Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 8

Tensions were running high for Saz and Alexis in the days prior to their escape attempt. During their normal shifts, they did their jobs and were careful not to arouse suspicion. During their free time, they were making preparations. Saz used the security droid he had reprogrammed to smokescreen their movements and to hoard data from the station's databanks. A few items from various research centers were also pilfered, though Saz was having a hard time limiting what he would take. It was a delicate balance for him, taking only technologies he felt he would need without arousing too much suspicion. He would take half the station if he could manage it, but chances were high that someone would notice that. The selection process was agonizing for him.

Alexis was busy studying charts and flight information. As a test pilot, she was given broader access than most about the flight paths in the Maw, but an egress was an entirely different story, as only a few were given such valuable information. She was an excellent pilot, but the sheer number of anomalies in the area was going to make their escape difficult, if not bordering on the impossible.

With all of that in her mind, she still knew they could make it. She was an instinctive pilot and flew with flight controls in her hands, not on maps. She had spent time covertly loading flight information into the prototype, but she knew the path would open up to her once she was in open space.

Late one night, Saz was busy working on the security droid with Alexis lying on some crates next to him, staring up at the ceiling with a thousand different scenarios racing through her mind. It was one of the last nights they would be there, safe in their Imperial careers and on their isolated space station. The unknown was a terrifying thing. It was making Alexis reluctant. "Saz, do you think we should stop? I mean, we don't have a perfect life here, but we do have a life," she said, almost speaking to herself.

His response was silence. He continued to fiddle with the inner workings of the droid and dismissed her intuition.

Alexis sighed. She knew he was too far into his plans to stop now, but a nagging feeling of dread had settled in her stomach and she could not get it to go away, no matter how much she yearned to be free with him. Something was telling her it was not going to end well, but she did not want to burden him with it. "The ship is ready. It's been a pain keeping it hidden but I've switched the launch authorizations. All you have to do is get that ship into the right bay and the command deck won't know the difference until after we're already flying off into a Corellian sunrise," she said, inwardly remind herself she had never seen a Corellian sunrise. She made a note to take Saz and look at one.

Saz was still quiet and she turned her head to look at him, finding him resting his arms on his knees and staring at the floor, his splicer waving around in his hand as he thought deeply.

Alexis smiled. This was how she liked to see him, focused and pensive. It was a deep secret of hers that she wanted him to take care of her, despite the strong face she put on. She knew he could do it, and that was one of the reasons she loved him. She felt she could be weak around him and that he would never take advantage of that.

"It's going to work, Alex," he suddenly assured her, looking up from his pensive glance and showing her the determination in his eyes. He had spent too much time planning and there was too much at risk for him to fail.

"I know," she cooed back, dancing her slender fingers across the nape of her neck as she stared back, showing him her total trust in the look in her eyes.

Saz was satisfied with that and nodded, more to himself than anyone, and went back to work on the droid, leaving her to stare at him. She loved watching him work. She loved when he used his hands, in more ways than one. It was satisfying to see him accomplish so much of his own volition, without manipulating someone else and then trying to take the credit in the end.

That train of thought caused her to think about Bimms and the threat he presented, but she was determined to not sour their time together thinking about snakes in the grass. She wanted to get her mind on brighter things. "What are you going to do with that when we leave?" she asked abruptly, looking from him to the droid he had been tinkering with.

Saz looked to her, then to the droid as it stood silently before him. "Who, N4? He's going to be the distraction that makes sure the station is too busy to notice us flying away. He's going to cause a big mess, right, buddy?" he said and tapped on the droids armored body.

"Yes, technician, though I'm hardly excited about the prospect," the droid responded.

Alexis smirked heavily. "I still don't know how you managed to reprogram a security droid to act the way it acts. It's a surprised you're not trying to cram him into some cranny in the ship and take him with us," she remarked dryly.

"Well, I can't take you both and he's not as fun to have on the long hyperspace jump out of here," he said with a grin, making her scoff in response.

"You really are an animal," she said, sitting up and sliding down from the crates. She walked by him and dragged her hands across his shoulder, looking from the droid and then back down to him. The ominous feeling would not shake loose from her, but she did not want him to see it. "I have a flight test today, so I'm going to grab some sleep. See you later tonight," she said, bumping him with her hip playfully.

Saz nearly fell over, but seemed somewhat murky as well in his reaction. He placed his hand over hers, looking up to her. "Be careful, Alex," he said, resonating with routine but tainted by fate.

"Always am, love," she said and pulled her hands from his, heading out from the room and towards her quarters.

Saz had not said anything, but he was also nagged by an ominous feeling of dread. Something was bothering him. He dismissed it as natural anxiety over their escape plan, but he felt an overwhelming urge to run after her and keep her with him; to keep her safe. She would have scolded him playfully and asserted her independence, calling him a brute and overprotective. He tried to bury his mind in his work on the droid but the bad feeling remained.

