Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 20

For the first time since being rescued from Toropu, Aveyla was leaving the Shed. With the prospect of finding Sheon and against the advice of Saz, she insisted on going with him to search out his leads. Her powers had grown and her skill with her custom lightsaber was honed with practice, so she could not justify sitting still while he sought out more information on the Jedi Knight she so desperately wanted to see.

Settled into the storage pod with the integrated life support system, she lay meditating as the Peripheral Muse flew through hyperspace toward the system where Saz had his contacts. He did not say where it was and she did not ask. Stretching out with the Force, she tried to find any sign of her mentor, only guided by the short time they were together. Sheon had told her that a Padawan and Master often shared a strong bond through the Force, though she had no idea if that applied to her and Sheon, but she wanted it to be true and strained to find any sign of her in the vast breadth of the Force.

Dropping out of hyperspace and pounding through the atmosphere of the planet, the Muse made for a discreet hangar at the spaceport, securing the usual landing rights and authority. Once settled, Saz helped Aveyla from the storage pod and once again voiced his objection to her coming along, but there was no use arguing with her.

She was remarkably stubborn about this.

"I want you to stay close and keep your face hidden. Lots of eyes and ears in a place like this and you don't exactly 'fit in' among this crowd," he warned, adjusting the hood and robes that she was wearing. Oddly, she suddenly resembled the Jedi from the stories he had heard in his youth, but he let the feeling pass.

She nodded and obeyed.

Walking around the spaceport was a drastic change from the silence of the Shed. Speeders roared by, animals of all types wandered the streets and the shadiest of shadows ducked in and out of alleys. Aveyla was unpleasantly reminded of Nar Shaddaa. This place had the same smell and she could instantly recognize when a slave passed by, even if that fact was hidden from everyone else.

A pain was welling in her chest, so she sought focus with the Force.

For the whole morning, Saz and Aveyla sought out his contacts and scoured the place for information. Most of it was useless, or intentionally misleading information that drew the unaware into buying lies and deceit. Saz called them 'Rignar tails' because they broke off in your hand as soon as you grabbed them.

Many of his contacts had only Rignar tails to offer.

In the early afternoon, after they had eaten some rations they brought with them, the quality of the information improved and Saz had higher hopes. A few of his contacts provided creditable information about a Devaronian Jedi being in a relatively unknown area of the Outer Rim, which cost Saz a great deal of money but came with his confidence it was legitimate.

The cost made Aveyla feel guilty and wonder why he did so much for her, but she continued to follow him without a word.

Their trip had gone without incident until they returned to the docking areas and found a familiar face waiting for them. Kunmi was casually leaning against a crate when the two of them entered one of empty hangars they had chosen as a way to return to the ship while avoiding contact with anyone.

It obviously had not worked.

"Well well, I was starting to think you'd never show up. And you must be the infamous Apparition," Kunmi called and stood straight from the crate. Saz instantly drew his blaster and aimed, but the hooded figure next to him caught his arm, silently signaling him not to fire. He shot her a glaring look, but followed her lead, though he did not move his aim from the middle of Kunmi's head.

The Zabrak woman paid little heed to him and approached, her eyes locked on the hooded Aveyla, stopping only outside of a rational lightsaber range. "So you're the Jedi that everyone wants to get their hands on? I know someone who's very excited to see you," she cooed, canting her head to see under the shadowing hood.

To her surprise, Aveyla obliged her and pulled back her hood, revealing her face.

Kunmi was stunned by her, then a wry smile crossed her face. "So beautiful. I can see know why you're such a...hot commodity. But no lightsaber?" she purred as she devoured the Twi'lek with her eyes.

"Blaster in your face not good enough for you?" Saz growled.

Kunmi smirked. "Not with your aim, Sazzy," she replied.

Sensitive to his growing agitation, Aveyla tried to diffuse the situation. "What is it you want?" she asked, her voice radiating the control that was indicative of the Jedi.

Kunmi returned to her prize and tried to hide the excitement in her eyes. It was difficult, considering just how aroused she was by the young woman before her. "Straight to the point. I like that. I'm sure Sazzy here has told you all about the ExCo on you, but I also know a large Rodian woman who is just dying to see you again. Does the name Fennri mean anything to you?" she asked deviously.

