Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 17

The atmosphere in the Shed continued to change. Saz could see an unusual lightness in his guest, and he was starting to see her more often. Although she still did not speak much to him, she did not seem so wary of his presence. The food she prepared was also different, but in a way he could not point out. Things were just different, but still the same.

Sometimes change came on more like a planet-wide sandstorm than a gentle breeze.

On a day when Aveyla was preparing a meal for him, basking in her newfound lightness, a strange sensation started to come over her. The food smelled odd and her sight began to blur. Suspecting that maybe some of their stores had gone rancid, she began to sniff various containers for the source, yet the feeling only became stronger. She dropped one of the spices that he had brought back from Garos and staggered, but still felt determined to find what foodstuff had gone bad.

On an isolated station, provisions were an essential treasure to be looked after carefully and she could not bear to think that the precious items he had brought back would suffer such a short life.

Without warning, a strange figure rushed into the preparation area and seized her, grunting an order at her that she could not understand, though she could not tell whether it was because her mind was foggy or that the mask that covered their face stifled the voice. Her instincts to fight or flee had dulled in the time she had spent in the Shed, so her resistance was muted.

The familiar sights of the base around her became a hazy mess in her mind as she struggled to stay afoot, even as the figure dragged her towards some unknown location. A thousand different memories and concerns rushed through her, but she did not have the ability to sort them. Before she knew it, the asteroid base she had grown accustomed to melted away and she found herself cramped into a frightening, dark environment, dotted with blurring lights and an unfamiliar air. The figure was nearby, intimately so, and was talking to someone, but she did not know who.

A rush of fresh air hit her and that foul smell she had been trying to find faded, making her instantly feel better and nauseous at the same time. She was surprised that she did not lose consciousness, and her eyesight began to improve.

The mysterious, masked figure continued to moved around her and speak in a growling voice, but otherwise ignored her.

"What's going...on?" she managed to say, feeling an uncomfortable pain in her back. The figure spoke to her, but she did not understand what he said. A strange sensation was tingling at her skin and she coughed harshly, then was surprised as a large hand rubbed her back and stimulated her senses.

"Jus...deep brea...a while. You...suff...xposure," rumbled the voice, and she was having an easier time hearing it. Again the cramped space sent a pain through her back and she tried to move, but realized that the figure reacted to her. Feeling the movements, she realized he was under her and that she was in his direct control.

That made her anxiety rise and she suddenly struggled violently.

"Whoa wh...down! Calm down, Aveyla!" called the voice and something about it cued her to obey. She stopped, breathing heavily as she felt her wrists captured by two strong hands. Her panicking eyes looked to the strange figure, appearing as a wild animal caught in a trap.

It was not until the figure dropped the mask from the bottom of his face and lifted the goggles did she recognize Saz, still trying to calm her in the midst of their situation. "Relax, okay. There was a problem with the ventilation systems and we had to get into the ship, all right? You're going to be fine. You have light exposure sickness."

Aveyla blinked her eyes a few times and focused on him. She easily recognized him now and noticed, for the first time, that the material he usually wore around his neck was actually a versatile mask and filtration system, used for such a situation. She also recognized the small space they were cramped into as the cockpit of his ship, with more and more lights coming to life around them.

Still bewildered, she stared at him and tried to shake the uneasiness of her stomach.

"N4, how's it looking out there?" Saz called as he gently released her other wrist, hoping she would finally calm down.

"I'm still detecting toxic levels of nitrous dioxide and a questionable status from the filtration systems, Technician," the ship responded.

Saz snorted. "Come on, you rusty rock, don't fall apart on me now," he said and was busy flipping switches all over the cockpit.

"Nitrous dioxide?" Aveyla repeated.

Saz nodded, tipping his cap back so he could get a better view of the controls above him. "Yeah, this rock has pockets of the stuff all over. Sometimes it seeps in or one of the sparkies accidentally breaks one when they're drilling for raw materials or water. The scrubbers usually keep it clean enough, but even then can get overloaded and, well, here we are," he explained, though she barely followed and pursed her lips at some of his terminology.

Picking up on that, he smiled uncomfortably. "There's a poisonous gas out there and we have to stay in here until it goes away. N4, how long until the scrubbers cycle?" he asked into the air.

"Approximately six hours, Technician."

