In the morning, Renci heads into the cave where Renn is asleep against Volay, Mira a puffed-up sphere of feathers in his lap. She pats Volay’s snout to wake the creature, and as the azurdactyl stirs, Renn rouses as well. He is a little surprised at how late it already is.
“I jumpbooted down the mountain a ways and got some reasonably strong vine,” Renci explains. And I let you get some sleep. “We’ve got simple tack, and we can head out whenever you fellows are ready.”
The flight back to Forsaken is delightfully uneventful, and Renn enjoys the time aloft with Volay. It is one thing to see and hear what Mira does as she soars around, but it is quite another to be up in the air himself, directly feeling the wind. He can understand why JT jets around whenever she can and why Renci is getting such a kick out of her new boots, but he does not have the same interest in technology they do. He would rather rely on Volay or Stell-la than strap on the ridiculous gadgets that those women entrust themselves to.
Purchasing the Resolve was not the fulfillment of some lifelong dream; he has no love of shipboard life. No, that acquisition was a statement of independence. The only ties that bind him now are bonds of affection. He is beholden to no one, and the Jumpmaster lets him come and go as he pleases. And, if he is being honest with himself, the ship was also yet another step along the long road of clearing his conscience, a way to turn the blood money of so many Imperial paychecks into something useful, something that can help him become whatever it is he is going to be now that makes a positive difference in this kriffed up galaxy.
He guides Volay to the grassy field where the Resolve waits; apparently this lower elevation has seen no snow in the past couple days. Renn strips the tack from the azurdactyl as Renci jets over to the palisade. He hears her calling up to the guard that someone will be back in touch with the town if they decide to take action on her report. Renn checks over Volay’s tail one last time and removes the stitches, then gives him a final nose rub and wishes him well. The azurdactyl launches into the air, flying lazy circles above the valley. Renn boards the ship and starts powering it up. He hears Renci clomping up the ramp, and once the monitors have registered it closed and sealed, he takes off. On the edges of his awareness, he feels a familiar presence, and he smiles even before he looks out the cockpit window to see Volay escorting them. Renn adjusts his ascent to take them back over the azurdactyl’s home mountains. The creature peels away as the atmosphere thins, and Renn turns his attention to the starfield before him.
Renci steps up next to him to access the navicomputer, running the elaborate calculations for the jump back from this obscure location to Ryloth. There are no well-documented spacelanes out here, but barring any unforeseen complications, they should be back in Nabat in time for dinner. With the ship safely in hyperspace, Renn leaves the cockpit. He considers cleaning the rifles and checking them over for damage but decides that can wait a couple hours. Instead, he pulls the datapad from the vet kit and settles into the couch in the common area, annotating it with observations on Rannon’s animal life.
* * *
As the afternoon wears on, Renn returns to the cockpit. The Resolve drops out of hyperspace, and immediately something does not feel right to Renn. “Renci, lass,” he calls back, “we’re not where we’re supposed ta be.” Aside from all the asteroids he sees spread out before them, he senses… creatures. He does not see anything with his eyes, but the sensors confirm the presence of what can only be mynocks.
Renci sets aside her detailed report and emerges from the snug quarters. She steps up to the cockpit entrance. “What do you need?”
“This isna Ryloth.”
Renci looks out, and for a moment her heart drops. They’ve destroyed it! Then she realizes, no, this is not Alderaan all over again, but some of those larger asteroids look familiar… She lunges toward the navicomputer. “We need to get out of here right now!”
Renn throws out an arm to block her, alarmed at her reaction. “Whoa, there! Calm down, and think things through. Ya canna enter a jump hastily… that’s how ya end up crashin’.” He does not want a repeat of his uncontrolled arrival on the surface of Gesaril.
“This is a bad place!”
“Mynocks are not a big deal,” he tells her calmly, trying to reassure her. This cluttered asteroid field, though, that might be some trouble. He returns his hand to the controls, banking the ship around some approaching large rocks.
“Mynocks are not the problem! This is Smuggler’s Run, the very end of the Corellian Run. Do you know who runs this place? Hutts! Crazy, on-the-fringe Hutts. Not the tolerable ones who make business deals. Don’t answer any comms.”
“I thought ya said ya weren’ a criminal,” Renn comments with a smirk. Renci narrows her eyes at him. “Fine, fine. I’ll try ta get us in a better location, while you work on the jump… carefully.”
Renci redirects her glare to the navicomputer and shakes her head. “Let me check the systems first, figure out how we ended up here.” She heads back to engineering to assess the hyperdrive. Everything looks fine, but one of the other systems is misbehaving.
Tiny asteroids ricochet off the hull as Renn tries to maneuver through the detritus, hoping to set down on one of the larger surfaces. He has not picked up any nearby craft, but all the bigger asteroids are giving off power readings that suggest they are inhabited.
Renci jogs back to the front of the ship. “Hyperdrive is fine. But life support filters might need to be replaced; they’re running overtime.”
