Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 13

The Shed, as Saz came to call his new home, was a welcome convalescence chamber for the emotionally distraught technician. For the better part of a year, he rarely left the place, only daring to expose himself to buy supplies and materials to finish his research and modifications on the fighter. Modo's storage pods enhanced the ship, making it possible to ferry enough food and materials to the Shed to keep Saz undisturbed for weeks on end. The research he sought to finish was painstakingly slow. The lack of credits and fear of encountering another Imperial ambush drove Saz on the brink of starvation. It began to effect his research, drawing out the processes even longer, which drove a vicious circle of sleep-deprivation and malnutrition which would have led to his demise, had it not been for his mechanical companion N4 pressing the human to attend to his basic organic needs.

With his research stalled and his health in danger, Saz was convinced to look for ways to earn credits. This led him to search nearby colonies and space stations for any odd job that might both pay the bills and keep Imperial attention safely away. The first jobs he performed were barely worth the fuel he expended to complete them, such as ferrying goods between merchants or towing a foul barge full of garbage from one moon to another. It was a fate hardly befitting such a technically advanced fighter.

Needing to find more lucrative work, he tried his first seek-and-destroy mission, finding his abhorrence to killing someone for money waned when his stomach was empty or his research had ground to a halt. Saz scrutinized the target as much as he could, convinced that he was doing the galaxy a favor for taking out an infamous slaver and thief, but he still found himself hesitating when it came time to fire on his ship. When the thug turned and began to fire on him, Saz found it much easier to destroy the man with only one missile from his Missile Boat.

When the payment filled his belly and gave him enough money to start experimenting once more, he found it easier to justify taking the next lucrative mission.

With resources from the more dangerous employment, Saz's research went into overdrive and moved closer and closer to success. He also gained a reputation among other bounty hunters and smugglers for being able to accomplish the most perilous missions due to his powerful ship. He rarely took a job that would take him from the cockpit of his ship, for he knew without the advantage that it afforded, he would be much more likely to get killed. He was armed with a modified DC-15s and an experimental hybrid blaster-slugthrower rifle, both taken with him from the research centers on the Maw Installation and his combat skills were slowly being honed by the types of jobs he applied for, but he always took jobs that could be accomplished at the helm of his craft.

His reputation also afforded him what would be the most important contact he would ever make, when he was sought out by Utility. This covert organization made barely a sound in the roaring of the galaxy, yet had contracts with some of the most notorious figures ever to earn a credit or two. It was not a guild, nor did it have any physical location. It did not directly contract work, but rather was a mouthpiece, or a way to network solicitations throughout the known worlds. If the customer was worthy and the price was right, the organization would contact those that were qualified and inform them of the charge. If the contact took the job and completed it as required, Utility took a small percentage. If the job was declined, there was no further involvement by any party. Because of the passive arrangement of the group, most guilds did not pay much attention to them, for Utility's contacts were interwoven in every profession in the galaxy, yet were only contacted for very specific jobs that may not have been published anywhere else. Saz's work for Utility afforded him more credits than he had brought with him from the Maw, making money the least of his concerns. Due to his ship, he could perform jobs very few others could, like carrying secret information between the most powerful corporations in the Outer Rim, or assaulting an entire fleet just to eliminate one single warlord. It allowed him to spend more time at the Shed and less time exposed to the galaxy, though with the death of the Emperor and the chaos it caused in the Empire, his existence became much less of an issue to the Imperial Navy and he was able to move about with much greater ease than before.

With an overall lull in the chaos in his life and the resources he needed finally at his disposal, Saz was finally able to perfect his variation of the coating he had been working on. Not only did it improve the overall reduction of a ship's sensor profile, but it also slightly enhanced the durability of the hull. To purchase the materials, Saz continued performing jobs around the area, including some from Utility, until he had at last had all the necessary components and time to put the pinnacle modification on his Missile Boat.

The ship was now a deep black color, its hull seeming to absorb the very light around it. It had taken a week to apply the polymer, with Saz painstakingly coating each hull plate at a time, making sure the skin was flawless and that no element would compromise the invisibility the coating would afford. Saz had scrutinized every section, checking and rechecking, until at last he was satisfied and he sat across the ship, looking over it with smudges and smears all over his body and clothes. He reeked of chemicals and sweat and his body was aching from the endeavor.

It was all worth it. He now had a ship unlike any other in the galaxy.

"Technician, I have performed diagnostics on the ship and all systems are within normal constraints. There is an abnormal sensor characteristic lingering at the peripherals of the array. Is this an effect of your new coating technology?" N4 asked, his mechanical voice coming from the newly integrated interface Saz had implanted on his wrist.

Saz had already been scratching at the skin around the interface, but his eyes never left the ship. "I wouldn't worry about it, N4, but you'll probably have to get used to it. The ship absorbs sensor signals, including your own. You'll have to rely on system instrumentation and diagnostics to keep a status on the ship," he replied.

N4 was computing, getting used to the new sensor profile. "Technician, now that you have completed the modification you desired, will you now give the ship a name, as you have intended?" N4 asked.

Saz was silent. He continued staring at the ship with heavy eyes and a drooping posture. His promise to Alexis had been eating away at his concentration during the entire process, with the milestone looming over him like a death sentence. Even now, with Alexis's ID card hanging from his bruised hand, he was having a hard time bringing the project to a close. His promise had been the driving force in his life since his escape, and he did not know how he would react once he did not have that purpose.