A quiver filled the air around them. The name obviously registered, for Aveyla was visibly agitated, though she tried to hide it in her calm expression. Those memories had been shuffled away in her mind and she had no intention of addressing them.

That resolved reflected in her hard stare. "I refuse," she said.

"I was hoping you'd say that," Kunmi replied and was already in motion backwards. A flash grenade was in her hand and armed, tossed into the air between the two of them. Aveyla's reaction was quicker than Saz's as she stuck her hand out and deflected the grenade above them with the Force, where the bright explosion did much less damage to their senses than intended. Saz was firing into the empty space where Kunmi had been, his eyes burning from the flash, and was cursing loudly at her. Kunmi easily avoided the fire and had already snapped a pair of large goggles into the two studs at her temples. It was obvious that her intention was to capture them, which is why Saz had noticed earlier that her blaster was not in hand.

Sliding behind the crate she had been leaning against, she sent a concussion mine screeching across the hangar floor just before she took cover, where it came to a stop next to Saz. Still slightly disoriented, he did not have enough time to react before the concussive blast launched him into the nearby wall, where he hit the ground and grunted loudly.

Hurt, but not damaged.

Aveyla had avoided the blast with help from the Force, but she looked to Saz in concern and lost her concentration on the battle. "Saz!" she called, yet was already aware that Kunmi had made her next move.

From above, two small explosions caused a large crate to fall from its perch and come down on top of her. From the notch in the front of her armor, the shoto part of her lightsaber snapped up to her hand and ignited, then cut the crate in half in a dazzling red flash. To her surprise, the inside of the crate held several more flash grenades, ready to blind her into submission.

Kunmi was well prepared.

Almost reactionary, Aveyla flinched and Force-pushed the two halves in opposite directions just as the grenades burst into light, saving her from their affect as the crate went crashing into the ends of the hangar.

There was not even a moment to recover.

Kunmi had sprinted from her cover and swung her arm in a large arc, a small weight attached to a thin wire singing from a reel at her wrist and sailing around a thick support beam. The wire made a calculated bend at the beam and darted towards Aveyla, where it wrapped her wrist and bit into her flesh with a clawed attachment. Aveyla yelped and she was pulled off balance as Kunmi yanked at the other end of the wire. With the lightsaber stalled, the bounty hunter took the opportunity to hurl a stun grenade at her.

"You're mine!" she roared in triumph.

Aveyla was surprised by the wire, but turned her attention back to her opponent. Her other hand flashed out of her robes and a small object shot out, headed right towards the grenade. A blue and green blade erupted from the spinning object and sliced the grenade in half before it could explode, but continued on course towards Kunmi, who was obviously not expecting it. The tip of one of her horns was sent flying into the air as the object sailed past her head and she rolled into a poised stance, shaken by the surprise attack and watching the spinning object come back to Aveyla, guided by the Force, and cut the wire holding her wrist. With her lightsaber arm free once more, the young woman awkwardly guided the smaller object back to its place at her side, where the now-bladeless object disappeared into her robes and out of sight.

Aveyla then took a sloppy Soresu stance and glared at her, with Kunmi feeling the broken pace of battle around her.

"That was a surprise," Kunmi snarled. The young girl was full of surprises, but she expected nothing less from a Jedi. Her analysis was that the young woman could not control the smaller object without significant concentration and was probably why she returned it so quickly, but it still brought a volatile, and unexpected, variable to their fight.

This was going to be far more interesting that she initially thought.

Both combatants were planning their next moves when the sounds of sirens began to approach and signal to them that the explosions had alerted the authorities to their skirmish. None of them wanted to be involved with the law on such a shady world in the Outer Rim.

Kunmi was the first to back down, relaxing her stance and reaching up to unfasten her goggles. "Out of time," she sighed, obviously put off by the interruption. "Better take Sazzy and go."

Aveyla continued to look at her distrustfully, but that only seemed to amuse the Zabrak woman. "We'll continue this at another time, my beautiful Jedi. Until then, be a good girl and wait for me," she said playfully, then waved as if they were parting friends and skipped off towards the side door of the hangar.

Watching until she left, Aveyla finally relaxed and recalled her lightsaber blade. She let out a shaky breath and rushed over to Saz, who was moving sluggishly to try and stand up.

"Are you injured?" she asked him.

