The air duct was cramped - a tight fit even for the slender Raia, who squirmed her way through it on her belly. Every fifteen meters, she came across a grated vent which afforded her a view into the corridor beneath her. A gentle breeze wafted across her face as she ventured further into the heart of the Incarcerator
Strange, high pitched sounds began to fill the air, and she paused to listen. Recognizing the distorted, shrieking noise assaulting her ears as the sound of blaster fire from deeper within the ship, she began moving again, quickening her pace.
. Raia’s thoughts swirled in her mind like the dark clouds of a burgeoning thunderstorm. I don’t know what you’re here for, but I’m going to make sure you don’t get it.
She felt determination swelling in her soul. I’m going to stop you, Layne.
She considered attempting to use her comlink to call for help from the Republic, but knew that by the time any ship arrived, Apocalypsa and Layne would be long gone. There was no help coming. She grit her teeth. She was truly on her own.
Realistically, Raia knew that she stood little chance against Apocalypsa in a fair fight. She was a soldier, true, but had been a doctor first. Apoc had never been anything other than a warrior. Raia knew how to shoot, and she knew how to fight, but her knowledge paled in the face of Apocalypsa’s lifelong experience as a bounty hunter.
This wouldn’t be a fair fight, though. A little smile lifted the corner of the woman’s lips as she remembered the syringe she held sinking into the neck of the Mandalorian mercenary. The needle had easily pierced the fibermesh flightsuit covering Apocalypsa’s skin, driving through her flesh.
It sent a little thrill through Raia to remember the experience, the sight of the helmet knocked askew over the other woman’s face, the furious look in the warrior’s deep emerald eyes as she had yanked the helmet off and threw it at the slender soldier.
Serves her right.
There had been enough sedative in that syringe to kill a fair-sized bantha. Though Raia had only managed to inject about a quarter of the contents into Apocalypsa, she knew that there was very little chance that the mercenary was even conscious, never mind able to fight.
An explosion rocked the air, and Raia instinctively attempted to cover her head with her hands, only to slam them up against the hard metal duct, causing her to wince. Ahead of her, a bit of reddish light shone dimly through the opening in another grate.
After what seemed like an eternity, she managed to drag herself over to it, peering down into the corridor beneath. Her amber eyes narrowed as they focused on Layne, kneeling next to Apocalypsa, who leaned against the wall for support.
Something alerted Layne, and Raia watched as he raised his weapon, then lowered it when the tall form of Apocalypsa’s partner came into view. She couldn’t help but sneer at the armored warrior’s tender gestures toward the downed mercenary. In her opinion, a woman like Apoc didn’t deserve to be treated with kindness.
Layne and the tall Mandalorian exchanged words, but Raia was unable to understand the words they spoke. Mando’a,
she thought. A language as ugly and coarse as the people who speak it.
When the man’s comlink came to life, Raia listened intently as he switched to Galactic Basic.
Her brow furrowed as the conversation reached her ears. He’s going into the inner ring?
The stasis chambers in the center of the Incarcerator
housed some of the most repugnant terrorists who had ever struck at the Republic.
The roster of prisoners housed in the inner ring read like a who’s who of evil geniuses. Men who had created viruses that spread plagues throughout whole planets. Code-slicers so skilled that even the most advanced encryptions couldn’t stop them from reprogramming planetary security, turning a world’s own defenses on its citizens.
There was even a woman who had been caught designing a weapon supposedly capable of unleashing power strong enough to destroy entire star systems. Raia’s slender hands clenched into fists, her eyes tracking Torian’s steps away from Layne and Apocalypsa.
She waited for a moment after the armor-clad mercenary disappeared around the bend in the corridor. Inhaling deeply, she slipped her vibroknife under the edge of the grating beneath her. As the blade scratched against the metal, she grimaced, waiting for Layne to raise his eyes to the ceiling.
Finally, she pried the grating free, wincing as it flipped sideways, falling through the hole to crash against the decking below. Her stomach lurched as she dropped through the opening, landing in a low crouch, blaster drawn. Layne scrambled to his feet, interposing his body between his sister and the bounty hunter who was his mentor and friend.
