Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 25

On board the Salutation, in a restricted room on the security level, Saz was kneeling with his arms clasped awkwardly behind his back and a thick collar around his neck, blood dripping from his face and his breathing painfully uneven. His mechanical arm had been torn from him, destroyed and left in a heap on the table. He had been beaten so viciously that he had lost sight in his right eye and the swelling had nearly closed around it. Fingers were broken and muscles were bruised. A few of his teeth were lying in puddles of blood at his knees. The sharp pains that accompanied his breathing told of deep, internal damage.

The world was a blurry, frightening place around him.

Nearby, Captain Bimms was drinking a tall, clean glass of water. His hands were covered with thick, bloody gloves and a few smatterings of the dark fluid dotted his uniform. He had forgotten just how tiring it was to beat a man with his hands, but he found the experience refreshing.

"Did you know, Proulx, that I took honors in the boxing tournament at the Academy?" he asked after quenching his thirst. His prisoner had not been as talkative as he had hoped, but he knew he had plenty of time. "Took a major twice my size in the finals. Surely you saw the trophy when you ransacked my quarters all those years ago?" With his tall build and broad shoulders, it was obvious that the boast was steeped in reality.

Saz's only response was to cough up some blood and lean heavily against the shackles.

Bimms sighed and adjusted his gloves, walking back over to the pathetic man. Using a control panel, he raised the restraints up higher, which made Saz groan and rise to his feet weakly, though it was better than letting his arms be torn from their sockets. "Come now, no more sarcastic remarks? Perhaps a defiant retort?" the captain said, tilting down to look at the man's bloody face.

Saz breathed raggedly, then burped air from his lips, making a spray of blood spackle Bimm's face. Though barely lucid, he showed a great deal of satisfaction in that.

Bimms snarled and smashed the man with his fist again, watching the force shudder through his body as he fell to his knees again, hunched forward and straining against the shackles. A low groan filled the air.

Tiring of his defiance, the Imperial walked over and grabbed a towel, wiping the blood from his face. He had tortured prisoners before, but few showed the same resolve of the traitor. He began to think of other ways to break him. "Enjoy your little pranks. You'll suffer for what you've done to me. Right now, my bombers are turning your little pirate base into dust. Your ship will be found and brought back to the Empire, regardless of any deal that bounty hunter thinks she has. And when I find your Jedi friend, she will be brought here where I can find creative ways to deal with her," he threatened, checking a mirror to make sure he removed every spot of blood from his proud face.

Saz did not bite. On the contrary, it was a relief to know that Aveyla and his ship had not been taken as well. A part of him wanted Bimms to try and capture her, for he knew just how powerful she had become and imagined the arrogant captain being mightily surprised by her capabilities. In the meantime, he concentrated on not giving him any satisfaction and keeping his mind occupied, calculating mathematical equations and formulating fuel mixtures.

Anything to bury the pain.

Staring at himself in the mirror, Bimms suddenly relaxed. There was easily one thing he could use to torture the man, though he had sworn to never take such a blatant risk. The wisest criminal was often undone by his own pride, but the potential reward and safety of his position eroded that logic. It was too tempting to ignore.

"If you had just taken my offer before, you could have saved yourself this pain, Proulx," he said, much calmer now. The blood was off of his face and he checked each angle in the mirror. "I wasn't lying when I told you that someone had sabotaged Alexis's flight computer and sent her into that black hole on purpose, though that fact never did make it into an official investigation." Saz was not responding and Bimms let a wry smile cover his face.

Turning to the man, he was careful to watch his every reaction. "I'm certain of it, in fact, because I was the one who did it."

For a moment, there was no reaction. Then, Saz began to shiver and his breathing convulsed through his chest. A few aggravated moans came from somewhere deep in his body and his head fell further forward. It was obviously that he wanted nothing more than thrash about, but lacked any strength to do so. The agony of being denied his reprisal was apparent in his posture and it was exactly what Bimms had wanted to see.

He had finally gotten his satisfaction.

"It really was her own fault, you know." he said, walking back to him and standing where Saz could stare at his boots. "I had such expectations for her, but she chose to ruin herself. In retrospect, I saved her from the mistakes she might have made. To associate with a traitor like you? The very idea of sullying her name is an insult."

