Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 9

Saz self-destructed when he learned of the death of Alexis. He spent an hour tearing apart a maintenance bay, throwing anything he could get his hands on in between fits of tears and misery. Even though her loss had not yet set in full, he was delirious and unable to reason. None of the other personnel would go near the bay, as their relationship had not been as much of a secret as they had hoped.

The misery-stricken man found himself sitting against a toolbox, his bloody, greasy hands clutching his head and his body trembling with each wretched sob. He had just seen her hours before, feeling her soft touch and hearing her sweet voice. It was unfathomable that she would lose control of her craft and get pulled into a nearby black hole. She was too talented as a pilot, yet his head did not work right and he could not concentrate enough to understand the details surrounding her death. All he realized was she was gone, and the hole that tore through him was bigger and deeper than the one that had swallowed her shuttle.

Between his legs and damp with mottled tears was Alexis's ID card, which he had always kept with him in his pocket, just as she had with his. Her angelic face was staring up at him, looking as beautiful as ever, though he imagined he looked horrible to her. When he reached down to touch the card, a red streak was smeared over her face, which only enraged the man once more. He slammed his head back against the toolbox, cursing in every way he could imagine, yet no amount of pain or cursing would ever bring her back, and this was the reality he now lived in.

Their escape was only two days away, but it all seemed meaningless now. He had only planned it all to be with her, unfettered by the rules that prevented them from being together. His plan seemed like a childish hobby now, where he felt deep remorse for not spending their last moments together. He hated himself for letting her go. He felt completely lost without her.

Numbed from his grief, he did not realize how hard he had abused himself against the unforgiving frame of the toolbox and Saz colapsed on the floor of the maintenance bay, a deep gash carved into the back of his head. Bathed in unconsciousness, a strange dream flooded his mind and he found himself standing in front of Alexis. She was still as beautiful as ever and she smiled at him, though he could only stare back in shock.

"Hello, Saz," she said, as if nothing was amiss.

He reached out to her, chanting her name and expecting to pass right through her. Instead, he found her corporeal and warm to the touch, a welcome break to his neurotic breakdown. Embracing her with all of his might, he wept loudly, kissing her head and pawing at her back.

"I thought I lost you, Alex," he said weakly.

She smiled. "Saz, you'll always have me, but not like this," she said in a sad tone, one that brought him from his daze and back to stare into her face.

"What…do you mean?" he asked, afraid of the answer.

"You have to let me go, Saz. You have move on and leave this place, just like we planned," she said with a measure of authority that he had first fallen in love with. He shook his head wildly.

"No, there is no plan. There is no reason. You were the reason, Alex!" he cried.

Alexis smiled back and steadied his face between her hands. "You are your own reason, Saz. You're too good for this place. Do you think I would want you to stay here or worse?" she said sternly.

"I can't, Alex. I don't have the heart for it anymore," he replied.

Reaching out and taking his hand, she pressed his hand against her chest and looked deeply into his eyes, unwilling to let him give up on his life. "Take my heart with you and be free, Saz," she whispered. He felt hollow. It was agonizing to only get this last moment with her, though he was bitterly grateful to see her again. He wanted the strength to do as she asked, but it was difficult to find it. To the hopeful look in her face, he had to try.

He nodded to her and she smiled. "That's my boy. Remember to give the ship a good name and I'll never be too far away," she said, keeping his hand presses firmly against her body.

Embracing her, Saz spent what little time was left in his dream experiencing as much of her as he could, for he knew this would be the last time he would get to be with her, even if it was only a dream. When he awoke, he was staring up at the ceiling of the infirmary and he was still miserable. Concerned colleagues had dragged him to the medical bay and he had been there for nearly a day, his physical wounds healed but his heart still torn to pieces.

Though hollow and devoid of hope, he thought of her pleas to move on in his life and fulfill their dream outside of the Maw. It became the only motivator for him. Even as he was counseled and released from the infirmary, a single flame burned in him, fueled by nothing more than his desire to honor her memory and fulfill her request.

He would take what was left of her in his heart and find freedom in an infinite galaxy.

Instead of waiting for two more days, Saz expedited his plans for escape. All of the materials he had stolen were stowed safely in the prototype fighter and the ship itself had been switched with a common patrol fighter, using Alexis's still-active authorization codes. With careful manipulation of computer systems, lapses in security and with the help of the security droid, N4, Saz was ready to perform the dangerous operation, though his tolerance for failure had greatly risen since the death of his lover.