“What? No, I just had Z’voak replace those after we brought Pile-of-Leaves back…”
“Well, we’ve only been in transit eight hours, and it’s like they’ve been working for twelve.”
“Okay, fine, we’ll deal with that later, but fer now… there’s no place ta hide the ship if yer requirement is that we stay away from other people. The larger asteroids all seem ta have activity, based on the sensor readings.”
“Well, just… keep us from getting hit while I do this then.” Renci resumes her position standing next to his seat, datapad in hand, and sets to work at the navicomputer, double checking the calculations for a jump straight down the Corellian Run to Ryloth.
Renn continues to dodge the asteroids whizzing past, trying to keep a healthy enough distance from them that mynocks will not be able to cross the gap to the Resolve. He hears Renci cursing under her breath, muttering about astrophysics, and then Mira starts twittering like crazy back in his room. Diverting his attention from the helm for a moment, he opens himself to the kiros bird’s perceptions to see what has upset her so. “Someone’s on board,” he announces as he stands up, already turning to head back. That is when an asteroid clips the starboard wing, sending the ship spinning.
Renci throws her arm out to steady Renn. “Did you say we have boarders?!” The stabilizers compensate for most of the shaking, but there is a crash from back in the cargo hold. Renn shakes off Renci’s hand and rushes back there. Renci draws her vibrosword and continues talking, though it is mostly to herself. “We could not have been boarded already. You don’t even have an airlock… Wait, maybe that’s why the life support is overtaxed…”
Renn ignores Renci’s muttering as he leaves the common area behind and enters his room. “What d’ya think yer doin’ here, lass?” he demands. “Do yer parents know yer aboard?” One of the teenagers from Forsaken is standing in a tangle of ficus branches amid spilled dirt. Renn cannot remember her name, but he recognizes her from the group that was sitting around Renci as she repaired slugthrowers.
“It’s okay!” the young Rodian says. “I’ve been fixing the ship up!”
“Don’ touch anything!”
“Kinda too late for that…” She throws an arm out back behind her, in the direction of engineering. Screws and small gears are stuck to her suction-cup fingers, and Renn can see an open grating in the other room’s floor. “There’s so little tech to work on in Forsaken. This ship is so much more exciting!”
Renn’s eyes grow wide. “What’ve ya done? Were ya’ messin’ with the life support?”
“No, I didn’t get to that system yet—”
In charges Renci, sword in hand, crying, “You won’t take me alive!”
Renn, one hand running through his hair, looks at her, bemused. “Are ya sure yer not a criminal?”
Renci takes in the scene… Renn does not look engaged in a life-or-death battle to repulse invaders. She sheathes her sword a bit self-consciously. “Not being a criminal is exactly why I didn’t succeed in Smuggler’s Run,” she snaps. Then she registers who else is present. “Siero? What are you doing on the ship?”
Siero throws a sloppy salute. “Fixing it! Making it run better! I’m ready to sign up.”
“How old are you?” Renci inquires.
Siero hedges, “I’m an adult.”
“I really appreciate your enthusiasm, but you need to be at least seventeen.”
“I am seventeen,” she answers quickly.
“Regardless of yer age, ya canna just sign up here, particularly not fer her organization,” Renn objects.
Siero looks back and forth between the two humans. “Who’s… in charge here?”
Renci starts, “It’s my mission—”
Renn grabs her arm and yanks her back out of the cargo hold into the common room, slapping a hand on the control to close the door behind them. “What did ya tell those kids when ya were fixin’ the guns?” he demands.
Renci shakes her arm loose. “I told them the Rebellion might want to talk to them in a couple of years.”
“She doesna understand what she’s tryin’ ta get involved in.”
“Her people are all on the run from the Empire, and she wants to fight that. I agree, she doesn’t fully understand what that entails, but that’s why we have boot camp, to educate people and get them prepared. You wouldn’t know that, I get it, you didn’t go through it. And you were an officer.”
Renn frowns at her. “I understand how militaries work.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she insists. “If she doesn’t like the Rebellion, she can just leave.”
That comment hangs in the air between them a moment. Renn opens his mouth to say something, then snaps it closed. With a shake of his head, he says, “Ya know what, no, we’re done. I’m not talkin’ about this again.” He turns to head back to the cockpit—small collisions still reverberate through the hull—but stops short when he hears Renci’s words.
“I got Vault removed from its position as a handler.”
Renn turns around, taken aback. “What now?”
“I got it to step down. It’s in the field now, raiding that facility we found. It won’t be mismanaging—mistreating—any other operatives.”
Renn does not know what to say to that. “I… I’d better go fly the ship.”
“I’ll talk with her,” Renci says, like it is a peace offering rather than a declaration of intent. “Recruitment’s not really my thing, anyway.”
Renn nods and returns to minding the ship’s course just in time to wrench them away from another collision. He does not need his hearing to fly the ship, though, and Mira is still in the cargo hold….
