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"Jedi are forbidden attachments," Masayoshi said, with conviction.

"Mmhm." Gotou said, one leg folded under himself, elbow on the table, chin in his hand. He wasn't really listening, because this was at least the fifth time that the tow-headed, wide-eyed country kid had started in on this line of reasoning in the three days they'd been trapped together in this crummy transport ship. Gotou had stopped keeping count of a lot of things, but the time until they dropped out of hyperspace at their destination was not one of them. "Jedi are forbidden a lot of things, kid."

Masayoshi's head whipped around. He'd been talking at Gotou more than with him, and Gotou immediately regretted engaging. Masayoshi leaned forward in the jump seat, blue eyes wide and glittering slightly. "So you know about the Jedi?"

Four alarm klaxons went off in Gotou's head, but he was in too deep now. "Just stories. You know as well as I do that they died out a long time ago." He looked away from Masayoshi, at the opposite bulkhead wall, and thought idly to himself about how much nicer it was when he ran these supply runs solo, without the nagging voice of a passenger. "I don't get why you're so obsessed with them anyway, they've been extinct for longer than you or I have been around."

"Because they were heroes ," Masayoshi said, insistent. He looked smaller than he was, folded up in the jump seat, wearing older, ill-fitting clothes. It was quite the different look from the holodrama idol that Gotou knew him to be – well, at least that was the case before things had taken an abrupt nosedive in the career department. That sort of happened when you got on the wrong side of an occupying army.

A former model and holodrama actor who had to ship off-planet in a hurry, and found the one transport ship who didn't ask any questions in an entire launch bay. Another in a long list of Gotou's recent regrets. He didn't ask questions if the credits were good, but he was starting to get the idea that maybe he should.

"Well, the Jedi won't save you if the First Order's propaganda machine gets a hold of you," Gotou said idly, scratching his jaw with a finger. He wondered for a moment if there was a bounty, then felt a little ashamed at the thought. Gotou wasn't exactly wanting for money, he made a meager living in a transport ship but it was enough to get by on, and he kept his nose out of interplanetary affairs as best he could.

"They don't need to save me!" Masayoshi said. His voice had shifted to slightly indignant. "I'm gonna be one!"

Gotou straightened, just a little. He looked square-on at Masayoshi, then couldn't keep the snicker in any longer. "You?" Gotou somehow managed not to break into outright gales of laughter, but only by a little bit. "You, a Jedi? " Another suppressed chuckle. "Doesn't that require, you know, a little..." he grasped around for the term a bit, then raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. "Woo~woo?"

" Woo-woo?" Masayoshi repeated, scandalized. "And why can't I be one? He folded his arms and glared at Gotou, insulted at the insinuation that he wasn't capable. "I'll have you know I've been training for this sort of thing for a very long time!"

"Really," Gotou said, dryly, unimpressed. He wiggled his fingers again, but did not say 'woo-woo.' Because he'd probably laugh. Again. "Exactly how have you been training to be something that's been extinct so long your daddy probably never even saw one?"

Masayoshi's brow furrowed, drew in tight. Gotou inhaled his words a little, winced, but didn't retract them. There were so many shattered families in the galaxy that it seemed a miracle that one would have surviving family members. "I never knew my dad," Masayoshi said finally. "My grandpa raised me. He believed in them. The Jedi, that is."

"And he wanted you to be one, because of his own misguided sense of heroism," Gotou filled in the blanks. "And without any woo-woo."

"Would you stop calling it that?" Masayoshi snapped. "He didn't want me to be one, either. Said they're all cursed." Masayoshi chewed his lip and looked away, down along the tight curve of the ship toward the cockpit. Gotou waited for him to speak again, to say something else about this ridiculous plan for this country-boy-idol turned runaway to be a Jedi , of all things, but instead Masayoshi folded up into himself, half-turning away in the swivel of the jump seat, and staring along the bulkhead toward the back of the ship.

Gotou felt a little bad, but not enough so to offer an apology. He stood up and headed for the cockpit. They'd be dropping out of light speed soon – a supply drop at a small waystation, before continuing on another jump toward the edge of the Outer Rim – and the navigation system on this piece of crap transport ship wasn't always the most reliable. He hesitated a moment before ducking into the cockpit and glanced back, but Masayoshi had pulled his legs up onto the chair, arm folded around them, hugging them tight to his chest; and his head lying atop his knees with his face turned away, tawny hair shadowing all that Gotou could see. He shrugged, although for what reason he wasn't sure, as no one could see him do it, then lowered his head so he didn't knock it against the low clearance of the cockpit.

Jedi , he thought, and snorted in derision.

 


 

 

He'd bought the transport ship when he was nineteen, angry at everything and wanting to get away. He had wide-eyed idealism at his side, he was going to go join the Resistance, be a pilot, be a hero . Reality had settled in when he realized that most of the galaxy wasn't interested in the politics of two warring factions inasmuch as it bothered the trade routes and bartering that happened between the many different worlds and cultures. So he worked on the piece of crap ship, and hauled freight and supplies between worlds, saw the glamorous side of the universe known as dirty, dingy spaceports and kept his nose as clean as one could, skirting the line of smuggling.

Gotou had been loading crates – freight of indeterminate origin, he never asked close about what he was hauling, even though plausible deniability with the First Order was not a thing that existed – when he saw Masayoshi bartering frantically with a pair of smugglers two docks down. It was old G'resh the Bothan and his partner droid, and they were sizing up Masayoshi like a new piece of meat. Probably meaning to take his money and then turn him over to whomever would pay the highest bounty; or possibly just rob him and jettison him out the airlock.

"Where you headed?" Gotou had asked, and the Bothan swore at him and stormed off. Masayoshi had glanced after the smugglers, before looking back at Gotou, eyes tired and old despite his young face.

"Anywhere but here," he said. "My credits are good, I can pay, I just need-"

"Don't know, don't care," Gotou said. "Money's money, help me get these crates loaded. I'm prepping to launch."

Of course, after a few hours good sleep, and a meal, Masayoshi was talkative and bubbly, and Gotou regretted ever bringing the noisy human on board, but he'd made his bed and would have to deal with it, at least until he got his cargo to its destination and would bid the other man farewell.

"I'm surprised you fly this thing by yourself," Masayoshi said, standing in the threshold of the cockpit, head ducked to not hit the bulkhead ceiling. "Aren't most standard Corellian transports a two-pilot rig?"

Gotou ignored him, a navigational chart up as he scrutinized it, trying to plot the best route around some of the more frequently contested planetary spheres. He'd had the holonet up earlier, and while most of the news reports were filtered through various agencies and propaganda machines, it was better than nothing. "Are you just talking to fill the silence, or was that a proper question?" Gotou asked, tapping some of the planets in the three-dimensional map before inputting coordinates into the navcomputer.

"I asked a proper question," Masayoshi said indignantly.

"I already told you, no questions about me, or my ship." Gotou tapped another planet and considered it. Masayoshi watched him in silence.

"Why not?"

"Are you twelve?" Gotou said, and glanced over at Masayoshi with a mix of annoyance and aggravation. "You don't need to know jack squat about me, what if the First Order picks you up and decides they're gonna punish whoever helped you? I'm not putting my neck on the chopping block, here. I already know too much about," he gestured in the air, arm flung back toward Masayoshi without his head turned in that direction. "You and your woo~woo plans."

"It's not called that," Masayoshi said.

"You think I don't know that?" Gotou finally turned, and pinned Masayoshi with a full-on glare. "Get out of my cockpit, some of us are trying to do some actual work, around here."

Masayoshi said, strangely calm, "we're not going to make it to the waystation. You need to pull us from hyperspace now."

"Who's flying this thing, me or you?" Gotou was more than irritated now. He didn't get angry, but this clown from some out-of-the-way planet who was used to some measure of fame was really beginning to rub him the wrong way. "You need to stop -"

Abruptly, the entire vessel shook. A warning alarm went off, loud and insistent, and Gotou spun in his chair, swiping his arm through the holographic map to dispel it, and located the lever that took them to light speed. He yanked it down and the flashing, elongated tunnel of lights dropped instantly to single pinpricks, a canopy of dots on an infinite canvas of dark.

They had dropped from light speed at the edge of the system. Gotou slammed his hand against the navigational map until it spit out a name for him: the Haval system, a system with a large, fading star. The only easily habitable location was a pair of moons that orbited a large gas giant; but with the system's sun dying a slow, natural death the residents of the planet's two moons were in the slow process of being relocated.

Naturally, that meant the abandoned moonscapes played haven to a host of scum and villainy, who all knew that the dying star still had centuries to go before it went supernova and obliterated the planets still caught in uneven orbit. The waystation was not in this system and Gotou tended to avoid the twin moons of Haval for a host of reasons, the first being that it had been claimed by, and was run by, Hutts.

"Okay, we're out of light speed," Gotou said sourly. The alarm was still going off, several lights flashing insistently across his console. Gotou made a fist and slammed it down on the corner of the console and the lights stopped flashing. A moment later, the alarm cut off as well. Masayoshi looked nervously at the rig, then glanced at the ceiling.

"Is the ship all right?"

"She's fine, it's all fine. " Gotou half-turned. " Why did we jump out here ? Do you know where we are ?"