Making some last minute adjustments to N4, Saz was working quietly in a storage compartment, where cameras and microphones were least likely to monitor them. The droid had been oblivious to any changes in the plan and was motionlessly awaiting the final protocols being programmed into its memory. While aware of the loss of Alexis through the station's computer network, it was simply a variable to be computed along with countless others, though it obviously merited discussion in the droid's processors.

"Technician, I have detected an abnormality in your behavior since the death of the organic Alexis Muse. I have adjusted the overall probability of success for this operation by negative thirty-two percent. Would it not be prudent to wait until you are once against operating at maximum capacity before proceeding?" it said.

"I don't know if I can operate at maximum capacity anymore, N4," Saz admitted, trying his hardest to concentrate on the task at hand. With Alex gone, N4 was the only other thing on the station that knew of his plans and the closest thing he had to a confidant. It was going to be that much harder to sacrifice him for the sake of his escape.

"I see," N4 responded, taking a moment to process that information. It was not a protocol droid, nor did it understand how organic beings truly functioned, despite having all of the technical data it could ever need. "Technician, your stated reasoning for leaving this installation was to augment your connection with the organic Alexis Muse. As this variable is no longer relevant, has this premise been altered outside of acceptable parameters?" it continued, somewhat proud of this current exploration of the thing humans called 'small talk.'

Saz sighed and stopped working. It was a question he had asked himself many times. Life did not seem worthwhile without Alexis, but he had also made her a promise, even if it was in his own head. "I know you don't understand it, but humans are more than just a judgment of parameters and risk. We have hearts, N4, and they don't often follow logic or reasoning. I'm going forward with the plan because Alex wants me to. There's nothing more to it than that," he stated and closed the access panel on the droid, then packed up his tools.

N4 raised its integrate heavy blaster into the standard patrolling position and analyzed Saz, noting his erratic energy output and diminished physical conduct. "Technician, I am sorry about the loss of the organic Alexis Muse. If possible, I shall exert an effort beyond my parameters to facilitate your escape, so that your chances of honoring her wishes are increased," it said, drawing a bitter smile from Saz.

"Thanks, buddy," he replied, patting his hand across the droid's armored shoulder.

With all of the pieces in place, Saz began his escape from the Maw Installation. With N4 leading him along, he snuck through the empty hallways towards the main launch bays, counting on the fact that personnel were at their minimum during the imposed night. He carried nothing with him but his satchel of tools, for carrying any of the weapons he had taken would instantly set off the sensors, leaving his safety in the hands of N4 and his impressive armament. If his plan proceeded smoothly, he would not need the firepower until after he was aboard the ship, where N4 would then begin fire upon carefully selected computer systems in an effort to mask the launch of the fighter and its departure from the sensor grid.

With every step, Saz was counting in his mind, keeping the strict schedule at the forefront of his mind. Even a second wasted would increase the chance of being caught, which was going to be one of the hardest parts of escaping with Alexis. Saz could keep time accurately in his mind, but choreographing his movements with another person made it harder to keep in time and doubled the amount of people to be detected.

In retrospect, even though his mind was mostly focused on the task at hand, he wished she was there with him.

"Halt! Present your identification card, organic," said a deep, mechanical voice from an adjacent hallway. Saz had been distracted and lost track of the time, leading them to be moments behind schedule in the path of one of the patrol droids, kin to N4. They were standing right outside of the launch bays, but the security droid was aiming a heavy blaster at Saz, ready to fire at any moment.

"Not good. N4!" he cried and a powerful blast ripped into the opposing security droid, tearing it to pieces at the same time it fired a shot at Saz. While it missed, the weapon's fire set off the alarms and the hallway was filled with red lights and blaster fire, with the automated defense systems firing a barrage into the source of the discharge, N4. The destroyed droid was blasted into the launch bays at the same time the doors were closing as part of the security lockdown. Saz dove in to the bay as well as the jaws of the doors snapped shut behind him, though more security protocols were engaging all around them. The launch bays closed and the power systems went to a minimum, leaving Saz scrambling in the dark to get his bearings. The ship, independent from the station's power systems, was still ready to go, but the bay doors were sealed and the defense grid was likely activated.

Probability for his plan's success quick dropped through the deck plates.