While Saz continued to writhe in muffled moaning, a musical tone escaped from Bimms's belt and he scowled, remembering that he had explicitly ordered not to be disturbed. Stepping from the prisoner, he walked to the other side of the chamber and pulled his comlink from his belt.

"You'd better have a good reason to disturb me," he snarled into the link.

"Sorry, sir, but we've an intruder on the ship," said Lieutenant Elsan's voice.

Bimms let his eyes wander a bit, then felt a smile touch his face. "Secure the hangars and send a security detachment to apprehend this intruder. Wound her if you must, but I want her alive. If you find the intruder's ship, I want it locked down but not damaged. I want this under control by the time I get to the bridge, Lieutenant," he ordered, keeping his voice low.

"Yes, sir," she said in response.

The Jedi.

Turning around, a lighter mood had taken him as he shook of the conversation about Alexis. He had yet another way to make him suffer. "It looks like your Jedi friend has done the most foolish thing possible. She actually thought she could rescue you from my ship. I had heard the Jedi were valiant, but not even a fool would attempt to storm the Salutation. All she has done is brought me your ship, and resigned herself to incarceration."

He was already walking to the door. As it opened, he lingered a moment and flashed him his ecstatic smile. "I will bring her here, where she can watch you die. And then I will have my fun with her," he said, and then disappeared from the room.

Saz was barely conscious and struggled to breath. The part of him that had wanted him to find her had faded and he only wanted her to escape. A thousand different thoughts flooded his mind, from Alexis and sorrow to the fate of his ship and revenge, but only one thing was able to push its way out from his swollen, parched lips.

"Aveyla…"

Through the corridors of the Star Destroyer, blasters were firing and stormtroopers were on alert. Aveyla was running, fleeing from her pursuers while searching the ship. The Twi'lek had avoided most patrols and did not even have her lightsaber out, but was followed by a squad of soldiers that took a shot at her every chance they could.

Coming around a corner, she found an officer who had been hurrying to her station, who was then very surprised to see an intruder. As she drew her sidearm, Aveyla struck her in the wrist, which disarmed her, then kicked down on her leg and dropped her to her knees. Spinning behind her, she then stomped the woman squarely in the back and sent her flying into the squad of stormtroopers that followed, where they mobbed and scattered in the tight corridoe.

The Twi'lek laughed playfully, then skipped back to running speed, though her triumph was short lived. Another squad of stormtroopers exited a door right in front of her. Though momentarily surprised by her, they organized quickly and raised their weapons to fire, but the speed of the woman was too quick and she acrobatically kicked from the wall and flipped over them, dodging the initial barrage of blasterfire. Even as they turned, one of the troopers suddenly felt his legs pulled out from underneath him by an unknown force, and a jerk of his body across the floor tripped up the rest.

Aveyla had already disappeared down the next hallway, with the lights in the ship beginning to flicker on and off.

The games continued while the warship shuddered and shook around them, until Aveyla ran into a large cargo area, where several crates and other supplies were lining the walls and floor. Her only escape was an exit from the second level control room, but there was no access to the walkway and even a Force-assisted leap would be a stretch.

Before she had a chance to try, the stormtroopers poured into the cargo bay and blocked her exit. Feeling that they had cornered her, they opted to now try and capture the woman, as their captain had ordered.

"Don't move!" said the squad commander, and all blasters were trained on her. Aveyla stood with her hands in the air, slowly turned to them with attentive eyes.

The atmosphere was tense, until Aveyla smiled wickedly and snaked her tongue out at them. "Sorry, boys," she said and her image began to melt away, with arcs of light and energy pulsing from the metal tracking points all over her body and the personal holographic device revealing a devilishly smiling Zabrak bounty hunter. "You've got the wrong girl." At once, she pressed a small detonator in her hand just as the wire pulled her by the wrist up from the floor, where several mines had been waiting amidst the crates. The squads of stormtroopers were consumed by the blasts and Kunmi landed like a feather on the elevated walkway, looking down at the carnage with a grin.

Slipping a comlink from the lip of her pants, she casually walked into the control room and stretched the soreness from her arm. She settled in front of a flickering computer terminal and was awed by the alarms and warnings flashing across the display. Then, she began to rummage through the ship's files.

As soon as she had found what she was looking for, she smiled and raised the comlink to her lips

"I see you've been busy."

