STARCHASER

CHAPTER 4



Cyhen was sat quietly in a bar in one of the asteroids of Smuggler's Run, nursing her drink in her paws. She'd made the delivery about two or three days ago and news was circulating about a space battle in the Yavin System between the Rebels and the Empire a few hours after she'd left. The Rebels had won, by all accounts and in her heart she was glad. She wondered if it had anything to do with that weapon that had destroyed Alderaan. She hoped so. That image kept running through her mind and she'd not slept well since it happened and that was one of the reasons why she had gone to the Smuggler's Run.

Her plan was to get so blindingly drunk that she would forget all about it, for a couple of hours at least. She'd made copies of her data and given one to the Rebels on Yavin 4 and the others she had sold to the biggest blabber mouths on the Run, so she had plenty of money to well, throw away. She'd bought a couple of death sticks if things really got bad, but she wasn't into the things normally.

She'd been at the bar for a couple of hours now and the third fight of the afternoon was breaking out over at the Sabbacc table. She yawned in boredom before downing a large portion of her drink. Bars were so predictable, Cyhen mused to herself, thinking about what drink she should go for next. Maybe when she got back to Uvena III, she'd think about hooking up with Lakah again. She'd not seen her for ages.

"A lovely vision of predatory beauty!" a voice said behind her and a Cathor male almost tripped up over thin air because he was so drunk. He sat down heavily in the chair opposite her.

"You're drunk," Cyhen said to the Cathor male. "But so am I! Great, isn't it?"

Normally Cyhen would tell a male that wasn't of her own species to get crushed inside a trash compactor, but the drink was making her feel a little playful. She cocked her head to one side, studying him and even with her mind in a fuzzy state, she recognised that he was faking it. Cyhen, deciding to play along, leaned forward in her seat, unbuttoning the top three buttons of her top as a distraction while under the table she slowly unholstered her blaster. She stroked his leg with her bare foot, all the time raising her weapon above the table. Once it was there, she aimed it at the Cathor's chest and fired while simultaneously saying the words, "Fry, perv."

Burnt flesh caused her to wrinkle her nose as he flopped forward lifelessly on to the table. Other patrons turned to stare at her and with one quick growl and flash of her teeth, they found something else to occupy their attention.

"Darn bounty hunters!" she growled as she rose from her seat, deciding now would be a good time to leave. The room seemed to swirl and spin and she felt a hand clamp on her shoulder. Her blaster still in hand, she shoved the business end into his throat before realising it was Kopek.

Her mood brightened immediately and she lowered the pistol. As she did so, the death sticks fell out of her coat and Kopek caught them in his prosthetic hand.

"Drugs, Cyhen?" he asked, crushing them in his mechanical fingers.

"I don't need them know that you're here," she said, clamping her muzzle on his. He responded gingerly at first, but then let himself go. The fuzziness of the alcohol lifted from her mind as they kissed, the room spinning for a different reason.

***

Kopek rolling over in his sleep caused Cyhen to look over her shoulder at him from the portable computer. They had gone back to the Starchaser, in part because Kopek had not cleaned up Lakah's blood from the decking and because he didn't want Cyhen to see it. She was about to compose a message to Lakah when she found a new message from Darkmoon. She opened it up and read the text on the screen.

Meet me when you touch down on Uvena III.
I've got some bad news for you that I can't tell you in this message.

Darkmoon.


Cyhen's forehead increased in a frown and she glanced over at Kopek, who was still asleep. She began to compose a message back.

Got your message. Meet me at Zane's place.
I've got something that you will find interesting.

Golden


She sent the message and closed the software down as she heard Kopek stir. She could send Lakah a message about meeting up with her later.

"What'ch'ya doing?" he asked, a little sleepy.

"Just looking at my inventory," Cyhen replied. "I have to go soon."

Kopek's ears flattened in disappointment. "You don't have to go right now, do you?"

"Not right at this minute," she said as she padded back over to the bed, her robes slipping off her shoulders as she went. Kopek was wide awake in an instant.