Masayoshi was staring out the forward viewport. He moved forward a little, into the cockpit proper, and seated himself without permission in the co-pilot's station. Gotou bristled a little, but Masayoshi didn't touch anything, captivated by the swirling colors of the gas giant Haval. "Where are we?"

"Hey," Gotou said authoritatively, and Masayoshi's attention snapped back to him. "Focus, kid."

"Stop calling me kid , I'm not that young!" He frowned. "Why did we drop out of light speed?"

Gotou stared at him. "You told me to, just a moment ago."

"Oh." Masayoshi rubbed his hand over his nose. "Something must have happened to where we're going, then. Grandpa used to get upset when I did that, zone out and say something and it would come true." He frowned, and squinted out the viewport at the planet. "That's... not where we're going, is it?"

"It's where we're going now , since it has a refueling station. There's enough travelers about there, I'm sure you can find someone who would take you..." Gotou glanced to the side, at Masayoshi, then continued. "The rest of the way, wherever it is you're headed."

"Oh," Masayoshi said again, his voice quiet and small.

 


 

 

He didn't want to run. It didn't seem right, the fact that he had turned tail and fled like that. Masayoshi had idolized heroes since he was a small thing, standing at the table in the small homestead he shared with his grandfather, chin on the tabletop as he watched the holonet reports with wide-eyes. A lot of the stories were forbidden, but romanticized... the Jedi, the Rebellion, heroes all.

Masayoshi's grandfather hadn't discouraged him, not quite. He celebrated the idea of heroes, standing up for what was right, he taught Masayoshi from the time he was small that he was destined to be strong, to stand for something... but whenever Masayoshi asked about the Jedi, the old man's eyes would darken, and the conversation ended there.

Their world wasn't exactly backwater, but it wasn't the center of the galaxy. Masayoshi didn't know much of what lay beyond his own horizon, he worked hard around his grandfather's house, took his schooling seriously, and was approached to act in holodramas not long after his grandfather passed. It didn't seem like a serious thing, the silly little movies, but they got popular quickly, and suddenly he was being scouted by a major holodrama agency, based out of the Republic's homeworld system.

His sudden boost in popularity made him a bit of a target, something that Masayoshi didn't mind – he was young, and brash, and he stood for what was right ... Except, the holodrama agency didn't exist anymore, now. The entire system was gone. Obliterated. The First Order arrived on his out-of-the-way home planet, and the actors were labeled dissidents, and were summarily rounded up.

While Masayoshi wasn't exactly a pursued fugitive, they had been looking for him at the spaceport that took him off-planet. He was to be made an example of, just like all the rest; and there wasn't much that Masayoshi could do letting himself be marched off to execution like that. So he ran. Like a coward.

There was something that drew him to the scruffy-looking transport pilot in the spaceport. He could have ignored the man interfering in his arranging passage off-world, but – he'd had moments like this before, where the universe resolved itself into one point of clarity, a direction that he was intended to go.

The Force exists in all things, his grandfather had said, peeling fruit at the table, eyes on the small blade and not on Masayoshi. You must not ignore it, when it calls to you.

And it had called to him, and put him aboard this creaky old transport ship. It had called to him again, a warning, avoid the Patarna system; a waystation that they were headed toward. Sitting in the copilot station of the cockpit, eyes on the gas giant that filled most of the forward viewscreen, Masayoshi felt it call for the third time in as many days, and this time he said nothing, sat on it, focused it inward. You're meant to be here, whatever here means.

Gotou didn't pay any attention to Masayoshi. He was concentrated on the task of actually flying the ship, flipping switches and frowning and scowling as if all there was to piloting was making a face like he'd sat on a tack. He caught Masayoshi glancing at him, and his expression darkened further. "Once we land," he said, words sharp. "You're off my ship."

"But I paid you," Masayoshi said, and Gotou looked away, grunted a little, and didn't answer.

Haval was between the moon and its star, giant and luminous. The moon was dark, caught in a night that lasted weeks at a time due to its slow orbit around the gas giant; but it was dark in another sense, abandoned, desolate. Lights still lit the planet, but the air traffic was minimal. Everyone who remained here had a reason for it; either too poor to move on to greener pastures, or for other reasons.

Gotou had put a commlink in his ear, as they flew low over the city. He was negotiating with a traffic controller of some kind, in a language that wasn't the common tongue. Masayoshi knew a fair bit of a few different languages, but he wasn't familiar with this one; and Gotou gave a snort and a cursory sign-off that was universal, despite the unfamiliar words. "I really hate Hutt territories," Gotou said, taking the commlink from his ear. "They charge an arm and a leg. And a tail," he added after a moment, and chuckled to himself.

Masayoshi perked up a little. "After you've picked up the parts you need, then where are we off to?"

"It's no concern of yours," Gotou said. "You paid me passage to get you off that rock you called a homeworld, and I did my share. Wherever you go now, that's on you."

Masayoshi chewed on his lip, and was silent.

 


 

 

The spaceport was noisy, bustling full of freighters and small transport ships. Masayoshi followed Gotou down the exit ramp – he didn't have baggage, save for a small satchel worn over his head – and Gotou kept going even when Masayoshi stopped at the bottom of the ramp, hesitating.

He watched the transport pilot walk off without a backward glance, then sighed and stepped off the ramp.

Haval's sky could be seen easily from the spaceport, dark with the luminous gas giant huge in the sky. It was cold, and Masayoshi shivered. He wasn't dressed for the weather. He glanced around, saw Gotou heading for a pit crew of several smaller creatures and a few things that might be droids, cobbled together from spare parts. He didn't recognize any of them, but Gotou seemed to.

Masayoshi looked back at the ship. It was an old freighter, a junker – he'd seen worse, but he'd also seen significantly better. He wanted to be back here when Gotou was done, because maybe he would have changed his mind. Something told him he needed to stick close, regardless – and then he heard a low slide whistle, that shot sharply into a high pitch. He turned his head, attention already elsewhere, and went in that direction.

 


 

 

Gotou looked up from his negotiations with the pit crew – they controlled the flow of parts into and out of the spaceport more so than any of the underworld bosses that ran the remnants of the world. He saw Masayoshi walk off, away from his ship, one hand on the satchel he wore over his head. There was a moment of – something, he couldn't quite describe, but then the squat mechanic chattered something at him in a broken mess of the common tongue, and Gotou had to put his attention back on deciphering its syntax first. When he looked back up at the dock, Masayoshi was gone.

 


 

 

The astromech droid was old, its white finish stained yellow with decades of neglect. The flowerpot-shaped head twisted around and it let loose a long slide whistle of panic as it rocked in place, unable to move forward or back.

There was an entire line of astromech droids standing against the far wall, most in a powered-down state. They were all old models, mostly R2 units with various color schemes and designations, but there were a smattering of other models mixed among them; however the only one that was powered on (despite a restraining bolt, Masayoshi noted), was the old red and once-white R5 unit.

Masayoshi's grandfather had a friend who would visit with an astromech droid. That had been an R2 unit; a popular model for decades, and as his grandfather and his friend caught up Masayoshi would talk to the droid, who would answer his questions with cheerful whistles and beeps. He'd learned binary that way, in fits and starts, and he knew enough now to know that that R5 droid certainly didn't belong with the others.

He slipped around the corner. There had to be at least fifteen droids there, and when he got closer he realized they were two deep. He'd never seen so many in his life, one or two at a time was one thing, but there was a small army present. "Hello," Masayoshi said softly, and the R5 unit's head twisted around sharply, its camera-lens eye focusing on Masayoshi. Once it got a good look at him, it let out a long string of beeps and whistles, frantic. Masayoshi crouched in front of it and put one hand on the restraining bolt, trying to find its release. "I'll get you out of here, don't worry."

"Hey!"

Masayoshi straightened and turned around. He hadn't found the release mechanism on the bolt, but he knew that he'd be able to get it off. From around the same corner he'd come was a tall, thin man with skin a pallid green color. It took a moment, but then Masayoshi realized the thick scarf worn around his neck was actually lekku , a head-tail, and the man a Twi'lek. "What are you doing to my droid?" the Twi'lek hissed through filed teeth.

"He's not your droid," Masayoshi said, indignation making him bolder than he'd be otherwise. "He said he was ambushed, and a restraining bolt was put on him!"

The Twi'lek didn't seem impressed by Masayoshi's bravado. "That is my droid," he said. "If he's damaged you'll pay."

"It isn't right, you can't just take someone's droid," Masayoshi said, hands on his hips. He noticed the Twi'lek was flicking something with one hand, and recognized the small commlink in his hand.

"Masayoshi!" Gotou said sharply. He'd come around the opposite way, the long way around the scavenger ship in the bay. Masayoshi's head swiveled toward Gotou and he lit up for a moment with happiness. "What the hell are you doing over here-"

"Is this your crewman," the Twi'lek said, and Gotou drew up short. The emotion that flickered across his face was almost too fast for Masayoshi to catch. Fear . "He is accusing me of theft, master trader."

"It is just a small misunderstanding, Wen," Gotou said with a tight smile. "He is my crewman, but he's green, never been off-planet before, you see..."

