"It went fine last time," Fynta argued. "As far as Sith go, Marr's pretty level headed."
Aric watched from the bed as his wife combed through her hair. He agreed that Darth Marr was a reasonable—whatever he was, probably human. That still didn't mean that Jorgan liked the idea of Fynta going alone. She glanced at him through the tiny medical mirror on her desk and sighed. "The ship is full to the brim already. If I take the entire squad aboard, it might tip things into chaos. Marr didn't ask; this was my call."
"Then don't take the entire squad, just me." The commander of Havoc Squad needed someone to watch her back, damn the regulations.
Fynta set the hairbrush on the desk and spun the chair around, propping her elbows on her knees. The small white stone Jorgan had given her years ago slipped out of her bodysuit to dangle from her neck as Fynta leaned forward. She'd never taken it off without need, claiming that it was as good as any wedding band. The serious expression on his wife's face made Aric's gut clench. "You're my XO, Jorgan, you need to stay with the ship this time. Ret'lini."
Just in case, Aric hated that word, and Fynta only called him Jorgan now when she was driving home the fact that she was Major Wolfe, Havoc Squad commander, not just his wife. "Fine," he grumbled. "Take someone else."
Fynta held up a hand and started counting off fingers. "Can't take Dorne, she's a traitor in their eyes."
"Yuun will be running all of our snazzy new spyware from the ship."
"Vik . . . well, because he's Vik."
"And Cormac's still down from the bug he picked up on Athiss." Fynta paused, tapping her chin in mock consideration. "Guess I could always take the new See-two unit. Although, he's just as useless as the one I jettisoned."
Four other members of the most elite squad the Republic could offer, and not a single one of them qualified to go aboard the Sith flagship to look after their commander. It was times like this when Jorgan wished Fynta had made Dorne her XO, instead of him.
"We will be dropping out of hyperspace in thirty minutes," Yuun reported over the intercom.
Jorgan had a bad feeling. Fynta felt it too; he could see it in her eyes when she smiled. She waited to see if Yuun had anything else to offer, then climbed onto the bed to lean over Jorgan. It would have been a perfect opportunity to flip his wife onto her back and enjoy the surprised laughter at being caught off guard. If only his stomach wasn't rolling with dread.
"It'll be fine," Fynta repeated, kissing the top of his head before rolling off to her waiting armor. Jorgan knew she was lying; they both did.
"Fine," the Cathar growled, rising to follow. "I'm at least walking you out." He grabbed his own armor and began snapping on the plates. He'd have to put it on anyway. Ret'lini.
Fynta smiled as she slapped a hand on her helmet. "I'll leave this in your care until I return." Jorgan started to argue, but the decision had already been made. Her helmet had to stay on board the Thunderclap as a show of goodwill.
At the airlock, gears ground together, muffled by the vacuum outside while the two ships connected. The Thunderclap had been directed to the port side of the Devastator, and Fynta had been assured that no one would touch their ship while under Marr's protection. The only problem was, they were surrounded by an Imperial fleet should Marr decide he no longer wanted to extent that protection.
The docking procedures were almost complete. On a whim, Jorgan took Fynta's face in both of his hands, surprisingly aware of how small she seemed, and pressed their lips together. She reciprocated, hooking her fingers over the top of his chestplate to pull him closer. Then, the airlock hissed, and he was forced to break away before it opened. Fynta held his gaze for a few seconds longer, then reached behind her neck. "Here, keep this for me too." The necklace dangled through her fingers as she held it out to Jorgan. "Give it back when we see each other again."
Jorgan accepted the small chain with a nod before turning to walk down the tunnel that led away from the airlock. Fynta valued this trinket more than any other possession. It was her sign to him that she expected to come back. Aric was overwhelmed by the need to give her something in return. Grabbing her elbow, he pulled Fynta to a stop, and slipped his glove off to remove the leather band Fynta had given him shortly after they exchanged vows.
