Jaina was on the primary engineering deck of the station the next day after enjoying a long, hot sanisteam and donning the tech overalls that had been provided her. Zak was by her side after having done the same.
They had been escorted to the deck by a half dozen stormtroopers, who had since placed themselves at the four entrances and then the two lift banks to the lower engineering deck.
Brakiss had no intention of personally supervising them, but he had warned them that the troopers guarding them were elite guards, specially trained in Jedi combat techniques, and that the tech crews themselves would be keeping a close watch on them for suspicious behaviour.
Out of their cell, they were once again unable to feel anything through the Force, and Jaina was chagrined that she could not communicate privately with Zak via that manner. Jaina knew that the telepathic bond that had formed between them was beyond ordinary Force-telepathy, but the bond itself had been formed through extensive use of the Force, as well as their continual proximity. For that reason, even that psychic link was unavailable to them.
Thinking on it brought her back to what had happened in their cell.
Jaina couldn’t believe that Zak had done something so … intimate. In her burning rage and desire to kill, he had reached into her mind and probed around for something to distract her, and had pushed and pushed until she was so absorbed by the memory of her family on Coruscant during the festival week several years ago.
It was inescapable that over the time they had spent together, they would become close. Jaina didn’t really think it was such a bad thing. She had been close to Zekk in the past, but what could have been turned to dust when he took off for the far reaches of the galaxy, imposing exile on himself. But the way she felt toward Zak Arranda now, especially after what he had done for her, was … different. He had brought their closeness to new levels with that one simple act.
Every time she looked at him she was reminded of what he had done and the feelings and emotions he had triggered and quelled. It sent thrills up her spine, and she found herself longing for his mental touch again to bring those feelings back, and then silently cursing herself for that longing.
Shaking her thoughts from the distraction, she clicked her tongue at the tech in front of them.
While most of the crew on duty on this deck at this time were going about their usual duties, two had been assigned to Zak and Jaina’s discretion—discretion had been the word Brakiss had used. A different kind of thrill coursed through Jaina at that. How often did she get the chance to order an Imperial around?
Their assignment seemed simple enough, Jaina thought.
Apparently, a number of systems throughout the station had been suffering a series of sequential malfunctions. Several decks had lost life support while others had lost artificial gravity or lighting. At least two decks had been evacuated due to the extreme temperatures from the thermal regulating systems. The bay doors for the fighter hanger in the lower dome of the structure were opening and closing almost rhythmically. And finally, the short and long range sensor pods were both offline.
The techs had been about to ascertain why the sensors were offline when Brakiss had told them that Zak and Jaina would be taking over. They weren’t too pleased at the idea of being assigned to assist a pair of young Jedi who they considered less than nothing, but it wasn’t as if they had a choice in the matter.
From what little that had been shared with them thus far, Jaina and Zak had learned that the short range sensor grid was the only system aboard that had a triple redundancy bypass circuit. The techs had said that it should have compensated for any foreseeable malfunctions in the module.
The techs were now engaged in their own private conversation, conferring with each other on possible diagnoses amongst themselves. A third tech nearby had stopped his own work and was leaning against the wall a few feet away casually watching them. Jaina leaned close to Zak in order to privately discuss their own theories about what the problems were.
“I’d say you did a better job than you realised,” Jaina hissed quietly.
“It wasn’t me,” Zak whispered back, shaking his head. “Think about it, Jaina … I’ve never been here before and it’s closed off from the Force. I’d love to take credit for it, but I can’t.”
Jaina frowned at the rebuke. “Then who—” She stopped herself. Who else had been on board the station long enough, who did she knew might have done such a thing deliberately? “Kylia!”
Jaina saw the realisation spark in Zak’s eyes. “A backup plan in case she was unable to get us out herself. She left an opportunity for us to formulate our own escape plan if we were still here, and if we weren’t then it would still distract them long enough from sending a retrieval team after us.”
“Less chatter over there!” their lone watcher shouted at them. “You’re supposed to be working, not having a casual little conversation.”
“How do you expect us to work if we still haven’t agreed on a diagnosis of the problem?” Zak pointed out, turning to the offending techie.
The tech bared his teeth, annoyed at the logic. Zak went on, for their benefit now that the other two were looking on as well. “Jaina thinks that it may be a shorted fuse in the unit itself that shorted out other systems throughout the network, while I’m more of a fan of faulty software leading to glitches in the hardware.”
“Nice one,” Jaina mumbled next to him, barely moving her lips.