"Good," Kopek caught her arm and pulled her gently towards him.

She smiled seductively at him and kissed him. "You didn't think I'd leave without giving you a proper goodbye, did you?" she yipped excitedly.

***

Cyhen spied Darkmoon and once she had gotten a drink, she headed over to his table.

"You know, Darkmoon, we'd better stop meeting like this. People are gonna talk. My dog might get jealous -" she joked as she took a seat opposite him. The sombre look on Darkmoon's face stopped her in her tracks.

"What's up, Darkmoon?" she asked.

"The supplies, did you deliver them?" Darkmoon asked.

"Yep. I also got something else you might be interested in," she slipped her paw inside her pocket and drew out the data disc. "I picked it up on my way to the drop off."

Darkmoon reached over and took the data disc from her and pocketed it quickly. In return, he handed her a data pad.

"Payment's gone through to your account. You can check it if you want."

Cyhen did so, saw that the agreed amount had been paid in and handed it back.

"There's something else you wanted to see me about -"

"I don't know if you've heard, but the Empire has issued this statement. It's about a friend of yours, Lakah Vete. While you were making the delivery, she was arrested -"

Cyhen felt her stomach harden and a numb feeling spread through her entire body.

Darkmoon lowered his gaze and fixed his eyes on his drink, unwilling to look at Cyhen as he said the words - "I'm sorry, but she's gone. The Empire has taken her out."

Cyhen looked at him in shock. "Lakah's gone," she repeated.

She had not felt this way since losing Byak. She found it very difficult to believe that she would never hear the words, "Hey Lupa," again.

***


The last time Azet had set foot on Rogja, she had been a frightened young wolfwoman evading deadly hunters. This time she was a confidant Dark Jedi with a mission to infiltrate the rebel base, gather as much information on security and weapons as she could and making it easier for the strike force to subdue the base from the inside.

She was disguised as the rogue scout, Lakah and she'd dyed her fur to the dark brown that had been her fur colour and was dressed in clothes similar to what the scout was wearing when Kopek had brought her in. All she had to arm herself with were a couple of blasters, a vibroblade, her wits and of course, the Force. By getting all the information directly from Lakah's mind, Azet knew everything about her. Her personality, her past acquaintances.

The only thing that could give her cover away was the the fact that Lakah had a lover called Kannec. She had sent an assassin to deal with him. She would have preferred Kopek, but the fool was no where to be found, so she had to use a Bounty Hunter, one she'd have to kill after he finished the job so that the deaths wouldn't be traced to her.

She was going to enjoy this, she thought, a real test of her abilities. Fooling Imperials was easy. They were so stuck up and arrogant that all you had to do is make them think they own you and then they don't question your motives until it's too late for them to do anything. That was what Azet both liked and disliked about Imperials. They were so easy to manipulate, so confident in their self illusion that they were all powerful and that nothing could topple them that they don't even realise when they had a Jedi right under their nose.

The area around the spaceport had changed since the last time she had set foot there. Old businesses had gone and new ones sprung up in their place, but still offering the same things. The mix of species was still the same and this time Azet was not the scared young "girl" running from relentless pursuers but a confident, if unhappy adult. She knew that she was powerful and that she could vanquish anyone who tried attacking her.

Coincidentally, the cantina where Lakah was supposed to meet her contact was the same one where she had met Za and Kopek all those years before. On entering, she looked about warily before spotting her contact, a Cathor male sitting alone in a booth. She passed a male Gotal on her way to the booth and he sent her warning instincts crazy. She knew he was supposed to be the Cathor's back up muscle.

Glancing around carefully for any other back up, she noticed a female Cathor sitting at the bar talking to one of the bartenders, a human male. Azet snorted to herself. She didn't see the attraction in interspecies relationships, her own with Za was complicated enough.

"Lakah Vete, I take it?" the Cathor asked.

It took Azet a moment to remember that she was Lakah Vete.

