On the third day of their repairs, Zak found that he and Jaina were struggling to come up with stalling tactics. They had been rather busy in the past few days, but neither of them wanted the station in full working order, despite the threats made against them if it wasn’t.
They started the day after Jaina had pulled the sensor node from the maintenance shaft and made their report to Darth Pravus on the cause. Zak and Jaina had gone with Petty Officer Nathanial to the fourteenth deck above the operations decks to work on the life support systems for that deck. While there, they had gathered quite a working knowledge of the deck’s layout and what they could do to vital systems to cripple it further.
While Jaina worked on the actual tech work—as her knowledge of modern day systems far outweighed Zak’s—Zak had quietly worked his way around to the control boards under the pretence of monitoring power output into the related systems and then program in the new subroutines once Jaina installed each replacement part.
What he had in fact been doing was writing his own subroutines into the mainframe, with some pre-work help from Jaina, and then hiding those subroutines in a sealed file and storing it in a data packet that would be released into the station’s programming mainframe when triggered from his next assignment.
When they finished there, and the tech had triple-checked everything they had touched for signs of sabotage—and obviously found nothing—they checked in with Pravus. They informed him that Jaina was returning to the operations deck to test out the functionality of the repaired life support system while Zak headed to the deck above to work on the malfunctioning antigravity unit.
After strapping on magnetic boots in the turbo-lift, Zak and Nathanial had proceeded down the deck’s central hall with the troopers in tow to the station responsible for the deck’s gravity settings and power. They set to work on fixing the device with the two spare parts they had brought with them. It was simpler to fix than life support, and as this deck wasn’t essential—as it was not used for any purposes whatsoever, they took their time working on it.
Meanwhile, what Jaina was actually doing on the operations deck was triggering Zak’s first hidden subroutine’s entry into the mainframe and writing a second batch of subroutines that she would send through the stream up to the station Zak and Nathanial were working on where Zak would modify it and stream it back down to her.
When Zak and Nathanial had finished there, they had moved three decks above where the deck was experiencing both life support—in the form of extremely chilly temperatures—and gravity—in the form of three times standard—problems. They spent as little time there as possible, and Zak made sure that he worked on the repairs there as quickly as possible. With Nathanial under the control board finishing the installation of a spare part, Zak watched the control board’s topside for the signal that Jaina had sent another subroutine to him.
When she did, he quickly punched a couple of commands to accept and hide it, and then ducked under the board to assist in the resealing of the access panel.
Then Zak and Jaina had been allowed to make use of the sanisteam and the kitchens before being escorted back to their cell.
Zak had recently taken to hiding his unfinished lightsaber under a loose flooring panel behind the plumbing of the lavatory. It was just large enough to fit the device in diagonally, and Zak and Jaina were able to use their robes as cushions for their heads when they slept.
While they were unrestricted from conversation of any kind while in their cell, neither of them could muster the strength for it after a long day’s work, and instead they curled up and slept. Jaina woke up first some hours later and had woken Zak, only to ask him personal questions he was hoping to avoid answering … ever.
Apparently, in her sleep, she had been able to read her brother’s mind across the vastness of space. In doing so, she was able to glean his distrust of the lack of information anywhere about the Arrandas. She was also able to see his intent to question Tash about it as soon as he got the chance, and the idea formed in her mind to question Zak.
As the guards were outside the cellblock door this shift, Zak shared with her the horrors that he and his sister had been through over the past two and a half decades, leaving out only that he had witnessed their uncle’s murder. It was something he would discuss with no one. Not even his sister. Regardless of how close he and Jaina had become, how much closer they might become, he knew that if he couldn’t talk to Tash about it, then he didn’t think he would be able to tell Jaina.
Then they had gone back to sleep. Only to be woken again a few hours later and introduced to the second day of slave labour by a six-trooper escort to the operations deck.
While there, Zak swiped another welding pack and a small square of metal that matched his lightsaber’s casing material and pocketed them both before anyone could see him. He doubted that even Jaina had spotted it, but then he couldn’t be entirely sure.
They decided this day that they would separate and cover more ground at a faster pace. Each of them had a three-trooper escort in addition to the one tech helper.
Jaina had Nathanial, while Zak had been stuck with the more aggravating and nosey Eriksen. It was a real chore for him to get any of his own secretive work done with Eriksen looking over his shoulder every five seconds, but he managed it.
They started in the long range sensor relay station three decks below the operations deck. Zak had not expected to get to it until the next day, but Eriksen had insisted that it be made fully operational that day. Zak guessed by how insistent he was that Pravus was none too fond of relying on his defenders’ sensors to warn them of dangers.
So he acquiesced. It was a slight alteration in their plans, and once down there, he took longer shutting down the station than was needed so that he could send a discreet message to Jaina twenty decks above them in information storage five.
The station had seven such sections scattered across the station, and they were going to need access to at least four of them for their plan to work. They planned to at least get to two or three on the second day, and the rest on the last.
Then he shut down the station and set about working the repairs with Erikson while Jaina wrote subroutines on her end and Zak mentally formulated the next set to write out for her end when they were done.
The troopers patrolled the hall outside the room at regular intervals. Each of them patrolling alone and each no more than five minutes behind the last in passing the doorway, pausing just long enough to ensure they were both working, and moving on.
When they had made the necessary repairs to the long range sensors, Zak jumped up right away and started the control board back up while Eriksen finished sealing the access panel. He entered his new subroutines, leaving gaps he couldn’t think of considering the speed he had had to think of it, and sent it to Jaina with a personal note for her to fill in the gaps before accepting and merging the routine with the info storage mainframe.
By the end of the second day, they had done all four of the storage stations that they’d planned, as well as the long range sensor nodes and the subspace communications array.
Then they hit the sanisteam and the kitchens again before being returned to their cell for another night of wordless sleeping. It occurred to Zak during this time that perhaps that was one of the reasons Pravus had tasked them with repairing the station—because it would take up most of their day and exhaust them to the point that they couldn’t discuss their own escape plans at the end of the day.
If that was so, he was in for a rude awakening; they still had their silent bond to communicate.
And now, on the third day, having just woken up, Zak found himself face-to-face with their captor. He was crouching on the other side of the ray shield, watching them intently with a smile on his face, as if amused by what he saw.
Zak pushed himself up, careful not to jostle Jaina lest he disturb her early from her sleep. He walked over to the ray shield, looked over his shoulder to see that she was still asleep, then turned back to glare at Pravus.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
“Not your girlfriend, eh?” the Sith said, ignoring the question with one of his own. “By all the stars, I can see that now, can’t I?” The sarcasm dripping from his every word was thick and nauseating, and Zak fought the gag reflex in the back of his throat.
“She’s not,” Zak said.
“Well it certainly looks that way to me,” Pravus said with a grin.
“What? That?” Zak said, indicating Jaina with the bob of his head. “That was for warmth, you perverse, voyeuristic monster. It’s not like you’ve supplied us with proper beds or blankets, have you? And it’s cold in these cells!”
“You have until the end of the day to complete your repair work. As I understand it, the only remaining systems left to be fixed are the hangar doors for the lower pod, the ray shield power conduits for hanger three on the upper pod, and the short range sensors and internal communications.”
Zak nodded to confirm the assessment.
“End of the day. And being uncharacteristically generous of me,” Pravus said, turning to go, “after the two of you are done, your lessons for the rest of the week will be rescheduled.”
Zak suspected a catch, but didn’t bother to voice his suspicions as the Sith walked away.
Jaina stirred and woke moments later. “Come on, Jaina,” Zak urged her. “We have a lot to get done today.”