It was Sa’Mi who reminded me that I wasn’t committing suicide.
‘Oh right the packs!’ His shrill voice squeed over the open coms. Honestly, with the mountian falling bellow us, and the tunnels filling with magma behind us, I just wanted to see the sky again, one last time.
The charge down those blood red corridors had been nothing short of madness, and the rush and the pain left me ragged. We tore through the place like a grenade through flesh, the edifice of dark side magic bleeding molten rock behind our entry wound.
Fill the air with laser, with frag, with detonite; just keep moving.
Then Dorn turns on a lightsaber; what must that have felt like? How often had they said it’s not like a Jedi is coming down here. Laughter, manic and cold, stopped dead with the activation of a blade.
More laser fire, more grenades, like a blaster bolt through the gut, tearing. Just keep moving.
And then I jumped. I didn’t really think, didn’t have any plan other than getting out of that horrible place.
Just keep moving.
Alright, fine. One last look at the sky, one last slow thought of Staci, of Mav-
Huh. Mav. Haven’t thought of that old bastard in-
‘Oh right, the packs!’
And I was falling.
I hit the acceleration and forgot to lock my legs and my spine almost cracked under the force as the pack was thrown into fighting complete free fall. Way off spec, way out of its element, eating more and more fuel, wondering who the fuck decided this was a good idea.
‘A-H-ONE-NINER; ANYBODY OUT HERE?’
It was Sa’Mi again, screaming over the packs, and wind and the burning city bellow. Just as well, a genius is one thing, but a genius for numbers like Sa’Mi was probably too wrapped up in the mathematics of what was happening to us to really be truly terrified.
I was aiming for a tower, just a random target really, when an orbital spike slammed into its summit like a colossal throwing blade. It sunk deep into the structure before it shattered, exploded and filled the lower levels with liquid death, melting the superstructure and collapsing in thing in seconds.
Alright, Corvin; what now?
‘Spec op’s, you guys made it?’
‘Yes!’ the furry mechanic squealed. ‘We did! In fact, we; oh I seem to be out of fuel; a pickup would be helpful.’
I shot a glance back, still racing towards the rapidly collapsing building, and saw Sammy was in fact falling in a long, slow arc towards the planet.
‘Oh wait, it isn’t out of fuel, it’s just broken. Huh!’
Then the bucking stopped, the shaking ceased, and I was falling again. I threw a glance at the status column on my chest.
Mine was out of fuel.
On the edge of my vision, amped by the false eye and crystal clear with four days of sobriety behind me, I saw two X-Wings dip from what looked like a rapid retreat, and bring themselves bellow us, blasting to a repulsorlift assisted halt where each of us could gab a wing.
‘Um; what now?’ The pilot was young, but his flying said he had done this half a hundred times.
‘B-250, bring the Grave in for low orbit, just skim breathable atmo and open the doors!’ I screamed into my glove lace vid-com, speaking for the first time since I thought I was about to die.
I still thought I was about to die, but this time it was’t my choice, so that irked me.
‘Yes, master.’ Came back the metallic vocals almost immediately. ‘Which doors, Master?’
’All of them.’
Whatever happened next, I wasn’t around to see it. As always, it was a bad plan cobbled together from the fragments of human achievement, glued, taped and wedge molded into place at the last possible second, and then battle tested into smithereens. I just closed my eyes and waited until I had to react agin.
The air got cold, and fighters flew as slow as they could while arc laster fire peppered around me. The blaster gas eroded and failed altogether at the machine formulated height, and the energy erupting in green and white plumes of fire.
Come on, lucky seven.
The next jump was much easier. The gaping mouth of the much loved hanger 7 yawned at me, and I just started rolling; over the panicked R2, down the wing, and into thin, freezing air. A few seconds later, I was attempting a roll tuck kind of thing and failing at it; but I was inside.
Dorn leaped, and then with force assisted ease touched the deck like leaves falling on Restafur.
Sammy had somehow fixed his pack and just soared over us.
’Gun and Grave, we are outa-here.’