"For luck, sir," Jorgan stated plainly, ever aware that they were within visual of the soldiers waiting in the docking bay.
Fynta accepted the band of leather, securing it in one of the pouches on her belt. "Much appreciated, Captain." Without another word, both Havoc commanders continued their progress towards the unknown.
Aric and Fynta stopped at the end of the tunnel, he could go no further. An honor guard waited, a mixture of Republic and Imperial troops lining the hallway. "Top-off and weapons check," Fynta commanded over her shoulder, almost a whisper. "Let's keep this quick."
Jorgan nodded. "I'll keep my weapons handy. Whatever happens, we'll be ready."
"Good man." Fynta took a deep breath and faced the waiting soldiers. "I'll see you soon."
Aric watched his wife walk down the line of troops to the skinny brunette in Imperial colors waiting at the end. Fynta stood tall, moving with the natural swagger of a soldier who lived in the heavy armor she wore. "Major," The woman greeted with a stiff, albeit, Imperial salute. "Darth Marr awaits you on the bridge. I trust you remember the way?" There was a note of accusation in her tone. Havoc had breached the Sith's ship shortly after the Ziost mission on the orders of the Supreme Chancellor, who had been convinced that Marr hid valuable intel on the Emperor's whereabouts. That mission had been the final straw that won the Sith's respect.
Fynta glanced back at the line of soldiers, "Everyone seems to be working together well." The statement stood as a reminder that they were on the same side again, for however long it lasted.
"We have a few veterans from Yavin to set the example," the woman answered. "And Darth Marr's orders on the matter were quite clear."
A Republic soldier stepped forward, garnering both women's attention. He had tan skin, black hair, and multiple scars disfiguring his face. "Welcome, Major. If Havoc needs anything, it's yours."
"Thanks, Lieutenant." Fynta waved away his salute, then motioned to the insignia on his chest. "You were on Yavin, weren't you?"
The man's smile widened. "I was, sir. My regiment helped storm the guard's training ground after your squad cleared the way. You didn't leave much for us to do."
Fynta put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm glad you made it through, we lost a lot of good soldiers during that op." With one final glance back at her husband, she started towards the interior of the ship. Jorgan waited until she turned the corner before returning to his duties aboard the Thunderclap. Still, the weight in his stomach grew, along with the length of his stride.
Jorgan jogged back to the Thunderclap and shut the airlock behind him. "Okay, Yuun, time to fire up the new toys." So far, things were going well. There appeared to be an even Republic to Imperial ratio, so why was his gut so tight?
The Gand stood at the holoterminal, already running the spyware through any system he could slice into. Dorne had Fynta's POV pulled up on the flat screen on the far wall. She'd outfitted the armor with one of their new micro cameras since the major's helmet was sitting on their bed.
"—Just a couple of dust-ups, and nobody's been knifed, you lost the bet. Pay up!" It was a woman's voice, low-born Imperial by the sound of her.
"Bug Boy's got audio up!" Vik called from where he sat across from Cormac playing Sabaac. Given the latter's fatigued state, the Weequay didn't even have to cheat, but the stubborn man refused to return to bed until Fynta was back on the ship. Jorgan rolled his eyes, but admitted to being impressed by the quality of sound as the two Imps continued to squabble.
"The mission isn't over yet," a man with the same accent argued. "I'm telling you, one of these Republic goons is going to pull a blade before all's said and done." Jorgan and Elara shared intrigued glances. It was odd hearing the candid opinion of Republic soldiers straight from an Imperial grunt's lips. To them, Havoc was the lowest scum, not an elite savior.
"Not a chance. They want this job done as bad as we do . . . ." The voices faded, but that conversation made it harder to think of Imperials as wet-droids instead of sentient beings.
Shaking the distractions clear, Jorgan turned towards Yuun. "Any luck on visual yet?" Havoc had gained access to a new virus that, if implemented properly, should allow them access to the ship's security feed without triggering any alarms.