Aveyla's infiltration of the Star Destroyer was muted and cautious. While she had a sense of urgency, she also knew that her task was distinctly different than Kunmi's. Slipping quietly into the room, she looked at the large collection of equipment, confident she was in the right place. The images she had studied were slightly different than the real power junction, but there was not enough time for doubt.

Kneeling to the ground in front of the largest of the equipment, Aveyla closed her eyes and concentrated, reaching out to the Force with everything she had. Tools and components began to screech along the deck plating and a static energy filled the air. The power systems were affected by her, making the lights dim and pulse, while the loose items in the area lifted from the ground and began to swiftly orbit her, denting walls and breaking rails. A rumble grew within the ship itself and arcs of electricity jumped from place to place, then seemed to fill the air itself.

The Force created a shell around her, and that shell began to eat at the inside of the ship.

As she reached out to the Force will all of her might, Aveyla suddenly felt another presence with her. She shivered as a voice filled her head. "So, you once again draw on this power. Once more you feel the strength it gives you," said Darth Malgus.

"Yes," she admitted, her brown furrowed in concentration.

Malgus laughed. "Good. That is why I have gifted it to you. Use it to crush your enemies. All of them," he sneered, a ghostly image lingered just behind her.

Aveyla flinched, remembering that horrible day when her rage had hurt the one she loved. "No," she said, panicking slightly.

"You cannot deny me. You use this power for your own means. Is this not the actions of a Sith?" he argued.

Aveyla shook her head. "No. It's already hurt him. It must be controlled," she cried, feeling the torrent of energy slip away from her slightly.

"True power does not need control. It should not be restricted! Only when you let it run free, can you truly be powerful," he said, seeming gray and unlike his usual self.

Aveyla could only imagine Saz in pain, his arm crushed by her power. She could only remember the way her heart had sank when she saw him standing in the medical bay, just after they had cut away the flesh that she had destroyed. Her sorrow had created even more sorrow, and she could see the cycle in it. As tempting as this power was, she would not allow herself to let it go unchecked again.

Power for the sake of power led to nothing but devastation.

"No, it must never be that way," she said, her eyes opening slowly. The Force around her grew calm, despite the torrent of the energy and metal that ate away at the ship. "This power may be born from the Dark side, but it does not need to be used for dark purposes. I will decide how to use my power, both Light and Dark, and let my choices be the measure of my fate."

Almost instantly, the shell of energy pulsed in a powerful shockwave that rippled through the ship. The power junction was flattened against the mash of metal and conduits. The systems of the ship were annihilated by the shockwave and the Salutation groaned around her, contorting from the pulse.

Aveyla broke from her trance and exhaled slowly. The room around her was now very different than before, with flickering lights and deformed doorways all around. Unlike usual, she remembered all of her experiences with Lord Malgus and looked over her shoulder, finding nothing but whispers. His apparition had faded, but she knew it would not be the last time they would meet. A part of her already suspected that it was not the true Darth Malgus that haunted her, but rather something else, dark and frightening.

Regardless of its true identity, she felt the strength to resist it and rose to her feet, just as her earpiece came to life. "I see you you've been busy," said the voice at the other end.

Aveyla touched her finger to her ear. "Kunmi? Are you okay?"

"It takes more than a few stormtroopers to bother me, love," she responded and Aveyla felt a smile tug at her lips. She admired Kunmi and was glad that she had decided to help her, regardless of the questions surrounding her involvement with Saz's abduction. "I've found your beloved human. Still interested in playing the dashing knight?" the voice asked.

Aveyla was already navigating her way out of the mangled cavern in the middle of the ship. "Tell me where he is."

Following Kunmi's directions and fighting her way through several patrols, Aveyla cut her way into the restricted room with a slash of her lightsaber. She found Saz hunched forward, kneeling in his own blood and heaving awkwardly. She cried out to him and rushed in, dropping her lightsaber carelessly to the floor and trying desperately to check his condition. He gave her no response, but was obviously breathing.

Looking around, she saw some nearby controls and used the Force to activate them, which jerked him up, to her horror, but then released the shackles around his arms and neck, where he then fell forward into her waiting arms. Embracing him tightly and feeling the sickly smear of blood on her face, she tried to muffle her sobs and buried her face in him, thankful to feel the rise and fall of his chest.

"My hero," he said weakly, which drew a weeping laugh from her.

