trying to tune out the near-incessant beeps and whistles from her robotic companion. After a particularly long series of tootles she privately suspected went on for over a minute, she fixed W4-R3N with a pointed look, and poked him on the dome.

“You know, you’re the most vocal astromech I’ve ever met.” She said.

W4-R3N rocked back and forth, and made a sound she could have sworn was the astromech equivalent of a snort.

“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that.” She teased the droid.

W4-R3N chortled, and Max rolled her eyes.

“No wonder you were the only astro left.” She mumbled to herself.

The pair set off again, heading in the general direction of the speeder bay. As she walked, Max mentally reviewed the information and equipment she had been given, hoping it would make her feel better about her imminent trip into Coruscant’s dangerous underworld.

It didn’t.

No matter how many times she tried to tell herself she was as prepared as she could be, Max still felt nowhere near ready. The shadows of doubt lingered within her mind, threatening to turn into daggers of fear. And you know where that leads... A slithering, whisper-shrouded voice in her mind said.

So preoccupied was she with her own thoughts that she almost failed to notice a sharp spike in the Force, barely a few metres in front of her. A tall, thin figure darted out from behind a pillar, positioning itself deliberately in her path.

Max automatically fell back into a defensive stance, knees bent, left hand out in front of her ready to Force push her perceived assailant away. Her right went for her lightsaber, and in less than a second had unclipped it from her belt. She brought it out in front of her, and was less than a millisecond from activating it before her brain snapped into gear, and suddenly recognised the person stood in front of her.

“Oh for... Don’t do that, Victoria. I was a second away from seriously hurting you.” Max complained, more annoyed at herself for her lack of concentration.

“Please, like you could have even touched me.” Victoria said haughtily. “Everyone knows I’m better than you anyway.”

Max rolled her eyes, and made to step around the taller woman.

Victoria blocked her.

“Victoria, I don’t have time for your pride right now. Will you please just get out of the way?” Max said exasperatedly.

Victoria fixed her with a scowl. “No, I won’t. And you, first you’re promoted to Knight before me, even though I’m clearly more skilled than you, and then the Council gives you some special mission? No. I’m not accepting that.”

“Wait.” Max was confused. “How do you know about that?”

“Please.” Victoria smirked. “I know everything that goes on around here. Besides, we both know you’ve only gotten so far through blatant favouritism.” She lifted her arm, pointing an accusatory finger at Max. “We’re going to settle this. Permanently.”

Max sighed in frustration. “I don’t have time for a grudge match. Now will you please just drop this?”

“No!” Victoria growled. “You’re going to duel me, otherwise I’ll tell everyone I see about your special little mission. I’m sure the Council would love to hear everyone talking about something that's meant to be secret.”

Backed into a corner, Max could only glare at her. “Fine. Where and when?”

“The duelling practice chambers. Right now.” Victoria said, crowing in victory. She turned on her heel, and strode off towards the practice grounds, only turning back for a second to beckon Max to follow.

Max sighed, and followed, W4-R3N at her heels. He chirped something that Max correctly assumed meant “Kick her ass”.

“Don’t worry, she’ll get what’s coming to her.” Max assured him.

A short while later, they arrived at the duelling chambers. Still early on in the day, they were practically empty. Victoria selected one and walked confidently into the middle of the chamber. It resembled an ancient gladiatorial arena, circular in shape and around fifty feet in diameter. A balcony wrapped around the circumference for any Jedi wishing to spectate, as duelling was always a popular activity, especially among the younger, more confident Jedi.

Victoria turned to face Max. She drew her lightsaber from the belt of her dull gold robe, and took up an aggressive, hawk-like stance. “Well?” She raised the lightsaber over her head, further accentuating her form, and ignited the blade. A bright yellow bar of energy erupted from the hilt with a vicious snap-hiss. “Fight me.” Victoria demanded.

Max didn’t bother replying. She settled back into a her favoured defensive stance, bringing her lightsaber hilt up so that it ran parallel to the side of her head, as if she was drawing a bow. She extended her left arm in front of her once again, and, finally, activated the lightsaber. The blue blade leapt forth, humming with deadly energy and pointing directly at her opponent.

Victoria wasted no time. Her scowl deepened, and she crouched slightly, imbuing her stance with coiled energy. An instant later, she leapt forward with deadly ferocity, bringing her blade down hard in an overhead strike.

Max had less than a second to react. She shifted her weight onto her back leg and brought her own lightsaber up to block Victoria’s attack. Yellow met blue with a thunderous clash of energy, sparks flying from the force of the blow.

Max stared past their locked blades with grim determination, straight into the eyes of her opponent. Victoria glared back, eyes full of nothing but contempt.

Their duel had begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Episode III

1313

Blades clashed in a whirl of blue and yellow energy. The two combatants battled back and forth, neither willing to give ground. Max parried a particularly vicious blow, barely managing to deflect it off to the side. She was no slouch at lightsaber combat, but Victoria had always been a total natural, and been consistently ranked first among her generation of Jedi since their early years as Padawans.

It didn’t help that Victoria favoured an aggressively fast version of the fourth form of lightsaber combat: Ataru. This form, which relied heavily on acrobatics, leaping, and fast, heavy strikes, was something of a challenge for her to counter. Max herself favoured form three, Soresu, which focused on defense and was more suited to deflecting blaster bolts than blocking another lightsaber. The form did have one advantage though; as Soresu focused on defense, it featured quick, nimble and precise footwork, which proved quite adept at nullifying the worst of Victoria’s leaps and spins.

As if on cue, Victoria leapt forward, swinging her lightsaber hard and fast at Max’s left hip. Max reacted instinctively, shifting her feet ever so slightly to the right in order to use her opponent’s momentum against her. As the yellow blade hit her blue one, she swivelled on her heel and pushed to her left, sending Victoria off to one side and consequently off-balance. Max followed up with a simple Force push, directly into Victoria’s back. Victoria yelped as it hit her and sent her careening into a wall. She hit it face first, producing a sharp clang that echoed round the room.

A small cheer sounded from above, and Max looked up to see a young human Padawan, who couldn’t have been more than nine or ten, watching the duel with rapt interest.

“Figures we’d attract attention...” Max muttered to herself. She turned back to a stunned Victoria, trying to put the fact that they now had an audience out of her mind.

As Max faced her again, Victoria spat blood onto the floor, and upon briefly glancing at the bright red globule, noticed it contained half a tooth. Her eyes widened, and she snapped her gaze back to Max, glaring bloody murder. “You’re gonna pay for that.” She promised.

Max met her gaze and said nothing. She raised her lightsaber.

Victoria attacked with all the strength and force of a valkyrie, raining an endless avalanche of blows down on Max. Max faltered under the relentless barrage, barely able to bring her lightsaber up in time to parry Victoria’s devastating attacks. She found herself being forced swiftly backwards, shedding ground far quicker than she would have liked, only just managing to keep a decent amount of distance between her and Victoria.

In a matter of seconds, she lost half of the width of the chamber. If the fight continued along its present course, I the next few moments, she would have her back up against the wall.

As if sensing victory was near, Victoria pressed her advantage, forcing Max back even further with a flurry of viper-fast blows. Max’s back collided with the wall, and her defence went from faltering to outright desperate. Robbed of the room to use footwork to aid her defence, Max was forced to rely on nothing but parrying, something that wouldn’t last long against an opponent as skilled as Victoria.

In desperation, she took a page out of Victoria’s book, and leapt, straight up and over a brutal horizontal slash. Max landed, briefly, on Victoria’s shoulders, which she used as a springboard to catapult herself forward through the air. Midway through her arc, she flipped, adding in a sideways twist to reverse her direction. Max landed elegantly in the middle of the arena, facing Victoria. Max noticed, with some satisfaction, that she looked stunned; eyes wide and mouth agape.

With a sudden burst of confidence, Max winked at her.

Victoria snapped her mouth shut. “Cute.” She growled through gritted teeth. “But a dumb little move like that won’t stop me from beating you.”

Max didn’t answer. Slowly, she brought her lightsaber up, holding directly in front of her face. She closed her eyes.

Victoria leapt, only giving Max an instant to prepare. But that instant was enough for what Max needed to do.

She sank into the Force, feeling it envelop her, taking control of her arms, her legs and her entire body.

Her kind remained clear, and sharp as a scythe. She knew precisely where Victoria was going to land, how she would strike, and how she was going to follow up. It was as if she could see the rest of the fight in her head, like watching a holofilm, and all she had to do was follow along. This was Max’s true gift, and as long as she had it, Victoria could never beat her.

A yellow blade struck down from on high, almost too fast to see. But Max was no longer in its path. She had moved to the side, only slightly, but enough to avoid the blow.

Victoria recovered quickly, and lashed out behind her, as Max knew she would. Max locked blades with her, blocking Victoria’s shimmering yellow bar of energy easily, and with the Force, reached out and dragged Victoria’s right leg half a foot towards her, shifting her balance just enough.

Max deactivated her lightsaber, allowing Victoria’s lightsaber to hum through empty space. She dropped, and, extending one leg, kicked Victoria’s feet out from under her.

Victoria yelped, and fell forwards, hitting the floor with a solid thud. She rolled over, but Max was already standing over her, her lightsaber pointed directly at her throat. The blade wasn’t activated, but it didn’t need to be. Max had won, and they both knew it.

But before either of them could do anything, each of them felt a Force grip as strong as durasteel take hold of them.

Jedi Master Shaak Ti descended gracefully into the arena. “What are you doing?” She said, calmly, but with an underlying strength that let Max know she was not happy at all.

“Duelling without permission or oversight is against Temple regulations.” Master Ti continued. “You both know this.” She relaxed the Force hold she had over them ever so slightly. “Explain yourselves.”

Max opened her mouth, ready to make her excuses, but she was beaten to the punch.

“Master?” A small voice came.

Max flicked her eyes upwards, and saw the same Padawan from earlier. He looked nervous, but was apparently intent on having his say.

If Master Ti was surprised at the interruption, she didn’t show it. “Padawan.” She said. “Did you see what happened?”

He nodded. “She was defending herself.” He pointed at Max. “But it was her who wanted to fight.” He redirected his finger to Victoria.

Master Ti nodded. “Thank you, young Padawan.” She turned to Max and Victoria. “Is this true?”

Nervously, Max nodded. Victoria did nothing, and just stared.

“Very well.” Shaak Ti appeared to reach a decision. “Victoria, you come with me. We shall discuss this further. At great length. And Max,” she turned to face her, “I would bring you with us as well, but I know you have... other duties to attend to. You may not entirely be the guilty party here, but you should not have let yourself be drawn into this.”

With that, she departed swiftly, taking Victoria with her.

Max let out a shaky breath she didn’t know she had been holding. She heard the tap of boots behind her, and turned to find the young Padawan had alighted into the arena.

“Thanks, kid.” She said. “You really saved my ass there.”

“I was glad to.” He said, grinning. “It was all I could do after getting to see a duel like that. You’re amazing!” His accent was clipped and precise, indicative of a somewhat more well-to-do homeworld than her own.

Max laughed. “I’m not as good as you think, but thanks anyway.” She patted him on the shoulder. “I really gotta get going, but thanks again for helping me out there.”

The Padawan grinned, and gave her a thumbs up. “It was nothing.” He said.

Max returned the gesture, and made to leave. Just before she reached the doorway, she turned back. “Hey kid!” She said. “What’s your name?”

The kid’s grin hadn’t left his face for even a second. “I’m Obi-Wan, nice to meet you!”

 

****

 

Max weaved her speeder carefully through Coruscant’s ever-congested airborne traffic. It wasn’t her speeder, per se. It was an old, grey, battered model that had a worrying habit of rattling loudly every few seconds. Max wished she didn’t have to pilot this flying scrap heap, but the guy at the Temple had assured her it would help her blend in. Thankfully, it had a closed cockpit, so at least she wasn’t open to the elements.

Behind her, W4-R3N emitted a series of short, staccato beeps. A screen on the dash flickered into life, displaying a translated read-out of W4-R3N’s electronic language.

[This speeder sucks.] He said. [This speeder sucks and I am surprised we have not been incinerated in a giant fireball already.]

“Not helping.” Max mumbled as the speeder gave a violent lurch.

[I know. I just felt I should inform you this speeder is dangerously close to being legally unsafe to fly. According to my diagnostics, anyway.]

“Oh, well, great.” Max grimaced. “Exactly what I needed to hear.”

[You are welcome.]

Max’s eyebrow travelled up her forehead by an increment. “You know, I’m beginning to understand why you were the only droid left.”

[I couldn’t possibly comment on that. Alert, my internal map of Coruscant is indicating we are nearing our destination.]

“Thanks. I’ll find a place to set her down.”

A few minutes later, Max landed as gently as possible amidst a plume of belching smoke and groaning metal. Not ten seconds after she set down, the electronics sparked, and the engines shut down with a sound eerily similar to that of a dying mynock. Max eyed the unresponsive controls with distaste.

“Well, I guess we’re finding alternate transport back.” She said to W4-R3N.

He whistled. Max had the distinct feeling he agreed.

She checked her datapad. “Alright, according to this, Peej hangs around in a warehouse a few minute’s walk from here.” She stowed the device in a pouch attached to her thigh. “No time like the present.” She said, unenthusiastically.

Jedi and droid set off, and soon found themselves winding their way through dank, seedy alleyways, crowded with species from thousands of different worlds. Grimy plasteel and overly bright neon and holograms seemed to be the overriding theme. Everywhere Max looked, she found something new to set her on edge. After a Twi’lek, who was obviously a prostitute, tried to make an advance on her, Max decided to keep her head down and avoid eye contact at all costs.

It came as a relief when, a few minutes later, she arrived at the entrance to the warehouse. Rather than go straight in, she kept off to the side and studied the entryway. A large, sullen-looking mon calamari stood guarding it. As Max watched, a small, shifty looking zabrak approached and began to exchange a few words with the guard. Evidently, the guard didn’t like what he had to say, because after a few seconds, the zabrak was physically picked up and thrown into a wall, where he slid to the floor, unconscious.

Max nervously checked her lightsaber was still in its hiding place inside her jacket. She realised she was nervous.

You can do this. She thought. A Jedi feels no fear. You are one with the Force, and the Force is with you.

Repeating that mantra over and over in her head, Max walked up to the mon calamari.

“What the fuck do you want?” He said as Max neared.

Good start. Max dryly observed.

“I’m here to see Peej.” Max said, trying to make her voice as steady and authoritative as she could. “I’ve got business with him.”

“Ain’t no one here by that name. Now piss off.” The mon calamari growled at her, narrowing his bulbous eyes.

Max sighed internally. She had hoped to talk her way in naturally, but at that moment, there was probably more chance of Mace Windu showing and performing an impromptu dance recital.

She raised a hand, and reached for the Force.

“I’m a good friend of Peej, and you’re going to let me pass.” She said.

The mon calamari’s eyes glazed over. “You’re a good friend of Peej’s and I’m going to let you pass.” He repeated.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” He said automatically. Then, “You wanna buy some glitterstim? It makes you feel all kinds of good.”

Max made a disgusted face. “No. You’re not going to sell me glitterstim.”

“I’m not going to sell you glitterstim.”

“You want to go home, get rid of your stash, and apply for a job.”

“I want to get rid of my stash and apply for a job.”

“A legal one.”

“Yes. A legal job.”

The mon calamari promptly lumbered off, leaving the entrance unguarded.

“That... wasn’t so bad.” Max said to herself.

W4-R3N tootled happily, and followed her into the warehouse.

 

****

 

The inside of the warehouse, while spacious and possessed of semi-decent interior lighting, still managed to be dingy and mostly depressing. A few people, mostly humanoids, were dotted about, probably conducting business that wasn’t entirely legal. A YT-1200 model freighter caught her eye, mostly because of the giant red dragon painted down one side of the hull. The pilot was crouched on top, no doubt repairing something, judging from the sparks arcing gracefully through the air.

Max stuck to the outskirts, combing the room in search of Peej. It didn’t take long to find him. The rodian was wearing a highly colourful outfit, consisting of a red and purple jacket, gold pants and what could only be described as an extra fluffy ruff. He stuck out like a sore thumb next to the drab grey of everything else in sight.

W4-R3N beeped something. Max got the impression he’d said the droid version of “You have to be kidding me.”

“Yeah, me too, buddy.” She said.

She wandered over to her target, trying to make it seem like she wasn’t making a beeline straight for him. When she was about twenty feet away, he noticed her.

“My my,” he said, rubbing his green hands together, “what’s a dainty little thing like you doing here, and what can humble Peej do for you?”

Max decided he was definitely the creepiest individual she had met that week. She forced herself to suppress a shudder.

“I’m interested in... security, you could say.” She began. “I heard you’re the guy to talk to about that.”

Sensing a sales opportunity, Peej moved closer and spoke conspiratorially. “Whoever you heard from was right. Peej has the very best stuff. And what, pray tell, is the young girl after? Surveillance? Or perhaps personal protection?” He leered at her. “There are many unsavoury types out there who might take an interest in a girl like yourself.”

Max couldn’t help it. She shot him a disgusted glare. “First off: I'm a woman, not a girl, and I can take care of myself, thank you.” She said, coldly.

She removed the hexagonal disruption from a pocket, and slammed it down on a nearby canister. “You’re gonna tell me who you sold this to, and where I can find them. Now.

At the sight of the device, Peej recoiled. “Peej know nothing about that, Peej swears.”

“You’re lying to me.” Max intoned, with as much gravitas as she could muster.

Peej backed away. “Peej isn’t lying. He would never-”

Max had had enough. She grabbed him by the ruff and slammed him up against the wall. “Listen slimeball.” She growled. “You’re gonna tell me, or there’s gonna be thousands more people just like me who are gonna have the same question.” She opened her jacket, revealing the lightsaber nestled within. “Understand?”

Peej’s eyes widened dramatically. “OK, OK.” He said. “Peej sold it to a bounty hunter, but he never said his name, Peej swears. But, Peej did happen to overhear they were based in the Outer Rim, near the Maw.”

Max nodded. “Thank you for your … cooperation.”

Peej's expression brightened. “Peej always cooperates with Jedi. Peej is-”

“You say Peej one more time, and I'm gonna punch you in the face so hard.

Peej shrank into himself, almost quaking in terror. “Pee- I mean, I won't.”

“Thank you.” Max gave him a fake smile, and turned to leave.

“One more thing, Jedi.”

She turned back towards him. “What?”

“I may have heard a name. For who the bounty hunter was working for.”

“Tell me!” Max implored him.

“He was working for someone named-”

Peej never finished his sentence. A blaster shot rang out, deafeningly loud in the otherwise quiet space of the warehouse. Peej's head snapped backwards, and he crumpled to the floor, a charred, gaping hole where one of his eyes had been.

Max whirled round, scrambling to extract her lightsaber from within her jacket. She barely got it out before a second blaster bolt was fired her way. She ignited the white-hot blade, just in time to deflect the bolt harmlessly into the floor.

Three figures, clad in black glossy armour, were running her way, seemingly completely unafraid of the lightsaber. They were carrying heavy blaster rifles, which they opened fire with after dropping into firing stances.

Max went into defensive mode, deflecting the storm of blaster fire as best she could. She managed to bounce a few bolts back at them, but the reflected bolts didn't even make a scratch on their armour.

What the hell is that stuff made out of?! Max desperately thought.

Spying a nearby crate, she sent it flying towards them with the Force. They avoided it easily, but it was enough time for Max to close the remaining distance between them. Tough as their armour was, it was still no match for a lightsaber.

She jabbed the firing chamber of the first enemy's blaster, and when he next tried to fire, it exploded, blowing away his hand in a cloud of gristle and burnt flesh. As he screamed, Max quickly thrust into and out the other side of his abdomen, severing his spine. He crumpled, and Max turned to the next enemy.

He fired twice. Max easily deflected both bolts, one directly back into his helmeted face. He grunted in pain as the force of the bolt snapped his head backwards. Max capitalized on the opportunity with a single, targeted Force push. His neck bent even further backwards, and even through the sounds of combat and screams from the few bystanders, a sickening crack could be heard as his neck broke.

With the adrenaline of combat surging through her system, Max turned towards where the last of them had been. He was nowhere to be found.

