arden_av“We need to talk Trey.” Arden said hollowly as she entered the common room of the Soul. The Free Flying Soul. What a joke she thought to herself as she watched Trey turn to face her from his own conversation with Nik. Her own soul was a damn sight far from being free. She gave Nik a withering look that she knew her newest co-pilot would definitely understand as get lost and the little Jawa made himself exceedingly scarce.

Arden sat down in the chair. She could already feel her eyes burn as she looked at Trey trying to get the words to form. “Trey I…”

“This whole thing stinks of bantha poodoo.” Bralor strode in from the cargo hold, unlashing his helmet and pulling it off. “I’ve got a bad feeling-”

He stopped and looked at Trey and Arden. He read the expressions on their faces. “What happened here?”

Arden could feel the heat in her cheeks rise as she looked at the former clone trooper, not expecting him to show up so soon. “I-I was…” she swallowed hard, “Nothing. What’s up?”

Bralor hesitated a moment. He studied the expression on the pilot’s face. The history between the pair, Arden and Trey, Bralor wondered if perhaps he had stepped into the two of them settling just what it was between them.

“Durga.” He pushed the thought aside and carried on inside. “He’s changed the deal, whatever it was.” He set his bucket on the table. “This wasn’t a negotiation. It was a slave trade.”

Arden looked from Trey to Bralor and back. Part of her truly wanted to say So what?, but knew better than to actually express that at this point.

She took a heavy swallow. She knew what this meant. She knew that Bralor and Trey would want to save Tilla. She sighed heavily and sat back deep in her chair, and pulled her knees up. “Okay, and?”

“And he knows us from the Princess job. Not our cover. Us.” The mandalorian rested his knuckles on his helmet and leaned forward. “Somehow he just so happened to be in the ambassador’s box during the performance. Except no one knew to expect Tiila Sadii that night.” He looked at Trey.”Durga sold us out.”

Arden gave a what are you gonna do shrug. Now that she had been given a momentary reprieve from having to tell her secrets, she would try her damnedest to steer the people she cared about away from Durga’s bad side so she didn’t have to tell them the truth. “That tells me we’re lucky he didn’t give our names to the closest Imperial Governor, and we don’t have an Imperial Star Destroyer on our backsides right now then.” She gave another shrug. “Sounds to me like we got lucky and should thank the force and get the hell out of here?”

“Look,” Trey said, leaning forward in his chair and placing his elbows on the table, his fingers knit together. “The only reason Durga didn’t sell us out is he wanted to get the money if it went well or the ship and our hides if it didn’t.”

The ship’s captain sat quietly for a moment studying the durasteel tabletop. “And I know there’s no profit in it, but… We took Tiila in. And even while it wasn’t our choice, she’s one of the crew.” He looked across the table at the other two with a firm expression. “And I don’t like our people being traded like nerfs.”

“I’m sorry,” Arden said spinning in her chair and standing up, “sure she was part of the crew, but does it really matter? It’s her skin or ours. And I say we get out of this system, and head to Nar Shaddaa and get us a new gig.” She started on her way to the cockpit. “You just say the word, Trey, and we are gone.” She looked at the other two members of the crew and sighed. “Look, this has nothing to do with whether or not I like the tramp, it’s more about saving our skins.”

Trey gave the girl a withering look. “Cut our losses and let one member of the crew go to save the rest,” he said in a dry, nearly monotone voice. “Just like we did with you.”

Arden knew that was what Trey would say. “Fine,” she threw her arms in the air, “let’s go save Tilla. Sounds like a plan. Then what, Trey?”

Trey looked back down at the table. “I don’t know. He looked to Bralor for support, then repeated, “I don’t know.”

The dark haired man kicked his chair back, sending it clanging against the bulkhead behind.”Phwoar! I am just so damn tired of that slug being one step ahead all the karking time.”

Arden started toward Trey then backed away from him. “Give me the damn heading to where this guy is,” she pulled the gun from her holster and checked the sights on it, “let’s get this suicide started.”

