The Wileys Return

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1

The streaking star field came into focus and the stabilizer alarm chirped as Trevor Wiley dropped his old YT-2400 Corellian freighter ship, the Ragin’ Rat out of hyperspace in the Ileenium system and charted a course for D’Qar. He pursed his lips in an annoyed smirk at the sound of the alarm and pulled a dashboard lever back and forth, and back again. Item number 13 on his mental to-do list of follow-up for the twenty year old freighter. He was going to have to write them down if this kept up. He punched a few buttons to communicate the alarm code to the ship’s technical computer for the potential repair. He hadn’t used this ship in ages.

D’Qar loomed below, fluffy with cloud cover. The Resistance was headquartered on the far side, if his source was correct. Trevor settled into a brief orbit on autopilot and walked back to a storage locker in the common bay. He pushed aside a jacket, then a long coat and furrowed his brow. He pulled off his shirt over his head, ran a hand through his hair and blew out a long breath. In his mind’s eye a memory flashed. A woman with long, brunette waves stood in front of another closet and selected a matte leather jacket of the [then] latest fashion and turned to display it for him with a slightly dimpled smile. He lifted his eyes to hers….

If she wasn’t down there… if they weren’t down there, then he was damn near out of ideas.

It had been under a week, Coruscanti time since the First Order had obliterated the New Republic. He smoothed the front of the clean shirt he had selected to put on and pulled the first jacket out of the locker closet. He closed the door and returned to the cockpit. The floor panels grunted where he stepped and he scowled and stomped on one of them, hard. It was still impossible to believe that the seat of the Republic was completely gone, So many unlucky beings on the planets, moons or any nearby spacecraft had been obliterated in a matter of minutes. Maybe nearly everyone he had known. Had he ever really understood what Jillian, Leia and all of the Alderaan survivors had felt before now?

A ping on the dashboard reminded him to lower into D’Qar’s atmosphere. Trevor squinted instinctively through the haze until he could make out the shapes and colors of hills and trees on the ground below. There was a narrow clearing lined with grass-covered bunkers and satellite dishes, and as he maneuvered his freighter lower his eyes moved over the Starfighters and miscellaneous ships that were parked in tight docking bays among them. He lowered the Ragin’ Rat down in a space available between two X-Wings. Everyone in the vicinity was running away from where he was landing, towards the nearest bunker entrances.

“Gee I’m not that much of a stranger already?” Trevor commented out loud, grinning slightly at the hustle he had caused. He knew his ship code was outdated from its better known days during the Rebellion against the Empire, but he had paid an arm and a leg for the information he had needed to find the Resistance. Surely the code that came with that deal was current. He opened all communication channels to receiving and waited as the repulsors hissed and he powered down the engines.  When nobody spoke to him, he switched from channel to channel but only received static in reply until the fifth or sixth try. Then a woman’s voice stuttered into audible sentences.

“…-at’s the… can only re-… -s this really the Ragin’ Rat registered to Trevor Wiley of Coruscant?”

“That’s a pretty good guess if you don’t already know,” Trevor replied and shut down the freighter’s systems and lowered the ramp. He ignored any potential response and walked down the ramp to see a short, middle-aged woman in burgundy robes and highlighted brunette hair piled on top of her head exit a bunker at a rapid pace. As she approached he noted those weren’t highlights but some light greying around her face. Otherwise Leia Organa looked and moved exactly as he remembered her. He smiled slightly as he looked beyond her, searching.

A young, skinny blond woman and a Sullustan had followed her out of the bunker. The young woman stopped and read something off of a datapad to the Sullustan and they stayed behind to look at it together. Leia’s face looked strained but she offered a little smile when she had confirmed that it was indeed Trevor. Up close her eyes weren’t so much aged as they were swollen, like she had been crying recently. Trevor dipped forward in a slight bow, keeping his eyes on hers as he did so.

“It is you,” Leia said, shaking her head slightly. Her eyes flickered to the Corellian freighter in which Trevor had arrived. “What a sight,” she seemed to catch a breath in her throat… “…for sore eyes.”

“Your highness,” he greeted her, offering a smile. He looked past her again. Leia turned around to see what he was looking at but only the blond woman and the Sullustan were behind her, as expected, nothing else, so she turned back.

“Are you looking for… oh,” Leia suddenly realized who Trevor was expecting. “Jillian was here,” she said reassuringly. She did not ask where Trevor had been all this time, though she had witnessed the gut-wrenching effect his disappearance had had on his wife, years ago. Now she knew the feeling. Except in her case, Han was not coming back this time.

“She left to locate an Ithorian herdship to retrieve your son from his music academy,” Leia told him. He looked relieved or disappointed. She wasn’t sure which. Both. It was a great surprise to Leia to see Trevor at all. His whereabouts had been unknown for such a long time. It wasn’t a stretch to assume he had actually been dead.

Leia and Jillian could never really believe the story surrounding Trevor’s alleged death back when he had disappeared. A hanging? Come on. Not Trevor Wiley. It was too swift, too simple to defeat the bravura and cleverness of one of the Rebellion’s, and the New Republic’s best leaders.

“A herdship,” Trevor repeated, feeling dazed all of a sudden. His heart beat sped up just to hear the words spoken aloud. They were safe. Dakota was old enough now to be nearly through with his academy years. He could have easily been at school on any one of the planets which were destroyed by the First Order. Trevor hadn’t even allowed himself to think about it, except that he had set out to find him, and his mother, immediately. He swallowed. He had let too much time slip away. He forced his guilt from his mind with a smirk. A music academy? Of course Jillian had sent him to an academy of the arts. Not a military academy. Not a flight school. He closed his eyes for a moment. She had been accepted to the Alderaan’s School of Arts herself, and little Dak had demonstrated an affinity for music from a very young age. Now Trevor was thanking his lucky stars for it.

Leia’s companions headed back into the bunker and Leia took hold of Trevor by the arm to lead him in that direction as well.

“I’m sure the ship name is listed somewhere in my records,” she said. Trevor noticed how tightly she held onto his arm. He straightened a little and led her inside properly, spurred to chivalry. Leia’s face looked pained.

The bunkers were connected like a tunnel maze underground. It was warm and humid and everywhere there was a flurry of activity. Trevor felt as though he had just stepped back in time at the sight of the scene around him. Uniforms, jackets, boots, helmets, practically nothing on anybody matched but he noticed rank badges on those who were wearing uniforms. Generators were stacked near every holovid terminal for makeshift power sources. Ground transports drove containers from one side of the room to another.

“General,” a couple of officers nodded, indicating Leia. Trevor thought they were addressing him for a moment. General? He looked down at Leia. That’s a title he hadn’t heard in reference to her in quite a while.

Leia let go of Trevor’s arm and slipped off her outer robe and slung it across a dark terminal. She was dressed in a rank free khaki uniform with a dark purple belt around her waist secured with a silver buckle. She picked up a light pen and moved it in the air in an interactive holdvid.

“Here it is. Shal Hillind,” Leia told Trevor. He took a step forward to read the holovid for himself. The image of the note Leia had pulled up was a handwritten note scanned and sent to Leia hastily. Jillian’s hasty handwriting. Leia looked up at him. He looked into her eyes, searchingly. She looked hopeful, almost happy for him, yet still pained herself. Trevor was uncomfortable. He had heard some rumors, but he wasn’t sure about questioning her regarding them, or if it was any of his business.

“Are you all right?” He broached gently. Leia shrugged off the question, which he had half-expected.

“I don’t know,” she said matter-of-factly, and she picked up her robe from the terminal. Trevor rested his hands on his hips and watched her avoid the subject. “I’ll be back down here a little later,” she said. “I was just on my way to… do something. I’m expecting….” she stopped.

Trevor raised his eyebrows and waited for her to finish.

“I think,” Leia started to continue…. She appeared to be searching her feelings for a moment.

“Are you leaving right away?” She asked him then, her focus shifting right back.

He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. He guessed so, yeah. She didn’t wait for him to answer.

“Just wait a little bit, I want to talk to you.” She pulled the robe back on even though there were already tiny beads of sweat on her forehead. The young, blond woman was back at her side. Leia looked up at Trevor again expectantly.

He nodded. “Sure.”

Leia nodded and then gave the young woman her full attention. They walked away at a brisk pace. Trevor watched them a moment and then turned and walked back outside of the warm bunker. He took a deep breath of fresh air and walked back toward his ship, then past it to the X-Wing in the next bay. Casually he strolled around the Starfighter, which was painted black, just surveying it, remembering. The Resistance appeared to have some resources and organization, like the Rebellion he had joined all those years ago, but he didn’t know what kind of fleet they might have, after the massive galactic destruction. Suddenly he felt fidgety. He pulled a comlink out of his pocket and raised it to his lips.

Shal Hillind,” he recorded audibly for himself, then turned around. A pilot with dark hair and friendly eyes and an orange and white BB unit droid were approaching. The pilot looked at Trevor and nodded with a smile of comradery as they passed one another.

Trevor returned the nod and slipped the comlink back into his pocket as he walked back to his ship.

The round droid turned its robotic eye Trevor’s way, scanning him as it rolled by. The black X-Wing belonged to them and the pilot grabbed the rungs of the ladder and climbed up to the cockpit. There were more pilots, droids and technical crews walking around now, coming out of every bunker. Some kind of patrol or drill was in progress.

Trevor’s heartbeat sped up a little again from the energy he suddenly felt in the air as the Starfighter Corps rallied for takeoff. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against a hydrolic arm at the bottom of the Ragin’Rat’s ramp while he watched their activity. In minutes about a dozen X-Wings were rising up around him.

The pilot who exchanged nods with him was leading the Black X-Wing squadron. The air was loud with engine ignitions and repulsors whining and Trevor sniffed the scent of fuel and ozone and smiled nostalgically. Then he went back up into his ship and sat himself at the data terminal in the lounge. He tuned in more clearly with the Resistance channel that had connected him with Leia and requested a progress report and current update. He expected to have to go back inside and get clearance for that but as he was about to stand up it beeped an affirmative.

Leia’s code signature overrode the standard block. She must have been at a terminal inside and had already linked him to a direct source with her approval. He smirked and started to read, navigating without too much trouble. There weren’t many familiar names but one caught his eye. Han Solo, deceased. There were not any details listed. The last Trevor had heard Solo was not formally serving the Republic or the Resistance and was back to his old ways along with his first mate, the Wookie, Chewbacca.

For reasons of his own, so was Trevor, but this news was a surprise and a sad one. He was saddened for Leia and understood her melancholy now. He frowned and immediately looked up the Shal Hillind Ithorian herdship for any available records and details. The last update listed its location in the Chommell sector near the Naboo system. His frown deepened. It was likely that was far enough outside of the galactic center in the Mid Rim to have been safe from the destruction, but he would have to traverse that destruction to get there. The update was also logged before the Starkiller blast that had destroyed the Republic. Who knew what kind of updates records anywhere would have after that? It might be years before some semblance of government could begin to recreate a centralized system of records with up to the moment updates. If the herdship moved on, how would he find it?

Trevor went back to the record about Han Solo. The entry date was after the destruction. Just after it. How could anyone have known about him, specifically, after such a massive obliteration, unless he had already been here on base? Had the Resistance known what the First Order was going to do? Because as far as he knew, that had pretty much shocked everybody in the galaxy. He went on reading general updates on the Resistance’s action plans and regroupings. He raised an eyebrow. He must be connected directly through Leia’s access for this kind of information. How very trusting. What was about to be asked of him, exactly? As soon as he had that thought, Leia’s face cut in to fill his terminal.

“Wiley,” she said, “We need your help.”

“Me?” Had she forgotten that he had his own, urgent agenda at the moment? He had just got here! He hadn’t even been cleared.

“Yes, you. We just received word that the First Order has captured the capital cities of Chommell Minor, and Naboo,” Leia emphasized then continued. “I see you’ve located Shal Hillind, which is last noted in that sector and could be targeted if anything calls attention to it on the planetary radar of either of these systems.”

Trevor’s palms were starting to sweat and his knees were bouncing up and down now where he sat at his terminal.

“That’s what concerns me, what concerns you?” he asked her with impatience. The question could even have been interpreted as rhetorical. He needed her face out of his way so he could begin charting his journey.

“What concerns me is that my emissary was sent to Naboo right before its capture!” Leia’s tone matched Trevor’s. “We need their historic records and the deep space scans from that sector, and she knows all the details of this base, here, which I know made her a poor choice to send,” she went on quickly before Trevor could ask her why she would select someone to go through a combat zone without plausible deniability. “But she promised me….” Now Leia paused.

I have a bad feeling about this, Trevor thought.

“Promised you what?”

“She promised me that she could communicate from that herdship,” Leia said, “and still complete our mission before we relocate.”

Trevor felt his heartrate increase. Why would the Resistance emissary even know that the herdship was over there? …The only reason she would know there was a herdship nearby was if the emissary was already looking for a herdship. …And the only emissary Trevor knew who was looking for this specific Ithorian herdship, who Leia would trust…

Leia saw the understanding all over Trevor’s face and reached out to end the connection without further delay. “I trusted her to do so because I’ve known her for a long time,” Leia said defensively. There was something accusatory in her tone too. “And so do you.” She switched off and her image disappeared. Trevor immediately ran the navi-calculations and raised the ramp. He hustled into the cockpit and fired up the converters.

 

2

A thunderous crack broke the silence, and Jillian’s sleep cycle, in the little bunker carved into the mountain beneath Theed palace on Naboo. The walls seemed to rumble in response. Was this a core quake? The rumbling continued as Jillian pushed back her blanket and swung her legs over the side of the cot. She scowled and rubbed her sinuses.

A young man in a uniform leaned around the partition between the bunker’s sleep spaces.

“The invasion has arrived in the city,” the man said. He had come to wake her but upon finding her already awake he just provided this detail and moved on.

Jillian sighed and it turned into a yawn that warmed tears from the outer corners of her eyes. She pulled her blanket around her shoulders like a shawl. The Old Republic’s history on Naboo flickered across her mind and she scowled more deeply, then was startled when the metal bars of the outer escape door banged against their frame and echoed into the canyon below. The historic invasion of the Trade Federation was such a long time ago. Or was it, in the broad span of time? Was she really here, living through an invasion in Naboo’s capital today? Right now?

The door banged again from the wind. Then again.

Jillian crossed the space to the door in four strides and grabbed the knob. The wind nearly pulled her forward with the door and her blanket swooped from her shoulders into the air beyond in a microburst. Was there a storm too? The blanket unfurled and lapped up at its edges, like an ocean stingray in the sky, and then darted back and forth throughout its decent, riding jerking winds along the steep cliff side into the water below. She braced her left foot on the bottom of the frame and pulled back with both hands on the knob, closing the door against the wind, and thumbed the pad. The anchor lock snapped shut with a jolt. Lightning flashed with another loud crack of thunder and Jillian had her answer. She pulled her boots on over the pant legs of her flight jumpsuit, one at a time, then grabbed a series of items off the floor at the foot of her bunk: Her jacket, her utility belt, a blaster pistol, a comlink, her datapad. She attached the items to her person as she collected them, put a light pen in her mouth and turned to survey the room. Her eyes darted around quickly. She spun her head in the other direction and a braid of hair swung with the motion, landing on her shoulder.

Jillian left the little bunker. The passageway behind the bunker room lead in both directions, which shortly lead to a hub with access to the surface.

“We’re just under the lowest hanger of the palace ship bays, right?” Jillian asked quietly, when she had reached the hub. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her left ear and leaned on the desk next to the broad screen to peer at a rudimentary digital map.  Several objects appeared as blips on a grid on the screen.

“We’re just between here,” RSF Lieutenant Frasti pointed between two of the blips.

“And the library?” Jillian picked at the cuticle of her thumb with her forefinger.

“Here,” said RSF Sergeant Major Lowbri, pointing at another spot. He had overseen the guard for the royal records his entire life, and his father had overseen it before him.

Jillian met the eyes of Corporal Rothsland, who maintained the camouflaged airspeeders on D’Qar for the Resistance. General Organa had personally assigned him for Jillian’s mission. He was working with Theed’s Royal Security Forces to sustain that mission now that Naboo had also become a resource to the First Order, apparently.

There were thousands of years of the history of the universe lost to the Starkiller in the Great Tragedy, as it was becoming known in the Resistance. The Hosnian system had contained the centralized records which housed all of the knowledge of that vast time. This knowledge was accessible but only to an extent.

Coruscant still housed the records of generations but there has always been a source in a current, centralized government library of this knowledge, documented throughout the ages; beyond tragedies, beyond war, beyond loss and reconstruction, beyond bias and manipulation. Beyond the Sith and the Empire. Beyond the Old Republic and the New.

Coruscant was too obvious a location to access right now. How updated was it anyway? Since the seat of government had moved to Republic City on Hosnian Prime, the underworld organizations that had previously existed only within the lower layers of the megalopolis had taken control of the upper levels as well. Who knew the accuracy of the records today after years of manipulative propaganda spread for personal gains?

Jillian gritted her teeth. She’d have something to say about it before the light of factual knowledge was extinguished forever by a single, brutal display of power, however awesome! No matter how daunting the level of sudden loss and destruction had been, it could be overcome! As long as she had breath in her body, she would see to it personally, if she had to! Right now that personal challenge meant getting to that library! Getting to Theed’s royal library and connecting to millennia of galactic history, anthropology, cartography, physiology, zoology, ethology, physics, ethnography, philosophy….

“They’re in the capital. Surely their goal is the same as ours?” Rothsland was polite enough to nudge her out of her spinning thoughts with a question, but his tone was clear. Move. Now. It was irrelevant at this point what the First Order’s goal was, Jillian reasoned. She straightened and the little team moved into action without another word.

This bunker had an autolift directly up into the lower hangar. The lift brought them quietly to the surface. There had been no reason to go into deep hiding yet, but the First Order’s garrison would discover them soon enough. Every minute counted.

* * *

A putty-wrapped explosive fizzled and let out a quiet poof sound, melting the lock it was wrapped around.

Jillian pursed her lips in private amusement that none of her military escort had access to the library. It wasn’t a trust issue in a culture as old and steeped in tradition as the Naboo’s. It was just unheard of to provide the see of knowledge to the military forces in their society. Their orders came from the palace. A semblance of arguments for and against this practice danced on the outskirts of Jillian’s thoughts. Her own experience growing up in the nobility of Alderaan’s pacifist society provided plenty of opinions on this subject. Her life experience filled the gaps in that thinking. Pacifism was hardly the fashion of this time and place, on this day. It was difficult to recall in any day, she mused to herself as she lifted her blaster pistol from her hip and side-stepped into the library before her team cleared her safe entry.

RSF Lt. Frasti frowned then gave the go-ahead hand signal to enter as Jillian already moved through the door way. She didn’t know precisely where she was going, but she knew her way around any library.  Every minute counted. Every minute counted.

Jillian breezed past the main terminal and felt around for a panel under the desk.

“Here,” she stepped back, extending her arm, so that the men moving in behind her could see where she was touching.

Crpl. Rothsland stepped up beside her, crouched and looked under the desk to see the panel. He placed an interpreting device on it and leaned in further to see the reading it produced. It was an older device, but its reading was accurate. An astromech droid, R-12 wheeled in behind Crpl. Rothsland, who rose and placed the device into the panel the droid opened on its body to receive it.

“Can he download it all or do we need these?” Sgt. Major Lowbri stood at the ready with his team of hackers and their modern external drives.

Jillian looked at Lowbri and raised her eyebrows in surprise. What kind of a question was that? Weren’t these officers the main line of defense for the royal seat?

“He can load all of it, but make a back-up,” suggested Rothsland, while looking at the digital map on Lowbri’s datapad which Lowbri held up at the Corporal’s side so that he could read it.

Thunder rumbled again and Jillian’s heart began to beat more quickly in anticipation as the team began the uploading process. The danger was above them in the capital and the First Order’s small scale Naboo invasion had not yet had the time to investigate the entirety of the palace. When they did, the palace security records would reveal their upload. They had time, but not much. There were enough bodies to be visible in the room in a routine scan. If someone was looking at that video feed…. The sooner they completed this mission, the sooner she would be safely on her way to Shal Hillind to retrieve her son.

Dakota Dominik Wiley had been a student in the Ithor School of Music on the mobile Shal Hillind for three sessions, and Jillian had secured them a temporary home life in the city complex so that she could be with him, albeit intermittently. She afforded him the opportunity by working for the school’s administration and raising heirlooms in her private garden, which she contributed to the centralized School of Agriculture. Dakota had spent the better of his formative years on the herdship, in a steady environment of typical secondary schooling and extra-curricular activities, since the two of them had left the Faulkner farm on Corellia. The herdship occasionally moved from system to system, and the School of Music studied the genres and culminating musical styles of the present and past. Any frustration he had experienced before being there had been seemingly left behind in the sometimes heartbreaking memories of an upended childhood. He seemed engaged and content.

Who didn’t have an upended childhood in the ongoing political shifting of the galaxy in the last three generations? Anybody whose parents took care to avoid it in any way possible, that’s who, thought Jillian. She knew other parents who hadn’t been so fortunate.

It was maddening the herdship happened to be here, now, so close to the attention of the First Order. Her jaw stiffened as she clenched her teeth at the mere thought of it, resulting in a misleading pout that Rothsland interpreted as an invitation to comfort her, as though she was afraid. He patted her shoulder.

R-12 chirped and whistled an update that spelled itself out on Lowbri’s datapad. Rothsland and Jillian watched as the data appeared and met eyes, eagerly. They had it. They could go. It might not be to the extent of the old records on Coruscant, where Dak had been born, but it went back far into ancient times. More importantly it contained the most recent network updates after the Hosnian cataclysm. The team could duplicate the invaluable data as they moved.

Just then, an explosion above rocked them where they stood and every member of the team reached for a nearby wall or table as their footing failed them. Time had nearly run out. The First Order’s eyes were surely on the palace flight bays monitoring anything departing now. Now Jillian risked leading them right towards the herdship, but she had to get her son before she could return to the Resistance. War was here again. It had found her and she knew from experience that war spread like a virus.

“They’ll be looking for runners,” said Frasti. He was right. Anybody fleeing the First Order might not stop on an Ithorian herdship that just happened to be in the area. They would be getting as far away as they could by any means available to them. The key was going to be in blending in with ordinary citizens. Perhaps heading there wouldn’t draw too much attention.

This was a predictable move for the First Order if they were collecting historical data too. It couldn’t be a coincidence that they were here so immediately after obliterating all of the current records of the known archive on Hosnian Prime. Theed palace maintained excellent records on Naboo. What were they after that their short-sighted destruction had prevented them from retaining? Whatever the answer was to that question, the implication of ultimate domination was not lost on Jillian for one moment. She grimaced. Snoke already had his next plan in motion. Whatever it was, she was not about to allow the Resistance and General Organa to be devoid of the ability to seek out a potential answer to it.

“Did you cover our tracks?” She shouted to Lowbri as the team ran from the library out into the courtyard then back into the electric autolift that would lower them back to the bay where her shuttle was docked.

“What?!” Lowbri shouted, incredulously as he ran with her, Frasti, Rothsland and their team. R-12 rolled behind the group. They hadn’t had the time or the foresight to encrypt the digital record they had just secured with their upload.

“This mission was planned for an in-and-out retrieval, not some political intrigue!” Lowbri struggled to make his excuse heard as they moved. No, they had not covered up anything.

Jillian stepped into the autolift with Rothsland.

“It’s nothing they can’t retrieve themselves from the library,” Rothsland mused in the few moments ride down they had. “There’s no reason to follow us.”

Jillian thought he didn’t sound too sure as they then ran from the autolift, through the bay and up the ramp of the waiting Incom X4 gunship which was serving as their mission shuttle. Her ambassador’s quarters were straight past the common bay but she headed to the left towards the bridge instead. She had no intention of resigning herself to luxury quarters while an unfamiliar, mixed team of local and Resistance personnel determined her fate. She had already wasted enough time in the bunkers beneath Theed palace while the preparations and planning for her mission had been worked out in their palace committee.

Intrigue! This was not some kind of elaborate drill. This was a battle for access to the legacy of the world, as far as Jillian was concerned. More than that, the upload successful, it was a mission to get her within arm’s reach of her only child, her only family, and bring him with her to the sanest place left in the galaxy: the Resistance! The Naboo, while probably once a welcome bed of tradition that would have made her lonely Alderaanian heart sing, was absolutely driving her crazy now with its fairy tale protocol and procedural thinking! She was not some helpless ambassador.

As soon as the First Order got around to it, they would see exactly what information Jillian’s team had just gleaned from Theed’s ancient libraries, which used to be fed directly from the Hosnian seat of government. Whatever the First Order’s forces wanted, they would know that the Resistance also had it. The “political intrigue” had rarely been of more gravitas!

“Our exit codes are scrambled,” a tech officer on the bridge reported to anybody within hearing distance. The urgency was well understood among the flight crew at this point.

“We will depart immediately,” insisted another officer of high ranking, wearing the markings of Naboo’s Harte Secur. He gave the necessary orders for the bridge crew to work around the scrambled codes and assisted them in doing so as quickly as possible. Jillian let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t ask why a Naboo officer dictated that her Resistance shuttle make its departure. Another look into Rothsland’s eyes explained enough. Everybody who had departed D’Qar with her was not coming back. Their mission had not been without skirmish and now her Incom X4 bridge was outfitted with a handful of unfamiliar faces manning the stations where her own people had stood when they left D’Qar. She didn’t ask what had happened before she arrived back on the shuttle. The First Order was here and it was a good bet they would know shortly that an info retrieval team had been here too.

Jillian’s nostrils flared from restrained emotion and she watched the bridge port as the gunship made a beeline intent on exiting Naboo’s atmosphere and set its trajectory for Shal Hillind. She had promised the princess… General, that this was her only destination and that she could complete her mission from the nomadic city. Leia must have known as well as she did that the protocols on Naboo would likely make this impossible, but had allowed her the mission under this wording anyway. She knew Jillian was retrieving Dakota. As they departed, the herdship was clearly visible on the flight plan and as far as they could tell, it was unharmed and unaltered in any way.

Suddenly their ship jolted violently and everybody fell to the floor. Alarms were screaming throughout the bridge and the primary power had been knocked out. Red emergency lighting was all they had to crawl by.

“We’re hit! We’re not going to make it!” Somebody near Jillian hollered. She crawled towards the bridge doorway as the whole of the gunship lurched sickeningly.

“Get to the Starfighters! They’re picking off the escape pods!” A voice cut through the commotion. Jillian blinked as her eyes tried to adjust to the suddenly dim lighting. She felt momentarily blind and deaf and her hands and knees throbbed from catching herself against the hard bridge floor.