"So, we're stuck in here for six hours," sighed Saz, "and probably another two to clean out the air."

Aveyla was still trying to grasp the situation, but realized they were in very tight quarters and that she was sitting in his lap, the skin of her feet pressed against the cold glass of the cockpit. A control panel was the hard edge in her back and she shifted once more, but there was no place to go.

She felt very uncomfortable.

Over the next hour, there was only silent interaction between them. She occasionally shifted and he squirmed, or he reached to flip a switch and brushed his hand against the her bare skin. All movements bore reaction in the cockpit, but very little was said, despite Saz's best efforts to lighten the mood. The only consolation he received was her shifting her position to sit with her legs running down to the floor along his, which left her sitting on the flesh of his thighs and putting her entire back him. The tension of his presence behind her made the air electric, yet she was as still as could be, to not get in his way.

Saz was slumping, just as much as he was sitting as straight as he could. Her slender figure was right in front of him, the curve of her body accented by her new clothes and the glow of her skin tempting his attention. He could barely imagine a worse scenario and felt the weight of his prolonged solitude. Usually, he would have gotten to some SCBA gear and been able to fix the problem in an hour, but he had instead gone to get her to safety and was now stuck letting the system fix itself.

The worst thing for an engineer was to let a problem fix itself.

Passing the time in silence was pure torture for him. N4 was hardly a compelling conversationalist and he did not have a clear view of a display to even keep occupied with his beloved technical data. Everything was focused on her, and he even began to notice things, such as a faint, but pleasant smell coming from her body. In contrast, he realized he had been performing maintenance before their emergency and was covered in sweat and grease.

His apologies about that were met with a simple shake of her head.

Aveyla had never really noticed a human's smell before. While she was accustomed to all sorts of odors, she was trained to block unpleasant ones and focus on the task at hand. She did not actually find his sour smell unpleasant, as potent as it was in their confined space, but rather interesting to her and a fine way to pass the time. She tried to compare it to other smells she had encountered; a stew prepared at Abe'ian's home, or a bog on Nal Hutta. So many unpleasant smells she had encountered in her life, yet she had always learned to move past them and displace herself, yet for some reason she was concentrating on his smell instead of pushing it away. It may have been simply something to concentrate on, for she was having trouble keeping herself focused.

Saz tried to stay busy by running a diagnostic when a stray hand intent for a control panel inadvertently brushed her lekku, making her nearly leap through the cockpit and almost scared Saz to death. Her spasm had been accompanied by a soft moan and several of N4's systems shorting out, yet the embarrassment that followed was more severe than any scolding she could receive.

"F-forgive me," she offered quietly and forcefully kept facing forward.

Saz was holding his heart in his throat and trying to figure what she had done to his ship, but managed to calm himself and stare at her lekku. "No problem. Let's not do that again, though," he said and made a mental note at the sensitivity of certain parts of her body.

She nodded, and the crisis was averted.

Silence worked its way back into the cockpit and Saz was very careful to not bother her lekku, despite the fact they hung so close to him. In fact, he was careful to not do much of anything when she surprised him once more by engaging him into a conversation he did not expect.

"Who is she?" she asked.

Saz did not understand for a moment, then looked to her carefully holding Alexis's ID card between her fingers, the profile of her face showing her reverence for the question.

His eyes dulled slightly and she felt his body tighten under her. "Someone very important to me," he replied after a short silence.

"Does she live...somewhere among the stars?" she asked cautiously.

Saz's answer was once more delayed. "No."

Aveyla exhaled slowly and carefully let the card hang back in its place, looking forward. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Yeah, so am I," he replied.

There was more silence, yet far more uncomfortable than before. Saz's eyes stayed on the ID card and it became his focus, yet it was obvious that it was now Aveyla that seemed disturbed and could not stand the calm.

"How long am I to stay here?" she asked.

Saz went deeper into melancholy. "I don't know."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"I don't know."

"Why did you bring me here in the first place?"

"I don't know, dammit! Okay?" he lashed out and snorted heavily, looking out the side of the cockpit in annoyance to her questions. That made him feel guilty, as they were all fair questions. She did not move or respond, but seemed to accept his response in her usual, timid way.

That annoyed him even more.

"Some very important people are willing to pay a lot of money to have you delivered to them. That's what I was supposed to do," he repeated, to his earlier admissions.