Masayoshi took a small step backward, felt the astromech droid bump into his hand. He located the restraining bolt without looking at it, and this time the release gave with no difficulty, the bolt dropping to the floor with a solid, heavy sound. The Twi'lek heard the sound, head twisting around and zeroing in on the restraining bolt on the floor. The R5 unit gave a loud whistle followed by several beeps, as it went from a two-legged restrained mode back to its usual tilted-body state of three wheels.

Several things happened at the same time.

Wen snarled something in a language that Masayoshi didn't speak, as two large, burly aliens came around the corner armed with stormtrooper-grade blaster rifles. Masayoshi ducked purely on instinct, as the first of several blaster bolts went flying through the space his head had occupied just moments before. Gotou lunged forward and shoved the Twi'lek, and he staggered back, right through the shooting range of the two Shistavanens. "Run, idiot ," Gotou shouted. Masayoshi didn't have to be told twice.

The R5 unit skittered after them, making a cacophony of beeps and whistles as the two hired guns of Wen fired in their direction. The blaster bolts hit ships and cargo around him as he ran, and other transporters (and, more likely smugglers) dodged and ducked behind cover. Gotou's ship was ready and waiting, and Gotou was two steps behind him, urging him to run faster.

Gotou ducked around the side, yanking some of the refueling hoses off of the overhang of part of the ship, but then the two lumbering aliens were around the corner, raising their blasters to fire again and he left the rest to hang. Masayoshi hesitated on the ramp, waiting for Gotou, but ducked back up to relative safety when several blaster bolts hit part of the ship, scorching the finish.

The R5 unit shot up the ramp as Gotou ran the long way around the ship, and it slid past Masayoshi into the main holding area, still yelling in binary squeaks and slide whistles. Gotou was last aboard, slamming the ramp closure button halfway up the ramp and taking the corner toward the cockpit so fast his shoulder slammed into a bulkhead. He swore – not in common – and threw himself through the opening to the cockpit and half into the pilot's seat, slapping buttons and yanking levers.

"Shields!" he yelled, as a blaster bolt scorched the forward viewport. Masayoshi hesitated in the threshold of the cockpit as Gotou yelled again, " shields !" and gestured wildly toward the co-pilot's station. Masayoshi didn't have the first clue what he was gesturing at but he dove at the console and slammed a few buttons at random, as the entire ship started to hum to life.

"I thought you said you could pilot this thing by yourself!" Masayoshi said as Gotou yelled, "the other blue lever, idiot- "

Masayoshi yanked the other blue lever and another blaster bolt ricocheted, this time off the shields. "I thought you said-" he started again, but Gotou interrupted him again, this time with; "better strap in, this isn't gonna be fun!"

The entire ship lurched and groaned as the rest of the fuel lines got yanked straight out of the ground. Gotou winced a little, as another ship rose from the fuel port at the same time. "You had to go pick a fight with Wen ," he said, as they rose above the space port.

"I wasn't picking a fight with anyone, that man was a thief ," Masayoshi said hotly, as Gotou pointed past Masayoshi without looking. "What?" Masayoshi said, head swiveling in the direction that Gotou was pointing. "What-?"

"Press the flashing button," Gotou said.

"I thought you said you didn't need a copilot," Masayoshi said as he did as instructed.

"I never said that," Gotou said. The ship that had launched at the same time didn't seem to be in pursuit, but he was watching both the forward viewport and the radar for anything that might crop up. "You asked if this was a two-pilot rig, I didn't say squat."

"Why are you flying a two-pilot ship solo -"

Gotou yanked up on the controls as a small starfighter shot up from below. " Shit! "

Masayoshi went back in the copilot's seat and almost slammed his head against the bulkhead behind it. He hadn't strapped in, and he thought he heard the sound of an astromech bouncing off a wall behind them somewhere. "Watch it!"

"Shut," Gotou angled the ship up, crawling up and away from the moon's atmosphere, " up. "

There was no pursuit. Masayoshi stayed silent (and now, belted in) until they were headed out and away from the moon. Gotou kept his eyes on the readout, a scowl firmly in place. "Well, we got the fuel cells half recharged," he said. "Seems like I'm going the long way 'round to get this cargo delivered, and it's your fault." He glanced up at Masayoshi, eyes narrowed.

Masayoshi shrugged loosely.

From behind them, the R5 unit blatted a noise. Gotou's head shot up, as if he had just now remembered that there was a third passenger on his ship. "Did that thing come with us?"

"I told him he could," Masayoshi said.

"You stole a droid from Wen," Gotou said, his expression swinging back around to Masayoshi, and shifting from angry to exasperated to resigned. " Fuck. "

 


 

 

Once safely to light speed ("I'm taking you as far as the Ovelbon system." "That sounds good, Gotou-san!") Gotou walked back to the main area of the ship. Masayoshi had already retreated back, and was sitting on the floor in front of the astromech droid, a cleaning rag in one hand and a small, less-yellow spot on the droid's surface to show how far he'd got. "I can't believe," Gotou said as he stood, arms folded. "That you stole a droid . From Wen. "

The R5 unit swung its flowerpot-shaped head in Gotou's direction, and made a rude noise at him.

"I didn't steal him," Masayoshi said, still scrubbing. "He was kidnapped. I rescued him."

"You can't kidnap a droid, a droid's not a person ," Gotou said.

The R5 unit beeped at him.

"That's not very nice," Masayoshi admonished the droid. The droid made a noise reminiscent of blowing a raspberry at Masayoshi and beeped again. "No, I'm not telling him that either." Another beep, and a whistle. Masayoshi looked over at Gotou. "His name is Sunny," he said, and this time the droid's noises sounded more cheerful.

"Great," Gotou said, and sat down. "Let me guess, this thing's carrying some secret message or missive for some important member of the Resistance and we have to help it on its mission."

Masayoshi looked up at the droid, and then over to Gotou, and made a face. "This isn't a holodrama," he said. "That sort of thing doesn't really happen." The droid blatted, and Masayoshi eyed him suspiciously. Then it whistled and chirped, and Masayoshi rolled his eyes. "No," he said, then looked back to Gotou. "Do you speak binary?"

"Do I look like I speak binary?"

"Well, you're a transporter, right? I'm sure you've had to ferry droids, it would make things easier if you knew-"

Gotou held up his hand. "The droid's not carrying a secret message, right?"

"No." Masayoshi scrubbed another spot of grime. "But he is lost."

"Great," Gotou said. "Have fun taking little lost R5 unit home. Once we get to Ovelbon, you're on your own."

Masayoshi resumed scrubbing, and somehow kept the smile off his face. After all, that was exactly what Gotou had said just a few hours ago.


-2-

 

Two Months Later

 

The benefit of buying an old junker transport was primarily that it was cheap. The downsides, on the other hand, were many – including a lot of inventive maintenance on the fly, as dropping out of light speed with a leaky coolant line meant a lot of Bad Things that Gotou did not want to experience firsthand. The main coolant line ran under the grating in the engine room, and that was where he was currently, wedged creatively between two large pipes, one disconcertingly warm, as he tried to patch this line for the third time in two weeks.

"I need the spanner," he yelled up at the pulled-open grate. There was shuffling, whirring, and then rude blatting from Sunny, who sat at the lip of the opening. "The spanner," Gotou said again, waving his hand in the air inefficiently. If he had to crawl up there to find his missing tool he was going to be in a foul mood. He gritted his teeth at the flurry of whistles and beeps and finally yelled, "Masayoshi, your dumbass droid can't find the spanner!"

After a few moments of silence (in which the coolant line hissed alarmingly), Masayoshi's head and shoulders leaned over the lip, and Gotou could see him. "Sunny says you already have the 'spanner," he said.

"I do not ," Gotou turned and looked around himself, at all the tools he had wedged into creative places around him. He spotted the spanner after a moment, tucked between two pipes for safekeeping. He muttered something foul to himself and grabbed it, using the tool to tighten the bolts that held the coolant line in place. The hissing did not stop.

"How goes it?" Masayoshi said, as Sunny beeped and whistled, probably something questionable about either Gotou's sexual history or parentage. "The coolant levels are still indicating low."

"She's gonna need a new coolant line," Gotou said through gritted teeth. "I don't know where we can find one that doesn't have stormtroopers all over the place."

"Scavenger planets?" Masayoshi suggested, as Gotou tightened the last bolt with a grunt. The line still hissed, but not alarmingly so. He'd have to find the leak and patch it directly.

"Is that a suggestion?" Gotou said. "Or a suggestion? "

Masayoshi frowned, then hauled himself up out of the overhang, allowing Gotou to squeeze out from his position. "I think it's the first one," he said. "I haven't had any of the second one in a while."

"Okay," Gotou said. He popped his head out of the opening and pointed to the half-turned over toolbox. "Give me some sealant, I'm going to patch the line. Then we'll pop out of light speed and take a look at the map, see what sort of junkyards are in the area."

Masayoshi, pleased, scooped up the roll of sealant and handed it to Gotou. "I can look based on our targeted arrival," he said, but Gotou waved his hand above his head.

"That's First Order controlled territory. With Wen's bounty we don't want to hang around in their systems." He ducked back down into the pit, thought about how that bounty would be hanging around scavenger planets especially, with the pall of desperation that hung over those down and out. It wouldn't do to dwell on the fact that there was now a bounty on his head – all thanks to the still-somewhat-annoying perpetual pair of passengers he seemed to be stuck with. After all, what was he gonna do – turn them over to Wen? "I was thinking," Gotou said, holding the sealant patch over the leak, waiting for the adhesive to set. "We could probably drop anchor on Senlin for a while, keep a low profile."