Another part of him was furious with himself for being such a coward and demeaning both his memory of Alexis and the ship that had done so much for him. His hand clenching around the ID card, his eyes closed and he thought of his lover, a bitter smile coming over his face. "The Peripheral Muse," he said quietly, settling on the name that adequately paid tribute to both the ship and her namesake. His eyes slowly opened and looked upon the ship with a new level of affection.

"Her name is Peripheral Muse," he repeated.

He thought Alexis would like the name, which was beautiful and strong, just like she was. It had been almost two years since Alexis had died, but his thoughts of her were no less potent. She existed now more as an ideal to him, rather than a person, but he could not bring himself to forget every feature on her face or her smell and touch. The ship became the physical representation of her, something he could feel with his skin and smell with his nose. He would keep her ID badge hanging in the cockpit, just to feel as if their dreams had come true and they were free to fly the depths of the galaxy; together just as they had planned.

While never curing him of the nights he woke in a cold sweat, with an empty space in the bed next to him, the ship did fill an empty space in his heart and gave him something to care for, with the same name as the woman he had longed to spend the rest of his life with.

With the new coating, the capabilities of the fighter had propelled Saz into the realm of near omnipotence, with him able to perform even the most challenging tasks with a level of impunity that would have driven most insane or to tyranny. As he had no ambitions to conquer the galaxy, or even seek out a cause greater than himself, his work became his purpose and he simply continued taking odd jobs as a way to pass his time, though he was able to scrutinize his jobs even more and only take ones that met with his personal code of conduct.

His favorite jobs were reconnaissance. Often times he would sit in the middle of a fleet, sometimes even an Imperial Fleet, and monitor transmissions or record ship movements. Often times, it was the New Republic that paid him well for his information. His dealings with the New Republic were sometimes strained as some in the new order saw Saz as only a remnant of the old Imperial war machine. If they had knowledge of the obscure fighter, they saw it as something was paid for by the blood of billions of innocent people. These individuals also coveted his ship and his knowledge, with some even making attempts to confiscate both for the good of the new government. While Saz understood these few did not represent the whole of the new order, he kept a professional distance from the New Republic and did not have ambitions to join their Research and Development environment, as was offered to him on multiple occasions.

The heightened reputation and enhanced capabilities the Peripheral Muse also brought about a new arrangement with his sponsor, Utility. After accomplishing some of the most challenging missions they had to offer and adhering to a strict code of conduct which they never spelled out to him, Saz was made an 'Exclusive Contact' within the organization. There was no ceremony or event. He received no special insignia. There was only a single transmission informing him of the arrangement, though he had very little understanding what it meant. His understanding came through the realization that the new jobs offered to him were not like anything he had done before. While his previous contracts paid well, a single job as an Exclusive Contact in Utility was enough to pay his bills for a year, even with expensive maintenance on his advanced ship. While he continued to perform smaller jobs around the area, sometimes without taking pay for a noble cause, his contracts with Utility were always a priority, and he made a great deal of money in just a short time as an Exclusive Contact.

One notorious contract that every Exclusive Contact knew was an open bounty posted by Utility itself. It was for capture only, with a kill on the mark enough to cause instant suspension of any activity with Utility. Specific instructions were provided on how to contact the organization and a set of coordinates to rendezvous for exchange. It was bizarre for Utility itself to set a contract and designate a physical location, which caused Saz to give in to curiosity and see what Utility might look like. The coordinates were empty space and there was no sign of anything at the rendezvous point, furthering the mystery behind the contract. Another extraordinary aspect was the amount offered for the mark, which was ten times the normal amount for an Exclusive contract. It was on the minds of every Exclusive Contact with the organization, but no one had ever been able to fulfill it.

The name of the mark was Aveyla Rom.

There was surprisingly detailed information on the mark, which was far more interesting than the mark herself. She was a Force-sensitive Twi'lek, possibly a Jedi, and she spent most of her life as a slave, jumping between masters because of mishaps due to her strange powers. Most recently, she had been on Nal Hutta and Nar Shaddaa, then abruptly disappeared from her owner on the Smuggler's Moon. After her disappearance, several parties made inquiries about her and a standard bounty was offered, but only after time had passed did Utility suddenly take interest in her, going against its creed and posting a direct contract only to their most trusted associates.

Saz, like most others, made inquires and kept his eyes open for the mark, yet was able to find nothing over the course of a year. His other work occupied his time and only in passing did he ever consider searching for the woman, for no one could find her and the reasons behind the contract made most wary.

Gradually, the lingering contract intrigued Saz more and more. His usual contact list of bounty hunters and slavers were void of information, which led him to be even more interested. Soon enough, his desire to find this mark became the primary driver in his work, if only to accomplish something that no one else could.

After a year of searching, Saz finally found the smallest bit of information about a Twi'lek woman with strange powers living as a slave to a warlord deep in a volatile region of space. His contact told him that only a fool would attempt to go into a rancor's den to get a toenail, but Saz's ego had been inflated and he considered no pirate fleet powerful enough to threaten him. He had just outfitted the Muse with enhanced ordinance and performed system upgrades that increased N4's capabilities, among other standard maintenance on the stealth coating and engines. He was as ready as he would ever be to try for Utility's prize contract.

For his own sense of accomplishment and to satisfy what was his current purpose in life, he would enter a volatile area of space, assault the pirate fleet and capture Aveyla Rom.

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