Later in the day, Alexis was piloting a shuttle with experimental navigation sensors installed and was flying in a tight course around the installation. She remembered the last time she had a mishap when testing some navigation hardware and was being very cautious about her maneuvers, following the mission profile perfectly and keeping in constant with the command deck, just to be sure nothing happened.

When she was at the farthest distance from the station, a problem developed. Her concentration level was elevated, which gave her almost instant recognition when her flight computers began to act strangely. With her heart rate elevated, she tried to correct the errors, but the situation was degrading. The ominous feeling that had plagued her washed over her and she felt panicked, contacting flight control far sooner than she would have under normal circumstances. "Command, this is Echo 1. I'm experiencing reduced flight control. Please advise," she called into the communications device as she continued to try and bypass the problem.

"Be advised, Echo 1, our instruments are all green. Are you declaring a flight emergency?" a voice crackled over the radio, which made Alexis lose concentration for a moment. It sounded familiar and was not the same voice as the control officer that cleared her for departure.

She dismissed it as her ears playing tricks on her and tried to clear her head. "Command, are you sure you're showing all green? I'm finding it very difficult to stay on course and my instruments are biased. Please advise," she repeated, wiping the sweat from the back of her neck.

"Echo 1, are you declaring a flight emergency?" the voice said again, this time distinctly different than before, harboring a underlying tone that made the blood freeze in her veins.

"Lieutenant Bimms? Is that you?" she said, almost breathlessly.

"Hello, Alexis. Having a spot of trouble, are we?" the voice responded. On the command deck, Lieutenant Bimms stood staring at the controls, watching the progress of her mission. She was too far away from the station for him to see the shuttle, but he could imagine the look of terror on her face at that moment. It brought out a wicked smile. "Are you declaring a flight emergency, Lieutenant?" he repeated.

Alexis frantically tried to correct the computer, but nothing was working. Her shuttle was straying off course and away from the station, which was a deadly situation to be in when surrounded by such volatile space. "Affirmative. Echo 1 is declaring a flight emergency," she suddenly called into the radio, though there was a frightening silence coming from the speaker.

"Command! Do you read, Command?!" she cried, turning her attention now to the radio instead of the dead flight controls.

After a moment, the radio called back, but in a completely inappropriate tone for the situation, "Are you frightened, Alexis? Is it frightening out there in the darkness of space, knowing you're headed straight into a black hole?"

The voice of Bimms was cruel, slipping out from the speaker like a forked tongue. Alexis was starting to grasp just how dangerous her situation was and noticed there indeed was a black hole before her, lit only by errant gasses being sucked into it. She was flying right towards it, which clued her to the fact that Bimms had arranged for her disastrous flight, all as a way to get back at her for standing up to him and rejecting him. It was a cruel and petty thing, but Alexis could not find the same strength now.

All she wanted was to be back on the station with Saz, safe and secure in his arms. "Y-yes, Lieutenant, I'm frightened. I'm very frightened so please, help me," she said in a timid voice, feeling hot tears burning her cheeks.

There was a satisfied silence at the other end. "You could have been so much more, Alexis. We could have been so much more. But you scorned me and you chose that…man. It's such a shame," the voice hissed back, making her even more emotionally distraught.

"Salazar, please…" she whispered, hoping his real name might appeal to his humanity. She was desperately wiping the tears from her eyes and clinging to the radio, as if it were some lifeline that could ultimately save her from her fate. The gravity from the black hole was already starting to shake the shuttle and she knew if she did not change course, she would pass the event horizon and could never be saved. Fear was the only thing she thought of, the only thing she felt. There was no pride or anger or even hate, but simple fear.

"Please help me," she whispered again, trying not to notice the way the hull of the shuttle groaned against the currents of the black hole. It was a terrifying sound.

Lieutenant Bimms stared emotionlessly into the controls. He had thought he would feel more satisfaction at the realization of his carefully constructed plan, from the sabotage of the flight computer to the arrangement of his taking the flight deck, but there were no such feelings in hearing her weep into the radio. He felt pity and even remorse. A part of him even wanted to grant her wish and restore the flight controls, but that was simply not possible. Her fate had been sealed from the moment she left the station. He did not even have the stomach to gloat to her, but rather letting his hand fall from the transmission relay and putting his gloved hand over his eyes.

The silence was terrible, even though he knew she was still transmitting. The cold, calculating part of him had set this plan in motion and the compassionate side of him was forced to deal with the moment. He inwardly hated himself and fought back the urge to ask for her forgiveness. That was until he heard her last word come crackling over the radio.

"Saz," she cried, and the transmission ended. The shuttle carrying Lieutenant Alexis Muse was lost to a black hole and never heard from again.

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