Raia’s amber gaze was cold as she leveled her weapon at Layne’s chest. Several of the honey-colored braids which framed her heart-shaped face fell over her forehead into her eyes, and as she shook her head to clear her field of vision, she felt an odd sense of detachment come over her.
“Get clear, Layne.” Her voice echoed strangely in her own ears, muffled by the thunder of her heartbeat. Apocalypsa’s head slowly lifted, her clouded emerald eyes staring dully at the blaster in Raia’s hands as the soldier held it steady before her.
Raia grit her teeth. The mercenary’s death would be a victory for justice, and for the Republic. In one shot, she would have her vengeance and end the career of one of the most skilled hired killers in the galaxy. Her eyes narrowed. “Layne, get clear or I will
Torian peered intently around the arched doorway that led into the heart of the Incarcerator
. With a whispered command, he activated the heads up display built into his helmet. His darkened visor came to life before his eyes, flooding him with information about his surroundings.
The helmet’s night vision bathed the area with starlight, affording him a clear view of the circular chamber he stood in. Little lights on the side of his HUD indicated the presence of life forms all around him, some lined against the walls, others kept within stasis chambers formed into a spiraling series of rings that wound ever so inexorably to the center of the room.
He pumped up the reception of his auditory enhancement, then immediately wished he hadn’t. Suddenly the room came alive with the sound of breathing - deep, synchronized breaths taken by each prisoner within their cool metal capsules. The sound rushed through his ears, slowing his own respiration until it matched the incessant rhythm surrounding him.
Torian’s sapphire eyes swept the room, scanning the digital readouts on each stasis chamber. He began to move forward, seeking the one that held Roth Luxel - and their mission objective. He hadn’t taken more than a few steps, however, before the hissing sound of a hydraulic door opening caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up.
Around the room, three hidden panels flew open. Glowing red lights smoldering in the darkness resolved themselves as the eyes of the TRGD droids within. From each hidden recess stepped two of the machines, blaster carbines held in their three-fingered metal hands.
With little warning, the droids leveled their weapons and fired. Verdant bolts of energy sprayed across the room, and Torian dove for cover, rolling behind one of the silvery stasis chambers. The droids stomped across the metal decking, converging on his hiding spot with inhuman haste.
Torian waited until the first of the droids began to clear the side of the tall metal column. Swinging out with his staff, he punched his thumb down on the button in the center of the phrik alloy span. Blue-white lightning played over the droid’s body, shorting out its systems and filling the air with the scent of singed electronics.
He didn’t hesitate as the second of the machines advanced, weapon spitting fire at him. Pulling his staff back and holding it like a club, he swung hard, the heavy cortosis-knobbed end of his weapon connecting with the head of the dead droid in front of him.
Red chunks of plastifiber flew through the air as the blow shattered the eye-panels of the smoking droid, and the head flew off, hurtling toward the one behind it. The second of the droids lifted its carbine, sending off a well-aimed shot that shattered the projectile flying at it.
Torian grimaced as the other four droids opened fire. He twisted and spun, left arm out and in front of him. From his wrist poured a gout of blue and white fire. The droid in front of him let out a noise that could only be described as mechanical rage as the flames licked over its metal body, charring it and melting parts of its internal sensory chips.
The droid’s movements were jerky and uncoordinated as Torian spun his staff in front of him. The blaster fire coming at the warrior was mostly ablated by his beskar’gam
, but he knew it was only a matter of time before one of the shots told.
The Mandalorian’s thought process shifted, his brain working like a combat computer. Time seemed to slow for Torian, his mind considering and discarding a dozen strategies in the span of a heartbeat. Eyes narrowing beneath his helmet, he felt a deadly calm come over him and a surge of confidence filled his heart.
, it was called in Mando’a. A commando state of mind – the attitude that one could do anything, survive anything, and achieve one’s goal. As the feeling swept over him, his lips curved upward in a smile.
!” The mercenary’s cry rang out from beneath his helmet, his legs gathering beneath him as he leapt forward and up, kicking his feet out toward the damaged droid. The thrusters in his boots activated as his legs extended, sending another plume of fire down over the machine as he cleared the air above it.