Zak turned back to her and his expression softened. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that the problem is a short somewhere, actually. But we may have to fabricate additional damage to some of the redundancies if either theory is going to hold up under inspection.”
“Give me a cutting torch, a weld pack and five minutes,” Jaina replied with a grin. Zak nodded and Jaina waited while he rummaged through the nearby toolbox for the requested equipment. She saw him pocket a smaller cutting tool and a second weld pack, but didn’t question him on it. It was obvious he wanted them to add the final touches to his lightsaber.
He turned around, handed her the torch and slipped the welding pack into her other hand at the same time, unbeknownst to the nearby technicians.
Jaina slung the torch strap over her shoulder, grabbed hold of a ladder rung at about shoulder height, and began to climb up the maintenance shaft that had been opened before their arrival.
“Hey,” she heard one of the techs call out from below. “What’s she doing up there?”
“She’s going to check out the unit, since none of you have actually gotten around to it yet,” Zak replied calmly. Jaina hoped to herself as she climbed that Zak could bluff well.
Zak sighed exasperatedly. “There’s no ‘and’ about it. If we’re going to find out what’s wrong, we’re going to need to pull the control interface unit and perform a proper analysis. Unless you all would like to leave it plugged in so we can see what else it’ll cause to go wrong?”
Jaina found herself smiling at the pureness of the defiance in his voice.
She stopped. She was in position now. In front of her in the narrow shaft filling the space of a gap in the ladder was the short range sensors’ interface unit. The access panel had been pried off some time before, and sat in a slot in the wall beside the unit, no doubt by one of the techs below now questioning Zak on her activities.
Upon inspection, she saw that many of the connective conduits around the device were already charred, including a few of the backup conduits. She wouldn’t have to fabricate much more damage for their story to hold up, but she would still have to do some work.
“If one of the backups caused this problem,” one of the techs below pointed out, “the other two would have compensated and taken its place. We would have been alerted to the problem much sooner.”
“Not if the primary backup fused the safeties in the unit so that it fried the other two backups as well as the primary. Jaina should be able to report the extent of the damage when she comes back down.”
Jaina smiled. It was obvious to her that he was trying his best to make up whatever sounded believable on the spot. He just didn’t realise that he was slightly off base. She’d have to discuss his knowledge base with him at some point, fill in some of the gaps. The question now, though, was whether it was believable enough.
She slipped the welding pack out of her sleeve into her open hand and flicked the tiny device on. A bright purple flame shot out of the end for about a half inch, reminding her in hue just how intense the flame was; at this setting, very few metals could withstand it.
She grasped the device in her whole hand and directed the tiny flame at one of the three unaffected conduits, following along its path back to its source and melting all of the surrounding wires in the process; all the while keeping her eyes shut and her face directed away.
“You …” she heard from below. “Get up there and make sure she doesn’t go sabotaging anything!”
“Blaster bolts!” she shouted loudly, continuing the burn until it began to crackle and snap around the flame. She switched the welding pack off and opened her eyes to inspect her handiwork.
“What the hell was that?” one of the techs called up.
“Jaina!” Zak added frantically. “Are you okay?”
“I’m—” She deliberately cut herself short for no reason other than to make it sound like she’d been interrupted and swore loudly in feigned frustration. “I’m fine. That hurt my eyes though.”
“I was just about to start cutting the connection braces free when a power spike surged through the remaining conduits. They’re completely fried now,” she replied. “I’m going to start cutting.” She hoped her own deception halted whatever thoughts of joining her any of the Imperials were entertaining. She reasoned that they would rather risk her life on a short in the system than one of their own.
“I thought you said the power to that unit had been severed!” Zak hissed at the technicians as Jaina slipped the strap of the cutting torch off her shoulder. “You could have killed her with your recklessness!”
The tone in his voice wasn’t entirely unwelcome to her ears. Though she had known him for a short time, and their bond had been forced through captivity and necessity, she was beginning to feel like she could trust him about as much as her brothers. Though it was put on; that he obviously cared so much for her safety made her feel something she hadn’t in a long time.
The technicians stammered responses, insisting the power had indeed been severed and that they had no explanation for the power spike.
Jaina flicked the torch on and turned her face away again as she began to cut into the supporting braces clipped to the top of the unit. She heard the hiss and crackle of the flame as it burned through the metal, melting it away, creating hairline seams in its wake.
When she heard the third connection point melt away, she turned the torch off and waited a few seconds for the metal to cool before opening her eyes again to inspect.