"Yuun has nearly aligned the harmonies of the Thunderclap and Devastator's electrical pathways, sir."
"Has she started knocking heads yet?" Vik asked as he leaned closer to the barely conscious Cormac. Jorgan offered a warning glare when it looked like the Weequay might be considering an unpleasant prank.
"No. She's stalling in order to allow us time to get our systems online." Dorne stared at the screen with an intensity that rivaled Jorgan's, as if ready to dive through it should the need arise. Aric joined her and crossed his arms, watching the shaking images of theDevastator's interior pass by at a deliberately slow pace.
"You okay?" Jorgan asked quietly.
Elara took a slow breath. "I believe I'm having one of those gut feelings that you and the major are always going on about."
The Cathar nodded and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure everything will be fine." As he turned back towards the holo, Jorgan swallowed his urge to vomit. A squad wide bad vibe, that was a first; it couldn't bode well.
"Yuun has established video feed, Captain." The Gand stepped back as a plethora of images flooded the holoterminal from more than fifty different cameras. Just as quickly, all those not involving Fynta's trek through the ship vanished, leaving them with only ten to watch.
Jorgan leaned against the terminal and pointed to the two best angles. Yuun adjusted the dials, and the images cleared into easily followed frames. One from the back, the other from somewhere above. Fynta walked to the front of the bridge through rows of men and women working silently at terminals sunken into the floor. Not a single one glanced up from their station, Imperial training at its finest.
When the major reached the last step, she spoke, her voice echoing in the large, sparsely furnished room. "I got your message. Have you really found him?"
Marr didn't turn to greet Fynta. He stood still as a statue, staring out of the viewport with arms crossed over his broad chest. "I can sense him now." The man's deep voice rasped through his mask. "We grow closer every moment. Our former Emperor is out there."
Our former Emperor. Jorgan couldn't see Fynta's face in detail, but he imagined her eyebrows had shot up. Instead of arguing, however, she let it slide. "Do we know what could have brought him so far out? My ship's charts don't have much." Fynta stopped beside the large Sith to join his examination of the empty blackness beyond. Jorgan took a moment to appreciate the size difference in the two. Fynta barely reached Marr's shoulders and had none of the intimidating spikes. Just her beskar'gam and a smart mouth, which usually got the job done.
"There are rumors of many civilizations in the region, but our only outposts nearby were destroyed without explanation some time ago. The culprits were never determined." Still, the man stood motionless. Then suddenly, he rounded on the major, his tone switching from calm to angry in a flash. "Why travel so far? Why consume every living thing on Ziost, then turn and flee into the depths of Wild Space?" Jorgan realized that the attack on Ziost had meant something to the Empire after all. It was an affront to everything they'd held to for hundreds of years. Suddenly, they had no direction, and it terrified them.
Fynta didn't flinch. "For all his shows of power, he must have a weakness, or he wouldn't have stopped with Ziost," she answered, her tone placating. Jorgan knew better. Fynta was scared too, because she didn't have any more idea about what to do when they found the bastard than anyone else. She still had nightmares; they both did. And so far, every plan they'd considered had been doomed to failure.
"That would be reassuring, wouldn't it?" Darth Marr, the most powerful member of the Dark Council, carried on a conversation with a soldier of the Republic as if they were on equal footing. Except, Fynta wasn't just some soldier. She was a woman with a knack for surviving insurmountable odds and uniting warring factions against a single enemy. For the first time, Aric saw her as Marr did: someone to be feared, a better ally than enemy.
"If we do locate him, I believe that I can press the Dark Council into line," Marr paused, mask turning slightly towards Fynta. "But, what of the Republic? The cooperation we've received has been beneficial—but limited, and apparently unofficial. Will your government help destroy this threat?"
Even after the mess on Ziost, Saresh wouldn't publically ally with the Empire to take on this new threat as a united front despite the success of Yavin 4. Fynta sighed. "I can't speak for anyone outside my squad, but rest assured that Havoc wants to see that shabuir destroyed as much as you do."
