My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 21

"Are we actually looking for the rest of him?" Carth had been asked to keep his eyes open for stranger things in his life.

"Yeah, actually. He says he had some sort of rancor bait scent on him."

"Well, that explains why we haven't found the rest of him, Sarah." Rancors didn't need encouragement to eat people...they just did it naturally, with great gusto. Who needed bait?

"Yeah, yeah. In case you're wrong..." She waved him off, distracted, and he merely shrugged in answer. He could feel Mission's greedy eyes on him...so his 'wife' was distracted, and the teenager was fixated. Why him?

"What?" He finally asked when Mission didn't look away.

"Nothing. I mean, it's been a long time...most people aren't... it's cool, isn't it? To have someone? I mean..."

Poor kid. And he felt like slime lying to her...he wasn't in a long term, death do us part relationship with Sarah. He didn't really have someone, anymore. But he had, once. "Yes, Mission." He sighed, fighting the dread out of his syllables. To her, his wife was alive, breathing, and less than three meters away from him. "It's cool to have someone. One of these days, you'll figure that out if you haven't already."

The twi'lek blushed, grimaced. "There was a guy once." She admitted with an embarrassed chuckle. "My brother said it was a puppy crush. He was probably right...but I'd still like to see him again. I was...young, very young."

"So, tell me about him."

"Zayne? Oh, he's...wonderful. His hair...his eyes... He's a great Jedi."

"Zayne? Zayne...Carrick?" Carth would have taken the immediate identification back, in a second, if he could have. But then, that boy got around in a big way...there were plenty of places that Devid Sinoa, transport pilot, could have fallen over him. Obviously not the same places that Lieutenant Carth Onasi, Republic Navy, had... "I haven't seen that boy in...years." Yes, it had been years.

"You know him?" Mission looked both excited and completely dubious.

"I've met him...a couple of times." At least one of them had bitten Carth in the ass, cost him a promotion, but looking back...he'd do it all again. It had been the right thing. "He was a good kid, Mission. Have to see about getting you back together with him one of these days, if only to say hello again." If that one was even still alive, he'd been an immense trouble magnet. But Carth wasn't going to be the one to go there, to touch that doubt.

"Ah ha!" Sarah crowed triumphantly, and he cringed. Surely she hadn't actually managed to find it? The last thing he wanted to be toting through the Tarisian sewers was something she described as 'rancor scent bait'. That hadn't gone well for its last owner...

"Damn." He whispered, and Mission gave him a conspiratorial grin.

"I think she found it." She whispered back at him, and he gave her a sternly disapproving stare.

Well, no shit. He turned to find his beloved 'spouse' dragging a blood soaked backpack out of a spillway trough. "Oh, hush...a rancor couldn't fit in here, anyways." She scolded when he fixed her with the same sternly disapproving stare that he had just used on Mission.

"She's got a point." Mission whispered again, and he growled. "Hey, I got another question. No rings? You pawn them here, or something? For food? I mean, if you have, me and Big Z have contacts, people owe us...we can probably get them back..."

Sarah opened her mouth to start talking, but he cut her off. "No, it's okay, Mission. I have them...right here." He'd moved his identification tag off of its chain just after the escape pod's crash, but he still had his, and Morgana's, ring hanging from the chain. "See? Safe and sound."

"Good. I know things are hard here, especially for off-worlders stuck here. No gang. But you know Gadon, and now you're with Zaalbar and me. I mean, that makes you pretty much a member of the Beks...right?"

"Right. That's why they've sponsored me to ride one of their bikes for the Season Opener, if we can manage to get its missing part back." Sarah grumbled, staring from the depths of the pack, to the silent tube way ahead of her. "It's that way, right?"

"Right." Mission agreed. "That way to the rancor."

"Good." Sarah picked up the arm, shoved it into the pack, gave Carth a sudden kiss on the lips, and strode firmly in that direction, the pack dangling from her grasp.

"Um...dear? Darling?"

"Stay put. I'll be right back."

Oh, hell no. He rushed after her, catching up quickly. She wasn't running, she was just moving with a purpose, the faintest hint of a 'stop me if you dare' line between her brows. "Sarah, what the hell are you going to do?"

"Feed this to a rancor." She swung the pack merrily, and he bit his lip, doing his best to ignore the fact that the pack had fingers protruding from it. She didn't have to sound quite so pleased with herself...

"I hope to hell you've added explosives for added flavor and coloring."

"Yup, spicy Gamorrean grenades, yum yum crunchy."

"Damn." He couldn't help but laugh as she skipped ahead of him, "You're going to get yourself killed, you know."

