12 Yelona 12725
The pops and crackle of static added to the sense of words coming from very far away. Probably an answer should be given -- if only it didn't require such a long swim toward the commset, wherever that had been left. . . .
"What's the situation, vode?"
Ah --so they weren't talking to her, after all. Someone just left the mike on: probably Goss, he generally didn't worry about little things like conservation of power. Or fuel. Or conservation of ammo, for that matter.
"Trying to find Vanya -- she isn't answering comms, and I can't lock in on her position."
She didn't know most of the words, but somebody was cussing in the background . . . and jetiise, oh boy, bad words about the Jedi, she'd have to get someone to teach her those terms for her own use....
"It's not as bad as that, I don't think. She threw on one of the emergency pressure suits and ran outside with the patch kit."
"How is that NOT bad? You just said you can't locate the suit."
"Uh, well, if she were close to the hull still, she'd be in the sensor shadow. We only lost one array, right? So the overlap should still cover everything outbound."
Stupid nerf-brained pirates.
I grab the emergency quarantine tent and turn it over in my hands. They'd sabotaged the escape pod, but they didn't think of this, obviously: all green lights, and when I throw it toward the deck, it starts inflating itself. I bet those nozzles have no idea that "tourist traps" are rated for vacuum. Most tourists on cruise liners don't pay attention to the safety lecture, either, and the trap probably wouldn't be on this spacegoing rowboat if Supplies hadn't picked up the whole station-skimmer fleet from a tour company's bankruptcy auction. It won't hold out for very long, but it's got an automatic distress beacon and it beats trying to survive the dead skimmer's developing leak in just my skin.
I only hope the station cops find me and haul me in before the tent collapses around me.
"-could probably find her."
"Hana's barely in past the jump point. They won't be docked on-station for fifteen minutes yet, even if Control bumps their priority past all the emergency crews trying to clean out storm debris."
"Welcome back to the galaxy, V."
It's a fight to open my eyes, but the sound of Rafe's voice was distorted strangely. I've always had a problem with curiosity. Turns out that he's at the doctor's pickup for a bacta tank, which means I'm in one, which goes a long way toward explaining that still-floating sensation. I'm wearing the regulation headset and breathing mask (no damage to my face or brain, then, good) and one of those bikini-style muscle stimulant suits (they're worried about me losing muscle tone, not good).
"Wha'ppened?" I sound weak even to myself, and resolve to speak clearly, no matter how much concentration it takes.
"First: we got them. You recorded enough data while you were in the trap that we could throw the book at the entire gang. Skian Trall's already been tried and executed, and his crew will follow by the close of business tonight."
I feel something unknot itself in my stomach, and take a slow breath. "Thanks, Rafe."
He grins at me. "I knew you'd care more about your case than your health -- just like I knew you'd wake up before the medics expected. Stubborn git. Six Squad picked up your distress beacon and went flying out after you last night. Most of the skimmer had disintegrated by then, and the trap was pretty tight against you with trying to overlap all its blowouts. The med droid said you'd heal up with no more than thirty percent scarification, but the Commander took one look at the holo of Jet and Kavra peeling wrinkled quarantine tent fabric out of your hide and he yelled for the bacta techs. The Empire's gratitude for crippling the local spice trade, and all that."
I blink at him. "Spice? They're smuggling military gear. Replacement parts for engines and stuff."
"You know that, and I know that, and the Commander knows that, but we're pretending that investigation's been shelved. We want to nail the supplier."
I know who's supplying. So does Rafe, only he won't admit it. High-ranking administrators can get out of any proof short of a signed confession or a certified data recording, even if they are civilians.
If he's going to be like that, though, I guess I better change the subject.
"So, uh, V, what were you DOING out there?"
What was I doing out there? I have to search through my mental index cards for a moment; they're horribly jumbled right now. "I got a text message from you, Rafe, said you found something juicy strapped to a girder on the new construction section of the station, but your line got fouled, and you needed me to come pick you up. I was all set to cuss you out: I'm the one with the vague idea of how null-grav construction equipment works, you wouldn't know a fouled line from somebody cutting you loose. Better check the other skimmers in the bay where I grabbed that one, they might all be rigged to eat their own power cells."