The officer in Harte Secur markings grabbed Jillian by the arm and pulled her to her feet. They ran and skidded down a corridor in the now off-kilter shuttle then climbed down a repair shaft and dropped into the small fighter hold. The air was gushing loudly! They must have broken the gunship completely apart! It was going to crash! The officer hurriedly put a helmet onto Jillian’s head and pressed a computer drive into her hand then gave her a shove in the direction of a ladder up into an A-Wing fighter. She gripped the rungs with all her strength as she climbed up inside and powered up the converters immediately. Then she secured a breathing mask to her helmet and took gasping breaths while she closed the cockpit shield above her. She crammed the data drive into a pocket on her right thigh and zipped it closed. The Naboo officer was in a local fighter taxiing around beside her when the gunship jolted again, skidding both fighters backwards away from their exit bay.

Jillian’s A-Wing wasn’t at full power but she pressed the boosters and lit up the ignition anyway, scraping the landing gear across the hangar bay as she blasted out and away from the Incom X4. Behind her part of the split gunship fell away as though in slow motion and dropped back towards the ground. The crash was going to be spectacular and a terrible mess for Theed. She furrowed her brow angrily. The First Order destroyed everything it touched without regard. Ahead of her, gold and red hues of an incredible storm cloud-streaked sunrise were scratched with black smoke. She flew through the shadows of what looked like several Atmospheric Assault Landers and saw one Upsilon command shuttle easing its way down like a giant bird of prey.

The A-Wing rocketed out of the atmosphere but Jillian couldn’t take a moment to set her flight plan as she flew into a swarm of fighters, some of which were her own, she saw with some relief. Some were also from Theed and she realized that the city squadron stationed across town by the temple courtyard must have made it out as well. Only the palace was secured by the First Order’s initial invasion then? They had to be there for galactic records. Why else?

Channel 3 flashed and Jillian pressed it and immediately heard the voices of her friendlies from the skirmish around her. She gripped the targeting lock tightly on her left throttle and fired at everything in sight with her right while pulling her fighter up and around in the skirmish. She was out of practice but her instincts were still sharp. She was at full power now and a couple of friendlies were also covering her.

“Get out of here! Go! Go! Go!” A commanding voice shouted over the live channel. Jillian couldn’t agree more! She made a beeline with two other fighters on her wing, through the swarm of starfighters zig-zagging after one another, and the trio exited the orbit. They were not alone, of course. Two enemy TIE fighters pursued them. One of her wingmen broke off in an effort to engage them and the other one exploded in a flash of fire, smoke and debris that sent Jillian spinning back towards the traffic in orbit over the planet, though they were far from the capital now.

Jillian struggled with the A-Wing to regain control before she ended up slamming into everyone around her and quickly steadied her flight among the other crafts. For the most part, it was a typical Naboo morning before the invasion had landed on planet. There was congestion on this side because everyone had been re-routed away from the capital, she supposed. Or were they fleeing? More enemy fighters patrolled past her. She was hidden in plain sight in the planetary traffic.

Jillian let out a puff of relief and relaxed her grip. Her hand joints ached from squeezing so hard. She flexed and un-flexed them a few times then pulled on a pair of flight gloves that were in the cockpit of the fighter. She ran a search for the Shal Hillind and frowned. It was further from the Naboo than she thought, closer to Chommell Minor. If she could clear the orbit without the First Order’s notice, could she make it? She charted a course and the flight plan loaded with supplementary recommendations. Jillian skimmed, then ignored them. It would be very close. She shut off everything unnecessary to conserve power and steered her A-Wing back around in the other direction. She wanted to remain on this side in this traffic a little longer before making any moves.

Jillian closed and opened her eyes with slow blinks and recounted the faces of the beings who had accompanied her on this mission. She didn’t even know the name of the officer who had helped her to the Starfighter. She rested her hand on the pocket containing the data drive. The Resistance needed access to galactic records but now how was she going to get back to them? A memory flickered across her mind’s eye. The flight simulators on the asteroid base when she first joined the rebellion had used the RZ-1T trainer model. Her A-Wing was equipped with a hyperdrive and could outrun the TIE fighters. She glanced over her shoulder. There wasn’t a second seat for an instructor in the interceptor she was flying now. No place for Dakota.

Shal Hillind was a ship, albeit a very huge one. Its resources and mobility could make it a more elusive base than any planet or moon. The only problem was that a herdship was also one of the slowest capital starships with the smallest of hyperdrives. It could serve as a big, slow target for the First Order. She’d have to find another way from there. Once she even made it there. She faced forward and scanned the surrounding traffic and space for more fighters. The action was beyond her now. She couldn’t see anything. She flicked the comm-switch a couple of times but only heard static. Channel 3 was silent.

And now, we wait, a voice in her mind said. It was not an audible voice. It was just one she imagined from time to time. A voice that used to make light of things, however dire. A trusted voice. A familiar voice.

3

Trevor was impressed by the herdship. It was more than a city floating in space. It looked like half of a moon, with skyscrapers sticking out of the center of the flat side. The city was surrounded and intersected by water ways and circles of forests that surrounded the entire plate. It was completely self-sustainable with a functioning eco-system. Everything was capped with plastisteel viewports. The entire place was lit-up with enough wattage to power a fleet of dreadnaughts. It maintained a cycle of day and night.

“It looks like a giant toy model for some spoiled prince who wanted a whole world to play with,” Trevor said out loud to himself. His technical computer beeped something in response behind him. He glanced at the monitor to read the translation and grinned.

“Yes, actually I would,” he said. The memory of his old R2 unit, ‘Screamer’ had been long ago uploaded into the Ragin Rat’s computer. He leveled out to make his approach to the herdship flight decks and transmitted his identification. When he was assigned a platform, he circled around the side and brought his YT-2400 freighter in gently. His platform was beneath an upper observation deck. As he powered down the systems he scanned the planetary report. Ecology, power conversions, temperature, local news…. Trevor stopped. The herdship was experiencing an influx of refugees from the Naboo. He frowned and leaned forward to read more details. The invasion must have been larger than they thought. He didn’t expect the herdship to stick around here too much longer. He was glad he had been able to connect with it. He lowered the ramp of his ship and left the cockpit.

Outside, Trevor was met with the typical bustle of daily life. A droid on six wheels rolled up to him and extended a datapad. Trevor entered his code to pay for the docking fee. There was a quick-order food counter across the docking bay with a local broadcast running on a screen behind it. His stomach rumbled. Okay maybe that would be his first stop. He made his way there. The stools were oversized for him since they were designed to seat an Ithorian and his feet dangled when he sat on one. He placed an order on the datapad at his place and after a few moments, long robotic arms extended out from an open panel in the far wall and presented him with a plate of food and a mug of water. Trevor looked up a city map on the datapad and studied it while he ate.

The academy was housed in one of the city towers in the middle, not too far from the water way that wound around the upper level, connecting each village marketplace in the jungle ecology. He could catch a ferry and travel over there that way. He gulped down his beverage and slid off of the high stool to head away from the flight decks then thought better of it. It had taken two days by the herdship’s chronometer for him to get here and he wondered why he hadn’t had any trouble navigating his hyperspace routes here through the inner rim. He also wondered if Jillian and Dak were still even here. In what kind of ship had Jillian left D’Qar? Who accompanied her? Trevor should have asked Leia a few more questions. All right, the School of Music it was, then. If Dakota wasn’t there, there would still be some record of him, right? He took a deep breath at the thought of seeing him again. He headed out of the docking bay without pause this time, to the turbo lifts to the upper level to catch a ferry. He was following the only lead he had on the location of his only child, and force-willing, his wife.

* * *

Jillian closed her eyes and smiled in the breeze as the ferry wound its way along the waterway towards the lifts that led down the flight deck. It looked almost normal here, like the problems of the galaxy couldn’t possibly intrude. Yesterday had been harrowing, but she and Dakota were still safe and so was the data upload from Naboo. That was all that mattered. The First Order had not followed her to the herdship. She was trying to just enjoy the temporary peace. The galaxy was going back to war but right here, right now, she had a moment of serenity. Perhaps it wouldn’t be any trouble to return to her Starfighter and sign it in properly under a pseudonym. She might need it. Or she could try to trade it for something else more discreet.

Eventually the First Order fighter patrol had let Naboo traffic begin to depart the orbit and she had kept her fighter in the blind spot of a Nubian yacht among its starfighter escort. By the time she’d broken away from them she was close enough to Shal Hillind to land in the herdship without any trouble, which had still surprised her. She had abandoned the A-Wing in a docking bay without paying the terminal fee or identifying herself, and she hadn’t returned to it.

The waterway curled like an S around the upper level of the herdship with five stops at separate marketplaces along its path. The central stop provided access to a monorail terminal and a train weaved into the city at the center of the mobile world. The views along the ferry’s route were lovely, lush with the jungle foliage on either side. Though the “sky” didn’t match the authenticity of the “land.” Above, despite the artificial light projected around her, Jillian was all too aware of the vastness of space beyond. She stood by the railing on the top deck of the ferry and didn’t turn on the datapad she had intended to make use of during the ride. She leaned forward and rested her forearms on the railing as the ferry carried her along slowly.

Jillian’s thoughts were not on lovely vistas or the twinkling stars hidden by the massive stage lighting above. They weren’t on her mission either, though she still hadn’t reasoned a way back to D’Qar and didn’t know how much longer until their evacuation. Dakota had mastered a new concert and while he wasn’t the star, he shone like one in his mother’s eyes in the performance she had just attended at the academy, surrounded by other parents. Other, happy parents who didn’t know what she did.

The ferry horn sounded and Jillian looked towards the pier where she would be disembarking in a few moments. It looked remarkably like a pier on a planet lined with fishing villages that harvested the fruit of the seas. This particular pier also looked like a tourist trap designed to embellish such a village. Restaurants and aquariums filled its seaside viewports, though she knew nothing of aquatic sustainability could possibly be harvested from a waterway that only had any semblance of flow from a generator designed to create it. Any food being raised on a herdship was not from the water, but from the designated land masses which were capped with plastisteel to protect them from the coldness of space. She wondered at the quality of such food at every meal, from animals raised without natural sunlight, after all she had learned on the farm on Corellia on the outskirts of Coronet city.

Jillian put her datapad into the small bag that hung at her side. She rested her arms back on the ferry railing to take in the last couple of minutes of the ride into the docks. Her eyes moved along the pier to the short line of passengers waiting to board the ferry she was riding.

* * *

Trevor stood in line at the ferry terminal between several humans waiting to board and mused that there weren’t more Ithorians around on the Ithorian herdship. Times, they are a-changin,’ he thought the adage to himself, and he’d be more concerned about that, if this weren’t a random outpost. This was very, very different from the outer rim where he had spent the last seven years. The populace was polite, pleasant, even. He turned his body to face the water where the ferry was pulling in and drummed his fingers on the wooden railing.

The ferry was rudimentary. It was broad with curved edges and a lot of windows. There were only two levels. The edges around the windows provided room on a perimeter deck for riders to stand outside as well. The top level had an open balcony in the front and the back, with a roofed area in the middle for passengers to avoid the wind. What wind? They were on a starship in space, despite the pretty scenery. His eyes lifted to the top level.

Trevor froze.

A woman on the upper level in a long, navy blue dress turned her head away from him and put something into a bag she had hanging across her body. There was a bundle of beautiful brown curls at the nape of her neck. When she turned back, a tendril of hair above her ear flickered across the side of her face in a breeze generated from the ferry’s motion, and Trevor blinked, waiting for it to blow away from her cheekbone so that he’d have a perfectly unobstructed view.

The woman turned her head slightly and her eyes moved over the pier where Trevor was waiting to board. He stared at those eyes and held his breath as they appeared to look in his direction and then move past him. Trevor let out the breath slowly. The woman’s eyes blinked back to him then and seemed to stare directly into his. Her head cocked slightly. A jolt like an electric current washed over him and if he didn’t know better, he’d have sworn she could see all the way through him. They were eyes he once knew very well, piercing him.

Jillian’s mouth opened slightly and her expression looked as jolted as he felt. It was a rosebud shaped mouth he once knew very well too.

The ferry horn sounded, startling them both, and Trevor blinked. Jillian’s hands gripped the railing on the edge of the ferry and she leaned forward slightly with her expression still gaping. The water lapped around the ferry’s edges as it docked and began to rock the ferry from the halted motion. A voice that was probably the captain’s called out something to announce their arrival and the people around Trevor shuffled in preparation to board. He didn’t move or take an eye off of Jillian. She turned her head slightly at the sound of the captain’s voice but didn’t move her eyes from his either. There was no mistaking her now. Trevor sucked in another breath.

Then Jillian broke his gaze and whirled around, looking away from him, and then looked back again. She let go of the railing and turned around to head towards the roofed area at the top of the ferry. Trevor saw her turn to look at him one more time before she disappeared into the belly of the boat.

The terminal staff secured the ramp onto the edge of the bottom of the ferry and another employee at the top of the ramp opened a rope that had blocked anybody from walking down the gangplank. Passengers began to disembark.

Trevor stood on his toes and tried to see through the windows where the passengers were appearing as they exited the boat and made their way up the ramp. The staff would not open the rope for his line to board until the current passenger load had disembarked. He had never felt more impatient in his life while he waited, trapped in line, looking at every one of them as they stepped out onto the gangplank. Eventually the flow of passengers stopped. He had not seen her yet. He looked back at the crowd of beings who had just been on board the ferry. There was not a blue dress among them. Then he turned back to the boat. The staff appeared to be preparing to leave, but his line had not yet been opened to board. What the…?

“Hey!” Trevor yelled when he saw the staff stoop to remove the ramp from the ferry as though to depart again. A few people around him in a line began to murmur and complain as well. Why weren’t they being boarded?

The ferry horn sounded again as though for departure.

That was it!

Trevor half leapt and half climbed over the railing holding him in place in line, and the next one dividing the pier from the ramp. He strode down the sloping ramp towards the ferry.

The staff was not practiced for this sort of defiant action. Boarding and unloading passengers was uneventful in their routine job. The crew he encountered had finished detaching the ramp from the ferry and objected vocally and raised their arms as though to stop him. The ferry began to drift back away from the pier.

Trevor pursed his lips in frustration and his hurried strides turned into a run. He reached the rescinded ramp and warded off any resistance as he leapt from the pier towards the space on the ferry’s edge where the ramp had just been connected. There hadn’t been time to close the railing yet. Trevor’s boots landed on the edge with a sliding thud and his hands flailed in a desperate attempt to steady himself on board the moving vessel.

The attendants on board grabbed his hands and helped steady him and immediately began stuttering out regulations and an explanation for departing without boarding any passengers.

Trevor had no patience for them. His balance regained, he pushed past them and into the lower level of the ferry.

The bottom level was empty. He saw rows of empty seats in multiple aisles before him. At the far end was a snack bar with an attendant standing behind it, looking at him aghast. Trevor ran in that direction, towards one of the staircases on either side of the bar. The attendant ducked down beneath the counter. Trevor grabbed the staircase railing as the ferry swung out back onto the waterway. He pulled himself around by one hand in the ferry’s turning motion and continued without pause up the stairs to the second level.

The top level was empty as well. Trevor paused only for a moment to catch his breath. His eyes darted around the little room furiously. He crossed the upper level quickly and went through a doorway to the balcony. Then he ran around the perimeter of the ferry in a desperate search but still he didn’t find her. He didn’t wait to ponder this mystery but instead re-entered the upper level on the other side and pounded his way down that staircase to the lower level.

A door on that side of the snack bar smacked against its frame. Trevor broke his stride by grabbing a supportive column with one hand and reached out for the door with the other. He swung the door open with a flourish. It was a refresher and he was finally rewarded for his pursuit by the sight of the back of a blue dress with an open back exposing the shoulder blades of his wife.

Jillian whirled around to face him and Trevor spit out a gasp with a smile. Jillian stared back at him and her eyes darted back and forth between his eyes. Her lips parted in the same gasping smile for one beautiful moment and then she bit back that smile and tried to leap past him out of the restroom. She nearly passed him too, while he was regaining his footing on the water vessel but he reached out and snagged one of her hands before she could escape. The boat rocked again, leaning her back towards him. She turned to face him as her balance faltered. He let go of her hand and caught her by her upper arms with both of his hands, before she collided into him. He ignored the fact that she had run away instead of directly into his arms. He knew her. She was overwhelmed. The skin on her arms was pimpled in chills beneath his fingers. Her familiar scent filled his nostrils as he stared down at her in disbelief. She looked up at him with the same wide-eyed expression he remembered from the first time he saw her during the mission on Chequer Base all those years ago….

“Wait! Easy!” He had yelled to be heard over the hum of the ferry engines, but Jillian was not struggling. Her fight-or-flight response was triggered by the shock of him but she was still now, just staring.

The ferry staff was standing around them at a short distance, watching, unsure what to do after pushing off without passengers at Jillian’s insistence, then watching this man leap from the dock on board. The snack bar attendant peeked up over the counter from his hiding place beneath it. Some good they’d be in a fight.

Trevor felt Jillian’s arm muscles relax slightly beneath his hands and he softened his grip, just a little.

“Trevor,” Jillian said breathlessly like she couldn’t believe it. Her eyes took in his face searchingly, moving from his eyes to his brow to his mouth to his eyes again. Then her expression began to crumple like she was about to be angry.

Trevor didn’t wait for this transformation. He pulled her towards him, let go of her right arm to take her face in his hand, and kissed her. He let go of her left arm and wrapped his other hand around her waist to the small of her back and pulled her in the short remaining distance between them. He felt her body stiffen, then relax and then she kissed him back. For one moment, everything else faded away.

When they parted they just stared at each other. Jillian shook her head slightly. Where? Why? Her mind struggled with the questions it had carried for so long.

“How could you-?” She chose to start….

“I know!” Trevor interrupted her sharply, closed his eyes a moment and let out a breath. He opened his eyes again to meet hers, piteously. “I know,” he repeated more gently.

Jillian’s expression showed a little curiosity and hope. Something had happened that had kept him away…?

Trevor and Jillian looked away from each other then, aware of the ferry staff standing scattered on the lower level, watching them. The expressions on their faces must have communicated that there was nothing more to see here and the crew were basically eavesdropping at this point.

The ferry staff returned to their duties. One man shook his head and a Rodian made an annoyed spitting sound. Trevor lowered his brow at him. Nobody’s perfect you pungent little….

Jillian halted his thought when she turned back and looked at Trevor again, then side-stepped and walked past him outside to the back of the ferry to the deck on the lower level. He squinted slightly at the Rodian who walked away, then Trevor followed her out onto the stern deck.

They stepped to the railing and stood beside one another just looking out as the ferry chugged along the waterway. For several long minutes they remained like this, not speaking, not touching. Jillian watched the water churn below in the ferry’s wake.

“I can’t believe it,” Jillian finally spoke, just shaking her head slightly. “I mean, I can,” she added, sort-of scoffing. She had a lot of questions but was also anxious about the answers. The abandonment, combined with the fear of what could have happened to Trevor, had been anguishing. She had gone through many of the stages of grief before adjusting and settling into a routine for Dakota. A new life.

Dakota. He had not seen his father for the whole of his adolescence.

Trevor looked down at Jillian and swallowed. She didn’t look back to him but lifted her eyes from the water to stare off into the distance. She blinked intermittently.

“I take the rail at the next stop,” she said then, almost absently. “We’ll dock there in about twenty minutes. We have an apartment….” She trailed off in a sigh, and stole a glance at him.

Trevor turned to look over his shoulder but couldn’t see around the bulky ferry to where they were headed yet. He turned back to Jillian, and frowned just a little sadly at her. He knew it was time for an explanation but he didn’t know where to start. He felt awkward and didn’t reach for her again, despite their passionate kiss. Maybe it had just been the shock, and a relief. Trevor’s thoughts were running in some circles as well. Pretend until it’s real. He took a deep breath.

“He was twelve,” Jillian said before he could speak, revealing her train of thought. She turned slightly to face Trevor again. Her brow was furrowed and her tone had a hint of bitter regret. “He’s nineteen now,” she stated, more for herself, as though she had just done the math now.

Trevor sighed and refrained from responding that he could count, thanks.

“Listen,” he began. Jillian shook her head.

“No,” she said. “We’re not going to do this, tonight.” She was firm. “Tonight he’s out celebrating with his friends. I’ve just come from the mid-session concert. They’re about to begin their final semester and will be busy preparing their juries for final marks in four… months,” Jillian trailed off again. She was wrestling with ruining the completion of his program at the academy. But it had been terrifying to sneak back onto the herdship after her escape from Naboo. Her heart began to pound at the mere thought of leading the First Order here to the sanctuary of Shal Hillind. This location had worked, for all intents and purposes. They were regular, legitimate citizens. They had been safe.

Trevor got it. Dakota was four months away from graduation.

“How did you get here?” Trevor said quietly to coax her to continue sharing. “Initially,” he added. He lifted his eyebrows expectantly.

Jillian turned to look at him thoughtfully for a moment. “When the Resistance gathered we were on Coruscant, closing on the apartment.” Jillian avoided Trevor’s eyes. “Shal Hillind was near, over Chandrilla at the time. Once I got Dakota enrolled and settled here, I… I joined General Organa and divided my time…”

Trevor pictured Jillian selling their family home, and hiding their unsuspecting son here while she joined the Resistance. He also became emotional at the mention of Coruscant. He grabbed her arms again, to get her attention in a sudden wave of desperation, not like earlier when she tried to elude him. He interrupted her summarization and startled her slightly with his sudden action.

“You sold it?” Trevor demanded.

Jillian furrowed her brow uncomfortably.

“Yes,” she replied. “It had been almost two years,” she started defensively. “Nobody heard anything… stop it, let go.” Jillian squirmed free of his grasp this time. “What is the matter with you?”

“I just can’t believe it’s gone,” Trevor rested his hands on his hips. “It was a family home long before we met you know,” he added, frowning.

“Well I couldn’t believe you were gone,” Jillian replied with a frown of her own.

They stared at each other for a moment. Their stances matched uncountable face-offs over their years together.

“Oh, come on,” Trevor protested evenly. “You didn’t have to sell it just because you were moving on,” he tested, raising his eyebrows slightly. “You could have at least held on to the deed.” He lowered his arms and shifted his weight on the deck.

Jillian averted her eyes and tucked the loose strand of hair behind her ear. He wasn’t volunteering any reasons yet for his prolonged absence and she was torn between feeling hurt and curious and the relief that he was alive and well and standing in front of her again.

“The city was changing,” she added, “a lot, after the seat of government moved to Hosnian Prime. It isn’t quite what you remember.”

“What do you mean, changing?” Trevor asked.

Jillian looked back at him and smirked.

“Your street rat underworld you used to glamorize changed it,” she said. “That network was enormous and they took over the upper layers seemingly the minute the seat of government moved out.”

Trevor couldn’t help grinning slightly at this.

“So what?” He retorted. “They tear the place apart or something?”

“No,” Jillian scowled at his amusement. “But they are unbelievably corrupt.”

“And the government wasn’t?” Trevor asked, pointedly. “What did you expect after the Empire fell?”

Jillian shook her head slightly and looked out across the water. Their stop was approaching in the near distance. There was more to it than that but she wasn’t about to get pulled into a political discussion with him and have her ideals mocked and prodded the way he liked to do to her. She had a feeling he wouldn’t be all together pleased with the state of affairs on his home planet too. She had also left for a variety of reasons, the largest of which was Trevor’s absence and her own heartache. She had left for an opportunity to raise their son away from the megalopolis for a change, and she had needed a change.

The ferry horn sounded loudly from where they stood on the deck and Trevor put his hands over his ears then grabbed two fistfuls of his dark brown hair and squeezed, pulling his own hair for a moment in frustration. Some pieces stayed sticking out when he let go. Jillian turned to move past him.

“We have to get off now,” she said.

The ferry had pulled into the terminal at the central marketplace. It was following its usual route, despite Jillian’s attempt to commandeer it from this schedule. The ferry staff had been none too pleased by the dramatics they had endured and many of them had missed the turnover of their shifts as a result of it and now had to work an extra tour of the herdship before getting back to the home terminal by the docking bay. Trevor and Jillian were not the most loved passengers in the twenty-five minute ride to the next stop, but at least now there were other passengers to board to occupy the disgruntled staff. The couple stepped onto the dock and walked up to the top of the ramp.

This marketplace was busier than the others because it connected to the central city via the monorail. Once on the streets, Jillian took the lead to head towards the train station. The trains snaked above them on cement rails. Jillian lifted her skirt from her ankles and put her other hand on the railing to climb the steps.

The streets were crowded and the bustle lent Trevor energy and reinvigorated him a little. He may have catching up to do with his family, but a day ago he hadn’t even had them. A year before he hadn’t even had his freedom. It was like he had just been handed his entire life back. He looked out towards the city as they climbed to the overlook the monorail station provided. He was thinking forward again.

“Look, I understand what you said about Dak’s final semester,” he began. That was a tough one. He had missed the majority of his son’s adolescence and now he was going to reappear and rob him of his graduation at the same time. But as long as the herdship was in the Chommel sector where the First Order had just invaded, he didn’t intend to stay there with his family.

Jillian sighed. She was also thinking about breaking the news to Dakota.

“We’re leaving. Right away.” Trevor was firm, daring her to disagree. Their train pulled into the station and they boarded and took seats in the front, sitting sideways in the car, beside each other. Trevor bounced one of his knees with some impatience, but he was making an effort to be civilized.

Jillian sighed again but didn’t protest.

“I was terrified to lead them right here when I escaped from Naboo,” she confessed.

“Escaped? What happened?” Trevor looked at her.

Jillian leaned against his shoulder and quietly recounted the data upload and escape and her subsequent evasion hidden in planetary traffic. Trevor’s held his head low to hear her. His eyes moved over the other passengers in their car while she spoke

“…I finally had an opening to appear as normal as anyone else travelling through here,” she shook her head. “But I still didn’t want to be scanned. I don’t understand why they didn’t track me. There aren’t an abundance of A-Wings flying around out here. At least, I don’t think so,” she half-asked Trevor, out of an old habit of discussing strategy with him. He was out of touch of course, but he used to have a pretty sharp assessment of these kinds of things. Jillian frowned. “I don’t even know who made it out, she said. “…if anybody,” she added.

Trevor was inwardly incensed at the thought of her ordeal without his being there to help her. They didn’t track her? Not likely. He frowned.

“Where is the data drive right now?” He asked her, focusing on the issue at hand.

“In the safe,” Jillian said. Of course it was in the safe. It wasn’t everything, but it could be. Who knew when they’d be able to connect to the universal network or if it would be maintained or updated in any way in the near future; it was a life line.

Trevor nodded. “I’d feel better if I got it to the Rat,” he mused. Come to think of it, he’d feel better with them all staying on the freighter tonight so that they could head out straight away in the morning.

“The Rat?” Jillian sat up and laughed. “You don’t mean-?”

Trevor leaned back and grinned. “That’s right, sweetheart,” he replied, enjoying her reaction. “She needs a little work, but she’s still doing the job. I got her going again after, uh…” Trevor didn’t exactly want to start catching up by telling her that his imprisonment had ended a year ago and he hadn’t come to find her and Dakota right away. He had needed to rebuild his cash flow and take care of a few things and the months had slipped away from him in his hardened state. He had reverted into a covert lifestyle.