The cuts weren’t as level as she’d have liked them to be, but without the aid of the Force to guide her hand, and without a protective mask, she had no way to keep track of her movements. To look upon the torch’s flame as it was cutting would burn the sight from her eyes permanently, and she very much liked her sight.
Again, she looked away and switched on the torch to finish the job.
When she had severed the final connections, she switched the torch off again. “Catch,” she called down the shaft before dropping the torch. She watched as it fell and saw Zak’s hands zip out from where he was standing out of sight and grip the handle of the tool, snatching it out of the air.
Nice catch, she thought to herself, and reached out tentatively towards the edges of the sensor unit. When her fingers brushed against the edge, she pulled them away sharply, hissing in pain. Too hot.
She reached down to her belt and yanked her gloves free, slipping the thick bantha hide material over her hands and flexing her fingers.
“Problem?” Zak called.
“Not at all,” she replied. “Just about to yank it out now. Stand back.”
She reached out again, slipping her left hand fingertips along the top edge of the device, and her right hand along the bottom, and pulled. There was a slight grinding sound, and it moved an inch, but did no more than that.
“Oh, for the love of …” she muttered under her breath.
She braced herself with her back against the wall of the shaft behind her, her feet on the rungs of the ladder, her hands gripping the unit in the wall. She took a deep breath, and then tugged hard on the unit.
It resisted her at first; doing nothing more than grind in its alcove as if someone on the other side were pulling back, trying to keep it in its place. Then finally, with a loud grunt of exertion, it gave way, and she yanked it free of its alcove with a sickening screech.
“Try not to break anything,” Zak called up the shaft. “Somehow I doubt that this place is insured for damage-by-Jedi.”
Jaina rolled her eyes and, with the unit clutched tightly in her left hand, began to make her way back down the shaft. When she was out of the shaft, she pushed off from the ladder, letting herself fall the last couple of feet to the deck with both hands cradling the sensor unit.
The nearest tech, a man who could be no older than thirty, reached out towards her and she obliged him by handing over the unit and pulling the gloves from her hands. She tucked them back under her belt and stood there with her hands on her hips, waiting.
“It’s fried,” she said. Then she turned to Zak and smiled. “I was right. And I could have made credits off of that.”
“When we get back home, I promise compensation,” Zak replied with feigned sullenness. He turned back to the tech holding the sensor while his partner fussed over a couple of broken conduit lines coming from the back of it. Jaina noticed that they bore signs of tearing and snapping, rather than having been burned out. One of them shot her a nasty look. It was obvious she had caused that.
“Have you got a spare unit around here somewhere,” Zak began, “or am I going to have to go to the machine storage locker and look for it?”
“Not here,” the younger-looking tech replied. “There are a dozen spare units in the storage locker. However, you will need highest level authorisation for access, and you will not be going unescorted.”
“Oh damn,” Jaina said, her words drowning in sarcasm. She clicked her fingers. “There goes our chance at sabotage or escape, Zak. How ever will we get away from this place now?”
“Sarcasm does not become you, Jaina Solo,” a deep voice said before the tech could mount an equally sarcastic response. Turning, Jaina saw Brakiss standing a few feet away from them. He had obviously entered the deck via the lower level and used a lift tube to reach their level.
As if struck by an electric current, all the Imperial troopers on the deck straightened their backs and stood at utmost attention. Their deathly skull-like helmets looked dead ahead, their feet were together, their shoulders were squared and their rifles were held tightly across their chest plates.
The techs stood likewise at attention, with their arms by their sides, all of them facing their leader, but not really looking at anything. The tech that had taken the sensor unit from Jaina stood at as much attention as he could, with the device still in his hands.
“I see that you have discovered a problem,” Brakiss pointed out.
“Way to point out the obvious,” Zak muttered under his breath. Jaina stifled the laugh that threatened to surface. “Following us, are you? It’d be naive to think you just happened to come down here for an inspection while we’re here.”
“I don’t entirely trust either of you. Despite months of my regime, you both seem stubbornly adherent to the Jedi way,” Brakiss said. “And while you are, at the moment, working repairs, I cannot help but wonder what damage you might try to inflict in the process.”
“We had an agreement,” Zak snapped, holding up his hand with his open palm towards the Sith. Jaina eyed the blood stained bandage wrapped around his hand and suddenly it clicked how he had cut himself: deliberately.
She hadn’t seen it happen, hadn’t even heard them discuss such a thing. At least not that she could remember.