Masayoshi's head appeared over the lip again. "What does that mean?"

Gotou, slightly distracted by the sealant patch, didn't look up. "What?"

"Drop anchor. What does that mean?"

"Stay... stay in one place. You don't know what an anchor is?" Satisfied that the patch would hold, at least for a while, Gotou popped his head out of the pit and looked at Masayoshi, seated on the grate in front of the R5 unit. Sunny beeped, and Masayoshi was looking at the droid.

"I know what an anchor is," Masayoshi said. "It's a weight of some kind, I've just never heard that term before." He cocked his head and looked at Gotou curiously.

"It's a nautical term," Gotou said, arms folded at the edge of the lip, staring at Masayoshi. "Haven't you ever been on water before?"

Masayoshi shook his head negatively, then transitioned to a nod. "I grew up in a landlocked community," he said. "The most water we ever saw was in the baths, but I was in a drama that had us on boats. Flew us clear to the other side of the planet to film it, it was creepy." He shuddered a little at the memory. "I accidentally pushed one of the other actors into the water."

Sunny whistled at him, and Masayoshi frowned. "It was too an accident, don't you start! You sound just like Gotou-san; Gotou-san, tell him to stop."

Gotou hauled himself out of the pit. "Good job," he said to the droid, who blew a raspberry at him, too.

 


 

 

He'd been to hundreds of planets by now, different atmospheres and locales, some vastly inhabitable to humanoids and others perfectly cozy. Senlin fit into the latter category, a green planet that orbited a bright yellow star along the Outer Rim. It wasn't a settled world, per se – the massive, old growth forest that covered most of the planet made concentrated settlements difficult, so it was a popular destination for those wishing to stay off the radar.

The trees were enormous. Masayoshi sat in the copilot's station, eyes wide as Gotou carefully piloted the ship toward the wreckage of a gutted Star Destroyer. When the ship had gone down, it plowed through trees centuries old, leaving a giant scar across the landscape that was already filled in with green; brighter and younger foliage than the growth around it. Natives had gutted the starship, but had made use of it in another way – this was the central city now, built in and around the wreckage, anywhere that the creeping plant life had not already consumed.

The landing pad was clearly marked, and included a motley assortment of ships that sat safely in the shadow of the ancient forest world. "There were temples here, once," Masayoshi said as Gotou landed the ship, and Gotou didn't spare him a look. "Old ones. Long buried by the trees."

"Temples for what?" Gotou said, concentration elsewhere. Sunny whistled from behind them, and Gotou groaned. "I know the coolant's leaking again, we're landing! The ship's not gonna explode!"

"I don't know." Masayoshi could see them in his mind's eye, built from red and brown stone, hewn from rock ledges that didn't exist on this world as it stood now. The trees were just as large then, and there were bridges and walkways and an entire city constructed above the stone temple, with brightly colored banners fluttering from slatted bridges. It looked warm and welcoming and was a thousand times different from the decaying hulk of the Empire that lay before them.

"No Hutts here," Gotou said with satisfaction when he crossed out of the cockpit. "No Wen, either." He gestured at Masayoshi's outfit, cobbled together from clothing he'd picked up in the last few months and at least one of Gotou's spare shirts, as if he hadn't noticed. "You should wear your hood, though, just to be safe."

Masayoshi pulled the cowl from his short cloak up and settled it over his head as he followed Gotou down the ramp and out of the ship.

It felt good, to breath real air again after the filtered and recirculated air from the ship. Sunny rolled behind him, beeping softly but never straying far from Masayoshi's side. The astromech droid hadn't told him much, just that he'd been stolen by Wen, and the data in his memory log had been corrupted by the restraining bolt Masayoshi had extrajudicially removed in a hurry. Even the droid wasn't entirely certain where he came from, or where he needed to go.

"Well," Masayoshi said as he followed Gotou. "We made it to Senlin. Now what?"

"We take the temperature," Gotou said. He was headed in a particular direction, how Gotou knew how to navigate on these dozens of worlds they'd visited so far was a wonder to Masayoshi. "If it seems quiet enough, we find someplace to lay low for a while, pick up some odd jobs, stay off the radar and let things cool down."

Masayoshi's face twisted just a little. He'd agreed to this, after all ... but it didn't feel right to him. Even after all this running. Sunny needed to be returned to his original owner (whomever that may be), and Masayoshi ...

Masayoshi was supposed to do something. He just wasn't sure what.

Gotou led them unerringly through the maze of pathways, strung through corridors tilted up on their side, to a large bulkhead door that was forced eternally open. Through it drifted the hazy muted conversation of intoxicated patrons. "I don't like this," Masayoshi said softly, maybe too softly for Gotou to hear.

They found a small corner booth, and as Sunny rolled up to it, whistling tunelessly, a voice cut through some of the nearby chatter that made Masayoshi freeze in place. " Hazama!"

Gotou, already seated, looked along the curious row of aliens who had stopped speaking in the silence after the syllables -- the silence short-lived, they resumed their conversations in a thousand dialects, even as a petite, light-haired young woman cut through the crowd with a determined stride. "You got something you want to tell me, kid?" Gotou said mildly, as Masayoshi straightened, eyes wide in disbelief.

"Mari?" he squeaked.

She stopped beside the R5 unit, hands propped on her hips as she looked up at Masayoshi, who seemed to be trying to fold into himself and make himself smaller. "Sithspit," she said, reverently. "I can't believe you're still alive. I completely figured you would have gone out in a tiny blip of glory by now." She smacked his arm, then looked over at Gotou and brightened further. "Who is this? "

 


 

 

Gotou sat with his arms folded on the table, something like amusement on his face as he watched Masayoshi's panic transition into calm, acceptance and finally a touch of excitement that an old friend had escaped the First Order's roundup of the holodrama celebrities. "Mari-chan," Masayoshi said enthusiastically, "was a holonet idol!"

She had her long hair pulled back into a single tail, worn down over one shoulder and draped across over the other. "It's not that difficult," she said, not for a second abashed (nor, for that matter, taking her eyes off of Gotou). Then, she changed very quickly into a more familiar face, and Gotou blinked at the transformation.

"You're from that pop group," he said, amazed that he recognized the youthful idol. "You performed for the Republic."

"Yup!" Mari's voice had even changed slightly, lighter, bubblier, and it slid back into the tone that Gotou now recognized as she shifted back. "When there was a Republic. It's bad out there," she added on, and sighed dramatically. "I do have to say that I'm shocked, shocked you haven't joined the Resistance yet, Hazama."

Masayoshi looked down at the table, and Sunny blatted sympathetically. "Are there First Order here?" Gotou asked, and Mari shrugged.

"If they are, they're doing a damn good job of hiding, much better than the Resistance recruiters," she said, and touched a finger to her lips conspiratorially, winking.

"You?" Gotou said in surprise, and Masayoshi's head shot up.

"A Clawdite like me blends in well," she said. She put her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand. "So what about you, handsome? You've got a ship and some skills, I bet. Resistance can use all the pilots they can get."

"I'm out," Gotou said, not shifting. "It isn't my fight. I'm just a trader."

"And I'm just an out of work singer," Mari said. She looked to Masayoshi. "What about you, Hazama? Still working on that Jedi thing?"

Masayoshi chewed on his lip. "I can help people," he said. "In the Resistance." He looked over to Gotou, eyes pleading. Gotou put up both of his hands.

"Don't look at me," he said. "You're the one who wants to put his neck on the line."

"We also have a Jedi," Mari said.

" Had ," Gotou murmured. "And they all died or disappeared like, ten years ago didn't they?"

"No one asked you to help ," Mari hissed.

"You just asked me to join the Resistance."

"And here I was thinking you were cute ," she toyed with the end of her hair, twisting it between two fingers as she watched Masayoshi's indecision.

"I'm taken," Gotou said defensively, something that made Masayoshi look at him, surprised.

" Really , Gotou-san?" He looked from Gotou to the astromech droid, who blew a raspberry.

"Not by the droid, " Gotou said hotly. "I have someone waiting for me, back home. Is all."

"And I have a girlfriend," Mari said idly, still twirling her hair. "Whatever." She looked back to Masayoshi, then tucked her hand into the collar of her shirt, producing a small chip. "Look," she said. "Me and the girls, we're hanging around for a few days before heading out to the next port. If you wanna join up, here's our coordinates. We can get you to the Resistance, let you fulfill your dream of being a hero."

Masayoshi took the chip in his palm, then closed his hand over it. "Okay," he said. "Thanks, Mari. It's good to see you alive."

"You too, Samumenco," she said with a grin, tugging on the edge of his hood. "You should cut your hair, everyone'll recognize it." She glanced back to Gotou and gave him a wink. "If you change your mind, master trader."

Gotou said nothing as the Clawdite excused herself from the table, rapping one hand on Sunny's flowerpot shaped dome as she passed. The droid made another rude noise, head swiveling around to watch her leave. "I don't trust her," Gotou said idly, as Masayoshi stared at the chip in his hand. "It's probably a tracker, I'd crush it."