"That's me," she sat down on the bench opposite him, using her Jedi abilities to control the feelings that she was sending out, so that the Gotal wouldn't uncover her as a feud.

"I am Ryther."

***

Ryqik and Nakita made their way down the street towards the market area. They were hungry, not having eaten in days and too weary to risk stealing unless they were really desperate, like now. They'd had to learn quickly over the last six months how to survive on the streets. Without a fast learning rate, they would be easily dead. They knew which places to definitely avoid, which places were still risky and the hideaways no one else had found to claim. They were too intelligent to be considered animals, but so low socially they hovered on the fringes of society, occupying a place inferior even to the street gangs, a sub sentient, to be tormented for fun by those with the power to do so and only because of their situation.

Without each other they would have given up long ago.

Ryqik started as shouts of Jedi scum were suddenly directed at him and Nakita as they walked down the busy street. Sniffing the air, he recognised the scent of the gang members that had attacked them before. Nakita let out a soft whimper of fear as he grabbed hold of her hand and began to run. Nakita, hungry and thin, soon grew tired and she panted and stumbled as they tried to get away from the pursuing thugs who continued to make such a ruckus that other denizens of Nar Shaddaa joined in with the general mob chasing the two young Shistavanens.

In the shadows, Ziqi the Bothan watched them fly by, shrugged his shoulders in gesture that he had seen humans do many times. Well, he had tried to warn them...Hell, I'm getting soft. He decided to follow, keeping to the walkway above ground level to stop himself from getting swept up in the mob.

Ryqik knew that they wouldn't last long this way and tried to lose them among the stalls selling fruit and other delicacies but there were so many that they couldn't get away as he weaved in and out and under the stalls. The mob turned over baskets of produce, much to the anger of the stall vendors. One of the stall vendors, anxious that his stall wouldn't get ruined, tried to make a grab for Nakita, who bit hard into his hand as it closed around her wrist. The vendor yanked her away from Ryqik and she fell backwards into the neighbouring stall. Ryqik had no time to look back for her as he dived under a stall to escape one of the thugs.

Nakita picked herself up and looked around. The vendor whose stall she had inadvertently trashed, had his attention on the mob still going after Ryqik. She took the opportunity to snatch a couple of paw fulls of fruit before using the confusion to slip away into a service duct of a nearby building. The duct was barely big enough for her and offered some protection because no one bigger than her could follow. She brought a fruit to her mouth to take a bite out of it. Primarily carnivores, Shistavanens weren't adverse to vegetable food when they had no other food available.

Outside, Ryqik heard the crack of a slug thrower being fired at him. The first shot missed and he saw an escape route, a small hole in the side of an abandoned building. He rushed towards it with gun fire popping behind him and just when he thought he was home free, his right leg suddenly gave out from under him and he felt a sharp pain bury deep into his right thigh. He gripped the edges of the durasteel and pulled himself with his arms inside the building. He forced himself to keep crawling, head pounding. The pain in his leg made him feel nauseous and he could feel the blood ooze out of the wound next to his skin. The pain was too much for him to bear and he passed out.

A dark trail of red blood led up to the hole in the building, but the hole was too small for the Rodian and human as they inspected their handiwork.

"Looks like you got him, Fy," the human male said.

Fy responded in Rodian, Should we go after him?

"He'll die, if he's not already dead."

***

The sound of scrabbling claws woke Nakita from her sleep. Blood was strong in the air, mixed with a scent as familiar to her as her own. She sighed with relief. She had been worried about Ryqik ever since they had been separated. A sixth sense told her something was wrong as she emerged from under the dirty rags used as blankets. She got to him just as Ryqik lost the use of his legs. He trembled feverously as he murmured the one word he could remember. "Nakita."

The scent of infection over powered her as he leaned against her and Nakita guided him over to the pile of rags. Ryqik leaned over to one side and vomited and coughed. No food was in the vomit as he had not eaten in days.

