Vanya secured her datapad in its holster without thinking about it. "You still with me, Hicks?"
"I, uh, I think I'm awake." Hicks rubbed the side of his helmet. That did not help him any. He tugged the helmet loose, looked at it for new dents, rubbed his head with the heel of his hand. "You get the number of that barge?"
Vanya was too tired to laugh. "I think Soze used the force field generators to do the widest angle ever of stun on the Reavers."
"Knew I liked that guy," Hicks said. He shook his helmet a few times before putting it back on. As diagnostics ran, he glanced around the hallway. "Who were you talking to?"
"Updating my log. I'll bash it into a proper client report later on." Vanya reached over to check the pulse on the unconscious person's forearm. "I don't know a lot about Tarasins, but that doesn't look like a great color," she muttered. "We should get this guy to a medic."
"We should get everybody to a medic," Hicks said frankly. "Vanya, your leg don't look so good. Are you going to be okay?"
Vanya glanced down at the gore-soaked strip of bedsheet wrapped tightly around her leg. "Pesky," she said. "It'll hold until we get better situated, anyhow." She looked up, then around. "Probably we should not stay here, though. You've got point. I'll carry," Vanya tugged the identification card out of the unconscious Tarasin's breast pocket, scowled at it, shoved it back; "Something-Sonno, here, so you have both hands free." She spent a couple of seconds testing her balance before she hauled 'Sonno up over her shoulder. Vanya pushed herself upright with a faint grunt.
Hicks watched Vanya hold herself extremely still.
"Maybe you should let me do the heavy lifting?"
Vanya gave him a Look. "Who's the ARC here, anyway?"
"Uhh." Through the visor on his helmet, Hicks shot the same snarky expression directly back. "I am."
"Exactly." Vanya pointed past his shoulder with her chin. "I'm not going to be much good in a fight. You need both hands free."
"Roger," Hicks said. He checked the immediate area -- outside door, welded shut; hallway aimed northeast; bedroom to the southeast with single bed and utility shelves; ahead, another doorway further along on the same side before the hallway terminated in a larger room. Workshop? Kitchen? It, too, probably opened up mostly to the southeast, if the northwest wall was an exterior wall.
Which might be a problem, if anything decided to bust through that wall.
Hicks decided that he would probably pick up a few seconds' warning via dust disturbance if something tried to come through the wall with brute force. Anyone trying to blast through would have the same targeting trouble as he had from whatever junk metal made up the siding.
The next doorway proved to be another private room. In this case, the bed lay flush to the floor and all space to either side of it was stacked up with storage boxes. Hicks did not love that -- he knew from experience how easy it was to rig a few storage containers to conceal a hiding spot -- but he did not have a good enough reason to toss a stun grenade in there, even if he thought the interior door would shut properly.
And the Chaplain would probably rib him about it....
(Well, actually, the way she was behaving at the moment, maybe she would keep impassive.)
Hicks deliberately did not let himself turn to look at the Jedi behind him. He was accustomed to "Obstinately Optimistic Foster Sibling Vanya Ysadora".
Everyone from the 257th was.
The last time he had been in a room with "reticent Jedi monk VN Ysadora" was a little over a year into the Long Night. She came back from a diplomatic mission in Cadriaan Province looking like she had gone four rounds against a combine harvester. She told no stories about the work: the Beskar Aran had to hear about cousin Lod impressing some High Vor debutante and Lord Danar weaponizing a cheese plate from Captain Lakhia, who wanted Doc to quit fussing over his almost-fatal wound. Meanwhile their chaplain engaged in affectionate conversation when someone specifically sought her out, but her end mostly was prompts to get the other person talking.
And she did kata instead of popping up with surprise inspections on the various pirate moonshine stills around New Dendarii.
Paperboy got it from Lod that their Commander had wound up in a confrontation with the Darth, had supposedly lost her temper, had been brought back to the Light by that Crimson Knight who had maybe spent a total of fifteen minutes flirting with her previously.
What do you do with a Jedi who almost turned into a bad guy?
That time around, it was Rico's and Razak's job to analyze the problem, to take action if that seemed like a smart idea. All Hicks knew was that the Apes were to keep Lod and Yeager occupied in places away from the Commander until further notice.
Hicks was not good at the social thing. He had a hard time fitting himself into other people's perimeters. He understood people okay. But he did not want to chat about it.
Vanya was fairly good at drawing people out, and making them feel like what they had to say mattered. Not the best he had ever seen, but proficient. Sometimes she did it with questions and prompts and blatant admiration. A lot of the time she did it by acting generally cheerful and maybe a bit dense. Hicks thought that was a skill she had deliberately studied, that she put a lot of work into it most of the time.
