Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 22

The Salutation had been in the Meerian Sector for hours, orbiting a gas planet with no redeeming qualities. Once more, Lieutenant Elsan had been disturbed at their disregard for orders and she looked to Captain Bimms with hesitant eyes, but found him standing as confident as ever. It was chilling how he could be so calm when he knew that Naval Command was screaming at them to report along their intended patrol schedule, but she had found, in her years of service to him, that he managed to keep his cool in the most desperate of times.

It was one of the things she adored about him.

"Something on your mind, Lieutenant?" the captain said, breaking her from her trance.

"No, sir. Yes, sir. It…it's nothing, sir," she replied, straightening up and fighting away her embarrassment.

The tall captain eyed his junior officer with cool, blue eyes. She was a good officer and extremely competent, but she wore her emotions on her sleeve and was as readable as a Corellian holonovel. It was a trait that he was always trying to break from her, if only to facilitate her survival in the Imperial Navy.

Despite these flaws, he was rather fond of the young woman.

"You must never contradict yourself, Renalia. Make your decision and move forward. That is how a commander must act," he tutored, shifting his hands stiffly behind his back as he went back to staring at the closed doors. He used her name when teaching her, and enjoyed the intimacy of their relationship. He trusted her, which was a rare case for him, but she had earned that trust, through her unwavering loyalty and adoration of him.

Elsan nodded, her face flushing at the use of her first name. It was another of her habits she could not break, no matter how much she tried. "Yes, sir. It's just..." she began, not sure if she wanted to breach the subject with him. His previous words pushed her forward. "It's just some of the men have been talking. They want to know why we're out here and why you're pursuing this fugitive so."

Bimms had already expected the subject, and seemed unconcerned. "The men will always talk. It is in their nature. It is also their nature to query every little thing they don't understand. It is our nature to proceed in spite of their ignorance," he replied. Her uncomfortable silence and shifting told him that she was not satisfied with that answer and he smiled lightly, still reading her like a book.

He turned to her, which prompted her to do the same. "Lieutenant, you must chose how you wish to walk. We all must walk forward, but would you stride barefoot, letting your feet become filthy and hardened, or would you wear shoes?" he said, though amused by her confusion. "The rank-and-file aboard this ship are shoes. You wear them and move forward. They protect you and you, in turn, carry them with you. Do you understand?"

Elsan nodded, dropping her eyes from his before straightening back up for him. "I think so, sir," she said, loosely hiding the fact that she did not.

Once more, Bimms felt his fondness for her and placed his hand across the top of her arm, rubbing his thumb over the material of her uniform. "You'll be a fine commander one day, Renalia, if you stay with me and learn all I know," he cooed at her.

Suddenly, the closed doors they had been watching opened and a group appeared. It was a security detachment escorting a single, Zabrak woman, who greatly contrasted the white perfection of the Star Destroyer. Bimms and Elsan were annoyed at the timing and turned to the group, regaining their regal postures.

"You are late, bounty hunter. The Imperial Navy does not make its schedule around your insignificant whims," Bimms sneered, looking over the studded woman.

Kunmi smirked, placing her hand on her hip casually. "Good thing I'm not in your Imperial Navy then. I happen to think the entire galaxy revolves around my whims," she replied dryly.

Bimms was not impressed by her appearance, but did find her confidence intriguing. To march onto a Star Destroyer unarmed took a certain level of courage, cleverness and stupidity. With this particular woman, he did not know which she had in more abundance. "Indeed. Leave us," he said, ordering the security officers back out of the door. Once alone, he slipped a sideward glance to Lieutenant Elsan before lifting his chin at the Zabrak. "I will entertain your eccentricities only because you may have something I want, but be assured my patience has limits."

Kunmi laughed softly and casually began to stroll about them and the room, her eyes searching everything, including the young woman at his side. "Such a cold reception for someone who has already given you so much. Did I not practically give you your prize once before?" she said, watching the young woman's agitation at her presence and her hand on the sidearm at her side.

Her smile darkened.

"Oh, do you plan on shooting a helpless, unarmed woman?"

Bimms could sense the agitation in Elsan and knew the bounty hunter was merely having fun, but also guessed that, despite the fact she was unarmed, she was not helpless. The feral look in her eyes alluded to the fact that this woman was never truly helpless. "You were paid for those services, despite the fact you neglected to tell us that the rebels were also in the area," he replied coldly.

Kunmi smiled and broke her playful attention from the young woman. "You mean this big, rigid warship had trouble with a few scraggy star liners and freighters?" she teased, and watched that impact his cool exterior. It amused her.

"Did you come here to play, or do you have the information I want?" he said acidly.

"A little of both, actually, but subtly isn't one of my strong points and a smart girl knows when to stick to business," she replied, giving Elsan an incriminating glance. "I have what you want, but this time, it will be expensive. My price may be more than you're willing to pay."

"Why should we pay at all? I think our interrogation room runs more competitive rates," Lieutenant Elsan hissed. Bimms shot her glance, but was silent and waited for the woman's reaction.

Kunmi slipped her studded tongue out at the officer and grinned. "I think you'll find you're ill-equipped to handle me," she replied.

"I'm repulsed by the fact you come onto our ship and make demands. A rimskink like you would probably sell to anyone who pays the highest price," Elsan snorted, not hiding her prejudices.

Kunmi forced a frown across her face, feigning persecution. "What a terrible thing to say," she said, oddly liking the young woman more and more. She slowly moved closer to them and seductively reached out, running a finger down the arm of Captain Bimms, who oddly did nothing to react, despite the fact Lieutenant Elsan's posture became electric.

