The cold glint of stars in the distance filled the viewport of the gold and white BT-7 Thunderclap as it came out of hyperspace. Before it loomed the Incarcerator
, the bulk of the massive ship eclipsing the view of a small planet beyond it.
Apoc stood in the doorway of the bridge, clad in Layne’s old Republic Spec Ops armor. She grimaced as she ran her fingers over the black Republic crest. The metal beneath her touch was durasteel, not Mandalorian iron. Shot through with cortosis ore, it would deflect glancing shots from small arms and lightsabers, but provided little protection from a full-out assault.
The blocky helmet she held in her hands bore almost no resemblance to the one she normally wore. No heads-up display, life form sensors, nor the night vision and auditory enhancements that were built into her beskar’gam
“That looks terrible on you.” Torian chuckled softly.
She sighed softly. He was right, and not just for the Republic emblem painted on it. The armor was designed for a man, not a woman, and didn’t sit quite right on her shoulders or hips. The breastplate felt somewhat confining after years of wearing armor specifically contoured to her own body.
“If I knew I’d be wearing this uniform one day, I might have let that lizard on Taris eat me.” Apoc’s hands tightened around the helmet. “Mass-produced, bulky, uncomfortable, and cheap. I don’t know how Republic soldiers survive.”
Mako turned from her computer terminal. “Scanners show the Incarcerator
is launching fighters.”
Twelve glowing orbs of yellow light shot out from the side of the Republic starship, resolving themselves into a V-shaped screen of Talon-class starfighters. The fighters swiftly approached the Thunderclap, and Apoc slipped the helmet on over her head.
“Showtime, I guess.” With a nod toward Torian and Mako, Apoc moved back to the holoterminal. The blinking light on the side indicated an incoming transmission. Taking a deep breath, she punched the button. The image of a thick-set woman with graying hair and a scarred face appeared.
“Starship Golden Dawn
, this is Lieutenant Fia Tarei of the Incarcerator
. You are approaching a restricted area. Hold position, power down all weapons, and state your intentions.” The woman’s voice was nasally and grated on Apoc’s nerves. The wail of the Thunderclap’s alarms began to sound as the Incarcerator
’s torpedo launchers locked onto the smaller ship.
Apoc waited until Mako had shut the alarms down before responding. “I’m Captain Serame Lidian of the Golden Dawn
. We are transporting a prisoner for insertion into the population.”
“One moment please, sir.” Lieutenant Tarei’s eyes looked off to the side as she tapped into a keyboard out of Apoc’s sight. “Prisoner’s name?”
“Layne Malan. Transmitting holorecord and voiceprint to you now.” Apoc glanced toward the bridge, where she saw Mako give her a thumbs up. “Requesting permission to dock and bring prisoner on board.”
She impatiently waited while Tarei looked over the information Mako had sent. As the seconds ticked by, Apoc could feel her heart beating harder in her chest. With the Thunderclap’s weapons and shields powered down, it was defenseless if the Incarcerator
chose to open fire.
After what seemed an eternity, Tarei’s gaze turned back to Apocalypsa. “Permission granted to come aboard, Captain. An escort will meet you in the hangar bay to make sure the prisoner is secure.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Apoc turned off the holoterminal. Outside the Thunderclap, the fighter screen fell into escort formation. Taking a few steps toward the cargo hold, Apoc paused a moment. She glanced back toward the bridge, where Torian and Mako worked to guide the ship into the Incarcerator
’s docking bay.
She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, then shook her head. There was no need for her to go back, no need for her to say anything to Torian before the mission. Theirs was a mutual understanding, simple knowledge of the others feelings without the need for words. If something happened to one of them, the survivor wouldn’t need a good-bye as a reminder of the love they shared.
She drew her blasters, checked the power packs. Continuing into the cargo hold, she holstered them, smiling as she saw Layne standing by the exit hatch. He was weaponless, dressed in a simple black shirt and pants. His hands fidgeted with a set of energy binders. As Apoc approached, he handed them to her.
“Better put these on me.”
“Hands in front.” He complied with her order as she snapped the bands around his wrists. Purple light flickered over his skin as the binders activated, preventing him from pulling his hands apart. “Remember, look downcast. You’re a prisoner. And… don’t take anything I say personally.”
He chuckled. “Yeah.” His brow furrowed. “Hey, Apoc. Thanks.”
She blinked at him. “For what, parading you around in binders?”
Layne laughed, leaning his head back. “No. For thinking I’m ready for this.” He shrugged slightly, the movement hampered by the binders. “I won’t let you down.”