If she was not doing it now?
Maybe that was because she could not spare the extra thought.
Maybe because she was fighting her temper with all she had left.
Maybe because she needed somebody to be there for her, for a change. It happened. Not often, not that he heard anyhow, but her biggest criticism of Jedi Quest was how many characters were single-trait puppets.
Hicks stepped across the divider into the main room. He swept a quick arc through the space, checking for immediate threats. He took more time on the return swing. Freighter crash bench recycled into a living room couch here, plain knee-height table with a stack of cinder blocks under one corner near the couch, wire strippers and a chisel left on the table with a few chipped dinner plates. Kitchenette setup on the wall: food rehydrator, tiny sink, a quartet of cabinets with mismatched doors, electric hot plate built into the counter. Workbench, several different lamps clamped or bolted to it, all turned off. Two bar stools. Holoprojector, case cracked, pieces of the case missing so the innards are exposed. Window outside, barred.
Where the hell was the other door? There had to be another door. People on this planet never left themselves trapped in one spot if they could help it.
Vanya stepped into the room once Hicks advanced closer to the center. She leaned one hip on the workbench while she adjusted the Tarasin's position on her shoulder.
She offered no indication of next steps.
"Vanya, are you sure you're going to be okay?"
Hicks had not realized he was going to speak until the Jedi's name came out of his mouth. His voice was loud in his own ears.
Vanya suddenly put the Tarasin down on the workbench. She took the necessary step to put her hand on Hicks' shoulder, nudging him around to face her.
"Hicks, if there is one thing you are ever going to believe of all that I have ever said, I need you to pick this one," she said firmly. "Copy?"
Hicks pointed his sidearm toward the rusty floor.
Vanya took that as a sign of Hicks' undivided attention. "If I crash," she said, "that is not because of anything you did. Or did not do. Or you. At all. In any way. Savvy? If I crash, it is a choice I made. All by myself. I am an informed adult. I may not have the slightest clue what is going on with anyone else, but I know who I am. What I am. What I'm not. If I crash, it will be because I chose to be self-absorbed and short-sighted. Not a choice anyone shoved onto me."
Hicks thought about that. He did not like it. He could not put his finger on where the flaw was.
"This is not," Vanya continued urgently, "like when Palpatine used the Bene Gesserit Voice on you. It is not. That was an outside thing, that was not you. Palpatine used your body like a puppet. The reason I knew it was not you is, you are a good pilot. You're a smart tactician. You could have crashed your shuttle into the other one. You could have blown the shuttle up from your own pilot seat. You did not, and the reason is, Palpatine did not think of doing any of those things. You fought back by not volunteering any action which was not his choice."
She stared into his eyes as if his visor were not polarized.
"You hear me, Hicks?"
"Yeah, I copy," he said quietly.
"Good." She released his shoulder. "That fuzzy-eyebrowed candybrain is not sticking his mental hooks in my joints and dancing me around. He is not shoving his mind up your shebs and wiggling you around like a sock dolly as his means to manage me, either. If he had that capacity, I would have been gone before your vacation started, because I am irritating him. He would like me to cease all function. What he is doing instead is giving me a thousand opportunities to be incompetent." Vanya sighed slightly. "Which, you know, he's doing a thorough job there. I seem to have a talent for dropping the ball lately. If I let him define me as 'useless', he wins. If I keep aggravating the bejeepers out of him, well, maybe that won't be losing. My self-control is not your job. If I crash, not your fault. Anybody in your life ever tries to convince you that it's your fault they made a bad decision, you get the fierfek away from 'em."
She turned back to pick up the civilian, conversation apparently closed.
"You aren't useless, though," Hicks said.
Vanya puffed stray hair out of her face. "Tells you what d'Joy thinks is critical to the self, man. I fail at something? Ignorance, yet knowledge. Jedi way. Fuzzy Eyebrow school of thinking says everything is important. You turn up useless at any one thing, you're Mentat trash. D'Joy is so sure that his way makes sense, he applies it to everyone he sees. I can, in fact, be spectacularly useless sometimes. Like if we get in another scrap past that door," she said, pointing at the cabinets in the kitchenette area. "Useless in a fight right now. I can carry 'Sonno. I can follow you. I'm still here, I'm still on d'Joy's nerves."
"That's not nothing," Hicks said as he approached the concealed door to the next alley.
Author's note: This is still in need of major edits, but I took it out of "draft" mode so I could see it while in Heroes.