"Just my pride," he groaned, struggling to stand up but failing even with the help of the wall. Aveyla slipped under his arm and tried to help him, reminded at just how heavy men were, but managed to finally stabilize him.

"Where did she go?" he asked, looking around for Kunmi.

"She left," Aveyla answered. "As should we."

Finally distinguishing the wailing sirens from the ringing in his ears, Saz nodded and stumbled through the hangar with her help, headed towards the safety of the Peripheral Muse.

"Prep for launch, N4. Hot exit," Saz barked as he and Aveyla crunched into the cockpit, not affording the time to get her back into the storage pod.

The ship was coming to life in response. "Technician, several unknown organics were attempting access the ship in your absence," N4 reported.

Saz was still shaking off the fight with Kunmi, but shot a sideward glance to the collapsed bodies laying in the hangar around the ship. "Yeah, I saw that. Have any trouble with them?" he asked.

"They were neutralized before they could affect the ship in any way," N4 replied.

"Good," he said and nearly pawed Aveyla into a panic as he tried to access all of his controls. "Sorry."

The young woman was trying to stay out of his way, but squirmed and squeaked every time his touch brushed her skin. Her pulse was already elevated by the battle with Kunmi. "It's…fine" she lied, tucking her arms into her chest as tightly as she could to not hamper him.

The Peripheral Muse burst from the spaceport and rocketed into space without even getting clearance to take off. Saz was sure he would have to bribe someone the next time he landed about that. Exiting the atmosphere, they found that most of the space traffic was flowing like normal, but that a large, ominous ship was bearing down on their position, not bothering to hide their apparent interest.

"The vessel is a Starwind-class yacht with a transponder identity as the Skvat. I am detecting non-standard weaponry batteries and military-grade deflectors," N4 was reporting, with Saz staring at the ship.

"Doesn't sound like a simple yacht to me. Pirates?" he asked as he checked his own weapons.

"Master Fennri," whispered Aveyla, shivering wildly in his lap as she stared at the ship. Saz glanced at her and tried to calm her with a hand on her shoulder, to which her head only slightly twitched. While he often heard her referring to her Jedi teachers as 'Master,' he had the distinct feeling that this was the other type of 'master' from her past.

"Incoming transmission, Technician," N4 reported.

"Well, let's see what they have to say," Saz smirked and flipped the display on.

A large, ferocious Rodian woman was screaming at them. The flood of Rodian nearly overloaded the speakers in the Muse and Saz threw his earpiece out. He could not understand a thing that was being said. "N4, any idea what any of that means?" he cringed.

"I'm a security droid, Technician," N4 replied. "Not an interpreter."

"Return her to me. Return her to me or be blasted from the stars." Aveyla translated, almost entranced by the Rodian's appearance. For a long time she had been at the mercy of this beast, and she carried the psychological effects with her each day. She could not even rationalize why a part of her was compelled to obey her demands, but she was shaking from the sight.

Had Saz not slipped his arm around her stomach and pulled her back to him, his breath speaking at her neck in calming tones, she might have complied. "You don't belong to her, Aveyla. You don't belong to anyone. You're safe, here with me," he cooed, feeling her surprise and relief at his actions.

Slipping her hand across his arm, she seemed to relax and looked away from the screen, feeling assured by him.

Nothing was said in return.

With a flip of a switch, the display went dark and Saz was glad to not have that ugly face screaming at him any longer. His hand hovered above the controls for the SLAM motors, which would allow him to outrun her ship, but with the tremors still coursing through Aveyla, he had a change of heart. "N4, bring the weapons online," he ordered.

"Be careful," she warned. "Her ship is very powerful."

Saz grinned confidently. "So is mine."

The first burst of blaster fire from the Skvat was extremely accurate, nearly broadsiding the Peripheral Muse evenas it took evasive actions. That fact surprised Saz. Usually, other ships had extreme difficulty even seeing the black fighter, but the incoming fire was tracking their every move and he could not even settle into a firing solution of his own. Another salvo of fire slammed into the side of his ship and knocked them laterally, which really grabbed his attention.

"The shields in one shot? That is non-standard weaponry," he cursed, regretting his choice not to run.

Concentrating more on evasive action than attack, he was faring better in avoiding the fire, but with barely any shields to protect them, they would not take another direct hit. "I'd certainly like to know how their gunners are tracking us!" he yelled, pulling hard on the controls to avoid the fire.

