Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 11

Despite an escape for the top-secret station and successful navigation from the Maw itself, Saz found there was little solace for him in the harsh tides of the galaxy. The Imperial Navy was on high-alert and his first natural stop of Kessel was a hornet's nest of warships and fighter patrols. With barely enough time to reset his hyperdrive, he fled the system in any safe direction he could find, which was an infinitesimal sliver on the compass, for his mere appearance in at Kessel clued the Empire that he had successfully escaped the Maw and was at large possessing technology that the Emperor had deemed too dangerous to be lose.

Both he and his ship were wounded, with their reserves running low and spirits failing. Each following system he approached was the same, with Imperial ships instantly clued to his arrival and desperate to capture or destroy him. Only the superior technology of his ship allowed him to escape each time, but even the ship seemed exhausted and suffering from its wounds.

With only scant rations left and power reserves in the red, Saz knew the next system would be where he had to stop, so prepared himself for a fight. When he came out of hyperspace at Columex, he found there was little, if any Imperial traffic and that the steady stream of ships around would make it easier to approach the orbiting stations.

Using what little power he had left, he slipped inconspicuously towards a station and landed in the first bay he could find. Once landed, the toll of the escape caused Saz to pass out, with only the endless chatter of N4 filling his mind as he slipped into unconsciousness. With no great surprise, he dreamed of Alexis. Now that he had successfully escaped, he was forced to confront the fact he no longer had his purpose for escape. Even in his dreams, Alexis encouraged him and tried to reignite the passion he had about being free to do whatever he wanted, but all he wanted was to stay in his dreams, her arms wrapped around his head and listening to her sweet voice fill his ears.

A loud banging awoke him. With his skull pounding and his vision blurry, the man banging on the front of the ship was not a welcome visitor, but he appeared very angry at the presence of the ship. "What do you think you're doing in my garage? Do you think this is a free parking zone or something?" he howled at Saz, who was just barely cognizant enough to speak.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Don't you recognize an injured man when you see one?" Saz groaned, wiping wet blood from his cheek.

The old man scoffed. "If I let every zoned out spacer land in my place just because he had a sob story, I'd never get any work done," he grunted, showing very little sympathy.

Saz tried to focus enough to get his ship going again, but realized he was nearly out of fuel and had no provisions left. He also realized that the wetness on his cheek was not blood, but that he had been crying while dreaming of Alexis. It made him embarrassed and quiet, but it also struck a different tone in the old man. "Hey, are you okay, kid? You need a doctor or something?" he asked, shedding his gruff façade.

Saz knew his head wound was minor and that he did not want to draw attention to himself, so he shook his head and continued running diagnostics on the ship, seeing if she was ready to find a new place once more.

The old man frowned. It was obvious the young man was on the run, judging from his condition and the damage to his ship. When he found the ship in his bay, he had nearly called the authorities to report an unlawful landing, but seeing the sad state he was in made him glad he did not. The old mechanic may have been calloused from years of working broken starships and sparking speeders, but he also knew a wrecked man when he saw one. It was one thing he had never learned to repair, but he still felt inclined to try.

"This is one slick looking ship, kid. What's her name?" he asked, looking over the prototype.

Saz froze, his eyes immediately moving over to the ID card hanging in the cockpit. The promise he had made with Alexis hit him hard and he sighed, going back to his diagnostics. "She doesn't have one yet," he said.

"It's bad luck to have a ship with no name, plus it makes it hard to land anywhere legally," the old man scolded, unconsciously looking from the damage to the Imperial markings. He imagined the young man had quite the story to tell, and he was now very glad he had not contacted the authorities. Imperial attention was not something he wanted, good or bad.

"I don't know if I can give her a name yet," Saz responded, frustrated by the stubborn power systems, even though he had run the ship just as hard as he had run himself, so he should have not been so surprised when it was eager to rest as well. Inwardly, his reluctance to name the ship after Alexis as he had promised stemmed from the fact he was scared. With the Empire so desperate to find him and his own skills lacking, he could not cope with giving the ship her name and then losing her to the Empire. He felt inadequate to assign such a heavy burden to the ship.