Bralor didn’t move from the table. “Holster that sidearm, verd.” The former soldier spoke plainly.

“Trafficking aside,” he gave a look to Arden, “and that is one I take issue with, Durga’s a greater concern here for us. We know how Hutts operate. This isn’t an isolated incident, this is the one we found out about. The moment it suits his needs, he’s going to hang us out on a hook.”

Kyra entered from the makeshift training area where she spent the majority of her time. “What’s with all the yelling?”

It didn’t take a force-sensitive to read the mood of the room. The set of Trey’s jaw, Arden’s thin-lipped countenance, and Bralor’s… whatever. She glanced around, glad that there seemed to be a minimum of hostilities, before zeroing in on Arden. “So, you broke the news?”

The color ran out of Arden’s cheeks. Her eyes bore meaningful holes into Kyra. “Something more important came up.” She said through gritted teeth. She leaned against the bulkhead and folded her arms across her chest. “Might as well fill her in.”

Distracted by the issue he had been grappling with in the moment, the look between the two women was lost on The Soul’s captain. “Apparently our… benefactor,” Trey said with more than a hint of disdain, “has been selling us out. On top of that, bringing Tiila here on a negotiation was a smoke.”His molars slid back and forth. “He was selling her off.”

That slavery existed in the galaxy was a plain and simple fact, and it would continue to exist whether Kyra could abide it or not. When it violated what she considered to be her personal space… well, that she could not abide. “So we’re going to get her, right?”

There was a quiet in the room following the question.

Bralor straightened. “We do this, it’s not going to be a clean job. There’s no getting Tiila and walking away from Thane. And then there’s the big worm. We act here, we need to prepared to deal with Durga.”

Bralor’s pronouncement seemed to draw all the air from the room. Individually, as well as collectively, they had all faced more than one point of no return in their lives. But was crossing a Hutt really any worse than being lead around by the nose by one? Kyra shrugged, “You only live once.”

“Then its settled,” he said deliberately, “we go after her.”

The common area was loud with silence, finally broken by the beeping of the comm system from inside the cockpit.

“On that note,” Arden turned toward the cockpit, “I’ll see what kind of fresh hell is coming our way now.” Arden ran down hall into the cockpit and flicked the comm on “This is the Soul.”

“This is Administrator Janzen,” a static laced voice came over intercom, “why have you not left atmosphere?”

“Well we need to do some pre flight checks and…”

“You will leave this planet, now.” The administrator growled through the speakers. “I have a squad of guards coming to your position now, if you do not leave the atmosphere of this planet in five minutes, I will destroy you.”

Arden sighed. “Moment of truth time.” Arden whispered. She muted the comm. “We have five minutes before we are blown to hell. Make up your damn minds!”

“Liftoff in three.” Trey paced up and down corridor leading to the cockpit. “Plot a course for Rhommamool and make orbit. It’ll keep us close but give us some time.”

“Finally you’re talking sense.” Arden jumped into the pilot seat and turned off mute on the comm.”Once our credits are transferred we’ll be on our way,” she said sweetly into the commlink.

“You will have your pay.” The administrator snarled.

Next to her, a datapad lit up showing the transaction complete.

“Thank you, and we’ll be on our way.”

The Soul’s engines screamed to life and the ship pulled away from the planet.

“Alright we’re heading away from this Bantha fodder of a planet,” She yelled out of the cockpit toward the others, “I hear Ord Mantell is nice this time of year. It’s not too late for me to lay in a course and we can just forget this whole thing.”

“No!” Trey yelled back.

“Fine,” Arden sighed as she set the autopilot and walked back into the lounge, “if you all are so keen on suicide, then what’s the plan to do it?” She leaned against the wall and folded her arms.

“If we give them too long they’ll have all their defenses back up and would be able to shoot us out of the sky before we can even look at them funny.” The thief said aloud as he leaned forward on the table and folded his hands together. “You saw the place Bralor, how well defended are they?”