Masayoshi made a noncommittal noise. "Mari-chan wouldn't do that," he said. Sunny beeped and swiveled back around, and when Masayoshi leaned over to the droid it extended out one of the tray slots along its body, allowing Masayoshi to put the delicate piece of electronics away.

Gotou shrugged. "Then you should go," he said. "With her. Them . You wanted to go be a hero, go become a hero of the Resistance. Worked for the Rebel Alliance, didn't it? They picked up a wannabe Jedi and look where they are now."

"You have someone waiting for you," Masayoshi said softly. "Back home."

Gotou looked away, back out toward the busy cantina. "That's none of your business," he said shortly.

"How come you've never mentioned her before?" Masayoshi asked, but Gotou said nothing else, lips pressed in a thin line.

 


 

 

The ship didn't have much space that could be considered 'quarters'. Most of it was converted to storage, for shipping and schlepping, but as the ship was Gotou's home he'd modified the bunk room into what might be considered luxurious. The bed was two bunks hewn together, large enough to sprawl in, and there was a desk and chair crammed against the other wall -- if he stuck his leg out from the bed he'd smack the desk, and the chair had just barely enough room to spin, never mind to move. But, compared to everything, it was his own personal space. It was home.

Masayoshi slept out in the common, on the bench that ran along the wall. It was cushioned and hardly uncomfortable, Gotou himself had crashed out on it many times before, but it was still in the public area of the ship. Sunny would keep guard over Masayoshi as he slept, beeping occasionally, plugged in to the power port of the ship.

Gotou laid back on his bunk, arms folded behind his bed, staring at the bulkhead an arm's span above him. If he sat up too fast he clocked himself, and it had happened enough that he'd put padding and more besides, but it didn't help much. He stared at the worn padding, scribbles he'd written on the wall as he thought things out and didn't feel like getting up, doodles and scrawls, coordinates and hatch marks. He thought about her, dark hair and shadowed eyes and a smile, and he turned on his side, back to the door, and closed his eyes.

He hadn't thought about her in weeks.

He could hear Masayoshi out in the common, couldn't quite tell what he was up to. Clunking and dull thuds, Masayoshi's voice muted by the walls, Sunny's occasional beeps. Gotou closed his eyes and sighed, and when he opened them again he realized he'd nodded off, and the ship was quiet.

Too quiet.

Gotou rose, took care not to hit his head, and hit the panel that controlled the bulkhead door separating his quarters from the common. It was quiet because Masayoshi was gone, the blanket he used for bedding folded up neatly on the couch, Sunny with him. Gotou leaned against the bulkhead door and heaved a noise that was a cross between a sigh and a laugh and something else, something that caught in his throat and stuck there.

Good.

He knew how to function alone, he'd been alone for years. Gotou walked around the long way, to make sure the ramp was up and locked in place, before returning to his quarters, slapping the door closed behind him. In the morning he'd do preflight, and leave.

It was better this way.

 

-3-

 

A human and a droid were not an unusual sight to be seen on Senlin, so Masayoshi didn't draw much attention. He had the cowl of his cloak up again, which again wasn't unusual -- at least half the people he passed wore cloaks or hoods of some kind, against the chill night air and the precipitation that seemed to hang in the humid air.

Or to simply disguise their identity, as Masayoshi was.

He'd known Mari when she was a pop star, an idol singer; her Clawdite form disguised as human, young and cute and vulnerable. She'd shifted identities now, while still keeping human form. Humans were everywhere, they were unremarkable, even in their variety of skintones and hair color. He wouldn't be able to find her easily, but the chip he'd had Sunny look at, disconnected from the ship's computer (just in case), gave a bay number, at a docking port on the other side of the city.

It seemed suspicious to him that a Resistance fighter would so easily give a piece of information that could be traced; but Mari was reckless enough to do something like that.

He wanted to talk to her again, without Gotou-san there; he wanted the ammunition to take back, to try to convince him that this was the right move. He still didn't know all that much about the pilot, Gotou was tight-lipped about himself, but even so Masayoshi considered him a friend now. They'd been together almost three months, riding the trading lanes, and it was the longest Masayoshi had spent in any one person's company since his grandfather died.

And he knew, that this was what they were supposed to do.

Sunny beeped and whistled and suddenly zipped right past Masayoshi, turning a corner that would dead-end against walls constructed of reclaimed material from the Star Destroyer. Masayoshi's head swiveled around -- and he saw what alerted the droid.

Two tall Shistavanens wearing stormtrooper blasters over their shoulders were escorting a Twi'lek through the crowds. They were ahead of Masayoshi, going in the same direction, but the sudden beep and whistle made one of them pause and look back. Masayoshi ducked his head quickly but didn't move otherwise, and kept watching -- the wolfman turned back around and they continued on their path.

Of all the tiny, out-of-the-way planets in the galaxy, Wen was here ? On Senlin?

Masayoshi backtracked a few paces, found Sunny hiding behind a trash disposal unit who didn't seem pleased at the astromech droid's interruption. "Sorry," Masayoshi said to the trash disposal droid, who didn't have any sort of vocal programming but stomped a few paces to the side. Sunny rolled forward a little and tilted, whistling low and soft, an inquisitive beep at the end. "Yeah," Masayoshi said, and put his hand on the flowerpot-shaped dome of the R5 unit. "We have to warn him - but that's the other side of the city. It's better to find Mari, we can use her ship's comm system."

The droid whistled again, and Masayoshi looked back to the opening of the alley. The universe just got a whole lot smaller.

 


 

 

The docking bay was packed full of ships, a wide variety -- some Corellian trader vessels, not unlike Gotou's; sitting dormant while their pilots worked on-planet; a few passenger vessels, some single-pilot starfighters in horrible condition, and one half-deconstructed TIE interceptor. Masayoshi headed for the docking bay number he'd memorized from the chip - and found a Togruta female standing at its entrance, leaned back against the wall partially obscuring the number, arms folded over her chest and eyes closed. She was young - an adult, but not fully grown, lekku small and colorfully striped.

She opened one eye to look at Masayoshi distrustfully. "What do you want?" she said, in common.

"I'm looking for Mari," Masayoshi said. "I want to talk to her."

 


 

 

Mari's ship was long and sleek, all soft curves, even with the nasty-looking gun turrets atop the midsection. The soft design and pale cerulean color made Masayoshi think of water, and in turn think of Gotou, as the Togruta name Mizuki walked them aboard. "It's a Calamari ship," she said, as if reading his thoughts about the ship's design.

"Oh," Masayoshi said, because he didn't know what else to say.

Mizuki touched the tip of one of the lekku that framed her head. "We Force-sensitives got to stick together," she said with a wink, and Masayoshi blinked, and swallowed.

Mari was seated in the common of the ship, next to a blue-skinned Twi'lek woman whose lekku were done up on her head with straps, like a hairdo. She looked up at Masayoshi when he doffed the cowl, and sat her chin in her hand. "Just you, huh," she said, sounding disappointed.

Sunny blatted sharply from behind Mizuki. Mari waved her hand dismissively in the air. "Your droid is very rude," she said, then sat up. "So you're in, then, Hazama?"

"I don't know," Masayoshi said. "I don't want to leave Gotou-san. But that's not why I'm here." Not exactly, he amended silently, and felt Mizuki staring at him knowingly. "I need your help, we need to contact Gotou-san's ship, Wen is here on Senlin."

"Wen?" The blue-skinned Twi'lek sat up, surprised. "A'landlk Wen is here, on Senlin?" She looked over to Mari, expression alarmed.

"He won't be here for you," Mari said, cover the Twi'lek's hand on the table. "This idiot has a bounty on him." She gestured at Masayoshi, then looked over to him. "What did you do to Wen that you were able to walk away from with all your limbs intact and just a bounty on your head?"

Masayoshi huffed a moment, indignant -- and Sunny answered instead, a long stream of whistles and beeps. Mari looked intently at the astromech droid, and Masayoshi did as well, surprised. When it had finished, there was silence, and Mizuki said, "great. Anyone gonna translate for those of us that don't speak droid?"

Another moment, then Mari stood up. "Plug him in to the main computer," she instructed Mizuki, who unfolded her arms and put her hands on her hips.

"Mari-"

Sunny rolled over to the computer and extended his port jack, effectively plugging himself in. After a moment of silence, the holotable whirred to life, and letters displayed mid-air in aurabesh, the common tongue. There were segments of letters that were broken by code, fragmented, lost - but most of the transcript was viewable.

"This is dated twenty years ago," the Twi'lek said, as Mari drummed her fingers on the table. "It's out of date, why would Wen want something this old...?"

"It's a list of the Hutts' trading pattern," Mari said. "And monetary amounts. It's pretty useless information, unless you were trying to break a smuggling ring." Sunny blurted a noise, and then uncoupled from the wall, rolling back over to the table. "You should leave the droid, Hazama -- he's going to be more trouble than he's worth."

"That won't eliminate the bounty," the Twi'lek said softly, and Mari turned to look at her. She had tilted forward a little, staring at the surface of the holotable, and Mari put her arm over the woman's shoulders.

"It'll be okay, Moe," she said. "I told you, I'll protect you."

