Star Wars: Kandosii'tal

Keep Your Friends Close...

1 day later

Imperial garrison, Ilum

3 months BBY

Two rows of jagged teeth clenched as their owner keyed on a holoprojector, kneeling and bowing his head as far as it would go. When the picture solidified, the figure on the other end answered the summons.

"Speak."

The Inquisitor gulped hard, throat raw and sore from breathing in smoke and high-heat air. "Lord Vader, I regret to inform you…that I have failed." He closed his eyes firmly, waiting for the inevitable constricting around his throat, wondering after a few seconds why nothing was happening.

"Good."

A pair of yellow eyes snapped open as the Inquisitor stared openmouthed at Darth Vader's blue-tinged image. "My lord?" he asked in shock. "You mean to say…you expected me to fail?"

"Perhaps, perhaps not, but it was my hope."

The lesser Sith clenched his teeth in agitation and anger. "For what purpose?" he asked, schooling his voice into something far more subservient than he felt.

"If he could not survive against you, then he is of no use to me. I needed to fully verify his potential."

The Inquisitor stared at his image for a few moments as the pieces clicked into place. "I see. What now then?"

"Now you give me a full report of your engagement. What exactly occurred?"

He took a deep breath, controlling his anger before speaking. "I took one of his comrades hostage and cut his leg off when he resisted. When Caden arrived, he took the sight rather…badly."

"Meaning?"

"He became enraged, my lord, and attempted to channel his anger into defeating me."

"I take it he did not succeed."

"No, my lord, though I must say, as his fury increased over the course of the fight, so did his strength by an exponential amount. I have not felt such raw power since the Bridger child…and perhaps not even then."

"Is that so? Interesting…"

The Inquisitor stayed silent, unwilling to risk Vader's wrath should he interrupt his train of thought.

"Now that you are aware of my true purpose, I have another task, one that you have adopted before."

"You want me to turn him to the Dark Side."

Vader nodded. "Precisely. Considering his history and your own experience, it seems that his full rage can only be triggered when he witnesses the pain or loss of someone close to him. If he is to be turned completely, he must lose everything he values, but for now, you will determine how far he falls when someone close to him is lost."

The Inquisitor raised an eyebrow. "His brother perhaps?"

"No," Vader said sharply, emphasizing his point with a firm index. "That boy is one of the last of his bloodline, and if your report is any indication, it is a powerful line indeed. I have plans for those two. They are not to be harmed, under any circumstances."

"Who then, my lord?"

Darth Vader tapped a computer on his end, sending a transmission of data. "This file contains a detailed dossier on a close associate of his. You are to eliminate her indirectly, via a proxy."

"May I ask why?"

"No one must know our true plan, especially not Xel, and if you are discovered to be involved in her death, it will arouse the suspicions of his Jedi brother."

"You believe if he discovers our intentions to turn him, he will resist even more."

"I am certain of it. If past dealings have taught me anything, it is that he is fiercely independent-minded, and will not easily give up his free will. I leave this in your hands, Inquisitor."

He bowed low. "It shall be done, my lord."


2 days later

The Kandosii'tal, Ilum

"No offense, Master, but is that all you've got?"

Xel grinned cockily and swung again, his sapphire blade deflecting off Peetee's green one, Telia's loaned saber acting as his weapon as they practiced in the ship's spacious armory. They had been at this for months, Xel periodically picking up elements of different styles in an attempt to mimic Vader's hybrid form. Thus far, his machine companion had proven to be a match for his abilities at full strength, at least with a lightsaber, but the Mando was improving steadily. Alen and Kanan were watching their duel with rapt interest, Sabine, Ezra, and the rest of the Ghost and Kandosii'tal crew standing off to the side and chatting. Hera Syndulla, the Ghost's Twi'lek pilot, had taken a vested interest in the brothers and quickly established a "mother hen" image in both their minds, as well as Iola's.