“… I got her up and running recently, after reclaiming her title,” he finished vaguely, then cleared his throat and changed the subject. “She’s docked back in the flight decks, so now that I know the way I can just run it back there, along with a few things now.”

Jillian bit her bottom lip thoughtfully then said, “I don’t know if I’m comfortable with the data drive all the way over there, away from us, while we sleep here in the city, overnight.” She wondered how her wording had just come across and felt her cheeks warm. It was only a two-bedroom apartment and he was her husband, after all. It had just been so long….

Trevor saw Jillian’s cheeks redden slightly and his heart beat a little faster, hopefully.

“My dear I do believe you are blushing,” he teased, just the way he had years ago.

Jillian stole a glance back up at him and shifted in her seat. Her heart beat a little faster too. He grinned down at her and nudged her body with his.

“It’s a tedious journey with these public transportation services here,” Trevor commented then observantly. “It would be a hassle in an emergency, obviously. How much will you need to get together to be ready to depart?” Trevor asked her. “Can we get it done before Dak comes home?” Had he said home? He had the same casual familiarity as she did, he mused to himself. He had always heard that true friendships transcend time. They almost hadn’t missed a beat. Almost.

Jillian shrugged. “We didn’t discuss a specific curfew for tonight,” she said. “It’s a special occasion for him. Oh, Trevor, I hope this news isn’t too disappointing.”

“It can’t be helped,” Trevor said insistently. “What do you mean no curfew? He’s still in school and he doesn’t have a curfew?”

“There aren’t exactly a lot of places to go around here to get into trouble,” Jillian said, unconcerned. Trevor smirked.

“He’s nineteen and out with his classmates. Celebrating, you said. There’s always a way to get into trouble,” he said. His stomach did a little flip flop at the thought of meeting his now grown son, all over again. “He is my son,” Trevor quipped wryly, grinning slightly.

Jillian pursed her lips together. “I don’t imagine you had a curfew at his age,” she pointed out.

“Exactly,” Trevor replied.

The monorail glided to a stop at the center of the herdship city and they headed out and down the stairs to the streets. It was even busier and more crowded than the marketplace.

“How many beings do they let on here at a time?” Trevor asked as they picked their way through the crowd. Jillian shook her head.

“This is the most crowded I’ve ever seen it,” she replied. There were people and gungans everywhere. Many were carrying luggage. Jillian and Trevor saw No Vacancy signs on every door as they made their way to Jillian and Dakota’s apartment building. The lighting dimmed as they reached her building. The day cycle was over. People who were dressed too well to be homeless were setting up blankets on the sidewalk.

The doorman buzzed them inside when he saw her. “Good evening Mrs. Wiley,” he greeted them.

“Good evening Terreck,” Jillian replied. “Is there any room here in the lobby? All these people!”

“There was some concern among the tenants,” Terreck replied and shrugged. “I imagine everybody’s going to have to open their doors soon though. The whole planet seems to have found us on their way out of the system. What will they all do when it’s time to depart? Do you know where Shal Hillind is stopping next?”

“No, I don’t,” Jillian admitted. She recalled only two moves before in the four years she had been spending time here and she wasn’t sure about the reasoning behind them. Probably it kept a schedule to stock supplies of necessaries for daily life. You couldn’t grow everything here. “There must be a schedule at city hall,” she said.

She followed Terreck’s gaze to Trevor standing behind her with his hands resting on his hips, then looked back at the doorman.

“This is Mr. Wiley,” she offered simply for an introduction. Terreck’s eyebrows raised. There had never been a ‘Mr. Wiley’ before, but Jillian wasn’t going to take the time to offer this man an explanation, or mention their plans to depart.

Good girl, Trevor thought, impressed.

“How’s it going?” Trevor said to the doorman. The trio stood there a moment and then Jillian nodded a smile at Terreck.

“Please buzz me as soon as Dakota gets home,” she asked him. “Good-night.”

“All right, very good. Good-night ma’am. Sir,” Terreck touched his hat in a quick formal gesture to them and leaned over to call the lift. The door rose immediately for them.

Trevor folded his arms in the lift and leaned against one wall. Jillian smoothed her dress then opened her bag and turned away from him to fish through it for some reason. She was fidgeting in the tiny space with him. Trevor watched her.

“Maybe we should all just stay on the Rat tonight,” he broached the idea to her.

Jillian straightened and looked back at him thoughtfully. He wanted to get them out of here. She had learned through many years together to trust his instincts. There did seem to be an influx of refugees from the Naboo system moving in, and there was no telling if there were First Order spies in that mix. It was just too close for comfort.

Trevor’s ears popped and he forced a yawn to clear them.

The lift reached Jillian’s floor and the doors opened. They stepped out into a hallway and walked down the hall a few doors to the right. Jillian thumbed the control pad, the door raised and she stepped inside. She took the strap of her bag and lifted it off of her shoulder over her head and set the bag on a small table. Trevor stepped inside behind her and took a look around. He closed the door.

“I’ll be back,” Jillian stated simply and opened the first of two doors on the left side of the room and closed it behind her.

Trevor smirked when she closed her bedroom door. They were back to modesty then. Great. He made his way around the living room.

There was a man’s jacket slung over the back of a chair. His son’s jacket, Trevor supposed, looking at it with affection. He picked it up and noticed it was big enough for him to wear. He put it back over the chair back. The kitchenette on the inside wall, he noticed had dishes on a drying rack beside the sink and a towel hanging on the handle of a counter drawer. He stopped at the view port on the far wall and looked outside for a minute. They were more than half-way up in this building, which wasn’t the tallest building in the city. He continued around the room and picked up a picture from an end table. It was a picture of Jillian and the smiling young man at her side was his son towering about a foot taller than her. He stared at the picture. Taller than him, too. Dakota was tall and lean and a little lanky but his shoulders were broad, giving him a triangular frame. His jawline was masculine and beginning to look squared. Gone were the dimpled cheeks that had matched his mother’s. An Adam’s apple was visible at his throat. His smile was smirking like his father’s. His eyes were his mother’s all over again, even beneath his father’s strong brow.

Trevor looked at the picture a long time, proudly.

Jillian opened the bedroom door and reappeared in black pants and a casual, cowl-neck sweater with short, capped sleeves. Bright poppy-colored ballet flats stood out on her feet at the bottom of the skinny, dark pant legs. Her hair was loose, the curls sitting on her shoulders now, framing her face in layers. It was a little shorter than Trevor remembered it. She was carrying a pile of folders, a datapad and an external drive, and she joined Trevor in the living room and set the pile on the wide table in the middle of the room.

Trevor returned the framed picture to its place. “This is nice,” he stated, indicating the little apartment with a hand gesture.

“Mm-hmm,” Jillian replied without looking up. She knew what picture he was regarding. She couldn’t think about that now. She slid one of the folders from the pile and sat on a sofa. She pulled one leg up beneath her and opened the folder, thumbing through papers.

Trevor stepped down into the recessed living room and sat on the other small couch on the other side of the wide table. He picked up the drive.

“This is it?” He confirmed.

Jillian glanced up at him.

”Yes,” she said then looked back to the folder. She selected a page and put it on top of the pile while Trevor slipped the drive into his jacket’s inside-breast pocket. “This is what we have,” she said.

Trevor glanced down at a household report and nodded, without reading it. Obsessively organized as always. He looked at her a moment. She was right there. It was almost surreal to be back in a cozy, residential living room sitting across from her.

Jillian looked back at him with the same feeling. They were both quiet a minute.

Trevor suddenly felt so at peace his muscles unwound and he leaned back into the couch cushions. It felt like he had not been able to relax like this for years. He knew danger loomed in the system but at this moment he felt tucked away, hidden in the herdship city, in a random apartment. He pushed off one boot with his other foot, then the other boot, which thudded to the floor and he stretched his legs out in front of him, slid down in his seat and put one arm up on the adjoining cushion of the couch.

“I think I’m changing my mind about packing right away. I need a powernap,” Trevor said and enjoyed another yawn.

Jillian arched one eyebrow slightly. “This isn’t what you used to mean by ‘nap,’ is it?” She teased lightly.

Trevor grinned broadly at her. He let her words hang in the air so she could wonder what he was thinking. He was pleased to see her blush again and swung his legs up on the couch, then reached for a throw pillow and tucked it under his head with one arm and laid, facing her. He held her eyes another moment, and then closed his, still smiling.

Jillian felt warmth flood her cheeks again and turned her head once his eyes were closed. She put her elbow on the arm of her couch and rested her chin on her fist while her eyes moved over the city lights through the viewport, and she listened to Trevor’s breathing grow even. She had questions. But the same spell washed over her in the quiet of the still apartment at dusk and left her feeling peaceful. She felt so much safer with her husband here, in the same room. Her husband. Here. Drifting to sleep in front of her. It was like a dream state. She was content that Dakota was nearby and would be home, likely soon. She tried not to anticipate the reunion between father and son and her brow furrowed from the effort.

There had been tantrums for years, throughout puberty, which is expected. But the last couple of years, Dakota had stopped talking about Trevor. In fact Jillian couldn’t remember the last time he had said anything about his father. There was never a seemingly good time to open up this difficult subject for conversation while Dakota was settled and happy and focused on his schooling. He spent a lot of time in his room practicing and writing music.

Dakota was not completely devoid of male role models in Trevor’s absence. There had been Drake Faulkner, an old friend from the rebellion whom she and Dakota had stayed with for a while on Corellia…. Jillian glanced at Trevor at the thought and frowned slightly. Also, some of Dak’s friends’ fathers were welcoming and supportive in the school of music’s little community of parents and tutors. Still, this was a huge and jolting event that was rapidly approaching.

Jillian was involved but she was not a suffocating parent. She was careful to maintain an open and honest relationship with her son as a single parent who worked for his academy, and let him grow into a man on his terms, to an extent. He was very much her son and was a gentleman to the manner born. He was in the most senior year at school and a sense of duty was evident in him as he approached his coming of age.

Jillian pulled her other leg up onto the couch and turned, lying down as well, partly curled into a fetal ball. She hugged a throw pillow. The guilt of robbing Dakota of completing what had been such a positive experience for him weighed on her and she drifted to sleep with anxiety challenging the brief serenity she had felt.

* * *

Jillian awoke some time later to Trevor brushing a tendril of hair back from her face. She blinked slowly at him. It was dark now and he was squatting beside her couch looking down at her. He rested his hand on the cushion beside her and curled his fingers into a relaxed fist, cracking his thumb joint in self-restraint.

“The doorman called up,” he said quietly, his voice husky. He had watched her for a minute before waking her and he made no effort to hide this, should it occur to her. Her face was lovely as she slept, as her chest rose and fell with each breath. He wanted to kiss her again but Dakota was on his way up to the apartment and he had to gather his thoughts.

“Oh,” Jillian replied, feeling dreamy for a moment, and her mouth stayed in an ‘oh’ as she sat up quickly then, her eyes widening. “Oh!” She exclaimed and searched Trevor’s face to gauge his feelings. He grimaced sheepishly.

The apartment had grown dark since the city lights were completely out now in the herdship’s night cycle. Jillian stood and turned on a lamp on the other side of the couch then walked towards the entry way and switched on another lamp of multi-colored glass near the door. She ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed it back from her face, then tucked it behind her ears. They heard the door activate.

Trevor stood up straight. He was in Dakota’s direct view when his son walked through the doorway, just past Jillian.

Dakota entered the room laughing with a friend then froze in place upon seeing his father. Trevor sucked in a breath. Dakota stared at his father in disbelief. The friend quieted behind him when he stopped short. After the initial shock, Dakota looked at his mother.

Jillian opened her mouth to speak but before she could get out a word Dakota turned and walked back to the door. His friend turned quickly too because it seemed that Dakota would walk straight over him if he didn’t. The duo strode right back out of the apartment without a word.

Jillian spun back just long enough to see Trevor’s hopeful expression fall then she moved to follow Dakota.

“Wait,” Trevor stepped towards the door, “Don’t,” he told Jillian, putting a hand on her shoulder. They held each other’s eyes a moment, both hearing the ping of the lift as Dakota and his friend boarded presumably back down to leave the building. Trevor held up an index finger at the sound of the ping. “No curfew,” he said in a tone of voice that said, See? He wasn’t really scolding Jillian though. He just had a habit of making light of emotional situations. His eyes moved back and forth between hers and then he stepped out into the hallway to follow his son.

 

4

Trevor stepped out onto the busy nighttime street. The congestion of refugees filled the city like it was the middle of the day. He looked left for a few moments, then right, searching. Trevor pursed his lips. Dakota had only been one lift down ahead of him but he had no idea where his son had gone. He reached for his comlink and then realized that he didn’t have Jillian’s channel code to call her. He turned back to the building and pulled at the door. It was locked. Terreck stood in the lobby on the other side of the plastisteel door, looking at him. Trevor held out his hand expectantly.

“Well?”

Terreck stepped up to the door and pressed the intercom. “Yes sir?”

Trevor opened his mouth in a disbelieving smile. He pressed the intercom button on the outside to respond.

“Did you see which way he went?”

“Mr. Wiley, sir?” Terreck replied. Trevor grinned in self-restraint. So it was going to be like that.

“Yes,” he said with forced civility. “Mr. Wiley. My son. He and his friend just stepped out. Just now. Right through here,” Trevor pointed towards the lift doors inside behind Terreck.

“Yes, sir,” Terreck said. He didn’t offer anything more.

Trevor spun away, looking up a moment to gather his patience, then turned back and pressed the button to talk again.

“Would you mind telling me which way he went?”

Terreck looked back at him evenly. Trevor could see the man was dutiful to his family. He shouldn’t really be cross with the guy, but come on….

“Look,” he explained. “I know we’ve just met, but that is my son,” Trevor pointed in one direction, “and that is my wife,” Trevor pointed up at the building. “And we need to find him. Now.”

Terreck’s brow was furrowed. He held Trevor’s eyes for a moment then finally gave an almost imperceptible nod. He raised a hand slowly, then frowning, reluctantly, finally pointed, not left or right, but straight, past Trevor.

Trevor turned to look behind himself and out, his eyes moving across the street. He saw an alley road, not really a main road, between the buildings across the street. It wasn’t completely dark as far as he could tell. There was some activity, maybe, that he could see from here. There was activity everywhere right now. It was like the lower levels of Coruscant out here tonight with all the beings out in the streets, which heightened Trevor’s senses. He looked back at Terreck and raised his eyebrows expectantly.

“The building behind that one, on the left side,” Terreck said, indicating the building to the left of the alley road, then he lowered his arm again. “About three or four doors down on the lower level. There’s a diamond shaped panel on the wall beside the lower corner of the door, on the right side.”

Trevor frowned. “What is it?” He asked, resting his hands on his hips.

Terreck pressed his lips together now and glanced left and right, then opened the door of the building. He made a quick note on a slip of paper from his pocket and held it out to Trevor, who looked surprised but took it immediately from the doorman.

“I’ll be waiting for your return… Sir,” Terreck said, lifting his chin slightly. Trevor met his eyes a moment. Then Terreck closed the building door again and headed back to his station in the lobby. Trevor’s opinion of Terreck improved considerably. He hadn’t even asked for a tip.

Trevor unfolded the paper and angled it towards the light from inside. It said, The Wheel. Trevor looked up in surprise towards the alley road and immediately strode in its direction, recalling Terreck’s directions. He crumpled the note and stuffed it into a pocket. How had Jillian missed this one?

The Wheel was the nickname of a space station infamous for a gambling ring, but its history had a little more to it than that. Politically it had maintained neutrality, while the galaxy changed hands time and again. Its patrons typically had other priorities beyond galactic war or the seat of government. Organized crime was pure, that way, Trevor mused wryly. He scoffed to himself as he made his way along the alley road between the buildings to the next layer of buildings behind them facing the next block beyond. He counted the doors on the left side and peered at the wall towards the ground around the third one. There was a diamond shaped panel and Trevor pulled a light pen from his jacket pocket and shone the light in the direction of it. He saw an outline of the toe of a boot in the dirt smeared on the diamond shape. He put the light pen back in his pocket as he pushed at the panel with the toe of his right boot. The door opened and made a ticking sound like the countdown of a timer. Trevor stepped through the doorway quickly just before the door whirred shut behind him. His pulse increased slightly and he became very alert.

The lighting was dim and there was a dripping sound.

Trevor cocked his head slightly, listening.

The hallway was beneath a stairwell and it was musty, in direct contrast to what had thus far been a pretty clean and modern city complex, as far as Trevor had seen. In the distance there was the faintest sound of… music and voices?

Trevor followed the sounds past the staircase further back in the dim hallway. They grew louder until he reached the end of the hall. There was only one door on his right with an obvious door panel at arm level with a small blue sconce of some artistic architecture in the wall above it, arcing light onto the panel. The pretty sconce was out of place in the musty basement hallway. He pressed the panel and the door opened to reveal a sprawling, thriving, low-end casino full of a multitude of beings mingling, laughing, eating and drinking, and no surprise, gambling and gaming of varying kinds.

Trevor smirked. He felt a strange mix of urgent worry and pride. Irony. He walked casually through the room, moving his eyes around carefully.

The atmosphere was lively and jovial. In the far corner a table of young men laughed too loudly. Two of them pounded a count on the table and the group laughed even harder. Around to Trevor’s left on the far side of a triangular bar, alien patrons chittered over one another excitably. The perimeter of the room was lined with gaming tables and machines, and money exchanged hands rapidly. There were a few passage ways that appeared to lead into other rooms at three locations.

Trevor stepped up to the bar and ordered an ale, paid for it, then headed towards the nearest passage into another room that had all the style of a fraternity basement. He smirked again. Did Jillian think Dakota spent his free time in the library? Even as he thought it he answered his own question. That’s probably exactly what she would have done at Dakota’s age. He hid a private laugh in his mug of ale and drew a draught.

“You needed a break already, then?”

Trevor jerked his head to the right and lowered his mug. Dakota had appeared at his side. His son’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Dakota’s accent was a little rougher than his mother’s polished speech, though that could be the ale talking. His son held his own mug in his hand, Trevor saw. He faced Dakota, who stood just an inch or two taller than him. Their body language mirrored one another, and Dakota noticed it and switched his glass to his other hand. Trevor was careful not to smile. Dakota did not look amused.

“No,” Trevor said simply in reply.

Dakota pursed his lips, looking like Jillian for a brief moment, then blatantly took a drink. He stared evenly at his father, daring him to say something about it.

Trevor let out a short sigh and indicated with his index finger that his son follow him. His expression said he meant it, but he turned and walked away, allowing Dakota to follow or not on his own. His move.

Dakota stood in place a moment, then looked back at a couch on the far wall where his friends were gathered, laughing and messing around as usual. He took another swallow of ale then turned and followed his father out into the main room.

Trevor set his mug down on the bar and looked back while Dakota willingly joined him at his side. They looked at each other another moment, then Trevor slid onto a stool and faced straight ahead. Dakota paused another time, then followed suit, sitting beside him. He stole a few sideways glances at his father.

Trevor waited. Dakota had joined him. That was good. He wasn’t going to hurry conversation. The night was relatively young, despite the pressing matters of the morning.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” Dakota finally spoke. Trevor nodded thoughtfully.

“That’s understandable,” he offered. He looked over the profile of his son with affection. “Look at ya, all grown up… and taller than your old man.” He smiled.

Dakota smirked. He drained his glass then looked at Trevor and demanded, “Where were you?”

“In over my head,” Trevor answered him seriously, without pause. “Which is what happens when you spend too much time in places like this one,” he said. Dakota didn’t looked impressed.

“This place is harmless,” Dakota replied. “It’s only a little fun.” He wasn’t in the mood for any life lessons from the father who had disappeared on him at the age of twelve.

“Sure,” said Trevor sarcastically. He took a pull from his ale then set it down on the bar. “Look, you might not like it, but we have to go,” he told Dakota. “Tonight, as soon as possible. All of us,” he added pointedly.

“I had a feeling,” Dakota said, and shook his head. “I know Mom’s joined up with the Res-“

Trevor put a hand up to quiet Dakota and glanced around them warningly.

“I understand more than she thinks,” Dakota finished instead. Trevor nodded again.

“All right then,” he said, looking at his son evenly. They held each other’s eyes a moment. Trevor grinned, shifting gears then, pleased that Dakota seemed willing to comply. “So, a music academy, huh?” He lifted his eyebrows. “Nearly a graduate, I understand,” he added. He gave Dakota a clap on the back then gestured to the bartender and ordered two Corellian brandies. “We’re just going to have to celebrate a little early.” He didn’t see what use there was in a music certificate but any academy had a general curriculum requirement as well and he was pleased his son had seen it through.

Dakota smirked and lifted his eyebrows in surprise at the order. Sure Dad, let’s just have a drink, like you haven’t missed my entire life, he thought. He shrugged briefly in regards to the music school comment. The program was a breeze for him. He spent his time on more than music.

“Ok,” he said slowly, accepting the brandy.

Trevor lifted his glass and touched it against Dakota’s. The first drink shared between father and son. It wasn’t how Trevor would have imagined it, but it would do.

* * *

Jillian dropped a duffel bag in the entry way hallway. She had been moving around the apartment as though in a trance, grabbing one thing or another, her mind consumed with what was transpiring between father and son. She stepped back down into the recessed living room to gather up the paperwork she had brought out for Trevor’s review. Not that he had taken the time to read it, which hadn’t really surprised her.

The couch that Trevor had napped on was disheveled and Jillian turned to straighten the pillows first, then stopped. She picked up a comlink from between the cushions. It must have fallen out of Trevor’s pocket while he slept. The little light indicating the device contained recent recordings was lit. She pressed the button.

Shal Hallind,” Trevor’s recorded voice played, then stopped. She pressed the button again. “D’Qar, Illenium O-17,” his voice said this time, indicating the coordinates for the planet. Her eyes widened with some interest. Trevor was using the comlink to take notes for himself. He had been to the Resistance base then, looking for them. Jillian lowered onto the couch and pressed the button again.

It’s been a while, Screamer… Glad to have you around again….” There was commotion in the background on this recording. He was in a public spaceport or something, not in the quiet of the cockpit with nothing but the sound of electronics in the background like the first two brief messages. “…Here we go again, buddy, back to life. Back to…” Trevor sighed deeply onto his recording and there was a long pause.

Jillian remembered his contemplative verbal diary into his astromech droid, back when they had flown Starfighters together in the rebellion. She had caught him once, in musing regarding their budding relationship, afraid to have something to lose again, after losing his sister on Coruscant. Jillian pressed the button again to stop the recording and looked up at nothing in particular in the apartment. She blinked, frozen with fascination, but it felt like prying, especially after all these years. These were his private thoughts. Yet, he hadn’t told her anything about the last seven years. Jillian set the comlink down on the table and picked up the paperwork. She went into her bedroom.

A moment later she was back in the doorway, leaning on the frame, looking across the room at the comlink where she left it. She went back into the bedroom and gathered some clothes into a second duffel bag with the paperwork. She took her time, as though she were outfitting herself for a vacation, not an evacuation. She got herself ready for bed, washed her face and then sat in her nightgown at a vanity table, brushing her hair and trying not to think about the comlink…. She failed miserably.

Finally Jillian headed back into the living room with the second duffel. She dropped it in the hallway next to the first and walked determinedly back to the living room table. She snatched up the comlink without hesitation and strode back into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

***

The first drink turned into a second, then a third as father and son loosened up and swapped stories and some laughs. Trevor didn’t mean to encourage the recklessness of youth, but his son had a good sense of humor and a knack for coming out on top of his own little adolescent obstacles. The stories Trevor chose to relay were not of a very serious nature, anyway.

“So that’s when I ended up starting sim training,” Dakota was in the middle of a story. “Mom couldn’t believe the low mark I got in history that year!” He laughed hard at the look he remembered on his mother’s face. Was anything more important to her than history? Trevor laughed hard as well at that, then looked surprised.

“Flight simulation?” That caught Trevor’s interest big time. His son had gotten himself into pilot training. Good lad.

“Sure,” Dakota bragged, “Who doesn’t know how to fly?” He asked incredulously, which was exactly what he had told his mother at the time. “And she went along with it,” he said smugly, as though he had gotten over on her.

Trevor smirked. Jillian would have been pleased Dakota had learned to fly as well, though she may have hidden that fact from their teen-aged son.

“It wasn’t like I was going to just be a musician… or a farmer,” Dakota added the last part as an afterthought then drained another glass of ale.

Farmer? What was he talking about? All right, they’d better reel it in, Trevor thought, and he refrained from finishing the glass he had in front of him. He was high flown enough.

Dakota’s expression had changed and he was quiet a minute. He scoffed and his tongue was loosened from the alcohol.

“She hasn’t been alone all this time you know,” Dakota said, testing Trevor, a hint of resentment creeping into his tone.

What’s that now? Trevor raised his eyebrows and felt a twinge of jealousy.

He waited for Dakota to continue. Dakota glanced at him then raised his hand as though to order another drink.

Trevor put his hand on his son’s and pushed it down fast onto the bar surface in a sudden motion.

Dakota looked at him with surprise, the joviality of their evening coming to a halt. He pulled his hand out from under his father’s.

“You couldn’t expect her to,” he said defensively. “Uncle Drake took care of us, and you weren’t there.” He jutted his jaw forward a little and he frowned.

“And then she was widowed, a second time!” Dakota had missed Drake after he died. It had been a loss for him, after the years working the farm and racing fathiers across the fields together. He had liked Drake as his stand-in father.

Trevor’s mouth fell open.

Uncle Drake?” He nearly spit out the words. Hroth ‘Drake’ Faulkner, who he and Jillian had known and worked with in the Alliance?!

Dakota shrugged, suddenly looking a little uneasy about spilling this secret as Trevor stood from the bar and pressed his palms down onto it, recalling in a flash every exchange he and Jillian had ever had with the man. Why that double-crossing, womanizing Corellian …. Just biding his time…. great friend! He scowled and pulled some credits from his pocket. He tossed them onto the bar.

“Come on,” Trevor said, and headed towards the door. Fun time was over. Dakota hurried to join him.

“You had been gone for years,” Dakota made an effort to explain for his mother as he matched his father’s strides through the stairwell back out into the street.

Trevor couldn’t even allow himself to imagine Drake’s bruising hands on his wife. He sighed and chose not to think about it. Instead he asked Dakota, “How did he die?”

“He got sick,” Dakota said and ran a hand over his hair. It had been difficult to watch the brawny figure waste away. “It took a long time,” he added. They made their way across the street back to the apartment building.

Terreck saw Dakota and moved to the door to let them inside.

Trevor rested his hands on his hips and looked at his son as they waited for the turbo lift. He was sorry he had to go through that… too. The lift doors opened and as they stepped inside Dakota stumbled. Back in the quiet of the building, Trevor felt a little wobbly himself. Plus now he was spinning on this new detail.

When they were back in the apartment Trevor went to the kitchenette and poured himself some water. He drank it down in loud gulps. Dakota stood back by the doors to the bedrooms and watched his father.