"I'm told the Chancellor has contacted you personally. More than once. Perhaps you could initiate next time—"
The Sith's accusation died on his lips as one of the techs shot up from his terminal. "My lord! Sensor contact, fifteen klicks." The man bent close to his screen for the rest of the readout. "Small—no life form readings—some kind of probe, perhaps?"
Jorgan looked over at Yuun. "Do we have eyes on it?" Long fingers slid over the keys, calling forth another image to join the ones from the bridge to reveal a medium sized, star burst shaped projectile. Jorgan didn't recognize its make.
"Readings are identical to scans from the unknown force that attacked Korriban," the tech continued, taking his seat again.
"Raise shields. Pursue and destroy," Marr ordered.
Jorgan heard the nearest engine roar to life at the same time that the floor began to vibrate. "Hold on, everyone."
Vik stood at the radar terminal, blinking stupidly. "Uh, you guys need to see this." The Weequay waved his hand without taking his eyes off the screen. Had it not been for the unfamiliar tone in Vik's voice, Jorgan might have told him to shove it. However, something had clearly spooked the Weequay.
"Blast," Jorgan swore. A perfect checkerboard of straight-lined, red dots cluttered the screen. "It's an ambush."
Jorgan growled and jammed his finger in his ear to activate the small communications bead. "Major, come in. You need to get back to the ship now." Static met his hail, so he tried again. "Fynta?" Damn. The comms were already jammed. Whoever this attacker was, they worked quickly.
The Cathar pointed at Yuun, "We need communications back up, now." Instead of letting the urgency of their situation overwhelm him, Jorgan chose to be productive, taking up another terminal to aid in the attempt of reestablishing contact with their commanding officer.
"Come about 180 degrees!" Marr's voice grabbed Jorgan's attention again. They were taking evasive maneuvers. When a projectile slammed into the Imperial ship hard enough to jar the Thunderclap, Jorgan grabbed the console to steady himself.
"We've been boarded! All decks reporting hostiles," another voice called over the commotion of alarms.
"Yuun, comms?" Jorgan's chest squeezed tighter as another line of code failed to break through the alien firewall.
The Gand hunched over the terminal, shaking his head vigorously. "This one apologizes and will keep working." Yuun replied, the lack of third person honorific being a testament to his stress level.
"I'll sweep for boarders." Jorgan heard Fynta call, and he couldn't stop the growl of annoyance that tore from his throat. Blasted woman, get back to the ship! But, she wouldn't, because there were lives at stake, and Fynta wouldn't leave them. Damn it, she doesn't have her helmet.
Jorgan did the only thing he could think to do. He reverted to his ops command days and began dishing out orders. "Dorne, follow the major's progress through the ship while Yuun is working on comms. Vik, get off your ass and guard the airlock. I'm going after her." To his relief, the Weequay didn't argue. "Cormac," Jorgan put an arm around the big man and hauled him upright with a grunt. "I need you on the radar, if anything changes, I want to know about it." He deposited his friend in the seat and went to get his rifle.
"No can do," Vik shouted from the hall. "Airlock's jammed shut. We're not going anywhere unless you can breathe in zero-G."
Jorgan ground his teeth and swore under his breath. The Cathar stormed up to the door and put his boot to it with enough force to make the seals groan in complaint. He might be able to make it with his suit sealed, but that would put everyone else aboard the Thunderclap at risk.
"Hey!" Vik leapt back. "Did you hear me, furball? The seal's broken; there isn't any oxygen out there."
Jorgan glared at the Weequay before admitting defeat. "Fine, stay here and make sure no one comes through."
When Jorgan took up his post at the terminal again, it was to find Fynta fighting droids alongside a mixture of Imperial and Republic troops. They followed her lead without question as she led a massacre through Marr's ship. So far, none had gotten close enough to do any damage, but these droids, these Skytroopers, were completely new tech. They'd cropped up in a couple of scuffles on Outer Rim planets, but all that had been left by the time reinforcements arrived were useless pieces of scrap, as if they self-destructed anytime one received a catastrophic injury.