Ezra had informed them it was a common occurrence, one that had taken place for the Specters years before. It was just the kind of person she was. As Xel leapt over the droid, legs brushing the ceiling, he slashed at PT's head. The droid deftly deflected the blow, slashing at his falling legs and rebounding when Xel twirled his saber downward, knocking the green blade away.

"He's gotten good," Alen said absently.

"What was he like before?" Kanan asked, arms crossed.

The young Jedi cocked his head. "You mean in combat or as a person?"

Jarrus blinked and gave him a sideways look. "What do you mean?"

Alen shrugged. "It's nothing. He was just different is all."

"Different how?"

"Like…happier?" He shook his head. "I don't know. Before we joined the Rebellion, he wasn't as dark as he is now." Alen's expression darkened. "The catalyst has more blame to take, though."

Kanan raised an eyebrow. "Catalyst?"

"A…death in the family. Two of them, actually. I'm surprised Ezra hasn't told you."

He shook his head. "He keeps conversations between friends private, especially with sensitive matters."

Alen smiled. "Well…Xel…we lost both our parents to the Empire. More specifically, we lost them to the Sith."

Kanan sighed heavily. "That's rough," he admitted. His eyes blinked rapidly at Alen's wording. "Wait, why did you default to saying that Xel lost them?"

The boy closed his eyes and sighed. "Because frankly, he's taking it a lot harder than I am."

Jarrus nodded slowly. "It shows. Sabine's been telling me that he has this…distant look in his eyes sometimes. When I started looking at him closer, I saw it too."

Alen cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. "It almost seems like you understand from experience."

"I was a member of the old Jedi Order, so I know what it's like to lose family, considering they were all I had." His eyes darkened. "And it's the look I saw in Ezra's eyes every so often when the subject of his parents came up."

"Oh…right."

Alen returned his gaze to the twisting, crackling pattern of interlocking strikes and swipes, his brother sweating heavily. A loud beeping klaxon came from the cockpit, and Xel raised his hand off his saber to halt the session, both of them deactivating their weapons, the droid handing him Telia's.


"Good job, Tee," Xel complimented, marching toward the cockpit, droid in tow.

"Thank you, Master. If you don't mind, I'd like to power down for now."

"Go ahead." Xel approached his holoterminal and keyed it on, toweling off his face at it warmed up. The image that was projected caught him off-guard and immediately set his nerves on edge, eyes widening. "Maila."

"Xel." Her voice was agitated, nervous, maybe a little…fearful? "I'm…in a spot of trouble."

He leaned toward the terminal, one hand on its base, the other on the captain's chair, eyes glancing behind him to see Alen closing the armory door. He smiled in thanks, then turned back and nodded to Maila. "Talk to me."

She fidgeted nervously and glanced around her. He got the distinct impression she was looking over her shoulder. "Remember when I said I hadn't done anything to piss the Empire off?"

He nodded.

"Apparently I have. I just got wind that there's a gigantic bounty on my head—strictly dead."

His lips parted slightly as his eyes widened in shock. "How big we talkin'?"

She grimaced. "Just over 200K."

Xel's eyes maxed out as he ran a hand through his hair and let out a long breath. "Shab. Are you sure it's the Empire?"

"Well, the only other people that could front that kind of cash are the Hutts, and I do my best to stay well away from their business."

A thousand other questions flew through his mind, one rising to the fore. "Why?"

She pursed her lips tightly. "I don't know."

He could hear hesitation in her voice and narrowed his eyes at it, leaning and staring at her image intently. "But you suspect."

Maila gulped a little, pushing her hair behind her ear and leaving his intense gaze for a moment before looking at him sheepishly.

Xel blinked rapidly and let out a sharp breath. "Me."

She gulped and nodded slightly.

He scowled slightly as he slumped into the pilot's seat, head in his hands. "Osik. Not what I wanted to hear." Xel shook his head. "And here I thought by staying away you'd be safe."

"Guilt by association I guess," she said bitterly.