Trevor set down the glass and filled it again, then pointed towards the one of the two doors that Jillian had not entered earlier, which must be Dakota’s room.

“Figure out what you need to take with you. We’re getting out of here at daybreak,” Trevor instructed. Dakota nodded.

“Do you need a blanket or something?” Dakota asked the leading question to suggest he expected his father to crash on one of the small loveseats in the living room, rather than disturb his mother.

Trevor smirked, walked over to him and handed him the glass of water.

“Go to bed,” he said. They held each other’s eyes for a moment, then Dakota took the glass, opened his bedroom door and went inside. He looked back at Trevor again for another moment and pursed his lips, then closed the door.

Trevor’s eyes moved around the room. The living room table was empty of the items Jillian had brought out earlier and there were two large military style duffels that looked crammed full sitting on the floor near the entry way. Jillian had packed. His eyes stopped on her bedroom door before him. He wasn’t sure he trusted himself right now. Maybe he should just crash on the couch…. After a beat, Trevor opened it and stepped inside, closing it behind him.

There was a nightlight on a table near the far side of the bed casting a very soft yellow glow in the dim room. The room had a decidedly feminine atmosphere, with the décor choices and its color scheme. Jillian sat up, awake in bed and lifted the covers with her to shield the front of her body. The straps of a nightgown hung on her shoulders under her hair, curls now brushed and soft looking. She had heard them come in and had been unable to sleep waiting for them anyway. She had listened to Dakota’s door open and close and was not entirely surprised when Trevor opened hers next. She was about to speak then stopped when she saw Trevor’s expression, his eyes flashing. Her stomach fluttered with butterflies.

Trevor stared at her a moment, slightly soothed by the room’s atmosphere. He walked to the bed and sat down slowly, leaning one hand on the mattress to lower himself beside her. His eyes searched her face with more attention than he had given her earlier, when it was just amazing to see her again and only his memories of her filled his mind. Now he felt like he might need to get to know her again. Her face was washed clean of makeup and he could see little lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. The soft tendrils by her ears had a few silvery hairs laced through the curls that caught the light when she moved.

They never had really lived a normal life, had they? Always ups and downs and twists and turns. He looked at her a little sadly. There had been some good years on Coruscant, while they rebuilt the Republic and raised little Dakota, with Han and Leia’s son, Ben for a playmate, before Ben had gone to spend most of his time at Luke’s Jedi Academy.

Jillian returned Trevor’s look expectantly. Her brow creased just a little in concern at the intensity of his expression.

“You told him,” she said pointedly, assuming that Dakota was the cause for Trevor’s expression. She could smell a whiff of liquor coming off of him.

“How did he take it? What did he say?” She asked eagerly. So they’d had a drink. That wasn’t shocking. Jillian trusted Dakota.

Trevor nodded. “I told him,” he confirmed in reply but didn’t offer any more just now. He raised a hand slowly to her face and touched her lips lightly with his fingers, then caressed the side of her face, and back down to her mouth again. His eyes followed where his fingers traced, avoiding her eyes.

Jillian made no move away, though the tender gesture surprised her. It also touched her, deeply. She hadn’t been sure what to expect all night. When Trevor and Dakota had not come home she had gone to bed, eventually, but she hadn’t slept.

“He seems to understand quite a bit,” Trevor added, lowering his hand. It was a loaded comment. He moistened his lips and raised his eyes to meet Jillian’s. He was a little emotional, and drunk, and something primal was rising dangerously within him. He had always treated Jillian with respect, but he had lived roughly for the past several years. Skills and instincts, worn deep in his core from the life he had chosen as a youth, were now re-blossomed with the life he’d been living in the outer rim. He couldn’t imagine Drake had ever treated Jillian with the same level of respect he had shown her. His eyes darkened slightly at the thought again.

Jillian raised her eyebrows slightly. “Good,” she said, relief in her voice, unaware of the raw power stewing beside her. She adjusted the blanket she held up in front of her. She had spent all night thinking about exactly how to ask him about the past seven years, and how to catch him up too, but they both needed to maybe get a little more sleep now. They all needed to be alert in the morning. She looked away from him, ready to settle back for a few hours without her thoughts spinning.

“I just have a few odds and ends to tie up in the morning,” she said through a yawn. She didn’t have the energy to confront him right now and was too preoccupied to return any tenderness. The Trevor she had last known had been civilized and working tirelessly with her to rebuild the Republic from within the capital. She would never have assumed him to be anything less in their matured age, despite what she now knew about that lost time. She tried to refrain from scowling.

Trevor was too preoccupied himself to notice and turned away from her and rubbed his eyes. He unhooked his utility belt and kicked off his boots and laid back on the bed beside her with his legs on top of the blankets. He sighed.

Trevor’s thoughts drifted back to the old report about his Sorosuub yacht crashing in the Alderaan graveyard, that had provoked a torrent of reckless behavior on his part, years ago, when he had been convinced he had lost her and his son in that crash. His behavior had sparked a series of events that had finally ended with his imprisonment in Mos Espa on Tatooine. Tatooine never was a good idea for Trevor Wiley, he thought wryly to himself, reaching up to touch the old scar on his face.

There were few who could have taken such news, not once, but twice in one lifetime. Trevor had refused to do injustice to his memories by holding back the feelings that over took him when he had seen that crash report. If that meant ruining himself in the Republic oligarchy, foregoing his position in the military and politics, and breaking down over the death of his family, then so be it. They had ruined his family. Twice. The Empire had seduced his mother and killed his sister when he was younger than Dakota is now. Then Jillian had gone on that supposed fateful mission. He had had to get away from all of it. He had staged his own capture, engineered a phony hanging, and left the inner core behind for good, he had thought at the time.

It was two years before an old acquaintance from the alliance, Danul Lantree, who was serving as a Navy Admiral when Trevor last knew him, had accidentally discovered Trevor as a real prisoner at a pod race. The more strapping prisoners in Mos Espa were trained as gladiatorial spectacles, doing battle with one another for the blood thirsty crowds. Trevor had emerged victorious. He was a rising star in the arena. Danul had come down to the training barracks the next morning under the guise of an interested buyer, and managed an opportunity for the pair to speak. He hadn’t been able to negotiate his release, but he had told him that his yacht had been stolen and Jillian and Dakota had not been in the crash.

He wondered what had happened to old Danny after that. Clearly Jillian had never gotten word of where he was all this time. She would have come after him if she had, right?

Jillian slid back down under the covers when Trevor lay down beside her. She lay on her side, facing away from him, feeling peaceful again, despite everything, with her entire family under one roof. It was too much to believe that when she woke up in the morning they would still all be together and she hadn’t imagined it. She closed her eyes.

Trevor glanced at her when she curled up in the blankets then looked back up at the ceiling and waited for himself to calm down. What did Dakota really know about Jillian and Drake anyway? His son had just been a boy back then on Corellia. He heard Jillian’s breathing grow rhythmic. The brandy did its work and it wasn’t too long before he drifted to sleep as well.

 

5

Two escort TIE fighters passed the courtyard watchtower in Naboo’s capital at dawn, then headed towards the nearby landing bay. Inside the tower, First Order Commander Arteman clasped his hands behind his back.

“Z and S returning,” came the obvious but required report from the officer on duty, to which Arteman did not reply. His eyes moved out over the city of Theed. Most of the wreckage had been cleared from the city streets, aside from the big pieces which had crushed multiple blocks. Funeral processions filled the city the past two days.

“She’ll have a three day run ahead of her, back to the Ileenium system,” mused the General who stood behind the Commander. “Retrieval should begin as soon as possible.”

Arteman’s lip smirked on the right side slightly.

“Before she’s missed. I understand, General.” His tone was relaxed, but properly obedient. They must catch this mouse before she made it anywhere near the Ileenium system. No one had received orders yet from General Hux revealing the First Order’s next move against the Resistance base on D’Qar. But one question still flickered through Arteman’s mind. He turned to face the General, making sure his stance was professionally subordinate enough.

“Sir, if I may inquire,” he only began, and paused for approval.

The General lifted his chin and his brow almost imperceptibly for him to continue.

“The importance of this woman, sir,” Arteman wasn’t impressed with the ‘cat and mouse’ game to which he had been assigned. “The Resistance has dozens of these missionaries, who are merely martyrs who…” Arteman started to explain.

“The Resistance,” interrupted the General stiffly, “…is full of martyrs. This councilor struck enough of a nerve to make a difference. My orders came from Intelligence.” One eyebrow arched just slightly to the inferior officer.

“Or have you forgotten about the damage we’ve been cleaning here the last two days, Commander?”

Commander Arteman stiffened a moment, then rolled his shoulders back.

“No, sir.” He regretted his question already and could feel the eyes of his own inferiors stealing glances at him as he was condescended.

“Fine. Assemble your men. You’ll find the ship and equipment at the seventh marker.” As was typical of this level of First Order officer, the haughty General faced him just long enough for the final word of his last order to leave his lips, then turned and exited the watchtower.

Arteman stood still a moment after the shield door had closed behind the General, then looked onto the departure schedule. His officers in the tower turned to look at him as soon as the door had snapped shut. No one spoke for a long moment. Then Arteman filled his chest with a deep breath, puffing himself up and turned to the command console.

“All right, Brenner, give the order,” was all he said, though those nearest him might say he muttered something more under his breath.

“Yes sir.” Officer Brenner pressed a single button to contact the pre-selected group, who was awaiting their go ahead. “Gentlemen, squadron one-nine-nine-eight, dash, two-zero-one-seven, proceed to marker seven. Repeat, marker seven,” he gave the code dispatch command and their marker number and released the button. After a moment’s static, the entire tower clearly heard the reply.

“Roger. Seven. Out.”

Arteman turned at that and strode from the watchtower to join his interception team. For the rest of the afternoon, the four watchtower officers worked in silence.

* * *

Trevor awoke alone to the sound of a musical synthesizer in the apartment followed by the sound of laughter. He blinked and sat up, looking around at the room in the daylight. The wall across from the bed was covered in a hand-painted mural of alabaster buildings and rolling green hills. Painted in the distance were rows of what looked like vining shrubbery, dotting the hillsides with color beneath blue skies streaked with purple. Trevor stared at the mural a moment, blinking, as he shrugged off his slumber and remembered where he was, and what year it was. Jillian had painted a mural of Aldera City like this in her chambers on the old rebel base, too. Was she even capable of being idle?

Trevor had slept, unmoving, in his clothes. He could smell the scent of fresh flowers in the air that matched the mural on the wall and felt like he was still in a dream for a moment. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned down to retrieve his boots, then noticed his comlink on the table beside him and patted at his pockets in surprise to be sure his was not in there. He was a little fuzzy remembering the moments just before he had fallen asleep the night before.

Another outburst of laughter reached his ears from the next room and he recognized it was Dakota’s laugh and… a woman’s? Not Jillian’s?

Trevor grabbed the comlink, then washed up quickly and fastened his belt around his waist. He walked out of the empty bedroom and followed the voices into his son’s room next door, which faced the front of the building. The outer wall was floor-to-ceiling windows which were fully opened onto a two-level deck bathed in the light of the herdship day cycle.

Dakota sat on a bench in front of a red ball jet organ. There was a terminal with a widescreen above the organ, and there was a young woman with short, straight, sandy-blonde hair sitting on the bench beside him. Their bodies were touching at the hips. The terminal touch screen was lined in equalizer bars, which the pair were adjusting together.

Dakota pressed a few keys on the organ in a short melodic phrase and the girl touched one side of the screen, adding to the chromatics. For some reason this made them both laugh again. Then Dakota looked over his shoulder at Trevor entering his room. The girl turned then and looked too. Their faces were bright.

Trevor offered a polite smile. “Good morning,” he said.

“Hey,” Dakota replied. He lifted his chin towards the girl. “This is Ayana,” he offered a brief introduction, then turned back to the monitor and studied it. He was wearing a loose, black, pullover shirt and black pants and boots.

Trevor nodded at the girl. “Hello,” he said. The girl slid her legs out around the stool, stood and stepped forward to Trevor.

“Ayana Doakes,” she said, offering her hand for him to shake. “We live upstairs. My father is assisting the facilitator on Shal Hillind. They’re on Chommell Minor at the moment.”

Trevor lifted his eyebrows and shook the girl’s hand while meeting her eyes. Then he glanced at Dakota, then back to the girl. No curfew. Girls living upstairs, unsupervised, sitting in his son’s bedroom at daybreak. Was this the same Jillian he had courted, running this show?

“Oh. Ayana,” he said and repeated her name back, in greeting. “Nice to meet you.” The girl was dressed in cargo pants and a cropped, copper-colored jacket over a black tank top. Her eyes were large and brown in a heart-shaped, smooth-skinned face and adorned with long, dark lashes. She smiled a small polite smile in return as she lowered her hand from his.

There was an empty bowl with a spoon and an empty mug sitting on a small table in the room, and a partially packed satchel opened on Dakota’s bed with a few items in neat rows beside it, along with a leather utility jacket. The walls over the bed were covered with posters detailing the schematics of several different star crafts.

The sound of Jillian’s gentle laughter floated in through the open doors from the lower level of the deck below.

“Your mother..?” Trevor asked the back of his son’s head. Dakota jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the deck.

“Garden,” was all he offered his father and continued to focus on the equalizer on the terminal.

Garden? Trevor looked back at Ayana again. The girl looked back at him a little curiously.  He smiled politely again then moved out onto the deck.

Ayana returned to Dakota’s side and glanced between him and Trevor. She was curious to see father and son interact a little bit more. She chewed her lip thoughtfully then turned her attention back to the work Dakota was doing when Trevor stepped outside.

The upper deck was a fairly wide space with a couple of chairs and a small table on one side and a long range telescope set up next to a stool on the other. The lower deck was lined in rectangular planters. Some of the planters were covered in glass domes which were dotted with condensation. A drip system tube was running back and forth along the planting boxes and spraying water onto the soil at the base of the rows of plants.

Jillian stood at the far end of the deck talking over the railing to a well-dressed man with slightly greying hair who appeared to be only a few inches taller than her. He was standing on the deck of the apartment next door. He held a small potted plant and was completely absorbed by whatever Jillian was explaining to him about it. She reached up and rubbed one of the leaves between her thumb and her index finger.

“…and the oils can aid in cross pollination,” Trevor caught the tail end of what Jillian was saying as he stepped down onto the lower deck between the planters and towards them. Jillian turned to look at him. She had on one thick glove and was holding the other glove in that hand. She was dressed practically enough for their journey, but appeared right at home on the garden deck in a pale blue knit fabric with harem pants, a V-neck and fitted bodice, with dense gathered wrapping extending around her shoulders to each side back, like a cape, trimmed in narrow silver cord and clear, coin-shaped beads alternated with black seed pearls. Her hair was twisted back to frame her face and tucked into a looping ponytail wrapped in braids that left soft waves dangling to the center of her back. A delicate chain rested like a ribbon around her head and along the center part of her hair and there was a small medallion in the middle, right at her hairline, against her forehead.

Trevor shook his head slightly in awe and watched her move in her conversation with a quiet enthusiasm. Jillian always looked like she could oversee a manor house, but spring into action at a moment’s notice, somehow. He raised his eyebrows at her when she turned and offered a small smile for more introductions. Daybreak. Right. He thought they were heading out first thing this morning. He vaguely remembered her comment about ‘a few odds and ends’ the night before.

Jillian presented an air of relaxed pleasantries as naturally as breathing. She smiled sweetly.

“Good morning,” she began, lowering her arms to her sides. Her eyes stayed on Trevor. “Mister Keyo, this is Dakota’s father,” Jillian glanced back at the man and gestured towards Trevor, not offering anything more. The men exchanged formalities. Then she turned back to face her neighbor. “…and I’m afraid I’m making us late for our family outing. Just remember the herdship light schedule, when you turn it,” she told him.

“Okay,” Keyo said, nodding. “Much obliged, Mrs. Wiley.” He raised his free hand in a short wave and turned to head back towards his own planters on his nearly overlapping deck. Obviously this was not their first conversation, and obviously they had both been nobly raised.

Jillian returned Keyo’s wave and watched him head away to the far end of his own deck, then turned to Trevor.

“I received a relayed message,” she said quietly. “Don’t worry, it’s coded,” she added, when she saw his smirk start to turn into a frown. “Come on,” she led them back into Dakota’s room.

Ayana looked up when Dakota’s parents came in from the deck.

“Dak?” Jillian asked pointedly, in the most dignified, but sharpest tone Trevor had yet to hear her direct at their son.

“I know, almost, I know,” Dakota typed on a keyboard to his right. “I’m ready. Really.”

Jillian didn’t break stride but nodded and glanced at Trevor as she continued out of the room.

Trevor took a longer look at his son and Ayana, who looked back at him again, as he followed Jillian into the living room. A comm-transmission window was open on the monitor now and Dakota was attaching files to it.

Jillian immediately moved towards the entry way and set down her gardening gloves. She picked up a datapad from a table above the packed duffels and pressed the screen a few times, then held it up for Trevor to see. The screen displayed a series of shapes that made up a coded message Trevor couldn’t interpret. He rested his hands on his hips.

“It’s from Lieutenant Connix,” Jillian said, pointing to one of the symbols in the lower left corner of the message window. “A communications officer,” she explained briefly, “…for General Organa” she added. “There’s been a breech, they don’t know for sure it has anything to do with me, but with the Chommel Sector invasion and the First Order on the move, we have to get out of here,” Jillian explained then lowered the pad and turned to stuff it into an outer pocket on one of the duffels.

“That was the plan, I thought,” Trevor responded, furrowing his brow at this information. He lifted a hand to gesture towards Dakota’s room.

Jillian shook her head to herself. “I should have just pulled him….” She was thinking of the other day when she arrived from Naboo. She picked up the bag in which she had just secured her datapad. She should have just figured something out the moment she had made it back to the herdship and taken off for at least Chommell Minor already.

Chommell Minor was suffering a similar invasion to Naboo’s, but with the larger scale of its city, maybe she could have slipped in and found something to take them the longer distance without a convoy. Though it was risky, so she had stayed put here to wait a few days for more information, and to avoid drawing attention to herself in the refugee crowd.

“I know,” Jillian interrupted herself in reply to Trevor’s gesture. “She was here when I got up,” she said of Ayana. “He’s submitting what he has for jury,” she explained of her son’s efforts to turn in his work up to this point at the academy. He could take the marks now or he could complete his composition within two years and still receive official finals. “I told him he could get it done before we leave,” she said.

Trevor pulled in a deep breath of impatience. “All right, let’s go,” he said decisively, and picked up the other bag over one shoulder. That’s all very well but a breech only increased the sense of urgency he already felt, even without specific details. There could be spies anywhere. He turned back towards the bedrooms to move Dakota along.

The apartment building began to vibrate then and a deep rumbling arose in the air outside, stopping both of them in their tracks. The early morning herdship lighting was shadowed through the apartment viewports, darkening the room intermittently. The rumbling of crafts hovering above the city continued steadily, growing louder and the city’s facility lighting changed to an emergency bluish light. Rolling warning sirens began to sound. Trevor and Jillian’s eyes widened at the sound of… was it… TIE fighters in the sky under the city cap?

“Great!” Trevor yelled, but before he could run for his son, Dakota and Ayana came running out of the bedroom on their own. Dakota had his jacket on and the satchel from his bed hanging across his body.

“My swoop is upstairs!” Ayana said and the young pair ran past Trevor and Jillian who turned and ran with them.

The group chose the stairs over the lift elevator and headed quickly up three flights to a rooftop platform and then to an oval swoop parked among other varying speeders. Other tenants were hurrying around the platform. They saw patrol transports and TIE fighters spreading out across the city. They quickly climbed into the bucket seating of Ayana’s repulsor vehicle.

Ayana had it fired up and in the air in seconds. Dakota was in the passenger seat at her side pulling up a local traffic map on the nav computer. Trevor and Jillian were in a tumble in the rear bucket seat with the bulky bags.

The speeder launched out over the city complex and towards the train route. There was more traffic in the skies than usual and Trevor straightened himself by gripping the pilot’s seat in front of him and looked over Ayana’s shoulder while Jillian pushed against him to steady herself as the speeder banked a little too steeply.

“What is the point of public transportation?” Trevor shouted as the young girl reached the water way and continued weaving through air traffic over the slow ferry system on the water below them.

“It’s cleaner!” Ayana shouted back and Dakota nodded over his shoulder at Trevor, looking like he was about to say the same thing.

Trevor looked at Jillian in wonder for a moment. She returned Trevor’s look pointedly and bit back a smile. The younger generation was very energy conscious.

Several flashes in the sky above caught their attention. The atmospheric assault landers were within the herdship sky space and spreading out as far as they could see. Jillian clenched her teeth.

“They’re relentless,” she said in a breath, not really audible to the rest of her escape party in the chaos.

“We’ll be above the flight decks in three minutes!” Dakota shouted back, his eyes studying the nav computer.

Trevor’s mind raced to recall the moment he had landed the Ragin’ Rat and paid the docking fee and the lift number he had taken to the upper level.

“Six-six-four-eight!” He shouted, and put a hand on Ayana’s shoulder from behind.

“Okay!” She yelled back, nodding so that he knew she had heard him. She eased the swoop down as close to that location as possible and the four climbed out the moment the vessel had stopped and Trevor lead the charge for the lift among an equally scrambling crowd.

The line for the lift extended back like a snake all the way to the train station. First Order storm troopers had already spread out on this end of the herdship and several were moving along the line, checking through the public. Trevor skidded to a stop when he saw them, and the line, and felt the other three come up behind him in an abrupt halt. There’s something he hadn’t seen in a good while. His eyes moved over the crowd quickly.

“What?!” Jillian and Dakota snapped in unison as they halted their strides, along with Ayana, to prevent running Trevor over when he suddenly stopped.

Trevor looked back to take in the image of Dakota’s and Jillian’s matching, expectant expressions looking at him. As he turned something caught his eye on the ground. His eyes moved to a ground grate not too far from the map marker sign posted near the station entrance.

“Look!” Trevor pointed and began running towards the grate. Jillian, Dakota and Ayana followed him again.

A trooper saw the group running and gestured to another trooper.

“Look over there – who are they?” The trooper said. The pair started pushing their way through the crowd in line.

Trevor skidded intentionally as he reached the grate and used the duffel bag to cushion part of his body from hitting the ground. He grabbed the grate handle with both hands, dug his heels in and pulled with the momentum he already had going.

In a moment Dakota was beside him, gripping the handle and tugging with him. They lifted the grate together. Dakota yelled a grunt as he did so. Trevor clenched his teeth as he pulled and looked up at the sound of his son’s grunt.

The grate open, Dakota immediately put a hand out to his mother. Jillian took it and let him help her sit on the edge of the opening. She handed him her duffel bag, peered below and pushed herself off, jumping down onto a stack of crates she used like steps down to the docking bay floor below. Dakota assisted Ayana to jump through the grate below the same way, then looked at Trevor, meeting his eyes a moment. Trevor lifted his chin indicating Dak to go next.

The troopers were running towards them now.

Dakota sat down on the edge with Jillian’s duffel bag and his own satchel looped over his shoulders and jumped through the hole. Trevor jumped last, right behind him with the other duffel and landed in a heap on the hard crate below. It was just as crowded down here as it was on the upper level. Beings were heading in every direction.

Trevor was up in a flash while the other three caught their breath for a moment. “There!” He spotted the quick order counter where he had eaten yesterday and pointed in the direction of where he had docked his freighter nearby. “Six-six-four-eight.” He jumped down the crate steps and they continued running towards docking bay 6648.

“Where’s the fighter?” Dakota asked Jillian as they ran.

“We can’t!” Jillian said back. She wasn’t going anywhere near that A-Wing now, which had likely been impounded.

On the level above them the troopers reached the open grate. One of stooped to peer down while the other one made a report into a comlink.

Trevor lowered the ramp of the Ragin’ Rat from a remote on his belt so that they could all continue to run up inside. He dropped the bag at the top of the ramp and ran down the corridor into the cockpit and fired up the converters. The technical computer was streaming a series of scans across the screen of the activity outside the herdship and in the docking bays nearby and beeping urgently.

Jillian stopped in her tracks with the kids right behind her when she entered the cockpit, and Dakota pushed past her into the co-pilot’s seat. He looked over the dashboard quickly and pressed the button to raise the ramp while his father piloted the freighter.

“I don’t believe it,” Jillian said at the sight of the ship cockpit she had flown in with Trevor so many years ago. The stabilizer alarm chirped loudly while Trevor worked to taxi the freighter into just enough open space to lift them off of the ground. Dakota looked pensively over the controls for a moment, his hands hovering over the dashboard. Trevor pointed to the lever on the dashboard and Dakota moved it back and forth a few times until the alarm stopped. Trevor tried to keep an eye on Dakota, who seemed to know a little bit about what he was doing in the co-pilot’s seat, and fly the freighter in heavy traffic at the same time.

Ayana and Jillian strapped into the seats behind Trevor and Dakota and exchanged looks when the stabilizer sounded. They gripped the hand rests to steady themselves on the bumpy departure.

Trevor hurled them away from the herdship and right into a swarm of First Order TIE fighters. There were more assault landers just beyond them. He swung the freighter around in a hard right and then pulled up in evasion. A Nebulon-K frigate came into view in the distance when he did so.

“This is no good!” Trevor shouted. “We’re going to be scanned! We may need some firepower.”

“Attention, all starships,” came a voice through the public com channel. “Remain in a holding pattern and await further instructions. Attention, all starships…” Trevor lowered the volume as the message repeated.

Dakota pushed out of his seat and between his mother and Ayana without looking at either one of them, determination on his face. He headed back down the corridor towards the turret access and climbed down the ladder. Jillian watched him over her shoulder, then looked back, exchanged glances again with Ayana, unfastened her belt and slid into the co-pilot’s seat at Trevor’s side. She immediately pulled up the sensor readings and zoomed in on the center of the freighter where the turret gun was.

“Shields are at full power,” she said more to herself than to anyone, now that her son was in the turret. Trevor glanced at the screen and at Jillian, handling the Rat’s computer like it was only yesterday she had manned the controls at his side. The moment was lost on him.

The First Order seemed to be herding traffic, aggressively, but in the panic it was proving to be a difficult task.

The Ragin’ Rat was escorted back alongside the rings of departing star craft around the herdship. No fighters were firing at anything. Yet. They were forming up around the departing traffic in a suffocating baracade.

“I’m set,” Dakota’s voice came through the ship’s intercom on the center console.

“All right, hold on,” Trevor replied and leveled the ship among the policed traffic. The three in the cockpit just watched the activity for a few minutes. Trevor tried a few different channels, listening in for anything relevant.

“This is what it was like when I left Naboo the other day,” Jillian commented.

“Are they going to let anyone leave?” Ayana demanded. There was urgency in the girl’s voice. Her father wasn’t too far away on Chommell Minor, and there wasn’t an atmospheric orbit around the herdship like a planet. How could they track and pursue every single star craft they had lined up right now? If everyone scattered at once, what could the First Order possibly do?  Ayana’s naiveté presented a sound and obvious assessment, in her opinion, of the situation.