“On the surface, not terribly,” Bralor said evenly, “I saw a number of guards, more disguised as servants, but they were lightly armed. If we hit them hard and fast, we may be able to get them before they can get to the heavy weapons.”

Trey nodded. “No threats of the air support variety?”

“Couple of ion cannon batteries on towers along the property wall.” Bralor reported.

“Okay,” Trey nodded, “This scumbag has never even thought that someone might actually attack his compound like this. Kyra, and I will man the guns and take out those ion cannons. Arden I need you to fly us right into the heart of his compound full boar. Bralor, you do what you do best.”

Bralor nodded. “We’ll need to take out their communications tower as well. I’m more worried about them getting word out about what’s happened. I’d make that priority number one.”

“If we get lucky,” Trey pushed away from the table and stood up, “maybe we can live through this.”

“Rousing battle cry there,” Arden rolled her eyes as she returned to the cockpit. She sat down in her pilot’s chair and pulled her knees up and held them against her body.

Here they went again. They could have easily just run, saved themselves and lived to fight another day as Trey was fond of saying back in their smuggler days. Now, though, they were risking their lives, even more so than Trey and Bralor knew, for someone that had only been on the ship with the crew a month.

A hand slid on Arden’s shoulder and squeezed gently.

Arden let out a small scream and turned in her seat.

“You didn’t tell them did you?” The redhead said with a knowing smile as she sat next to Arden.

“Shouldn’t you be preparing the guns instead of playing counselor?” Arden snapped as she started running through a systems check.

“Be angry with me all you want,” Kyra smiled, “but we both know that you won’t be free of this until you say something to them.” She stood and patted Arden once more on the shoulder before leaving the room.

The home of Varian Thane sat, white and lavish, stretched out in a lie of harmless luxury. The snake inside arrogantly unaware of the fight he had started. The ship of space trash had lifted off his planet and he was left to enjoy his prize. “Should I put you in green or pearl for dinner?” He looked up from the dresses he was inspecting to the woman reclined helplessly on the chaise lounge. “They both compliment your color so well.”

“Why don’t you wear the dress and go crin-”

“Ah ah ah.” Thane interrupted her, wagging his finger as if chastising a misbehaving child. “I won’t have language like that in my home.” He scooped up the delicate opaline material and walked to her, taking all the time he believed he had. “In our home.”

He hooked a finger and drew it across her collarbone, catching the gold strap that clung to her shoulder and pulled it off. “Let’s enjoy our first dinner together.” His chin dipped down and his lips followed the trail his finger had drawn. “an evening we can tell our children about…” He laughed softly as she flinched away. “Well, some of it.”

The Soul had only just broken the atmosphere back into the blackness of space. Bralor stood armored and cloakless in her hold next to the ramp. He checked the repelling cable’s attachment a third time before a flicker of his eye opened the com in his helmet.

“Ready, Arden. Let’s retrieve the Ambassador.”

Arden let out a final heavy sigh. “Here goes nothing.” The engines roared as she opened the throttle and pulled forward on the controls powering it into a dive back to the planet below.

The red glow of atmosphere tinted the windows of the cockpit as Arden checked the instruments,”Thirty seconds,” she said through gritted teeth, the controls rattling in her hands, “I’ve never pushed her through atmo like this before. We’re getting heat and turbulence like you wouldn’t believe.”

“We’d believe it.” Trey’s voice came staticy through the coms.

“Just hold it together girl,” Bralor said, laying a hand on the Soul’s hull.

“You hear them, baby,” Arden said as they broke through into higher layers of atmosphere, “hold it together.”

The Soul righted itself skimming the tops of the trees.

“Starship Free Flying Soul,” the air controller’s voice crackled through the cockpit’s speakers, “you are in violation of the terms of our agreement. If you do not desist…”

Arden flicked off the coms. “Well they know we’re coming now. You all better make this count. I really don’t want to die for Pinky.”