Before Saz realized it, the old man was wrenching on the damaged panels of the ship and cursing at the carbon scoring that was blemishing the hull. Feeling threatened, Saz broke open the cockpit of the fighter and hollered at him, "Hey! What do you think you're doing?"

"Are you blind and stupid, kid? Broken ships get fixed in this shop. This is a broken ship, so it's getting fixed," he responded, not looking up.

Saz struggled with the harness of the pilot's seat and scrambled down to the old man, furious at first but then watching him with angry words stuck in his hanging mouth, surprised at how adept the man was despite the fact he was working on technology no one outside of the Empire had seen.

"Hey, you're not bad at this," he said, feeling his anger die down.

The old man scoffed again. "I've been fixing one thing or another for thirty years. I don't need some crybaby kid telling me that," he sneered, his attention firmly on the ship.

Saz felt his apprehension die down as he watched the man, feeling that he did not have to treat him as an enemy. Saz's natural tendency was to trust, which got him in trouble as many times as it did not, but something told him that he could trust the old man, and a deep sigh of relief escaped from his very core.

In what became a surprise friendship and a mentorship, Saz was introduced to Modo Terel, a retired Republic mechanic that made a scant living on the station with his tools and his knowhow. During the Clone Wars, he had been caught in a battle and injured, which caused him to walk with a limp, but his hands were as virile as ever and he demonstrated instincts about repairing ships that Saz had never seen before. While Saz was a great engineer and mechanic, Modo was a master at it and during the repairs to the Missile Boat, he learned everything from fabricating parts from a junk pile to using kitchen utensils to repair a speeder.

For Modo, it was a silent joy to have someone to talk to that understood his technical jargon and a student to learn all of the things he could teach. At times he felt intimidated by the young man, for his ship and his knowledge were far more advanced than the kinds of ships he had worked on since retirement, but he found the young man receptive to learning and had many of the same instincts when it came to working with his tools and his hands. Although he would curse and berate the squatter, he allowed the prototype fighter to stay and took the fugitive technician under his wing, giving him an impromptu home.

Fortunately for both parties, money was not an issue. Saz had pilfered enough credits and belongings from the officer's quarters on the Maw Installation that Modo's garage could remain perpetually closed during the work on the ship and due to Saz's tinkering nature, repairs were not the only thing going on in the garage. With his credits and his technology, coupled with Modo's resources and practical knowhow, the prototype ship was given enhancements and modifications that added the fighter's already lethal profile. An upgraded hyperdrive gave the ship longer range and the ability to traverse the galaxy in a much quicker time, something crucial since she was a fighter and not designed to ferry passengers for weeks on end. To compensate for her small storage capacity, two Conformal Storage Modules, or CSMs, were fabricated and integrated on her dorsal surface between the two missile pods and the stabilizer fin behind the cockpit. With little regard to the Empire's secrets, Saz worked with Modo on altering the beam weapon of the craft to not only lock targets in place, but to repulse objects and disperse tractor beams. The latter function would be very handy for Saz's evasion of Empire warships.

Modo even helped finish integrating N4 into the ship, despite the droids insistence that it be put back into a body similar to the one it lost on the Maw Installation. Feeling he still needed the help, and trying to keep together all of the remnants of his time with Alexis, Saz opted to retain the unorthodox configuration of a droid AI permanently absorbed into a fighter.

The most important and consuming modification was the stygian-triprismatic polymer technology that Saz had been refining since his time on the Maw. The technology involved was lost on a gearhead like Modo, but even he understood the importance of it. Saz wanted to disappear from the Empire. He wanted a ship that was invisible to sensors. With the Empire still searching the galaxy for him, this was the area that consumed most of Saz's time and energy, though he could never find the exact formula he wanted and continued to tweak the coating, despite the fact that his time with Modo was running out.