This time, he saw a visible tremor run through her body and it made him sigh. Snatch and grab jobs were always difficult to deal with, but he had never gotten so close to the mark before. He was not lying when he told her that he did not know what he intended to do about her, or even why he was keeping her there. There was just so much he did not know when it came to her, yet he seemed to act without a will of his own. It was a strange sensation for him.

"Will you take me to them then? Soon?" she asked quietly, the back of her head drilling into him.

Saz winced. "I don't know. I haven't even contacted them about it. I just don't know," he replied and buried his mouth into his hand, rubbing his rough whiskers into his palm as he tortured himself mentally. The atmosphere in the ship seemed far more toxic than anything that lingered outside. There was no good reason for him to have kept her for so long, or to have hidden her from Utility, yet due to their distance and the fact she had never engaged him, it had never forced him to act. In a way, he was just as guilty of imprisonment as those he had rescued her from, yet he did so with jokes and ambiguity instead of chains and collars.

"It's just…been nice to have you around," he mused, staring helplessly out through his own reflection in the glass.

Her figure stirred and began to twist, arching around to face him and support her posture with a hand grasping the side of his seat. Her eyes were not malicious, but rather warm and forgiving. It was a blow that shattered any of his remaining defenses and he suffered her gaze, but did not look away from it.

"No matter your decision, I'm grateful for this sanctuary you've given me, Costain Proulx," she said, markedly using his name for the first time since they had met.

He was struck by her. "Saz," he managed to say. "You can call me Saz."

"Saz," she repeated, nodding. She stared at him for a few more moments, searching him for any of the usual darkness that she saw in so many others, but confident she had judged him well. A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips, a crack in the shell of her mask, and she finally let herself relax in the presence of another, regardless of what consequence she would suffer from it. She was too tired of fighting and too tired of running to endure, so she decided to trust him and trust his eyes.

As long as it gave her reprieve, she would let him past her usual defenses, and suffer his will on her.

"Thank you, Saz."

To say the atmosphere was cleansed in the Shed was an understatement. Even after the filtration systems had purged the poison from the air and the environment was prime for life, both Saz and Aveyla remained in the cockpit of the fighter, long into their usual night.

It was unadulterated talk.

Neither of them had enjoyed lengthy conversation with another person in a long time, so there were times of awkwardness and fumbled words, embarrassment and laughter, but also much to be shared. Saz told her of his time with the Empire and beyond, only vaguely touching on the subjects Alexis and Modo Terel, and of the jobs that allowed him to develop technologies into his ship. He talked at great length of his ship and the many systems and upgrades. It was obvious that he was fanatical about the technology, to point that she could barely hold in her smile as he described what each switch and button did in the cockpit. A part of her was jealous that he had such pure, unapologetic passion for his ship, for she could barely think of anything that focused her in such a way. She also wondered if all humans had such attachments to inanimate things, or if he was simply special.

Realizing he had nearly talked her back to silence, Saz made an effort to get her to tell him of herself as well, though her stories were not nearly as animated as his own. She spoke quietly and without much emotion of her life after being taken by Abe'ian, and the subsequent passing to other masters. She spoke of Nal Hutta and Nar Shaddaa in blunt detail, though she could see some of those details bothered him, so she intentionally began to omit some of her experiences to not upset him. It was interesting to see his reaction on matters that seemed so trivial to her, and his silence on ones that cracked her patched resolve. She spoke of Sheon with particular affection and of Master Xerros with muffled disdain. Many of her comments alluded to her desire to keep looking for the Devaronian Jedi, something that was not lost on the technician. Her sparse Jedi training and almost ignorance of their code made many more things apparent to him, though she neglected to tell him anything about the encounter with Darth Maglus's holocron.

Some things were just impossible to describe to others.

Only fatigue on both of their parts broke the congress, and Saz was embarrassed to learn the air had been cleared hours before. Stumbling down from the fighter and making a few extra checks, he witnessed her politely fade away from the hangar and disappear back to her room, though she appeared as if someone had pulled a rancor off of her chest.

She seemed unchained.

With his head rolling with stories of her past and his legs still feeling the weight of her body, he made one last check of the filtration systems and the levels of toxicity in the air before heading straight to the shower. In his mind, he realized just how many showers he had been taking since the Twi'lek had come into his life.

Oddly, he noted that most of them had been cold ones.

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