Saz was trying to figure out his next move and guessed he had less than a minute before more security droids would be on location and the fighter patrols and Star Destroyers would be alerted to the trouble in the station. He had to get to the ship and launch, but his eyes fell on the destroyed remains of N4. The droid was smoldering and sparking in the deck, its processor randomly spitting out security protocols.

Feelings of loneliness welled up in Saz and he remembered that N4 was the only other colleague he had, so his loss hit him harder than usual. Cursing under his breath, Saz jumped over and used his tools to disconnect the remaining relays between N4's processor and his droid body. His databanks carried a large portion of Saz's personal files and, more than that, he was a friend. He could not leave them to be completely destroyed.

With the droid's processors and memory banks in his satchel with his tools, Saz sprinted over to the waiting ship and boarded, settling into the familiar flight controls that he and Alexis had studied for hours on end. He had rehearsed countless of times with her, so they felt familiar, but he realized he was a fraction of the pilot that Alexis was and he had never actually flown the prototype fighter. There were also the launch bay doors, closed tight and impossible to open by computer bypass. Once the fighter was powered up, that obstacle became an afterthought as two concussion missiles ripped open the doors and blow atmosphere into space.

"Here we go, Alex!" Saz cried and throttled the fighter out of the launch bays, where it was met by a dozen TIE fighters already patrolling near the area and quickly becoming aware of the situation aboard the station.

The prototype fighter flew erratically as soon as it exited the station, due to a rush of adrenaline and unfamiliar flight behavior. The ship flew like nothing Saz had ever flown before and he had trouble even keeping it straight, much less avoid the incoming fire from the fighters and the looming Star Destroyer behind them. "Oh man, this isn't good!" Saz screamed and tried to evade the fighters, but he found himself quickly heading towards another module on the station and fated to meet a fiery end against its rocky asteroid shell. Not due to his flight skills, the prototype fighter was steered away from the collision so abruptly that two of the pursuing TIE fighters did not avoid a similar fate. Saz was starting to get used to the powerful craft and the reinforced shielding was absorbing anything the fighters were throwing at him, but he was still flying in circles and too agitated to concentrate on his flight path.

"What now, Alex?" he asked to the empty space where his lover was supposed to be and he tried to take a few glances to the instruments to find their allotted course, but he was too focused on the visuals of his escape and too inexperienced to use his ship efficiently. He was reacting to anything around him, and it ultimately led him into trouble.

A massive blast rocked the side of the ship and tossed Saz violently around the cockpit, knocking his head against an instrument cluster. A stream of blood rushed down his temple and his vision became blurry, but he focused enough to notice a smaller corvette bearing down on him, firing not only turbolasers, but concussion missiles as well. The ship was damaged from a poorly aimed missile, but still in working shape. He knew he would not get another pardon again. The corvette continued to pursue and another Star Destroyer was coming around the station to join the pursuit. The iron hand of the Imperial Navy was closing around him and his escape plan was quickly falling apart, though Saz did have one more trick up his sleeve.

Trying his best set the ship on the course Alex had plotted, Saz engaged the SLAM motors on the fighter, sending the engines into overdrive and doubled his speed. None of the pursuing ships could match such speed and the Missile Boat sped away from the station and into the depths of the Maw, soon becoming so embedded in the anomalies that none of the pursuers could track him.

While this was a positive thing for his escape, it soon presented new problems when the gravitational currents of the black holes began to shake the ship violently, just as the SLAM motors had run their course and the ship was thrust back into power-saving mode, just when Saz needed all the power he could get for flight control.

His vision blurry and his head heavy, Saz tried to navigate the currents even as the violent nature of the Maw threatened to tear his ship apart. Inwardly, he felt a certain satisfaction with disappearing into the same black holes that took his beloved Alex, but his instincts continued to fight that fate and try to navigate the ship. Gradually, his consciousness began to fade and he felt the decision being taken from him.

Passing out in the midst of the black holes, Saz sped towards an uncertain fate in the damaged fighter, unaware that his guardian angel had already secured his fate long before she had ever passed away.

When Saz came around, the fighter was floating quietly in a bare patch of space, safe from the violent currents of the surrounding anomalies and from the pursuing forces of the Maw Installation. His head was throbbing and his eyes were still blurry, but he was alive and not in any immediate danger. "Ugh, what happened?" he groaned, momentarily forgetting he was alone in the ship. The instruments were displaying a range of data and some navigational variables, but the most significant object was the successful completion of a pre-programmed operation to take the ship to an area of reasonable stability and remain stationary until further pilot input. The programmer was listed as Alexis Muse, and Saz placed his hand on the display with a reverent sigh escaping his lips.

