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bright_ephemera
11.03.2012 , 06:32 PM | #25
Chapter 11. Nar Shaddaa: Rescue

Crossposted from the Short Fic Weekly Challenge thread.


I picked my brother up from a rooftop gunfight on Nar Shaddaa. No, I don't know what was going on there. Sometimes with Kirsk it's better not to ask.

While we were picking up and hauling out, half a dozen blaster rifles still firing full rate at us, Jorgan confronted me and an uncommonly ragged-looking Kirsk in the holo room. "Sir, can I ask what we're doing yet?" He glared at Kirsk. None of us had forgotten the uncomfortable revelation of Huttball Nikto Fever fandom.

"Rescuing the pathetically needy," I explained.

"I see that, sir."

"That's all the information I'm running on. Ask him. Anyway, we're leaving now." I yelled up toward the bridge. "Hey, Dorne, I'll take over."

"I can drive," suggested Kirsk.

"Not a chance."

He followed me up to the bridge anyway. And stopped, and, right on cue, softly whistled.

Sergeant Dorne looked up, startled. Her eyes flickered to me. "Sir?"

"Sergeant Dorne, this is my brother Kirsk, who is going to leave you alone until he leaves this ship. Kirsk, this is Sergeant Dorne, and your harassing her would almost certainly end up as a demerit on my record."

"Ooh, incentivize me a little harder, why don't you." He smiled smoothly at Dorne. I whacked him in the back of the head.

"Sir," Dorne said uneasily, "a civilian's presence here is highly irregular."

"I never broke a rule that didn't need breaking, Sergeant. He stays." I stood aside to let her leave, then took her place at the controls. "Kirsk, where'm I dropping you off?"

"Uh, heat signature's a little high right now, um, anywhere. Mind if I lay low with you for a few days?"

"That really is a little awkward on an active-duty ship."

"Things are tight."

That was code for total desperation. "Of course you can stay. Try to behave. My superiors call, stay out of sight."

"You got it. So anyway, her. You've mentioned her once or twice…Imperial defector?"

"Yeah."

"Huh. And they assigned her to you? What the blazes were they thinking?"

"She's Havoc Squad caliber, they tell me. She pulls her weight, I guess." I rubbed my neck. The tension there was spiking. "Believe me, if I had the beginnings of a whisper of an echo of an excuse to get rid of her, she'd be long gone. As it is I keep getting dirty looks for mistreating her."

"Does she know why you hate her with a passion that's leaking all over the visible spectrum?"

"She's got an idea. She doesn't need my life story."

"I guess that's fair. To one of you. Explaining what it was like where you're from would be fair, too. To the other one of you. That's rough, brother."

"No kidding."

"Moving along. This one of those rigs where I have to sleep on the floor?"

"Pfft, no. Get Jorgan to show you a bunk. And don't piss him off, he's a biter."

"Like that's anything new." Kirsk grinned and showed himself out.

*

We were given a minor assignment elsewhere on Nar Shaddaa; truth be told, we were killing time until the next lead on the Havoc Squad defectors presented itself. I got up early on day three, received a minor mission via holo, went out to round people up. Passing by the mess I suddenly heard Kirsk laughing alongside this bright musical laugh that stuck me in place for half a second before I got a hold of myself.

I poked my head in and saw Kirsk sitting opposite Sergeant Dorne. Kirsk appeared to be in fine form. Dorne turned to me and the cheer on her face died. She recovered a fake polite smile a second later. "Sir."

"Sergeant." I nodded. "Kirsk."

"I was just telling your sergeant here about that time on Coruscant when for complex but very compelling reasons I was hired to impersonate a professor's assistant for one of their biochem lectures. Absolute worst stimchem trip I've had in my life."

"I've helped him identify two brushes with death he didn't even know he had had, going through that laboratory setup," said Dorne. "I'm not sure what to say about the safety standards of the Institute."

"I know what to say," said Kirsk. "Thank the stars I'm not an academic man." He finished off a glass of something or other. "Anyway, big brother, you after something?"

"Yeah, actually. I need Dorne in the field. Jorgan and Forex are already good to go."