"The shield generator is under attack. Defend it," Marr instructed over Fynta's frequency.
The back and forth between the Sith and Jorgan's wife annoyed him. "How can Marr talk to her, but we can't?"
"Signals are being jammed by both fleets. This one is ashamed to admit that the Thunderclap is caught in the middle. This one will keep trying," Yuun replied without looking up.
Jorgan snarled in frustration and began pacing. If Marr was jamming frequencies outside his ship, and this other fleet outside of theirs, that put the Thunderclap in a veritable signal void between the two. He sighed, at least they still had eyes and ears on the major. Then, the video feed went dark, throwing the terminal into shadow.
"Sensors have detected enemies in the port section. Destroy them," Marr commanded, proving that they still had audio. The echo of blaster fire and screams set Jorgan's teeth on edge.
"Aren't we in the port section?" Vik called from the hallway.
"Shab. Are you guys getting any of this?" Fynta asked. About damn time, the Cathar growled inwardly. As far as he knew, this was the first time she'd tried to hail them. "Jorgan, do you copy? You've got enemy droids coming your way."
"Don't go that way!" Someone shouted, Imperial by the sound of it. Jorgan could hear Fynta's boots on the metal floor; she was running. "Blasted droids have the run of the place."
"Where else are you going to go?" Fynta asked. "Stand and fight."
Blaster fire continued in the background long enough that it eventually became just another sound. Meanwhile, Fynta kept trying to contact her ship. Jorgan heard the familiar sound of Fynta's rifle, not a lot of guns had percussion like hers. When it stopped, he heard voices again. Imperial and Republic, but a lot closer than the troops she'd run past. Jorgan listened carefully, trying to pick up on clues to determine her state of wellbeing.
"Get this blast door shut. That shield won't hold forever," the Imperial shouted.
"We can't just leave them in there! We have to help," a Republic soldier argued.
"We have to hold this ground," the Imperial replied in a calm voice, though the undertones were strained. "They have their job, we have ours."
Jorgan heard an explosion, close enough to make the Thunderclap shutter, followed by a scream, and his heart pounded against his ribs while he waited to hear the damage report. What the Cathar wouldn't give for a video feed, if only to see if Fynta was injured.
"Drop the shield and let me through," Fynta ordered. "I can handle this." Her tone sent a shiver through Jorgan. She was out for blood, which made him wonder who the man was that had screamed. The screeching of bent tracks followed the order, and Jorgan just barely caught her whispered curse. "Survived Yavin to die here. What a waste." Jorgan understood then. The soldier must have been the one she'd talked to on her way in. The one with the badly scarred face.
Jorgan stood motionless, unable to think of anything else to do while he listened to the sounds of battle on the other end of the comms. He couldn't even offer encouragement or let Fynta know that her squad was alive. "Sir," Dorne nearly whispered, pulling his attention away for a moment. "I'm afraid I won't be able to regain control of the video feed. They've knocked out the cameras on the ship itself." The woman glanced at the flat screen. "And, her personal view is being jammed. We'll have to make do with audio."
Jorgan glanced at Yuun. The Gand visibly shook, and Aric decided not to ask about comms again, he knew Yuun would pull through. He always did. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
Dorne split her time between looking over Cormac's shoulder and listening to the sounds of battle at the terminal with Jorgan. Whatever was going on, there was a lot of it. He hated standing by, feeling useless. It reminded him too much of his ops commander days on Ord Mantell when the mission was going down the toilet, and all he could do was watch. Suddenly, he was back there, watching a young sergeant, bleeding and bruised, fight through an Imperial volcano fortress, and knowing full well that she probably wouldn't survive.
But she did, Jorgan reminded himself sternly. That mission, and so many others.
The blaster fire stopped and Fynta's voice filled the ship again. "Regroup at the bridge, we can't lose control of this ship."