“What the-” Max managed to say, before a round, beeping object arced through the air, and landed a few feet from her. Max blanched. It was a thermal detonator.

“Oh shi-!”

It exploded. It wasn't close enough to kill her, but the powerful shockwave sent her tumbling through the air, where she smashed into a crate. Her lightsaber dropped from her limp hand, rolling across the floor until a black boot stopped it.

“Tough luck, Jedi.” The black-armoured soldier said, in a voice artificially deepened by his helmet. He raised his blaster. “Time to be one with the Force.”

Too dazed by the explosion to do anything, Max could only shut her eyes, and await the inevitable.

A blaster fired, but no searing pain came with it.

Max opened her eyes. The soldier lay dead at her feet, a neat hole burned entirely through his head.

A figure ran over, and Max vaguely recognised it as the pilot of the YT-1200 she had noticed earlier.

“Holy shit, are you alright?” The pilot said. Then, “Wait, MAX?!”

The pilot pulled off her helmet, revealing a head of bright blue hair.

Max's eyes went wide. Her mouth fell open in a perfect “O” of surprise.

“Chloe?!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Episode IV

Chloe

“What are you-”

“-Doing here?!”

The two women stared at each other, lost for words. In the aftermath of the brief skirmish, the silence was almost palpable. Fortunately, it only lasted for a few moments. Chloe cleared her throat, only somewhat awkwardly, and extended a hand to Max.

Max took it, and Chloe pulled her to her feet.

“Thanks.” Max said. She dusted herself down and rearranged her rumpled clothing. Her lightsaber was still on the ground, next to the last soldier's smoking corpse. She reached out, and the lightsaber casually flew into her hand.

Chloe's eyes widened, and then narrowed. She looked at Max, at the lightsaber, and then at the other two dead bodies lying on the ground. “So, you're a Jedi now, huh?” She said, in a tone that Max could've sworn was almost accusatory.

“Of course I am.” She said, a little perplexed. “I thought you knew-”

She was cut short by a number of shouts from outside the warehouse. A second later, a full squad of Coruscant's designated tactical underworld police force rushed through the entrance, bearing more heavy blaster rifles, and even a collapsible turret mount. As Max and Chloe were the only two lifeforms left in the warehouse, they ran straight for them, shouting warnings.

“Conversation can wait!” Chloe said. “Run!”

“But I'm a Jedi.” Max said. “I'm sure if I just talk to them we can-”

The police squad opened fire.

“OK, maybe not!” Max finished.

Chloe grabbed her arm and roughly pulled Max towards her ship. Blaster bolts whizzed by their heads, coming close enough for Max to feel a burst of heat every time one flew past her cheeks. They scrambled up the landing ramp, with Chloe hitting the emergency close button on her way up. She headed straight for the cockpit and threw herself into the pilot's seat, beginning the start-up sequence even before her butt landed on the scuffed leather.

Max barely managed to get herself into the co-pilot's seat before Chloe hit the master ignition switch, forcing the ship into life. A blast rocked them, momentarily knocking them off-balance.

“Shit!” Chloe exclaimed. “They must have set that turret up.” She gritted her teeth. “Hold on to your ass!” She yanked hard on the stick, pitching the nose up sharply. She slammed the throttle up to maximum, and the freighter launched itself into the air with a roar from the engines, vaporising a few members of the tactical squad in the process.

Once they were a couple of minutes away, Chloe let out a shuddering breath, and allowed herself to relax into her seat. “I think we're good.” She said. She weaved the YT-1200 with practised ease through the dense traffic of Coruscant’s underworld. Eventually, she brought the ship to a surprisingly graceful rest on a hidden landing pad sandwiched between two buildings. Max had been silent for the entire duration of the journey, unsure of what to say.

Chloe shut down the engines, and swivelled her chair until it faced Max. She fixed her with an inquisitive stare.

“So.” Chloe broke the silence. “You wanna tell me just what the hell you were doing in one of the shittiest parts of this whole shitty planet? And why you were impaling people like they were Hosnian kebabs?”

Max considered for a moment. Her assignment was top secret, and the Council had expressly ordered her not to divulge any details, but on the other hand, Chloe had just saved her life, and even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, Max felt she could still trust Chloe.

She decided on the truth. Or part of it, at least. “I was on an assignment. Jedi stuff, y’know?” It sounded lame, and Chloe’s expression indicated she thought as much.

“Right, right. I bet it’s all super clandestine and you can’t talk about it. Am I close?” Chloe said.

Max rubbed the back of her neck. “Basically, yeah.” She said sheepishly.

Chloe’s expression darkened for a brief instant. “I thought you’d trust me enough to tell me more than that.”

Max frowned. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?”

Chloe looked away, deliberately avoiding eye contact. “Nothing. C’mon, I need to pick up a couple of things from the place I’m staying, then I’ll take you back to the more civilised parts of this dump.” She got up and made for the airlock.

Not wanting to pick a fight, but also against her better judgement, Max swallowed her already-formed response, and followed. After exiting onto the landing pad and entering into a depressing looking apartment complex, Chloe took her through several corridors, across a short walkway and finally through an almost imperceptible side door.

“It’s just round this corridor.” Chloe said as they walked. “It’s not as nice as your Jedi digs, but for a temporary place, it doesn’t suck too hard.”

“I’m sure it’s-” Max began. She had meant to finish off with “nice”, but as they rounded the corner, the word dies in her throat. There in front of the doorway leading into Chloe’s accommodation, were six more of the black-armoured troops she had encountered back in the hanger. They had evidently arrived just in time, as one of the troops was placing a small, remotely detonated explosive onto the door.

Max and Chloe didn’t even hesitate. Without looking at each other, both drew their respective weapons. At the snap-hiss of Max’s lightsaber igniting, all six troops whirled round.

“Hello there.” Max said wryly.

“Kriff! No one said anything about Jedi!” One of them said.

“Shut up and open fire!” Yelled another.

They levelled their blasters, and did just that.

Max deflected the first volley with ease, though she was careful not to direct any of the bolts towards Chloe. Though after a second, it didn’t matter, as Chloe had taken cover behind a protruding wall strut.

Max tried to go on the offensive, but the squad was firing so often that all she could do was concentrate on deflecting the lethal energy bolts. Suddenly, blaster bolts began to fly the opposite direction, towards the enemy troops. She risked a quick look behind her, and saw Chloe, a vicious snarl on her face and firing as fast as her blaster pistol allowed. Her blaster must have packed a punch, as the bolts carved through the thick black armour with ease, downing two of them instantly and forcing the rest into cover.

Seeing a window, Max leapt forward, landing a good thirty feet away, and directly in the middle of the remaining four soldiers. Her lightsaber hummed, and an instant later two more were downed, one killed outright by a thrust through the heart, and the second sent to the floor screaming, gripping the cauterized stump of his right leg.

The final two, seeing how hopeless their situation was, tried to flee. But it was to no avail. Chloe picked off one with a shot to the back of the neck, and Max dispatched the other by Force pushing him out of a nearby window. He screamed as he dropped out of view, until a few seconds later when it was abruptly cut off. Chloe poked her head out of the shattered remains of the window, and looked down. “Damn...” She said when she saw the twisted, mangled body of the soldier, who had unfortunately landed on, and subsequently crushed, the roof of a parked speeder.

Max approached the only remaining member of the squad, who had crawled over to his missing leg, and was now pressing it futilely against his stump. He appeared to be in a state of shock.

She crouched down next to him. “How did you know I was going to be here?” She questioned him. “Tell me, and I’ll make sure you’re fitted with a decent replacement.

He looked at her. Even through the helmet, Max could tell he was tempted by the offer. But, before he could say anything, a blaster shot tore its way through the centre of his forehead. He slumped over, killed instantly.

Max turned, to find Chloe lowering a smoking blaster. “Why did you kill him, he could’ve given us valuable information!”

“No, he couldn’t.” Chloe replied, condescendingly. “All these guys are low level, they don’t know anything. Trust me.”

“Trust you? How can I trust you after you shot him in cold blood? And how the hell do you know so much about what they know?” Max accused her.

Chloe glared. “Because they’re all commanded by a bounty hunter. A bounty hunter who- who I used to work for.” She looked away again. “He must have found out where I was staying, and sent these idiots to kill me. Just like he probably sent those three guys you ran into to kill Peej. No loose ends.”

Max was momentarily floored. “Wha- you worked with these guys? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I thought I’d gotten away clean. Guess I was wrong.” Chloe bitterly responded.

“Chloe, if you’re mixed up in this too, you need to come with me to the Temple. Right now.” Max said to her.

Chloe hesitated, clearly unsure what the best course of action was. “I...” She began.

“Look, Chloe, they know where you live. If you stay here, they’re just gonna keep sending more and more people to try and kill you until they succeed. Come with me. Please.” Max implored.

Chloe scrunched her eyes up in frustration. She was going to regret this. “Fine.” She acquiesced. “Just let me grab a few things first.”

Max nodded. “I’ll keep a look out.”

Without a word, Chloe disappeared into the dwelling. Meanwhile, Max closed her eyes, and let her senses travel outwards. She immediately sensed thousands of lifeforms in the surrounding few hundred metres alone, but none of them were heading their way or seemed to harbour ill will towards them. Satisfied, she opened her eyes just as Chloe emerged, carrying a hold-all under her arm.

“Let’s go.” She said.


****


Chloe set her ship down on a vacant Temple landing pad. She gazed, wide-eyed, out of the cockpit. “Holy shit, I never realised just how big this place is.” She said.

“Yeah, though it’s a nightmare to walk around.” Max replied.

The comms system crackled to life, and a voice filtered out of the console. “Attention unidentified vessel: you have made an unauthorised landing on Temple grounds. Please state your business or leave immediately.”

Recognising the voice, Max jumped on the comms. “Brooke, it’s Max. Can you tell me if any of the council are available? It’s urgent.”

“Max? What are you doing in that beat up piece of junk?”

“I’ve never wanted to punch a voice so hard before.” Chloe said through gritted teeth.

“Brooke. Not now.” Max said.

“Alright, whatever.” The voice over the console said. There was silence for a long moment, and then “You’re in luck. One of the Masters is free. He’ll meet you in the briefing rooms on the ground floor.”

“Great, thanks Brooke.”

Brooke just clicked the comms in response.

“It’ll take a while to walk, so we should get going if we don’t want to keep him waiting.” Max prompted.

Chloe nodded, and the two disembarked, heading towards the meeting place at the briefing rooms. Even at an elevated walking place, it still took several minutes.

“I see what you mean.” Chloe said, a little out of breath. “You guys really need a better way of getting around this place.”

“Right?” Max agreed.

Eventually, they entered into the nest of briefing rooms, with Chloe following Max to the sole unoccupied one. They crossed the threshold, and were greeted by tall, bald Jedi with one of the smoothest voices Chloe had ever heard. Max seemed to respect him, because she bowed before greeting him verbally.

“Master.” She said, with an obvious intonation of politeness.

“Max.” He returned the greeting. “Who is your companion?” He asked, turning his attention towards Chloe.

“Master, this is Chloe Price. She’s a frie- she has valuable information relating to the break in.” Max informed him. “Chloe, this is Mace Windu: Jedi Master and the greatest warrior in the Order.”

“Nice to meet you, never met a legit Jedi Master before.” Chloe said in a friendly tone. Though, privately, she couldn’t help but notice Max’s last second switch-out of the word “friend”. She looked at Max, narrowing her eyes ever so slightly.

Mace had noticed it too. For a second, he took a step back and looked at the two young women. Not with his eyes, but through the Force. For Mace had an unusual gift: he was able to see how individuals were connected, through an ability that let the practitioner see fault lines in the Force, known as shatterpoints. These shatterpoints occasionally occurred around events, but more often between people, and as Mace looked at Max and Chloe, he could see an intricate web of faults surrounding them. They were quite faint, but there were dozens, if not hundreds of them. Clearly, these two had their immediate fate bound up in each other. Mace made a mental note to monitor the two of them, just in case. Returning to the present, Mace looked directly at Max.

“You said Ms Price had important information?”

Max nodded. “Yes, Master. There’s a bounty hunter involved, commanding what appears to be a sizable group, possibly operating out of the Maw.” Max went on to explain what had happened on level 1313, how she had found Peej, and how Chloe had found and saved her. Mace remained implacably stoic throughout the explanation, only raising an eyebrow briefly when Max mentioned Chloe’s previous employment under the bounty hunter.

“Thank you, Max.” Mace said when she finished. He turned his attention to Chloe. “How exactly were you involved?”

Chloe took a breath. “I’d worked with the bounty hunter before, through a few jobs that needed a... person like me: someone who can both discretely move a certain number of assets from place to place, and also get in and out of anywhere, no matter the security.”

“You’re a smuggler.” Mace stated.

Chloe nodded. “Not just a smuggler. I’m the smuggler, which is why I’m guessing he hired me. I only know his first name; Nathan, but he’s the prodigal son of a wealthy and powerful Mandalorian clan, judging from the occasional bit of info he let slip. He hired me and my... former partner to break into your Temple here.”

At the words “former partner”, Chloe happened to see Max’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead, but only for a second.

“And did you? Break into the Temple?” Mace prompted.

Chloe shook her head. “No. We didn’t like the sound of it, so we declined. That’s how Peej and his disruptors became involved, he must have e been the backup plan in case we split.”

Mace frowned, drawing his brows together. “You refused the contract? Just like that?”

“Yeah.” Chloe said, defiantly.

She’s lying. Max thought. That or she’s not telling the entire truth.

If Mace had detected the falsehood, he didn’t react. “Very well.” He said. “Max, you should take Ms Price with you, she may be of great use as a former contractee of this bounty hunter. I’m sending you both to investigate this facility in the Maw. You are to report back with any new information you find.”

“We’ll set off at once, Master Windu.” Max bowed, and motioned to Chloe for them to leave.

Once they were safely out of the room, Mace sat back in his chair, deep in thought. He pushed a button on his comlink, and a moment later a familiar voice trickled through the speaker.

“Master Windu. A pleasure it is, to converse with you. On your mind, something there is?” Said Yoda.

“Master Yoda.” Mace greeted his colleague. “I just met with young Starfield...” He proceeded to inform the diminutive Jedi master of everything he had heard in the last few minutes.

At the end of it, Yoda was silent for a good few moments. “Observe them carefully, we should. A dangerous influence, this smuggler could prove to be. I sense a history between them, hrm yes.”

“I agree.” Mace said. “Their destinies are linked, of that I am sure. To what end, though, I do not know.”

Yoda sighed. “A bad feeling about this, I have.”


****

 

The landing ramp had barely even closed before Chloe rounded on Max.

“What in the Sith-spitting hell was that?” She demanded.

“What was what?” Max asked, genuinely bemused.

“You know damn well what.” Chloe retorted. “Back there, you were about to say “friend”, and then you ditched it midway through the word. What gives?”

“Chloe, it didn’t mean anything. It- it just would’ve complicated things if they knew we were friends.” Max tried to placate her.

“Sure. Of course it didn’t mean anything. You wouldn’t understand.” Chloe was glaring, crossing her arms in defiance.

Max decided to try once more to calm her. “Chloe, I know you’re angry-”

“I’m not angry!” Chloe said, angrily.

Max sighed. “I know you’re angry, but it won’t help if you don’t tell me why. I’m your friend, remember.”

“Are you?” Chloe scoffed.

Try as she might, Max could only tolerate so much of Chloe’s standoffishness before she snapped. She knew she was meant to be a Jedi, and not give in to anger or passion, but Chloe was irritating her beyond words.

“Look.” Max said icily. “We can either spend the whole damn day arguing like this, or you can stop being cryptic for two fucking seconds and tell me what’s wrong!

All the bluster and pride seemed to vanish from Chloe. She fixed Max with a pointed look. “Fine. I’ll tell you what’s wrong.” She took two strides, bringing herself within a foot of Max’s face. She was so close Max could see her struggling not to cry.

Chloe opened her mouth, and spoke quietly.

“I wanna know why you abandoned me.”

Chapter Text

 

Episode V

Old Wounds

 

“I – you think I abandoned you?” Max said, her face displaying equal amounts of hurt and shock.

Chloe looked up, and fixed her with a glare that contained untold years of pain and longing. “Well what else would you call it?” She spat.

Max looked away, unable to meet her gaze. “I don't know, but Chloe, I swear I didn't mean to leave you.”

“Nerfshit!” Chloe yelled. “You wouldn't say that if you knew what it was like. Imagine, Max, waking up one day and your best friend is just gone!” She slammed the heel of her hand against the bulkhead, creating a loud clang that echoed painfully throughout the cramped space of the freighter's hallways.

“I... I can't.” Max said, eyes fixed firmly on the floor.

“Of course you can't.” Chloe spat venomously. “You didn't have to go through it.” Her face was contorted into an expression somewhere in the middle of anger, pain, and relief as years of built up feelings poured out as aggressively and fast-flowing as a waterfall on Naboo.

“I spent years. Years, not knowing what happened to you, Max!” Chloe kept on shouting. “No one would tell me where you went, or why you suddenly just weren't there. I thought you'd died! We did everything together, Max. Everything. I first met you in nursery for fuck's sake! I know we were kids back then, but those were the best years of my life... how fucking sad does that sound? And now I find that you've been swanning around the galaxy as a Jedi for what, twelve years, and never thought to contact me?! That hurts. That really hurts.” She crossed her arms and looked away, struggling to hold in tears.

“Chloe...” Max began, then realised she had no idea what to say. What could you say to something like that? After a few moments struggling to find the right words, she gave up and focused on the one thing she felt she could defend herself on. “Chloe.” She started again. “I'm sorry. I really am. I should have contacted you, even just to let you know I existed. But I thought you knew I left to become a Jedi. I mean, we grew up on the same station, so it didn't even cross my mind that no one told you. I honestly thought they would have.”

At the mention of the Arcadia, the space station they both grew up on, Chloe's expression softened slightly.

“What about your mom?” Max continued. “Surely she would have said something?” She reached out and gently laid her hand on Chloe's upper arm.

Chloe bristled at the contact at first, but a moment later relented.

“She … my Mom has never liked Jedi.” Chloe said. “She cut off contact with your parents soon after you vanished. I never found out why.” She laughed derisively. “Guess I know now.”

Max was surprised. “She doesn't like Jedi? But... why? We're the good guys.”

Chloe threw her a look that practically screamed bitch please. “Sorry to burst your little bubble, but not everyone in the galaxy thinks the Jedi are all that great. A lot of people think they're dogmatic zealots who think they're better than everyone at best, and a dangerous cult that goes around kidnapping children at worst.”

“Oh don't give me that look.” She said in response to Max's shocked expression. “It doesn't exactly look good when some guy in a creepy robe turns up and says your kid is special and that he needs to take them away to teach them a bunch a mystical shit.”

Max finally found her voice. “But that's not what happens at all. Yes, the Jedi recruit children, but it's to stop them from being a danger to themselves and others. Training us in the Force is necessary. I get that it might not look like that from the outside, but I promise you it is.”

Chloe snorted. “Tell that to the rest of the galaxy.”

Max looked at her. “Can I tell you what really happened back on the Arcadia? I know it's years ago, and the damage has already been done, but I want to anyway.”

“Whatever. Sure.” Chloe shrugged.

“It was back when that merchant ship docked. You know, the one that had been heavily damaged. We watched it practically limp into a docking position through the viewports, do you remember?”

Chloe nodded. “I remember.”

“There was a Jedi on that ship. He had defended its crew from pirates, and our station was the closest safe space. I guess he sensed my Force sensitivity, because a few hours after they docked, he showed up at my parents' place.” Max paused for a moment. “I can't really remember exactly how the conversation went, but I figure he must have explained to my parents how important being Force sensitive was, and that it was a great honour for me to become a Jedi. I can remember him being there for a really long time, so it must have been difficult to convince them, but in the end my parents agreed. I left with him the next day.”

“Sounds an awful lot like just taking a kid to me, regardless of what the kid or their parents want.” Chloe said.

“It's the best option, for everyone.” Max said. “Untrained Force-sensitives can be incredibly dangerous. Becoming a Jedi minimizes that risk.”

“Uh-huh.” Chloe said, still sounding unconvinced. She cast around for something else to say. “How come you never said goodbye?” She asked, intending to still sound aggressive, but behind the angry front, Max could feel the weight of years of sadness in her words.