Dorne leaped to her feet. "Of course, sir," she said hurriedly, and rushed past me.

"Well," said Kirsk, watching her go. "She's not terrified of you or anything."

"Terrified? Her? Nah. She's just really enthusiastic about orders."

"Whatever you say," he said, cool and skeptical.

"I gotta be out for the day. You sticking around?"

"No way I'm showing my face on this planet anytime soon. Yeah, I'll stay here, hold down the fort."

"No joyrides."

"Dammit, Vierce."

"Get your own rig."

"I did. It got stolen."

"Someday you'll have to fill me in on that story."

"Someday. Get a move on."

*

Kirsk greeted us back at the ship that evening with an elaborate Tionese spread which, a check of the comm logs confirmed, was fast-food delivery charged to my account. Delicious, anyway. M1-4X stuck around to chatter with the rest of us until supper was cleared.

Kirsk excused himself after a while and, with an unobtrusive gesture, signaled me to follow him. He led me into my own quarters and brought up the console.

"So I was being an irresponsible security risk because the antique file system you guys have on this ship is mesmerizing. I couldn't resist."

"Kirsk, if you compromised classified information you know I'm gonna have to-"

He raised one hand, typing with the other. "Nothing like that, nothing like that. I think. So I was skimming things and I spotted something wrapped up tight in some mad encryption. Imperial encryption."

My stomach flopped. "Dorne?"

"Addressed to her, though it's been sitting there eighteen hours and no one's opened it that I could see. I'm not sure she knows it's there yet."

"What's inside? Imp crypto's a specialty of yours, you must know."

"But of course." With a flourish Kirsk pulled up a little holo of a blond guy about our age.

"Elara," said the recorded message boy. "It's me, Aleksei. I…I hope you're well. It's been a long time."

"Boyfriend?" I muttered. Kirsk shook his head.

"I'm sorry to contact you like this, but I need your help. My men and I…we're as good as dead. We're on Nar Shaddaa – we were caught tampering with one of the Hutts' operations. We never dreamed the slugs would have so much security."

"Poor sods," mumbled Kirsk. "Poor, stupid sods."

"These Hutts are Imperial allies, Elara. There is no rescue team. We'll be disavowed and left to die. Please – you're my only hope now." His image vanished.

I tried to talk around the huge hollow space in my chest. "An ex in Imperial spec ops? I didn't even think of that one."

"Not an ex. I did some sniffing. Aleksei Dorne is her younger brother."

"A brother. Huh. You know if they've been talking?"

"I didn't have time to check. You know I don't do politics nowadays, but this seemed important."

"Don't say anything for a minute." Kirsk only went along with that when he felt like it, but for once he gave me space to think. "Enemy combatant, related to her, here. That's…not unexpected. Right? We had people with split families back home. Collaborators who had some genetic material in common with human beings. It doesn't…dammit, do you have any idea how hard I've been working to not fly off the handle at her?"

"No, actually," said Kirsk, "but recalling your history I can imagine."

"I'm trying to be fair! How am I supposed to be fair with something like this? I should hand the recording upstairs and go clear his whole squad out while they're vulnerable, is what I should do. But her…why would he call her of all people? She's neck-deep in Republic monitoring."

"Things got tight, and she's kin."

"She files reports when she talks to Imperial-sounding shopkeepers. Contact this big is…that's insane."

"Which may be why she didn't even open an Imp-marked message."

"If she's on the level, why not just call someone to review it?"

"Because that request goes through you. Did I mention she's terrified of you?"

"She is not."

"Vierce, you just found out she has a brother and your first reaction was 'hey, can I kill him?'"

"That's my first reaction to all Imps."

"Yeah. It's scary."

"I don't see what I can do here. The kindest thing would be to just lock this so she can't access it, pass it upstairs and let them clean it up, because if I do run across his people it's going to be blood."

"You could try capture."

"Since when do I capture Imps?"

"Since you suited up Republic? Think about it. Show up. Heartwarming family reunion. Grab some souvenir POWs. Everybody goes home happy except the Imps. That sounds practically ideal."