"Not today, not today. I have a swoop race to win. Then we can talk."

Win? Somehow it had gone from 'enter, and have pit crew access' to get Bastila, to actually winning this. He had to hand it to her, she seemed to take it all in stride. Memory loss? No problem...she could still break into a sith trooper's armor in moments. Who was he? No problem, welcome him straight into her bed. Find Bastila? Bastila who? Oh, no problem. Kill a rancor with a handful of grenades, an arm, and some bait? Not a problem. Win the season opener for the Taris swoop circuit? Sure.

He felt it before he saw it, and paused in disbelief. That was definitely a youngish rancor, much too big to get out of the room it currently inhabited, imprisoned now by its size. Someone had to be feeding this...keeping it alive... and there weren't many things other than people on Taris... His moment of joy sank like it had never been born. By the suddenly steely stare on her face, he guessed she felt the same.

"Well, then." She growled, "Enough of this, I think." She reached into the bag, fumbled for a second, lobbed the pack into the room behind the rancor, and ran the other direction...back into the tunnel, back towards Mission and Zaalbar. Carth gave chase...she was fast, graceful...he'd never seen her actually move, run before.

"How long..."

BOOOOOOM. The tunnel shook, and dust gusted by him in a choking rush. His ears rang, his chest seized for a terrifying moment.

"That long." She answered, coughing and waving her hand. "I wasn't sure how many it would take...I might have went a little overboard."

He listened, felt, but the tunnel still seemed stable. "Better than underboard." He said, trying to brush as much of the dust and whatever else had landed on him off of his jacket, out of his hair. "Remind me to buy goggles before I take you anyplace else. Maybe a full face mask."

"Wahwahwah." She groused, "It's not like you've never breathed in crap before."

"Literally or figuratively?"

"Both." Her eyes glanced over to a fascinated Mission watching them, and he shrugged. He wasn't comfortable with this, wasn't comfortable with lying to the teenager, to the Wookiee...but he wasn't comfortable with trusting them either. For all of her apparent naivete, Mission was a street rat, attached to a gang. It could all just be an act. The whole thing could just be an act. At least he was certain that Sarah was a Republic soldier, vetted by the Jedi Council, attached to the Endar Spire by their order. But he didn't completely trust the Council, either... it had been their orders that had put Bastila on his ship...and sent that ship out on a meandering and pointless tour of the Outer Rim until they had run into the Leviathan, and her interdiction field here at Taris. "You have that look again." She muttered, and he shrugged. She was the ceaselessly confident and optimistic one, he'd never claimed to be either.

"Go check on your rancor, sister." He said, waving her off before she got started. He wasn't certain exactly what he'd consider her to be to him at this point, but she wasn't close enough to start this. "But be careful."

"Yes, dear." She brushed by him closely, and he accepted the touch solidly, falling into step behind her, blaster at the ready. There was no doubt that his concern was unwarranted when he got another look at the rancor...all of it...everywhere, the ceiling, the walls, the floor, the aerosol mist still hanging in the air...

"Overboard. Damn. I suppose the noise is going to bring concerned and friendly people to investigate?" Sarah looked expectantly at Mission.

"Probably not. That shield's pretty upgraded, and we're far below them. I doubt if they heard it."

"Good. Good." Sarah was moving towards 'that shield', a distortion of light rippling over the elevator entrance at the back of the room. "Ugh. Slicing..." She rubbed her temples for a moment, her gaze empty again. "I..."

"I can do it, no problem." Mission promised, eager to please, and Sarah stepped back, giving her a wave forward.

"So, what are we about to get ourselves into?" Carth asked, "I'm assuming gang members, happy to shoot first?"

"Yeah." Mission's face was screwed up concentration as she fiddled with the terminal. "But not many. Brejik doesn't allow most of them in the deep part of the base... he doesn't trust them."

"'Quality' over quantity, eh?" Sarah mused, her gaze locked on the young twi'lek's hands. Trying to remember, Carth understood. There was no way she was recon without this skill base, it just wouldn't happen. She knew one of the most difficult languages around, she had to have been taught slicing as well.

"Yeah...and it's...open, now." The rippling dissipated, and the door opened to reveal an empty elevator car. "So, I'm guessing we're after the accelerator that these idiots stole last week?"

"You'd be correct." Sarah confirmed, stepping into the elevator. Carth followed, Mission and Zaalbar coming last. "Let's go get it back."