Nakita was suddenly reminded of her hunger when her stomach suddenly protested against its emptiness. The fruit she had stolen had not kept her hunger satisfied for long. Ryqik groaned in pain and flinched away from her as she touched the wound. She reached out with the Force, as her mother had taught her, a long buried memory resurfacing at a time of need.

She sensed the slug thrower bullet lodged in the muscle of Ryqik's thigh. He moaned in pain as Nakita shifted it slightly and wiggled it about to loosen it. She whimpered reassuringly at him, comforting him with his pain if she could not banish it completely. This tore the ligaments further and Ryqik let out a yelp as she finally worked it free and Nakita drew it out of the wound.

Dark red blood trickled from it. The bleeding wasn't heavy but it showed little time of stopping anytime soon. Exhaustion suddenly overcame Ryqik and he was asleep.

Nakita's stomach growled loudly again and this time the pain of hunger was so intense she could no longer ignore it. She was reluctant to leave Ryqik alone. What if something happened to him while she was gone? She had to find food if Ryqik was to survive. Her tongue flicked out and licked his forehead in a kiss of goodbye before she reluctantly stepped out into the dark, sinister Nar Shaddaa night.

***

Nakita, stealthy and wraith-like, approached the dumping area outside one of the casinos. Coming here was dangerous and she only ever ventured there when she was desperate, like now.

Most of the patrons flitting around the casino, impulsive gamblers, molls out for having a good time and getting paid for it, drug addicts and smugglers didn't even know she was there, but there was always the chance that some bored bounty hunter would take a pot shot at her and there were more sinister psychos lurking in the shadows. It was not uncommon to find a "non-being dead" - and it wasn't for something obvious like money. She sensed the malice now, pressing on her mind and she was ready to leave.

Nakita's eyes detected movement among the junk pile, her ears rotated as they picked up the high frequency squeaks of something else in the same area as she. A long, whiskered snout poked itself around the corner, twitching as it sniffed the air.

Without thinking about it, Nakita projected a sense of calm and security to the scavenging omnivore that was about the size of a small cat, with a long, elongated body that ended in a thick, ringed tail. The fur was a reddish brown colour and dark eyes glowed in the darkness.

Its long, sensitive nose routed through the garbage, sniffing the air for the smell of discarded food, blissfully unaware of its stalker. Nakita moved slowly on all fours, edging forward until she was close enough to strike. With one quick movement, she pounced, pinning the creature down with her arms. It squeaked and struggled before she could deliver a swift, deadly bite to the creature's throat. She savoured the taste of the blood, her heart singing with a predator's joy at the success of her kill. Nakita licked the blood that trickled down her mouth. She wanted to eat it then, but she suddenly became aware of her exposed position and besides, her sick brother came first.

***

Ryqik sensed power radiating from the dark female Shistavanen standing with her back towards him. Her power reminded him much of what his mother possessed before her death, but there was something else here, something warning him away. In her hand she gripped a red bladed Lightsabre that cast a red sheen as she turned to face him. Her yellow eyes stared at him intensely, stirring up emotions that he had never felt before.

He looked down at his body, expecting to see a child, but instead he saw that belonging to an adult. He lifted his gaze to fix his eyes on something behind her. The black furred female stepped aside and Ryqik recognised the still body of Nakita. Anger rose inside him and he activated his sliver blade and charged at the dark female, but before their blades could make contact, the dark female battered him away with the Force. Ryqik's body struck the wall and he felt a burning sensation as the dark female poured Force lightening into him.


***

"Ryqik!" Nakita's voice broke through into his feverish mind. He coughed once or twice before the pain in his leg shot through him with a vengeance. He looked about in confusion before his eyes focused on the concerned expression of his sister. He realised then that it was all just a dream brought on by his sickness. She had gone, his mind dimly recalled her leaving and now she was back and she was soaked through to the skin.

His sensitive nose caught the enticing scent of blood and on closer inspection, he detected the blood on Nakita's narrow muzzle. Ryqik regained enough of his senses to realise that he was hungry. Nakita tore meat off the carcass with her sharp claws and handed it to him.