He blanches at the idea and whips out his radio immediately. I take the opportunity to look him over; damn, but he's a sight for sore eyes. When I got that message and then couldn't raise him again, my imagination went wild with death scenarios, all meant to look like "accidents". If there was some warning sign during the preflight check, I was too distracted to catch it. We've been involved for less than a standard year, and we'll likely always be a little independent of each other, but that was an awfully bad moment for me. Well, until the entire console abruptly dropped dead. Then I was plenty busy, with no time to worry about anyone.
Rafe's holster is empty.
"Hey, you're out of uniform," I accuse him.
"What?" Rafe pats himself down reflexively, before noticing where my hand is trying to point. "Oh, that. V, you know good and well that weapons are absolutely forbidden in the medbay. My blaster's in a locker just outside, triple-secured; if I'd brought it in, every alarm on Siskel Station would've sounded. There's delicate, volatile equipment in here."
I spend the next five minutes trying to convince Mr. Law-And-Order to go get his sidearm, never mind regulations, for my own peace of mind if not for his safety. Stubborn git. By the time I let the subject drop, I'm getting sleepy again. He asks me about my sector tour as logistics dba for Roeksen Construction, a "youthful folly" story I've already told, but it entertains him.
"You nod off whenever you're ready," Rafe says. "I'll look in on you between shifts."
"Aww, that's sweet, Rafe," I murmur.
"'Less there's a game on," he amends. He's joking, and I know it. "And some of the troops said they might drop in, too. There's a pool on when you'll get out of that jar."
We talk a bit about office gossip, but the tranquilizers are dragging me back under despite my best efforts. At last he puts one hand up against the glass wall of the bacta tank. "I should get a shower and a nap before my next shift."
I'm dragging my hand up to press opposite his when the lighting changes: the door between medbay and the foyer just opened. Rafe turns to look, probably expecting a medic or maybe another off-duty station cop.
The banger just outside the door fires.
Rafe is throwing himself sideways, going for the emergency alarms and some cover behind a console. Banger steps into the room, weapon first. Sirens immediately wail. I look past the idiot, see a man at the foyer's security override, forcing the door from foyer to hallway to also stay open.
Banger's second shot hits Rafe squarely below the solar plexus.
I kick off against the side of the tank, forcing my way up toward the cap. There's got to be some way to unlatch this thing from the inside, right?
The guy with the blaster turns to fire at me. Ha. Moron. His shot won't go through the tank. He should come over here and help me get out, so I can throttle him.
Door Guy is shouting for moron to forget about me, can't you hear the sirens you set off, you dumb nerf herder? She'll get hers later.
I've found something that might be a lever, and I'm trying to yank it downward. I've got next to no leverage, so it's not going nearly as fast as I'd like. I'm really worried that the shooter might get away before our side arrives, wish the guy at the door were less on the ball, but I don't dare let go even long enough to flip an inflammatory hand gesture toward either of them.
The cap release, naturally, is hydraulic. It has the two speeds of "slow" and "dead stop".
I've barely managed to flop out of the tank and drag myself across the floor before troops come running in. No cops, these; they're Imperial troops, fully armed and armored, making a professional job of securing the room. One pulls off the bucket while kneeling next to me, and reaches for the pulse point at Rafe's throat.
"Kill shot to the sternum," I rasp out. "He was gone before he hit the floor. Don't worry about it. Two suspects, shooter wearing Skinktooth gang sigils, a meter eight, black black orange, illuminated tatoo on throat, probably ditched the weapon by now. Backup guy was in Isconda silks, you won't make a case on him."
This guy must be new to the station. He blinks at me a couple times, clearly not prepared for a bacta-dripping, crying victim cradling a corpse to be giving him cop-style descriptions of the suspects. Someone will explain my odd background to him eventually. I don't much care.
"And somebody for Crom's sake grab the holo- and sound recordings off this room's medical scanners before the bad guys think to wipe it." Another faceless trooper -- not so anonymous, I'm pretty sure that's Dagreth under there -- turns and starts locking down equipment under Imperial Evidence anti-tamper seals.
I still feel like I'm floating, but I'll punch out any technician who tries to put me back in that jar.
Higgins was sounding downright annoyed. "It'd be easier to do that, actually. Finding one body in a sensor-poor area of space is more like trying to find one cloud on the gas giant. And what do you do when your Jedi won't answer your calls?"