The trees parted and the walls of the palace were dead ahead. Three landspeeders with guards stood at the gates.

“Here’s the party,” she said with a grin, “light um’ up!”

“Don’t be cute, girl,” Bralor called through the comms, “that communications tower is priority one.”

“I’m on it, Bralor,” The redhead said from the weapons blaster. Kyra closed her eyes and let out her breathe slowly. She let the force flow through her. She imagined her target in her mind. When she opened her eyes again, she had a new focus. The rest of the world fell away except for her and the tower. A smile crept across her face as she pulled the triggers.

The green fire of of the laser cannons covered her entire field of vision as the bolts launched and seconds later hit the tower causing a brilliant explosion.

“Nice shot, Kyra!” Trey called through the comms. “Now it’s my turn. I’m going to clear you a path Bralor.” Trey grinned.

Before he could lock onto his targets however, the Soul was rocked by an explosion.

“Damn it!” Arden swore as the ship rocked, and almost dropped out of the sky. “They took out the starboard stabilizers. I’m sending T3 to try to do something about it, but this may not end well.”

Another blast rocked the ship.

“Trey would you please stop them from shooting or this is going to be a very short rescue!”

The first blast was near deafening, a hum filling the air in the space between each volley. It wasn’t long before the electric smell of discharged lasers and ozone joined the sounds and quaking walls to tell the people inside the house that a small war had been started outside. Tilla’s alien intoxication made the situation even more difficult to think through, but she knew one thing clearly. “You are in big trouble, Mr. Thane.”

Varian’s perfectly coiffed hair fell across his forehead as he grabbed her bare shoulders and shook her, the dress still hanging by a single strap around her neck. “Your friends will be shot out of the air like the mynocks they are. A deal was struck and goods delivered, my dear. The credits were nothing, pocket change. I owe a very large debt for you and I intend to take every,” he put his hand around her waist and jerked her body into his roughly, “bit,” he leaned in and snarled into her ear,”I’m owed.”

The Soul dipped hard, shuddering under the fire. The Mandalorian peered through the window as the ship shifted, throwing him against the cargo door. Through the flashes of green laser fire traded between them and the compound he could see the ground. It was coming up on them fast.

In his helmet Arden’s voice argued back and forth with T3. Suddenly the ship leveled dramatically, scooping back up. Cheers came from The Soul’s pilot to the cranky droid, whirred and chirped in response.

Gripping the cable tight, the soldier slammed his fist against the door mechanism and the cargo door opened. He was sucked out into the open air. Steadily he let the line feed through his hand, sliding down it as the ship rocketed up and away from him. The DC-17 fired round after steady round, picking off Thane’s security guards.

“Cut it.”

In his ear the utility droid Pal whistled in reply, and he could hear the cargo door close. The cable went slack, and he let it go.

His stomach jumped as free-fall and that familiar adrenaline rush set in. He landed on the rooftop with a roll, coming up with both guns firing. Togrutas brandishing long vibroblade swords came running him down from both sides. “Should’ve brought Kyra.” He leveled both weapons and fired. “She might have appreciated the practice.” The Togrutas fell before even making it halfway to him.

Bralor shouldered his way through the door and into Thane’s home.

His short, manicured nails dug into her side through the thin material at her waist as he forced another flute of the flower liquor past her lips, choking her and spilling half of it down the front of her.”They won’t get past the securities, darling. Your friends are dead.” One hand still grasping her roughly, he tore at his shiny leather belt and unbuckled it with the ease of someone who was used to forcing himself onto women.

Despite her best efforts, Tiila choked on a sob and put her hands against his chest, feeling like a small child as she tried, and failed, to push him away from her. The spiked mycosia has made her so weak. Never had she hated anyone so much in her entire life. She shook her head. “You’re wrong. You’re dead.” She spat in his face. All her strength gone, she could still do that.