“It all happened so fast.” Max said. “I know that's a terrible excuse, but giving up your entire life basically overnight is.... hard to process, especially when you're only eight years old.”

“I thought you said being chosen to be a Jedi was a 'great honour' .” Chloe said.

“It is.” Max said emphatically. “But it's still hard,leaving behind everything you've ever known. Jedi aren't supposed to have attachments, which usually means no taking lovers or spouses, but it also means you have to let go of your family, too.”

“I... didn't know that.” Chloe said. She was silent for a moment. “That must suck.” She eventually offered.

“It hurts, at first. But as a Jedi, you train yourself to let go of your attachments. It's one of the first things we learn.”

“That still seems kinda sad if you ask me.” Chloe replied.

Max couldn't think of a response, because it was sad. Silence fell for long, awkward moment. It broke when Chloe tilted her head and furrowed her brow, as if she had just discovered, or perhaps remembered something. “Your parents came to see my Mom, I think. It must have been the night before you left.” She spoke slowly, evidently trying hard to recall the events of that night through the fog of over a decade's worth of memories. “I don't think it went well, because I can't remember my Mom having any contact with them after that. A short while later, I heard they'd moved to some quiet backwater planet.”

She looked up at Max. “I think I owe you an apology. I shouldn't have blown up at you, especially if you had no idea they didn't tell me what happened to you.”

“No, it's fine.” Max said. “You're right, I should have contacted you, or at least tried to. I'm the one who should be apologising.”

She smiled tentatively. “In my defence, being a Jedi is a complete way of life. We don't get much down time.”

Chloe raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I kinda noticed. Even I don't tend to get shot at by a bunch of goons more than once a day, let alone twice in an hour.”

The two young women broke out into grins, the tense atmosphere that had pervaded the last few minutes dissipating by the second.

“Can- can we be friends again?” Max ventured.

“Sure.” Chloe smiled. She stepped forward and, catching Max by surprise, wrapped her up in a giant hug.

“And I'd be lying if I said I hadn't missed you.” Chloe said.

As surprised as she was by the sudden embrace, Max felt herself relaxing into it, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“I missed you too.” She said.

They parted, and smiled at each other for another moment, before Chloe looked away and cleared her throat.

“Alright, we've got the mushy shit out of the way.” She said, her cheeks slightly pink. “It's gonna take a while to get to the facility near the Maw from here, so we better get going.”

Max looked around the inside of the ship, somewhat skeptically. “You sure this bucket of bolts is gonna make it?”

“Hey!” Chloe pointed a threatening finger at her. “No insulting my baby. She's never let me down before.”

“Sorry.” Max said sheepishly.

Chloe turned to a nearby panel and laid her hand on it lovingly. “It's OK, baby, she didn't mean to call you names.” She spoke softly.

“Are you … talking to your ship?” Max asked.

“Yeah, and?” Chloe said, as if it was the most normal of things to be doing.

“It's just, uh, it's kinda weird.” Max said.

Chloe laughed, and Max found herself thinking just how much she'd missed that sound.

“It's a pilot thing. You wouldn't understand.” Chloe said, almost mysteriously.

“Uh-huh.” Max responded.

“Hey, you don't get to act like your shit isn't weird too. I saw you throw a guy out of a freaking window without even touching him.” Chloe said defensively.

Max spread her arms. “You got me there.” She gestured towards the cockpit, “C'mon, let's go.”

 

****

 

The YT-1200 sliced cleanly through Coruscant's upper atmosphere, without so much as a hint of turbulence. The skies darkened, with the rich blue hue of the atmosphere giving way to the inky black of space. Max had always loved this part, and the circular cockpit of the freighter gave an excellent view as the bright, gleaming canvas of stars began to appear against the backdrop of infinite, obsidian void. She stared, wide-eyed as the bright disk of the galaxy, tinged with gold, became visible behind the untold billions of stars. A deep sense of peace settled over her. She knew that, through the Force, she was connected to everything out there.

The feeling lasted all of about five seconds, when she heard a laugh from her left. She turned, and saw Chloe giggling at her.

“What?” She said.

“Nothing.” Chloe kept on giggling. “You just look like an Andorsian puppy that's never seen the outside before.”

Max crossed her arms, and pouted. “I don't get to travel through space much, OK?”

Chloe's jaw almost dropped. “What? I thought Jedi went everywhere, cleaning up the galaxy and crap.”

Max shook her head. “Some of us do, but a lot of the time we're mostly based in the Temple, learning. I never really got to go anywhere, as my Master was … pretty studious.” She brushed a hand through her hair, almost sheepishly. “In fact, this is the first time in a couple of years I've been off-world.”

“Geez, no wonder you looked so enthralled.” Chloe said dryly.

“Shut up, I just like space.” Max said in a small voice.

“Oh really?” Chloe said, busy punching coordinates into the navi-comp. “Hold on to your butt!”

“Wha- why?”

Chloe simply grinned, and slammed the hyperdrive into gear.

The starfield around them elongated into millions of tiny lines, and Max lurched back into her seat as the YT-1200 launched itself into whirling blue tunnel of hyperspace.

Once again was sure they were safely on their way, Chloe flicked the autopilot on and leaned back in her chair, grinning proudly. “Told you to hold on to your butt.” She boasted.

Max made a show of feigning apathy. “It’s just hyperspace.” She said, with a dismissive flick of the wrist.

“`Just hyperspace’?” Chloe echoed. “This baby will do point two-five past lightspeed.”

“Am I meant to be impressed?” Max couldn’t help but poke fun at her. Even though they had been apart for years, the warmth of friendliness and companionship was slowly returning, like returning to a childhood home after a long time away.

Chloe fixed her with an overly dramatic glare. “Don’t make me turn this ship around.” She threatened. The menacing finger waving also made a return.

“Point taken.” Max conceded defeat. She rose from the co-pilot’s chair. “Do you have an area where I can meditate? If we’re going to be sneaking into a hostile base I want to make sure I’m prepared.”

“Sure.” Chloe nodded. “Follow me.”

She led Max down a corridor, until they arrived at a more open area, featuring a beat up couch, a dejaarik board and a less-than-sanitary looking food prep station.

“It’s not much, but it’s a decent chill-out space.” Chloe said. “Is this OK to do your Jedi thing or whatever?” She let herself fall down onto the couch, and propped her legs up on the dejaarik board.

Max nodded. “I’ve had worse.” She selected a spot on the floor near a corner, and knelt down. She took a breath, and closed her eyes, opening her senses up to let the Force flow through her.

Thirty seconds later, she opened her eyes again. “What?” She said to Chloe, who had been staring at her with great interest.

“Nothing.” Chloe lied. “Just, I’ve never seen a Jedi, y’know, do their thing before.”

Max rolled her eyes, and tried again to sink into a meditative state.

It didn’t work.

She sighed in mild irritation, and climbed to her feet. “I can’t do it if you’re staring at me.”

“Oh.” Chloe at least had the grace to appear apologetic. “Sorry, I can go if you want.”

Max shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I’ll do some saber practice instead. She brought out her lightsaber, and within a second the space was illuminated by its icy blue glow.

As Chloe watched, Max stepped through the basic forms, repeating them with gradually increasing speed every time she reached the end of the set. After a couple of minutes, she was lightly sweating, and her breathing had quickened slightly. She was about to move into the more advanced forms, when Chloe spoke up.

“You know, I’ve got a bunch of seeker drones I use for target practice. Would those help?”

Max’s eyes lit up. “Actually yes, they would be perfect right now.”

Chloe gave her a thumbs up, and reached under her legs to access a compartment nestled within the bulkhead. She opened it, and a half dozen drones floated out, clicking quietly as they formed a semicircle in the air. “What setting do you want?” Chloe asked.

“Let’s go with advanced.” Max said confidently.

Chloe keyed in the option into a datapad, and immediately the drones took up firing positions, centering their stun blasters on Max. They opened fire simultaneously, and in the brief instant before the bolts hit her, Max opened herself up, and let the Force dictate her actions.

For the next few minutes, she was a balletic, deadly breath of wind, flowing from one stance to the next, and either evading or blocking every single stun bolt.

Chloe watched the display of Jedi prowess with wide eyes and an open mouth. She had never seen anything quite so graceful. When the drones reached the end of the program and stopped firing, she was almost disappointed.

“Holy shit!” She said to a heavily sweating and panting Max. “That was amazing! We’re gonna no problems at the base with you there to kick everyone’s asses.”

“Drones are predictable.” Max countered. “An actual person with a blaster is always much more dangerous than something like a drone that can’t think or feel.”

“Fair enough. Though I still think these guys don't have a chance against you.”

“Not really.” Max grinned. “Most people aren't prepared to go up against a Jedi.” She wiped a hand across her sweat-slicked forehead. “Hey, have you got a towel or something?”

Chloe nodded. “Sure, I'll get one for you.” No sooner had she opened the relevant compartment, when the towel flew off of the rack and into Max's outstretched hand.

“Show off.” Chloe chided.

Max just shrugged.

“Hey...” Chloe said, sounding like she was contemplating something. “So the Force lets you move stuff around, right?”

“Yes...” Max said as she toweled off, having an idea where this line of questioning was going.

“Can you lift me?” Chloe said excitedly, proving Max's suspicions entirely right. She looked so enamoured with the idea that Max couldn't refuse.

“Alright. Though my Master would kill me if they saw this.”

Chloe couldn't have cared less.

Max reached out, and felt for the blanket of Force energy surrounding Chloe. It took less than a second to find, and when she had, Max simply willed it to move. Chloe floated gently off the floor, rising a few feet into the air.

“Holy kriff Max! This is so cool!” She laughed happily. Then, “This is trippier than when the entire Guavian Death Gang got me so stoned I thought I was a gundark!”

Max giggled, and lowered back to the floor. Chloe bounded over and wrapped her up in another hug.

“Man, it's gonna rock having a Jedi for a best friend!” She said.

Something in Max's stomach did a flip.

Best friends...

 

****

Thousands of light years away, floating against a backdrop of ravenous black holes, an almost invisible space station hung in space, perpetually falling around the cluster of deadly singularities.

In the depths of the facility, a man clad in blood red Mandalorian armour knelt before a hologram of a black-robed figure.

“Both squads were entirely wiped out?” It was saying, it's voice heavily filtered and distorted.

“Yes, my Lord.” The bounty hunter replied.

How?” It said.

“We reviewed the feed from the helmet-cams. There was a Jedi involved. A female one.” The bounty hunter almost spat.

“Then the smuggler will have told the wretched Jedi where you are located.” The figure said. “I am sure of it.”

“What should we do, my Lord?”

The figure almost sounded like it was grinning when it next spoke.

Prepare for their arrival.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Episode VI

Truth and Consequence

 

“Alright.” Chloe took a deep breath, held it, then exhaled. “Exiting hyperspace in three. Two. One.”

With an uncomfortable jolt, the YT-1200 dropped out of hyperspace, the whirling blue energy tunnel evening out into a normal star field. Or, it would have been normal if not for the five monstrous black holes blottingout the horizon, each one of them encircled by an accretion disk of terrifyingly fast moving gases, shaped into golden, eerie half-halos by gravitational lensing.

“Sithspit...” Max whispered. She had never seen anything quite like it.

A sudden whistling startled her out of her reverie. She turned and was surprised to see W4-R3N shifting back and forth on his wheels, rotating his dome inquisitively.

“Oh, there you are.” Max said, realising she hadn't seen him for the entire trip thus far. “Where have you been hiding?”

He emitted a string of beeps and whistles.

“Oh right. Still can't understand droidspeak.” Max said, partially to herself.

“He says he went to hang out in the cargo hold.” Chloe butted in. “Apparently he doesn't like arguments.” She turned and fixed him with an intimidating stare. “You better not have messed with anything down there, I have it just how I like it.”

A series of beeps that sounded suspiciously like laughter followed.

“It is not a junk heap in there, you rolling trashcan! You're a junk heap! Why I oughta-”

“Chloe, play nice. He's just a droid.” Max intervened before Chloe could work herself up into a droid-dismantling frenzy.

Chloe acquiesced, but not without another glare in the astromech's direction.

“OK.” She said. “The station should be on the far side of the black hole cluster. If we swing around and come at them from the direction of the black holes, the interference should mean they won't be able to pick us up on their sensors. I hope.”

Max nodded, feeling an otherwise familiar tension settle into her muscles. She felt like a coiled spring, ready to burst into action at the slightest provocation. She wasn't perturbed by it, if anything, it was an old friend she greeted whenever she was about to leap into a probably very dangerous situation. Still, it wouldn't do for her to be so tense that she might make a mistake that otherwise could have been easily avoided. She reached for the Force, knowing it would help focus her mind, and distract her from her own body's apprehensions.

Only, when she opened herself, the Force wasn't the warm, comforting presence she was used to. It felt... wrong, somehow. Cold.

Max shivered. It can't be...

“You OK, Max?” Chloe asked, a small furrow of worry evident in her brow.

“No.” Max shuddered. “This place feels wrong, Chloe. The Dark Side surrounds this place, I'm sure of it.”

Chloe's look of concern deepened. “Is that bad?”

“Most likely. I think something terrible happened, or is still happening here.”

Preoccupied as she was with the Dark Side's disturbingly strong presence, Max failed to see her friend flinch and look away, more than a little guiltily.

The two women lapsed into silence, each trapped within their own worrying thoughts. Max was so distracted she almost didn't notice the blocky, industrial-looking space station slide into view; a black silhouette set against a backdrop of a gleaming purple nebula.

“That's it, isn't it?” Max asked.

“Yeah.” The question was mostly rhetorical, but Chloe answered it anyway.

“Wait,” Max said, “won't they see us coming? All they have to do is look out of a window.”

“Nope.” Chloe shook her head.

“Wha-why?”

“No windows.” Chloe grinned. “They're a structural weakness.” She explained. “That and this facility is supposed to be top secret. Anyone brought on board from outside is blindfolded, and once they're safely inside and the blindfold is removed, no windows means they can't look outside and see where they are.”

“Oh.” Max hadn't even considered that.

Chloe was about to respond when a violent shudder raced through the ship. The console sparked as the systems fought whatever it was, apparently without success. Chloe cursed and wrung her hand in pain, where a spark had landed on her bare skin.

“What was that?” Max asked, alarmed.

“Tractor beam, blast it!” Chloe growled. She flicked a few switches, pulled on the stick, and when that yielded no results, punched the console in frustration. “Shit!” She yelled.

“Attention unidentified YT-1200 model freighter.” A voice Max recognised as belonging to one of the black-armoured troopers filtered through the console's speakers. “This is a secure facility. You are not authorised to be here. Deactivate your systems and prepare to be brought on board, where you will submit to search and interrogation. You have twenty seconds to comply, or you will be fired upon.”

“What do we do?” Max whispered.

“Not much we can do.” Chloe said, her mouth pressed into a thin line.

“Wait, you said you have a cargo hold, right?” Max pressed.

“Of course, why?”

“Well, you're a smuggler. I'm assuming you have some secret compartments, yeah?”

Chloe smirked. “You're damn right I do.”

“In that case, I might just have a plan.”

 

****

 

The YT-1200 settled onto the burnished durasteel floor of the station with a soft thud, the engines winding down into eventual silence.

“Attention unidentified vessel.” The same voice came again, now over a tannoy system. “Lower your landing ramp and prepare to be boarded.”

After a few seconds, the ramp descended, and two waiting troopers hustled onto the ship, blasters at the ready. Two technicians waited patiently at the bottom of the ramp for the troopers to finish their sweep of the ship.

“Hey,” one of them, a man with an impressively bushy moustache said to the other. “You seen the new T-14's?”

“I have.” His clean-shaven companion replied. “Though if you ask me they're a step down from the T-13's.”

“What, really?” Moustache sounded almost crestfallen.

“Yeah. Terrible build quality, and they'll malfunctionjust as soon as you look at them.”

“Man, that's a disappointment.”

“Tell me about it.”

Just as the technicians finished their conversation, the two security troopers emerged from within the ship, accompanied by an astromech droid.

“It's empty.” One of them said. “Just this droid on board.”

“We're going to take it for processing.” Said the other. “You are clear to perform your inspection. Carry on.” With that, they turned on their heels and marched away, followed by the droid.

“Wow, talk about rude.” Moustache said.

“I know, right? All those guys have an attitude problem if you ask me.” Said the other. “It's the armour, I reckon. Gives them delusions of grandeur.”

“Yeah. Jumped up mynock-lovers.” Moustache spat on the floor.

“I hear that. Come on, let's get this over with. Sooner we're done, the sooner we can hit the canteen.”

 

****

 

As soon as they were out of sight, the two troopers ducked into a deserted storage room, followed a second later by W4-R3N.

“Man, this helmet is stuffy.” Chloe said, tugging hers off gratefully.

“I know, I could barely breathe in there!” Max replied. She set hers down on top of an upturned bucket. “What now?”

“We head for research and development. Should be some answers there. I don't have any schematics, but I think it's this way.” Chloe said, pointing behind her.

“Right. Let's go” Max said, trying to appear determined.

The two of them set off, hugging the walls tightly in case they were seen. W4-R3N followed as quietly as he was able. They were almost to the end of the corridor when, out of nowhere, he emitted an urgent series of whistles.

Max turned. “Whoa, calm down, buddy. You're making enough noise to attract everyone in the vicinity, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want dozens of guys with blasters descending on us!”

W4-R3N tootled, rocking back and forth on his stubby legs.

“Max, hang on, this sounds important.” Chloe said, looking concerned.

W4-R3N let out another series of whistles, punctuated with short, rapid beeps.

“Uh-huh.” Chloe said. “Are you sure?” Then, “Yeah. Shit. That is a problem.”

“What? What’s a problem?” Max asked.

“The tractor beam.” Chloe grimaced. “If we try and leave it’s just gonna drag us back in.”

“Blast it, you’re right.” Max swore. “What can we do about it?”

Chloe thought for a moment. “We’ll have to try disabling it, it’s our only chance.” She said grimly. “What’s worse is the controls will be on the command deck, and I don’t care how good you are with a lightsaber, if we go in there, we’re gonna get shredded by both blasters and whatever security they’ve got up there.” She frowned. “We need to be inconspicuous.” After thinking for a long moment, Chloe snapped her fingers and turned to W4-R3N.

“You; weirdly sarcastic droid. Think you can get onto the command deck and deactivate that tractor beam without seeming suspicious?”

An abrupt series of beeps followed. Fortunately, they sounded vaguely affirmative. Or, as close as purely electronic noises could, anyway.

“What did he say? Did he say yes?” Max asked.

Chloe nodded in reply. “Yeah.” She pulled a face. “Well, technically he said ‘what do you meatbags take me for?’ Figure that means yes.”

Max cast a critical eye at their artificial companion. “Ren, do you have to call us meatbags?”

Beep beep whistle beep.

“Chloe, what’d he say?“

“He said ‘well you are!’. Sounded kinda petulant if you ask me.”

Max sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. “Just go deactivate the tractor beam.”

W4-R3N whistled happily, and trundled off down the corridor.

“What?” Max said to the incredulous look Chloe was giving her.

“Nothing.” Chloe lied. “Just. How did you end up with the galaxy’s most annoying droid?”

“He was literally the only one left.” Max said with an apologetic shrug. “C’mon, we should get to the research centre.”

“Right.” Chloe nodded. “It’s this way.” She jerked her head in the direction they needed to go.

They set off, proceeding slowly and without undue caution. They kept to the walls, ready to cram themselves behind whatever cover was available, should they run into a patrol or a wandering crew member. But it seemed luck, or something else, was on their side, as the only thing occupying the corridors other than themselves was the occasional sanitation droid, which paid them no heed.

Max began to notice the noise in the area, or rather, the lack of it. She felt a twinge in her stomach. Something was wrong.

“Chloe.” She whispered.

Chloe turned to look back at her. “What?”

Max swung her arm in an arc in front of her, indicating the deserted corridors. “Where is everyone?”

Chloe bit her lip. “Maybe they’re all, uh, on break?” She offered.

“Helpful.” Max said sarcastically. “Just keep a look out. Something’s not right.”