Ryqik ate it immediately and was able to stay focused enough to take his fill before the pain was too much for him and he had to sleep, laying his head close to where Nakita sat. It was only then that Nakita allowed herself to eat, picking most of the bones clean.

Nakita cradled his head in her lap, stroking the fur of his head like their mother used to do when they were sick. Nakita watched his lips quiver as small growls and little squeaks escaped his throat. She sensed his anxiety as he fought against feverish nightmares. Nakita unconsciously sent him calming emotions. Even in the darkest depths of his mind, Ryqik was dimly aware of her comforting presence and he used her as an anchor to cling to. Without her, Ryqik would have just given up and let death claim him.

***

Nakita stirred as she heard a noise - a crash, as though someone or something was snooping around. She glanced across at Ryqik - who was a bundle of fur, sleeping the deep sleep of the sick.

Nakita sniffed the air, trying to determine who or what the snooper was. She bared her teeth and emitted a low growl of warning.

"Whoa - it's just me," came a familiar voice.

"Ziqi," Nakita said, remembering his name. "What do you want?" She stood, putting herself between the intruder and her injured brother. After what had happened in the last day or so, Nakita wasn't willing to trust anyone easily.

"I saw what happened. I've come to help. It took me ages to find you. You holed yourself up pretty good."

"Well, with all the goons like those who shot my brother roaming around, it's hardly surprising," Nakita said, a little more haughtily than she intended.

Ziqi didn't know what to say to that. Nar Shaddaa was a rough place and Nakita and her brother were lucky not to have run into difficulties before today, discounting the murder of their parents, of course.

"I know someone who can help. Her name is Sarana Veloria. She's a doctor, helped my brother when he got beat up by a gang of spice dealers."

Nakita looked at her brother, then back at Ziqi, wondering just what his brother had been doing in the first place to get beat up by a gang of spice dealers. "Why would she do that?"

"She used to work for the Empire," the Bothan youth replied, taken aback a little by Nakita's growl at the mention of the Empire. "A specialist in ones like us. She got tired of being treated like she was incapable by her superiors and of being forced to do experiments on our kind. She quit - came to Nar Shaddaa to hide from the Imperials."

"Among the rest of the crims and the unwanted," Nakita mumbled, but she was unsure if she trusted the care of her brother to one who had done experiments on non - human species and what if she still worked for the Empire?

"About right," Ziqi said.

"So, why does she do it?" Nakita asked.

Ziqi shrugged his shoulders in a copied human gesture. "Cos she feels guilty about what the Empire made her do, I guess."

Nakita glanced down at the brother again. What if she was genuine, she asked herself, and I didn't do anything and Ryqik died? Despite her reservations, Nakita turned back to Ziqi and said, "Help me get Ryqik to her."


***

"My Commander has informed me that the smuggler, Cyhen Hes has shown up on Coruscant," Jed Darkfyre said to the assembled Archetype Council. Rivik, a few other Archetypes and the Governor himself were present. Za and Nidet were absent for the moment, Nidet having been called away for an urgent message and the Force knows what Za was up to.

"Coruscant? What would a smuggler be doing there?" Laej asked.

Kopek tried hard not to smile to himself. He knew exactly where the smuggler in question was and the humans were too blind to see that she was right under their noses.

It was at that moment that Za entered the Council chamber.

"Forget about her! I have better news. The prisoner under interrogation has divulged the location of a hidden Rebel base."

Rivik's ears twitched in interest. So, this was why Nidet's friend was captured.

"Rebel base? Where?" the Governor asked, steepleing his fingers.

"It is on a planet called Rogja."

Rogja was familiar to Rivik. It had been a planet colonised by the Shistavanens in the past. Though it had never been proven, it was thought that the Senator Mizet had stayed there a while after the Uvenan Massacre. It was not really surprising then, that it was home to a Rebel base.

Until then, Rivik had kept his peace, but he spoke up now.