His eyes snapped to her. "Go to ground. Hide. Leave every connection you have to the outside world at your office and disappear." He got to his feet, his hands sweeping over the communicator's controls, sending a coded message over the link. "Use this frequency to send me your location when you're secure. It's a tightbeam link, strictly two-way between you and me. I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Got it," she said with a gulp.

"Maila…stay safe. Please."

She gave him as warm a smile as she could muster. "Do my best."

When her image vanished, he called Commander Tobin's personal holocom.

"Tobin here."

"It's Xel. I just got a message from a friend of mine, an information broker on Nar Shaddaa."

Tobin's brows furrowed.

"I'm afraid I have to leave for the time being. Somehow the Empire managed to tie her to me, so they've put an exorbitant bounty on her head, to be paid once her corpse is delivered."

A quick intake of breath was heard from the other end. "That's bad news." He looked away. "This broker friend of yours, is she involved in the Rebellion?"

"No, not in any capacity. Apparently, the fact that she knows me is enough to make her a target."

"Why?" Tobin's eyes narrowed. "Xel, first the Inquisitor traps you inside that outpost and tries to kill you, and now someone in your circle of influence is in danger. Why are you so important to the Empire?"

Xel's lips pressed together. "The short answer is Force-sensitivity. I'm important because I exist, and I'm using my talents to help you."

Tobin looked away, hand tucked under his chin. "If their intent is to eliminate you then you have to consider the possibility that this bounty is a trap."

Xel blinked rapidly, lips parting slightly.

"If they know she's linked to you, they may have posted the reward to lure you away from the safety of the Alliance."

The Mando averted his narrowed eyes and clenched his jaw. "That may be…but at this point it's irrelevant." He gave the commander a firm look. "She's in trouble and needs help. And she's gonna get it. If the plan is to lure me into a trap, I doubt the hunters were informed. Their efforts won't be concerted, which gives me the advantage. Besides, all I have to do is get her offworld and off the grid, not take on every hunter out there."

Tobin nodded. "Understood. Take all the time you need. If you need help, all you have to do is ask. You're an asset to the Rebellion, one we can't afford to lose, and if I can help you, I will."

Xel smiled and dipped his head. "I appreciate that, but this situation needs a hunter, not soldiers. I'll let you know if I need anything."

"Good hunting."

The link closed, and Xel leaned against the inactive projector for a moment, the sudden weight on his shoulders making it hard to breathe. Once again, someone he cared about was in danger just by nature of knowing him. What could they hope to accomplish? She doesn't know anything about the Rebellion, and relatively little about me. His head shook as he straightened and moved toward the armory door. Doesn't matter. She needs my help and she's going to get it. The door slid open with a hiss, revealing the eight rebels on the other side, all staring at him intently.

"Something's come up and I have to go for now."

Several of them stared, including a helmeted Sabine, though he couldn't be sure with the visor in the way.

"A friend's in trouble, and I'm the only backup she's got."

Alen straightened and approached him. "You mean—"

"Maila," Xel confirmed.

The Jedi set his stance. "Let's go then."

He shook his head. "No. You're needed here, as a tactician and soldier."

"Xel—"

He raised a hand to cut him off. "Relax. This'll be over before you know it. It's a regular Kessel Run."

Alen's eyebrow rose.

"Okay, I get it, still dangerous, but I can handle it. Alone."

The Jedi sighed but nodded, sharing a look with Iola before returning his focus to Xel. "We'll be here when you get back."

Xel smiled and nodded. "Now, if you'd all be so kind, please leave the ship so I can get out of here. The faster I get this done, the sooner I'll be back."

They dutifully filed down the exit ramp, the column ending with a seemingly reluctant Sabine, who turned to him.

He just raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"You'll call us if you need help, won't you?"

Xel smiled. "Of course."

She stared at him for another moment or two, some tension falling over her shorter frame, before nodding and walking out of sight.

The boy furrowed his eyebrows in confusion for a moment before retracting the ramp and starting the Kandosii'tal's engines. The ship rose from the frozen planet's surface and shot into the void of space, leaving behind ice crystals and smoke as he shot into hyperspace.