"Thanks, Alex," he said.

The ship itself was in good shape. It had suffered some damage from the attack but most systems were available and the power reserves had recharged after using the SLAM motors. The only major issue was the lack of a pilot.

While resting in a somewhat stable region of the Maw, there was no way out but through more gravitational currents and surfing the edges of black holes, something Saz was positive he could not do on his own. He had always assumed that once he was in the cockpit, he would be able to figure a way out but the data coming through the sensors was like nothing he had ever seen before. Even translating it made his head hurt, so Saz was quickly becoming skeptical at his chances of survival.

A strange sound came growling from under his arm. After digging through his satchel, he discovered the remnants of N4 still operating under what residual power he had left, though only through a series of relays and processors that were firing in last desperate moments of their existence.

Saz suddenly got an idea. For the next few hours, he tore open access panels and rewired a large portion of the computer relays in the ship, figuring he could not make his situation much worse by fiddling with the ship's components. The results became apparent as the voice of N4 came crackling over the speakers, sounding slightly different than when housed in a security droid body. It was nothing more than redundant commands and security protocols, but Saz was happy to hear a familiar voice.

"N4, can you hear me?" he asked, still playing with the wiring. He was glad the remnants lasted long enough for him to integrate them into the ship's power supply, though he was not sure what kind of memory damage would occur. The continuation of N4's security protocols signaled that he had not yet gotten the wiring right. "Come on, buddy, tell me this is going to work," he said, working hard at the wiring.

N4 began reciting random bits of data from the station's databanks and Saz took that as a good sign, but he still needed the interface with the droid and could not seem to find the right connections. "Come on, talk to me," he sighed in frustration through the throbbing in his head.

"Technician, I find myself subject to the most unusual sensor data. I believe I've been ejected into open space. Can you send maintenance out to retrieve me?" said a crackling voice over the intercom.

Saz laughed in triumph, making quick note of how he had the remnants wired into the ship. "It's sure good to hear your voice!" he cheered, though the droid seemed surprised by his delight.

"Technician, I must submit a second request for maintenance. I cannot access my movement servos and all weapons systems are offline," it said in a very candid, mechanical way.

Saz laughed again and shakily wiped some blood from his brow. "That's because you're not a security droid anymore. You've been promoted to starship. How do you feel?" he asked, continuing to integrate more systems into the remnants.

N4 spent a moment processing. "Technician, I have extensive access to a wide array of sensor data and have limited access to propulsion and navigation," it remarked and a few instruments reflected some of the operations being processed by the droid.

"That's perfect, N4. That's exactly what I need," he responded, "I'm going to need your help getting out of here. There's too much data for me to look at and we have to steer clear of those black holes, or else we'll get squished. Can you do that for me?" he asked, soldering some connections on one of N4's main processors.

N4's voice seemed to cry out in an ascending wave of tones, then settled back to its normal dull drone, "Technician, I am a security droid, not a navigational computer. I'm afraid it's beyond my programming."

That brought a frown to his face, but he shook his head vigorously. "No, I've come this far and I'm not giving up, and neither are you. Come on, N4, together we can pilot this ship out of here," he said confidently, tucking wiring an components out of the way when he was satisfied he had done as much as he could with the integration.

"Technician, I calculate our chances of success at thirty percent. However, the organic Alexis Muse has apparently programmed several likely courses that raise the overall probability to sixty percent," N4 stated.

Saz smiled and looked to the ID card hanging from some instruments. Alexis's face was still staring back at him, strong and confident. It made his heart ache, but swell at the same time. "She's still looking out for us, N4," he said and took the controls, eager to follow the course she had laid out before him. Deep inside, he still felt lost and had no real idea what he was going to do even if he managed to survive the slalom of gravity wells that waited just ahead. The ship was frighteningly empty and the pilot's seat felt awkward to him, as if he did not belong in it.

Despite his doubts, he throttled the ship forward, clutching to the thought that he still had Alex with him, in the memory banks of the ship and in his heart. He felt betraying her by giving up was the most cowardly thing he could do and he would not allow himself to disappoint her. It did not matter what waited for him outside of the Maw. He would trust Alex and attain the freedom they had long desired. Afterwards, he would find his place in the galaxy, with his prototype ship, his disembodied droid friend and the memories of his dead lover all wrapped tightly around his heart.

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