"Dump the old one and get a better Jedi?"
Despite the static and the threadiness of her voice, Vanya was still clearly recognizable. Three men scrambled for the microphone; Hicks won the brief contest. "Madame Jedi! Do you know where you are?"
"Right here," she answered in almost a normal tone.
Hicks spoke over the reflexive groans of his brothers. "Not helpful, ma'am."
They heard a noise that could only be chuckling, distorted by something more than a bad connection. "I imagine not. Let's see ... 'ecific I can ...."
"Why the fierfek is her signal breaking up?" Sgt. Brutto demanded, ignoring the open state of the microphone. "There's nothing out there that should be blocking-"
"Brutto, omae, let me try first before you throw me hints," Vanya interrupted. She could almost feel the bewildered whispering in the communication booth over an unrecognized word; good. Let them spend energy on curiosity instead of anxiety.
She pictured a loose sheaf of index cards, each labelling a specific area on a map; with an effort, she organized the imaginary cards by size of area, then began reading them out loud. "Tapani Sector. Pelagia Province. Non-occupied zone. 'The Boonies'." Her voice, already growing vague and dreamy, hesitated while trying to fill in a gap. "I can't remember what we're calling this station today; some of the pirates call it 'New Dendarii', some of Greg's troops call it Alamo, which, ha ha. Sure is the crack of nowhere, anyhow."
Hicks leaned into the microphone. "Ma'am--"
"I know, I know, focus. Sorry. I'm missing a few slots between 'Orbit four' which leads to 'non-geosynchronous L3' and 'slightly dinged up emergency vac suit'."
"What do you see?"
Again came the odd chuckle, a bit more liquid this time. "Stars. I don't think now's the best time to flail myself around and get the panoramic view."
A very similar voice jumped in, but she knew it wasn't Hicks or Brutto. "What's bad about now?"
She resisted the instinct to shrug. "I've got no idea yet, Dono. Too many distractions on my end already, maybe. It'd be easier for me to figure out where you lot are."
"That's not exactly...."
"... not exactly what I'd had in mind, but I suppose this will do."
I stare at the smug man in his imported silk tunic. I should be fair: any silk on Siskel's going to be imported, along with half our other goods. We make our living off our status as a convenient transshipping stopover, not off the scientific research globules and the hydroponics gardens that keep our longest-term residents occupied between caravans.
Somehow I'm not all that interested in being fair to Admin Ur'll. Or whatever he's calling himself today.
Since I haven't spoken, he leans back from his monitor slightly. "You've frisked her, of course," he addresses one of the four oversized goons surrounding me.
Misq raises my holster into pickup range for the holocam. "She had two weapons; the other's been shattered."
Ur'll smirks. "I'm sure the selector switch has been modified, as her file describes." He means for me to realize that he knows about my safety habit: I take my blasters apart and disconnect the selector switch so that all positions are "stun" positions. My shooting instructor got killed with his own gun; that's not going to happen to me.
I'm probably supposed to be squirming because Ur'll knows too much about me. Yeah, right, it was a huge secret, I can't imagine that any p.i. worth their license wouldn't find it out in the first three hours of their research.
Rather than roll my eyes, I turn slightly to look at the two guards on my left. "I've always wondered this, and I know he won't give me a straight answer, but maybe you guys know. Why would a humanocentrist pick a Sularian name for his alias?" I pause as if a second aspect has just occurred to me. "And why would he pick something that he's got to know we're all going to redub 'Urinal'?"
It's a minor score, but still a victory for me: three of the goons have stiffened up as if trying to fight off the giggles, and Ur'll's smug expression flickers for an instant. "How droll. Perhaps even 'plucky', yes. Keep her weapon for now, and bring her in."
He's just about to deactivate the connection when he adds, "Oh, and leave the recorder hidden in her arm bandage active. She won't be recording anything of value to her putative allies."
"I'm right here," she automatically responded in her best reassuring tone. "You guys are ... how many of you are standing together in one room?"
The microphone clicked briefly. "Four Apes present, ma'am."
She thought about it very briefly. "It'd work better with more individuals. I know it's a small room, but are there any Apes at loose ends who could maybe hang out in the hallway behind you? They can play Sabaac or polish their armor or whatever, I'm just looking for bodies."