Nar Shaddaa

Xel exited hyperspace and immediately checked his terminal for any transmissions. A blinking red light informed him of one marked "urgent." The images that displayed sent his heart skipping beats.

"Xel!"

The sounds and sight of blaster fire were evident in the hologram as Maila shouted out her message.

"They found me!" Static cut off her words for a moment. "—try to get away, but I don't know if—it's a trap! They were waiting for—contact me!"

Xel blinked rapidly, alarm filling his bloodstream. His blood ran cold at the expression and order she gave him next.

"Don't…come after me."

Her eyes were steel, but there was a wild, terrified look to them that sent Xel's heart stuttering in near-panic. Another blaster shot rang out, and it must have hit the projector, because the message cut out an instant later. A shuddering breath left him as he slumped back in his seat, mouth going slack as he ran a hand over his face. On a whim, he checked the timestamp of the message and gulped when he saw it had been sent just ten minutes after she'd called him. Her garbled message suddenly made sense. Whoever was after her had already tracked her location; they were just waiting for her to contact him, to throw out the bait. Blue eyes darkened and narrowed.

This completely disproved his earlier theory. The hunters, or at least the one who'd attacked her, knew of the greater plan, if the plan was indeed to get him killed. This meant his enemies were going to be working in concert, which would make his job exponentially more difficult. He keyed the projector back on and froze the message at a certain point. Based on the limited view of Maila's surroundings, he surmised she was in her office when the attack took place. The Kandosii'tal accelerated massively as he shot toward her building, landing a few minutes later and storming out the ramp in full gear, pistols clearing their holsters instantly as he sprinted inside.

Two barrels swept every corner, nook, and cranny, all six senses trained on his surroundings. The evidence of battle was clear, but no life forms were present. Based on how long it took to travel to Nar Shaddaa, he figured the hunters had about a three day head-start on him. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest when he saw blood splatters on Maila's desk and the area behind it, kneeling down and focusing in the Force. He couldn't reconstruct a scene quite like Alen, but he could pick up enough to know if an actual death occurred. Based on the latent Force energy, it had, but…the feeling was different from the one he'd come to associate with his Zeltron friend.

He examined the blood a little more closely before realizing it wasn't Zeltron. It was Nikto. So…Jeel's dead. He frowned solemnly. A shame. He seemed like a good man. Xel stood slowly, looking for any other sign of Maila. Another five minutes revealed nothing more than traces of fear that led to a broken window large enough to accommodate a speeder. His teeth clenched as an iron grip curled around his heart.

A loud beep interrupted his thoughts, and he followed it to a small recording device on the floor near her desk. He keyed it on warily, one eye trained on the exits at all times.

"Hello, Xel."

Caden's blood ran cold at the sight of Jes Tenau in full armor.

"I figured you'd be along soon enough after the schutta gave you a call. Don't worry. She's not dead…yet. If you want it to stay that way, be at this location in half an hour."

Coordinates filled the screen.

"If you don't show…well, you have an imagination." His image leaned toward Xel. "And I'll make it last."

Xel's upper lip twitched in anger as he memorized the coordinates.

"By the way, she's quite spirited, your flame. I'm surprised you didn't keep her on a tighter leash. I know I would."

His entire body was shaking slightly at this point.

"Don't worry," he taunted darkly, "I haven't enjoyed her too much."

An animalistic growl came from Xel's throat as the recorder sputtered and died, its hull cracking and bending inward before shattering into a hundred pieces for no apparent reason. The young Mando was breathing heavily, oxygen flowing in and out of him in choppy gasps as both fists clenched hard. By the time his senses somewhat returned, half the loose objects in the room were at least slightly deformed, and the windows had cracks that weren't there before. He forced his hands to slack and lungs to breathe normally, using the Force to calm the rapid-fire of his heart and keep his rage under wraps for the time being.

He'd know when it was time to release it.