His smile was more an aggressive baring of teeth, a show of dominance. There was no mirth in it at all. In that moment, he looked like a togruta himself, sharp toothed and strong. “You shouldn’t be afraid. I know this isn’t your first and I have been told I am very good.” With a final jerk of his wrist, his white pressed pants fell around his ankles. “You’ll learn to love it.”

Tilla’s struggle redoubled, repulsed by this filth pressed against her. He was no better, no less disgusting than a Hutt. She thought for a moment, if she would rather die than submit to this man. He kissed her roughly and began walking her backwards to the bed, the sounds of battle still going on in the background. “Not quite the romantic music I had planned for our first time together, but it gets the blood flowing, doesn’t it?” He curled two fingers around the strap that held up her dress, the one that wrapped around her neck, and pulled, snapping the delicate material. Tiila’s fight against him stopped as her hands went to holding her dress up.

As he pulled her almost relenting body back toward him, a wet red spray splattered across her face and chest. Thane’s predatory expression didn’t even seem to take notice even as his head jerked forward. The high pitch call and deep echo of a single blaster shot came in a quick wake and drowned the din of everything else.

Lord Varian Thane didn’t blink. His expression went slack, grip falling limp around her arms. He collapsed dead at her feet.

Across the room Bralor stood in the open doorway of Thane’s chamber. “Time to go, Ambassador.”

Arden turned the Soul on her edge, presenting as little of the ship’s profile to the anti-air crews. She kept the craft steering to port, giving T3 a chance to work on the damaged stabilizer, while giving Trey and Kyra the widest fields of fire from their turrets. The steady chuff-chuff of the cannons was somewhat comforting to the young pilot in that it kept the anti-air fire to a minimum. Arden was starting to think they might just pull this rescue off, when the incoming aircraft alarm blazed to life.

“We’re gonna have company!” She pulled the Soul into a tight barrel roll as an ion blast missed the ship by millimeters.

T3 trilled angrily from the back of the ship.

“Just keep working, you little rust bucket,” Arden yelled back, “I’d rather get out of this alive!”

Arden could hear the sizzle of the blasters as they battered the anti air on the ground below. She said a silent prayer to the force or anything else that would listen.

“Arden,” Trey’s voice came through the speakers, “incoming at point three.”

Arden’s head swiveled and then she saw it. Three C-73 Tracker starfighters came screaming in from their left flank.

“You have got to be frakkin’ kidding me.” Arden blew a loose strand of hair out of her eyes and banked hard to the right.

“T3 we have fighters incoming, I need that stabilizer.”

T3 beepeed indignantly back to the blonde.

“What do you mean you can’t?” she said panic settling into her voice.

There was another series of beeps and moans.

“Fantastic,” Arden swore again, “I hope you two have a miracle, cause I’m out.”

“I think I can pull something out,” Kyra said through gritted teeth, “Fly directly into them.”

“Are you nuts?” Arden screamed.

“I think I see what she’s planning, Arden,” Trey said as he laid down suppressive fire, “just do it.”

Arden cursed one more time then gunned the Soul toward the three fighters, giving all the power she could to the front deflectors.

The four ships were on a collision course. At the last moment, the three fighters lost the game of chicken and swerved out of the way. Unfortunately, the fighters pilots were not nearly as good as Arden. The ship closest to the Soul got clipped, ripping it’s wing off in the process sending it crashing into the ground while Trey and Kyra shot down the other two.

Arden let the breath she didn’t realize she was holding out. “Kyra,” she said into the comms,”remind me to not second guess you again.”

Relief flushed her face and she felt dizzy. “Ures…” She took a step towards him and stumbled a bit, shock doing almost as much damage as the drug by now. The curved wood of the bedpost caught her and she steadied herself against it.

Reloading, the Mandalorian jogged across the room toward her. “We have to go.”

“I’m trying…” She pushed off the post and slipped her shoes on. Looking across the room to the dark wood table that held the red bottle, she took careful, wobbly steps towards it.

