Zetauri system in Shindra’s Veil nebula, Tapani Sector
Datunda, Nelona 19th, 12731
Work continued on demolishing the Protian Enterprises’ Advanced Physics Research Lab. Each section, once removed, was processed through a slow decontamination process through a building-sized complex of machinery. Once done, the remains were ground into raw material for recycling. It was a cleansing and healing process for the material so life could go on.
At the same time, Ruk, Pala and the rest of the team underwent their own healing process in the basecamp’s medical bay.
Ruk V’dora, in a navy blue jumpsuit and rebreather, stood on the same rise of craggy, blue-gray soil that overlooked the same ancient crater he seen five days ago.
It was hard for him to process that number. So much had happened. But an extended stay in medbay, complete with bacta tank treatment, had that ‘lost time’ effect. Yet, the medical droid said he was clear to leave so long as he avoided any strenuous activity for the next week. After that came physical therapy. Ruk was already itching to at least exercise.
There was a crunch of dry soil to his right. He saw his partner and friend, Pala’teska walking up. Like him, she had swapped armor for more ‘down time’ clothes. For her, that meant her usual spacer’s cargo pants, shirt and a loose sand-brown flight jacket. She made the gesture for ‘hello’ with the ends of her lekku at him while she walked up. Ruk grinned, replying with a nod before he continued to watch the demolition crews.
Pala walked up beside him and sighed.
“Much. Bacta is a wonderful thing.”
“I just wish it didn’t leave such a bad aftertaste.”
She bumped him lightly with an elbow.
“Not everyone has to bathe in it.”
A long pause settled in, letting Ruk’s mind wander.
“Where’s Eman and Rhia?” he asked.
“Quarantine. They were just picked up a standard hour ago by an Alliance military frigate and should be in a brig by now. Master Skywalker from the Jedi Order is aboard to make sure Eman doesn’t pull any of his Sith tricks.”
He sighed, feeling tension bleed out of him.
“Very good. Do Halron, Mira, or really any of the teams suspect anything?”
Pala shook her head.
“Halron might. But he’s nosy. It doesn’t mean he’ll learn anything. No one else suspects. I’ve been saying you cobbled together some bomb-thing using a power cell crystal. A trick you learned during the Clone Wars. I had been carrying it and tossed it to you.”
He gave her a pained look.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, and people are buying it.”
Ruk shook his head, then watched the demolition teams pull out the remains of the savaged hyperdrive prototype with extreme care. Memories of the past few days flashed back in his mind like bad holovid news footage.
“Pala? You still have the data chip from the servers?”
She pulled a hand out of a jacket pocket and offered over the dull, matte black data chip.
Ruk studied the data chip for a long moment, letting silence settle down around them again. Wind blew over the crusty soil, sending a light dust into the air. No longer than half the length of his finger, the chip was scuffed with only two slight scratches on one corner. Evidence of the adventure it had been through.
“The only copy,” he said.
“Yes. It is, isn’t it?”
Ruk saw himself dropping it to the ground, crushing it to dust under a boot heel. Stamping out the threat that the knowledge represented. Something deep inside him whispered that was fear.
Fear led to dark things. Some said it was the ‘mind killer’.
Fear wasn’t the way.
He closed his fist over the chip, then handed it back.
“I just hope the Null Force techs make sense of it. You know, for when this happens again.”
Pala hesitated before dropping the data chip back in her pocket.
“Yes, when. Someone’s figured it out once, someone else will figure it out again. They may mean well. They may not. But we need a way to defuse it. To protect people who don’t need to suffer because of someone being a greedy, kriffing bastard.”
Pala nodded. After a moment, she reached over to give his right bicep a light squeeze. Then she rubbed his arm.
“How do you feel now?” she asked.
He squinted at her, not sure what she was talking about.
Pala cleared her throat.
“You know. What you said a few days ago before all this mess really got started? That you didn’t belong here?”
A thin smile grew over his face.
“Have you heard that phrase Vorkosigan sometimes says?”
“Count Vorkosigan? Aral Vorkosigan?”
Ruk shook his head, looking over to meet Pala’s confused look.
“No, his son. Miles. Miles Vorkosigan.”
Pala stared at the ground in thought. She frowned harder at him.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about?”
“I heard him say once, after the Galactic Civil War, that the dead can’t cry out for justice. That it’s the duty of the living to do that for them. So, I think… I’m… alright. I will be alright. I think I needed to be here. To cry out for the dead.” Ruk looked away, first to the demolition, then up at the stars.
He looked at Pala.
“They couldn’t and someone needed to. We needed to.”
She smiled and rubbed his arm again.
“It’s what we do.”