"Right away, sir," the Imperial replied.
The Thunderclap jarred violently. Metal scraping across metal so loud that everyone reacted by covering their ears. "Uh, Captain." Cormac motioned Jorgan over. "We've got problems."
The neat line of red dots began to spread out like a hive of bees shaken from the nest. The final assault had begun. "Yuun . . . ."
"Yuun has achieved comlink contact!" The Gand almost shouted, then darted to the bridge.
Jorgan's heart skipped a beat. "Good work, prep us for takeoff as soon as we receive orders from Fynta." He jammed his finger in his ear again. "Major, do you read?" The ship rocked again, causing Dorne to lose her footing in her attempt to take up the Gand's abandoned terminal.
"Jorgan, is that you? I've been trying to contact yo—" The ship leaped wildly, cutting her off. She must be close.
Comms blinked out for a second, during which Yuun cut in over the intercom. "Yuun cannot withdraw from the ship. Connections are jammed."
"Fynta, do you copy? We can't detach. Repeat, airlock is blown out, and docking clamps aren't responding." The light had come back on at some point, reconnecting them with the major. "We can't come in, and we can't detach. Do you copy?"
"I copy, Jorgan. I'm on my way." A little of the tension left his chest. She'd responded. They had comms again, and she was almost to the ship.
The next strike nearly flung Jorgan and Dorne on the floor, and he urged Fynta to move faster before they were physically ripped from Marr's ship. "Cut us loose, then get your ass on board, sir," the Cathar glowed. Vik neglected to remark on Jorgan's breach of protocol when he stumbled up the stairs and threw himself into one of the seats lining the main room.
Aric heard Fynta's boots over the audio between explosions and blaster fire as she ran down the hall; she'd be coming up on them any minute now. The hydraulics outside the ship groaned, and the Thunderclap broke free. Fynta was just outside the door, all they had to do was reattach somewhere else to collect her.
Jorgan staggered onto the bridge as another nearby explosion shook the deck. He motioned to Yuun, who gave up the pilot's seat without a word. "We're clear, but I'm seeing a lot of red dots on the sensor grid out here. What's the plan?" The Cathar waited for directions to an available airlock close by.
The silence stretched, but Jorgan knew they hadn't lost connection because he could hear Fynta breathing. Come on. We need to move.
"If you see an opening to escape, take it." Fynta's voice came across completely calm, unwavering in its determination. "Someone has to make it back to the Republic."
Jorgan's heart stopped. Panic morphed into anger. "That's not an option, Major!" His rage only grew in Fynta's silence, anger at her for suggesting it, with Marr for dragging them out here, even with the Republic for not heeding their warnings. "We are not leaving you here!"
Fynta took a deep breath. "I'm giving you an order, Captain." Her tone hardened. "Move it."
Elara put a hand on Jorgan's shoulder. He glanced up, and the medic nodded, eyes closed. Fynta had given him a direct order, in front of witnesses. Still, his hands were frozen on the controls. What was happening that kept her from getting to them? Had she been injured?
"We have an opening to jump, sir," Yuun clicked softly from the co-pilot's chair.
Jorgan all but held his breath, answering through surreal numbness. "Understood. We'll make sure reinforcements and medical crews are ready when you catch up . . . ." He wanted to say that he loved her, that she had better be right behind them, or at least still be here when he got back, but it all felt too final. "Good luck."
"You too," Fynta replied. She knew how he felt. He would tell her in person soon.
Aric pushed the controls forward while Yuun activated the hyperdrive. They broke through the line of enemy ships to make their escape. Ice settled into Jorgan's veins as their conversation from years ago echoed in his mind. "Think we'll ever be left behind?" It was just after rescuing the Deadeyes, when Fynta explained the Baslan'shevla. He'd looked her in the eye and sworn that he'd never let that happen.
The stars stretched before Aric, and he was forced to face the fact that he'd just broken the only promise that mattered to his wife. He'd left her behind.