He holstered one of his side arms and grabbed one of the blush blue robes from the back of a chair as he approached. “Sorry, Ambassador,” he wrapped it around her shoulders and closed it tight around her before crouching down and hauling her over his shoulder, “but I need you to move a little quicker than those shoes are going to carry you.”

Tilla made an unmistakably annoyed noise and shook her open fingers at the bottle she had been interrupted from acquiring. “I need that. We can not leave that behind.”

Bralor was sure that they could all use a drink when they were far far away from this place, but he didn’t pause to question her. He shifted so she could get one of her arms out from the robe’s trappings. “Can you hold it?” Holstering his other DC he corked the bottle. “Because I’m guessing you’re not fit to shoot straight.” Behind him he could hear the next string of Thane’s guard rushing toward their position.

“Yes. I’m not letting this bottle out of my sight.” She looked over at the body on the floor. “Even if I could shoot straight, I would have nothing on your aim.” Her body shifted and she groaned. “And this is extremely uncomfortable, so I am all for getting this over quickly.”

“Roger that.” He handed the bottle back into her fingers and pulled his gun. “Keep your head down.

“I’ve got Tiila,” he said into his com, “I hope you left me something to get out of here on.”

“First ship parked on the apron,” came Kyra’s voice in his helmet. “Hope it works.”

He ran full tilt from the room. Even with her over his shoulder he seemed to jostle her very little as if he had done this before. As they hurried through the mansion red jets of blaster fire showered all around them and were silenced by the nearer sounds of the soldier’s weapon. They left the hallway littered with gently smoking bodies, laying in shallow, dark pools.

Tiila clutched the bottle close to her body, keeping her head down and her eyes closed tight as she tried not to think about getting shot at. It was true that she worked in the crime business, but she wasn’t often in the line of fire part. She focused on the fact that she was being saved. They had come for her. They had risked themselves to come and get her when it would have been far easier to leave her there and save themselves the trouble instead.

Out. They would be out soon. She keep repeating that over and over in her head in a mantra to drown out the ambient carnage.

A well placed shot on the lock kicked the door open. Bralor slowed, ducking to the side cautiously.”You alright back there?” He leaned his head out, checking the cover. A few stray shots impacted around the open door and he quickly filed away their sources.

“I won’t be alright until we are far off this cursed planet.”

“Fair enough.” He laid down a few shots of suppression fire. It got him a better look outside and he saw their exit ride. Amid the smoking wreckage and debris sat an untouched YT-775 freighter.”Couldn’t have left us a bigger target?”

Bralor reloaded one more time. He took a deep breath. “Ib’tuur jatne tuur ash’ad kyr’amur.”

With his blaster blazing, Bralor rushed out the doorway. He fired each round with precision at the cover that had been shooting in their direction. Some shots met their mark, others kept the guards ducked down. He ducked under the freighter’s hull and made his way to the ramp controls.

Return fire started ricocheting around them as he hot wired the ramp to drop. One bolt managed to singe across his bicep, eliciting a cringing, “argh!” but nothing more. He clambered up into the ship and rushed for the cockpit.

“Alright, Ambassador,” he said, lowering her carefully but quickly into the copilot’s seat. No sooner was she down, he immediately went to flipping switches across the board, kicking the ship to life.”Buckle up, because we’re not sticking around for the pre-flight safety inspection.”

Tiila wrapped the thick nylon strap over her chest and clipped it securely in place. She couldn’t get out of here fast enough. The bottle of secrets was still clutched in her hands, her knuckles white with strain. The Ambassador curled her back and pressed her forehead to the corked top. “I don’t care, just get me out of here.”

The back of the Corellian freighter lurched upward, followed by the cockpit in the front. “Arden.” As its engines fired up, he swung the tail around, putting a black scoring across Thane’s home. “Let’s put this dwanghole behind us.” He pitching the nose up throttled back hard. The white hot jets burned a black line across the ground and Bralor and Tiila jetted into the atmosphere after The Soul.

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