30 minutes later

Xel strode into the given location right on time, immediately noting the density of patrons around him to be somewhat more than usual. If this was a trap, Tenau obviously didn't care about collateral damage. Of course, the fact that he was working for the Empire and about to pick up a sizable paycheck probably gave him some leeway not to care. Sure enough, Tenau himself was seated at a table in the middle of the bar, helmet laid off to the side as he nursed a Corellian ale. The older Mando beckoned him to take a seat, and he reluctantly obeyed, eyes scanning the room for potential threats and finding a few almost instantly.

Tenau decidedly was not alone.

"Can I offer you a drink?" asked the man in question, sliding a filled glass to his side of the table.

Xel just stared at him from behind his visor, hands on the table non-threateningly but tense all the same.

Jes shrugged. "Suit yourself. You may want a drink by the time this conversation is over though." Tenau reached for his glass, but quick as lightning, Xel's hand shot out to grab his.

"Cut the osik." He somehow managed to keep his tone even. "You have a friend of mine. I want her back. Now."

Tenau held his free hand up in surrender, but smirked mockingly all the same as Caden released him. "Come on, Xel. You know I can't do that." He took a swig of his ale. "I've gotta make a living, and letting a bounty go just isn't good for business. Besides, I wouldn't if I could." He smirked. "I'm having way too much fun."

As expected, Xel tensed slightly, but gave no other indication he was affected. "You know what they say. Too much of a good thing…"

Tenau smiled. "So they do. Unfortunately, there's not really any good in your future."

Caden tensed again as he felt more than saw the drawing of numerous blasters around him. At least a dozen contacts, plus Tenau.

He leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially. "See, what the rest of the hunters don't know is that there's a half-million bounty if I bring you in alive. Of course, if you give yourself up, I might decide to let her live. After all, 500K is better than 200."

"Live?" Xel asked quietly. He gave a sardonic chuckle. "For what? As what?"

"Well…" Tenau smiled lewdly. "I'm sure I can think of something."

The fierce glare Xel leveled at the man sitting across from him could practically be felt, as could the tension in the room as the two Mandos stared each other down. It happened faster than anyone could later account for.

The edge of the table slammed into Tenau's chest as Xel used its supports to kick away from the table, his chair legs squealing against the slick floor as several blasters rang out at once. The chair tipped backward after about six feet of movement, and Xel launched himself backward, rolling onto a tabletop as it tipped with his weight, putting a small bit of cover between him and his attackers. His blasters cleared their holsters as he heard Tenau bark orders to his men, and Xel realized that most, if not the entirety of the bar's occupants were armed and shooting in his direction.

A rapid-fire salvo forced several of them under cover before Xel launched a rocket at a nearby wall and jetpacked backward through it, firing as he fled. His feet hit the deck as he broke into a sprint toward the nearest edge only to grind to a stop when a speeder rose in front of him. His blasters leveled at its driver compartment when the door opened to reveal—

Xel's eyes bloomed. "Sabine?! What the hell are you—"

"You want to talk or live?!"

He blinked once before leaping inside and seating himself, the speeder shooting off as Tenau and a half-dozen thugs ran out of the bar and fired on them. Sabine deftly avoided most of the shots in a spiraling dive. Xel's heart was in his throat as he realized she drove as crazy as him…without the guidance of the Force.

"Oh shab," he breathed, "what did I get myself into?"

"Hold on!" she shouted as she took the speeder into a hard turn that sent his stomach flipping.

"To what?!" he asked incredulously, noting the distinct lack of a seatbelt.

Another dozen insane maneuvers later, and Xel was borderline praying to be let out of this crazy woman's vehicle, despite the fact that three enemy speeders, armed and loaded with mercs, were chasing them. He'd risk a firefight over this deathtrap.

"Let me drive," he said quietly, nauseous and nearly out of breath.

"What?"

"I said," he nearly yelled, "let me drive!"

"Why?"

He just stared at her, yelping when the speeder jolted with blaster fire and smacked the side of a building. "I can get us out of here faster than you can!"