"But you're right. I happen to go all ways. It's just that I think you want it more than anyone else, am I right?" she said with a wink.

Bimms was done playing this game. "How much?" he asked pointedly.

Kunmi let her eyes linger on the agitated young woman a moment longer, then took a decidedly more professional tone and gave them some space. "The bounty, of course, but I also want a bonus that is not a number of credits or coin. It's something you can't buy with money," the Zabrak replied.

"How much?" Bimms repeated, not hiding his annoyance.

"I want the Jedi. And I want the ship," she said simply.

Bimms narrowed his eyes and Elsan was instantly broken from her reservations. "Impossible! That ship is Imperial property and cannot be simply given…"

Captain Bimms interrupted her. "That will be all, Lieutenant."

"Sir?" she asked, incredulous to his tone.

Looking to her, he showed none of the earlier affection and gave her the cold order once more, enunciating each word this time.

"That will be all, Lieutenant."

Lieutenant Elsan was shocked and hurt, furious that he would even be considering it, but also knew that he did not often dismiss her for trivial matters, but rather ones he did not want on the record, even with someone he trusted. Somehow, he always managed to make it work in the end, with peripheral damage or someone completely uninvolved becoming entrenched, but this was something she simply dismissed as a small price for the greater good.

She found herself justifying more and more for him as the dark times continued.

"Yes, sir," she said, poorly masking the displeasure in her voice, then stalked out of the room with a sharp glare at the bounty hunter.

Bimms watched her with a detached look in his eyes, realizing he would have to make it up to her later. Then he watched the door seal before turning his eyes back to the Zabrak woman. "Why do you want this Jedi?" he asked.

"Irrelevant," she said smartly.

Bimms curled his lip. "I'm having difficulty understanding you, bounty hunter. You're clearly capable of taking these things on your own. Why even involve the Empire? Don't disappointment by telling me it's merely for the money," he said.

Kunmi flicked her tongue playfully at her teeth, then turned her back to him and clasped her hands pettily at her back. "To get the Jedi, you must lose the man. Me and Sazzy aren't exactly friends, but it would make things more…complicated for my plans if it I were the one that knocked him off. Playing the pillow is much more fun," she explained, intentionally being cryptic.

The man watched her closely. "And the ship?" he asked.

"Hmm, it's a nice ship," she simply replied.

That answer was even more cryptic. He did not like the idea of losing his prize, and the ship itself would be a great asset for the Imperial Navy, but his own personal revenge had long replaced his textbook desire to return glory to the Empire and he was starting to see the loss of the fighter as a trivial matter. It would just make his justifications harder. "The traitor is also in possession of extensive files that the Empire would like back," he noted, almost as a second thought.

"Your files are unimportant to me, and I don't deal with state secrets. Too messy," she said, turning back to the negotiations.

The captain thought about this deal at length, weighing his risk at trying to pry the information from her as Lieutenant Elsan had suggested, though he was confident that she was not lying when she warned of the difficulty in that. So far, she had upheld all of her bargains and proved to be honorable in her own way, despite being a non-human.

She also aroused him, if only for her charisma and exotic beauty.

"I find your terms acceptable, but you'd better have something more than talk to offer," he said, resigned to move forward.

"How about the location of home-sweet-home?" she offered.

Bimms snorted. "I've swept the nearby systems for months and used all of the best tracking technology to find it. With that stealth ship, no one could find his base," he said indignantly.

"You'll never outsmart Sazzy with technology. That man has wires in his brains. But a smart, resourceful girl might bribe certain space docks to keep an eye out for a certain black ship, and insure that a certain special additive be added into that refueling cycle," she explained, watching him try and follow. "This additive carries a special isotope that is traceable through hyperspace."

The man began to follow. "So you follow the trail back to his base, but why wouldn't he notice it as well?" he said, trying to figure out if he needed her after all, upon learning her secret.

"Notice some random space dust? Only if you know what to look for. And the isotope was added in very small amounts, as not to tip Sazzy off. Somewhere in the realm of 40 parts-per-million," she said, much to his scoffing reaction.

"Impossible. Such small amounts would take weeks of traveling the same route to even be detectable," he snorted.

"Months, actually. But while subtly is not one of my strong points, patience is. I know all of Sazzy's hotspots, and the location of his little asteroid base," she said with a smile.

Bimms cursed under his breath. He had always held to the fact that where the traitor was holed up was probably in space, like in an asteroid, but he had never even caught a whiff of its location until now. He knew the woman was resourceful and that she had never tried to swindle him, so he was confident that she really did know where his base was. The trade became tangible and his revenge lingered closely.

He had trouble muffling his smile.

"Done. Give me the location of his base and I will…"

"No," she said, grinding him to a halt and watching the rage overcome his face. "You will follow my instructions to the smallest detail, as if I am your own personal Grand Moff. If you do, Sazzy will be delivered to you, with the location of his base and your precious files. But I want his bounty and your word that you won't go anywhere near the Jedi or the ship, now or in the future. That's the deal," she said with a finality that quelled his rage.

Captain Bimms glared at the woman, offended that he was being ordered around on his ship by a common alien. It was fortunate that he had dismissed his junior officer, as he would have not been able to consider her offer after being disrespected, or risk the aura he commanded as captain of an Imperial warship. A younger version of himself might have stubbornly tried to find the isotope alone or forced the information from her, but with the sweet taste of revenge on his lips, he could not afford to take chances.

He had to trust the Zabrak woman.

"Tell me the details of your scheme."

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