“What are they looking for here?” She asked the question rhetorically, not expecting that anyone in this cockpit had the answer.

Trevor and Jillian exchanged looks.

“I’ll be back,” Trevor said, slipping out of his seat. Jillian took control from her seat. He made his way back to check on Dakota in the lower turret gun well. He needed to see for himself that his son had enough ability to man that station should things get harried. He also had a few tips for the boy.

Ayana watched Trevor go then looked to Jillian, who remained facing forward. She slipped into the pilot’s seat and looked over the dash readings and the flight controls.

Jillian watched her for a few moments thoughtfully.

“Do you know exactly where your father is on Chommell Minor?” Jillian asked Ayana, who shrugged and nodded slightly.

“I think so,” she replied, looking up at Dakota’s mother. “I went with him a couple of times when we first got here.”

Jillian nodded and watched the traffic a moment. She kept a hand on the controls even though she had set the autopilot. “But that was years ago,” she more stated than asked Ayana.

Ayana shrugged again. “Yeah,” she said, reaching for the navicomputer. “I remember a building made entirely of glass, with pointed spires at the top, because all I could think was what if somebody just crashed their speeder right into it? Would it completely shatter and come crashing down? Or would the speeder just go straight through it?” She smiled to herself at her younger imagination.

Jillian turned her attention to the navicomputer too while Ayana pulled up Chommell Minor and surfed through the details. She mostly ignored the younger woman’s memories. There was a sector course for the city center, as well as the expansive power plants and fuel refineries. Geentech had a sprawling facility not too far from the corporate sector with plenty of room in the old days for gene therapy, medisensors and droid production but Jillian didn’t know what their focus was by now at this location.

A thumping, clanging sound came from the center of the freighter and Jillian glanced over her shoulder, then back to Ayana, nodded and smiled.

“All right,” she said decisively. She glanced at the autopilot and traffic again then stood from her seat. She patted the girl on the shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll find him,” she said. “I’m going to speak with Mr. Wiley.”

Jillian walked down the corridor toward the middle of the ship. Before she got there she saw Trevor in the workshop pulling on a small component. What looked like the larger half of the piece in his hands was on the ground next to him where it had dropped.

Trevor glanced up when he saw Jillian.

“The turret gun just needs this back-up,” Trevor said, still trying to pull something into place until he heard a snap. He held it up and shook it in the air, grinning. “There,” he said triumphantly and started to head back towards the well where Dakota was manning the weapon. Jillian moved with him.

“Ayana’s father is likely down in the corporate center, not too far from an old Geentech facility” Jillian began. “Raynor Doakes,” she mused aloud. “I’m sure with his access code I could find a way to communicate confidentially with….” She stopped

The Ragin’ Rat was moving out of the traffic suddenly! Trevor turned to look at Jillian in surprise, then pursed his lips and shoved the turret component into her hands.

“Here!” he said and pointed vaguely towards the turret well, while running back towards the cockpit. “What the blast is she doing?” Jillian heard him yell from the corridor. She hurried to the well and looked up, then down, spotting Dakota in the lower gun seat.

“Dak! Catch!” Jillian called down to him.

“What’s going on? Did they scan us?” Dakota called back up to her, holding his hands out to catch the back-up source. He leaned across to the wall with a little difficulty in the swiveling seat to install it. A TIE fighter roared across his viewport as the freighter headed out of the traffic and towards Chommell Minor in the near distance.

Jillian’s eyes widened at the fighter and she decided immediately to climb up the turret well into the seat of the other gun. She shoved the decorative side-back cape from her shoulders and flicked a few switches quickly. She put on a headset and swiveled slightly in the erratic chair, trying to see everywhere around at once through her viewport. Her legs were just short enough to make it extra difficult for her to control.

“I don’t know,” she finally answered Dakota through the headset as she adjusted her seat and looked back at him. Across the well she saw him look back at her in surprise in the other gunner turret. “Just stay alert,” she told him and gripped the controls.

Back in the cockpit Trevor burst in to discover Ayana in the pilot’s seat accelerating quickly away from the herdship traffic. The navicomputer was set for the planet corporate center on Chommell Minor nearby.

“Have we been cleared?” Trevor demanded, though from the TIEs forming up around them he had a feeling he knew the answer. Ayana was tense with concentration.

“I thought we could just make it down in an ordinary freighter like this!” She explained, sounding a little frantic at the activity she had caused among so many other ships for the First Order to worry about. She glanced back at Trevor who was waiting to take back his controls, and slipped over to the co-pilot’s seat quickly to allow him to take over. She thought Dakota’s mother had agreed with this.

“This is no ordinary freighter!” Trevor snapped. He didn’t need them scanning him with his record, not to mention the Rat’s history. He maneuvered them between the fighter escort in an effort to appear compliant and flipped switches quickly on the dashboard in preparation to make a run for it.

“I’ve counted at least three,” Jillian’s voice came through the speaker from the turret well.

Ayana ran a scan to count for certain.

“Wait!” Trevor held out a hand in vain and shouted at her in horror. “That’s asking for it!” He pressed the intercom button. “Jillian!” Trevor wanted her to handle Ayana. Who was this girl? He needed her to stop touching things without his orders! Now!

“Asking for what?” Ayana pressed the intercom and reported the scan’s results, “There are four tracking us,” she said into the intercom to Dakota and his mother, “…and another lander nearby,” she added, like it was an afterthought. Trevor glanced at her with a gaping expression for a moment.

“Perfect!” Trevor made a wide, slow turn with the freighter, without furthering their descent and waited to see how they would be policed now. He wanted to be in a good position to make a run for it in several directions, if he could.

“Sit tight you two! And stand by,” he said into the intercom. They were definitely being scanned.

* * *

Commander Arteman reviewed his equipment inventory from on board the Nebulon-K where his assigned team was awaiting his orders. They were still hovering on the outskirts of the herdship while the fleeing traffic was being scanned, ship by ship by multiple squadrons. Their Stormtroopers and assault walkers were at the ready on the landers. The assault walker count seemed more than adequate to him to retrieve one unsuspecting ambassador. It was pinpointing her that was the only real challenge.

Intelligence, he scoffed at General Odom’s earlier remarks on Naboo about his orders. If Intelligence had done their job, he would already know where she was, or anything more about her other than the fact that she had fled Naboo in an old A-Wing starfighter during the invasion of Theed. He relented that more information might be forthcoming after the First Order uploaded the historical records from Theed’s library. He wasn’t exactly sure why this information wasn’t readily available yet, as was evidenced by the fact that his orders didn’t include one vital detail about this councilor, personally. Not even her name. Wasn’t that what Intelligence did?  No matter, he would simply move through the list of possibilities that was provided in his briefing, and go from there.

“Sir, the A-Wing has been located on Shal Hillind,” a nearby Sergeant looked up from a terminal and addressed Arteman, who immediately stepped over to him and gave him his full attention.

“The Starfighter was abandoned after landing, three herdship cycles ago,” the Sergeant continued. “There was no identification signature in the docking log and no fee payment in the records.”

Arteman nodded. That was no big surprise, and three days was plenty of time for his target to have made another move by now. He frowned thoughtfully.

“Have the ship searched and transmit its flight log here in the meantime,” he told the Sergeant, who already knew the standard operating procedure and likely expected this command.

Arteman didn’t really expect to find the A-Wing in flight in the fleeing traffic and without even a name the herdship invasion was largely pointless as well, in his opinion. Still, no stone left unturned. He moved to the command terminal to await the flight log. Something about this entire mission was curious and he intended to be the one who discovered what it was. He had no intention of chasing ghosts on the herdship without any kind of a lead. He pulled up the A-Wing detail himself rather than requesting it from his lander crew and noted that the Starfighter was not registered on Naboo. In fact it had no code signatures, which revealed its allegiance as far as he was concerned. Clearly a Resistance vessel. It was likely it had come from the Incom X-4 gunship that had been shot down over Theed after the First Order had determined that a data upload had been extracted from the royal library.

What are you looking for, little mouse? A line from a childhood story ran across Arteman’s thoughts.

“Receiving flight log transmission,” an officer within his hearing reported to his superior. Arteman didn’t react, only waited for the information to be directed to his terminal.

The Nebulon-K crew suddenly stirred to action and the craft lurched around slowly in the opposite direction. Arteman stood. There was a model YT-2400 Corellian freighter breaking from the traffic, clearly visible through the viewport. Four TIE fighters were in pursuit immediately.

“Hold those fighters,” Arteman said quickly, moving towards the flight crew. “They are not to open fire without my command.”

A few of the naval officers looked up, awaiting confirmation from their superior. The Rear Admiral, Ekham stepped forward, his hands clasped behind his back, and watched the exchange with refrained interest.

“Is there a scan?” Arteman demanded, impatiently. After a glance at the Rear Admiral that garnered no reaction, the officer replied.

“The freighter is registered to a Trevor Cabral of Coruscant,” he reported. “There is no documented connection to the Resistance. It was last registered with the Hutt clan on Tatooine. The ship register was reassigned to Cabral just after the Hosnian Cataclysm.”

Arteman considered this for a moment. That was quite a coincidence for a herdship in the Chommell Sector to be his next stop from the Outer Rim. Most people were returning to their homes after that event. In his experience there was no such thing as a coincidence.

“What of this Cabral?” Rear Admiral Ekham questioned. He must have been thinking along the same lines. The officer studied his terminal for a few moments. There were only a few listings.

“There was a Kaatje Cabral, deceased, who served on the Secret Security Forces which guarded the Imperial Senate on Coruscant,” the officer began to read, “…children, Katrice, deceased, and Trevor…” then suddenly his terminal blinked as though being reset and a stream of articles scrolled across the screen, skipping as the terminal updated a barrage of information.

“They were Imperials,” the Rear Admiral repeated with a hint of satisfaction in his tone. He lifted his chin slightly.

“Wait… there’s something coming in,” the officer stated the obvious. Several officers nearby looked up and the ones within view of the comm terminal strained to see what was happening, then faced their own terminals as similar updates streamed across their screens.

Article after article of the Cabral family history on Coruscant flooded the inquiry results. Arteman’s eyes sparkled with interest. But for now, they were going to have to narrow their search. This was a job for Intelligence, really, but Arteman wasn’t about to submit an inquiry and await a response while the freighter was right here in front of him.

“I suggest we narrow our search,” Arteman spoke directly to the Rear Admiral now, since he and his team were passengers and not in direct charge of this vessel, his eyes flashing with anticipation. “Is there a call sign?” He had some idea of how these rogue types functioned. He was a Coruscanti native himself, and had attended the Republic Military Academy there, before the New Republic’s seat of government had relocated to Hosnian Prime. After the relocation, Arteman had been witness to the rapid upheaval on Coruscant.

The Rear Admiral raised one eyebrow, but nodded his approval then moved his gaze along over the bridge crew, who were suddenly engaged at their stations under his watchful eye.

The Coruscanti corporations, which had been resigned to the lower levels and regulated by the Republic since the fall of the Empire, had wasted no time relocating their oligarchy to the city center and negotiating a new, unofficial law, among themselves. The wealthiest put forward their easily elected representatives and submitted bills through the distracted Senate, which gave them democratic jurisdiction over the localities on the city planet, a victory as far as Arteman was concerned.

The galactic representatives had been consumed by factional disputes while establishing the new capital on Hosnian Prime after the election that year. The relocation itself had been a direct result of it. The Coruscanti citizens had embraced a trend of liberation sentiment and a return to their independent spirit of old, which had built such an awesome expanse so as to cover almost the entire planet with its thriving industry that, they felt, had benefitted the whole of the galaxy.

Arteman had been happily recruited to serve the First Order when the opportunity had presented itself, to stop this abomination of over-reaching government that slowed progress.

The freighter leveled out and circled slowly. It appeared to be in compliance with the TIE escort.

“The Ragin’ Rat, sir,” an officer pulled Arteman from his thoughts when he spoke the name of the freighter. The what? Arteman smirked at the name.

“Find out where he’s going,” he ordered, then turned his attention back to the traffic. There was nothing out of the ordinary. None of the remaining fighters that had engaged the First Order over Naboo had been located. None of the freighters triggered any connections with the Resistance.

“Freighter, Ragin’ Rat, you were not instructed to depart. State your destination,” the comm-officer said after a moment establishing a connection with the deviant freighter.

“Sir,” the officer reviewing the Rat’s records spoke up again. “This freighter served the rebellion during the galactic civil war,” he reported. “The records show it was active between the battles of Hoth and Endor.” Arteman raised his eyebrows at that. How very interesting, though not necessarily incriminating today.

“Cabral?” Arteman asked, just to confirm Trevor had served the rebellion against his family’s Imperial loyalties.

“Yes sir.”

* * *

“Don’t say anything!” Trevor told Ayana sternly. “I mean it!” He looked at her pointedly and waited until she nodded. Then he took a breath and pressed the button to respond to the First Order officer.

“Chommell Minor, Geentech,” Trevor spoke with a relaxed tone to the best of his ability, recalling what Jillian had just said to him. If they were going to the corporate sector to connect with Ayana’s father, he wasn’t going to volunteer that information, so he went with the only other location name she had mentioned.

The reply was not forthcoming.

Trevor’s eyes moved over the nearby space, and the fighter scan. He wasn’t sure but he thought he heard Jillian cluck her tongue over the intercom. He glanced at the speaker and furrowed his brow.

“Geentech?” Ayana broke the silence with her question. Trevor just held up his hand to silence her and continued to wait.

“Six-one-seven,” Dakota’s voice was quiet and temperate over the intercom, indicating their point of no return should the First Order deploy a tractor beam. Trevor glanced at that reading. His knees began to bounce up and down.

“Trevor,” Jillian’s anxious voice was so quiet Trevor imagined her whispering in his ear….

Ragin’ Rat, proceed skyward. Coordinate eight-oh-five-nine,” the instructions were clear from the First Order.

Trevor pressed his lips together. He guided the freighter around as instructed. They were now headed towards the Nebulon-K frigate, away from their trajectory to Chommell Minor. He gritted his teeth. They were going to pull them in and board them, and they were nearing tractor beam range…..

Trevor made the decision suddenly and flicked three switches. He pressed the intercom with his pinky finger near one of the switches.

“Fire them up! Now! Get ahead of them!”

Trevor threw the freighter into a dive directly down from the formation of TIE fighters surrounding them and thrust forward the freighter’s kinetic force away from their escort with everything his ship had.

Dakota took advantage of the opportunity from their surprise move into action and unleashed a torrent of laser blasts while swinging his turret towards the targets on his display. A TIE fighter in range exploded in a shock of white sparks.

“Yeah!” Trevor heard Dakota’s voice as the TIE fighter exploded.

Jillian swiveled around furiously in an attempt to line up a target in her monitor as the TIEs took evasive maneuvers in response to the attack. They would regroup in moments. She tensed every muscle in her legs to better control the turret gun seat.

Trevor put everything the Rat had into a beeline course for Chommell Minor. He had to get them far enough away in a hurry to avoid a direct shot against either of his turret bays.

“Keep firing!” Trevor yelled, and then, “Right there,” he said to Ayana, jerking his chin in the direction of a flashing light on her side of the dashboard.

She reached forward and slammed her palm on the button he indicated.

Trevor jerked the freighter up and around in a sickening spin combined with the furious race into the planet’s orbit. The G forces were controlled within the ship but Trevor grimaced out of habit all the same from his days flying Starfighters. He plunged the Ragin’ Rat towards the planet again, encouraged by its proximity.

The freighter was rocked as a laser blast made contact and Trevor gasped as he gripped the throttle to avoid a flat spin into the planetary atmosphere.

Jillian squeezed her turret blasters and clipped the wing of a TIE fighter following them towards the planet before Trevor leveled them out again. The fighter spun off and its blip disappeared from her monitor.

“Six-one-seven! Six-one-seven!” Ayana screamed the code Dakota had given earlier as the frigate moved in pursuit. She pressed buttons in the co-pilot’s station, guiding the technical computer to the stabilizer after the blast that rocked them.

Trevor stole a quick glance in her direction. Well, at least she knew something. He punched a few codes into the technical computer then focused on just flying them out of this.

Another blast jolted the freighter and alarms began to ring all over the cockpit. Trevor heard Jillian and Dakota scream over the intercom.

“Okay?!” Trevor shouted but his voice was lost in the noise.

The Ragin’ Rat was into the atmosphere now, and still pursued by at least two TIE fighters. Planetary readings were now coming in across his terminal. Trevor didn’t have time to adjust it as he fought with his freighter and realized that his control was now limited. They were hurling towards the planet and Trevor realized that there was nothing he could do to avoid a crash.

“Get them out of there!” He ordered Ayana suddenly, startling her before gripping the manual controls like the ship was a starfighter as he tried desperately to keep them level for impact.

Dakota was in the lower turret. He needed to climb out to avoid being crushed!

Ayana pulled herself out of the co-pilot’s seat and grabbed the corridor walls as she tried to reach the turret bay. She didn’t have to go far before she encountered Jillian, her arm under Dakota’s, hurrying them away from the center of the ship into the lounge. Dakota’s left pantleg and sleeve were charred and had blood visible in torn patches. His turret had been hit! She ran to his other side and helped Jillian pull him towards a couch.

“Clear?!” Trevor’s voice could be heard over the intercom and echoing down the corridor from where the three of them struggled. “Down! Get down! Right now!”

Jillian pulled her son down from the couch to the floor onto his stomach and lay on her own beside him, with Ayana on the other side of him catching his fall and stopping Dakota’s arm from slamming down on the hard floor where he was injured.

Dakota did his best to help them. He was not completely incapacitated. He grimaced in pain but pressed his palms flat on the floor and smacked at his mother’s and Ayana’s arms in turn to get them to the do the same. They all braced themselves for impact.

The Ragin Rat lurched low over the corporate center and one of the remaining TIE fighters behind it clipped a spire on the glass building Ayana remembered. Glass shattered down from the skyscraper onto the streets below. The freighter continued out over wheat colored plains lined in electrical towers and windmills towards a wide expanse of flat, bunker-like buildings laid out in an office park lined with a landscaped campus.

Trevor suspected he no longer had control over his beloved ship but he yanked left anyway and had the satisfaction of seeing the freighter seem to respond and drop beside the flat buildings over a plain that provided a long, empty vista of trimmed fields along the towers. He did not deploy the landing gear and the Ragin Rat hit, skidded and began to spin across the grounds beyond.

Trevor felt the impact from his toes all the way to his forehead and his body vibrated violently so that he could barely feel his finger tips on the throttle of his ship. His stomach lurched sickeningly at the thought of his family behind him in the ship and it was all he could do to yank on the controls until finally, after a long, scraping crash the freighter lost momentum against the ground and slowed to a stop. He could barely gasp a breath as he moved shaking from the cockpit down the corridor to find his passengers, his family, sprawled out on the floor with their palms against the deck. There were streaks of blood beyond them from apparently dragging Dakota along. His grown son looked haggard, his brow furrowed like he was much older than he was.

Trevor gently but quickly scooped up son and wife, one on each arm and reached out to touch Ayana with his fingertips for a moment to spur her to action. She stood and helped up Dakota on his other side. Jillian placed a hand on Trevor’s chest and then reached across him towards their son, though she couldn’t reach him from this position. Trevor moved with them all towards the ramp, which he hoped provided enough of a gap for them to at least crawl out of the ship. His mind furiously tried to recall the supplies he had on board, but his primary goal was to get them off and away from the vessel. There was still the possibility of being obliterated from the air. He winced at the thought of his freighter going up in flames, but he didn’t have time to focus on that now. They just kept moving.

Jillian seemed to understand his urgency. She was shaken and bruised but not lame. She followed Trevor’s lead as they picked their way out of the crashed freighter. The sounds of hissing steam and crackling electrical systems surrounded them.

The ramp was down and damaged but there was a clear opening for them to get off of the ship in stooped pairs.

The roar of a TIE fighter filled their ears for a moment and Jillian winced, expecting laser fire to rain down upon them but it soared over without firing. She looked up at Trevor, who looked right back down at her and Dakota in turn.

The Geentech campus wasn’t far, but there wasn’t much cover across the fields.

“Drop your datapad, access cards, comlinks, anything that might get a reading,” Trevor said suddenly, reaching into his pockets with his free hand. Jillian and Ayana followed suit. Ayana reached into Dakota’s pockets and removed his items as well. The little party dropped their items as they continued to move away from the ship. Trevor felt Jillian’s data drive from Naboo’s library in his jacket pocket. That was one item he was not going to drop.

The scream of TIE fighters grew louder again and Trevor willed himself not to look back, fully expecting his ship to be destroyed.

When the blasts rained down though, all he could think about was protecting his family and the four of them had managed to get themselves against a tower on the edge of the field towards the building complex. Explosions peppered the Ragin’ Rat and the ground around it and then the fighters soared skyward. It was impossible to tell if they were making another run, or if bombers would soon follow.

“There!” Ayana called out suddenly and her voice cut through the noise. They were close to a building’s edge now and there was a door open on the far corner. They made their way toward it quickly.

Once inside, the door snapped shut behind them, but none of them had touched the panel to close it.

The four of them turned around from within the lobby and saw a skinny, middle-aged man in a Geentech uniform manning the controls at the panel beside the door.

“Over here,” the man stepped away from the door and waved his hand towards an opening in the floor. There was a staircase leading below the lobby and they asked no questions as they let the man guide them underground. He and Trevor pulled the panel shut on top of them and they were plunged into darkness.

They helped Dakota down and sat him on the ground, finally releasing his arms. Trevor took a light pen out of his belt and turned it on, looking at each face. Dakota’s was wincing and his son reached into his satchel and pulled out a roll of bandages and began to wrap his leg. Trevor held the light to help him see what he was doing. Jillian grabbed the roll and unwound it quickly, bit it to start a tear and ripped off a section so that she could begin wrapping Dakota’s arm while he finished his own leg. He smiled lovingly at his mother, whose returned smile came out more as a grimace as she helped her son wrap his injuries.

“We are heading towards the…” Ayana began to explain but the man who had led them inside quieted her immediately.

“Shhhhh,” the man held up a hand and looked up towards the panel they had closed above them. Everybody stopped moving and looked up in the dark too, catching their breath. Trevor turned out the pen light. They listened and waited in the dark.

 

6

“TWO First Order TIE fighters!” Rear Admiral Ekham was furious with Commander Arteman and made no effort to hide it in the privacy of his conference room away from the eyes and ears of the other officers and crew on board the Nebulon-K frigate. “An utter waste over a rogue freighter with absolutely no ties to your mission, at the expense of my starfighters!”

Arteman held his tongue for now. Not necessarily no ties, he thought to himself. All things considered, it had been the only interesting ship they had scanned in the entirety of the herdship traffic. A man who had rebelled against the Empire, including his own family serving on Coruscant, years ago, who had suddenly reappeared after the Hosnian cataclysm at the exact same location where the Resistance ambassador had been traced.

He stood dutifully facing forward while the Rear Admiral expressed outrage. The remaining fighters had been recalled after the crash and Arteman had been escorted like a prisoner into the conference room to await this unpleasant conversation.

Ekham paused in his tirade for a few moments and entered something on a datapad on the conference table. Arteman stood just inside the conference room doorway facing the man’s back while he waited for him to finish berating him.

His Special Forces team was below in the herdship city complex, investigating the citizenry in search of any leads on the councilor who had abandoned her A-Wing fighter there. Somebody down there must be helping her. Or helped her escape before the First Order got there. Arteman suspected the Corellian freighter might be the connection, since it was the only ship that had made an effort to flee during the invasion. There were a number of refugees from Naboo who had registered as such upon landing on Shal Hillind, and his team was rounding them up and questioning everybody they found in search of any connection to her escape from Theed and subsequent destruction of her Incom-X4 gunship. They were also reviewing the city records of the general population there, though the herdship had no prior infractions against any government systems for the length of its time in operation. It housed some routine trading, its own self-sustaining agriculture and an academy with a variety of secondary schooling.

“Those fighters are coming out of your budget,” Ekham turned to face Arteman again sternly, his composure somewhat regained. “I expect them to be replaced in a timely manner. I have contacted General Odom on Naboo. You’ll await his orders.”

Arteman lifted his chin and frowned slightly at that, but kept his eyes forward and continued to refrain from comment.

Ekham stepped forward and handed the datapad to the Special Forces Commander with a look of disgust on his face. Arteman accepted the pad but kept his eyes forward while the man glared at him for a moment. Then the Rear Admiral strode out of the conference room without inviting him to join him, effectively washing his hands of him.

Arteman looked down at the datapad after he was left alone in the conference room. He expected he was supposed to contact the haughty General Odom now and be reprimanded again, possibly removed from this assignment. Instead he contacted his Sergeant down in the city complex for an update on the refugees and Shal Hillind’s investigation. They should continue until they had exhausted every possible facility for any connection to the elusive councilor. Try to gather a list of possible names from the spy who had blown the whistle on this location and provoked their invasion’s attention onto the herdship in the first place yesterday. He paused a moment before sending the message, then added further instructions.

Gather a small team on a lander and make contact with the First Order on Chommell Minor in person in the corporate sector. Inform them of the YT-2400’s attack on our fighters and the crash landing and send a detachment to search for any survivors. I will rendezvous with you at the old Geentech facility on the outskirts of the city near the crash site presently.

Arteman sent the message and switched off the datapad. Then he walked purposefully out of the conference room to hang his head and falsely report to Rear Admiral Ekham that he was to return to General Odom in Theed immediately Then he could request a shuttle, which he intended to divert to Chommell Minor by any means necessary and find Trevor Cabral. Two could play the street rat from the depths of Coruscant. It took one to know one.

* * *

            Jillian stepped out of the complex into the evening air and breathed deeply. She walked along the sidewalk under the dim, artificial light of the spot-lamps glowing down over the abandoned lot and let the quiet wash over her for a minute.

It wasn’t entirely quiet. The corporate center was not far and its activity hummed on the horizon.

Jillian strode across the lot to a slightly shadowed spot between the ovals of projected light. She stepped carefully over a short wall dividing the landscaping and sat down on the hard surface then scooted back, dangling her legs over the side. Her knees and wrists ached from the impact of the crash. She felt the cold from the stone wall through her clothes and squeezed her finger tips in her palms in her lap to warm them.

How had she ended up here? Jillian tried to get a handle on the events of the past week and how, precisely, to proceed. The devastation of Starkiller was overwhelming enough and now to have the First Order on her tail and Trevor suddenly here alive and her son nearly missed in the gun turret…. After years working to maintain peace and years of hiding him safely away from all of this, she felt like she was back where she started. Almost.

After Dakota had fallen asleep, Jillian had left Ayana on watch at his side and used a wash station to splash water on her face and rub her hands clean. Trevor had not returned to the room after the man, who went by the name Warrel and worked at the Geentech facility as a laboratory scientist, had settled their little party there. Warrel claimed he was a sympathizer of the Resistance and he and Trevor had gone out to scout the possibility of a return to the crash site to assess their resources. Her only intention had been to collapse on the cot adjacent to her son, but she knew she would only toss and turn right now until she quieted her mind. Now the cot seemed like a good idea, in contrast with the cool, night air. She pressed her hands onto the cold surface to push herself forward again.