I stood and watched the fighters bank away from our massive ship, and palmed the bay doors closed.
‘Clear skies, fellas. I owe you one.’
Something in me hoped for a few seconds that they survived, and something else entirely knew they wouldn’t.
The bay boomed shut, and I was racing into the bridge before I realized it. The mellow mood lighting said it was dinner time onboard, and soft wyharp music was piping through the ship. I exploded onto the bridge like a natural disaster, taking it all in. Yes, the planet bellow was burning. Yes, ships were leaving and Stardestroyers were blazing anything that moved. But that’s not what I saw first.
Sarn was in my chair. ‘Quinn; I am glad you have returned, I sensed a darkness at the heart of that mountain, and I-’
‘Get out,’ I said, exasperated ‘of my chair, or get shot.’ In fact, I was out of ammo, but I wasn’t in the mood.
His mouth tightened, and he made a slight bow stepping away from my command.
‘Breaking atmosphere now, Master.’ Twofifty croaked.
‘Meep boop boop meep?’ asked a Droid.
‘You said it, where too?’ I looked around for anyone who wanted to say anything. Canter wasn’t there, and Dorn was presumably in the medical bay with him; the quasi-Jedi had taken the most damage at the end. ‘I am so over this party.’ I said.
‘Party time?’ the ships onboard entertainment system that came with the upgrade chimed in. I waved my hand at the holo that I thought said ‘no’ but evidently I was wrong. Lights and streamers shot across the bridge and brightly colored flags unrolled themselves over everything.
‘Oh come on! Twofifty, get us out of here!’ I cried over the newly playing system dance music that was now piping through all comm channels.
The droid, somehow wearing a lavish hat, turned to me ‘Yes master, shall I follow the fleet?’
I screwed my face in confusion, and surged through a thick layer of streamers to find the nav controls. There, every single datastack was dripping the same coordinates, filling the screen and mucking up anything else. It was a pullback, linking every rebel ship like the red tinsel that was linking most of the crew on the Grave currently. One place, the rendezvous where Madine had run off to when he pushed us out the door towards Sullist.
‘Fine!’ The music intensified, and the inter-ship comms wailed at me.
‘Just get us out of here; we’ve had too many miracles today already, and I don’t want another one!’
The comm flashed brighter as I thought. ‘I mean, I don’t want to have to have another… just go to the; follow the coo – Just do something!’
‘What?!’ I slammed a bloody fist onto the receiving comm. Jejero’s face, ashen white appeared in the kitchen. ‘Quinn! I am so sorry, Sammy had me helping him do something in the engine room when I got your message from the ship: I will not fail you!’
‘What? What message?’
Jejero had almost walked away from the screen, and behind him I could see tables folding out of the walls with glitter all over them. ‘Hmm? Oh the snacks! I will whip you up the greatest snack buffet you have ever seen, fear not!’
The screen went dark.
Four days sober hung on me like a disease, and my hand shook a little. ‘B-250.’
‘Yes master? Preparing to enter hyperspace, sir.’
‘I’ll take care of that. Will you. Please. turn off this party?’
‘Done with you’re party?’ The holo appeared again.
‘Yes.’ I waved.
The console chimed, the computer having dissected the billions of lines of code that mapped out the relatively short jump across the void. I picked up the mic. ‘Attention attention, we’re going into hypserspace now; do whatever comes natural.’
Stashing the wand, I moved the lever forward and as reality fell away around us, automated systems in the ships core overrode non essential droid protocols, and everything mechanical that was not actively working, was overcome with a sudden urge to clean up, restock, and politely thank guests for coming.
I was gaping.
At some point, I had fallen asleep, and with the droids still cleaning up the malfunctioning party, I was glad that the inertial grav sensors screamed as loud as they did.
‘What I’m up!’ I heard myself say, as with odd control and swift speed I thumbed the hyperdrive dead, and stars bled into inky existence around the pale blue green of a tiny moon.
That wasn’t what made me gape.