When the Emperor perished above Endor, it took time for the effects to be felt throughout the galaxy. Even though the ensuing chaos would have given Saz a reprieve, news did not travel fast enough to save his mentor from a group of Imperial spies that had tracked Saz down to the station. After performing surveillance on the station for some time, tipped off by reports of a strange ship with Imperial markings being seen by locals, the spies initiated a covert operation to reclaim the ship and the wayward research technician. After abducting Modo on a routine shopping trip, they marched him into the garage where Saz was busy working on the ship, and unceremoniously shot him in the back in front of the young man.

It was a horrific end to a fruitful era in the life of the technician.

Saz did not remember much about the ensuing firefight. He remembered that he had only barely scrambled into the cockpit of the fighter, firing away with the blaster he had taken from the research station, but everything else was a flurry of sound and light, lit by the burning in his chest at seeing the motionless body of Modo lying across a dried grease stain on the floor of the bay. While superficially trained in combat from the Academy many years before, he was no match for the highly trained assassins. It was only assistance from N4, who used the ship to spray blaster fire into the repair bay, which allowed Saz to escape the fight.

The fighter burst from the garage he had called home for months, speeding away from the station and straight towards a task force of Imperial ships sent to capture him. Saz had learned enough of the ship to fly her now, but the overwhelming force closed in around him and he had been caught in a tractor beam.

Modo's modifications saved him as the beam weapon dispersed the tractor beam, and a barrage of missiles and torpedoes from an enraged Saz tore apart the surprised fleet. The sheer firepower of the ship was the primary reason for its obscurity, and after expending nearly his entire payload, Saz was able to speed through the damaged cruisers and flailing fighters, using his SLAM motors to get clear of the interdictor attached to the force and escape into hyperspace.

Having lost yet another important person to him, Saz was victim to his emotions and without a home once more. He had left behind nearly all of his credits and the man that had shown him kindness in his darkest hours. All he had left was his research, his integrated droid companion and a ship with no name, which sent him once more into despair.

Having studied the area in the months with Modo, Saz had discovered the Nespis sytem. The asteroid field would offer him a measure of security to any pursuing forces and it was already programmed into his flight computer as an escape route, so when the ship came out of hyperspace, it immediately disappeared into the asteroids. Saz had little other plans but to try and find a rogue pirate base or some other haven in the chaotic expanse of planetoids, but what he really sought was isolation. Modo had been killed because of his presence. With the Empire at his heels, he would not be able to find another home like Modo's garage.

A perfect hiding place presented itself in an abandoned space station lingering deep within the asteroids. Coming across it by sheer chance, Saz did not hesitate to fly into the only remaining structure left of the base, a dilapidated hangar that was just big enough to accommodate the ship.

Once inside, Saz had to put on an environmental suit to move around the hangar, finding no power or atmosphere left in the ancient structure. He had long since been running on pure instinct and did not allow a moment to let his emotions catch up with him. With a bit of Modo's ingenuity, he managed to close the mechanical doors on the hangar, hiding himself from the outside. He found a reactor and managed to get it working just enough to restore gravity, lighting and heat. Several more hours afforded him atmosphere and several other supplementary systems, and his new base became livable.

Stripping his environmental suit, Saz collapsed on the floor of the hangar, physically and emotionally exhausted from his escape. It felt very much like his first meeting with Modo, which racked him with guilt and sorrow. "I'm sorry, old man," he cried, pressing his hands against his face as he struggled to cope with the new loss.

On an isolated, defunct station in the middle of a chaotic asteroid belt, Saz christened his new home and promised that he would not allow anyone else to suffer the same fate as Modo. He would remain alone, and commit himself to finishing his research on the technology that would allow him to disappear from the galaxy. Only after he disappeared could he be free, and he could finally bring himself to naming the ship like he had promised to Alexis.

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