A warm, heavy jacket was set gently on her shoulders before she could rise. Jillian looked back over her shoulder and lifted her hands to the collar of the coat to hold it together beneath her chin.

Trevor lowered his hands when Jillian accepted his jacket and sat down on the wall beside her, his legs facing the opposite side.

“Thanks.” Jillian stole a glance up at him then lowered her eyes and sat quietly a moment with him. The jacket was still warm from his body heat and it was soothing despite the cold stone beneath her. The sunset was clouded in a haze that cast a rose and golden glow which changed gradually to violet as darkness swallowed it.

“Ayana is asleep,” Trevor said.

“Oh,” Jillian turned at that to look at him and let go of the jacket to push herself up to go to their son and sit watch at his side.

Trevor put a hand on her arm briefly, to stop her. He adjusted the jacket so that it would not slip from her shoulders.

“They’re all right,” he said, looking at her earnestly. Jillian met his eyes and relented, staying seated. There was no reason to watch them sleep. She opened her mouth to ask about Warrel and Trevor answered before she even spoke.

“Warrel went to the laboratory,” Trevor told her, gesturing towards the building. “It’s on the far side, back before the Rat’s initial impact,” he added, frowning slightly.

Jillian arched her brow sympathetically. “Is the ship…?” She didn’t finish her question.

Trevor inhaled slowly.

“It isn’t pretty,” he said. “But they left it alone after that first run,” he told her. The remaining fighters hadn’t bombed the Rat into bits after the crash. He had been able to pick his way through the lounge and the cockpit with Warrel and retrieve a few things, including a datapad and the comlinks they had dropped when they abandoned the ship.

“We didn’t stay too long,” he explained with a shrug. “…just some medikits and survival packs… and clothes,” he trailed off. They weren’t sure how much interest the First Order would take in a rogue freighter that had eschewed their herding of traffic and shot down a few of their fighters on the way. It really depended on their mission, he supposed. He had no real way to predict what move they would make, or if he was unimportant enough to avoid any further repercussions beyond his wrecked ship. They could be sending out a squadron from the invasion landed in the corporate sector to investigate. Warrel seemed inclined to believe that they would do so when he had hidden them below ground.

Jillian nodded, lowering her hand and her eyes again. She sighed.

“Did you do a computer dump?” She asked suddenly.

“Well, not completely,” Trevor said defensively, “There isn’t exactly time to be selective and I’m not ready to lose everything I’ve got in there.”

Jillian pursed her lips and shrugged slightly.

“They have no reason to connect us,” she commented a little dryly. “You’ve always used your family name and not… ours.” This had been a point of contention between them from time to time on Coruscant after the New Republic had been established. It made sense during the rebellion because the name Cabral gave Trevor a certain freedom by association with his mother’s loyalty to the Empire, which allowed him to travel in the independent freighter he had purchased, brand new on his own. Jillian had always thought the name should have been left behind with the ashes of the Empire, after the war. Trevor’s name was Wiley, the name he had since the day she met him, as was his son’s, and her own for nearly twenty years now. As far as she was concerned, he was not a Cabral.

Trevor smirked at the reference to their old argument.

“Hey, an alias is always an advantage,” he retorted. “If my ship was connected to your name on record when Ayana broke formation up there,” he finished his comment with a scoff.

“We don’t even know for sure if they have my name or are actively pursuing me,” Jillian pointed out. “Lt. Connix thought they were hunting blind. I need to get somewhere to send a clear transmission…”

Trevor cut her off.

“There’s no way we’re sending any messages out of this sector to the Resistance. Not from here, not from the corporate center, not from the herdship, nowhere, so long as the First Order is swarming around.”

Jillian’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Of course, I’m not that foolish,” she retorted, her brow furrowing. Not that it was entirely off the table just because he said so. She had received the coded message on the herdship just yesterday with the First Order invasion in the Chommell Sector in full force. She ought to be able to figure out some way to respond to it. She looked down and reached into the inside pocket of Trevor’s jacket she was wearing. The data drive was not there. She looked up again with surprise.

“Where is it?”

Trevor looked out at the corporate center lights in the distance and squinted slightly. He knew exactly to what she was referring.

“In a safe place,” he said simply.

Jillian’s mouth opened and she blinked at his profile a few times.

“What do you mean, ‘safe place’?” she demanded. This was her mission. “You think you can just pop back up after all this time and assume control over everything?”

“You weren’t so concerned that I’ve been carrying it around since yesterday,” Trevor looked back at her again and protested.

“That’s because I knew where it was,” Jillian replied.

“What are you going to do with it until we figure out a way off of here anyway?” Trevor shivered slightly and stood up from the cold wall and put his hands on his hips. “If you’re cornered over that thing you don’t need to know exactly where it is, you know.”

Jillian stood too and turned to face Trevor, the low wall between them.

“The record access isn’t anything the First Order doesn’t already have for itself by now,” she said. “It isn’t like it is some kind of prize. It will just be useful to us. We need access to galactic records for practically every decision we make. If I don’t make it back before they leave D’Qar…”

“We are going to have to figure out how to find them,” Trevor finished the sentence for her. “Obviously. I think that’s what we should be focusing on now. After getting far away from here.”

“We should be focusing on how to communicate,” Jillian insisted. Then it wouldn’t matter if the Resistance had evacuated yet or not. “How else are we going to find them?” It was the same thing in Jillian’s mind. She and Trevor were always on two sides of the same coin.

“See?” Trevor held up his finger. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You’re so loyal to your princess…”

“General.” Jillian cut in pointedly.

General… you’ll risk your own safety to get her what she needs!” Trevor finished.

“Yes!” Jillian agreed defensively. “But not at the risk of my son.” She took the coat off her back and dropped it on the wall in front of Trevor. Then she turned and stormed away from this aggravating conversation and walked the length of the wall to an opening rather than stepping awkwardly back over it. Trevor watched her walk away. She turned her head to look at him, frowning as she cut through the opening in the wall to head back towards the complex.

The sky was a navy blue color now, and some stars were becoming visible as night set in on Chommell Minor. Trevor ran a hand through his hair after Jillian went back inside and snatched up his jacket with a frown of his own. He unsealed a flap on the back padding of the coat which revealed a hidden pocket and pulled out the data drive that Jillian had been sitting there wearing the whole time. Why hadn’t he just told her where it was? It had seemed like a good idea to him, to protect her and assume the responsibility himself. He hadn’t really meant to imply that he didn’t trust her to handle it. She had handled plenty for years without him. Anyway he didn’t have any control right now as to whether or not the First Order was actively searching for her over her cross purposes with them on Naboo. Maybe she was right. They had retrieved the same records from Theed palace as she had.

Still, she was a person of high reputation for years in the Alliance and the New Republic, and now had been nearly identified serving the Resistance. Plus the Ragin’ Rat had once been equally well known. He didn’t want the First Order to connect too many pieces of this puzzle.

Trevor returned the data drive to the secret pocket and pulled the jacket back on. He caught a faint whiff of Jillian’s perfume on his collar and closed his eyes for a moment, as another memory of her from years ago flashed across his mind, triggered by the scent. He opened his eyes again and sighed. They weren’t going to get a moment to explain anything to one another at this rate. In the stillness of night questions nagged at his thoughts more than his own excuses, but it had been a much longer day than any of them had anticipated. He headed back towards the complex himself.

The hum of a starcraft above caught his attention and he looked up and saw a pattern of blinking lights indicating the edges of some kind of shuttle as it flew over the Geentech towards the corporate center in the distance.

Warrel had presented him with some curious information regarding the old Geentech facility. The laboratory on the far side was very much active, though it did not appear so, and in use by the First Order long before this week’s invasion. Apparently the old gene therapy research had been reopened for testing. Except it wasn’t for holistic medicine as originally intended. They were testing manufactured chemicals used for genetic manipulation with a wide variety of goals in mind. Warrel had told him they were being overseen by several First Order officers. Between them in the lab on one side of the complex and the crash site of the Rat on the other, maybe they’d be better off in the corporate sector among the citizens, if they could elude the invasion. Trevor hoped at the very least they could get Ayana safely back to her father to discuss the situation and see about getting them off this planet and out of this system. He would at least have access to the shuttle he had taken here from the herdship with its facilitator. Although he did want to know more about these people before completely trusting them the way Jillian and Dakota seemed to do.

Trevor closed the complex door from the inside and saw that the panel on the floor was not closed but askew. He stepped over to it and pushed it closed over his family and Ayana who were settled on cots in a separate chamber below. Then he sat at a terminal behind a desk in the lobby. He put his feet up on the desk and positioned himself to face the panel directly. He expected he would doze off periodically but he still felt better keeping watch during the night. He didn’t know that much yet about their new friend, the scientist either.

* * *

Shuttle Myters, you are cleared for departure,” a voice over the comm channel advised the small, First Order shuttle as it moved out of the herdship traffic, which was moving more steadily now that so many starships had been scanned and cleared.

Arteman waited a moment for his pilot to pull them away towards a nav buoy and chart a course for Naboo, then he leaned forward and changed the destination of the shuttle to Chommel Minor as soon as they cleared the buoy.

“Sir?” The shuttle pilot turned to look at him in surprise.

“My rendezvous is at a secret location beyond the corporate sector,” he said calmly, as though he had full authority and expected his officer escort to comply. He moved his eyes to meet the pilot’s. “My orders come from Intelligence,” Arteman used the same line General Odom had used on him in the watchtower in Theed and glared at the pilot, daring him to question him. The pilot stared at him in surprise a moment, then turned back slowly, glancing at the officer co-piloting as he did so.

“Yes sir,” was all he replied.

Arteman leaned back and crossed one leg over the other in his chair, watching the viewport as the shuttle changed directions.

“You may make our landing at headquarters on the east side of the city,” he added. Chommel Minor was close by and filled the space ahead of them in moments. Arteman pressed his lips together and cracked his knuckles on one hand, then the other. He glanced to his right at the communications officer who had one hand on the comm and watched the pilot for any sign of verifying this information with Ekham’s frigate.

When no one turned their attention in his direction the comm officer lowered his hand slowly and glanced back at the Special Forces Commander who had just rerouted them. He noticed the commander look his way and immediately faced forward again. He pulled up the coordinates for the First Order headquarters in the corporate sector and sent a routine transmission to coordinate their landing on Chommel Minor.

Arteman’s alternate orders had been obeyed.

The shuttle made a smooth decent down to the planet and quickly moved over fields lined with electrical towers towards the city on the horizon.

Arteman lifted his chin slightly and moved his eyes over the industrial complex below, which was dotted with lighting around its campus. That must be the Geentech facility. It was dark and he couldn’t spot the crash site but he knew it was down there. He had every intention of getting there as quickly as possible and connecting with his team, after he had made excuses at headquarters. The First Order had some active laboratories there. There was no turning back now. He was determined to come up with something to satisfy his suspicion, now that he had completely deviated from his original orders. There was nothing for him to return to except reprimands and demotions without that Resistance ambassador.

7

            The Wileys and Ayana followed Warrel through the empty Geentech facility in the morning. They were rested and in fresh clothes and equipped with survival packs and a medikit. Only the sleeve of Dakota’s jacket gave any indication of the day before. Jillian had abandoned her traveling costume for fitted tan pants, grey boots, a white shirt and a dark brown, wrap-around tunic sweater with a hood lying on her back. Her hair was twisted back from her face and braided. She was walking on one side of Warrel and Trevor was walking on his other side with a full pack strapped to his back containing their other possessions he had retrieved from the Rat.

Jillian was keeping in step with Warrel so that he partially blocked her view of her husband, to whom she had not spoken yet this morning. The scientist had her full attention.

“…the work is unusual and has disturbed me greatly of late,” Warrel was telling them. “Gene therapy is not an overnight transformation. It has always been a gradual, non-invasive process, used for healing.”

“What do they intend to do?” Jillian asked him.

They came to the end of one building and Warrel keyed open a door and lead them across an indoor cat walk to the adjoining facility. He glanced down at her, worry in his eyes.

“Our experiments have become increasingly reckless… hurried.” Warrel responded slowly.

Dakota and Ayana exchanged looks with one another behind Warrel’s back where they followed in stride. Trevor glanced back at them then to Warrel again.

“Another army,” he more stated than asked.

Warrel looked at Trevor and shook his head.

“No,” he said, “There is not a focus on quantity of any kind.” He furrowed his brow slightly. “They are gene splicing. Do you understand?”

“Mutation?” Dakota volunteered. Warrel stopped and turned to face him. Jillian and Trevor took another step past him before stopping and turning too, forced to face each other for a moment without Warrel between them. Jillian averted her eyes.

“Manipulation,” Warrel corrected, sounding grave. He looked from Dakota to Ayana and back again, taking the time to make an impression on the young people. He lifted his hand like he was pinching something in the air. “Taking the most basic, core genetic code from inside of you, and twisting it, and breaking it,” Warrel gestured with his words and moistened his lips, then raised his other hand and mimed like he was putting together two puzzle pieces. “Then filling in the spaces with anything that suits them. Any power that can be exploited. Any boost to enhance the being.”

“You mean improving it?” Ayana questioned. Warrel lowered his hands and looked at her thoughtfully. “From a certain point of view,” he relented. “But how can we understand the chain reaction? More than that they are adding synthetics. For a short term effect, what is the long term damage? What is the purpose or necessity?”

“What are the ethics?” Jillian commented, and stole another look at Trevor, who was frowning as he digested this information. He adjusted the pack on his shoulders and they all turned to continue their way towards the labs. This building was clean and in order even in the dark rooms that were not being used. They were getting closer to the active end of the facility.

“The officers in the labs,” Trevor began after a few more minutes of walking.

“Oh you won’t be able to enter the labs,” Warrel said right away. “There’s no way to explain you. The First Order is over-seeing everything now. For a while we were just given instructions but the last few months we have been working under direct supervision. I receive my assignment every morning and I am not told how it will connect to what I or anybody else is doing, the next day, or the next.”

“So where are you taking us?” Trevor asked.  The party had come to a stop again at another door. Warrel turned to face Trevor and then pointed past him.

“There,” he indicated another side door that appeared to lead outside of the complex. They were much closer to the city now. “Just outside you can follow along the side of the building and move below the viewports without being seen. Just stay as close to the building as possible and continue right into the corporate sector ahead. You’ll just have to avoid being seen by the guards at the entrance of Geentech, and do your best to blend in beyond.”
* * *

The sun was high in the sky now and beat down on the little party stalking their way alongside of Geentech’s beige stucco exterior. As they drew closer to the entrance, they crouched between the wall and decorative shrubbery and stopped. They could see partially around the building now and the expanse of city beyond, alive with activity.

Trevor lifted a pair of macrobinoculars and scanned the courtyard in front of the facility.

Ayana lifted one hand to shield her eyes and looked up at the broken spire atop the tallest building, made entirely of glass that she remembered. The sun’s reflection was blinding where it shone against one side.

Dakota followed her gaze then looked down at her.

“How will you know which one it is?” He asked her.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” she said. “I really think it’s near that one. The front has a burgundy sphere with criss-crossed banners.”

Jillian scrolled through the corporate listings on her datapad looking for a logo that matched this description.

Trevor lowered the macrobinoculars and turned to face the other three.

“There’s a squadron approaching the gate. Looks like special forces,” he said. “The security is pretty basic. Just monitoring comings and goings.”

“Special forces,” Jillian repeated. She took the macrobinoculars from Trevor’s hands and leaned across him to look for herself. The uniforms were indeed First Order Special Forces, and from the looks of it the Geentech security was not expecting them. Their commander had an exchange with the door officer. He was tall and more expressive than most officers, she noticed as he gestured. He had a look of determination on his face and whatever he told the other was effective because his squadron was then granted entry. She lowered the goggles and looked up at Trevor who raised his eyebrows at her. Could they be the team there to investigate the crash? Possibly the team looking for her?

Dakota looked from one parent to the other and lowered his brow. He was already tired of their private, wordless conversations.

“All right then,” he said and he stepped out in front of his parents, crouching below the shrubbery and moving quickly beyond the building where he had a clear view of the entrance and then watched and waited to move to the next planter.

Trevor and Jillian watched him with surprise.

Ayana looked at them a moment then moved forward after Dakota. His parents followed her.

The entrance to Geentech was three sets of glass, double-doors beneath a tall façade shaped like a giant Aurek Besh ‘G’ with the crest flattened at the top. A symbol that matched the façade was etched onto the front of each door as well. Blue neon strip lighting was visible in the lobby through the glass doors, as were the Stormtroopers stationed just inside like temple guardians.

Commander Arteman stood at the center doorway and watched his squadron enter Geentech. Four of his men were pushing a medical tube along with them. The coffin-like tube was for a person who was being transported while receiving regenerative bacta submersion. Arteman nodded at the security officer then let the door close behind them while he pulled out a comlink and said something into it. As he lowered it he looked across the courtyard and his eyes moved towards the side of the building where the Wileys and Ayana had just been standing. He squinted in that direction for a moment, then walked over to look around the building.

Dakota moved forward quickly to another planter, and then another away from the building with the other three following.

Arteman was close enough for them to see his ranking as they passed one another with only the landscaping between them. He reached the corner of the building and looked across the fields lined with towers and in the distance could see the crash site. He smirked.

Trevor watched the commander walk back along the side of the building instead of returning to the entrance to join the squadron and frowned, but had no choice except to press forward. They were exposed now if Arteman were to turn around and look back, so Trevor put a hand on Jillian’s back and pushed her forward, standing.

Jillian stood and looked over her shoulder to see the commander heading off along the outside of the building and realized he was heading to the crash site beyond. It was a long walk in the sun outside the facility and she wondered at the determination of a person who would take that route and furrowed her brow. They were looking for them.

They all walked rapidly away from the courtyard and down into the streets where there were other citizens around them and moved away from Geentech down a city avenue.

The corporate center had more depth than the herdship city complex. The streets were broader and lined in old stone. The ground showed its age with ripples of indentations worn from years of carts and chariots before hovercrafts had become commonplace. The city was old, like Theed. They were ages-old centers of an expanding galaxy here in the Mid Rim planetary systems.

The first intersection the four crossed was closed to traffic and lined in vendor booths selling food, crafts, art, tools, jewelry and every imaginable trinket a merchant could peddle.

Ayana and Dakota looked at each other and smiled, their eyes twinkling. They stepped up to a food vendor and immediately ordered pastry-wrapped meat on a stick which were each handed to them on a sheet of waxed paper dusted with seasoning.

Trevor watched them and felt the corners of his mouth pull into a smile. He looked down at Jillian who was watching Dakota as well. Her eyes lifted to meet Trevor’s, then she glanced back worriedly the way they had come. She could no longer see beyond Geentech’s towering façade but it was a compulsive anxiety now that she was convinced the First Order was no longer hunting blindly as she had hoped. They were looking for them.

The vendor handed Dakota a second order and he handed it to his mother and glanced at his father, who was beginning to understand the dynamic between them. Dakota read her anxiety too. They took care of one another. Trevor ordered one more, paid the vendor, and the four of them moved along.

Jillian was looking at her datapad again, still searching for the logo Ayana had described while her food grew cold in her other hand.

The city seemed accustomed to being under First Order garrison. That is, every being moving about seemed accustomed to it, unconcerned. That was troubling. Stormtroopers were on patrol in the streets almost casually. Nobody seemed to pay them much attention unless they were forced to do so.

Trevor pulled the last bite off of the stick and dropped it and the wrapper into a trash receptacle. He was paying attention to the patrol even if the citizens around him were not, though he was doing his best to not look like it. Either the troopers or the street food he had just consumed were making his stomach rumble. It looked to him like the days of his youth – the days of the Empire. How had they allowed this to happen again? He glanced at Jillian who was intently searching for records and reached for her datapad.

Jillian jerked it away from him and looked up indignantly.

“How’s your breakfast?” Trevor asked her pointedly.

Jillian lowered her brow and took a bite rather than argue with him. She felt the food go all the way down her throat and took another one, warmth and feeling she hadn’t noticed she was missing, restoring her body’s energy.

Dakota glanced back at them.

“There!” Ayana said suddenly, getting all of their attention and picking up her pace towards an intersection. Across the street was a building with a sphere like she had described over the entrance. The other three looked up and took in the building. The glass building towered just beyond it. They all noticed there was no sign of a direct guard stationed outside. It was just a local business office building. Ayana smiled broadly and looked up at Dakota. He smiled back at her and put a hand on her shoulder. He had met her father a few times since he had known her and he knew that he was a busy man. Ayana didn’t see him nearly as often as she should, in Dakota’s opinion, and he had his own strong opinions on the subject.

“Mister Imwishic has kept offices here since we came to the Chommel Sector and my father always accompanies him.” Ayana sounded proud. “They spend more time here than on the herdship,” she commented. “Come on.” She took Dakota’s hand and moved across the street with a bounce to her step and held her head a little higher.

“Imwishic,” Jillian repeated, testing her pronunciation of the Ithorian name as she and Trevor followed them. She had never met or spoken with Shal Hillind’s facilitator by any means, but this was not unusual. She had encountered several Ithorians in her work with the department of agriculture at the academy and had found them to be smart, caring and absolutely devoted environmentalists. Jillian had learned a lot from them and they had liked her because of her dedication to their growing methods and her enthusiasm for passing on that knowledge. Her own Alderaan had a lot in common with their home planet, though none of her peers had ever actually set foot on Ithor. In a way she felt a little envious of their Law of Life and the realized vision of continuing their planet’s culture beyond their home world within their herdships. That kind of foresight would have proved invaluable had Alderaan established such outposts before it was lost.

Inside, Ayana provided the reception desk with her name and the employees exchanged glances when they heard it but were welcoming and allowed them immediate admission.

The Wileys lagged behind but there didn’t seem to be any trouble. Ayana indicated her guests and reception acknowledged them and provided four guest passes. That was a good sign. No First Order detail at every business office in the city logging every single person’s comings and goings.

“Do you know them?” Dakota asked Ayana when she rejoined them but she shook her head.

“No, but they seemed a little nervous, don’t you think?” Ayana asked him. She remembered her father checking in at the same desk when she had been here before but she hadn’t paid much attention at the time.

“What do you mean, nervous?” Dakota replied. They walked down a long corridor. There was a broad double-door at the end of the hall.

Ayana shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the garrison in the city,” she said.

Dakota looked at his parents in time to see them exchange a look.

“Stop it,” he said, annoyance clear in his tone.

Ayana raised her eyebrows and looked over at Dakota and his parents.

“Stop what?” Jillian replied evenly as they walked, giving her son her full attention.

“Stop with your little looks,” Dakota said. “If you have something to say just say it to all of us. We’re all in this together, right?”

Jillian looked surprised and stopped herself from looking at Trevor again. If she had she would have seen his mouth pulling into a grin.

“Right,” Trevor retorted, a little wryly. “There are no secrets here,” he added wryly, and looked at Jillian again. She couldn’t help herself when he made that sarcastic comment and this time she did look back at him.

“There!” Dakota stopped and turned to face them, causing them to stop too.

Ayana did not want to stop. She wanted to get to her father. She continued down the hallway towards the double doors.

“What?” Jillian said defensively and looked back at her son. “Dakota Wiley, I am not keeping anything from you. I only wonder what your father thinks about all of this,” she said.

“Mom,” Dakota began, then tsked and shook his head. “I just want to get Ayana safely to her father,” he said. “This isn’t one of your missions.”

Jillian’s jaw dropped open at that.

“Your mother is always on a mission,” Trevor quipped, but his son didn’t share his mirth. Instead he was met with a brief, matching glare from both Dakota and Jillian, who then turned back to one another.

“No, this isn’t one of my missions,” Jillian said, “It’s our mission. Yours and mine, to get Ayana to her father, to get you away from here, to get all of us out of this system. Surely you understand this?”

“Of course I understand,” Dakota said with some exasperation. “Do you understand that I understand?” His eyes searched his mother’s. “Mom, I want to come away with you. I want to help the Resistance!”

Trevor looked back over his shoulder but they were mostly alone at the far end of this hallway, out of anybody’s earshot.

Jillian searched Dakota’s face and could no longer pretend that he was a little boy. He was nearly the age she had been when she joined the rebellion against the Empire. It had been okay to keep him out of the struggle when the Republic had faltered and the Jedi Academy had been destroyed. It had been okay to hide him on a farm on Corellia while the Resistance had formed, and keep him free and clear of the politics and the danger of his childhood association with Ben Solo. She wasn’t completely ignorant of her son’s maturity or of his growing understanding of the galaxy. Not after Starkiller. This was a new reality that everybody, young and old had to accept.

“Hey!” Ayana snapped from the end of the hallway. She put her hands on her hips.

“All right,” Trevor said gentley, stepping in between wife and son. “Family meeting adjourned,” he said.

Jillian stepped around him.

“Wait, Dakota….” It was difficult to imagine her child entering this world she had inhabited for much of her life. It was difficult to accept that the world was changed again and that he was ready to pick up the same fight at her side.

Dakota smiled slightly down at her, looking a lot like his father. Jillian stared into his eyes searchingly.

“It’s ok,” he told her. “You and me, right?”

Jillian returned a small smile and nodded. “That’s right,” she said quietly. She took in her son at this moment, in the present, well beyond boyhood. This was it then. Dakota was a young man at the precipice of who he would become. She had effected that. The Hosnian Cataclysm had also been the catalyst for her own family. They were all in this together.

The doors at the end of the hall opened and Ayana stepped inside. The Wileys looked up at the sound of them and moved quickly down the hallway to rejoin her.

Mister Imwishic’s offices were spacious to allow for a being of his size to move around comfortably. There were a half dozen work stations spread out around the room but they were empty at the moment, except for one terminal where a medical droid stood working. A man and a tall Ithorian in elegant robes were standing in the middle of the room. They looked up when Ayana entered. The Ithorian addressed her in his language.

“Little Ayana, how quickly you got here. I thought word would travel more slowly with the garrison on Shal Hillind.” He was not surprised to see her.

“I don’t understand,” Ayana replied after a pause. She only loosely understood what he said and questioned her interpretation. “Did you send for me?”

The Wileys entered the room. Dakota stepped forward to stand at Ayana’s side.

“Yes, we sent you a message yesterday morning,” the man standing with the Ithorian replied, then looked over the girl’s companions.

“I didn’t receive any messages,” Ayana shook her head slightly. “I was at Mrs. Wiley’s when the invasion arrived. We fled in the traffic and crash landed by Geentech…” she paused and glanced back at Dakota’s parents, then at him.

While Jillian smiled warmly for this casual introduction, Trevor had to force himself to keep a polite Sabacc face. “Fled? Crash?” He wouldn’t have chosen that language. This girl was really forthright with their sensitive ‘need-to-know’ information. Clearly a person raised without any loss of security necessitating the life-skill of discretion. He found himself privately hoping this was where they parted ways, upon leaving her safely with her father. The man addressing Ayana didn’t make Trevor feel any better when he looked worried by her reply.