"If you plan on attacking this base, it will take some time to organise the attack," he said.

Za looked at him critically, before turning his gaze back to the Governor. "My Lord, I suggest we attack this base immediately. If word gets out, the Rebels will slip through our fingers and we need to continue to scour Shistavanen space of this menace to our security."

"Prepare your fleet, Captain Darkfyre for departure. Alpha Premier Rivik, I want all senior Archetypes to lead the ground troops..."

Nidet's arrival cut the Governor off and her posture of grave concern caught the attention of everyone in the room. "I've just received some devastating news. The planet of Alderaan has been destroyed!"

She inserted the data disc into the holoprojector that the Council chamber's occupants were seated around. It showed the Death Star turning it's superlaser onto the peaceful planet of Alderaan and shattered the planet into asteroids.

"This is outrageous! It is obviously a forgery! The Empire would never destroy a planet within its thrall," Darkfyre rose to his feet, threatening Nidet. Rivik reacted instantly, scrambling up on to the table and drawing his sword, the tip just centimetres from his nose. Za reacted to Rivik's threat, more out of the chance to depose him rather than to protect the Imperial.

The Governor, seeing that the situation could get out of control, banged his fist on the table, causing the holoprojection to flicker and break up.

"Enough! Stand down before I have all of you arrested and executed."

Za and Rivik glared angrily at each other for a moment. Za was the first to back down, lowering his gaze and flattening his ears against his skull before sheathing his sword, all the time seething with hatred inside, wishing he'd just had the nerve to dispatch his rival there and then. Rivik waited until Nidet was away from Darkfyre before submitting to the Governor's orders.

It was only then that he realised Za had wounded him slightly. The meeting broke up then, in case tempers should escalate again, leaving the two Archetype lovers alone.

"You're hurt," Nidet whispered as she probed his wound with a finger. Her hand came away, covered with his blood.

"I'll live."

***

Kopek entered Za's quarters, wondering what his brother wanted now. They were only half-brothers, which accounted to Za not suffering from the same affliction to Bacta as his younger half-brother, but they came from the same mother. Their mother was retired now, living on the edges of the forest. Both Kopek's and Za's fathers were dead now, having been killed in the infighting that had occurred between the Archetypes in the days following the massacre in space around the planet. There was some speculation that Za had orchestrated his own father's death, but as with such things at a chaotic time, there was so much going on and so many cover ups that sorting out fact from fiction was near high impossible.

Even Kopek didn't know for sure. He looked out the window at the distant mountains. They always made him feel small and insignificant but at the same time filled him with a sense of power that dissipated immediately when he heard Za coming out of the adjoining room. Kopek turned his gaze from the mountains to his brother, his ears flattening slightly against his skull, but not going all the way down. Now he just felt insignificant.

"What do you want this time, Za?"

"Assassination. I want you to kill Nidet. The forthcoming raid on the Rebel planet Rogja will give you the opportunity to do that. Make it look like she was killed in battle," Za said.

"Resisted your advances, has she, Za?" Kopek sneered at him, he couldn't resist giving him the same treatment Za used on him, besides, he enjoyed it.

"No, dear brother," Za said, condescendingly. "She is bedding Rivik. Killing her would throw him off balance and I have reason to believe that she is a Rebel."

He went on to tell Kopek what Azet had reported to him about that night she had seen them in the walled garden.

Kopek hated Za's tone. "Wouldn't it be better that she live, so we can learn the Rebel movements?"

"Suddenly grown a sense of morality, have you? You had no problem doing what you did to Lakah, even though before your - accident, you were once so close -"

Kopek bared his teeth at him. "I recall you got off on the whole thing too, Za. We still need to know what the Rebels are up to. They are as much a threat to us as the Imperials."