They continued onwards, paying extra attention to even the slightest noise. It was an unnerving experience, and by the time they were nearing the research centre, full on paranoia had begun to set in.

A Jedi does not feel fear, Max kept reminding herself, All is as the Force wills it. But even the familiar mantras weren’t enough to dispel the gnawing creature eating away at her sense of reason.

A touch against her hand yanked her out of her own head. She looked down, and saw Chloe’s fingers intertwining with hers.

“C’mon,” Chloe said, “we’re almost there.” She pointed at a heavy bulkhead door.

Max nodded instead of replying verbally. She definitely did not trust her voice to remain steady. As Chloe led her towards to doors, she stated at their hands, still clasped together. Something else fluttered in her stomach. Something different. Something new. Something she definitely shouldn’t be thinking about.

And then, before her mind could go further down a path she knew was as dangerous as the Dark Side, they were at the doors.

“Ready?” Chloe asked.

Max nodded again.

“Alright.” Chloe took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

 

****

 

W4-R3N beeped softly to himself as he made his way to the command deck. He couldn’t believe his master and the human with the awful hair had fobbed him off with as simple as turning a tractor beam off. He much rather would have been accompanying them to the research centre, where there was undoubtedly several zettabytes of data he could happily sift through.

But no, he had to go press boring buttons instead, because the meatbags couldn’t handle even a tiny bit of laser fire. Honestly, what even was the point of them if they couldn’t take a couple of blaster bolts without keeling over?

With these artificial thoughts still running through his circuits, W4-R3N entered into the main command room, which was a wide oval packed with dozens of technicians, guards and command staff. None of them paid him any attention. He was, after all, only a droid.

He scanned the room, locating the relevant console within seconds. He made his trundling way over. Thankfully, the console was currently deserted. He extended a probe arm, and inserted it into the centre data port. It took precisely point zero zero zero three recurring microseconds to find the main tractor beam function. W4-R3N tootled happily to himself. This had been much easier than even his admittedly low expectations.

He was a second away from deactivating the tractor beam, when a a jarring mechanical voice came from behind him.

“Excuse me.” Said the voice. “But what do you think you are doing?”

W4-R3N rotated his dome. Standing behind him was what appeared to be a protocol droid, a dull grey in colour, and a bulbous head featuring two bug-like visual sensors.

“I am TS-T314. I am designated with keeping charge of all droids in the command centre. You are out of place. I will repeat my inquiry: what are you doing here?” The protocol droid, even though it was technically threatening him, sounded bored.

W4-R3N whistled.

“You are new here? Yes I can see that. Why are you avoiding the question?”

Beep whistle toot beep.

“You were reassigned from engineering?”

Beep.

“What problem with the tractor beam? I was not made aware of such an issue.”

W4-R3N rocked back and forth on his legs, and made a convincing show of indicating something was wrong. He whistled intently, letting the protocol droid know there would be an imminent crisis if he wasn’t left to do his job.

“I see.” TS-T314 said. He processed for a moment. “I shall accompany you to the beam reactor. If there is indeed a problem, we will find it there.” He turned towards the exit. “Come along now.”

W4-R3N followed dutifully. This was only a small setback. He could deal with it, as well as his new, irritating, companion.

He tootled privately to himself and centred his lens on the oblivious protocol droid. Sucker.

 

****

 

The door hissed, whirred, produced an ominous clang, and finally slid open, revealing the research centre. Max braced herself, ready for an onslaught of alarms and blaster fire.

But nothing came.

The research centre was, like all the corridors they’d been through, deserted.

“OK, something is definitely not right here.” Max said, scanning the room for signs of a trap, impending doom, or anything else that could cause a sudden and painful death.

The research centre was hexagonal in shape, and was maybe four times the size of Chloe's starship. Dozens of work stations dotted the floor, each of them covered with scientific equipment and datapads. Several of them featured the dissected corpses of a partially furry, lizard-like creature. Max shivered, there was something she instantly didn't like about the dead reptiles, but she couldn't quite place it. At the back of the room, a large console bank took up most of the wall space, with a giant screen stretching from the top of the console bank up to the ceiling.

“May as well start there.” Max pointed at the console bank. “It's practically screaming 'come press all my buttons'.” She said, trying to make light of the situation. Judging from Chloe's total lack of response, it didn't work. In fact, Chloe appeared to be actively nervous. Her skin had turned a shade lighter, and Max could feel her palm becoming increasingly sweaty, as well as her grip unconsciously tightening.

“Chloe?” Max prompted. “If you keep squeezing you're gonna hurt me in a minute.”

That seemed to get her attention.

“Oh. Sorry.” Chloe said, dropping her hand.

“Something wrong?” Max asked.

“No. Uh. Just worried about, um, traps.” Chloe said.

She's lying again. A voice in Max's head said. It was concerning, but she ignored it for now.

“Right... Shall we?” She motioned towards the console.

She could have sworn Chloe gulped.

“Yeah... sure.” Chloe said.

They approached the console carefully, with Max reaching out and feeling for anything that might cause them harm. Thankfully, there was nothing, and they reached their destination undisturbed. Max poked a few buttons, causing the entire bank to light up, and a databank's worth of records to appear on the screen.

Her eyes immediately zeroed in on a scan of what must have been the book stolen from the Jedi Archives. It was obviously incredibly old, and even though she was only looking at a representation of it, Max felt a certain amount of awe. She pressed a few more buttons, and the scan of the book opened up, with select passages highlighting themselves for further reading. They were all in an ancient language she couldn't understand, but fortunately a translator program had already reconstructed the passages in Aurabesh.

She read the title out loud. “Codex Ysalamir.” She recognized the creature in the pictures, it was the same species on the dissection stations behind her.

Behind her, Chloe looked away.

Max read further, her eyes widening with every passing sentence. “These creatures... they block the Force? I didn't even think that was possible...”

She reached the end of the selected passages. Next up was a record titled “Practical Applications”. Nervously, she selected it, and began to read.

Based on the chemical and biological makeup of the Ysalamiri species, and as it appears to be a naturally occurring intravenous hormone that generates the Force-nullifying field, we predict a weaponised version of the compound through aerosol form should be both simple and efficient to manufacture.”

Max's jaw dropped. “They're going to make weapons out of this?!” A realization dawned on her. “They're going to attack the Temple.” She had never been so sure of anything in her life. She turned round. “Chloe, we have to stop the-”

Chloe was looking away, a guilty expression blooming across her face.

“Wait... you knew?” Max said. It wasn't a question, but a rhetorical statement. “You knew about this already?”

“I knew they were going to attack the Jedi.” Chloe said slowly. “I didn't know how.”

“But you did know about the attack.” Max insisted. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“I – I don't know.” Chloe said. “I don't even know why I came back to this place, not after I...” She trailed off.

“After you what?” Max pressed. “Chloe?”

Chloe took a deep breath, and looked her straight in the eye. “My partner. I killed her.”

 

****

 

W4-R3N made a note of the code for the reactor chamber as TS-T314 keyed it into the pad. He estimated he wouldn't need it, but it couldn't hurt to have it. The keypad bleeped as TS-T314 finished entering it, and the door slid open with a hiss. W4-R3N didn't wait, he immediately trundled into the chamber, going straight for the tractor beam generator.

“Wait just a second!” TS-T314 followed him, flapping his arms in concern. “I need to inspect what this problem is before you go blundering in. Honestly, astromechs are so presumptuous.”

W4-R3N made a noise that sounded suspiciously like passing wind.

“How dare you! I should report you for insulting a droid of a higher rank than you.” TS-T314 said, vastly overestimating his own importance. “Wait there while I ascertain if there is any damage.”

TS-T314 approached the generator, which was a round, oblong pillar at the end of a walkway, which jutted out over an intimidatingly long drop. The generator was connected to a receiving node in the floor, almost two hundred feet below, by a beam of blue light. TS-T314 arrived at a console jutting out of the generator, and began checking its diagnostics.

Noticing he had his back to him, W4-R3N moved forward, as quietly as possible.

“There does not appear to be any issue.” TS-T314 said, his vocal processing unit conveying artificial irritation. “You are either mistaken, or you have been lying to me.” He continued. He turned round, ready to give the impudent little astromech droid a stinging verbal dressing down, or so he thought.

Instead, W4-R3N was nowhere to be seen.

“What the- where did you go?” Said a bemused TS-T314. “I will have you deactivated for this, you little-”

He never finished his sentence. W4-R3N, who had snuck around to the other side of the arrogant protocol droid, extended a lightning rod and directed a shock straight into TS-T314's back panel. He began convulsing and babbling wildly as the electrical current overloaded his circuits.

While he was stunned, W4-R3N moved forward, and gave him a sharp nudge. It only moved TS-T314 forward by about a foot, but it was enough. His jerking, spasming body tumbled straight over the safety rail, and plummeted towards the distant floor.

W4-R3N fancied he heard a “Whyyyy?” in the final few seconds, before TS-T314 was dashed to pieces in a shower of sparks and crumpled metal.

W4-R3N made the astromech equivalent of a laugh, and turned back towards the generator. Within seconds of plugging into its dataport, he had it completely shut down. He made his way out of the chamber, pausing to fuse the keypad's circuits. All in all, he thought he had done pretty well.

TS-T314 most likely would have disagreed with him.

 

****

 

“What do you mean you killed her? Chloe? What happened?” Max asked.

Chloe broke eye contact to look away again. The way Max was looking at her, with nothing but concern, was unbearable. “It's my fault.” She said slowly. “She's dead because of me.” A wave of nausea hit her, and she had to sit down, leaning against the console bank. Max followed suit.

“Chloe.” She said. It wasn't an order, or a command. It was a simple statement, that Chloe could talk whenever she was ready.

It took her a few minutes, but eventually she found the courage to speak. “Her name was Rachel. She was my best friend. I met her when I was a teenager, we both ended up working for this low-level crime boss on Nar Shadaa. From the moment I met her, I knew she was special. After our first job together, we bonded quickly, and eventually, we ended up ripping the crime boss off and running away together. He never found us, and we went into business with each other.” She met Max's eyes again. “What I said back on Coruscant was mostly true. We were the best smugglers in the Galaxy, and nothing could touch us, until we took this job.”

Chloe shuddered, trying to blink back tears. “We didn't ditch the job because it involved breaking into the Temple. Rachel found out what they were going to do, and convinced me we had to leave. She was always the voice of reason, y'know? We planned our escape... it should've been foolproof, but when we tried she- she-”

Chloe dissolved into tears, and buried her head in her hands.

Max reached out and, after hesitating for a moment, took her hand. The instant her hand came into contact with Chloe's, a vibrant, powerful vision overwhelmed her.

 

****

 

Two women run for their lives down a series of familiar corridors, pursued by black-clad troopers. Blaster bolts whip by their heads, close enough to singe hair. Narrowly avoiding death every second, they burst into a hangar bay, where a grey, unpainted YT-1200 sits on a landing pad.

Lower the ramp!” Rachel is yelling. “I'm gonna rig the blast door to blow before they can get to us!”

Chloe nods, and sprints for the ship. She stops under the hull, skidding a little on the polished floor. It takes her less than a second to find the ramp activation switch. She presses it, and it whirs into life, lowering far too slowly for her liking. “C'mon!” She hisses through gritted teeth. It's almost at the floor, when she hears a sharp cry from Rachel.

She whips round, drawing a blaster from the holster on her hip, ready to fire at whatever threat has presented itself. But what she sees stops her dead in her tracks.

A man in blood-red Mandalorian armour holds Rachel in a death grip, an arm wrapped round her throat and a blaster shoved into her back. He's wearing a helmet, but Chloe can tell he's smirking.

Nathan!” She growls, and moves to aim her blaster at his head.

Not so fast, smuggler scum.” He says, tightening his grip on Rachel's throat.

Chloe stops, blaster half raised.

You're going to drop your weapon, and back away from the freighter, or your bitch here dies, right here, right now.”

Chloe knows he isn't bluffing.

Don't do it!” Rachel shouts. “Leave me, get out of here!”

She's pleading, and Chloe doesn't know what to do.

Lower your weapon!” Nathan snarls through his vocoder.

Chloe hesitates, then begins to lower it to the ground.

And then everything goes to hell.

Rachel lift her foot, and slams her heel into Nathan's unprotected ankle. He shouts in pain and rage, but lets her go. Rachel doesn't hesitate. She hits a button on her wrist pad, setting off the charges on the blast door. They ignite in a blinding flash, throwing both Rachel and Nathan off their feet.

Rachel!” Chloe yells.

Rachel raises her head, blood streaming from a gash in her temple. It's dripping into one of her eyes, half blinding her, but she still manages to get to her feet.

Oh thank the Force.” Chloe whispers.

Rachel locks eyes with her, and grins. She begins to make her way towards Chloe and the ship.

She never makes it.

A single blaster shot, redder than blood and loud as death itself, hits Rachel in the back. Instantly, it burns its way through her body, directly through her heart. It exits out through her chest, leaving a small, blackened hole.

NO!” Chloe screams, as Rachel's lifeless body drops to the ground. Before she can run to her, the squad of troopers catches up, firing the second they come through the smoking remains of the blast door.

Chloe has no choice. She scrambles up the ramp and into the cockpit, firing the engines even before she's fully in her seat. The YT-1200 lurches forward, catapulting itself into space in a blaze of blue engine light...

 

****

 

Max gasped as her senses violently snapped her back into the present. She looked up, and met Chloe's gaze. Her pity and sadness must have been written on her face, because Chloe only said one thing.

“You saw it, didn't you?”

Max nodded. “That bounty hunter... Nathan. He killed her. Chloe... I'm so sorry.”

Chloe looked away again. “Don't be. It's my fault. If I hadn't accepted the contract from that murderous cunt, Rachel would still be here...”

“You don't know that, Chloe. It could've turned out a million different ways.” She took Chloe's hand again.

“But it didn't!” Chloe cried. “She died. She died and it was my fault!”

“Chloe...”

“I- I loved her, Max, and she loved me. We did everything together, and we were gonna be together forever, until I fucked it all up.”

“O-oh.” Max didn't know what to say any more. So instead, she looped an arm around Chloe's shoulders, offering her comfort through touch. Chloe leaned in, a little hesitantly at first, and laid her head on Max's shoulder.

After a while, Max spoke again. “Chloe, I know it may not help much, but Rachel, wherever she is, is one with the Force. She's happy. I promise.”

“Y-yeah?” Chloe said, sounding almost pitifully hopeful.

“Yeah. The Force surrounds us, moves through us. And when we die, we return to the Force and become part of Its will. Trust me on this.” She stroked Chloe's hair, feeling like it was the most natural thing to do in the world.

“I do trust you.” Chloe whispered. She squeezed Max's hand.

Even in the midst of everything they were going through, and in the face of the danger they both knew lurked in the immediate future, Max and Chloe felt a spark of connection run between them.

“Max.” Chloe whispered, leaning in close.

“Chloe?” Max whispered back.

“Thank you.” Chloe cupped her cheek.

“Chloe, I-”

A cacophonous bang and blinding light interrupted them, the force of the flash-bangs catching them off-guard and stunning them instantly. Canisters of gas followed, flowing into their lungs and causing the two women to cough and choke.

As she succumbed to the soporific effect of the gas, the last thing Max saw was a figure in red armour leering over Chloe's unconscious body.

He looked like he was laughing.

 

Chapter Text

 

Episode VII

The Force Unleashed

 

Consciousness returned. Slowly at first, like sunlight struggling to break through thick Coruscant morning fog, and then increasingly faster, as her synapses began firing at an exponential rate. Max groaned, and opened her eyes. Immediately, she found everything was heavily blurred. She tried to shake her head, hoping to rid herself of the blurriness in the process, but her head was held in place by something hard and unyielding. Alarmed, she blinked rapidly. Thankfully, that did the trick.

When her vision snapped back into focus, she almost wished it hadn't.

She was bound to some kind of gurney, held at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. As well as her head, her legs and arms were also locked down by heavy steel cuffs. Robbed of her ability to move, she strained her peripheral vision as much as possible, looking for anything that might help her. There! At the very edge of her vision, she spied her lightsaber, resting on a table surface. All she had to do was summon it to her with the Force, and she would be home free. Only, the Force wasn't there. Something was blocking it. “What the...” She whispered to herself. She tried again, with the same effect. Panic swiftly took hold of her. Without the Force, she was completely, terrifyingly helpless. At a loss for what to do, she strained against the cuffs holding her down, to no avail.

“Oh that's cute.” A thin, malevolent sounding voice came from her left. “The little Jedi still thinks she can get out of here.” A figure stepped into view. One of the creatures from the autopsy tables was nestled around his neck, gazing at her with beady eyes. Suddenly, why she couldn't feel the Force made a lot more sense.

“Tell me.” The bounty hunter, clad in now-sickeningly familiar red armour leered into her face. “How are you gonna do that without your precious Force?”

Max said nothing. Even though she was terrified beyond belief, she surprised herself by summoning enough courage to glare directly into his opaque visor.

“Strong silent type, huh?” He drawled. He leaned over her, pushing his helmeted face directly into hers. “Those are my favourite.” He ran a gloved finger down her cheek, and Max had to suppress an urge to shudder in disgust. “I love learning new ways to break people.”

“Leave her alone, you soulless piece of shit!” A voice came from Max's left. She couldn't turn her head, but she knew it was Chloe.

The Bounty hunter turned to her. “Or you'll do what, smuggler scum?” He spread his arms wide, looking around the room. “You're my prisoner, girl. I have all the power here. You can do nothing. Nothing but lie there and watch. Because your Jedi friend? I'm going to make her hurt. I'm going to make her feel pain in ways you never dreamed were possible, and you're going to watch all of it, knowing you can't do a single fucking thing to stop me. And then, when she's begging for me to make the pain stop, I'm going to kill her - slowly, intimately, right in front of you. Because I know you care about her, just like you cared about your smuggler whore.” There was a clearly audible smirk in his voice. “I never did get to tell you how much I enjoyed killing her.”

“I'm going to kill you.” Chloe snarled. “I'm going to get out of here, break every bone in your wretched body, and I'm gonna watch you die.” She promised.

Nathan reached up, and removed his helmet, revealing a pinched, sallow looking face. Max was startled by how young he was, he was barely older than her. What happened to make him so twisted? She wondered.

He approached Chloe, leering over her the same way he had over Max. “I'd like to see you try.” He whispered.

 

****

 

W4-R3N rocked back and forth on his legs. After disabling the tractor beam, he had returned to the ship, reasoning that no one would pay attention to a beat up old astromech (he was right), and awaited his master and the other meatbag to return from whatever it was they were doing. Only, they hadn't come back, and W4-R3N was getting bored. Or, as close to bored as his programming would let him.

He tootled something that, had a protocol droid been around, would have made it blush, and rotated his dome, scanning for the two meatbags. Nothing. Either they weren't on the station, something he found highly unlikely, as the blue-haired one seemed unnaturally attached to the pile of junk she called a ship, or something was blocking his scanner.

W4-R3N beeped something that roughly translated to “Oh for fuck's sake”, and set off once more. Perhaps if he found the security station, he would be able to determine their location. After a quick consultation of a datajack, he had a layout of where he needed to go. He whistled happily to himself and trundled off down a corridor, insulting each and every living being he saw in a variety of highly creative ways. It wasn't as if they could understand him, after all, and it made the monotony of rolling down endless grey corridors a little less boring.

As he traversed the station, W4-R3N periodically scanned for his meatbags, all to no avail. He decided that, should they get lost again, he should get them chipped. Humans obviously couldn't go anywhere without getting lost or blundering about like confused mynocks. It wasn't a surprise, they didn't even have scanners, or multiple sensors. It was a wonder they got anywhere at all, really.

His internal musings ran out as he arrived at the security station. Unfortunately, it was packed with crew members. This was going to be a challenge.

 

****

 

Max screamed. Her voice echoed off the walls and bounced back to her, creating a feedback loop of her own suffering.

“That's it.” Nathan cooed. “I love it when you scream. It really gets me off.” He gripped the needle currently embedded into Max's skin, and roughly yanked it out.

Max barely had time to register the sensation of it leaving her body, before Nathan plunged it back in, targeting another nerve centre. He hit his mark perfectly, and Max cried out, her face contorted in agony.