Dakota frowned openly and met Ayana’s eyes for a moment when she turned. He wanted to have a conversation with her about name dropping, regardless of whether she had met Mr. Imwishic before or not.

“Where is my father?” Ayana turned back to the Ithorian with her question.

“Invasion is an inappropriate term,” Imwishic replied with direct words so Ayana might understand him. “Where is your ship? I can assist you.” The Ithorian moved with slow, deliberate movements. His cape dangled behind his long, angular head and looked almost comical like it was too short for his build by comparison.

“Too close for comfort,” Jillian spoke a short phrase in her own rudimentary Ithorian that she knew translated well enough for Imwishic to get her general idea. He turned his attention to her when she spoke. She was trying to gauge the meaning of what the herdship facilitator just said about the invasion. It was a very diplomatic comment, in her opinion, that revealed very little about his true feelings, compared to Ayana’s trusting openness. Jillian eyed the empty work stations. Exactly where was Raynor Doakes? He was who Ayana had asked for when directed to this office.

Dakota looked at his mother with some surprise when she spoke to the Ithorian in his language and seemed to be understood.

Trevor wasn’t surprised but appreciated his son’s reaction. He actually felt relieved if Jillian could communicate effectively for them.

“We cannot return to our ship,” Jillian went on to say plainly in basic. She stepped forward. Trevor moved with her instinctively. There was nothing guarded about that. “Is there another way off planet?”

Jillian moved her eyes between the man and the Imwichic and followed Ayana’s trusting lead for now. Imwichic seemed to offer to assist Ayana but she wasn’t sure revealing themselves as anything than ordinary herdship citizens would be a motivator or a burden.

“Everything must be cleared through the garrison now,” Imwichic said. He widened his stance and appeared resigned.

“Our shuttle is not scheduled for departure,” explained the man to his right.

“Where is my father?” Ayana asked again more insistently, all too aware that nobody had answered her question.

Imwichic dipped forward in a kind of nod and the man to his right nodded to him in reply, then sighed and stepped towards them.

“Ito Foran,” he briefly introduced himself before continuing. “I support operations for your father’s research on planet.”

“Research?” Ayana repeated, not understanding. Her father supported operations for Imwishic’s herdship. She didn’t know anything else about his work here. “What research?”

“We’re scientists,” Foran said. “The herdship was commandeered two years ago for the First Order’s work at Geentech. In exchange for their continuing long term supply shipments from Chommel Minor, we have been assigned research for their work at the laboratory.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Your father went a step further I’m afraid.”

“That is an understatement,” the medical droid in the room commented and turned from his work station. They all turned to look at him in surprise.

“Just wait a minute, 2GEN8,” Foran held up his hand as the droid stepped forward towards the center of the room to join them.

“Mister Foran,” the droid spoke again, “I was purchased by Mister Doakes at the start of his work for Geentech. Now that he is incapacitated, it is my duty to serve the next of kin.”

“I understand, just wait a minute,” Foran said again.

“Incapacitated?” Ayana stepped towards the droid. “2GEN8, where is my father, Raynor Doakes?”

“He was removed in a medical transport tube less than an hour ago by the squadron that arrived last night, and taken to the laboratory in the Geentech facility,” the droid answered her immediately.

“What?!” Ayana felt the room start to spin and her knees buckled. Dakota moved to catch her by the arms and she regained her footing with his assistance. Trevor and Jillian had stepped towards her as well. They looked at Imwichic and Foran, who looked concerned but helpless. That had been Raynor Doakes then, in the tube that the Special Forces were taking into Geentech when they slipped past the entrance.

“Why?” Jillian asked.

“We’ve been trying to understand the First Order’s goal, exactly, in the work that we’re doing,” said Foran. “Raynor used himself as a test subject…” he paused again and nodded at Imwichic. “…with his genetic code.”

Trevor raised his brow and Jillian furrowed hers. Ithorian and human genetic code spliced? The facilitator shifted his weight but said nothing.

“What happened to him?” Dakota asked. Ayana looked up at him then moved out of his supportive hold.

“2GEN8, I want to see him. Get me into Geentech safely. Right now,” she said.

“Safely?” Trevor said incredulously.

“Ayana,” Dakota interjected, “We can’t go right back there…”

Ayana whirled to face him.

“Who says I can’t?” She demanded. Her eyes moved past him to his parents and back again. “Maybe they can’t, but I can!”

“Who says you can?” Dakota replied. “Everyone and everything here is obviously dictated by the First Order!”

Imwichic spoke again in his language and Foran nodded urgently.

“Your friend is right,” Foran said.

“But I’m his daughter,” Ayana protested. “If you’re all working for them and they’ve taken him there to help him, why wouldn’t I be able to see him?”

“It’s not like visiting hours at the medic,” Trevor spoke up again. The girl was obviously reeling but they needed to think this through.

“Two years,” Jillian commented with disbelief, looking around the room at everybody. She had to get in touch with the Resistance as soon as possible. Preferably with more information.

“Mrs. Wiley,” Ayana sounded pleading and turned to Dakota’s mother. “We have to… 2GEN8 can help us. I’m his daughter and he’s ill. Maybe I’ll be needed for blood or tissue samples…”

“NO way!” Dakota interrupted her. “You’re not volunteering yourself for anything in that laboratory. Be reasonable!”

“You be reasonable,” Ayana shot back, scowling. “I’m going. 2GEN8, come with me,” she ordered and turned to leave the room with the droid in tow.

“I am at your service Miss Doakes,” 2GEN8 said as he moved his legs more quickly to keep up with her.

“Ayana!” Dakota started after her. She didn’t turn around to wait for him. He stopped and looked back at Foran, then Imwishic. Then he looked at his parents and held his mother’s eyes for a moment.

“Dakota,” Jillian started.

“I’m going with her,” he said, “I’m as unknown as she is. I’m not letting her go over there alone.” He strode out of the room after Ayana.

“Great,” Trevor said. “Come on,” he said to Jillian.

“Is there anything else you can tell us?” Jillian asked Foran quickly. He and Imwishic made no move to stop them, or help them.

“The laboratory is set up in the first building. The medical facility I imagine they’re taking him is on the second level. There are officers assigned to each lab and as of recently, troopers at every checkpoint along the way. They’ll check identification in the lobby and at each lab entrance,” Foran answered her as Trevor took hold of her arm to hurry her along.

Trevor and Jillian’s steps changed into a hurried jog down the hallway in an effort to catch up to Dakota, who was already at the far end and rounding the corner back towards this building’s lobby.

“This is ridiculous, we can’t go back in there,” Trevor said.

“I know, I know,” Jillian replied irritably, her mind racing. “Let’s just catch up with them. We still have the side entrance at the second building. Maybe Warrel can help us.”

“Warrel helped us out of there,” Trevor argued. “He cut us off at the labs. Plus have you forgotten the Special Forces? Their Commander staking out the crash site?”

“Of course I haven’t forgotten,” Jillian snapped. She lowered her voice half way through her retort and they slowed their pace to a walk as they rounded the corner to the lobby among other citizens moving through the building. They both tried to see towards the entrance doors with nonchalant expressions.

Jillian had lost sight of Dakota and searched for him as they moved.

“Do you see him?” She asked Trevor when they exited the building.

“No,” Trevor admitted, picking up their pace to a fast walk now that they were back outside. “You know, we don’t even know what kind of complications her dad’s experiencing,” he said.

“That’s certainly not going to stop Ayana. It’s her father. The medical droid must know,” Jillian said. “And I want to know,” she added. “We have to learn what the First Order is doing here.”

“Wait, what?” Trevor stopped at an intersection and faced her. “Jillian, we’re not equipped or prepared for a mission like that. We have to get out of here.”

“I can’t find them,” Jillian stood on her toes when they stopped and scanned down the street towards Geentech but it was too crowded ahead with the street vendors. “They weren’t that far ahead of us.” She moved forward again.

“No, they weren’t, let’s just stop them from marching through the front door,” Trevor replied as they picked their way through the vendor booths. “Then we’ll figure out something.”

The Geentech entrance courtyard was just beyond the booths across another street. They moved to the cover of the landscaping where they had just hid sneaking away from here.

“Trevor!” Jillian gasped and grabbed his arm with both hands. They both watched through the shrubbery as Dakota, Ayana and 2GEN8 spoke to a guard at the Geentech doorway, then entered the building.

Trevor cursed. “Well we can’t go in that way,” he said. He looked ahead along the side of the building. His felled ship was in the distance on that side beyond the facility, but it was likely being searched right now, since the Special Forces commander had headed that way while they were sneaking towards the corporate center. The Ragin’ Rat was far enough away that they could probably get back in the same side door they had exited earlier, but it was wide open space the whole walk along the building to the crash site. They could definitely be seen with macrobinoculars if someone happened to be looking.

“We have to go back in,” Jillian urged.

“I know, I know,” Trevor echoed Jillian’s irritable reply now. He looked back towards the Geentech entrance and the guards stationed there, and took his blaster from its holster. Jillian did the same and they made their way cautiously from planter to planter back towards the side of the complex.

8

            Arteman browsed the Ragin’ Rat computer from the freighter’s lounge. He didn’t know what he was looking for exactly but there was plenty to distract him in the ship’s old records. He had broken the seal on a twenty-year-old bottle of Trevor’s store of Coruscanti wine and swirled a generous pour in a glass while browsing the backlog with some amusement. This had been an active little freighter, once upon a time, with logs showing trips to Tatooine, Kosari, Bespin, Corellia, Courscant and Mon Calamari, where it had been registered with the Alliance throughout the latter part of the war, when the New Republic had established themselves there before they assumed control of the government on Coruscant.

Arteman also had the satisfaction of confirming that this ship had stopped at D’Qar before arriving at Shal Hillind. Now he knew he was on the right lead for his mission and his personal curiosity. His team searched the wrecked freighter and he could hear the occasional thud or clunk as they went through crates in the cargo hold behind him.

“Sir,” this freighter has an unregistered series four-oh-one hyperdrive motivator.” A young officer came out of the cockpit into the lounge, eager to report this tidbit of information.

Arteman’s satisfied smile pulled into a broad grin. Of course it did. His grin faded into a thoughtful expression again as he wondered for a moment why they had headed down here yesterday instead of using it to out run the snub fighters and Nebulon K frigate. What exactly was this Trevor’s business on Chommel Minor?

“And look,” the officer walked over to the holochess board table near where Arteman was sitting and dropped two power couplings onto the table, which he had just ripped out himself. “Gold-plated couplings, instead of copper.” The officer grinned now, his eyes sparkling.

Arteman raised his eyebrows at the couplings then looked up at the young officer’s face and smiled. He held out his hand in a waving gesture indicating the man could take them.

“Spoils of war,” he said, nodding once. The officer grinned again and scooped the couplings back up and secured them in a large pack he wore at his side, as he returned to continue investigating the cockpit and the ship’s systems.

Arteman picked up his glass of wine again and raised it to his lips. His eyes moved around the lounge and fell to rest on a long cabinet door. He set the glass down without taking a sip, stood and walked over to the cabinet and opened the door. As he suspected there were clothing items hanging inside, and he pushed through them one at a time. There was a long coat, some shirts made out of broad cloth, an old jacket, nothing of much interest. He spotted a box on a shelf behind the hanging items and reached through to pull it out. It was covered in dust. He carried it over to the table, set it down and removed the lid.

Inside and neatly folded was a delicate sea-green fabric. Arteman lifted it out of the box and let it unfold before him. It was a noble’s dress of older style with a rounded collar, long slender sleeves and a low waist line. He raised his eyebrows and rubbed the expensive fabric between his fingers. Killik silk? He looked down into the box and saw a pair of tan women’s slippers. He looked back to the dress and searched through it for a moment. There were no stamps or markings. A custom made item. Definitely nobility, but from where? He dropped the dress back into the box without bothering to fold it and picked up his glass of wine again. Arteman was no expert on fashion, but how very sentimental to keep an old dress, almost certainly from family, or a lover. He swished another mouthful of wine in his mouth. That, he had recognized and was fully enjoying the old label from home. He sat back down at the terminal and browsed further through the ship’s records to Coruscant. Maybe there was something besides travel logs to tell him more about his fellow native of the old capital. He pulled out his datapad to access the galactic records from Theed palace on Naboo.

“Eh,” Arteman grunted. The signal was weak out here. No big surprise. He continued on the ship’s terminal instead.

Another loud thump from the cargo hold echoed into the lounge followed by some whoops of appreciation from his team. A man came out into the lounge.

“What have you scavengers found now?” Arteman asked without turning around. He tapped a few keys on the terminal.

“Weapons, sir,” responded the voice of Lieutenant Glort. “It’s like a bounty supply company back there.”

Arteman stopped typing and looked up at the screen. He turned to look over his shoulder at Lt. Glort. “Take a complete inventory, Lieutenant,” he instructed. “Box and label the items for my review,” he added

“Yes sir,” replied Glort.

“Lieutenant,” Arteman said before the man stepped away again. “I expect everything to be there.”

“Yes sir,” Glort repeated. “Understood.”

Arteman faced the terminal again. He had located a folder of personal documents and was scrolling through them. Rankings, titles, marriage…. Marriage? Arteman scrolled back to a license of marriage that had been filed on Coruscant after the New Republic was established. It was dated earlier than that, however.

“Wiley?” Arteman said aloud. The marriage document listed Trevor Wiley, of Coruscant and Jillian Hyperion, of Alderaan. He attempted to use his datapad again to access galactic records then grunted in annoyance at the weak signal. He removed his comlink from his belt pack and raised it to his mouth as he stood and headed towards the ramp of the ship.

“Carry on and finish the search. Log everything into a report. I will be in the Geentech offices. Confirm.”

“Yes sir, confirmed,” came a response after a moment.

Arteman returned the comlink to his belt pack and ducked to step through the partial opening of the damaged ramp and descended out of the freighter. He straightened again outside in the field and turned to regard the ship as he continued to take steps backwards away from it. It really wasn’t a total loss and could likely be repaired, although he didn’t know if it was worth it. The crash landing had been executed with skill.

A breeze had picked up, he noticed as he crossed the arid landscape towards the building. He looked out along the side of the building and thought he saw some motion in the distance. He squinted in the wind and blinked, trying to focus but there was nothing. Ahead of him was a door just past a tower where his team had exited earlier to join him in searching the wreck. They had left the door propped open.

Inside he was surprised to discover the run-down, unused portion of the facility. The lights were on and a door was open on the other side of the main room. He tried his datapad again as he walked and the signal was stronger now that he was in the building. He was able to access old records of Alderaan, proving that they did indeed now have the galactic records from Theed palace on Naboo. He made his way towards the front of the large complex and looked up records for the names Hyperion and Wiley as he walked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes/Ideas/Next Steps:

******Jillian listened to Trevor’s comlink diary the first night in the apt. on Shal Hallind when he was asleep and gleaned from this his experience a bit in the time away from her, the imprisonment, the gladiator/slave AND the fact that he was free for a year and didn’t come right away to find her and Dakota.

*Names: Govinda, Indra, Veda, Sita, Jaganuat, Ian Borth, Corsair Squadron

*One of the datapads, comlinks, etc. that they dropped at the crash site and missed while retrieving them and getting supplies from the ship, will be recovered by Arteman’s team?

*Characters back on herdship. Scenes where First Order used them in the process of tracking down Jillian after their arrival and Jillian & crew escaped. Also, what of Jillian’s team back in Theed? Many characters introduced there.

-Arteman vs. Trevor over their passions for Coruscant and its changes in their lifetimes. Eventual showdown over this. ***Character motivations internal of these two are parallel but at cross purposes/politics.

-Dakota resources through The Wheel/his friends from academy?

-First Order is in the Chommell sector in the first place why? Not just galactic records – gathering Geentech information on Chommel Minor and Arteman delivering the galactic history to the First Order (the same historical records Jillian had collected for the Resistance) from Naboo that will help in whatever plans the First Order has involving Geentech’s gene therapy?? ***look up Nazi research into genetic and biological warfare – EDIT: Nope. Enough with this theme in sci-fi already. SW is fantasy. I’m going back to Joseph Campbell on this one. The ancient world is something I know far more about than genetic manipulation. TBD…

– Kylo Ren arrives there at some point? Recognizes Dakota/Wileys? Maybe just a short moment.

-Resistance Black Squadron/Poe to retrieve/save them eventually from Chommell Minor. Trevor and Jillian end up back in X-Wings. Geentech and its mad science is GOING DOWN. EDIT:  Nope. The fleet and snubs are gone. Jillian and Trevor need to respond to Leia’s call and be the ones helping to pull the Resistance back together in my last scene, after figuring out my central objective to overcome and wrap up this story. They were there for the rebellion when the main characters were busy doing OT things between the battles of Hoth and Endor. They were there helping the original characters form the New Republic. They’re going to be right back in positions of leadership for the Resistance, who desperately needs them now.

-At the end of the story they are with the Resistance. (Episode IX???) The parents watch their son kiss his girlfriend. Trevor takes off again to retrieve The Ragin’ Rat with a grin and Jillian smiles, watching him depart. This time she knows he’s coming back. *Sun shower/rainbow/all that crap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* * *An approaching scene piece:

Geentech was still and quiet a couple of hours before dawn on Chommel Minor. Trevor and Jillian had settled in an office lounge on the second level in the center building, where the facilities were clean and in order, ready for expansion beyond the main lab. Cleary the First Order intended to make use of them soon because the power was active, but on lowered settings.

Jillian slipped out of the lounge and moved quietly along a black and white corridor. Safety lighting made the polished interior shine every eight steps or so and cast her shadow in alternating sizes as she moved past each illumination. Her strides were fluent and footfalls feline on the balls of her feet as she made a distance between herself and their camp towards the rear building. She had been awake for what had seemed like an hour after listening to Trevor drift to sleep.

It was a helpless feeling knowing her son was somewhere in the front labs, unbeknownst to them with Ayana. Where were they spending the night? Had they seen Raynor Doakes? Jillian could only imagine that they had but was too afraid for all of their safety to reach out via comlink to Dakota. If she could just search a working terminal, perhaps she could tread carefully enough to figure out something that would lead them to Ayana’s father, and the kids. She had pondered waking up Trevor for his assistance. His special operations skills had never ceased to impress her.

She had spent most of the night lost in old memories and one was filling her mind’s eye now, in her sleep-deprived state, while she searched for an open room with an active terminal.

About a month after Jillian had been recruited and finally brought into the confidence of the Rebellion, she had been assigned to a rescue mission on an asteroid base called Chequer. The fleet was hovering in wild space and some pirates had imprisoned one of their medics. It was her very first mission with her Starfighter corps comrades. Odd to imagine a team of pilots being sent on such an errand but after the Battle on Hoth everybody did what they could to help in those days.

It was the first time she had encountered Trevor Wiley.

Jillian paused at a corner to peek around down another corridor. The walls would have reflected any approaching movements in this lighting and she didn’t hear any sounds other than the usual whir of electronics and her own breathing. Then the sound of a routine computer update caught Jillian’s attention and she followed it to an open door into a smaller control room in the central unit and selected a terminal about half way in from the opposing viewport. The clicking of her fingers on the keypad sounded loud in the empty facility. It appeared to be a fully operational system.

Eagerly Jillian began to check the security and looked for a channel with short logs which showed it was not used regularly. Then she took a moment to hack open a secure transmission and began to type in a code for General Organa and the Resistance. It was a complicated series but she tried to work as quickly as she could with precision.

The light from the monitor shone on her face as she worked and reflected in her large eyes. Her brow furrowed slightly above them in concentration and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She was a little distracted by the memory she had turned over in her mind for the last couple of hours….

A young Trevor Wiley is sitting at a computer terminal in a cluttered room hewed out of rock into a make-shift base. There is blood and grease smeared across his forehead. A large ventilation pipe runs across the top of the low ceiling above him with one end sloping down into the room, capped by a grate. There are a few men scattered around him, keeping an eye out near the room entrance. One of the men, named Rober is frantically trying to loosen the grate at the end of the ventilation pipe with a small torch gun. A young Jillian is standing nearby watching him work with an anxious expression on her face.

===ALERT*ALERT* An unknown login has been logged in Cargo Bay.*ALERT*ALERT*All hands report to Cargo Bay===

            Jillian tsks in Trevor’s direction and furrows her brow.

Trevor scowls at the alert and punches keys quickly at the terminal.

            The bolts are finally melted and the grate quickly falls off, hitting the floor with a heavy clank. A rush of wind fills the room for a moment, blowing Trevor’s hair with the gust.

            “Good, I was getting sweaty,” Trevor comments. He seems to be focused on the computer. “Capin, I can’t get the weapons or tractor offline,” he says. “I am locked out.” He abandons the computer station and moves after Rober towards the ventilation tube opening.

            Captain Corin Taragoth, who is in command of this mission snaps his fingers at his team and gestures towards the vent.

            “Ok, everyone into the vent. Move now!” The captain motions insistently and Jillian climbs into the vent after Trevor, along with Corin and another pilot, Dent, who befriended Jillian in her first month with the Rebellion.

            “Quiet in the vents, kids,” Trevor comments. Jillian looks behind her to watch Dent climb inside behind the Captain. The little team moves as quietly as they can through the asteroid’s ventilation system.

            A voice can be heard over the intercom.

            “We’re coming boys, prepare to die….” In the background a pirate yells, “Place the thermal detonators by the doors, quickly!”

            “Hot in here,” Trevor notes.

            “I hope nobody’s claustrophobic,” Jillian adds.

            The doors in the room behind them snap-hiss open and footsteps and voices echo into the vent.

            “Rat, see if there’s a two-way seal on the next grate ahead,” Corin instructs.

            “Let me check it out,” Trevor replies.

            Jillian furrows her brow and watches Trevor move and realizes she’s been holding her breath since the pirates entered the room behind them. She looks back again at Dent. They were over the brig now.

            “No such luck Capin,” Trevor says again after a few moments.

            Corin fumbles around in his pouch and his elbow bumps the vent wall a couple of times in the process.

            “Maybe a hand-sized hydro…?” Corin mumbles.

            While Corin’s head is lowered, Jillian can see Dent. She catches a glimpse of his reassuring eyes looking back at her. The Captain finds the palm-sized tool and hands it to her.

            “Here, pass this forward lass.”

            Trevor holds a hand up for silence and peers through the next grate, looking down into the brig, as much as he can from this position. Jillian turns forward and places the tool in his extended palm.

            “Rob, grab this so it does not fall to the floor,” Trevor says and cuts the grate loose. Rober moves it aside and Trevor drops down into the room, drawing his blaster pistol in one smooth motion. He waits for the others to descend and then moves again to access their computer systems.

            On his way down, Corin catches his coat on a corner where the grate was cut off and a large gash appears on top of his shoulder near his neck. He curses.

            A voice comes through again on the intercom, “All units move to Corridor 1A. Proceed to scan and search all rooms on Deck C1 and C2.”

            “I wonder what deck we are on,” Jillian says.

            “Okay, let’s see if I can open the rooms. Go figure out which cell the good doctor is in,” Trevor says.

Rober heads towards the cell doors and begins checking them through the meal slots. Dent scans the room and Jillian’s eyes dart over the ceiling, locating the intercom. As Trevor types, the terminal’s screen suddenly goes dark and requests identification.

“Guys, I need an access code, they give us anything on this from the fleet?”

“Trevor, use those skills Intelligence taught you and slice that bacon,” Corin instructs. “Dent, watch the vent, keep an ear on it, be sharp lad, it ain’t pre-school now boy!” The Captain’s shoulder has a red stain slowly spreading, Dent notices as he moves past him.

“Better get that code right, traders. You’ve already given me an idea of where you are,” taunts the voice on the intercom.

Jillian’s eyes widen at that and her jaw drops in irritation.

“Be careful!” she hisses at Trevor.

“Not good, guys,” says Dent.

“Rat, you dimwit, de-coder in your pouch,” says Corin.

“Oh, you got the answer, right?” Trevor looks at Corin then reaches for his pouch. He smiles slightly.

Jillian looks over his shoulder at the terminal.

“There’s no way of finding out anything until you get through that code,” she says crossly out of frustration.

Trevor looks up at Jillian. His expression is stern beneath his blood and grime covered forehead. He does not say anything, then goes back to his work on the computer.

Jillian closes her mouth and swallows but isn’t subdued and scowls with determination at the screen as though it could help.

Trevor scratches his chin and the code box blips. He smiles and presses a few buttons then leans back.

“Ok kiddies, let’s hope my rat blood runs true.”

The computer responds, “Access granted. Level 10 security granted. Welcome, Tayle.”

Jillian lets out a puff of relieved breath and Dent pumps his fist and smiles.

“Oh yeah, I am with the big boys now,” Trevor immediately begins pressing buttons again. “Like to see that intercom guy play games with me now,” he brags, “Cause I am a Rogue, I am a rat….” He is definitely pleased with himself.

Jillian rolls her eyes.

“Hurry up and find out the log on the cells,” she says urgently.

Trevor looks up to Jillian again, irked and shakes his head, then keeps working.

“Capin, I got another idea,” he says, searching for something in the pirates’ records.

Suddenly the lights flicker.  “Power shortage on Deck C1 and C2. Power being cut from main computer,” says the terminal voice.

Dent frowns and notices a few drops of blood on the floor next to Corin that have dropped from his sleeve.

“What did you do?” He asks Trevor.

“Oh for the love of…” Jillian says through clenched teeth, her pulse quickening with every minute. “Quickly! See who was brought in, and when,” she leans over Trevor’s shoulder this time.

Trevor lowers his brow and faces her.

“Woman, you leave me the hell alone, understand?” He glances back at Dent and Corin. “Someone put a bandage on Capin’s neck, he is about to flood the place, with Corellian blood, no less.”

“Jillian, help me out with Corin here,” Dent says to draw her away and give Trevor some space.

Jillian narrows her eyes at Trevor then turns to look at Corin with concern. She hurries to his side.

“What happened?”

Trevor taps a few buttons. Three clicks indicate a cell has opened.

“Cell 412, Rober,” he reports.

“We need to stop this bleeding, sir,” Dent says to Corin, who obliges by opening a few buttons and sliding his sleeve from his shoulder.

Jillian digs through her belt pack rapidly and produces a clean bandage, which she places over the wound. She presses softly with her hand over it.

“It’s all right,” she says confidently and shoots Dent a glance to keep quiet about the injury. She begins to secure the bandage.

“I sure hope you have more of them,” Dent says quietly after stepping to Jillian’s other side from Corin.

“I have plenty,” she says, though she only has a few small ones. “Like I said, it’s all right.” She lifts her hand and notes the fresh bandage already beginning to stain with blood and bites her lip.

“You feeling okay,” Dent asks and pats Corin’s back near his other shoulder after the bandage is secure.

“Do I look better? I have never felt better,” Corin says, sounding a little dazed.

“You’re still ugly as a granite slug, Capin,” Trevor says while continuing to type. He smiles to himself again while he works.