"I'm so happy to see you again," she said, wishing to hold him there forever. He had no other snarky response and was concentrating on staying conscious, which alerted her to the urgency of their situation.

Sliding under his left arm, she struggled to help him stand. Her lightsaber snapped into her hand and she ignited it, realizing that they had a long way back to the hangar. A look of determination filled her eyes and she swore that no one would touch him. She would make sure of it.

"Let's get out of here," she said, leading him out.

Upon reaching the hangar, Aveyla saw Kunmi picking her metal fingernails with a knife and waiting, surrounded by a pile of lifeless stormtroopers. The Muse appeared safe and a wave of relief came over the Twi'lek, and she shifted Saz's weight on her shoulder as they lumbered towards the ship.

The bounty hunter saw them approach and she took a few steps towards them, holding her arms out in presentation of what they had accomplished. "See? I told you we make a good team," she said, her voice still holding out hope that she could somehow convince the Twi'lek to come with her.

Saz heard the voice and weakly focused on the bounty hunter, then mustered a surprising burst of strength and raised the officer's blaster he carried.

He fired.

The recoil of the blaster echoed for a moment in the hangar, and a single stormtrooper collapsed behind Kunmi, a smoldering hole in the middle of the white helmet. Aveyla and Kunmi both were frozen in place, staring at the assailant and then to Saz. The beaten man's arm fell to his side and the blaster dropped from his bloody fingers, clattering loudly on the floor.

"Still need to work on my aim," he wheezed.

Kunmi had no witty response. The shot had been so close that her ear was still tingling. For a moment, she had thought he would exact revenge on her for sending him to be tortured, for she had never seen such a grave look on him. It had been strangely arousing. A part of her developed a newfound respect for the man, and she secretly abandoned her plan to force the issue about Aveyla.

Feeling the tension, Aveyla dragged Saz to the Muse, where she helped him stagger up the ladder and into the waiting cockpit. Saz appeared relieved to be in a familiar place and was flipping switches with his hand, weakly communicating with a perennial N4 to get the ship ready for launch. The young woman then turned her attention back to the hangar, but found no sign of Kunmi.

Taking a few steps from the Muse, she scanned the area thoroughly, not wanting to linger but not wanting to leave her behind.

Suddenly, a voice crackled over the speakers in the fighter. "I'd get out of here, if I were you. This heap is falling apart, thanks to your beautiful handiwork."

Aveyla bounded back to the fighter and found a display with Kunmi's image, just as a shuttle across the hangar lifted loudly from the floor and darted out into space. "Kunmi?" the Twi'lek said, not hiding a hint of sadness in her voice.

"Three's a crowd, love. It looks you need to get Sazzy to a doctor," she replied, making busy with the controls in the shuttle. Then, a more devious smile came over her face and she looked into the display. "Just make sure to give him some personalized care, okay?" Once again she snaked her tongue out, showing her mischievous mood, and not even Saz could deny her charisma.

"Kunmi?" Aveyla echoed.

"Mm hmm?" the woman hummed, once more busy at the controls of the shuttle.

"Thank you," she replied, smiling softly as she squeezed Saz's arm.

The bounty hunter was caught off guard by the sincerity in her smile, but soon returned a smile of her own before blowing a kiss at them and disappearing into a dark screen.

With Kunmi away, Aveyla climbed into the cockpit with Saz and helped him with the controls. The glass closed around them and the fighter roared to life, then reared back from the shuddering deck and slipped from the cluttered hanger into open space. Aveyla had expected them to make their escape, but found Saz typing a new set of instructions into the flight computer. N4 acknowledged and the Muse circled back towards the Salutation.

"Saz?" she asked, but there was no response from him.

He was barely able to focus on the white form of the Star Destroyer and his labored breathing was sending sharp pains through his body. Shock dulled most of his senses, but he could feel Aveyla's warm touch and her voice distant in his ears. That was enough to help him finish the task before him.

He would get his revenge.

As ordered, the Peripheral Muse took a position above the crippled Star Destroyer, facing the command tower of the ship. The capital ship was listing to the side and sending out a flurry of distress calls, and Saz imagined not many would notice the fighter looming just out of the window on the bridge. Aveyla had damaged the ship to the extent that she had no shields and no propulsion. If her weapons were active, she was in no position to fire them.

She was just sitting there.