He stands behind his desk -- plasticrete, hah! still not powerful enough to rate an imported lump of wood or crystal -- as if receiving an honored guest. As soon as the guards finish marching me through the door, though, he gracefully settles himself into his chair. "Refresh my memory," he smugs: "you're the independent data broker who was romantically involved with one of the Station Patrol, right? The assassinated one, if I understand correctly. How unfortunate. Civilization today is such a fragile thing."
I study him frankly. "I saw you at the door."
He looks genuinely confused. I have no idea if that's the case, though. "It's a clear view, of course, but I don't see the relevance...."
"You're the one who overrode the containment failsafes on the doors, so the shooter would be able to get away quickly. I got two good looks at you then, but of course the camera in the foyer was offline."
His smug expression returns. "Such a baseless accusation."
"Oh, I didn't report it to the investigators," I shrug. "Not even off the record. I knew they couldn't stick anything on you."
Ur'll steeples his hands and asks, patronizingly, "Then why, exactly, have you graced me with your presence today?"
Again I shrug. "You killed Rafe. You might not have pulled the trigger, but it was your doing anyhow. I know you did it. I know you had my apartment lease cancelled, and the atmosphere drained, so I'd get another bout of explosive decompression if I walked in. I know you're stealing replacement parts from Imperial repair shipments and selling them on the black market. I know you arranged disappearances for a couple of your laborers when they filed the paperwork too correctly for their income taxes. I know you framed a local certified public accountant for their deaths, on the theory that he'd falsified their reports and they noticed it, when a local trader spotted their corpses heading outsystem. The accountant's the one who hired me, just to clear him, but I managed to get the backups for your real appointment book, and it led me into so much more."
I've gotta quit shrugging; I'm annoying even myself. "The database with all my collected evidence is already out of the system, by the way, on an Imperial cruiser. It'll announce itself to their exec about twenty parsecs from here."
He frowns, not sure whether I'm bluffing. "We haven't had a cruiser here for months."
I grin. "I know; but the next station on the Ffalkyr's regular route is an Imperial depot."
Ur'll's not too thrilled with that information. His complexion might be getting a little red, there. Ffalkyr left port ten days ago, and was reported safely at its next stop two days ago. He is not as disturbed as I'd hoped, though.
"Let me see if I can summarize our situation," he says, glancing dismissively at the bandage just below my left elbow. "You rigged yourself with a short-range sound recorder, hidden under one of your several injury coverings -- a piece of technology not authorized for your civilian use, since I'm the one who processes such things, and therefore highly illegal in your possession, I might add. You fought your way into my office suite, reaching the outer office where my protocol droid was able to summon additional security before it fell prey to an unauthorized restraining bolt. You then attempted to force your way into my private server, no doubt-"
"-keeps fading out."
"Yeah, it's a conundrum," Vanya muttered.
"Ma'am? We've got six Apes out in the hall directly behind us, and-"
Another voice drowned out Hicks' voice. "Hey, Vanya, what's goin' on? Move, guys, I can't see the monitor through your thick skulls."
"- Master Sergeant Lexics is in the doorway," Hicks finished in a weary tone.
She didn't laugh, but it was close. "Yo, man, do me a favor and block any incoming brass for a bit, would you?"
That stalled his thought processes for a moment. "Wait, so, you want me to, what ...?"
"Stand in the hall and prevent any non-clones from physically entering the immediate area, yeah. For the next little while. Call it a direct order from the Jedi Council if you want."
"Awesome!" he cackled. "I'm on it. Hey, Lod, listen to this, we've got orders to bend up any --"
The sound of the door hatch sealing shut cut off the rest of Yeager's words.
"Listen, guys, I don't think it's equipment failure, or at least, not comms gear failure. Don't worry about compensating for my drift so much."
She imagined that she could see Hicks and Dono trade a raised-eyebrow glance. "I think the life-signs monitor got fried when I got hit with that ion backwash. Its sensors say my containment is critical, which it isn't, and I think it keeps trying to put me into a hibernation coma. I can't twist around because it'll read that as a seizure and drug me up. More so, I mean. I'm getting lucid moments when the monitor tries to reboot itself, and I can shake off the tranks."