"Technician, I'm detecting a tracking device attached to the hull adjacent to the port missile battery. I believe it is relaying our position to their targeting systems," N4 reported.

"Ah," Saz replied. He briefly remembered the bodies around the Muse before he took off and cursed Kunmi's resourcefulness. "I am so going to shoot that woman when I see her next."

The cat and mouse game continued, with the Muse avoiding most of the incoming fire but never being able to set into an attack run of her own. It was a battle of attrition; one that Saz was going to lose. The fighter was extremely durable for its size, but her pilot was far less tempered for battle. The exhaustion of the maneuvers was taking its toll on him.

He had to act before another one of her volleys caught him in the wrong place.

"N4, give me a volley of missiles ready. I've had just about enough of this," he snarled and was busy entering instructions into the fire control computer.

N4 was processing the information. "Technician, if you are going to execute this maneuver, I highly suggest that you…" it began, but was cut off by a terse pilot.

"Missiles, N4...missiles."

Satisfied with his setup, he gave Aveyla a slight squeeze to get her attention. "Listen, Aveyla, I need you to do one thing for me when I tell you. One single button. Can you do that?" he asked, though found her unresponsive. Her eyes were still tracking the Skvat and she had gone submissive again, much to his chagrin.

"Aveyla!"

The jolt startled her from her trance and she looked around, then over her shoulder at him. "Saz?" she whispered.

"I can't do this all day! I need your help. Can you do it?" he asked harshly as he rolled the ship away from incoming fire, the exhaustion of his acrobatics showing in his eyes.

Aveyla saw his tired face and felt the sweat soaking his clothes. She knew this was all for her and that she was letting him down by succumbing to her fears. Her fears were powerful, but something else inside of her seemed to counteract them.

An overwhelming desire to help him and protect him washed up in her chest. It felt as powerful as the Force. "Yes, I can do it."

Saz was relieved. "Good. You need to push this button when I tell you. Not a second before or a second late. Our lives are counting on it," he said gravely, to which she nodded confidently. "Great, let's give that monster a little payback."

Breaking from the wildly erratic maneuvers, the Muse suddenly straightened out in a direct line from the Skvat. Without hesitation, the large cannons on the yacht sent a burst of fire at them, just as the fighter made its move. Holding Aveyla tightly and bracing themselves, Saz wrenched on the controls and flipped the ship on its axis, despite never losing its forward momentum. As the fighter swung around to face its pursuer, eight missiles burst from the batteries along the ventral hull, blooming out towards the Skvat like a fantastic fireworks display. The momentum from the pivot carried the nose of the fighter away from the other ship just as the incoming fire came upon them.

Inside of the cockpit, Saz yelled loudly for Aveyla and she mashed the button, which engaged the SLAM motors and rocketed the fighter out of the way of the salvo, sending it accelerating quickly into a negative altitude from the yacht, which was now being rocked by the missiles slamming into their hull.

Saz and Aveyla both fought the wave of nausea that overcame them, but soon felt the ship decelerate as the SLAM motors died away to normal propulsion. Gathering their wits, Saz brought the ship around to survey the situation and found the Skvat a distant lump with explosions still burping from the hull. It appeared that not all of the missiles had found their mark, but enough to disable her and send it floating dead in space.

Exhausted, Saz heaved himself back into the seat and groaned, rolling his shoulder to rid himself of the knots he had worked into it from the flight controls. Aveyla was looking at the ship with displaced eyes, but shook that feeling away and turned back to him, obviously impressed.

"That was amazing! You're a great pilot," she cheered.

Saz acted cooler than he felt and silently thanked his instructor. "Naturally. What, did they expect us to fly in a straight line for their gunning pleasure? What kind of idiot flies one direction in space? Space goes in every direction!" he replied triumphantly, despite the fact his stomach was still gurgling from the move and his heart was rolling.

Zipping away from the scene, the Peripheral Muse gave itself a bit of distance from the system before bursting into hyperspace, leaving Fennri behind to wallow in her defeat. Before heading back to the Shed to digest their findings about Sheon, Saz would stop by a maintenance dock and have the transmitter removed from the hull, and assess any real damage that might surprise him before they could get back home.

He also wanted to make sure there were not any more surprises stuck somewhere, though he neglected the fact that a tracking device on the hull was not the only way a resourceful person could track them through hyperspace.

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