"Look, kid, Force or no Force, I can handle myself!"

"First off, I'm not a kid—" The speeder shuddered again, and Xel growled. "And secondly, I know you can, but the guy chasing us is a Mando too, and we need every edge we can get."

She seemed to think about it for a moment before once again taking them into a spiraling dive, then turning a corner and causing one of the trailing speeders to crash trying to mimic her maneuver. "Fine, switch!"

Xel rapidly hauled her from her seat and replaced her at the controls, feeling the Force flow through him and drive away his fear and dizziness as his hands danced, causing the speeder to do the same. He barely heard Sabine's exhaled "whoa" as he deftly avoided every laser blast thrown in their direction, then dipped slightly to skid between two horizontal supports. Another of the pursuing speeders got damaged attempting to follow, and Caden smirked as he saw a massive billboard just above them. Before Sabine could stop him, Xel opened the driver-side door and ignited his lightsaber, throwing it in a smooth arc that cut the primary supports of the board.

The massive structure tumbled toward them as the blue lightsaber returned to its master, his speeder accelerating just out of range of the board. Tenau's speeder came to a stop, barely avoiding the falling object but falling behind as Xel and Sabine disappeared around a corner and twisted through four more before he could even get moving again. Five minutes later and they were sure they'd lost him. Xel exhaled hard in relief, making another few turns before arcing back toward where he'd parked his ship. His eyes glanced over at Sabine, and he studied her armored form for a few moments before coughing discreetly.

"Not that I don't appreciate the rescue but…what are you doing here?"

She turned her head to face him. "You said you needed a hunter."

Xel's eyes narrowed. "How could you know—" His head tipped toward her. "You were tapped into my call. Really?"

She sighed. "Yes. I realize how that might be interpreted as a breach of trust, but…you were acting weird, and I could see how much your friend's situation was affecting you."

"So?"

"So we stowed away on your ship and tailed you." Sabine pulled her helmet off with an audible exhale. "You lied to me when you said you'd call for help if you needed it."

Xel's eyes narrowed, his frustration making him overlook the "we" in her statement.

"And friends don't let friends walk into an ambush alone."

"I didn't walk into an ambush," he defended, climbing out of the speeder. "I walked into a meeting that doubled as an ambush…and I expected it."

"It was still a stupid thing to do without backup," she insisted, following him onto the ship.

Annoyed and frustrated at her stubbornness, Xel shrugged his shoulders. "Fine. It was stupid." He pulled off his helmet, deep blue eyes and facial expression fully showing his displeasure. "Now what do you want?"

"What do you think? I'm here to help you get your friend back."

"Correction," a new voice said from one of the crew quarters. "We're here to help you."

Xel let his jaw drop as he stared at the four figures that emerged from all corners of the Kandosii'tal. Alen, in full Jedi regalia, lightsaber and blaster sitting concealed beneath the folds of his robe; Ezra, with his trademark orange-brown jacket and gun-saber; PT-37, metal body scuffed and scarred and looking as dangerous as the weapons concealed in his chassis; and Linn Riilos, red hair swinging in a shoulder-length ponytail as she put her hands on her well-armed hips and gave Xel her best scolding smile.

"You…you shouldn't be here," Caden finally managed. "This is my fight, not yours."

"Xel," Alen sighed, approaching his brother and slinging an arm around his shoulders, "when are you gonna understand? We're your friends and family." He drew away and put both hands on Xel's shoulders, a fierce look on his face. "Your fight is our fight."

Overcome as his five uninvited guests drew closer, Xel smiled and looked down, eyes stinging. "Thank you."


5 minutes later

"So what do we know?"

"Thus far, Tenau's made it very clear that he has every intention of keeping Maila, not handing her over for the bounty."

Alen pursed his lips at Xel's obvious anger.

"He wants me instead, so he's acquired her as bait. And he's keeping her close." Xel clenched a fist and narrowed his eyes at a wall. "Very close."