"Oh," they chorused. Dono continued, "You can reset that manually if you --"
Vanya made a dismissive noise. "You can, maybe. We lesser mortals aren't actually trained in zero-grav maintenance. Anyway, I'm telling you in case I drift back off to Memory Lane: I'll be back when I've remained still long enough for the monitor to run its self-diagnostic again."
"'Lesser' -- but -- I mean, you're a Jedi."
The control room walls must've vibrated at the chorus of "Padawan!" from herself, the other three troopers crammed into the tiny room, and the eight men in the hallway listening via the freshly reopened hatchway door.
Again she laughed, despite her worries about the glitched medical device. "Yeah, yeah, I should be able to use my superpowers to yank that shabla monitor out, but Dono, I don't know where it is, exactly. Force knows where we got this cheap pressure suit from, and I don't have the specs memorized like a Drop-Marine would."
"Don'ika, shut it. Ma'am, your voice is starting to fade again."
Yeah, yeah. "Hint received. Let's see if I can find you guys now."
And it's just like being back in the mountains outside Skirzden, learning An'sss: I've got the knee taken out on my right-hand guard before anyone entirely realizes I'm objecting to the "escort V off my station" idea. While he's falling, I step into Misq a bit and put my hand under his right elbow-substitute joint, just above where the tentacles anchor against the cartilage, and shove upward hard enough that the cartilage crushes in on itself -- blinding pain instinctively drives Misq up onto his toes, in turn letting me topple him sideways away from me until his head tangles in the tangleweb trophy Ur'll hung up in the office just last week. I restore my attention to the nameless guard on my right long enough to break his nose and knock him out, then go for my gun holster on Misq's floundering right hip.
Ur'll sneers at me while slowly rising from his chair. "Oh, please. Additional security is en route." His amusement becomes more pronounced as I automatically check the charge level, then flip the selector switch to the last position. "At worst, you will have just finished stunning me before they arrive. Everyone knows that your blasters' kill settings are disabled."
I'm standing with my right side to Ur'll, feet just so at shoulders'-width apart, fingers not yet smarting from that punch to the other nitwit's head. A clean, white quiet falls on me like rain, fills my head and overflows down into my throat, shoulders, chest, lungs; backfills, and pours down my arms and into my hands. I look at Ur'll calmly. It's as if he's a hologram, a character in a rather uninteresting drama, and I can see all the strings of leverage and fear he's snatched and knotted back into himself like a poor excuse for a marionette-master.
His face shows a moment of sudden discomfort, enough that his eyes stray away from mine. He glances at the weapon in my hand, pointed automatically toward the ground, and his confidence immediately returns in enough strength to meet my gaze again.
"This," I explain as I circle it up near my head and then level it at him, my right arm not quite completely extended, "is not my gun."
And then, of course, I fire.
Someone did a lousy job of whispering, "They come with a couple of hours' oxy supply, naturally, but if the medunit's fritzed, who knows what else is damaged?" Gee, Hicks, good to see that natural optimism of yours is rock-steady as always.
"I don't have distance, but I've got direction," she mumbled. "My facing is messed up, but let's call it from my point of view anyhow. The largest undifferentiated batch of lives around is going to be Spinward Hope, yeah?" When she didn't hear any noises of disagreement, she continued, "so if a line from me toward the center of that mass is bearing zero mark zero, then you're at bearing one fifty-five mark two eighteen. Ish. Or three twenty-two. I dunno, it's about thirty-eight below horizon, but the protractor in my head starts twisting when I try to calculate vertically." There was a moment of silence. "And that position doesn't seem to be changing particularly fast, so I'd say I have low velocity."
"Ma'am, you didn't tell me you're a pilot." She could hear Hicks scratching fast calculations out on a nearby surface.
Vanya answered with a cheerful (if VERY rude) word. "Ani's the pilot. I just remember a bit of my astrogation classes, that's all. Brutto, is he writing directly on the wall again?"
"Pilots are all cracked in the head, ma'am. We'll just claim it's battle damage. What're they going to do, withhold our cleaning deposit?"
When he didn't get any response, he leaned over to tap on the microphone. "This thing is still on, right?"
Another long pause passed before Vanya said, in heavily drug-overlaced seriousness, "I finally managed to turn a little. I can see a bit of the far end of the station, and a whole lot of flotsam. What in Crom's illiterate name happened to us, guys?"