“Leave her alone!” She was vaguely aware of Chloe shouting. “If you're gonna torture someone, torture me! She hasn't done anything!”

Nathan laughed, and Chloe's skin crawled. It was the high pitched, almost uncontrolled giggle of a total psychopath.

“That's exactly the point.” He said between giggles. “This isn't torture for her, it's torture for you, because I know you can't bear to see other people hurt. It’s pathetically obvious, really. Tell me, is it working?” He rotated the needle, sending fresh waves of excruciating pain across Max's nervous system. She gritted her teeth, but it wasn't enough to stop a desperate whimper from escaping.

“Fuck you!” Chloe growled.

“Oh good.” Nathan drawled. “I'd hate to go to all this effort if it wasn't having an effect.” He said, in a mockingly concerned tone.

“You're a monster!” Chloe hissed.

“Of course I am.” He matter-of-factly admitted. “It's just so much more fun than being normal, or whatever.” He gave the needle another twist, and giggled excitedly when Max spat blood, having bitten her tongue.

“Nothing you say can affect me.” He boasted to Chloe. “I know what I am, and I like what I am. Once you abandon the moral chains weighing every other pathetic creature down, you'll find life is so much better. I do what I want, to whoever I want, and nothing can stop me.”

Chloe felt the blood draining out of her face. We're going to die here.

 

****

 

W4-R3N assessed the situation. Every single console was occupied, and he would never be able to access a dataport without being questioned. This was definitely going to slow him down, and he was beginning to suspect the meatbags might be in trouble.

Fortunately, luck, or the Force, seemed to be with him.

“You there, droid.” An arrogant sounding officer sporting a grey cap snapped his fingers at him. “I've been sending requests to maintenance for hours now. Come and fix my console, sharpish, or I'll have you deactivated.”

W4-R3N seemingly beeped an acknowledgement, when in fact he was calling the officer a useless lumpy flesh sack who was the biological equivalent of a malfunctioning waste disposal unit. The officer, of course, was blissfully unaware of this.

He jacked into the dataport, and in no time at all had located the security station's fire suppression system. With an internal chortle, W4-R3N activated it.

A thick white substance, somewhere between foam and water, erupted from small nozzles in the ceiling, instantly coating the entire room. A cacophony of shouting and complaining started up from the security station staff, followed by a mass exodus as each person tried to get out of the room before anyone else. Honestly, humans were so predictable sometimes. He laughed to himself as he saw the arrogant officer's uniform was completely soaked.

W4-R3N returned to the task at hand, flitting through security feeds, trying to find his master. It didn't take very long, but when he found them, he found they were in a much greater predicament than he had anticipated. They were each strapped to a gurney, and a threatening-looking human was doing something to his master. Clearly she didn't like it, as his internal diagnostics informed him she was most likely suffering great pain. W4-R3N decided to do something about it. Nobody messed with his meatbag. Not on his watch.

 

****

 

Max wasn’t sure how much more she could take. Every second was a lifetime, and that lifetime was nothing but pain. Robbed of the Force, she couldn’t even fall back on meditative techniques that might have lessened her suffering. She was dimly aware of Chloe yelling, seemingly alternating between threats and pleading for Nathan to stop. Whatever she was doing, it wasn’t working, because Nathan kept laughing, and the pain kept increasing.

She felt her limit approaching, and the only thing she could feel any more was regret. Regret for failing Chloe, failing the Jedi, and getting them stuck in this situation.

I’m sorry. She thought.

Then, just as the ember of her consciousness was about to be snuffed out, there was a stomach-dropping lurch, and everything not secured to the floor flew into the air, including Nathan, the ysalamiri and dozens of autopsy instruments.

Even though she was still secured to the gurney, Max felt her body try to float off the surface. Someone must have turned off the gravity! She realised.

The objects in the air continued floating upwards, approaching the ceiling, a good forty five feet overhead. Nathan was screaming and cursing, flailing his limbs ineffectually and trying in vain to grab on to something and give himself some leverage.

The ysalamiri warbled as it tumbled through the air, a warble that turned into a high-pitched croak as the artificial gravity was abruptly activated again, sending everything in the air tumbling towards the floor. The scream of the ysalamiri was cut short as it hit the ground with an audible crunch. It twitched weakly for a second, before a cleaver-like implement landed directly on its scaled neck, cleanly decapitating it and drenching the floor in steaming blood.

Nathan hit the floor a second later with a thud and a grunt, and although it appeared that his armour had taken the brunt of the fall, he was still knocked unconscious by the force of his landing.

As the last of the ysalamiri's life energy drained, Max felt the Force come rushing back in an incredibly welcome wave. It rejuvenated her senses and calmed her mind, as well as lessening the physical pain her body still felt. As much as she wanted to simply bask in the warmth of the Force, she knew they most likely only had seconds until Nathan regained consciousness. She opened her hand, and her lightsaber flew into it, igniting with a vicious snap-hiss. She hurriedly used it to cut through her restraints , and staggered off the gurney on legs that shook with pain.

“Max, holy shit, are you ok?” Chloe said, panic lacing her voice as Max stumbled over to her.

“I'll live.” Max said grimly. With four quick motions, she freed Chloe. “C'mon, we need to get out of here, right now!”

“You don't have to tell me twice!” Chloe agreed. She took Max's hand, and the two of them made their way towards an exit at the back of the room. Just as they reached it, a blaster bolt flew overhead and hit the wall. They looked back, and saw Nathan, still on the floor, pointing a blaster at them with an enraged snarl on his face. As he was lining up a second shot, the main entrance to the research centre slid open, and a squad of troopers poured into the room, immediately opening fire.

Max deflected the bolts as best she could, but she was still feeling the effects of Nathan's torture, and was certain she would be overwhelmed soon. “Chloe!” She exclaimed.

“Almost!” Chloe said, working on getting the door opened. “Aha!” She shouted as it capitulated and opened before her. They backed out of the research centre, Max deflecting a storm of laser fire the entire time. As soon as the doors closed, she turned to Chloe. “Run!”

They pelted down the corridor, trying to find their way back to the main hangar bay. An alarm began blaring, no doubt station-wide, announcing in no uncertain terms that Something Was Very Wrong.

“Well, shit.” Chloe said as they ran. “Shit!” She said again when they rounded a corner and ran straight into more guards. They appeared to be surprised to encounter intruders, as they didn't immediately begin firing. Chloe was even able to down a couple of them with her own blaster before they opened fire.

“Other way!” Max shouted, batting laser fire back at the guards. They took off at a dead sprint, rushing down unfamiliar corridors.

“You have any idea where we're going?” Max asked as they continued to run.

“Uhhh...” Came the response.

Max sighed. “Shit.”

 

****

 

Satisfied with his efforts in helping Max and Chloe escape, W4-R3N turned to finding what was jamming his sensors. Through the station's subsystems, he discovered it was actually a fairly simple signal blocker that ran the entire length of the station. The source of the signal wasn't immediately obvious, necessitating a tracer program. Fortunately, the actual internal software infrastructure of the station was surprisingly simple, and it didn’t take long for him to find the blocking signal’s kill switch and activate it.

He tried a tentative scan, and was relieved to find the meatbags about five hundred metres away. Unfortunately, they were being pursued by a couple of dozen other life forms. They were also headed in the opposite direction to the hangar their ship was in, and towards a large open space that was most likely the station’s main docking bay.

W4-R3N made the internal, droid equivalent of a sigh, and removed himself from the dataport. Once free, he left the still-covered-in-fire-damping-foam security station and made his way over to Chloe’s YT-1200.

 

****

 

“This way!” Chloe beckoned Max, pointing towards yet another identi-kit hallway.

“Is that the way back to the ship?” Max asked.

“No idea, but we need to keep going otherwise we’re gonna be shot full of more holes than a Geonosian moon.” Chloe countered, already running down their new direction.

“You say such hopeful things.” Max called after her.

“I know, right!” Chloe called back, a wild grin on her face.

Despite their perilous situation, and the ordeals they had already faced that day, the adrenaline pumping through their blood streams had given them a renewed sense of vigour and wild abandon. Max found herself grinning as well, despite the dull ache still pervading throughout her body.

Another group of guards spilled out of an alcove in front of them, blocking the way. They levelled their blasters at the two women sprinting towards them, shouting for them to lay down their weapons and surrender.

The Jedi and the pilot did anything but. Spurred on by the adrenaline, Max extended a hand and flung a solid wall of the Force at the troopers. All eight of them went flying, scattering like bowling pins and colliding with the walls, the floor, and each other.

Chloe let out a triumphant “Hah!” and punted one in the crotch as they ran past, barely breaking stride. “Max, that was fucking awesome!”

Max didn’t respond, though she secretly smiled to herself, and inwardly felt a little flare of pride. She called me amazing, a decidedly un-Jedi part of her thought.

 

****

 

W4-R3N rolled up to the ship, beeping impatiently. Thankfully, it was unguarded, as every trooper on the station was apparently chasing down the meatbags. He was almost jealous. No one ever paid attention to droids.

One activated passenger ramp later, and the help of an extendable arm, W4-R3N was on the ship. That solved one problem. The next was figuring out how to fly this bucket of bolts. As a rule, astromechs usually weren’t meant to actually fly, and just serve as navigation aids, but he was sure he’d be able to do it. If the meatbags could, why couldn’t he?

 

****

 

Laser fire flew by in a relentless barrage, filling the air with deadly energy. Chloe peeked out from the corner they were hiding behind, and almost caught a bolt to the face. She whipped her head back, avoiding a hole in the head by mere centimetres.

“Blast it!” She cursed. “There's too many out there!”

Max thought for a second. “Are they lining up in any way?”

Chloe risked another peek. “I – huh. They actually are.”

Max grinned. “Great. Cover me.”

Chloe pointed her blaster around the corner and began blind-firing wildly, forcing the enemy troops to scramble for cover. They weren't fast enough. Max rolled out from behind the corner and threw her lightsaber, using the Force to both ignite and guide it as it flew. The icy-white blade, transformed into a whirling helicopter blade of death, flashed through the necks of four unfortunate troopers, cleanly severing their heads. Their bodies slumped to the floor, smoke rising from the cauterized stumps of their necks. The heads rolled down the corridor, coming to rest at the feet of their two remaining comrades. They barely had the chance to look horrified before they were riddled with blaster bolts by Chloe.

Max and Chloe looked at each other, grinning triumphantly.

“Is being a Jedi always like this?” Chloe asked.

Max shrugged. “Sometimes. A lot of the time it's actually just meditating and studying.”

Chloe made a face. “Meditating? Sounds boring as hell.”

“It's actually pretty relaxing. You should try it sometime.” Max recommended.

Before Chloe could respond, another squad of guards came into view. A second later, blaster bolts were once again whizzing towards them.

“But not right now,” Max said, “Run!”

They took off once more, feet slapping loudly against the durasteel floor. Max reversed her grip on her lightsaber, holding it behind her back in an attempt to make her unprotected back safer. It proved to be a wise decision, as the Force almost immediately guided her hand, deflecting a bolt that otherwise would have hit her directly in the spine harmlessly into the floor.

Chloe looked back, and saw the squad had been joined by at least another twenty guards. “Where in the kriff are they getting all these guys?!” She exasperatedly shouted.

“No idea!” Max shouted back. “Through there!” She pointed at a large set of open blast doors straight in front of them.

One of the more astute troopers behind them had the sense to scream “Close the blast doors! Close the blast doors!” Into his radio. Unfortunately, it was too late, as Max and Chloe rolled in unison under the descending door. Before they could reach it, it slammed into place, locking the troopers out. “Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors!” The same trooper said.

One of his squadmates sighed, and smacked him in the head with his rifle.

 

****

 

Attempting to fly a starship, W4-R3N decided, was actually much harder than it looked. How did humans maintain the hand-eye coordination necessary to not hit anything? So far, all he had managed to accomplish was raise the YT-1200 a few metres off the ground, knock over a gantry, and accidentally put a small dent in the hull. He hoped the blue-haired meatbag wouldn't notice.

He tried again, this time increasing the power as gradually as he could with his prehensile arms. The YT-1200 rose up off the floor, hovering about five metres above it. Success! Next, he pushed forward on the stick. The ship wobbled forwards, almost hitting just about everything in the hangar bay before sliding out into space in just about the most ungracious way possible. W4-R3N whistled excitedly to himself. The other droids back at the Temple were never going to believe this.

 

****

 

Max and Chloe found themselves in a vast docking bay, spanning hundreds of metres. A cargo shuttle, around fifty metres long, hung from the ceiling, suspended in the air by heavy docking clamps. A small fleet of droids were taking containers and flying them up to the shuttle's rear hatch, and slotting them neatly together before returning for another container.

Another blast door on the far side of the bay caught Max's attention. “Think that's a way out?” She said, indicating towards it with a flick of her head.

“It has to be.” Chloe said. “We don't have much choice.”

Almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth, the blast door behind them began to open, its servos protesting heavily as it was forced upwards.

“Alright, make that zero choice.” Chloe quipped. “C'mon!”

They ran, heading as fast as possible towards the other side of the docking bay. They hadn't even gotten a quarter of the way before blaster bolts were flying past them, several of them coming dangerously close to hitting their mark. Max risked looking back for a second. To her dismay, the blast door was fully open, and thirty or so troopers were filing through, led by an enraged looking Nathan.

“Shit, Nathan's here!” Max exclaimed.

“What?!” Chloe whipped round, the blood draining from her face when she saw him. “Damn it, doesn't he ever give up?”

The amount of laser fire increased, forcing the two to dive behind a pile of containers.

“Blast it, there's too many of them! We're never gonna get out of here without getting shot to shit!” Chloe spat bitterly.

Max looked at her. “Chloe...”

“There has to be another way!” Chloe continued, ignoring Max.

“Chloe.” Max said again, firmer.

That caught Chloe's attention. “What?”

Max just looked at her.

“Max, what- wait, no. I know that look. Absolutely not.”

“Chloe, it's fine. I'm a Jedi. I can hold them off until you get away.” Max said, almost managing to convince herself it was true.

“Fuck no. I'm not going through the same thing again. We're getting out of here, together.”

“Chloe, it's the only way. Please. I promise I'll come back.”

A blaster bolt tore through the container, exiting directly between their heads, cutting off anything Chloe might have said.

“Go!” Max shouted.

Chloe hesitated, then threw herself at Max, wrapping her up in a tight, quick hug. Then, without looking back, she sprinted for the blast door.

Max took a deep breath, immersed herself in the Force, and stepped out from behind the corner. A volley of laser fire flew towards her. She closed her eyes, letting the Force guide her actions. She ducked and weaved, becoming more liquid than water, deflecting bolts back as often as she could. A few troopers fell under the returned fire, their own bolts being more than effective enough to burn through the thick armour.

A spike in the Force caught Max's attention. She opened her eyes, and saw Nathan aiming a rocket pack straight at her.

With a smirk, he fired.

Desperately, Max held out her hand, hoping the Force was with her.

At the last second, the missile curved upwards, missing her by only a couple of feet. It arced upwards into the air, and flew straight into one of the docking clamps holding the shuttle in place, blowing it apart in a brilliant explosion. A groan came from the second docking clamp as it found itself taking the weight of the entire shuttle. That groan turned into a piercing scream as the clamp buckled, screeched some more, then snapped clean off.

The entire squad, including Nathan, stopped to watch as the shuttle tipped forward, and fell towards the ground.

Max's exhilaration at deflecting the missile quickly turned to horror, as she saw Chloe was directly under the plummeting shuttle.

Chloe looked up, and stopped dead in her tracks, knowing she had no chance of outrunning it. She turned towards Max, and looked at her.

It was the look of a woman about to die.

Something snapped inside Max. Something fierce. Something primal. She couldn't lose Chloe so soon after reuniting with her. She wouldn't. She was Max Starfield, and just for this moment, the Force was going to serve her will.

Tapping into a well of strength she never knew she possessed, Max reached out with both arms, and commanded the shuttle to stop. With a shuddering, bone-scraping groan of grinding metal, it did. Max screamed as the strain hit her, almost breaking her hold on the shuttle.

The enemy troops looked on in amazement. None of them had ever seen anything like it, and not one of them thought to keep firing.

The effort of holding the shuttle up was enough to force Max onto one knee. She had to get rid of it, and get rid of it fast.

As Chloe stared, her mouth open in shock, Max screamed like she'd never screamed before, and with a titanic effort, threw the entire shuttle at the group of guards.

It hit them with a deafening crash, instantly crushing half of them into a bloody pulp, and injuring a few more who were hit by flying pieces of metal. Nathan dived out of the way, but even that wasn't enough, as he was buried under a pile of flaming wreckage. His armour had no doubt ensured his survival, but for now, he was out of action.

Max managed a faint smile at her handiwork, before the effort of her herculean feat caused her to faint.

“MAX!” Chloe screamed, running over as fast as she could. She slid to a stop next to Max's prone form. “Max, c'mon, wake up!” She cried, trying to shake Max awake. “We gotta go!”

But it was to no avail. Max remained unconscious.

Chloe began to panic. She couldn't get both of them out of there, not by a long shot. Then, to her utter surprise and amazement, her faithful YT-1200 came barrelling through the main entrance to the docking bay. It hit the floor, and slid to a stop in a shower of sparks and more screeching metal.

“Well I'll be.” Chloe whispered in sheer wonder. She gathered Max up, and slung her over a shoulder, heading as quickly as she could for her ship. Once on board, she headed straight for the common area, and laid Max on the singular bunk that passed for a med-bay. “I'll be back for you.” She said, giving Max's hand a squeeze. Ten seconds later, she burst through the entry to the bridge, astonished to find W4-R3N at the controls.

“Huh. I guess you're not so useless after all.” She said, slotting herself into the pilot's chair.

W4-R3N let out a terrified sounding beep.

“Yeah I know, flying's hard.” She said, firing up the engines once more. She punched the throttle.

“Let's get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Episode VIII

Homecoming

 

With the guttural roar of sub-light engines set to maximum thrust, the YT-1200 rocketed out of the docking bay and into the vacuum of space.

“Hold on to your parts!” Chloe exclaimed to a petrified W4-R3N. She yanked back hard on the stick, pulling her ship into a steep climb, heading straight up the station's outer hull.

From behind her, W4-R3N screamed out a warning.

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Chloe responded. “I'm trying to confuse their tracking. If I don't, they'll blast us to pieces in seconds!”

W4-R3N beeped something short and rude sounding.

Chloe looked away from the cockpit window for a brief second to fix him with a fierce glare. “If you don't shut up right this second I'm gonna throw you into one of those black holes myself.” She threatened.

W4-R3N must have believed her, as the little astromech droid immediately ceased all noise.

“That's better.” Chloe said. She threw the ship into a tight clockwise spin, diving off the side of the space station. She opened up the throttle, and the ship sped away from the station at a speed most people would have deemed excessive.

“Alright, that should do it.” Chloe said, slumping back in her chair. She flipped a couple of switches, and cast a wary glance at the scope. “Hopefully they won't send any-”

Four red dots appeared.

“-fighters after us. Shit!” She pointed to a switch in front of the co-pilot's seat, on the right of the console. “See that? It's for the deflector shields. Set the rear ones to maximum.” She commanded.

“Good.” She said once W4-R3N had done so. “This may get a little bumpy.” She continued, almost speaking to herself. She checked the scope again, noting the enemy fighters had locked on to them, and were closing in at an alarming rate.

“Here we go.” She whispered, and jerked the stick to the right, performing an elegant corkscrew through space. Her efforts were enough to avoid the first barrage of laser fire, which sailed past harmlessly to eventually dissipate in the vast blackness of space.

She wasn't quite so lucky with the second volley. Two shots hit the YT-1200 directly in the back, making the light freighter lurch violently.

“Damn it!” Chloe cursed. A light on the control panel began flashing red, indicating rapid shield loss. “We've lost half our rear shields.” Chloe said grimly. “Another hit like that and they'll be gone entirely.” She stared, momentarily at a loss. “What do I do?”

She thought of Max, and how the Jedi had saved her. It would be pretty embarrassing if she got both of them killed minutes after Max had risked everything to save her.