She smiled beneath her helmet. “I know you won’t, Layne.” She clapped him on the shoulder, then turned toward the door as the ship shook slightly with the impact of landing. Mako’s voice came over the Thunderclap’s intercom.
“You’re on, boss.”
Apoc reached out, her right hand gripping Layne around his upper arm. Her left slapped the door control panel, and it hissed open. Pushing Layne in front of her, she stepped out, maneuvering him down the ramp. From the far end of the hangar bay, three men in Republic military uniforms approached.
They halted before Apocalypsa, saluting. She responded with a salute of her own, glad that her helmet hid her smirk. “Captain Serame Lidian. This disgusting bucket of Hutt drool is Layne Malan.” She pushed Layne forward roughly, keeping her hand tight around his arm. “I’m here to lock him up.”
Layne kept his eyes downcast as the soldiers glared at him with undisguised hate. One of them, a lieutenant with the barest hint of red hair on his head, stepped forward. “I’m Lieutenant Vaile. We’re here to take you to processing, sir.” He gestured for Apoc to follow him. As she walked behind him, the other two soldiers fell into step on either side of her.
Apoc’s steps were sure and swift as she followed Vaile through the hangar bay doors and into the long corridor leading into the Incarcerator
’s administration area. She smiled slightly as she noted the computer terminal about halfway down the hall. A small, boxy mouse droid sped by her feet, chirping to itself.
Raia had a headache. After two hours of restless sleep, she decided it wasn’t worth the trouble any more. She kept thinking about Layne’s letter, and what he said about their parents. She sighed, moving to the door of her quarters and opening the door.
She wasn’t sure if it really made a difference that they had been guarding chemical weapons. Mandalorians still killed them. Mandalorians hired by the Empire. Layne blamed the Republic, but the Republic hadn’t planted the charges that collapsed the hospital’s foundations, bringing the whole thing down in a cloud of dirt and smoke.
She walked down the hall, passing several other members of the Incarcerator
’s crew. She ignored the looks they gave her, looks that she had gotten used to over time. Poor Raia Jesses
, those looks said. How sad and how tragic – her entire family killed, her squadron wiped out, and her brother a traitor.
Raia’s hands clenched into fists at her sides. No, Layne was wrong. The Republic had its reasons for using a hospital as cover for weapons. They would never have done something like that without a good reason. And her parents had been good people, loyal soldiers. She had gone through doctor’s training, then joined the military as a combat medic to be like them, to save lives both on the battlefield and off.
She reached the turbolift at the end of the hall. Punching the button, she waited for it to arrive, crossing her arms over her chest. Layne was a traitor. Not only had he gotten Elias killed, but then he had run off with that- with that bounty hunter. That Mandalorian
The turbolift arrived with a chiming sound. Raia stepped into it. “Administration,” she said softly. The lift complied with a beep. Reaching its destination, the doors opened and Raia moved out, heading down the hall. She furrowed her brow slightly as she saw three men exit the intake room, heading toward the hangar bay.
Prisoner coming in
, she thought. Better get to the medbay so I can do the exam
. She stepped into the intake room. The dark-haired woman behind the desk smiled at her. “Hey, Raia.”
“Hey, Eveli.” She cocked her head slightly to the side. “Prisoner coming in, isn’t there?”
Eveli’s blue eyes glanced down at the desk suddenly, avoiding Raia’s stare. “Yeah. You didn’t hear?”
Raia frowned. “Hear what? I was off duty sleeping.” She lifted her hand and tugged slightly at one of the many braids in her honey-colored hair. “What’s going on?”
“N…Nothing.” Eveli shook her head. “You don’t have to do the exam on this one, Netvers was coming down to do it.”
“If I want to do the intake exam, I’ll do the intake exam.” Raia glared at the other woman. “Shut off the dioxis, Ensign
Eveli grimaced slightly. “Y-yes, sir.” She tapped the buttons on the keypad in front of her. Three red lights set to the side of the large, silvery doors began to blink. A few seconds later, the lights turned yellow, then finally green as the deadly gas beyond was cleared from the halls.
Raia threw Eveli one last dirty look before she hit the button on the wall. The door panels slid apart with a hiss, and she stepped through, turning to the right and entering the medical bay. She stood in the middle of the brightly lit room for a moment, taking a few slow, deep breaths.
The clean, clinical whiteness that surrounded her comforted her. It calmed her as she moved to the metal cabinet against the wall, removing a thin syringe and filling it with a dose of powerful sedative before laying it on the tiled counter next to her instrument tray.