"Just go, vod. If you can get out the door past the Master Sergeant, that is." Higgins turned his attention away from his brother and onto the sensor panel. "Ma'am, don't you remember what you're doing out there?"
"'M doped, Paperboy. Gimme the scoop."
He wouldn't have put it past her to claim total ignorance when suffering only partial, to let him have the satisfaction of reporting a full story: but her astonishment sounded pretty sincere, and her exhaustion even more so. "Ah, well in that case, today's top story is that we got suckered by a passing ion storm. Best estimates right now is that it followed the comet's trail into the system last month, but got snagged into our gas giant's gravity well sometime yesterday. We had enough warning to lock down about two-thirds of our systems and clamp the docked ships into place, but a couple of the pirate vessels didn't heed the warning in time. They crashed into each other, jolted into an asteroid that had just been hauled in for gutting, and shrapnel went everyplace. Station got holed in ten or fifteen little places." He cleared his throat faintly. "We gather that you jumped into the first emergency pressure suit you found in the airlock and ran outside with the patch kit, rather than apply the patch from inside like a normal person. Care to comment?"
"Heh." She spent a few minutes fighting to stay conscious. When she spoke again, each word seemed forced out of her like a Sisyphian rock. "The inside patch wasn't going to hold. Electronics outside. Metal was crystallizing, going brittle. I ran outside and patched down the bare wires so they'd quit sparking. Seemed to work for insulation. Got everything else clear-coated, too, but Gamma section needs a techie from Hope to check it later."
The view from out here was truly atrocious, though. Vanya reminded herself that it'd look better once the emergency crews were done swooping around, trying to pick up all the remaining loose bits before they could also smack into the station or an inadequately-shielded vessel.
Captain Agno MiLeek straightens up from his inspection and strolls over to me. "Judging by the remains, and the burn mark on the wall here, that was quite a shot."
I wave the compliment off with my left hand. "All I had to do was aim in the right general direction, Ague. Those service blasters have a lot of stopping power."
"V, you took the top third of the man's head off."
I shrug. Really bad habit. "Well, it was a big head."
He looks down at the blaster, jammed back into my holster, now laying on the bench next to me. "So that's Rafe's blaster, then? I thought it was locked safely away in the medbay's foyer."
"I knew the password he used to secure the safe."
Ague glances at me sideways. "How did you happen to know that?"
I blow out a short breath of ... dismay? Weariness, maybe. "It was my license number."
I can see the dawn of comprehension in Ague's eyes -- strange are the ways that cops declare their hearts, I guess. I don't want to think too deeply about it right now. Meanwhile, Agno is back into "Captain" mode, thinking about how he plans to report this incident in his official capacity.
"So ... Admin Ur'll was the leak who enabled pirates to steal Imperial supplies off our station," he says slowly.
"Yeah." I nod my head toward the disabled protocol droid. "Open up its skullcap and you'll find a tiny set of crystals. Just be careful of traps that might destroy 'em. That's where Ur'll kept his real account records, and his contact database. The droid can't access them; its brain is in its chest, and there are no hookups to the data crystals up there. The restraining bolt is so it can't overload its circuits and fry all the chips inside its shell."
Agno thinks about that briefly. "And Rafe's gun killed Ur'll, who was trying to get rid of evidence showing his complicity."
I blink. "Well, if you want to get technical about it, yeah."
Ague puts a hand on my shoulder briefly. "You know, and I know, that Ur'll had help getting into that position. This is as high as the investigation will ever go. I think it's enough, anyhow. I'm going to put down that my officer lawfully terminated a citizen-turned-traitor in the course of his duty, and that the corruption has been stopped at its head. I'm keeping your name out of it -- except for where Rafe later came to be assassinated, in revenge, by a disgruntled criminal minion of the corrupted administrator."
Again with the shrugging: "I don't care about credit or no credit, Ague. I just had to put it right. You know?"
"I know, kid." Awkwardly he pats me on that shoulder a couple times, then steps away. "You did good, V. I can't protect you much beyond this. You might think about getting obscure somewhere. I'd feel a whole lot better about your chances if Ur'll's allies didn't find you when they try to figure out what happened here."