Out of desperation, she curved the ship towards the nearest black hole. “W4-R3N, dump everything we've got into the thrusters.” She ordered. Moments later, she felt a kick as g-forces of rapid acceleration slammed her back into her seat, having momentarily overcome the inertial dampeners. The enemy fighters, un-fazed by the proximity of the black holes, followed her.

She gritted her teeth as the gravitational effects of the closest black hole began to make the ship shake. She dove towards it, trying to pick up as much speed as possible.

All the while, the fighters followed her.

“C'mon.” She whispered. “C'mon.” The YT-1200 plummeted towards the white-hot accretion disk of rapidly orbiting gases. Chloe yanked the stick as hard as she could to the left, trying to counteract the insanely strong gravitational pull. The hull groaned as it felt the monstrous effects of the black hole.

Behind her, the fighters began to waver.

W4-R3N whistled something that roughly translated to “We're gonna fucking die.”

“No we're not.” Chloe snarled. She dipped down, coming as close to the accretion disk as she dared.

This proved to be too much for the fighters. One of them wavered too much, and spun out of control, hitting one of his wingmen as he spiralled rapidly down into the accretion disk. The two fighters plunged into the gas, their hulls super-heating in a matter of seconds, before they both exploded in balls of bright orange flame. The other two tried to bug out, but didn't have enough momentum to break free of the hold of the black hole. Chloe watched on the scope as they both began to drift inwards, where they would inevitably be crushed into infinitely dense points as they reached the singularity.

She couldn't savour her victory, though. The same fate awaited her, W4-R3N and Max if she couldn't break them free. She could only think of one thing to do. In desperation, Chloe punched the first co-ordinates she thought of into the navicomp, and slammed the hyperdrive into gear. For a second, she thought it hadn't been enough, as the hyperdrive whined loudly, the hull creaked and groaned, warning lights flashed on the console and the stars remained resolutely in place, but then there was an almighty lurch, a loud bang, and the stars finally elongated into a whirling blue tunnel as her trusty ship leapt into hyperspace.

 

****

 

Nathan grunted in pain as he knelt before the holo-projector. He didn't mind pain, but right now, it was a reminder of his failure, a reminder that someone had bested him. The mere thought of it made him angry beyond belief. His armour was dented and mottled with blackened marks, and he bore a weeping burn across his forehead, but the most prominent injury was to his pride. He couldn't accept that the smuggler and her Jedi harlot had gotten away. He just couldn't.

Neither, apparently, could his employer.

“They got away?!” The hologram of a black-robed figure hissed. “They got away from you? A so-called 'master bounty hunter'?”

“The Jedi threw a shuttle at us.” Nathan spat. “No one could have seen that coming!”

“An entire shuttle?” The figure seemed, perplexingly, mildly amused. “She is indeed strong with the Force. Stronger, perhaps, than any Jedi who solely uses the Light Side... if she could be turned... yes. Yes, she could prove to be most useful.”

“Do what you want with the Jedi. I just want the smuggler.” Nathan demanded.

“And you shall have her.” The figure replied. “Just as soon as the Jedi is mine.”

 

****

 

Max's eyes flew open. She sat bolt upright, panting heavily and looking from side to side, certain something was about to attack her.

“Hey. Max. Max!” Came a voice, snapping her senses back into something approaching normality.

She turned, and saw the voice belonged to Chloe.

“Chloe... I – what happened? Where are we” Max said. She sounded confused.

“We're on my ship. Don't worry, everything's fine. We got away.” Chloe said.

Max nodded. “Right. From the space station. I … how'd we get on your ship?”

Chloe explained, with quite a detailed description of her own, as she put it, daring piloting. When she finished talking, W4-R3N beeped indignantly.

“Oh right.” Chloe cast a look his way. “W4-R3N helped too, I guess.”

“I should probably thank you both...” Max tried to sit up, and winced in pain. “Ow!” She recoiled, and then gingerly stretched aching muscles. “My entire body feels like it was put through a meat grinder.”

Chloe ran a critical eye up and down her. “I'm not surprised. I mean, you threw an entire damn shuttle!”

Max ran a hand through her hair, an expression that was an odd mix of sheepishness and pride on her face. “I- yeah. I guess I did.”

Chloe's eyes almost bulged out of her head. “How are you being so calm about this? Max, that was the most badass thing I've ever seen!” She took Max's hands. “How did you even do that?”

“I … I don't know.” Max said, staring down at the clasped hands. “The shuttle was dropping, and you were under it, and suddenly there was this power I'd never felt before and I – I just used it.”

“Well, whatever you did, I've never seen anything like it. It was amazing. You are amazing.” Chloe enthused.

The two women caught each other's eye, and Max once again felt a spark of connection. A connection that was beginning to run deeper than Max should be letting it.

Chloe must have felt something similar, as she looked away, flushing slightly. “I should-” Her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat. She tried again. “I should probably check on the, uh. Check on hyperspace. That it's still there. Yes.”

She left the room in a hurry.

Max lay back on the bunk. She sighed loudly and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. Yeah Max, good going. Not awkward at all. It's not like she's your childhood friend and you're developing a crush on her. Oh shit, am I developing a crush on her?

She opened her eyes and shook her head, almost as if she was trying to physically fling the invasive thoughts from her head.

It didn't work.

She sighed again, and got up, wincing a little at her protesting muscles.

Max made her way to the bridge with W4-R3N in tow. Chloe was sat in the pilot's seat, absent-mindedly gazing at navigation data. Max sat in the co-pilot's chair. An uneasy silence filled the cockpit, not helped by W4-R3N promptly plugging himself into a charging port and shutting down, leaving the two women on their own. Thankfully, the silence was eventually broken by a soft beeping from the control panel.

“So, uh, where are we headed?” Max said to break the ice.

“You'll find out in a second.” Chloe replied. “We're just about there.” She disengaged the hyperdrive, and the mottled blue tunnel dissolved back into a regular starfield.

There, right in front of them, was another space station, several kilometres across. It was orbiting an intimidatingly large gas giant, its atmosphere nothing but a turbulent mix of tornado-like storms. The station itself was utilitarian in design, with several sections obviously bolted on over the years as the station and its populace grew.

“The Arcadia.” Max whispered. It had been twelve long years since she had seen her childhood home, but she could still easily recognise it. From the outside, the place hadn't changed much. The paint on the hull was still faded and chipped, and a long, streaking scar from where a drunken freighter pilot had crashed into the hull was still prominently visible.

“Why here?” Max asked.

Chloe shrugged. “These were the first co-ordinates I could think of. By the time I realised where we were headed, the course was locked in.”

She turned and gave Max an uncertain smile. “You ready to come home, Max?”

Max took a deep breath. “I'll have to be.”

 

****

 

The YT-1200 settled down lightly onto the hangar floor. Once the engines had wound down into silence, Chloe activated the ramp. It descended with a hiss of steam, clanking loudly when it hit the floor.

Max and Chloe descended, and were met at the bottom by a deckhand.

“Welcome to the Arcadia.” He said unenthusiastically. “Please state the purpose of your – holy shit, Chloe?!”

“Hey Justin. Long time no see.” Chloe greeted him with a wave and a crooked smile. They bumped fists, then exchanged a complicated handshake. Max hung back, a little bemused.

“Man, it's good to see you.” Justin said. “What brings you back? All of us here thought you'd ditched the Arcadia for good, y'know?”

Chloe shrugged. “Just passing through. Repairs and stuff.”

Justin nodded sagely. “Right, right.” He looked at Max. “Who's your friend?”

“This is Max.” Chloe said. “She used to live here.”

“Right. Cool.” Justin said, seemingly totally nonplussed about the lightsaber hanging from her hip. Either that or he didn't care. He turned back to Chloe. “Say, uh, a bunch of the old gang are getting together tonight. We're gonna blaze up a bunch of death sticks and stuff. You wanna come?”

Chloe shook her head. “As tempting as that is, I've got other stuff I need to take care of. Thanks though.”

“Oh, yeah sure, whatever.” Justin nodded like it was the most natural thing in the world. “Will I see you around?”

“Probably not, like I said, only passing through.”

“Alright, well, cool. 'S been good seeing you.” Justin held a hand out.

Chloe shook it. “You too.”

He nodded in Max's direction, and wandered away.

Max raised an eyebrow. “So...”

Chloe made a face. “Old friend. I, uh, used to hang with types you Jedi probably wouldn't get along with.”

Max held her hands up. “Hey, I'm not judging.”

The two women started walking, and soon found themselves in the main thoroughfare of the Arcadia. The familiar smell of dozens of different kinds of cooking filled the air, and Max found herself experiencing a rush of returning memories.

“So where are we headed?” She asked.

“To my Mom's place.” Chloe replied. “It's... been a while since I've been home, and last time I saw her, we weren't on great terms.”

“You mind if I ask why?” Max asked as they walked.

Chloe made a non-committal gesture. “Teenage rebelliousness, pretty much. I was sixteen, and thought I knew everything. I wanted to go out and make my way in the galaxy: see everything, do everything, y'know? She was arguing that I was too young, that I'd end up joining a gang or falling in with the usual scum and villainy. I disagreed and said some... pretty hurtful things. The next day, I hitched a ride on a merchant ship, and didn’t look back. That was six years ago.”

“That actually sounds a lot like you.” Max teased.

“Yeah. I was an idiot when I was younger.” Chloe said.

“Younger? You're only a couple of years older than me.” Max pointed out.

Chloe, unable to come up with a response, simply pouted.

“And I don't wanna sound like a jerk, but your Mom was right. You did end up falling in with, what was it, 'scum and villainy'?” Max continued. She gave Chloe a light-hearted poke in the arm. “After all, you are swanning around with a Jedi.”

Chloe laughed, and slung an arm around Max's shoulder in a quick hug.

 

****

 

The door to the modest, blocky apartment whisked open, revealing a pretty, tired looking woman in her mid-forties. Her hair was done up in a loose, messy bun, and gathering from the fact she was still wearing her work uniform, she had only gotten home a few minutes earlier.

When she saw who was standing on her doorstep, her jaw dropped in shock.

“Hey Mom.” Chloe said.

Chloe?!” Joyce exclaimed. “How – what – what are you doing here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? All these years and then you just turn up, I -!”

Chloe stilled her mother’s babbling by stepping closer and drawing her into a deep, long hug. Joyce seemed surprised at first, but after a moment drew her daughter close.

“I’m sorry.” Chloe whispered. “I was such an idiot back then. You were completely right, and I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK.” Joyce whispered back. “We both said some dumb things. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

Mother and daughter pulled away, and smiled at each other. Joyce tilted her head, seemingly noticing Max for the first time. “Chloe, aren’t you going to introduce me to your... friend.” She said, her tone noticeably altering when she saw Max was a Jedi.

“I – Mom, this is Max. You remember her, right?” Chloe said.

“Ah. Yes.” Joyce said coldly. “I do remember.” She turned towards Max. “So you’re a Jedi now?” She stated, unable to keep a note of disdain out of her voice.

“I am.” Max replied. “And I’m proud to be. We try to make the Galaxy a better place.”

“I’m sure.” Joyce said in a voice that really said she wasn’t.

“Anyway,” Chloe said, trying to diffuse the steadily building tension, “Can we come in?”

“Of course.” Joyce said. “Would you like to stay for dinner?” She offered, though Max was sure she was saying it simply to be polite.

“That’d be great, Mom.” Chloe said before Max could say anything. “I’ve gotta say I missed your cooking.” She continued, trying to keep the air light.

“I’m sure you have.” Joyce said, speaking a in a far warmer tone to her daughter. “How long has it been since you’ve had a home cooked meal?”

“Too long.” Chloe readily answered.

Joyce stood aside, and allowed the two of them into her home, though not without a measure of reluctance in Max’s case.

 

****

 

Dinner was an awkward affair. The food looked, smelled and tasted delicious, but the atmosphere was turgid, and any attempt of Chloe's to make small talk inevitably withered and died in a corner. In fact, aside from answering Chloe's questions with mono-syllabic answers or non-committal noises, Joyce spent most of the meal shooting side-eyed glares at Max, something that did not go unnoticed by the young Jedi. Eventually, Chloe gave up trying to initiate conversation, and they ate in stony silence.

Sensing yet more looks from Joyce, Max once again tried falling back on some meditation techniques, ones that specifically existed for small annoyances. She wasn't exactly surprised to find they didn't work. That's becoming kind of a trend. She thought. She looked down at her plate, and pushed around a few vat-grown greens. She didn't have to be a Jedi to know Joyce was staring at her again, she could practically feel it. She put her fork down, and met Joyce's gaze.

“What?” Max said, accusingly.

Even though she'd been caught out, Joyce's gaze never wavered. Max was almost impressed.

Almost.

“Nothing.” Joyce responded, curtly.

Chloe stared rigidly at her plate, her body language clearly showing this was the exact situation she hadn't wanted to happen.

“You're lying.” Max flatly stated. “You've been shooting me looks ever since we sat down. I know you don't like Jedi, and I know you don't like me because I'm a Jedi. So the least you could do is stop being a coward and tell me why.”

In the silence that followed, you could have heard an insect's heartbeat.

Chloe began to wish she was anywhere else.

“My husband.” Joyce began, her voice wavering with the force of her emotions. “The man I loved... The father of my child. He died, because of you Jedi.” Her hand unconsciously made a fist, the knuckles white with anger.

“There was a firefight.” She continued when Max stayed silent. “Between one of you and some idiot gang, and he got caught in the middle of it. For all you Jedi claim you're capable of, you couldn't stop just one blaster bolt from hitting him. Just one. That's all it took.” She pushed herself away from the table, and stood up. “I hold your entire Order responsible.” She said, and left.

Max released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. “I don't – I don't know what to-” She began.

Chloe stopped her, by laying a hand over hers. “I know.” She said, trying to be reassuring. “It's just hard for her. I was too young to remember it, but she never really got over Dad's death. I mean. You can kinda see why.”

Max nodded. “It's horrible.” She agreed. “But holding every Jedi responsible because of the failures of one? That's a little...”

“Yeah.” Chloe agreed.

Max sighed. “I don't think I can stay here.” She said. “Too much negative energy. Plus your Mom probably wouldn't let me.”

Chloe made a face that tried to tell Max she was wrong, but failed spectacularly. She settled on nodding.

“Can I sleep on the ship?” Max asked.

“Sure.” Chloe said. “I'm gonna stay here. Try and, I don't know. Convince her, maybe?”

Max stood. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks. I'll probably need it.”

 

****

 

Max stared at the ceiling of the ship's living area. Sleep was, unfortunately, proving to be highly elusive. It didn't help that the couch she was laid on was aggressively uncomfortable, something her still-sore muscles were insistently reminding her about. She scowled, and shifted her position for what must have been the billionth time. And just like the previous assumed billion, it didn't help.

She couldn't get Joyce's words out of her head. They kept replaying, over and over, making her feel guilt she knew, rationally, wasn't hers to bear. But she was bearing it anyway. Stop tormenting yourself. She thought. It wasn't your fault. She's just projecting.

Yeah, but. Another part of her said. Aren't Jedi supposed to protect people? Isn't it a failure if an innocent gets in the way?

“Oh, shut up.” She said to the argumentative part of her.

“Woah, I didn't even say anything.” A voice came out of the darkness.

Max sat up, startled to see Chloe leaning against the circular entrance hatch. She had been so lost in her own mind she hadn't even sensed her friend come in.

“Sorry, not you.” Max waved a hand as if to dispel the issue. “I was just talking to myself. Can't get my inner voice to be quiet.”

“I hear that.” Chloe said, not without a large degree of empathy. She strolled over and planted herself down next to Max's feet. She let her head tip back and rest on the wall cladding, and emitted a noise that sounded like a vaguely disgruntled hum.

“So how come you're here?” Max ventured. “Thought you were trying to smooth over stuff with your Mom?”

Chloe grimaced, and rubbed the back of her neck. “That's kinda hard to do when she won't come out of her room. Plus I couldn't sleep, so I came back here.”

“Ah.” Max couldn't think of any other response. Then, “I'm sorry if I'm causing trouble.”

A sigh preceded Chloe's response. “You're not. Or, you aren't personally causing trouble. I mean, the Jedi thing doesn't help, but we can deal with it.”

She laid a hand over Max's. “I am grateful you're here, you know. If it weren't for you... I – I wouldn't even be here. I'd have been smushed under a shuttle.” Catching Max's eye, she smiled at her. “Thanks, Max, for saving my life.”

Max smiled back. “You don't have to thank me. I-” she paused, briefly wondering if she should continue. In the end, honesty won out. “I couldn't lose you.” She said.

Chloe's lips twitched, and something flickered in the depths of her eyes. “Hey, I'm not going anywhere, Starfield. You're stuck with me.”

“Oh no, whatever shall I do?” Max said sardonically. She attempted to sit up, but recoiled when a lance of pain stabbed through the muscles of her back. “Agh!” She exclaimed, and fell back on the couch.

“Woah, you alright?” Chloe was suddenly hovering over the young Jedi, her face filled with worry.

“Yeah.” Max grimaced. “Just some muscle pain. Turns out catching and throwing a fricking shuttle takes a lot out of you.”

Chloe grinned. “Again, totally badass. And I think I can help you with the pain part. I give killer back rubs... Uh, that is, if you're okay with that.”

Max paused. On the one hand, a back rub sounded amazing right now, but did she really want Chloe; her childhood-friend-now-burgeoning-crush, to be in such intimate contact with her? Her feelings for Chloe were already a mess she didn't want to deal with, and this could easily complicate things further. But then, her back gave another sharp twinge, tipping the metaphorical scale towards Chloe.

Fuck it. She thought. I deserve nice things, especially after dealing with today.

“Alright. Have at me.” She said, and then immediately blushed and regretted her choice of words when she realised what she'd said.

Fortunately, Chloe seemed not to have noticed. “Awesome. Can you sit up?”

“I think so.” Max slowly pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing the entire time. When she was fully upright, Chloe positioned herself behind Max, and laid her hands on her shoulders.

“Most of it's up here, isn't it?” Chloe said, fingers gently probing.

“Y-yeah.” Max replied, trying not to show how good even those first, feather-light touches felt. Oh man, this was a mistake.

“Mm. It's kind of obvious.” Chloe responded. She firmly grasped Max's shoulders, and began to knead the knotted muscles between her fingers and thumb. As soon as she did so, Max almost melted, and she she had to stop herself from outright moaning.

Definitely a mistake.

Just as she was desperately trying to figure out an excuse to get Chloe to stop (as much as she didn't want her to), the ship lights flickered and the ground shook. A second later, the muffled sound of an explosion could be heard, followed by screams.

“What the hell?” Chloe said, dropping her hands.

“I don't know.” Max said. “Sounded like an explosion.”

Chloe's eyes went wide. “Do you think they tracked us?”

Max bit her lip. “I- I don't know. It's possible?”

“No.” Chloe shook her head. “They can't have. If they put a tracking device on the ship it would've shown up on internal scans. The only way is if they-” She stopped.

“What? If they what, Chloe?” Max pressed.

“If they put it in my jacket.” Chloe finished.

She looked at Max, and Max could easily see the colour draining from her face.

“I left my jacket at my Mom's.” She said in horror.

 

Chapter Text

Episode IX
Keep Her Safe

Sprinting down the landing ramp as fast as she was able, Chloe called back over her shoulder. “Max! C’mon!”


“I’m trying!” Max levied back, struggling to fasten the final buckle on her belt. She silently cursed the buckle, these boots were designed to fit in, but were nowhere near as quick to pull on as her standard Jedi boots in times of crisis where speed was essential.

Finally, the stubborn buckle deigned to cooperate with her, and she took off running, catching up to Chloe in a matter of seconds, thanks to a deft burst of always-reliable Force speed.


Once they cleared the hangar, they immediately encountered scores of assorted citizens running the opposite way, many of them screaming or sporting terrified expressions. The acrid stench of smoke hung in the air, not enough to choke, but enough to cause the back of Max’s throat to tingle in an unpleasant, scratchy manner.


The crowd thickened, until it was almost impossible to make any progress against the heaving tide of panicked bodies. Chloe began elbowing people, and angrily trying to shove them out of the way. “Move!” She kept yelling, but was unheard above the din. Not even brandishing a blaster helped. In desperation, Chloe looked at Max, who was a couple of steps behind her.


“We’re never gonna get there in time!” Chloe lamented.