“Sealed by blood; and I did amend the agreement to give us more freedom from your constant presence. How do you expect us to work with you breathing down our necks the entire time?”
“Quickly, I should think. I am just making sure that you are indeed working on what I assigned to you,” Brakiss said. “Like I stated; I don’t trust either of you.”
He turned towards the tech.
“Do you confer with Miss Solo’s diagnosis of the problem, engineer?” he asked.
The young tech nodded. “We examined the damage ourselves before the children were brought down here”—Jaina bristled at being called a child—“and we’ve determined the same thing for ourselves. Something shorted out this system, and its primary redundancy node, which in turn shorted out the secondary and tertiary nodes.”
“It is quite conceivable, my lord,” said the older tech beside him, “that this malfunction, be it a power surge or an act of sabotage, made its way through the power conduits to the distribution node. If so, and the surge was strong enough, the node would have shorted out like the sensor unit and its redundancies, and surged onwards to other systems.”
“But,” began the first tech. “For that to happen, a few safety protocols would have had to have been disabled first.” Brakiss said nothing. “My lord, there are emergency buffer protocols that are supposed to stop such a thing from happening. Under normal circumstances, this sensor unit would have shorted, but the malfunction wouldn’t have spread to other systems while those protocols were in place.”
“And the disabling of those protocols would not have been a malfunction,” Brakiss guessed as the rest of the explanation fell into place. “So sabotage it is. And the culprit of the sabotage has already been dealt with. Estimated time to repair the system?”
“If it was just the sensor unit,” the older tech started. He paused to think about it. “Five hours. All we’d need to do would be replace the sensor module and its redundancy systems. But since there are other systems affected, it could take a while longer than that.”
“Two words,” Brakiss began impatiently. “How long?”
The techs looked to each other and spoke quietly. Coming to an agreement, they looked to Jaina and Zak, who nodded in confirmation.
“Four days,” Jaina spoke up.
“If you want all of those systems up and running in their proper order,” Zak started, “you give us those four days. It would take half that time if we went without sleep, food, or other amenities. Fortunately for us, you won’t deprive us of those necessities, as per our agreement.”
“Unacceptable!” Brakiss repeated in a hiss.
“Okay, let me ask you this,” Jaina said. Brakiss turned to face her and, despite her better judgement, she stared into his cold eyes, fighting the rage building inside her at the thought of the next words from her mouth. “When you discovered that there was a spy in your midst, and you … dealt with her; you would have gone over every last system looking for any way she could have alerted the Republic or the Jedi about the new whereabouts of this station. Yes?”
“Correct,” Brakiss snarled.
“And I assume that you found nothing?” she continued.
Brakiss nodded again, and Zak picked up where Jaina was going. “And, well I won’t assume because you would be downright barvy if you said no, but there are several Imperial ships protecting this station, right?”
Jaina saw Brakiss’s hand clench at Zak’s implication and readied herself to stand between them if the man made to strike him.
“I’ll take that as a yes. So, as I see it, we have plenty of time. Four days you’ll be without long range and short range sensors, as well as station defences and life support systems on a few decks. The ships in the sector can relay their sensor data in whatever fashion possible and defend you from any unlikely Republic attack launched within that time. As for the affected decks, most of them are unused, and those that are being used can have the occupants temporarily relocated to unaffected vacant decks or one of the nearby ships.”
“Eriksen and I will continue working in the absence of the children, your lordship,” the younger tech spoke up behind them. “Three days at the least; three and a half at most, maybe.”
Brakiss bore his teeth, clenched and unclenched his fist again. “Very well,” he snarled. “Three days.”
“We’ll need access to all the decks affected by the life support problems,” Zak said, pushing the limits of the Sith’s patience, “as well as the central control and regulation centre. And we’re going to need detailed schematics on all the systems that we’re going to have to work on.”
“Is there anything else I can provide—a refreshing drink perhaps? Personally made by yours truly?”
“Sarcasm does not become you, Brakiss,” Jaina retorted.
“You will contact me each and every time you are relocating to a new sector of the station. You will be escorted to each sector by no less than you have been escorted here. You will be escorted from your cell at the beginning of the day, and back into it at the end of the day after you have made use of the ’freshers. You will be under guard at all times, and a tech will be with you every step of the way unless I otherwise order it. Am I understood?”
“Yes, sir!” Zak saluted.
The Sith hissed at both of them, and then turned around and went straight back to the lift tube.