Za chuckled. "Isn't that what your golden furred lupa is for?" Kopek looked at him in surprise. He didn't think anyone knew about Cyhen. "Don't be so surprised, little half-brother. I know your movements better than you know them yourself. Clever move, shacking up with her like that, saving her from Jahen. Getting her to trust you while at the same time using her to track down her Rebel contacts, to betray her friends." Za revealed his teeth in a scowl full of hatred. "I hear you're quite sweet on her. It won't last, though. She'll find out about your betrayal of her friends eventually and then she'll dump you or she'll leave you for someone who is whole."

Kopek looked at his mechanical arm and then looked at Za, seething with anger. Za knew how to push his buttons, how to hurt him. Everything always came back to that mechanical arm, cold and dead, like only part of him was alive. A tear stung his real eye. He was a machine, not a real person and his ears flattened all the way down against his skull.

"Of course, if you don't succeed in killing Nidet, I can always send a bounty hunter after your lupa - "

Kopek's heart sank at the thought of losing her. Even though he was using her to track down the Rebels, he still had strong feelings for her. She was the only female to see past his prosthetics to the Shistavanen inside, something that not even Lakah had done after the accident. For that he loved Cyhen more than life itself. He turned to leave, unable to listen anymore. Za's voice pursued him out the door.

"Don't screw this up!"

***

"I would feel less vulnerable if you were at my back," Nidet said.

Rivik gave her an understanding smile that disappeared as he spoke. "There needs to be an Archetype on board the bridge. As leader of the Council, they chose me. I don't like it anymore than you do."

They were sat on the floor of Rivik's quarters, which were sparse except for the various weapons he had trained all his life to use. Now they remained locked away apart from the time he took to train to keep his fighting skills at their peak. He missed the battlefield, war and the hunt was what he lived for but to fight without real reason was useless for a warrior of honour. The trouble of getting to the top of anything is that you cease to do what you love and become the very thing that you swore to yourself as a young person you'd never want to be. Now, because of Nidet, he wanted to be fighting on the ground with her. He couldn't bear it if he lost her.

He rose from the mat of weaved grass fibres he used for a bed and walked over to the wall where a sword was displayed. He lifted it off the wall and turned to Nidet standing behind him.

"Take this. It is a vibrosword and almost as effective at cutting through Stormtrooper armour as a Jedi Lightsabre."

"You're expecting trouble from them?"

"I don't know. Za might use this to his advantage. He knows we are lovers. He has spies everywhere. He'll try to do something, he might -"

"Try to kill me," Nidet finished for him.

Rivik nodded before continuing. "Be on your guard, Nidet. I need you to do something. Limit the number of Rebel casualties, if you can, even let them escape. Because of the swiftness of this strike against them, I can't even warn them."


Nidet took the sword from him and swung the heavy blade in the air above her head. Rivik brought his blade about to intercept hers and Nidet cut upwards, sharply, knocking the blade out of his paws, sending it clattering to the floor.

"Impressive."

Nidet grinned at him, propping the vibrosword against the wall. "That's not the only thing about me that you will find impressive." She looped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to meet her muzzle and he forgot all about the forthcoming battle and all that it might take away from him.

***

Cyhen came out of her sleep suddenly. The image of Alderaan burning plagued her mind as she tried to sleep. It had been that way lately and even though it was early evening, she couldn't bring herself to go out. Lakah's death also played on her mind. It had been Lakah who had gotten her involved with the Rebels in the first place, though her commitment to the cause had never been as absolute as hers. Her door chimed and slipping on her robe, she got up to answer it.


It was Kopek, dressed in a nerf hide knee length coat, a chain mail shirt and trousers. He'd finally gotten a new sword made, which hung in a scabbard from his belt.

Taking note of her robe, he asked, "Did I wake you?"

"No, I -" Cyhen shook her head to clear it. "Come on in."

"I see you managed to get a coach," he said, taking off his coat and sword belt, along with his other weapons, but kept one blaster and a vibroblade on him as Cyhen fetched a bottle of some local brew and some glasses. He took them off her as they entered her bedroom and poured them both a drink as she laid back down on her bed.