Max caught up with her. “I have an idea.” She said, and slid her right arm around Chloe’s waist. “Hold on to me, tightly.” She commanded.


Chloe did so. “What’s the plan?”


“We’re gonna jump. Brace yourself.”


Chloe barely had time to do as Max advised, before Max bent her knees, and with inhuman strength, sent them sailing a good forty feet forwards into the air. At the apex of their arc, Chloe felt something solid and unyielding push them even further, doubling their travel distance. Heads turned upwards in amazement as they flew overhead, followed by shocked exclamations in a variety of languages as people scrambled to avoid being landed on. Milliseconds from landing, Chloe once again felt that invisible strength slow them down just enough to avoid shattering their legs on impact. Even so, Chloe pitched herself into a forward roll, just to be safe. Max didn’t bother, and took up a sprint from the moment her booted feet came back into contact with the floor.

Fortunately, their jump had cleared the majority of the crowd, enabling Chloe to match Max’s pace. After thirty seemingly eternal seconds of running, they emerged into the nest of dwelling that housed Joyce’s apartment.


A scene of carnage greeted them. An explosive device had obviously been set off, cracking the floor and blackening an area around twenty feet with smoke residue. The force of the blast had decimated the front of several apartments, blowing out windows and crumpling several walls. Thick, black smoke was pouring out of several shattered window frames, and orange flames visibly flickered within. Joyce’s apartment had suffered a similar amount of damage.


Unfortunately, a squad of a dozen or more of Nathan’s troopers had taken her captive. She was slumped on the floor, only being held upright by the tight grip of a black armoured trooper. She was bruised and bloodied, but otherwise alive.


“Where are they?!” The trooper was screaming at her.


“I- I don’t know!” Joyce sobbed.


The trooper grunted in frustration, and backhanded her to the floor. Joyce shouted in pain, but didn’t protest.


“Fuck it, they’re bound to come back here eventually.” He said. He turned his back to Joyce. “Waste her.” He commanded one of his squad mates.


“Yes sir.” He said, sounding like he was grinning behind his opaque helmet. He raised his blaster.


“NO!” Came a sudden,  desperate shout. It was followed an instant later by a silver and black cylindrical object, which tumbled through the air towards the trooper. In the split second before it hit him, a blue, humming blade erupted from one end, and buried itself in his chest. He barely had time to scream before a grey blur was upon him.


Max threw herself into a forward slide, grabbing her lightsaber as she slid past, carving an oblong chunk out of the unfortunate trooper’s chest in the process. He fell to the floor just as she reached the next man, and amputated his legs with a single swing. He began to drop, but before he could reach the floor, Max directed a Force push directly into the centre of his torso. His sternum shattered from the sudden blast, and his legless body was sent flying into two of his comrades, knocking them down into a heap.

The other troopers, temporarily taken aback by the suddenness of the violence, finally came to their senses and opened fire, turning the air into a storm of crimson blaster bolts.
Max dropped back, covering Joyce with her own body as best she could. Her full concentration was focused on deflecting each and every single blaster bolt. She tried to reflect a few back, but there were simply too many for her to do so effectively.


Fortunately, Chloe had taken up a firing position behind a pile of debris, and lay down a vicious hail of covering fire, forcing the squad to divide their attention. A few of them moved to cover, and the rest began split between firing at one of the now-two targets.


The reduction in blaster fire was the exact thing Max needed. Spying a thermal detonator on one of their belts, she reached out, and gave the activation button a poke with the Force. The trooper barely had time to look down in surprise before the detonator ignited.


The resulting explosion tore him apart, killing him instantly and sending flaming chunks of armour and flesh over a fifty food radius. His companions were similarly unlucky. Half of the squad had been in his immediate vicinity, and were met by the same grisly fate. Limbs and various other body parts went flying, and one unfortunate trooper, who was on the edge of the more lethal zone, had his internal organs liquefied by the force of the blast.
The rest of the squad managed to avoid certain death, a few of them escaped to cover, while the rest were simply knocked down with mild concussions.


After the roar of noise from the explosion, the silence that fell in the first few seconds after it was over were almost painful in their intensity.


Chloe shook her head to clear the ringing from her ears, and then reopened fire on the enemy combatants, downing a couple while they were still distracted. The rest, seeing their numbers rapidly dwindling, wisely decided to fall back.


“Yes!” Chloe shouted. “Max, we’ve got ‘em on the run!”


No sooner had the words left her mouth, when the fleeing soldiers were met by two full strength reinforcement squads, who had evidently heard the commotion.


“Oh fuck all kinds of duck.” Chloe moaned, seeing they were now vastly outnumbered. “Max, there’s way too many of them.”


Max said nothing. Her jaw was clenched so tight her muscles were aching. Unfortunately, Chloe was right. There were far too many of them for the two of them to fend off.

Knowing they had a scant few seconds before a storm of blaster fire would assail them, Max did the only thing she could, and trusted the Force to guide her. A whisper in the back of her mind made her look up, towards the large viewports, through which the blackness of space was visible. An idea formed.


“Chloe!” She exclaimed, and pointed up.


Chloe followed her finger and craned her neck upwards. After less than a second, understanding dawned on her face. She looked back down at Max, and nodded. She raised her blaster, and took aim at the viewport.


I hope this works. Max said to herself. She grabbed hold of Joyce with one hand, and a secure handle poking out of a wall with the other.


Just as the two squads reached them, Chloe fired.


The viewport glass shattered, and a roaring wind filled the area as the atmosphere was violently sucked out into the vacuum of space. The troopers screamed as the escaping air picked them up and sent each and every one of them tumbling into the great, black void. Their armour might have protected them for a short time, but it would only delay the inevitable slow, agonising death in space that awaited them.


Back in the station, Max and Chloe held on desperately as the rushing air continued to suck everything that wasn’t nailed down into space. Then, as quickly as it began, the atmosphere stilled as the station’s automated breach procedures kicked in, and a humming blue shield sealed itself around the shattered viewport.


The three women left alive all collapsed onto the plasteel floor, gasping for breath. Max was the quickest to recover. She brandished her lightsaber, scanning for any more potential threats, but after a few moments passed and nothing came, she shut the blade off and replaced the hilt on her belt. A few moments later, emergency services arrived on the scene, making their way straight towards them. Max glanced around at the carnage surrounding them. This was going to take some explaining.

 

****

 

Hours later, and after what must have been hundreds of questions, they were finally left alone. Max groaned, and let her head fall back against the wall of the emergency accommodation Joyce had been allocated.
“By the Force, I thought they’d never stop.” She protested.


“I know.” Chloe said, flopping down beside her. “Who are you? Why’d you blow up half an apartment block? Why are there bits of dead bodies everywhere?” She mimicked the security officials, managing to make them sound both petulant and snippy. “They should be thanking us for stopping those guys from shooting the place up.” She finished with a dismissive flick of her hand.


“We did kinda bring them here.” Max countered, her expression sporting a fair amount of guilt.


“I know, but, at least no one died, right? Well, apart from all of the idiots who tried to kill us. Holy shit, Max, that guy who just blew the fuck up, that was awesome! Like, there were bits just going everywhere and-”


A cough interrupted them, drawing their attention to the doorway of the ‘fresher, which stood open. Joyce was lingering in it, evidently having just finished cleaning herself up.


Max found herself standing up. She didn’t know why, but she wasn’t surprised when Joyce made her slow, deliberate way over to her.


Chloe simply watched in rapt attention.


“Max.” Joyce said when she reached the young Jedi.


Max said nothing, waiting for her to speak.


“I’m not going to apologise for what I said about the Jedi. I still think they’re hypocritical zealots who brainwash and take children against their will.” She took a breath. “But... Thank you, Max. You saved my life, and you let me see my daughter again.” Then, to everyone’s surprise – especially Max’s – she drew the startled Jedi into a hug. “I may not agree with your chosen path, but I can’t deny you’re a good person.” She finished. She drew away, and smiled at the flustered young Jedi.


Max spluttered and turned red, struck for words. “I don’t... It’s. Uh. Thanks.” She said lamely.


“Max, don’t be so humble.” Joyce wagged her finger at her. “It’s not every day someone saves your life, and from what I’ve heard from Chloe, you’ve saved her too.”


At the mention of Chloe’s name, Max flicked her gaze over to her, just for a second. Her lips twitched in a half unconscious ghost of a smile. “I guess that’s true.” She said.


Having noticed the look Max gave Chloe, Joyce almost imperceptibly raised an eyebrow. She opened her mouth to give voice to the thought at the forefront of her mind, but changed it at the last second. Instead, she pulled up a chair and sat down next to her daughter. “So,” she said, almost coyly, “Do I get to hear how you two met each other again after all this time?”


Chloe gave Max a quick look, silently asking a question.


Max nodded. “It’s OK. Go ahead.”


Chloe nodded back. “Sure.” She turned to her mother. “So it’s kind of a long story...”

 

****

 

Max yawned, stretched, and blinked away the sleep from her eyes. She sat up on her makeshift bed, looking blearily around the charmless grey steel of the temporary accommodation.


Neither Chloe or Joyce appeared to be present, so she took a few minutes to clean herself up as best she could in the ‘fresher, before shrugging on the clothes she’d been wearing since Coruscant. She gave them a sniff. They were definitely smelling a little ripe.


Can’t wait to get back into my Jedi robes. She thought to herself as she walked out of the door. She missed the Temple and her fellow Jedi, and having actually decent sanitary facilities. Though, she couldn’t shake a thought that wiggled away in the back of her mind, that her mission had thrown into sharp relief just how comfortable her life on Coruscant was, stagnant even. Perhaps her life as a Jedi would be better served travelling the Galaxy, helping people where she could.


Such were her thoughts during the few minute’s walk to the hangar bay, where she suspected Chloe, and probably her mother, were located. When she entered the bay, she felt Chloe before she saw her. She was a warm, bright pulse in the Force, a glowing beacon Mad would have been drawn to even if it wasn’t her friend.


As she coasted closer, Chloe looked down, or up from her perspective, from where she was hanging upside down off the bottom of the ship, and broke into a smile when she saw Max.


“What’s up, Mad Max? What’s with the dopey grin?” Were the first words out of her mouth.
Max blinked and relaxed her face, upon which she had indeed been sporting a grin on the dopier side of the scale.


“First off, “Mad” Max? Really?” Max said as she reached Chloe.


“Max, you threw a fucking shuttle. That’s pretty insane.” Chloe mimed the shuttle’s path through the air.


“Language!” Came the voice of Joyce, emanating from inside the ship.


“Sorry Mom!” Chloe called back. “But yeah. Shuttle throwing. Insane.”


Max shrugged. “Point taken. And secondly, it wasn’t a dopey grin. No way.”


Chloe chuckled. “Dude, it was pretty dopey.”


“Oh fine.” Max pouted. “But it was only because your presence in the Force was, uh, kinda nice. Like sitting next to a warm fire.”


Chloe detached herself from the underneath of the hull, and flipped round to land nimbly on her feet. “You know, that’s actually pretty nice to hear.” She said, and reached out to touch Max’s arm.

Just as she did so, Joyce emerged from the airlock. Her gaze immediately rested on the contact between her daughter and Max, and once again, an eyebrow quirked upward.
“It’s all clear in there.” She said, trying her utmost to keep her voice free of wry amusement.


Chloe practically jumped away from Max, dropping her arm like she’d experienced an electric shock. “Oh. Right. Thanks Mom.”


“What’s clear?” Asked Max.


“Right, I forgot to mention. We’re sweeping the ship for bugs.” Chloe explained. “Just in case there’s any more, but thankfully it looks like we’re home free.”


“Speaking of home,” Max said, “I should get back to Coruscant and report to the Council. They’ll want to hear what we found on that station.”


“Good point.” Chloe nodded. “I’ll prep the ship, and we’ll leave as soon as possible.”


Max paused, and looked at her. “Wait, you’re coming with me?”


“Of course I am.” Chloe said, her expression adding a an unspoken “really?” to the end of the sentence.


“It’s just that...” Max shuffled her feet. “I thought that, now that you’re home, you might be staying.”


“Hey, I’m mixed up in this as bad as you are. We need to stick together.” Chloe reasoned. “Plus I kinda like having a Jedi have my back.” She added with a cheeky grin.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Joyce interjected, “But my oft-errant daughter is right. From what I’ve heard, you two do have a habit of looking out for each other.”


Chloe gestured to her mother. “See? We even have Mom Approval. Nothing can stop us now!” With that, she bounded onto the landing ramp. “I’mma get the ship ready for take off, it’s a long way back to Coruscant.” She disappeared into the ship.


After she was sure her daughter wasn’t in earshot, Joyce turned to Max. “A word?” She said.


Max nodded. “Sure.”


Joyce leaned in, a little conspiratorially. “So how long has this been a thing?” She asked.
“What thing?” Max asked back, confused.
“You, and my daughter.” Joyce said as if it was obvious.


Catching her meaning, Max blushed. Hard. “We don’t – we’re not, I mean I’m not. Um. There’s nothing going on.” She said, spectacularly unconvincingly. “Even if there was, the Jedi Code forbids attachment.” She finished, staring intensely at the floor as if it was the most interesting thing in the universe.


“Well, whatever your ‘code’ says, and whatever this is...” Joyce said, sounding as if she didn’t believe Max in the slightest. “I want you to promise me one thing.” She leaned in, almost threateningly. “Keep. Her. Safe. Because if you hurt her or worse, there won’t be a single rotten place in the Galaxy I won’t be able find you, Jedi or not. No backwater hell-hole, no crawling city, no hidden cave. I will find you.” She leaned back. “Understood?”


Max swallowed audibly, and nodded.


“Good.” Joyce said, seemingly satisfied.


A few seconds later, Chloe popped her head out of the airlock. “We’re good.” She said. “Max, you comin’?”


“S-sure.” Max replied, taking a second to find the power of speech. She looked back at Joyce. “It was nice meeting you again, even with all the explosions and stuff.”


Joyce gave her a meaningful look. “Yes. Maybe less of that next time.”


“I dunno,” Chloe said as she came bounding down the landing ramp, and wrapped her mother up in a hug, “Explosions usually seem to mean we’re doing something right.” She flashed her mom a grin. “Kidding. They’re loud and angry and I’m pretty sure I have a mild case of tinnitus now.”


Joyce rolled her eyes. “Go, before I decide this is a terrible idea.”


“Alright, Mom. Love you.” Chloe made to re-board the ship.


“I love you too.” Joyce replied.


Chloe smiled at her again, and vanished into the ship.


Max followed her. At the top of the ramp, she looked down, and caught Joyce’s eye.


“Remember.” Joyce said.


“I will.” Max promised. “May the Force be with you.”


She received a nod in reply. Max took a breath, and walked once again into the YT-1200.


W4-R3N welcomed her with a pleased sounding tootle when she entered the cockpit, and sat herself down in the co-pilot’s seat. “Hey buddy.” She greeted him back.


“You ready to go?” Chloe smiled at her in a way that made her stomach do backflips once she was settled into the scuffed leather.


Max smiled back. “Punch it.” She replied. 

As the ship’s engines fired up, Max had one singular thought occupying her mind, practically becoming her entirely reality, and blotting out everything else: her mission, the Jedi, even her own confused feelings.


Keep her safe.

Chapter Text


Episode X
A Jedi Shall Not Know Love

 

“... And when I finally got there, fucking everything was on fire, and Rachel was just this big panicky mess covered in soot, and that’s when the Twi’lek strippers walked through the door.” Chloe leaned back on the couch, an impressively large grin splitting her face in two. “Best birthday ever.”

Max nearly spat out her drink, tried to swallow, and began choking, both from the fluid and from laughter. “Chloe... Can’t breathe!” She managed to splutter in between coughing fits and giggles.

Chloe thumped her on the back. Max lurched forward, and spat out a large quantity of blue liquid. “Thanks.” She croaked, after she’d stopped coughing.

“No problem.” Chloe said with a grin. “I mean, it would’ve been way embarrassing if a mighty Jedi Knight met their end in a glass of blue milk.”

Max pouted. “Hey, Jedi don’t appreciate being teased. I could easily use the Force to get you to shut up.”

“Yeah but then you’d be abusing your powers, right?” Chloe argued. “Plus, you’d have no pilot, and I’m pretty sure you can’t fly this baby yourself.”

Max slumped on the couch, her posture conveying defeat. “Point taken. You win this round.”

Chloe grinned at her again, and her smile was so infectious Max couldn’t help but return it.

“Hey, so I’ve been meaning to ask,” Max ventured, “What’s with the dragon decal on the hull?”

Chloe bristled slightly, and Max saw she unsure whether she should answer the question. Then, her body language relaxed as she made her decision.

“It’s Rachel.” She explained. “I always called her my red dragon, because she was just so fucking fierce, you know? I think she took it to heart, because she got this amazing tattoo of a dragon that went right up her hip and over... actually, you probably don’t need to hear that.” She cut herself off, blushing.

“It’s OK.” Max reassured her, though internally, she felt an inexplicable flare of jealousy towards the dead woman. “I know you two were...” She paused. “... Close.”

“It’s, uh, kind of embarrassing to say, but I actually renamed the ship after her. You’re currently sat inside the Amber Star.” Chloe gestured around the ship’s living area. “Her last name was Amber.” She explained.

Max nodded, trying to process the fact that she was travelling in what was essentially a flying shrine to the legacy of Chloe’s deceased... lover? After a moment’s reflection, she decided to bite the blaster bolt and ask the question knocking against the inside of her skull.

“You and Rachel... were you...?”

“Lovers?” Chloe finished. “I – yeah, we were.”

Max nodded, and looked away. She fell silent.

“I mean...” Chloe said, slowly, as if she were weighing the value of each word. “It’s probably weird for me to ask, but why are you asking? I though Jedi were all weird and Code-obsessed with that kinda shit.”

There was something in her eyes Max couldn’t place. Eagerness? Curiosity? Trepidation? Whatever it was, Max was mystified by it.

“The Code forbids possession... attachment. Love.” Max answered, taking her time. What’s she getting at?

“Why?”

“What?” Max hadn’t been prepared for such a blunt question.

“Why is all that stuff forbidden? There’s gotta be a reason.” Chloe pressed further.

“Attachment and possession can lead to jealousy. If you become jealous, you risk the Dark Side.” Max explained. “It’s why we try to become selfless, to avoid all negative emotions like anger or fear. It all leads to the Dark Side.”

Chloe thought for a moment, biting her lip. “Sounds like a load of shit to me.” She said, staring directly into Max’s eyes.

Max’s jaw actually dropped. “What?!” She said incredulously.

“I asked you why, and you just brought up a bunch of bantha shit that you Jedi have probably been repeating to yourselves for hundreds of years. Max, I’m asking you why. Why can’t you find someone to hold? To love? Or even just to fuck?” Chloe ranted, gesticulating wildly.

“I-” Max began, then cut herself off as realisation hit her: in all her years being trained in the Jedi arts, she couldn’t remember a single time someone had specifically told her why relationships were forbidden, except for the catch-all ‘you risk falling to the Dark Side’ mantra.

“I don’t know.” She concluded, rather quietly.

“Exactly.” Chloe said. “And I’m not a Jedi or whatever, but walling yourself off from stuff like feeling angry, instead of working through it like a normal, healthy person seems fucking insane to me.”

“It’s just how we’re trained.” Max countered.

“I still think it’s dumb.” Chloe insisted. “I mean, you guys go on and on about having no fear, but you avoid anything that could lead to the Dark Side like a plague. That sounds like fear to me.”

“But it’s not!” Max protested. “We just... try to avoid things that could tempt us. That includes feeling afraid or angry, and both of those are a factor in relationships.”

“Uh-huh.” Chloe didn’t sound convinced. She got up and began to pace around the living area. Max watched her, knowing full well she was trying to come up with a counter argument.

Eventually, Chloe sat back down beside Max. “Sorry.” She said. “It just seems weird to me, going through life without ever falling in love with someone.”

“We do love people. In fact, we love everyone.” Max reassured her. “It’s just compassionate love instead of passionate or romantic.”

“I still think it’s sad. Your whole world changes when you have someone, someone who’s yours, you know?” Chloe offered her a tentative smile. “So, this ‘attachments are forbidden’ thing. How specific is it?”