As Mission had stated, the section beyond was mostly empty, and what little resistance they ran into was more than willing to scatter, to flee... And most of the time, they could outrun Sarah...who seemed to come equipped with the recon specialist distaste about letting her targets go once she had acquired them. He was not comfortable with her fixated attention, her sharp, mechanical response to every problem... it was like she clicked into a mode so contrary to the woman he was beginning to think he knew...and liked. But it had to be, and she was certainly getting the job done. And wasn't he the one who had tried desperately to remind her just imperative this was? Told her to do what she had to? She was following orders...his orders. He was the one who needed to man up, and get the job done. These were gang members. They had taken Bastila, and done...whatever...with her. They deserved the methodical contempt that Sarah was willing to unleash on them, that, and more.

"It's probably in the garage." Mission said, pointing in a general direction.

"And by now, the 'quality' people will be there as well. We can get this done with." Sarah's smile was filled with feral lust, and her stride was filled with promise and a lethal grace. And again, that very small voice, deep in Carth's soul whispered...mine.

There were three of what Sarah qualified as 'quality' people standing in the garage... all three twi'lek, two females and a male, and all three of them threw up red flags, warnings, and Carth faded farther back behind Sarah...to be able to watch all three of them at once. The women were a disturbing mix of sex and threat...some men got off on that, but everything about them just left a bitter taste in Carth's mouth and a queasy feeling in his stomach. They weren't inviting, even though they were scantily clothed...it was more of a "look what you can't have." presentation. It was obvious by Sarah's brightening expression that she felt the exact same way, and answered it in an entirely different manner than he did. No, she looked...amused, the quirk of a smile deepening the corners of her mouth.

"Oh, how very precious." She mocked, her voice as deep and gravelly as the one she growled with in her nightmares.

"So." The male began, shushing the women with a quick flick of his wrist...gaining Sarah's predatory grin focused on him. "You must be Sarah. The pazaak queen...amazingly stuck here after the blockade came up. Well after. And, in spite of the fact that you have a skill...you're here with Gadon's pet mascot...why? Oh, I think I know..."

The amusement vanished off of Sarah's face, it became very still, very cold, very set...dead. "They promised you the woman, didn't they?" He continued, apparently unfazed by the death engraved on her features. "You break in here, get the accelerator, ride the bike...and get the woman."

"You missed a step." Yes, that was indeed the voice from the times she tossed and turned, threatening people in her dreams. "Between breaking in here and getting the accelerator...the part where I kill you and the dominatrix twins."

"We've been trying to make contact with you and your..." His eyes moved to Carth, who did his best to look as coldly unimpressed as Sarah managed quite adeptly. "Bed companion."

"Cut to the chase. Growing old here."

"Join us instead. The Beks can't keep the two of you safe, can't keep you hidden...in spite of their name... but we've kept the woman hidden from the Sith. We can hide you. They'll lose interest eventually, and we'll have ex Republic soldiers on the payroll then. Why go back? A pathetic salary? You'd do better than that at a pazaak table...you probably do. Neither one of you is young, dumb and full of cum anymore...I'd say. Reached a certain age, a certain... season. Know better by now, the military life is just a farce. Seen how small your retirement stipend is going to be... yes?"

"I want the woman." That voice, Sarah's voice, sent shivers up the back of Carth's back, and it obviously unnerved the male twi'lek as well. He didn't look nearly as confident as he had just moments ago.

"That can probably be arranged."

"Probably? No. I don't go for...probably. Certainly is a much better word, especially for you, especially now. Give me the woman."

"She isn't here..."

Carth had seen fast before, but he wasn't quite certain just how Sarah had come up with the grenade. He was certain her aim was dead on, and all hell broke loose. His first worry was about Mission, but that one seemed more than willing, ready and able to take care of herself in a firefight, backed up by the wookiee. And Sarah was as inscrutable an opponent as he'd ever seen. Then, as quickly as it all got started, it was silent.

"Wow." Mission marveled, coming out from behind the crate she'd been using as cover. "That was short. I can't believe that snake tried to talk you into betraying the Beks. What a loser!"

"Hmmm." Sarah breathed, the focused malice melting off of her like a shadow under a floodlight. When she lifted her eyes to Carth, they were steady, not icy or disdainful. "Let's get our accelerator, wipe the cameras, and get the hell out of here before more 'quality' people arrive."

"On it." Mission crowed, moving towards the closest terminal while Sarah started to go through the cases scattered across the floor.

"Tell me it's here." Carth said, trying to watch every corner all at the same time. They'd certainly made enough noise...

"Yes. It's here." She shoved one of the cases towards the wookiee. "Zaalbar, carry that, and let's go."


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