Masayoshi stared at Sunny, who tilted a little, the dome of the astromech swiveling around so the camera lens was pointed up at him. Gotou would be gratified to know that he was right, in a way ... the droid was carrying secret information. "Why didn't you say anything before?" Masayoshi asked, and the droid whistled. "You didn't remember? "

Sunny beeped.

"We'll warn your friend," Mari said, leaving her seat at the table. "But then we have to leave, now. Wen being here causes problems for more than just you. Wherever he goes, the First Order seems like it isn't far behind." She stalked purposefully down the hall, toward the front of the ship, and after a moment's hesitation, Masayoshi followed.

 


 

 

There was only a little static in the open comm line, enough so that the first bit of the transmission was cut off. The Wookiee in the cockpit hesitated, then turned the comm off. "What was that?" the Shistavanen said, as the Wookiee exited the cockpit of the small freighter.

The Wookiee grumbled something, and the Shistavanen snorted. He had the bounty under one arm, the man gone limp, blood dripping slowly from the gash on his head. "Wish the money was better on this one," he said, and the Wookiee shrugged and roared. "Yeah, you said it," he said. "Once we have our credits, we should come back for it. It's better than ours."

 

-4-

 

There was no response from Gotou's ship. Masayoshi sat in the jump seat behind the pilot's in Mari's small ship, one hand on the back of the pilot's seat. Mari frowned and tried again, the line encrypted directly to the freighter. "Something's wrong," Masayoshi said, ill in a bad way. His stomach roiled, he knew, he knew he knew. "I've got to go back."

"No," Mari said. She closed the open comm link line and sat her elbow on the console as she thought. "If Wen's about, that means his spies are about now. They'll take you down in a heartbeat, if they haven't already tagged you. And us." Her brow furrowed, and she glanced back toward the common area, where the Twi'lek named Moe and the Togruta Mizuki were now sitting at the table, cleaning weapons. "Really, the best course of action is getting the hell off-planet, Hazama."

That said, Mari started flipping switches, to bring the ship's engines online. Masayoshi stood straight up, almost banged his head off the control panels above him. "No!" he said. "I'm not leaving, not without Gotou-san!"

"We have to cut our losses," Mari said without looking over at him. "Our work is too important to the Resistance to just get caught up in a feud with a smuggling ring."

"I'm leaving," Masayoshi said firmly, and was out of his seat and through the common area. Mizuki stood up quickly, and Sunny turned around and followed Masayoshi in a hurry, beeping in consternation.

Mari growled something loudly, not in common tongue, back in their direction and Mizuki went to the ramp, lowered it for Masayoshi. "I hope you'll change your mind," she said softly, as the ramp lowered.

Masayoshi nodded, a little impatient that servos moved so slowly when he was in a hurry, as if Mari would put the ship into flight while the ramp was opening. He hesitated only when Mizuki touched his arm, and he looked back at her. "Hey," she said. "May the Force be with you."

Masayoshi held on to that a moment, then smiled and nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Thanks." Then he jogged down the ramp, Sunny on his heels.

Mizuki watched them go, waited a long moment, then hit the ramp closure. "They're clear," she said, as the ship sealed itself, prepared for launch.

Moe had already moved to the cockpit, into the copilot's seat. Mari was watching Masyoshi cross the tarmac silently. He pulled the cowl of his cloak back up, and was moving quickly but not yet at a run. She sighed, and Mizuki slid into the jump seat.

"He's in love," Moe said. "It's charming."

"If that's what you want to call it," Mari said, and flipped some switches. "The droid did a dump of our navcomputer when it was plugged in, it's got some slicer programming in it. They should be able to find us, if we don't deviate from our planned route."

"There's got to be more to it," Mizuki said. "I can't see an underworld kingpin like Wen being so torn to bits by the loss of one astromech, even if it did have ledgers on Hutt activity from twenty years ago."

"More than likely." Mari nodded to Moe, who straightened and started flipping switches. "But that's not our problem now, is it?"

"No," Mizuki said with a sigh, securing her restraint webbing and folding her arms. "I suppose it's not."

 


 

 

Gotou's head throbbed. It was much like what he imagined it would feel like to have a bantha trying to escape his skull, and as such he kept his eyes close, face pressed to the cold metal where he lay. That was the first action. The second, was the memory of the Wookiee storming his ship, roaring, and Gotou's eyes flew open. He sat up -- or, more accurately, attempted to sit upright. The entire room did a slow, deliberate loop-the-loop and he slumped back down, eyes squeezed closed, waiting for everything to settle.

"Ah," a voice said, and Gotou opened his eyes again, to see the pale green-skinned Twi'lek sitting across from the table that Gotou was lying on. The room was dimly lit by old light panels, and by the tilted shift of the room he knew that they were in the Star Destroyer proper. "I'm so glad to see that you're alive, master trader Gotou," Wen said pleasantly. "That was a horrible bump Asyn'kywana gave you."

It took a little bit of effort, but Gotou sat up. His hands were cuffed in front of him, so when he raised one hand to touch his head tenderly, the other went with it. "Wen," he said, and that was it.

Gotou, as a rule, tried to stay as far away from dealing with smugglers as he could manage. It wasn't always possible, as different things were outlawed in different sectors given the general state of the galaxy, but he tried to stay away from out-and-out smuggling. That didn't mean he hadn't had his dealings with Wen, who seemed to control a large portion of the network these days.

"Where's my droid," Wen said, voice calm and level, pleasant through his filed teeth.

"I don't know." It wasn't a lie - the droid was undoubtedly with Masayoshi, and Masayoshi's exact location wasn't something he knew. "The droid's gone. Left with the passenger weeks ago."

"Mm." Wen stood up and gestured his hand. He had a vibroblade in one hand, and Gotou sat up farther, back against the wall that the metal shelf was on. "You were seen in the company of the droid just yesterday , such a poor liar." The Twi'lek looked at the vibroblade, then brushed his hand down one of his lekku. "I don't have a lot of time for games, master trader, but I do enjoy them. It's so easy to leave little bits of you behind as a trail until your friend starts finding it. Should we start with something small, a finger, or an ear...?"

Wen didn't move forward from his position, though -- Gotou wasn't restrained at all except for his hands. He glanced to the door, and sighed. "So little time. I want my droid -- out of all of them your nosy little friend took the only one I care about."

"What do you want," Gotou said. "Is it money? That droid is a piece of junk, ancient. Its mind was wiped when we tried to access it, there's nothing there. We'll pay you for it."

"Oh, it's not what the droid has in its memory," Wen said. "It's what it contains. "

" Sithspit ," Gotou said. "I knew it. Astromech droids are always trouble."

Wen took a step forward. "We can do this the easy way, or I can call in my guard to hold you. Where is the droid, master trader?"

Gotou, back pressed to the wall, tilted his chin defiantly. "I already told you I don't know."

"Good," Wen said, and his smile was sharp. "The easy way is so boring."

 


 

 

Masayoshi crouched in the alley, beside Sunny, who had tilted forward and plugged into an old, off-center communicators port. The long-dead ship still had electricity, wired and patched and put together by the people who lived here, but its original mainframe was long-dead. It couldn't hurt to let Sunny patch in and see what could be seen, if anything. It wasn't like he had anywhere else to start.

His first inclination had been to go back to the ship, but he realized halfway there it was probably being watched. If Wen had grabbed Gotou, he knew by now that Masayoshi had left, and they'd be on the lookout for him.

He felt like a fool for leaving. If he'd been there, alert, wouldn't that have been enough to save them both? Or would they both be captured -- or more likely, dead; Wen just wanted Sunny. It was his gut that led him away, so that minimal damage was done. (But, Gotou-san...)

First things first. He'd find Gotou, rescue him, they'd get the hell off of Senlin and then .... Masayoshi shook his head sharply, and put one hand on Sunny's dome, intending to ask him if he'd found anything. But that wasn't what happened.

They came quick as shots, one after the other, in no particular order -- a Quarren, orange-skinned and tentacle-faced, wearing an orange flight suit that clashed with its skin tone and standing next to a gleaming white and red R5 unit -- a hooded figure and an old y-wing starfighter -- that same Quarren, skin ashen, slumped against the shattered canopy of the starfighter as they drifted powerlessly in the vacuum of space -- the hooded figure again, eyes the same color as Masayoshi's, tufts of tawny hair peeking out from under the coarse hood, turning to look directly at him--

Masayoshi yanked his hand back as if burnt, tumbling backward from his crouch to land across the alley, shoulders and head slamming into the metal that composed the other wall. It dazed him, and he shook. Sunny's head twisted around and he whistled mournfully, worried. Masayoshi wiped the sweat from his face with one trembling hand. "'m fine," he managed finally, stomach twisted around in knots, confusion heavy in his chest. Who ... what-

Sunny beeped excitedly, disengaging from the port, and Masayoshi's confusion evaporated instantly. "You've found him?" The astromech whistled and made a sound like a purr, rolling back and forth in place, and Masayoshi scrambled to his feet. He hesitated in touching the droid again but the R5 unit didn't seem to notice, twisting its head and tilting forward, projecting a small map of the shattered star destroyer in front of them. Masayoshi stared at it, concentrating, eyes narrowed in thought. "Did you pull up anything on Wen?" he asked, and Sunny beeped in the negative.