Max frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Like, I get that you can’t have relationships. But what about hook ups? Can you go sleep with someone if you want?”

Max blushed. “I – no, I don’t think so.”

“Man, that sucks.” Chloe said, seemingly genuinely sad. She thought for a moment. “Can you masturbate?”

Chloe!” Max protested, her cheeks burning.

“That’s a yes.” Chloe grinned. “C’mon, you can tell me.”

Max stubbornly remained silent, staring at the floor.

“What about if you just kissed someone? Would that be breaking the code?” Chloe asked.

“I don’t know. Probably?” Max shrugged.

“Hmm.” Chloe made a noise. She edged a little closer, until their hips were touching.
Max’s heart rate began to increase.

“Chloe, what-”

“Shh.” Chloe told her. “What if...” She cupped Max’s cheek in her hand.

Max’s heart beat even faster. Is she...

“... Someone...” Chloe looked directly into her eyes.

Max felt like her heart was going to explode.

“... Kisses you.” Chloe finished, her voice barely above a whisper.

“I-” Max started to say. She made it no further, as whatever she was about to say died in her throat when Chloe leaned in, and pressed their lips together.

Max’s mind imploded. She didn’t know what to do. Part of her wanted to run away, as far as possible. Another part of her wanted nothing more than to kiss Chloe forever. A third part, probably the more rational side of her, told her to end it now, before she did anything she might regret.

But then Chloe’s hand moved to the back of her head, and drew her in further. Max was almost powerless to resist. She knew she should stop her, but Chloe’s lips were just so soft and inviting, and Max found herself opening her mouth at the merest suggestion from the dashing pilot. A firestorm of unchecked desire ignited within her, and years of walls and mental barriers came crashing down, freeing all the urges she’d spent most of her teenage years denying.

The sensation was so strong it scared her.

Before the kiss could go any further, Max wrenched her lips away from Chloe. “No.” She said, turning her head away. Anger reared within her and, mixed with her already-turbulent emotions, she couldn’t hold it back.

“Chloe. What. The hell.” She said, her voice low like thunder.

Seeing Max’s face, Chloe cycled through a few expressions: confusion, optimism, indignation and even a little bit of hurt. “I wanted to kiss you. I thought that was obvious.” She stated, a bit of edge to her voice.

“Yeah, I got that,” Max replied, “But why would you do that after everything I just said about the Code? Seriously?”

Chloe dropped her gaze. “It was just a kiss.” She mumbled.

“But it wasn’t!” Max countered. “Chloe, don’t you understand? A kiss means feelings, feelings that I can’t have. I’m a Jedi, I can’t have relationships, or take lovers, regardless of how I might fe-” She cut herself off as she realised her error.

Chloe’s head shot back up to meet her. “Regardless of how you might what, Max? Because I’m pretty sure you were gonna say ‘feel’.”

Max remained silent.

Chloe shook her head, and laughed derisively. “Don’t bother denying it, I know it’s true. And if you’re having feelings for me and denying them, or worse, saying you can’t because of some banthashit code, you know what that makes you?” She poked Max in the chest. “A fucking hypocrite, that’s what.”

Her words stung, more than Max thought was possible. You know she’s right... A voice in the back of her mind whispered.

Ignorant of Max’s internal argument, Chloe got up and stalked towards the cockpit. She looked back, and fixed Max with a glare. “I’ll take you back to Coruscant, but then I’m done with you.” She said, and turned away. “I can’t believe I was falling for you.” She said bitterly.

“Whatever.” Max growled back. “I’m done with you, too.”

Chloe bristled, but chose to walk away, and disappear into the cockpit.

“Stupid, ignorant, reckless idiot.” Max seethed to herself, trying to convince her mind, and more importantly her heart, that that was what Chloe truly was. She touched her lips, where the ghost of the kiss they had shared still lingered, trying to ignore the part of her that already missed it.

Oh Max. What have you gotten yourself into?

 

****

 

Max watched as the Amber Star flared its engines and took off in the general direction of the 500 Republica district. She turned away and trudged towards the Temple steps, defiantly suppressing the ache she felt in her heart. Her and Chloe hadn’t exchanged a single word for the rest of the trip, which had mercifully only been a few hours. When they landed, Chloe didn’t come out from the cockpit, her only acknowledgement towards Max even existing being opening the airlock and lowering the landing ramp.

As she climbed the hundreds of steps up to the Temple entrance, Max made a valiant effort to calm her mind, and assume the temperance her Jedi peers would expect from her. As was beginning to be a trend, her efforts were in vain.

Just shy of the entrance, her commlink bleeped at her, informing her that her arrival had been noted, and she was expected in the Council chambers.

“Oh well that’s just great.” She sarcastically complained to herself. Without bothering to greet any of the Jedi she ran into along her path, she made her way straight to the central turbolift.

Her mind was still abuzz with a myriad horde of emotions during the long ascent, and much to her displeasure, they still hadn’t quelled themselves when she arrived at the Council chambers. She took a deep breath, and composed herself as best she could.

“Masters.” She said respectfully, and bowed when the doors whisked open. To her surprise, only three members were present: Master Yarael Poof, Mace Windu, and Yoda.

“Greetings, young Starfield. Information, we presume, you have for us?” Said Yoda, a gentle smile on his wizened face.

“I – yes. Forgive me, Master Yoda, but I thought there would be more of you.” Max said, as respectfully as she could.

“The rest of the Council have their own affairs to attend to.” Mace stated. “Now, tell us what you’ve learned.”

“Of course, Master.”

For the next few minutes, Max told them of the events that had befallen her over the last few days. She told them of the facility in the Maw, shrouded in the Dark Side. She told them of the Ysalamiri, and the weaponized agent created from their blood, and her belief in an approaching attack on the Jedi Order. She of course omitted her confused feelings about Chloe, and the ill-fated kiss.

When she had finished, the three Councillor members were silent for a long moment.

Max looked from one to the other, anxiously waiting for their response.

“Done well, you have.” Yoda finally said. “Consult, we will, with the rest of the Council, on how to resolve this matter.”

“You have our thanks.” Mace Windu added. “You may return to your quarters whenever you wish.”

“What?” Max frowned. “Is that it?”

“I don’t follow.” Mace said.

“I risked my life for this! I’ve spent days having dozens of people trying to kill me. I’ve been to the most disgusting part of Coruscant, I’ve had a psycho bounty hunter literally torture me. And all you have to say is ‘thanks but we’ll take it from here’? No. That isn’t fair. I know the most about this threat. I’ve dealt with these people. I deserve to be involved in this!” Max argued her case vigorously, half exhilarated, half terrified by what she was saying to the heads of the Order. When she was finished, a heavy silence descended.

“Great confusion I sense in you.” Yoda intoned, fixing her with a stare so intense Max almost felt it go through her.

“In turmoil, your emotions are.” The diminutive Jedi continued. “To your quarters you shall go. Meditate until clear, your head is, then discuss this we shall.”

“But-” Max started.

“That’s an order, Starfield.” Mace Windu said coldly.

Without a word, Max looked at him with as much defiance as she could muster, spun on her heel, and stormed out of the Council chambers.

 

****

 

“Who the hell do they think they are?!” Max growled to herself as she entered her room. She closed and locked the door with an angry wave of the Force, and sat down on the bed, seething. The worst part was, she knew they were right. She was emotionally compromised. That’s Chloe’s fault. She decided. If it wasn’t for her, and that damn kiss...

The memory of the kiss, unbidden by her, resurfaced. She recalled how hard her heart had been beating, and how the touch of Chloe’s lips had brought her such elation she’d briefly forgotten entirely about the Code. “Damn it.” She whispered, willing the distracting thoughts away. She shrugged out of her filthy jacket, and lay back on the bed, her legs hanging over the edge.

Maybe Master Yoda was right. Maybe all she needed to do was meditate, and everything would be fine. She closed her eyes, and began her mental exercises, starting with the basic steps she’d been taught as a youngling. However, every time her concentration lapsed, her thoughts returned to Chloe. She opened her eyes. “Get out of my head.” She said to the ceiling. With a frustrated sigh, she sat up. She rubbed her neck, easing some of the tension there, and feeling the grimy film that had coated her skin from the extensive amount of space travel she had endured. Perhaps a shower would help. A proper one, with water instead of sonic waves.

Taken with the idea, Max tugged her boots off, flinging them unceremoniously into the corner. She strode towards the en-suite bathroom, stripping off clothing as she went. Naked, she stepped into the bathroom, and activated the shower with a flick of her mind. Steam quickly filled the room as the temperature rapidly increased, and Max only had to wait a few seconds before stepping under the torrent. The water was deliciously hot against her bare skin, washing away several days’ worth of physical stress and tension. Max closed her eyes and threw her head back, letting the water envelop her in its steamy embrace.

Though, as pleasant as the shower was, it still couldn’t quiet her errant mind, and after a few minutes, frustration began to set in once again. With a scowl, she shut the water off, and quickly dried herself. She walked back into her room, bare feet padding softly on the floor. She grabbed an undershirt and panties from her wardrobe, and when they were on, slumped back onto the bed.

I need a distraction, she thought.

Unfortunately, distractions weren’t exactly plentiful at this hour. The dueling chambers would be closed by now, and she doubted going down to the library would help. Besides, Jocasta Nu probably still had it out for her. She could head to one of the various kitchens, but that would mean socialising, the very thought of which made her grimace.
A possibility entered her mind, something she wouldn’t have considered before reuniting with Chloe. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t done it before, though her previous attempts had been more on the experimental side of things, a side effect of the rampaging hormones of her teenage years. Chloe’s words swam back into her mind. “Can you masturbate?”

“Shut up.” Max said to no one in particular, but her hand was already travelling, almost unconsciously, down her toned abdomen. Maybe, just maybe, getting herself off would put Chloe out of her mind, at least until she could regain control over her rebellious feelings, and give her some much needed relief.

She propped herself up against a pillow, and let her legs fall open. Her hand slid smoothly under the hem of her panties and through the trimmed hairs of her pubis, coming to rest on the folds of skin that made up the cleft between her legs. To her surprise, she was already slightly wet. Must be because I was thinking about doing it. She mused. She slid an experimental finger through her sex, her hips bucking a little as her nerve endings registered the pleasurable sensation. Her breathing deepened, and a scarlet flush began to creep down from her neck towards her chest as her body responded to the stimulation.

Even though it had been a couple of years since she’d last pleasured herself, simply massaging her outer lips wasn’t enough. Max’s fingers travelled upwards, searching for a bundle of nerves that should be right around- “Fuck...” Max breathed as she found her clit. Her first two or three touches to the tiny, already oversensitive organ made her jump and lose contact, but she stuck with it, and soon enough had established a slow, luxurious rhythm.

As the waves of pleasure slowly mounted, Max closed her eyes, letting her head fall back onto the pillow. She let out a small moan, and began to increase her pace, rubbing her clit in smaller, faster circles instead of slow, large ones. Her mind drifted, searching for some kind of image or fantasy to latch onto to aid her in her efforts.

Naturally, the first thing she thought of was Chloe. Instead of banishing the thought, she welcomed it. She imagined what Chloe would look like nude, and when that wasn’t enough, she thought of Chloe between her legs, replacing Max’s fingers with her tongue.

“Oh fuck... Chloe!” Max whispered. She sped up again, feverishly stroking her clit, conscious of a wonderful pressure building right in the middle of her sex. She yanked her shirt up and over her breasts, pinching and rolling an erect nipple between the thumb and forefinger of her free hand.

The pressure inside was building rapidly now, drawing her closer and closer to the edge of something amazing, something she desperately wanted to reach.

“Almost... So fucking close...” She whined through gritted teeth. She could feel her orgasm approaching with all the force of a supernova. Just a few more seconds...

The sudden shunk of the door lock opening brought her crashing out of her state of arousal. She whipped her hand out of her underwear and struggled to pull her shirt down before the door open. Her senses, already dialled up due to her activities, went into overdrive. She wasn’t expecting visitors, and the lock was only possible to unlock from her side, therefore whoever unlocked it must not be friendly. Her suspicions were confirmed a second later when a tall, hooded figure swept into the room.

Max didn’t think twice, she leapt off the bed towards her assailant, her lightsaber flying into her hand mid-jump. She caught her attacker before they could react, and slammed them backward into the door. She ignited her lightsaber, and held the blade horizontally up against their throat.

“Who are you and what the fuck do you want?” She snarled.

“Woah, dude. Chill the fuck out.” A familiar voice came from within the hood. “It’s me.” The figure shrugged off its hood, revealing a lackadaisical grin and bright blue head of hair.

“Chloe?! Wh- what are you doing here? How did you get in? Just. What?” She deactivated her lightsaber and took a step back.

Chloe shrugged, seemingly nonplussed about just having had the deadliest weapon in the galaxy held to her throat. “Walked up, stole a cloak, put the hood up. Weirdly, no one even noticed me after I did that. You guys need way better security. Like this door, way too easy to break into.” She cast her eyes up and down Max’s body, taking in the flimsy white undershirt and panties. “Nice legs, by the way.”

Max blushed and turned away, grabbing a pair of pants and loose tunic from the open wardrobe. When she was done pulling them on, she turned to face Chloe. “You never answered my question. What are you doing here? Because as far as I was concerned, we were done.”

Chloe’s brows twitched in a frown. “You mind if I sit?” She asked, indicating the bed.

Max nodded.

When she had sat down, Chloe sighed. “I came here to apologise. You’re not a hypocrite, Max. Far from it. I mean, I think there’s a better way to deal with emotions and stuff than ignoring them, but I get it. And I – I shouldn’t have kissed you. It’s just... something about you is irresistible to me, and I don’t know what to do about it.” She looked up, and gazed directly into Max’s eyes. “I meant what I said about falling for you.” She finished.

Max’s heart skipped a beat.

She went and sat next to Chloe, and took her hand into hers. “I’m sorry too. I was probably pretty harsh on you when you didn’t deserve it.” She offered Chloe a wan smile. “And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about our kiss all day.”

Chloe looked at her, and the hope in her eyes was enough to make Max’s heart ache. “So, do you...?”

Max inhaled, then exhaled slowly. “I have feelings for you.” She admitted. “But, ” She said, before Chloe could say or do anything back, “I can’t be with you, Chloe. I’m a Jedi.” She said. “I just can’t go back on my vows like that. If they weren’t there, or if the system was different, I’d be in your arms in a heartbeat. Believe me. And I do care about you, I really do... but I’d be throwing my life away if I chose you over being a Jedi. I’m sorry.”

Chloe nodded. “I understand.” She whispered, and Max could see she was trying not to cry. “I still think you can do both... but I’m not gonna argue with you. It’s your choice alone.” Then, she surprised Max by drawing her into a hug. Max hugged back, trying to ignore how warm Chloe’s body felt against her own.

“Can I ask for one favour?” Chloe whispered into her ear.

“Of course.” Max whispered back.

Chloe drew away, just enough to bring her face in front of Max’s. “Can I kiss you? Just one more time?”

It was dangerous territory, but Max didn’t have the will to turn her down. She realised she had been wanting Chloe to kiss her from the very moment she had entered the room.
Max nodded. “Kiss me.” She breathed.

Chloe smiled, and leaned in, slowly, tentatively. Their noses brushed, and Max’s breath hitched. Then, their lips met for the second time that day, and nothing else mattered anymore.

Chloe was surprised when Max kissed back hungrily, immediately opening her mouth to let Chloe in. Neither woman complained when the kiss deepened, and Max somehow ended up straddling Chloe’s lap, fighting the urge to roll her hips into her.

Chloe found herself gripping Max’s waist, and with only a little effort, she slid her hands under the hem of the shirt, and into contact with warm skin.

Max gasped. Chloe’s touch was setting her flesh on fire, and she could faintly feel the pressure in her core returning. She had to end it, before things got out of hand.

She broke the kiss, and leaned back, panting a little. “Sorry.” She said. “I shouldn’t have let things go that far, I kinda got carried away.”

Chloe initially looked disappointed, but she masked it with a smile. “Don’t worry about it. I know I was asking a lot. And hey, for someone who’s never kissed before: just. Wow. I was ready to throw all my clothes off and scream ‘take me now!’”

Max’s face immediately turned a deep shade of red. She clambered off Chloe’s lap, studiously avoiding eye contact.

“Too far?” Chloe asked.

“No.” Max shook her head. “My mind is just kind of a mess right now. I guess Master Yoda was right about my emotions being in turmoil.”

Chloe frowned. “Who the heck is Yoda? And emotional turmoil? What?”

“Master Yoda is the greatest Jedi Master in the galaxy, and the most senior member of the Council.” Max explained. “And I... kinda yelled at him. And some other members. I told them what we’d found, and all they did was say ‘thanks but we’ll take it from here’.”

“What?!” Chloe exclaimed. “Those ungrateful fucking cumstains!” Anger passed over her face, followed by a look of fierce determination. “No. I’m not accepting this. They have no fucking idea how dangerous Nathan and his string-puller are.”

“I agree. But I was given a direct order to stay out of it. It’s out of our hands now.”

“Like hell it is.” Chloe said darkly. “We need to get out there and stop whatever they’re planning. Your Council will probably sit around talking about it until it’s too late.”

“Chloe, even if this was still our mission, we don’t know where to go or what to do!” Max exasperatedly tried to reason with her.

“Yeah, about that. I had a thought.” Chloe grinned. “Those creatures, back at the facility. They had nowhere near enough of them to make up the amount needed for an attack here, right? So they must have like a manufacturing plant or something, probably on the home planet of the lizard things. So, we find the planet, we find the factory, and then all we have to do is go there and blow it the fuck up.”

Max stared, boggle-eyed, at Chloe. “Wow. That actually makes sense.”

Chloe grinned. “Right?”

Max’s momentary enthusiasm faltered. “But I can’t leave the Temple. Force knows what the Council will do to me if I do.”

Chloe gripped her shoulders. “Max, if you save all their asses, I’m pretty sure they’ll be forgiving. Besides, I thought you Jedi were big on that.”

Max made a face. “I mean, we are, but...”

“But nothin’. We’re gonna find out where this place is, and we’re gonna go. And if you won’t come, I’mma go anyway.”

“What? Chloe no, you can’t!” Max said, alarmed.

“And why not?” Chloe crossed her arms.

“Because... Damn it. Because I promised your mom I’d keep you safe.” Max admitted.

“Well then.” Chloe’s grin was as wide as ever. “If you wanna keep me safe, I guess you’re just gonna have to come along.”

“You’re incorrigible.” Max rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t mask the smile breaking through her general reluctance.

Chloe grinned even wider. “Attagirl. Now, where do we start?”

Max thought for a long moment. “Well. If, as you say, the ysalamiri have to be from a planet, we can start by looking at the planetary index in the archives.”

“Awesome! Let’s go right now.” Chloe stood, seeming to vibrate with excitable energy.

“Hang on!” Max said. “You’re gonna need a better disguise than that old cloak. Here, you can have one of my spare sets of clothes.” She handed Chloe one of her standard grey, white and dull pink set of robes. “You can change in there.” She indicated the bathroom.
“Sweet.” Chloe made a beeline towards the bathroom, disappearing inside it. “Holy shit, you have an actual shower in here? Colour me jealous!” She called out.

Max didn’t respond, but still giggled. After a couple of minutes, Chloe emerged, now clad in Jedi robes.

“Well, how do I look?” She asked, and twirled on the spot.

“Like every other Jedi.” Max said. “Come on, the archives should be quiet at this hour.

The grin reappeared. “Lead the way, O wise Jedi.”

 

****

 

A tall figure with a proud, confident walk strutted down the corridor, heading for their quarters after an incredibly long and boring day.

A door to the left, almost at the very end of the hallway whisked open, and two figures, both female, emerged. This was no unusual occurrence, but the way they moved set the figure’s senses on edge. They were moving as if they had something to hide.

The figure darted behind a pillar, and peeked out. One of the two women she instantly recognised as that odious Max Starfield. The other she didn’t recognise, but she didn’t seem like a Jedi, and was wearing identical robes to Max to boot. Something suspicious was definitely happening here.

Victoria Chase smiled to herself. “Max Starfield sneaking an unknown woman out of her room.” She mused. “Now this is certainly worth investigating.”