Jillian heads right back to the computer at Trevor’s side and wipes blood off of her hands onto her clothes.

Rober comes back from the cell hall with their comrade who is unfortunately unwell himself. 

“Guys,” Rober says, and they all look up with a mixture of relief and concern. “Larad’s barely conscious.” He gives up helping him stumble along and sets him down near the vent and holds him upright. “It looks like maybe it’s some kind of drug that will hopefully wear off sooner rather than later, but I don’t know….” Rober trails off.

Trevor and Jillian both frown deeply at the prisoner’s condition, then meet eyes a moment with matching expressions of outrage at his treatment.

“Capin, would you rather play with lasers or tractor beams? I vote lasers,” Trevor says, turning back to the computer again.

“What did you have in mind?” Jillian asks matter-of-factly.

“Not sure yet,” Trevor replies quietly. “I do want to get that beam out of commission. Then…” He trails off, typing.

Clanking of boots can be heard outside. “Check room C1 304 through 310. Start here and go all the way to the brig,” a voice can be heard saying.

Trevor enters the commands to deactivate the tractor beam.

“Company real soon guys,” Dent says and readies his blaster.

Trevor nods, grinning.

“Ok, get going, back into the vent and let’s see if we can close it behind us,” Corin says, touching his shoulder.

Jillian watches Trevor, shocked to find him looking amused suddenly, then heads back to the Captain and Dent.

“Everybody up,” Dent says.

“But…” Jillian starts, indicating Trevor not moving from the terminal station. She climbs up anyway, after Rober and Larad, who he is practically lugging along, and Corin. She pulls back Corin’s cape as he climbs up, so that it doesn’t get caught again, and to steady him in case he is getting woozy.

“Trev, I know you want to shut all their systems down, but we have to go, now!” Dent says.

“You’ve been found,” the taunting voice comes over the intercom again with a laugh. “All units on deck C1. Cutting backup pow….” The com goes dead.

“IN NOW!” Corin orders.

Jillian places her hand over his now soaked bandage.

“Hurry up Trevor!” She says through gritted teeth.

Dent aims his blaster at the room entrance.

“Almost got it,” Trevor says. He makes a few more key strokes then starts to laugh triumphantly. “Yeah! That’s right! Delete! Delete! Ha! Try and hit us now.” He grins broadly and turns, leaping for the vent. “Let’s go Dent, I got money to take from you at the Sabacc table tonight!”

“Why don’t you yell a bit more so their aim can be set when they come through the door,” Jillian snaps at him as he pulls himself into the vent.

Trevor gives her a shove from behind.

“Keep it moving,” he says gruffly.

Behind the door in the brig Dent can actually hear the pirates’ blasters charging. Suddenly all the backup lights go out, including the computer. The screen slowly fades to black. The laser sensors by the doors shut off and three clicks can be heard as the door locks are deactivated.

“I’ll hold them off,” Dent says.

Jillian’s eyes widen, from the initial glare she shot over her shoulder at Trevor and move past him towards the vent opening. “You’re crazy! Get up here,” she calls urgently to Dent.

Almost immediately the door swings open and three pirates rush in and move quickly to the brig, doing a sweep with their blasters. Then two more enter to cover them, kneeling down. Still others take positions outside the door, aiming inside the room, quickly spotting the vent and firing at it.

Dent can’t even take the time to fire back at this barrage and pulls himself up into the vent, yelling in pain as his legs are hit with bolts that make them tingle intensely then lose feeling. It must be some sort of stun. He grits his teeth and pulls himself along with his hands.

“We need to get to the operative high levels,” Corin starts to say but stops when he hears what he’s pretty sure is Dent’s yell amidst the blaster onslaught.

 “Is he in? Are we all in? Is he in?” Jillian continues moving quickly but keeps looking back trying to see around Trevor who is right on her tail, sandwiching her between him and the Captain.

“Help him!” Corin adds.

Trevor turns, also hearing the scream.

“You dork, you got shot,” he says and grabs Dent by the collar to help him pull himself further away from the vent opening up over the curve. He squeezes off a few shots down the vent, to remind the pirates they are armed too.

The pirates don’t even bother ducking the shots as they zip by, since they are so far off the mark and rather hit the computer, melting the screen.

“Trev, don’t slow down,” Dent says through the pain. His blaster is still in one hand and he takes aim behind them, hoping to dissuade any pirates from following.

“Yeah, if I get shot too, that’s really going to tick me off,” Trevor comments, still moving he and Dent along as best as they can.

A pirate sticks his head and rifle up into the vent and tries to take aim, but is instantly slammed backwards as a bolt from Dent’s gun connects.

Jillian yelps at the blaster fire’s amplified echo in the small space but concentrates on keeping her and Corin moving so that Trevor and Dent can get farther along in the vent fast.

“That’ll teach you,” Dent mutters. The firing noises and chaos ebb and the group makes their way through the vent work towards the hangar.

“Don’t do that again stupid!” The pirate named Tayle yells before another one moves to the vent to do the same thing his dead friend just did. “Inform our Imperial friends to wait in the landing bay. I have a feeling our traders will be heading that way.”

Trevor grumbles as he drags Dent.

“You need to lay off the puff cakes, you know that?”

“You know I don’t eat that junk,” Dent says, doing his best to help. Both men sounded a little winded. “Maybe you should work out more.”

“Maybe I should leave your sorry, shot-up…”

“Listen ladies, you better shut up so they don’t pinpoint us. They already know we’re in here,” said Corin.

Jillian purses her lips and her nostrils flare slightly. Then she wrinkles her nose as all she smells is sweat, blood, ozone and metal.

The vent widens at the next turn and a huge slope is visible to Rober then.

“Oh thank goodness,” he says, also winded from helping Larad along. He steadies him and they slide down towards the wide opening into the hangar and wait for the team to figure out their next move. Rober takes out his blaster and peers through this grate. He sees the white armor of Stormtroopers standing with an Imperial officer across the room.

Jillian can manage to reach into her pack again without scraping her elbow on the wall and she pulls out another bandage for Corin’s wound. She secures it right over the soaked one for now and they slide down behind Robert and Larad.

Trevor braces his feet against the sides of the vent and yanks hard to get Dent over the slope down to the others. Now they’re all bunched up in a pile near the grate that opens into the hangar, catching their breath, bookended by Larad and Dent in their incapacitated states. Rober, Corin and Jillian lean forward with their heads together to peer through and scan the landing bay.

“Well… how’s the view?” Trevor says and leans forward his head for a look as well.

Jillian can feel his breath on her cheek and glances at him. He glances back with a grin and waggles his eyebrows at her. She lowers her brow in return and leans back, checking on Dent behind him.

“Can we distract them by any chance?” Dent asks, visibly wincing as he adjusts his own legs into a better position.

“I need my best shooters in front to fight off those white shells. Their leader Cole ain’t going to be far behind even if he is checking the upper levels first,” Corin says then lifts his nose into the air, sniffing.

A blackish fog begins creeping down the vent from the direction they just came and a hint of a strange smell is suddenly noticeable. Rober, Corin and Trevor lean back and everybody exchanges glances.

Jillian’s eyes widen.

“I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Give me that hydrospanner!” Rober hisses and Trevor pulls it back out hurriedly and hands it to him to cut the grate.

Dent lets out a short cough.

“Guys, this stuff isn’t healthy,” he says.

“I’d also like to point out, I took the tractor beams down, but not forever,” Trevor adds, while Rober works quickly to again remove the grate. He grabs it before it falls, then takes hold of Larad again and pulls him down with him, trying not to make a sound as he sets him on the ground behind some crates.

Larad begins to mumble something when he is moved and Rober puts a hand over his mouth.

“All right, the chief here ain’t gonna be able to walk at all. I’ll carry him but I will be no good with a blaster,” Trevor says as he turns back to Dent.

“I’ll cover you,” Jillian says, and notes the blood seeping through Corin’s second bandage as they climb out into the landing bay.

Corin and Jillian remove their blasters from their holsters and Corin crings from the motion.

Jillian moves to search for another bandage and Corin shakes his head and stops her.

“I’m losing strength in my left arm,” he whispers, “but my blaster arm is fine… been worse,” he says, trying to sound convincing but feeling the wooziness of blood loss now. “We better… quick, do something,” he says.

Jillian and Rober frown worriedly and Rober forces Larad to his feet again and slides his arm under his arm, but Larad isn’t standing on his own at all now, forcing Rober to scoop him up entirely and put him over one shoulder.

“There’s no way to get all three of these guys to the ship fast,” Trevor tells Jillian. He is carrying Dent like a backpack by the legs and Dent is hanging onto Trevor’s shoulders. “We need a distraction.”

“Overload a blaster,” Dent says, pulling his out with one hand and bringing it around to fidget with it in front of Trevor’s chest, preparing it for the cycle.

Corin stumbles then and Trevor clenches his teeth as Jillian steadies the Captain.

“Great,” he comments.

“My legs still work,” Corin insists, straightening.

Dent flips the overload cycle on and tosses the gun out from behind the crates with all his strength. He aims high and far, hoping it will explode in the air, in the opposite direction of their vessel. He and Trevor watch it a moment.

Jillian switches off the safety on her blaster.

“Don’t watch it! It’s their distraction, not ours!” She snaps and begins moving. Rober moves with her cover, Larad in his arms. Corin covers Trevor and Dent.

“OFF the puff cakes, man,” Trevor says again as he hefts Dent higher and begins to run with Corin.

Tayle steps into view almost directly under the blaster as it sails through the air. The other pirates are not with him. He looks up as the blaster makes a humming noise and then it explodes, knocking him forward in a spin. He lands on his hands and knees with pieces of the weapon stuck in his head like razors.

The troopers glance around, surprised, and rush towards Tayle. They help him to his feet and don’t notice the little rebel party of ‘traders’ running across the hangar in civilian clothes.

Cole, the pirate leader jumps from his chair when he sees the rebels running towards their freighter.

“There they are!” He points from his window in the main computer room then turns away from the window. He appears a minute later through the hangar doors with a blaster pistol in his hands and strides to Tayle pushing the troopers away. “This is for failure!” He quickly fires a shot into Tayle’s back and another into his head. Tayle’s body slumps to the ground and Cole hollars at the troopers and points at the rebels. “Fire! Fire!”

The troopers turn and immediately open fire across the landing bay. Rober and Corin are hit and the momentum of the shots propels them forward to the ship’s ramp. Jillian screams and appears to skillfully dodge bolts as they zip by her on her way up the ramp, but that was nothing more than instinct and luck.

Trevor turns and lets Dent drop at the top of the ramp and opens fire with his blaster, successfully taking down a couple troopers.

Jillian is opposite him firing away as well. She glances back at Corin who appears unconscious with a new wound and she is out of anything to stop the bleeding.

Larad and Rober are at the bottom of the ramp on the hangar floor and she isn’t sure if they are stunned like Dent’s legs or mortally wounded. She keeps firing wildly.

Trevor looks to Jillian, then the men at the bottom of the ramp and clenches his teeth.

“Cover me!” He tells her and shoves his gun at her and hovers at the top of the ramp. “I’ll get them up on the ramp and we can raise it from inside!”

Jillian leans back slightly and gathers the second gun into her other hand then extends both arms tautly and fires with both, taking decidedly better aim as Trevor hurries down the ramp into blaster fire in a crouched position. He grabs Larad’s shirt with one hand, and Rober’s with the other and yanks backwards with all his strength, falling backwards onto the ramp and pulling them onto it with him, under the cover of the bombardment Jillian is providing. The remaining troopers go down.

“Ahhhhhh!” Cole runs towards the ramp firing at Jillian and one shot passes closely by her head and leaves a scorch mark on the ship beside her. Her blaster bolts hit Cole with full force then, making his body ripple with impact. First two shots tear through his armor, then the next connection kills him and two more carry his body backwards.

Trevor shields his face then looks to see Cole fly back away from them. He turns back to Jillian.

“Damn woman you kicked that guy’s ass!” Trevor says and pushes himself to his feet and runs up the ramp towards her. She chucks his blaster back at him with disgust, not pride on her face.

He doesn’t pause but catches the gun and runs past her to the cockpit to get this freighter off the ground. She follows him and scrambles into the copilot’s seat, both of them flipping switches and pushing buttons quickly.

The ramp raises slowly and Rober and Larad roll down inside the ship towards Dent, who is waiting to catch them or at least prevent them from rolling on top of him. He is starting to move his feet slightly.

“Corin!” he calls to the fallen Captain and to his relief hears a low moan in response.

“Thanks so much for the lovely outing,” Jillian says sarcastically to Trevor in the cockpit while setting calculations on the navicomputer.

“Watch it or I jettison you the first chance I get,” Trevor responds, flipping a few more swithces. “Okay let’s go!” He pulls back on the flight stick and the ship rockets out of the bay.

Outside of the asteroid the largest planet in the Kosari system gleams like a jewel in the vastness of space. Jillian blinks and feels her muscles begin to relax. She lets out a sigh of relief then watches Trevor a few quiet moments as he flies the YT-2400 freighter….

“Ah-ha!” Trevor stepped through the doorway into the darkened office and startled Jillian back to the present. She was standing at the computer working at the terminal by only the light of the monitor. She turned her head to look at him in surprise but her expression remained determined. Trevor walked towards her quickly.

“I knew it!” He saw she was working on a message in code. He spread his hands. Jillian set her jaw and held her hands over the terminal as though to protect it.

“After all this,” he started, shaking his head a few times. He raised his thumb “The First Order team hot on our trail, right in this complex, the maniac leading them – who has it in for me, if you hadn’t noticed, and the maniacal lab work at Geentech which is practically next door, not to mention the crashing of my ship!” Trevor was gaining momentum as he spoke and extending his fingers one at a time with each thing he said.

“How much more time can we wait?” Jillian demanded.

“Can’t we talk about it? I’m right here and you go sneaking around.” Trevor remembered in the past, at times, she had behaved the same way. She had wrestled with her sense of duty between the Starfighter corps and Leia’s diplomatic errands, even with the personal history of her family at one point, and left him in the dark about it all. This after he had told her that he loved her and meant to marry her. He furrowed his brow deeply.

“I think at this point we should have complete disclosure!” Trevor finished and put his hands on his hips.

Complete disclosure?” Jillian turned away from the terminal to face Trevor. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear like she was swatting at a fly as she repeated his words.

“Like where you were for the last year? Is that how it works? Is it?” Her voice pitched up at the end and her eyes shone

Trevor lowered his hands in surprise at that.

“I was a prisoner,” he began.

“And then you weren’t!” Jillian interrupted, “You won your release over a year ago and you… you still didn’t come back,” her voice cracked and she turned back to the terminal to review the message she had been preparing for General Organa, but her eyes had blurred momentarily with tears that she refused to let spill over. She squeezed her hands into fists over the terminal keys.

Trevor wasn’t sure exactly how Jillian knew that or when she had found out. He furrowed his brow defensively, as he was already in an agitated state with her.

Complete disclosure?” He slung the words back at her. “Like the time you spent on Corellia?” He was out with it before he could stop himself. “The Faulkner farm?” He challenged, his eyes flashing now as well as he closed the gap between them. “Uncle Drake?”

Jillian jerked her head back towards him in shock, her mouth open. A tear did escape one eye with a blink and landed on her lips. Then the rest of them dried in her wide-eyed expression and she was glad it was dark in the room because she felt like her face just went white. Uncle…. Her stomach turned over.

Dakota must have told his father about Drake.

Before she knew what was happening Trevor had stepped forward and pulled Jillian roughly into his arms and bent her body back. He shook her once, slightly and hovered over her, staring down at her in the light of the monitor. The action prevented any push back by dipping her off balance.

“Is this how it was?” Trevor demanded, his eyes searching back and forth between hers. His volume was lower but his tone remained the same. “With him?”

Jillian gasped, staring up into his eyes. She started to shake her head, ‘no,’ rapidly.

Trevor touched her chin firmly to hold it still.

“No, don’t hide from me,” he said sternly. He slid his hand back from her face into her hair, weaving his fingers through the braid and holding her head in one hand. His other hand held her body tightly against his own. He stared down at her, and she stared, wide-eyed, up at him. The terminal monitor light was reflected in their eyes.

“Complete disclosure,” Trevor whispered and then he kissed her deeply, more forcefully than his ardent courtship or their traditional marriage. He took his time and kissed her for all the lost years, and to blot any other kisses from her mind.

Jillian felt her knees weaken and grew dizzy in Trevor’s embrace. Her heart was pounding and she couldn’t tell if she was matching his urgent kiss with her own or if she was lost in his power completely. She felt him lift her feet off the ground and the hardness of the terminal desk as he placed her on top of it.

The terminal beeped.

‘Transmission commencing,’ the computer reported verbally into the room.

Trevor broke the spell at the sound of that and lifted his face away from Jillian’s to stare at the monitor.

“Up!” Trevor ordered. “Come on! Move now!” He pulled her by the hand up and off of the desk onto her feet again in one motion and looked down at the terminal station they had just pushed around. It took him a moment to focus on it. He could hear his own heartbeat in his ears.

Jillian was reeling, now standing and held onto the side of the desk. She looked at the monitor as well and saw the message she had not quite finished sent to the code signature she had received on the herdship from Lt. Connix.

Trevor clicked a few keys on the terminal but it was too late. He turned to look at Jillian again.

Jillian was composing herself as best as she could and looked back at him warily. She took a step back away from him.

“What did you say?” Trevor asked her, facing her again. He watched her take a step away from him and stepped forward after her.

“I told them about Geentech and gave them the location,” Jillian said hurriedly, lifting her hands to place them lightly against Trevor’s chest when he reached for her again. Her thoughts were in a whirl.

“You didn’t tell them we were here?” Trevor asked, surprised.

Jillian shook her head.

“No. If the message is traced to this terminal, it could have been anybody in this facility. This place, this madness has to be stopped. I didn’t type my code. There isn’t any way to say Trevor or Jillian Wiley contacted the Resistance,” she explained.

“There is now.”

Trevor and Jillian let go of each other and whirled around at the sound of a voice behind them. Lights flooded the room and First Order troopers encircled them quickly. Trevor took Jillian’s hands in his and they stood that way, with their hands in plain sight between them, gripped in one another’s.

Commander Arteman had spoken and now he strolled, one step at a time, towards them, stopping a few paces away.

“Trevor, and Jillian… Wiley,” Arteman repeated the names slowly and the corners of his mouth pulled into a satisfied smile. He met Trevor’s eyes. “But I thought it was Cabral?” His tone was taunting. He understood the whole misunderstanding about Trevor’s name now. He removed Trevor’s blaster from the holster and dropped it on the ground. Then he kicked it away towards a trooper who collected it.

Trevor’s nostrils flared slightly as he glared back at Arteman.

“A rat, and… a mouse,” Arteman added, looking at Jillian next.

“And a reptile,” Jillian added evenly, jutting her jaw forward slightly and looking right back at their adversary. Her eyes narrowed slightly. She knew that story too. She had read it to Dakota as a boy on Coruscant.

Trevor smirked at that, but gave her hands a subtle squeeze.

Arteman regarded Jillian thoughtfully. His smile faded, and then returned again. He gave a short, mocking bow.

“Ambassador,” he said formally, meeting her eyes with interest. He extended one hand, gesturing an invitation to walk with him. She glanced at his gesture then at Trevor.

Trevor tightened his hold on Jillian’s hands slightly then released them when he felt her gently pull back. He lowered his brow and watched Arteman as Jillian turned and stepped forward to walk beside the First Order officer. She showed no sign of timidity. They took a few slow, casual steps towards the viewport window. Trevor turned to watch them, careful to leave his hands motionless and visible at his sides. The trooper nearest to him took a step forward to keep him in check.

“It’s hardly customary to talk at gunpoint, Commander,” Jillian commented.

“I should think you would be quite accustomed to it,” Arteman replied, “considering your historic experience.”

“Historic being the operative word,” Jillian added, eschewing his reference to what must be her time in the rebellion against the Empire. “I haven’t served the Republic as an ambassador for many years.

“Ah, yes, forgive me. What is your official title with the Resistance? Since the Republic is now historic itself.” He made no motion for the troopers to lower their weapons.

Jillian looked up at him with a polite, confused expression.

“Official title with the Resistance? That’s a contradiction in terms,” she said. “I work in Ithorian agriculture. You must have me mistaken with somebody else.” She took a step back towards Trevor.

Arteman grinned, enjoying her dedication to her own narrative. He continued walking with her and glanced at Trevor briefly, then he did gesture to the troopers to lower their weapons as he and Jillian stepped back into their sights.

“Yes, the academy on Shal Hillind,” Arteman mused. “I heard your garden was a great contribution. Your neighbor, Mister Keo had nothing but praise for your work. But he was surprised to have never met your husband in the past few years.”

Jillian was not surprised to learn that the First Order had discovered her home on the herdship. She had been careful to leave nothing in the apartment that could possibly indicate anything other than a normal citizenship. Her neighbors and colleagues knew nothing. Still, she wondered what had directed them to her home in the first place.

“I was surprised to meet my husband again myself,” Jillian replied, sick inside at the thought of old Mister Keo subjected to the First Order’s inquiry. Not to mention her colleagues at Dakota’s school. But there was no way to connect Trevor with any of this. He was innocent except for his association with her just now.

“My apologies,” Arteman gave a good impression of sympathetic concern and looked from Jillian to Trevor and back again and tsked. “I’ve interrupted a reunion. How nostalgic to be reunited against a common enemy. One of you seems to have lead the other one astray from a happy life as a dedicated citizen.”

“What would you know about being a dedicated citizen?” Trevor was at the end of his patience with this charade and ready to fast-forward to the inevitable. Clearly Arteman’s last comment could be directed at both of them. There was nothing at stake here by foregoing diplomacy. This guy was really getting under his skin in a vaguely familiar way.

 

After this exchange is finished, they are taken to a small room in the facility and locked in as prisoners.

 

 

Later dialogue T & J:

Trevor sat back on the cot and put his hands behind his head and his feet up on the little table.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask,” Trevor said as though they were just passing the time and the subject matter was not a big deal, “It only took two years of me being gone, before you ran away with Faulkner?”

Jillian had been arranging the opposite end of the cot to her comfort and looked up at Trevor. Her mouth fell open.

“Really, we’re going to talk about that?” She said.

“Well we finally have a quiet moment together. I think it’s the perfect time to talk about it,” he replied.

“I didn’t run away with him,” Jillian snapped suddenly then.

Trevor closed his lips and raised his eyebrows slightly, listening.

Jillian swung her legs around and pulled one up onto the cot under herself.

“I made a change,” she continued. “For Dakota, and for myself. New names… I ran a little business, dressed differently…” she stopped and furrowed her brow slightly. “It was a new, upper class… suburban… life,” she searched for words, a little sarcastically.

Trevor rolled his eyes briefly and grinned to relax her and encourage her to continue.

Jillian shifted in her seat and shrugged.

“It was peaceful,” she went on defensively.

“So how did he find you?” Trevor probed.

“He didn’t find me, he tricked me,” Jillian scowled a little and looked at Trevor.

“He tricked you but he didn’t find you?” Trevor pointed out the nonsensicalness.

Jillian pondered throwing her pillow at him but it was the only one she had.

“I was… looking at something in a hangar one day, maybe a year or so after relocating, and he happened upon me and came up behind me and said something that only I would know. I nodded without thinking and he ‘made’ me,” Jillian explained.

“What did he say?” Trevor’s curiosity was piqued. “…that made you give it away?”

Jillian pursed her lips and let out a quick patient sigh through her nose. She was quiet a moment just looking at him.

Trevor lowered his hands from behind his head and sat up straight, looking right back at her a little closer in this position.

Jillian looked up through her eyelashes to meet his eyes when he sat up.

“I was looking at an YT-2400 freighter and he said, ‘It looks just like the Ragin’ Rat, don’t it?’” Jillian blinked up at him but didn’t avert her eyes.

“I see.” Trevor closed his lips again. He reached up and tipped the bottom of her chin lightly with his finger to look into her eyes with a gentle expression, then lowered that hand to take her hand in his.

Jillian let out a breath like a dry silent sob and gripped his hand. She leaned the side of her face onto his shoulder and closed her eyes.

They sat there like that for a moment on the cot, locked in the little room as they were, unsure of what would happen next.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come back right away,” Trevor told her sincerely. He shook his head slightly. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he mused. “I wasn’t myself,” he tried again. Nothing sounded like a good enough explanation all of a sudden, but it was true.

Jillian opened her eyes but didn’t say anything more. She could let it go on mattering, or they could just be together now. She squeezed Trevor’s hand and heard him sigh. Then he leaned the side of his face down against her head and rested it there.

“You never came looking for me,” Trevor said quietly.

“I thought I was certain you were…” Jillian started sadly, “but I was never certain,” she said. “I didn’t want to be certain,” she added.

“What happened to Lantree?” Trevor asked and lifted his head to turn and look at her again.

“Danul? What do you mean?” Jillian asked, straightening and turning to him again as well.

“He knew where I was,” Trevor explained. “He was there, in the Mos Espa arena. He tried to make a deal, a barter for my freedom, not two years after I was gone.”

Jillian’s lips parted in surprise and she blinked, searching her memory.

“I haven’t seen Danul since, well since we reorganized the Senate, before I took Dak to Corellia,” she said, furrowing her brow. “He never came back either.”

Trevor frowned at this.

“You don’t know what happened to him?”

Jillian pressed her fingertips gently over her eyes for a moment and shook her head.

“No,” she replied. “I remember it was an Outer Rim mission. There was so much confusion defeating sleeper cells of the Empire all over the galaxy, you remember,” she said and lowered her hands from her face. She smirked slightly.

“You started a trend,” she said wryly.

Trevor smirked back, half-heartedly.

“Yeah, I guess you and Leia watched a lot of men leave and never come back over the years,” he said, and then paused to consider this more seriously.

“Oh, Trevor,” Jillian whispered, looking away. She had ended up far luckier in the end and it pained her what Leia had suffered, her husband destroyed by their own son. She felt her pulse quicken and wondered if her message had gotten to its destination, wherever that may be where the Resistance was at this point.  She began to pick at her thumbnail as her mind raced.

Trevor took her hand again, stopping her nervous habit.

“I’m glad you two have had one another,” he said sincerely.

Jillian turned to meet his eyes again.

“When Starkiller hit, I couldn’t help but think about you… not only your survival, but, well,” Trevor shuddered and shook his head. “I thought about how easily it could have been Coruscant, if the Republic hadn’t relocated….’

“Starkiller’s destruction affects all of us,” Jillian said passionately. “It’s unfathomable…”

“I know,” Trevor interrupted. “I meant I thought about your personal loss, Jillian,” he explained. “I thought about Alderaan.”

Jillian didn’t turn away like she used to when he mentioned Alderaan. She watched Trevor with interest. He ran a hand through his own hair and shook his head again, looking forward at the opposite wall of the cell. Losing Coruscant, his home, was completely….

“Unfathomable,” he repeated in agreement.

The snap-hiss of their cell door put an end to their musings and commanded their full attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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