On the bridge of the Salutation, Captain Bimms was in a frenzy to manage the damage to his ship. Often times he had heard how formidable the Jedi were, but he was unprepared for the magnitude of destruction brought on in the core of the Star Destroyer. Most power systems were offline and life support and gravity control were barely working. Without propulsion, they were adrift and a visible bulge could be seen in the middle of the warship. Imperial Star Destroyers were designed to withstand all manner of damage from the outside, but there was no design feature to compensate for the immense force released by the intruder.

On a whim, Bimms had glanced out of the main bridge window and noticed something moving unnaturally against the stars. It was the small black fighter that he had so deeply desired, yet now stood as a grave threat to his ship. Normally, not even the impressive fighter would stand a chance against a Star Destroyer, but without shields and weaponry, Bimms knew he was helpless. There was nothing between him and one of the most potent weapon's platforms that the Empire had ever created.

Oddly, he fantasized that the one in the cockpit of the fighter was Alexis, and that her face was covered in tears as she pleaded with him to save her from a black, crushing death. A shiver ran through him. No amount of years had truly healed him of the fate he awarded the young woman, for he had adored her and was almost as devastated as Saz had been upon her death, despite his own dastardly hand in it. At length, he had even convinced himself that it had been some shadowy villain that had sent her to her doom and that he desired just as much revenge.

It even made it easier to see himself as the hero when confronting that villain.

"Evacuate the bridge!" Bimms roared, his voice cracking. The bridge crew was shocked by his sudden order. They had been so busy trying to save the ship that they did not notice the small black fighter looming outside and, while the damage to the ship was immense, they believed she could be saved. They hesitated to follow his command.

"Sir?" said Lieutenant Elsan, deeply confused by the order.

"Clear the bridge immediately!" Bimms howled at them and prompted a panic among the crew. Without understanding it, they rushed away, leaving their captain staring out the front window. Lieutenant Elsan was the last one evacuate, though she stopped in the doorway and looked back to her commanding officer with great reservations. While she had never truly understood the man, she still felt loyalty towards him.

Perhaps something more than loyalty.

"Lieutenant, signal Command for rescue and get everyone home safely," the captain said in a strangely calm voice, looking back to the young woman. "That is your responsibility." The gravity of the order made the young officer waver, but she was taken by the look in his eyes. They were lucid and clear, as if he had discovered the point in his life where everything made sense to him. All of his pompous behavior and condescending observations seemed disconnected from him now. It was as if this was his true self, and she was moved by it.

"Go, Renalia. Quickly now," he said and looked back out the window, tucking his hands behind his back and projecting a regal figure against the blackness of space.

Aboard the Muse, Saz gasped a few painful breaths and leaned heavily to the side. The pain from his torture was unbearable, but he would not allow it to ruin the moment. He was imagining a frantic Bimms howling orders on the bridge, trying to get the situation under control. There was nowhere else he could be. Saz then imagined Alexis in the time before she was killed, which served to focus him.

Revenge was not the most noble of human traits, but it was akin to the heart and as difficult to subdue as love.

"Arm weapons, N4," Saz wheezed, focusing his eye back onto the crippled ship.

"Please designate the desired weapons, Technician," the ship responded.

"All of them," Saz snarled.

The front of the Peripheral Muse blossomed in a burst of weapon's fire. A barrage of blasterfire, missiles and torpedoes were fired as quickly as the craft would allow, sending a constant stream of ordinance into the waiting warship. The power systems on the fighter fell to critical levels from the usage, but nothing would stop the bombardment. The Imperial Missile Boat ripped into the armored façade of the Star Destroyer, tearing the command tower to pieces and sending shredded metal into the space. Some explosions pierced the entire structure and burst out of the other side. It was a terrifying testament to the capability the Empire's prototype fighter, used against the very icon of its great power. The full fury of the prototype left the superstructure of the Salutation's command tower belching atmosphere and splayed out like the bleached bones of a dead animal. Captain Bimms finally met the fate sown from his actions those many years ago in the Maw and Saz finally realized the revenge he had never known.

When the black fighter's weapon's systems overloaded from the simultaneous expenditure of its munitions, Saz finally collapsed amidst the frantic cries of Aveyla, the sight of the mangled bridge piercing the blackness that overtook him and a strange smile on his face. Both ships were without power and drifted away from one another, their commanders' grudge settled, where they could no longer do any harm to one another.

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