"So, what'cha doing going to bed this early? You haven't got someone hiding in the wardrobe, have you?" he asked jokingly and pulled the chain mail shirt over his head and peeled off his trousers. He sat down next to her.

"No. I'm tired," Cyhen said, letting the robe slip off her shoulders and nestled up against him. "I've just not been sleeping well at all lately -" she told him about the death of Lakah, keeping back what she had witnessed at Alderaan - she didn't know if she could trust him with that. She had contacted Kannec and told him that he needed to come to Uvena III, though she hadn't told him the reason - that sort of news just wasn't suitable to be given over the holonet or what little of it was left for non military use. He could see that she was tired and so just held her, tightening his flesh arm around her waist.

"I'll be leaving tomorrow. I have to go into battle," Kopek said, bringing the glass to his lips with his mechanical hand and downing a significant portion of it. He sounded stressed.

"Have you ever thought of leaving them?"

"Yes, plenty of times. I hate what the Empire does, I hate what it makes me do, but while the Archetypes still exist, our people have some semblance of freedom," Kopek knew the flaws in what he was saying. Yes, some Shistavanens like Za had freedom, but only a few elite at the top, who were unfit for it anyway and Kopek knew the truth of why he stuck around. It allowed him to be a bully, to strike back at those who taunted him behind his back and he loved it! It made him feel powerful and in control of something.


He bent his head to kiss her muzzle, but she was already asleep, finding comfort in the warmth, scent and strength of his body. He finished the rest of his drink and hers too, which had remained untouched.

***

Darkfyre resented the fact that he was having to share his bridge with Rivik. He glanced across at Rivik standing quietly, staring out of the veiwport, seemingly mesmerised by the white haze of hyperspace.

Rivik was thinking of Nidet and his stomach tied itself up in knots every time he thought of her facing battle alone. His mind ran through literally hundreds of scenarios in which she might be killed and every single one made his heart flutter and feeling cold and empty inside.

He wondered if this was how his father felt standing at the side of the Senator Mizet all those years ago. He still remembered the empty feeling inside when he learnt of the massacre that had claimed so many, including his father.

Rivik had only just finished his training then, thrown suddenly into the adult world where he had to succeed to survive. Survive he had, but he still remembered the pain of losing his father, the empty gaze of his mother's eyes as she told him that his father was dead.

Shortly after, his mother had died leading the revolt that followed in protest against the massacre, but that had been short lived. Now, he was doing the same thing. He was going out to help crush a rebellion that he believed in and he hated himself for it.

He wanted to be down there, not fighting against the Rebels but with them. Instead he forced himself to appear strong and loyal to the Empire, he told himself that the best way to defeat an enemy was from within and part of him was fooled into believing it. But his fear of losing Nidet still remained and his track record with losing someone that he loved in battle was not good.

Darkfyre wondered what was going through the alien's mind and decided he didn't want to know. Tension was high on the bridge and not just because they were going into battle. Many of his deck officers had come from human only worlds that were strictly regulated by the Empire. Aliens were not common on those worlds and if there were any, the aliens were usually in institutions kept away from the general human population, forced to work as slaves or used for more sinister "projects". Occasionally you might see one in the lowest, run down cantinas.

The fact that Rivik was so bestial looking only reinforced in the minds of the deck officers that the Imperial Doctrine stating that all aliens are animals that they were brought up to believe. All recognised, however, that "it" was a very dangerous animal and so tried not to voice their prejudice and fears in his presence. The alien hadn't moved since stepping onto the bridge, hadn't even spoken or turned his gaze from the veiwport.

Darkfyre wished for the thousandth time that the Empire had assigned him to a more human world.

As far as aliens went, Shistavanens were one of the most disconcerting you could meet. Perhaps it was their resemblance to the ancient werewolf myths told to frighten children, or that they reminded you of your own bestial nature, buried deep under false illusions of civilisation.

Or maybe it was because they were one of the first species to openly and honestly rebel against Palpatine, not for money or personal gain, but for that most frightening of concepts to any dictator: FREEDOM.