* * *
Renci opens the door to find Siero righting one of the ficus plants that had fallen onto her during the minor collision. She steps into the room and closes the door behind her. “How are you doing?” she asks the girl… or woman? Siero does not seem very grown-up, but she has been stuck on a backwater planet for most, if not all, of her life.
“Great,” the Rodian enthuses. “You should see the improvements I made!”
Renci cannot help but smile at the enthusiasm; it reminds her of JT. But she reins herself in; regardless of Siero’s age, Renci has to be the adult here. “Does your family know you’re gone?”
“They would have noticed by now.”
“Did you not tell them goodbye?”
Siero hems and haws. “Well, I told my little brother to tell Mom and Dad bye for me.”
Okay, so at least no one will think Siero is dead or that we kidnapped her, Renci thinks, relieved. “Is there any way to contact them? Do people in your village have a way to communicate?”
“Usually you go to the Town Hall meetings.” At Renci’s sigh, Siero insists, “When you set up the base, they’ll be right there. I can talk to them then.”
“Is that something you can help with? Setting up a base on Rannon?”
“Installing equipment and stuff? Oh, yeah, sure, that would be great!”
“Well,” Renci hedges, “I meant more like working with the locals, smoothing things over.”
“But aren’t there more important things I could be doing? I want to work on ships and devices and stuff to defeat the Empire! I can’t do that if I just stay on my little planet. I need to see the galaxy.”
“I understand that, and I appreciate your drive, but there are a lot of things you need to learn to become a Rebel soldier. We have a boot camp to learn those skills, but…” Renci fishes around for something to buy her time, “but the next session doesn’t start for several months. Until that time we could have you helping with the town….”
Siero deflates. “So does that mean you’re just going to take me back home again?”
“Consider it a preliminary assignment,” Renci offers. “I want to make sure you understand what you’re getting into and what the town is. It will be good practice for you.”
“But there’s not even any Imperials there! How is that practice?”
“We, the Rebellion, still need to stay hidden. We choose and pick our battles. Your town is ideal because it is hidden.” She decides to try a different tack. “What would you do if you ran into an Imperial in the next room?” There is practically an Imperial in the next room, and Renci does not imagine Siero would be able do much to stand up against Renn.
Siero whips something out of her utility belt. “I would zap away all his intel!”
Whoa, a near-field jammer! Renci cannot help but be impressed, but she tries to temper it. “Okay, that’s not really going to help you with a Stormtrooper, but when I next run up against a moff, I will want to talk with you about that. For right now, though, we have a situation we need to deal with. I don’t know how much you know about Hutts—”
“I can build one. That’s easy.”
“Oh boy, you’re going to learn a lot in basic training…. Hutts are a species, and many of them are crime lords. This particular system is crawling with Hutt activity. In the Hutt homespace there’s still a certain type of… honor? No, that’s not right… decorum. That doesn’t exist here. You can’t reason with the people here. These are the people who couldn’t cut it in the regular crime centers. I have to redo our astrogation calculations, and we might need to make a pit stop. This place isn’t Imperial, but it is part of the galaxy. If you really do want to see different places, you can come along. But do not talk to anyone or touch anything. My mission for you is to observe all the technology you see and report to me about it afterwards.”
Siero delivers another salute. “I won’t fail you!”
“Remember what I said about the Rebellion needing to stay hidden? Definitely don’t salute unless you’re in a Rebel facility. And remember that this ship is not a Rebel vessel.”
“But then why are you on it?”
“Because Renn is my driver.”
“He did seem kind of protective of it.”
“This is Renn’s ship. He doesn’t want anyone messing with it. He’s kind of stuffy, but he’s a good guy.”
* * *
“So we’re puttin’ in somewhere, are we?” Renn asks as Renci steps up alongside him in the cockpit.
She looks at him quizzically. How does he know that? Jumpmasters are designed to be one-person ships; there are no internal comms. If there were, they would not always be shouting back and forth at each other across rooms. “We have to pick up some updated charts. We’re going back to that system from here, and we can’t just reverse the calculations. I’m going to suggest Skip 3 as the least detestable.”
“Wherever ya’ like; I’ve never been here before.” He starts adjusting their course from the holding pattern he was maintaining. He offers Renci a little smile. “That was a clever way ta frame things.”
She leans in really close and whispers to Renn, “She’s in the cockpit.”
He stifles a laugh as he glances over his shoulder and sees Siero in the doorway. “Still.”
Renci straightens up and gives him a code to transmit to Skip 3. “This is a little old, but I’m sure it checks out.”
He navigates to Renci’s desired asteroid and answers the hail with the string of characters she gave him. There is a moment when it seems like all is well, but then Spaceport Control tells them they are an unknown vessel and will need to be detained. A set of lights begin blinking on the surface of the asteroid as a tractor beam latches onto the Resolve. They feel the systems whine as the engines initially resist the pull. Renn flips them off and turns to Renci. “We’ve got a little time until we dock. Ya might as well tell us what we’re walkin’ inta. They’re goin’ ta ask us questions, and we need ta be prepared.”