"Okay," Masayoshi said. He studied the map for a few moments more, then nodded and Sunny cut it off. "You need to go back to the ship," he said. "Don't board it, hide nearby."

Immediately the astromech blatted at him rudely, and Masayoshi shook his head. "Wen wants you for a reason ," he said. "I can't just march into the middle of his goons with the prize. You gotta stay back."

Another long series of beeps and whistles, and then, grudgingly, a noise of acceptance. Masayoshi was right, even if Sunny didn't like it. Then the droid did something unexpected, rolling forward and tilting, sliding open a hidden compartment along its body. Masayoshi stared at the droid, at the object in the hidden compartment, and said, "Sunny, is that...?"

Sunny beeped in affirmative, and Masayoshi eye's widened further.

 


 

 

A Shistavanen knocked against the bulkhead, and Wen sighed, interrupted in his favorite thing. He stood, and grimaced, then wiped his hands across his trousers and walked to the door. Gotou squinted his eyes open, painfully, and watched the Twi'lek speak with the wolfman. He couldn't make out what they were saying, his ears were still ringing.

He closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the table. If he had his wits about him he would be testing the restraints, but all he could think about was the holographic globe his mother used to keep in the main room of their small apartment. It was a blue and green world, it sparkled like a jewel and he would sit and watch it when he was tiny. She'd point out continents and seas, and tell him all about her homeworld. Gotou wet his lips, thought about how sad her face got when he said he wanted to visit it.

" Where? " Wen's voice rose over the ringing in his ears. Gotou's mind drifted back to the present. He craned his neck, and watched as Wen stormed out the door, leaving it open behind him. The Shistavanen glanced over at Gotou, met his gaze, and then walked away. Restrained as he was, Gotou wasn't going anywhere. Gotou closed his eyes and sighed to himself, half-making up a rule in his head about no longer picking up cute guys who were clearly trouble.

 


 

 

Masayoshi wasn't exactly the best at sneaking around.

He'd had a little practice. Once upon a time, he'd had a plan about being a masked hero, someone who would protect the weak and uphold justice -- but that had fallen to pieces, along with most things, as the tide of the galaxy shifted. He'd trained himself a bit, but had no formal instruction, and as in most things, he made it up as he went along.

The deeper into the Star Destroyer he got, the fewer people there were around, and the more unsavory those few people he ran across looked. He knew from the map that Sunny had shown him he was going the right way -- per the chatter on the comms, Wen was hanging out in this direction. Doing what, no one was entirely sure ... but it was better than nothing. It had been Sunny's idea to be a distraction, the astromech had rooted right back into the system and put up a few reports of a misbehaving R5 unit clear on the other side of the small town. It wouldn't be long until the hoax was uncovered, but it gave Masayoshi a small window to try to find Gotou.

He tried to calm his fast-beating heart, certain anyone he passed would hear it. He actually hadn't passed anyone through the twisting corridors in the belly of the beast in quite some time, and if he was remembering his map right he'd be upon the quad of rooms once used for soldiers' barracks shortly.

Masayoshi held tight to the edge of his hood, for security more than to keep it up. He was indoors now, and keeping his face hidden was not as important. For a brief moment, he recalled the image seared into his head, someone else that looked just like him, same eyes, same hair, wearing a cloak -- but he shook it off, and kept moving forward.

Suddenly, the clatter of many people coming his way caused Masayoshi to freeze. He didn't have anywhere to go, head twisting around -- the hallway was wide but it was without doorways or alcoves. If he ran, he'd be heard. He looked up, and saw the exposed pipes that ran along the ceiling, where sheets of metal had been pried from the walls. He wasn't the best climber, he used to get pushed down all the time when he was a child, trying to play with other kids, but there was no time for doubt.

By the time the group passed - mostly aliens, Shistavanen, but a few scruffy humans too, all armed to the teeth and following an all-too-familiar green Twi'lek -- Masayoshi hung from the pipes in the ceiling, not even daring to breathe. Sunny's distraction worked, though - they were all headed away .

Once they were safely gone around the corner, Masayoshi dropped clumsily back to the ground, fell to one knee as he landed poorly. He scrambled to his feet and his careful walk became a run. Maybe, if he tried...

As he turned a corner, distracted by his own thoughts turned inward, Masayoshi ran straight into a guard. The guard was just as surprised as Masayoshi, one step back and blaster half-drawn from his holster. Masayoshi charged him, shoulder down, and they both slammed back into the wall. The guard's breath exploded out his mouth and his head hit the bulkhead, before they both hit the floor.

Masayoshi relieved the unconscious guard of his blaster, and after a moment's thought, his commlink. He held the weapon awkwardly -- he'd handled fake weapons in his dramas, having played many a role, but the real thing was heavier. Masayoshi didn't linger, kept going. He was close, he had to be.

He ran past the room because its door was open, then stopped like he'd hit a solid wall. Backtracking carefully, he stopped in the open doorway.

It was a holding cell, a brig of sorts. And there was Gotou, passed out, restrained to a table, blood dried on his face. Masayoshi stepped into the room, dropped the blaster on the table and touched Gotou's hand, then relaxed when he felt he was still warm. The panic that had threatened to overwhelm him dissipated somewhat, but whatever the hell Wen did to Gotou, he was going to pay .

Gotou lifted his head groggily as Masayoshi worked on the restraints, pulling them free. "'yoshi?" Gotou mumbled, eyes hazy, and Masayoshi stopped immediately, looking to Gotou for reassurance. "Here again, huh," Gotou said, and put his head back down.

Masayoshi wet his lips and went back to work on the restraints. "C'mon, Gotou-san," Masayoshi said as he got his feet free. "You've gotta get conscious for me, I can't carry you out of here."

"Hngh," Gotou said, lifted his head again and squinted. "You're...real?"

"You bet," Masayoshi pulled him into a sitting position, pressed the blaster into his hand. "We're gonna have to run, I need you to pull it together, Gotou-san. I can't fly your ship."

"Real," Gotou said again, softly. Then he leaned forward and aimed a punch at Masayoshi, that missed by quite a bit and didn't have enough force behind it for damage, anyway. "You left! "

"I'll explain later, come on," Masayoshi said. "We don't have a lot of time."

 


 

 

Gotou felt like he was functioning through a fog, but it was becoming clearer with every breath. He wasn't going to die.

Okay, maybe he was still going to die, but it wasn't gonna be directly at Wen's hands.

He wobbled a little, unsure, his sense of balance compromised but Masayoshi led, and the blaster felt comfortable in his hand. "Where are we going," he said, when he could put together that Masayoshi was leading them up, deeper into the heart of the downed ship.

"The long way," Masayoshi said. "They won't think to come after us this way, who in their right mind would go deeper into this mess."

" We're going deeper," Gotou said.

"Yeah, well," Masayoshi said. The constructed walkways had stopped by now, and they were traversing slowly, along the juncture of wall and floor, climbing over obstacles and the like. "Don't be like that, Gotou-san, I'm rescuing you."

"Yeah, and I wouldn't have been in this mess if it wasn't for you, too," Gotou said. He fell silent, climbing over a ragged piece of broken metal, as Masayoshi tried to decide which way they were going to go.

It took more time than Masayoshi liked, to go around this way but after climbing down carefully they found a new string of walkways, recently constructed. They hurried along these, able to move at a better pace, back through the corridors of the destroyer on a lower floor, headed for daylight.

Gotou thought, for the barest moment, that they would be home free. They hadn't encountered anyone in this lower floor, and as they neared the enormous hole in the hull that had become the entrance he was certain of it. Until they turned a corner, to the walkway that would lead to the exit, and saw it blocked by a small group.

Masayoshi pulled up short and put one arm out, as if protecting Gotou from view. That was ridiculous, of course, and Gotou stepped around his outstretched arm, blaster held loosely in one hand. He didn't see that Masayoshi had a weapon, and that feeling of doom settled on him again. So much for not dying, today.

"Where," A'landlk Wen said, standing between them and freedom, "is my droid? "

 


 

 

Masayoshi took a deep breath. There were seven of them, including Wen - two Shistavanens and the rest humans. All had hands on their weapons. "Sunny doesn't belong to you," he said boldly, loudly.

"Kill them," Wen said, and gestured to two of his human associates. "We know the droid's in the city, turn it upside-down to find it." The two men left quickly.

Gotou ducked back, about to hit the deck before the blaster bolts started flying, but Masayoshi stood firm, holding his ground. He pulled something off his belt, hidden by the cloak he'd been wearing, and held it aloft. "Is this ," he called out, catching Wen's attention, "what you've been looking for?"

He felt Gotou's hesitation behind him, and Masayoshi stared across the walkway at Wen, not backing down.

"You don't know what you're doing," Gotou hissed.

Without taking his eyes off Wen, Masayoshi said quietly, "I know exactly what I'm doing. I just don't know if it's going to work."

That said, Masayoshi hit the trigger switch on the lightsaber in his hand.

He'd looked it over in the alleyway with Sunny, the droid beeping and bleeting. It was an old lightsaber, well taken care of. He'd never seen one before, not a real one -- there were props of course, he'd seen them on holovids and in news reports and ancient archives but this was a real one, currently in his hands. The weight of it was familiar, but he wasn't certain why.