Alen shot Xel a questioning look, but his brother returned a glare that stopped that line of questioning.

"Even if she is the bait," Sabine began, "he won't make her easy to find."

"Oh," Xel responded, "but he already has." He tapped a few keys on the holoprojector in the center of the armory, bringing up an image of Nar Shaddaa—as well as a single red dot."

"Is that—" Linn started.

"Yes," Caden answered immediately. "I put a tracker on Jes Tenau."

Sabine shook her head. "He's a Mando hunter. There's no way he's gonna fall for that. He'll have checked."

"Yes, he will…which is why I put two on him. One on the inside of a gauntlet plate, the other, well…" He smirked malevolently. "It isn't so much on him as in him."

Ezra's eyebrows shot up. "You fed him the tracker?"

Xel shrugged. "In a manner of speaking. Technically, he drank it. Slipped it in his ale when he was focused on me. I doubt he'll have scanned his stomach for any trackers, and besides, after finding the first one, he'll have relaxed."

"Xel Caden," Linn started with a chuckle, "you just continue to surprise me."

The grin she shot him was infectiously affectionate, and Xel blinked once before returning a much smaller one, a twinge of something pleasant stirring in his gut. "Vor entye," he intoned with a small nod.


2 hours later

Xel crouched atop a shabby building, the fully armored Mando overlooking a well-disguised and well-protected holding facility. His built-in macrobinoculars showed several droids manning the perimeter and entrances, with transmitters built into their armor, probably connected to the base's alarms in case of destruction or intruders. They couldn't be seen going in, that was for sure.

"Caden," said Linn from his left. "I've got an idea."

"Let's hear it."

"It's…something I learned from En before…anyway, he told me that if you send concentrated bursts of static toward a droid's central processor, you can effectively project hallucinations. I have a program that'll show them movement outside the perimeter, away from those doors. They'll be forced to investigate—"

"Giving us an in without triggering any alarms," he finished, smiling. He nodded slowly. "Good catch, Linn."

She positively glowed at the praise, readying the device in question. "Tell me when."

"Copy. Stand by. Peetee, you ready for insertion?"

"Affirmative, Master."

"Get ready." He nodded to Linn, who activated the disruptor.

Mere seconds later, the droids started moving, and Xel gave Peetee the signal. The droid grabbed Alen and Ezra, the jump-jets on its back carrying it toward the unguarded door with a relatively small amount of noise. The moment the trio touched down, Caden grabbed Sabine and strode toward the edge of the roof.

"Hey," Linn protested, "what about me?"

Xel handed her a KiSteer 1284 projectile rifle. "You're on overwatch. We'll need you to cover our exit, and besides, that disruptor might come in handy to keep our pursuers off our trail."

Placated, she took the rifle and crouched down. "Be careful," she pleaded.

Xel just nodded and jetted toward the door, his Jedi brother slicing through the last bits of code keeping them out. The door slid open with a hydraulic hiss, permitting the five to enter unopposed, no guard and no—

"Caden!" Linn shouted over comms.

"What?" he growled.

"The droids, they're…sparking."

His dark blue eyes went wide. "What do you mean 'sparking'?"

"I mean…oh stars. I think the disruptor might've done more than give them hallucinations. I think they're about to—"

A loud popping sound came from behind them, through the open door, as one by one, the heads of the guard droids exploded. Their cheap metal bodies landed with distinctive thuds on the roof of the base, and Xel barely had time to brace himself before the head-splitting scream of alarm klaxons filled his ears.

"Well…shab," Sabine said simply.

He exchanged a look with her and his brother. "Plan B then."

Both blasters left Sabine's holsters as Peetee drew a Z-6 rotary cannon, Ezra and Alen their lightsabers, and Xel two very distinct and different weapons. A snap-hiss and charging whine simultaneously filled the air as three sapphire blades lit the suddenly darkened hallway, the one at their head illuminating the fierce, unforgiving t-visor of a Mandalorian on a warpath.

Ready or not, hut'uun, I'm coming for you.

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