I look up at him, and I know I look a bit wounded. "You tossing me off-station, Captain?"
He shakes his head. "No, V, you're not on my unwelcome list. I'm just trying to do right by you. Find an opportunity and take it. Make a clean start. Come back and visit us in ten or twenty years, when this has all blown over. You're a good kid, and you've got the brass, but the next 'accident' might be bad enough to take you down."
He's probably right. I'm just not sure I care.
"Ma'am, what the hell is wrapped around your back?"
It took her a frantic moment to identify the voice: Rico, but with a strange, tinny quality. "Fark if I know. What's it look like?" And where are you?
"It looks like you've been liberally smeared with barbed wire and grease, all set in a semisolid gel. Hicks says we'll be close enough for me to step out and grab you in two minutes, but I don't know if it's safe to bring that stuff into gravity."
She thought about it. "Blowing up again isn't on my agenda for the day. Bring a scraper, maybe we can drag it off."
Another voice cut in. "That's antifreeze. Don't spark it and it won't explode. Just try not to touch it when you unsuit."
Vanya was surprised to hear a Tapani accent instead of one of the clone troops who'd qualified to pilot. "Thanks. Any idea what the barbed wire part is?"
"I can't be sure at this distance, but a magnetically linked chain of ionized hull fragments would be my first guess."
"On my way out to you, Ma'am. Just hold still a little longer."
I step into my office, since I can't go to my apartment. Surprise, surprise: this has also been trashed. With a sigh, I walk across the mess to my desk. They took the time to dump out all the drawers, but they didn't think to lift the tarnished base of my holonet display physically out of the plastic surface. Probably because that'd have required actual tool use, unscrewing the corners and prying it up. Underneath, my ID and a few sentimental items are packed into a satchel, along with clothing and the backups for all of my files. Intruders can hack, infect, and ionize my office computer all they want; the bulk of the holonet display shields this cubbyhole from detection and harm.
Setting the bag down at my left, I plop back into my chair and survey my prospects. Cleaning the place up shouldn't take more than an hour and a half -- I never kept much here in the first place. I've got access to my personal funds, and Admin Ur'll (or his heirs) hadn't disturbed any of it. I guess even criminal masterminds think twice about angering the Banking Clan too directly. I can't afford to live in a hotel, though, and I sure can't sleep here.
Contacting my client, giving him my final report, and getting paid takes me all of five minutes; then I sit and stare at the thoroughfare past my front door.
A man in a brown travellers' robe walks by my office. "Come with me," he suggests as he passes.
What the hey. I pick up my satchel and head after him. It seems like we're headed for the concourse; guy must be making a connecting flight.
"Here's to insulation."
Rico braced himself against Vanya with one arm while he tried to detangle the metal chain with the other. "One of these is jammed right into your medunit, and it's leaking current all across the outside of your suit. Pilot said sparks are bad."
"Bloody hell." Vanya tried to relax, but her scars were aching and not in a friendly way. "Can you get at the battery from out there?"
He grunted. "You won't have life support if I remove it."
She shrugged before she could catch herself. "Short trip back to the shuttle anyhow. I'll live. Just make the damned thing quit screwing me over."
She woke up a few minutes later, finally able to move freely. "Hey, walls!"
Rico grinned down at her. "Yes'm. You're entertaining when you're stoned, ma'am, but the pilot says if you start singing again, he's going to throttle us both."
"What?! Is that any way to talk to a woman who's buying him a round? I'm a better singer when we're slightly drunk anyhow. Crom, it's good to be indoors again. Thanks, Rico. I'm buying all you guys a round, just as soon as I get cleaned up."
"And your back stitched," he edited. "Maybe in the opposite order."
"Stitches? No, no, I don't need stitches. It doesn't even hurt."
The sergeant leaned back. "That's because you're overdosed on coma-inducing drugs, ma'am. Trust me. You're going to need either stitches, or a dip in a bacta tank."
She scowled. "NO bacta tanks. Not ever again."
"Whatever you say, ma'am."
The room was quiet for several minutes, and Rico thought the Jedi had lapsed back into unconsciousness.
"Rico, if I didn't make it clear already, thank you for coming to get me. And I'm thanking your brothers, too, as soon as I think they won't be floored by the smell of me."
He nodded. "All part of the service, ma'am."