Its blade was silver, glittering bright in the dim hallway. There was a snap-hiss when it activated, and a soft hum to its existence; and Masayoshi held the ancient weapon in a guard position, eyes still on Wen. His little entourage of armed guards had hesitated too -- one backed off, shaking his head, and another took the same opportunity, both departing quickly.

That left one human, and the two Shistavanen guards, along with Wen. "You're no Jedi," Wen yelled at him. Masayoshi didn't say anything, and kept the lightsaber in its guard position.

"Stay behind me, Gotou-san," Masayoshi said. "If they start firing, you'll be safer back there."

"You're not serious," Gotou said, and stepped up beside Masayoshi. "Even if you could deflect anything, I don't trust you not to deflect it back into my face." He held his blaster up and pointed it at Wen. "You've got a problem here, Wen," he yelled in the Twi'lek's direction. "Maybe it's best for you to leave, and save face."

"Kill them," Wen said.

Gotou ducked as they started firing across the walkway, and Masayoshi moved quickly. He didn't quite duck, but leaned more out of the way, as the blaster bolts filled the air around them. He didn't have the first clue on how to actually deflect a blaster bolt, and by sheer luck a few pinged off the blade.

" Now what?" Gotou yelled over the racket, and Masayoshi, emboldened by the random luck that had allowed those bolts to be deflected by the lightsaber, put his head down and charged the walkway, blade held out in front of him and yelling like a demon. "You have got to be kidding," Gotou said, hauling himself up off the floor. "Masayoshi!"

There was something at least about a cloak-wearing, lightsaber-wielding, yelling idiot that caused one Shistavanen to drop his blaster and flee. Masayoshi swung the blade deliberately and this time intentionally deflected the bolt, and not only deflected it but deflected the blaster bolt straight at Wen. He didn't duck in time and it struck him just across the shoulder in a glancing blow. Gotou came up behind Masayoshi at a run, shooting wildly, and his shots dropped the one remaining human.

The other Shistavanen decided to cut its losses, scooped Wen under its arm, and bolt. Masayoshi made it to the other end of the walkway, toward the exit, and stopped running, lightsaber still in hand. He breathed hard a moment, then extinguished the blade and looked back at Gotou, eyes wide. "I can't believe that worked. "

"It worked, and they're gonna call reinforcements, and we don't have time to-" Gotou said, chest heaving. Masayoshi turned all the way to Gotou and grabbed him by the front of the shirt. Gotou's reflexes were already most of the way shot from the trauma he'd had so far today, and he didn't have the strength in him to try to jerk away, and he simply wasn't prepared for the moment when Masayoshi kissed him.

It was brief and part adrenaline-high, but Masayoshi released him almost immediately. "Sorry," he said breathlessly, eyes wide and shocked at himself.

Gotou shoved him. "Later," he said, a little stunned himself. "Later, run now."

Masayoshi kept the lightsaber in his hand. "Roger," he said.

 


 

 

They tore through the constructed streets of the city at a dead run, and almost collided with two First Order stormtroopers standing at the end of an intersection, speaking briskly to two aliens that Masayoshi didn't recognize. He recalled dimly Mari's mention that wherever Wen went that the First Order wasn't far behind. "Hey, you," one of the stormtroopers said, but Masayoshi didn't even break strike, grabbing Gotou by the outstretched arm and pulling him after.

"First Order," he said, and Gotou went, "no shit ," and yanked his arm free.

There were more stormtroopers around the docking bay, but Masayoshi barreled through them too. They both raised blaster rifles to fire at them and Gotou fired back before they could get shots off. The ship was sitting just as he'd left it, and Masayoshi slowed, let Gotou charge up the ramp first, the followed after, slamming the ramp closure.

"What about Sunny?" Gotou yelled, already in the cockpit, priming the ship for launch.

There was a string of beeps and whistles from the common, where Gotou had blown right past the droid without seeing him. "Sorry," Masayoshi said, and patted the droids head as he passed. "He didn't mean to not see you."

Gotou was standing at the console, flipping switches above his head as Masayoshi dropped into the copilot's seat. "All aboard, captain," Masayoshi said with a tight grin, and Gotou shot him a look, then sat back down in the seat.

"This could get messy," he said. "We never got that coolant line taken care of." They both winced when a blaster bolt skimmed past the forward viewport. "Work on these shields," he said to Masayoshi, before leaning back and shouting back into the common. "Secure yourself, Sunny!"

The droid beeped in acknowledgment, even as the ship's engines fired up.

The comm system buzzed to life. "This is flight controller, please power down your ship and prepare for board--" the rest of the command was lost as Gotou slapped off the comm system. "We just increased the size of our bounty by tenfold."

"Nothing like being popular," Masayoshi said, flipping switches in the order Gotou had taught him.

The ship only complained a little as the engines fired, and it lifted into the air. "There'll be pursuit," Masayoshi said. "Do we have any weapons?"

"Not any that haven't been cannibalized for parts," Gotou said. "I'll just have to out fly them."

"Oh boy," Masayoshi set the shields to full, then pulled down his restraint webbing.

 


 

 

Pursuit turned out to be a pair of regulation TIE fighters. "I'm almost disappointed," Gotou said, and he twitched the flight stick to the side. If anyone had been unsecured, they would have been flung violently into the wall by the maneuver, but everyone was strapped in, and Sunny had clamped to a table. The move meant that the smattering of green energy bolts flew right past the ship, and maybe one impacted across the shields that covered the engine.

"I'd be less disappointed if this ship had weapons," Masayoshi said, calculating frantically with the navcomputer to get them a safe light speed jump. Once out of Seilin's atmosphere, the drag on the TIE's wings was gone, and their sole advantage in flight was eliminated. Of course, the ship was equipped with a hyperdrive, unlike the shieldless short-range TIE fighters, but that didn't really matter when the only thing they could do was rely on Gotou's flying and the shields holding.

"Well, I'll just have to work on that," Gotou said, pulling the flight stick back. "Do we have a vector yet?"

"Inputting the coordinates now," Masayoshi said, as Gotou pointed the ship away from the planet. After a moment the computer beeped its acknowledgment, and the entire ship shook as it jumped to light speed.

There was a shared moment of silence as the stars elongated into the tunnel of hyperspace, and then they both let out a long breath. Masayoshi slumped back in his seat and laughed, hair stuck up funny from the hood he'd been wearing, and Gotou covered his face with one hand, exhaustion catching up to him.

Abruptly, an alarm went off within the ship, and Gotou swore. "What, what-?" Masayoshi said.

"The coolant line ," Gotou yelled, and flung himself out of his seat.

 


 

 

Later, with a new patch on the line, Gotou sat on the floor, wiping his hands off on a rag that was probably dirtier than his hands. "So," he said, as he watched Masayoshi put the toolbox he'd upset trying to find the patches for Gotou back together. "Lightsaber, huh?"

"Yeah," Masayoshi said.

"Where'd it come from?"

"Sunny had it." Masayoshi set the toolbox aside, and took the lightsaber off his belt, offering it to Gotou, who shook his head. "I think..." he said, and then shook his head. "No, nevermind."

"Well," Gotou said. "Now you gotta tell me, can't leave me hanging."

"I think it might have been my grandfather's." Masayoshi looked at the silver weapon in his hand. "But my grandfather hated the Jedi, would always stop me from talking about it, or asking questions." He sighed deeply, and looked at the astromech droid. "I just don't know for sure."

Gotou shrugged his shoulders loosely. "So, why don't we find out?"

Masayoshi lifted his head. "How?"

"Well, there's gotta be something out there. Records, somewhere." Sunny beeped an affirmative, and Gotou looked at the droid with a raised eyebrow. "Don't tell me you have a record?"

The R5 droid rolled forward between them and tilted a little. A small chip rattled in one of its extended drawer compartments. "That's just the chip that Mari gave me," Masayoshi said, a little disappointed. "That's not going to tell me anything about my grandfather."

"No," Gotou said, getting what the droid was trying to communicate. "But the Resistance would."

Masayoshi blinked as Gotou stood up. "You think ... the Resistance might know?"

"If nothing else, they'll point you in the right direction." Gotou dropped the rag onto the toolbox and wiped his hands again on his trousers for good measure. "It's as good a place as any to start. They have connections to the Jedi, after all."

He stopped a moment, and looked at Masayoshi, who was back to staring at the lightsaber in his hands. "Masayoshi," Gotou said. When Masayoshi looked up at Gotou, he asked bluntly, "why did you kiss me?"

Masayoshi's eyes widened comically. "I," he said, and stopped. "I don't know. I shouldn't've, I'm sorry. Jedi are forbidden attachment, after all." His ears had gone pink, he looked down at the table, the blush curling up his cheeks and over his nose.

Gotou made a noise of assent, crossing the small common to stand beside the couch, looking down at Masayoshi. That tug of something was there again, under his lungs, and he hadn't felt it in so long he'd almost forgotten what it mean. Masayoshi looked up at him, still blushing - and he turned a darker shade of red when Gotou cupped his hand over Masayoshi's cheek, feeling the warmth of the blush through his palm. "Then it's a good thing you're not a Jedi yet, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Masayoshi said softly, his eyes drifted closed as Gotou leaned down, and kissed him.