The whirring and creaking of overheated servos signaled the demise of the droid, Torian’s boots coming down on its articulated shoulders. With another yell, he flew forward, his staff coming down in a devastating arc at one of the remaining droids. The machine jerked its arms upward to block the blow, and its blaster carbine flew from its clawed grip to skid across the floor.
Landing heavily, Torian felt the breath knocked out of him as the droid rushed him, slamming its body into his and driving him back against one of the coldly glowing stasis chambers filling the room. The shock jarred his staff loose from his hands, and he growled low in his throat.
His gauntleted fists pummeled the droid relentlessly, the machines armored plating absorbing each blow. As the droid held him pinned against the transparisteel window in the front of the stasis capsule, he could see the other three approaching, weapons held at the ready.
They opened fire, and he suddenly dropped to his knees, letting his weight carry him to the floor. Ducking between the droids legs, he scrambled away as the bright green bolts meant for him struck his attacker instead, some of them sizzling off of the purple energy shielding surrounding it, others penetrating and lancing through wiring and microchips.
The droid crashed into the stasis chamber, shattering the transparisteel paneling and falling against the man housed inside. Smoke rose from within the silver column as the droid sparked, setting fire to the simple clothing the prisoner wore.
Torian winced as the smell of charred flesh filled his nostrils. Diving for his staff, he closed his fingers around it, coming up in a crouch in front of another one of the stasis chambers. The green script flowing across the readout above it caused another smile to lift his lips. He had found Luxel.
The remaining three droids were fast approaching, their weapons erupting with emerald fire. His hand went to his belt, pulled a grenade free. Hefting it in his hand, he hesitated only momentarily before depressing the button on the side and lobbing it toward his enemies.
With a concussive blast that rocked the metal decking beneath his feet, the grenade detonated. The middle droid was caught directly in the explosion, becoming nothing more than a hail of spare parts that rained down throughout the room. Two of the stasis chambers, their support weakened by the grenade, tipped forward, lifting free from the ground in a shower of sparks and smoky, pale blue light.
The heavy metal cylinders crashed down on the two remaining droids, bowling them over and blocking their field of fire. Torian turned, gripping his staff tightly in his hand. He swung it hard, smashing the transparisteel window on Luxel’s chamber, reaching in with his armored hands to grab the man and pull him from his prison.
The man’s long, dark hair fell forward over his face, tangled in the silver band that encircled his head. Tiny green and red lights blinked on the slender strip of metal that kept Luxel in his comatose state, and Torian frowned slightly.
He didn’t have the time to remove the band and wait for Luxel to wake up. The droids were struggling to their feet, and while their movements were hampered by the damage they had suffered, the weapons they held were no less deadly.
Grunting, Torian hefted the man up, slinging him over his shoulder unceremoniously. Weighed down as he was, it was an exercise of sheer will to get his feet moving, to make his way toward the doorway leading back to the middle ring, where Apoc and Layne waited for him.
Behind him, the droids began to fire again, and he cursed loudly as one of the emerald bolts grazed Luxel’s head, singing his hair. Reaching the doorway, he stumbled through it, turning his body to lean heavily against the door control panel. With a hiss, the door closed.
Loud thudding sounds reverberated through the thick durasteel door as Torian held the button on the wall depressed with his body. The droids slammed themselves against the barrier, causing it to bulge alarmingly. Torian frowned, but the door held. Shifting Luxel’s body slightly on his shoulder, he activated his comlink.
“Mako, seal the doors to the inner ring.” He heard the woman’s confirmation of his order at the same time as the door panel beeped loudly, turning a bright crimson to indicate the door was sealed. His burden heavy on his shoulder, Torian turned, hurrying back to where he had left Layne and Apocalypsa.
Layne’s pale blue eyes bored into Raia’s amber ones, the expression on his face a mixture of outrage and disbelief. “Don’t do this, Rai.” He whispered the words as she held her blaster before her, her finger tightening around the trigger.
“Don’t call me that!” Her voice ground out between her clenched teeth. “I can’t believe you think you’re going to get away with this! Breaking into the prison, killing Republic soldiers!” She gestured with the hand that held the blaster, and Layne tensed, ready to leap.
“I have a job to do, Raia.” He winced as she began to laugh, the shrill sound echoing down the corridor, tinged with rising hysteria.