Leaning back against the countertop, she sighed softly, hoping that the exam would prove a distraction from the turmoil in her mind.
Apocalypsa could feel excitement mounting within her as she stepped into the intake room. Her gaze focused on the large, silvery doors opposite the entrance. “RESTRICTED ACCESS” was painted across them in bright red letters. A set of three green lights on the side indicated the absence of dioxis gas in the ring-like corridors behind.
A slender woman in an ensign’s uniform sat behind a desk next to the doors. Her wide blue eyes stared intently at Layne as Apoc roughly shoved him forward, causing him to stumble slightly. “This him?”
Apoc’s slender eyebrow shot up. “Why else would he be in binders, Ensign?” She pointed at Layne. “This is Layne Malan. Traitorous scum. Ran off with some Mandalorians about a year ago. Stinks worse than a rancor covered in Gamorrean grease.”
“Yes, sir.” Eveli’s fingers tapped at the keypad before her. “Sorry, sir.” The computer beeped at her, and she nodded. “He’s to be put in the second ring with the other deserters, sir. He’ll need to be examined by our medical officer, and sedated for the neural inhibitor band.”
Apoc nodded, tugging Layne over toward the doors. She smiled under the helmet as he finally began to resist her a little, adding to the realism by making her drag him. “Let’s get it over with, then.”
“Wait, Captain.” Lieutenant Vaile interposed himself between Apocalypsa and the doors. “We need to search him for contraband one last time.” The two soldiers who accompanied Vaile stepped forward, one of them holding Layne’s arms out while the other patted him down.
Apoc fidgeted slightly while she waited. While every second of delay gave Torian and Mako more time to get into place, it also increased the likelihood of discovery. Finally satisfied that Layne was unarmed and wasn’t hiding anything, Vaile nodded at Eveli.
The dark-haired woman hit the door switch. The silvery panels hissed open, and Apoc gripped Layne’s arm again, propelling him forward and through the doors.
The hangar bay was dark, the lights having been dimmed after Apocalypsa and the soldiers had left it. Torian moved swiftly and silently across the metal floor, his heavy boots making almost no sound. Behind him, Mako was like a little ghost, ducking in and out behind piled plastifiber boxes.
She wore no real armor, just her nerf-leather jacket and leggings with many pockets that held her array of datapads and slicing tools. Her slender blaster pistol hung from a belt over her hips, and her dark eyes sparkled over the rebreather mask she wore to keep from being affected by the null gas they would release.
Torian shook his head slightly, glad that his helmet would filter the air for him, preventing him from having to wear the uncomfortable protective device. Flattening himself against the wall, the Mandalorian warrior edged up to the doorway. As it slid open, he peered around it into the hallway beyond.
The corridor was empty, and he motioned for Mako to follow as he stepped through the door. There it was, about fifteen meters ahead. A small computer terminal was tucked into a small, shadowy recess. As they crossed the open area, Torian waited for the sound of a door opening, a shout of discovery – anything that might jeopardize their mission.
Mako pushed ahead of him, ducking into the tiny alcove. From her pocket she pulled a datapad, plugging the cable dangling from it into the port in front of her. Her dark eyes fixed on the display in her hands, and she smiled, then nodded at Torian.
He smiled. When Apoc gave the signal, Mako would activate her programming. “Nice work.” His voice was a soft whisper.
“Hope Apoc contacts us soon.” Mako frowned slightly. “I’m not likely to go unnoticed for long. After a few minutes we have about a ninety percent chance of being det-“
“Shh.” Torian held up his hand. Mako immediately quieted. After a moment she heard it too - the quiet chirping of a mouse droid and the whirring of its tiny wheels as it traversed the floor. Torian’s hand went up, pulling the staff from his back.
He held it in his right hand, thumb hovering over the small button in the center of the metal span. The sound of the droid’s approach came closer. As it came parallel to the alcove, Torian stepped out, jabbing the end of his staff down at the droid.
It squealed with alarm as Torian released the ion charge within his weapon. Sparks flew from the tiny droid, and its wheels spun uselessly. He kicked it, and it fell apart.
His relief was short-lived, as moments later, a door opened. A voice came spilling from it into the hall. “I’m telling you, Ecker, I heard something.”
Ecker’s reply was intelligible. Torian’s right hand tightened around his staff. He glanced over at Mako, who also held her weapon ready, dark head peeking out from the alcove.
Mako’s comlink suddenly came to life, a short burst of static followed by two short clicks. Apoc’s signal. As two men stepped into the corridor from the open door, Mako’s finger punched down on her datapad. The computer beeped quietly as her programming began to work its way into the system.