My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 44

It was dusk when Sarah climbed up on a ronto and settled into the saddle, leading the way from Anchorhead. The spreading darkness was a blessing, cool and gentle. The ronto's stride was even and hypnotic. The desolation was soothing, it gave her the space to hear herself. To feel Bastila, shuttered and quiet a handful of meters behind her. To sense Carth, not nearly far enough away to even begin to fade from her perceptions. Even to finally pick up Canderous, he was solid, silent, watchful as he brought up the rear. And beyond that...

She stirred from her fugue, tearing her attention from the siren's call of where she was headed, glancing over her shoulder cautiously. "We're being followed." She noted softly, speaking into the commlink pickup clipped to the inside of her hood.

"But they're pretty far behind us, still." Bastila responded after a pause. "Still at Anchorhead. They're Carth's problem right now."

"Hmmm." Not exactly a statement to fill Sarah with comfort. He was there to watch Mission and take care of the ship, not hold off whatever the hell that was. She pulled out her holoprojector, contacting T-3, and through the droid, Carth.

"Yeah, babe?" His image appeared before her. It was clear, but she was close and the droid was quality built.

"I sense we're being followed." He shifted slightly at her words, leaning closer to he droid and tilting his head, eyes narrowing as he listened. "Think they're still in Anchorhead. Just wanted to give you a heads up."

"We're buttoned down tight. Some asshole tried to pawn off a load of gizka on us earlier, but that wasn't about to happen on my watch. Once those damned things get on a ship..." He shrugged. "What did you need from me? Want me to try to head them off?"

"No. If they're foolish enough to follow two Jedi and a Mandalorian into the Dune Sea, they get what they get. I just wanted you to be case they went after you. Or the ship. It worries me." Maybe it had been a mistake to leave them there, they felt vulnerable. Unprotected. They were hers, she was supposed to do a better job than this. She'd let her guard down.

"If I move the ship right now, I might as well paint a target on it." He noted evenly, and she nodded in agreement. What exactly was she asking of him? If anything at all. I want you to be safe. If you aren't, if something happens to you... I will rain down destruction the like of which the galaxy has never seen before...

Bastila cleared her throat, the sound carried over her pickup and Sarah jolted back into focus. "Agreed. I just wanted you to know. To act accordingly."

He laughed, shaking his head. "Look, sister. Nothing could give me a bigger case of the neurotic heebie jeebies than some shifty twi'lek trying to bum rush a box of gizka into my cargo bay. I'm on my toes, I guarantee it."

" careful." The very idea of losing him was like looking into a clutching darkness.

"You too, Sarah. You too. See you when you get back. Onasi out." The image died without a flicker, cut on his end.

"He'll be fine, Sarah. We're undoubtedly the target."

Yes, but nothing would flush Sarah out faster than using Carth as bait. The very idea of it rose panic and a slow burn in her stomach. The very idea of someone using him to get to her was a horror, an outrage. It invited violence on a grand scale.

"Sarah. He's fine." Bastila sighed again. "They're fine. Assume an ambush...against us...and move forward."

"Grrrrh." Sarah growled, slipping her holoprojector back into a pocket, tucking her chin deeply into her hood, and nudging the ronto onwards. If anything happened to him, Bastila would pay first...

"Stop plotting my demise and lead the way, Sarah. We're on a schedule here." Bastila sounded less than terrorized, an edge of amusement clinging to her syllables. Her amusement was shadowed by Canderous, who snorted a soft laugh.

"We're taking the long away around." Sarah stated, shifting the direction that the ronto was headed in slightly. She'd be damned if she led whoever the hell this was straight to the fragment. The visions did show that the buried bay here would be a hell of a place to get caught in, and the fewer people who knew about...who saw...these artifacts, the better.

"That's your call."

Yes, Bastila had that one right. It was Sarah's call. It was another hour before she calmed down, finally feeling their followers leave Anchorhead, and Carth, behind. They're coming. And they were coming fast, obviously choosing speeders or swoops instead of ronto. She clicked her tongue against her teeth thoughtfully, she'd chosen ronto for their silence, they drew little attention, even sand people and jawas weren't that attracted to them. There was a good chance that the three of them could have passed through, unnoticed. Whoever was following them wasn't as cautious, or simply didn't give a damn.

"We'll hear them coming." She said, feeling Canderous glance over his shoulder, back towards Anchorhead. "Maybe we can convince them to pop up before we reach the map fragment. Be juicy targets." How could they have been followed? By who? From where? It had to be from Taris, and the only things that had been in the sky there had been Sith...

She pulled out the holoprojector, reestablishing the link with T-3. "Carth. Send a message to the Enclave. Let them know I think we were followed from Taris." She could hear Bastila draw in a short breath, but what was done, was done. The best she could offer now was a warning. It would have to do.

"Understood. You sure you don't need...?"

"No, we're good here." At least she hoped they were. "Just take care of what you're taking care of." And I'll take care of things on my end.

"Well, I'll keep us on standby, engines warm. If you need me, Sarah, I'll be right there. You know that, right?"

"I know that, Carth." She did. And more and more, she counted on it.

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