“A job? You have a job
to do?” She gripped her blaster in both hands, taking a step forward. “Well, so do I. It’s my job to stop you. You’re a traitor, Layne.”
He swallowed past the rising lump in his throat, lifting his own weapon and pointing it at the slender woman who he had once called his sister. “Yeah,” he said huskily, “I guess I am.”
The whine of the blaster bolt and flare of crimson light caught him by surprise. A searing pain ripped through his abdomen as the shot penetrated his gut, and he doubled over, groaning. Red haze swam before his eyes as he collapsed onto the cold floor.
Apocalypsa felt a surge of adrenaline rush through her veins as she watched Layne go down. Her emerald eyes cleared and she narrowed them at the woman who stood in the hallway. Raia stared at Layne, her weapon in hand. She couldn’t remember firing it, but she had.
“I’m going to kill
you!” Apoc’s voice was an animalistic roar as she launched herself toward the slender soldier, her weakened muscles only carrying her part way across the distance. She lunged at Raia from the floor, wrapping her arms around the woman’s legs and sending her crashing to the ground.
Raia felt the blaster fly from her hands as she landed hard on her back. She kicked out with her feet, catching Apoc in the side of her head. As the Mandalorian woman groaned and rolled to the side, Raia scrambled to her knees, crawling over to the mercenary and aiming her clenched fist at the prone woman’s face.
Apocalypsa jerked her head to the left and Raia’s fist hit the hard floor. She howled in outrage as fiery pain shot through her knuckles and wrist, extending upward to her elbow. Her amber eyes were burning with anger as she swung again, this time connecting solidly with the side of Apoc’s face.
Apoc’s vision swam. Her burst of energy quickly fading, she knew she was in trouble. Layne was struggling to rise, his hand clutching the wound in his stomach, blood seeping out between his fingers. Raia scrambled on top of the Mandalorian warrior, her slender hands reaching down to encircle Apocalypsa’s pale throat.
you!” Raia screamed the words into Apoc’s face, her breath hot as it washed over the struggling mercenary’s skin. The fingers digging into her throat were threatening to crush her pharynx, squeezing her esophagus tightly. Apocalypsa’s breath was a whistling gasp as darkness began to cloud the edges of her vision.
“Apoc!” The sound of heavy footfalls signaled Torian’s return. He stood staring in horror, with Luxel draped over his shoulder, watching as his wife’s face began to turn purple, her lips taking on a blue tinge. Carelessly, he dumped Luxel onto the floor next to Layne, then strode quickly forward, rushing toward Raia’s back.
The sound of her name coming from his lips gave Apocalypsa another burst of strength. With every last bit of energy remaining in her body, she lifted her head, slamming it forward viciously. There came a loud smacking sound as her forehead connected with Raia’s face, splaying the soldier’s nose to the side as the cartilage gave way, sending a stream of blood down her face and splattering over Apoc’s features.
Raia shrieked, falling back and clutching at her shattered face, her amber eyes clouded with pain. Struggling to sit, Apoc’s hand went to her blaster, pulling it free from its holster. She lifted the weapon in her shaking hand.
Before she could fire, a bright blue flash filled the air. White lightning played over Raia’s body as Layne’s stun shot caused every nerve in her body to fire at once. Her muscles began to spasm, sending her twitching form to the floor.
In seconds, Torian was upon her, his hands swiftly pulling hers behind her back. None-too-gently, he clapped the energy binders at his belt over her wrists. Making sure they were secure, he turned toward Apoc, who had risen to her knees, leaning forward and taking grateful gulps of air.
“Time to go.” Torian’s statement was more of a command, and Apocalypsa nodded. Layne regained his feet, bending over as he held onto his aching gut with one hand and his blaster with the other. Stumbling toward Apoc, he slipped his arm around her shoulder, and she in turn wrapped hers around his waist. Supporting each other, they stood, waiting momentarily for Torian to lift Luxel’s limp form once more.
With as much haste as they could muster, the trio of warriors began their trek back to the intake room where Mako awaited them, and then to the Flameshrike
, where they could escape to the relative safety of space. Raia’s unconscious form lay on the cold metal decking, and though Layne’s heart was heavy in his chest, he walked away without looking back.