"Or show up, trap, get shot at, Blondie and Blondie skip home happy."

"I thought she would never try to sneak contact?"

"It isn't sneaking if you shot your way through your CO to do it." I ran my hands through my hair. "That's ridiculous, I know, so don't say it. It's just hard. Why'd it have to be kin? Remember when you were little and I told you Imps didn't have families, they just came out of evil spawning pools?"

"Yeah. I was very disappointed when I learned the boring truth. But think about this. Maybe it's legit, the kid's desperate, and we can win you a nice little resume buff plus major squad morale points by checking it out. And if they turn it ugly, well, you and I haven't sprung an Imp trap together in a long time. It'll be fun. But if this guy's for real, he has nowhere else to go. The Empire just shook him off."

"Why would we want them?"

"Because the alternative is executing your squadmate's brother?"

"I can do that, Kirsk. You remember."

He looked away. "Different times, Vierce. A scared kid who just got written off by the only boss he's ever known isn't really the same as a collaborator. This Aleksei guy never had a choice." He let that sink in for a little while. "You could at least hear what he has to say. And don't forget your own sergeant. If you and I got separated, with no real hope of talking again, and then a chance came up while one of us was in a tight spot, and somebody decided to withhold that chance, would you stand for that?"

"You know there'd be hell to pay. But unless these guys are miraculously ready to lay down arms, this'll be the mother of all awkward family reunions."

"That's why you an' me will be there. To keep it polite." He caught me before I could object. "I'm sure you and Sergeant Cannon are good, but you want a security man who knows Imps and knows how to stop you from doing something stupid, and the only person in the galaxy with both those qualifications is me."

"You realize I'm only even considering this because it's you asking."

"I know. So, you going to talk to her?"

"Yeah. I'll talk to her."

"Aw. You're mellowing, big brother. This just might work out."

"Do not get warm and fuzzy on me."

"Me? Nah. My only interest here is in looking out for the downtrodden little brothers of scary justice machines."

I left to find Dorne and call her into the briefing room, where I secured the door. "Sergeant, Kirsk brought something to my attention and I am very interested in hearing your explanation."

"I'm not sure what you're referring to, sir," she said apprehensively, "but I'll try."

I put on Aleksei's recording.

The moment his image appeared she went dead white. She held still listening, and looked to me the second it was done. "Sir, I didn't know. I received it just yesterday, I was debating who to go to for permission to open it. I wasn't just going to start viewing something that might be compromising."

"When's the last time you spoke to your brother, Dorne?"

"Over three years ago. Before I defected. I haven't…I didn't know what happened to him. I honestly never expected to see his face again."

"You realize the military interest in this target."

She flinched a little to hear the term. "Sir, I believe if I speak to him I may be able to convince him and his people to defect. If he's been abandoned as he says, he has nowhere else to go. I can talk him into it."

"Yeah. The possibility has been considered. And since I am related to the worst bleeding-heart in the galaxy, I'm willing to consider arranging a meeting. I will be present for any such meeting, but I'll let you do the talking until and unless there's trouble." Talking, after all, wasn't my specialty in that situation. I took a deep breath. "The peaceful solution is up to you."

She nodded slowly. "Sir, I, I wouldn't have expected…" Then she managed to meet my eyes. "I wouldn't have expected this opportunity. It means a great deal to me."

I nodded. "Yeah. But you know I have to take 'em in no matter which way they go."

"I understand. But I do believe I can bring Aleksei to our side. You won't be disappointed, I promise." She went to leave. When she opened the door Kirsk was right there. She jumped a little. "Oh! – I'm sorry. I, the leftenant was just discussing the message you found. I understand I have you to thank for the generous offer your brother made?"

"Me?" drawled Kirsk. "No, miss. I just spotted the incoming security question. Talking it over with you, looking for a diplomatic solution for your brother, that was all his idea."

"Oh." She blinked rapidly a bit while she processed that. Then she shot one last wide-eyed look at me and edged past Kirsk to leave.

"What was that?" I demanded.

He grinned. "You'll thank me later."

"I don't see what…"

"Oh, I know. But you will."
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