Around the moon like an angelic halo circled a pale grey ring that glowed in certain places, extending to thin points from a massive dump of rubble and clearly exploding fission cores of massive starships. The closer we got, the more clearly I could see that fine pieces of the newly made rings of Endor.
It wasn’t rock. It wasn’t ice. It was not the rimming of some universal mandate, the natural bits of matter that look for company and form the shockingly little amount of stuff we like to live and die on.
Yes, it was metal, yes it was radioactive durrasteel, yes it was war.
Mostly, it was bodies.
Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of bloated corpses circled the forest moon, all streaming from the massive wreckage of an Imperial and Rebel engagement in sub orbit. From here, I could even see the initial fragments breaking atmo and igniting as if standing silent vigil for the sea of the dead that expanded with ruptured organs, and spun like frozen coral arrangements with exploded eyes and blood vessels turned inside out, shaping delicate trees of human life from wounds, sockets and orifices.
‘Starship, please identify.’ Chimed the nav comms.
‘Doka melocha…’ Dorn whispered. He was with Sarn, I hadn’t even heard them come in. I guess the massive well of death had tugged at even their muddled religious fervor, reminding them that indeed the force was with them.
‘Hey Quinn, You want to warn a guy when you’re coming out of hyperspace?’ Canter was stomping angrily onto the bridge. ‘I was trying to sort out-’
He saw it then.
‘Ummm. I was – Oh. Oh Maker…’
I let the macabre spell break over me like waves, and then rose above the white spray of feeling that came after. ‘Kinda makes you think huh?’
‘Yes.’ Said Sarn. ‘It does.’
‘About what?’ Canter didn’t look away from the battlefield.
I let a smile stitch itself into place. ‘That maybe we don’t belong out here. Just existing in this void is-’
‘Alright well, you barely show up on our scopes and won’t answer so I am going to have to start blasting your region of space into oblivion because frankly, I don’t know what else to do. Clear skies.’
‘Woah waoh!’ Quinn dropped the philosophical routine and found the gibbering child within. ‘This is Quinn Corvin on The Gun and Grave, were apart of spec op don’t shoot!’
‘I don’t have you on any list, captain.’
‘Yeah, how many of these fleeing ships do you have on a list? Check with Madine; he knows us.’
It took a good half hour for word to spread, but eventually someone got ahold of the General and we were given leave to dock with the Reliance.
Orders were given down with no small amount of revelry added with each member. Whatever happened here, the Alliance had won, big time. We attached, and The Droids returned from their cleaning.
I stayed on the bridge; this was just a drop off.
Sammy came up to where I was flipping idly through some nav codes. ‘Quinn!’
‘Did you hear? The rebellion-’
‘Not interested now, Sammy; I’m tired. This can all wait until tomorrow.’
‘Ohh.’ The Chadra-fan seemed a little hurt. ‘Well, Madine want’s us planet-side in 15.’
‘Then you better get going. And dress nice; they might want to give you a medal.’
Sa’Mi’s ears fell down, the human equivalent to upturned eyebrows that denoted worry or regret. ‘You aren’t coming?’
‘Nope.’ I said, rising to activate sublight engines and coding the navcomputer with its orders.
In the back of my mind, a thousand sarcastic remarks, disparaging comments about the Alliance, Madine and the Jedi sprouted like seedlings. Any other day, they would have grown like vilevine and just spilled out; but the intuition that came with sobriety locked it down, and I just smiled. ‘There is a system nearby, I have a friend there who I haven’t seen in ages. It isn’t far, not 5 or 6 hours out. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning. If Madine has a problem with that, have him send the fleet after me; where I’m going, it won’t matter.’
Sa’Mi gave a small smile and nod before turning to go. Before he got to the lift, something struck him. ‘You’re… you aren’t going to-’
‘Hellhaven. Yes, I am.’
The brown, bright eyes nestled in their bed of fur expanded like planets incoming from a hyperspace jump. ‘Quinn.’ He whispered. ‘You- you can’t’
A grin broke across my face like cracks in a rock face. Everybody knew about Hellhaven. Everybody.
‘Get going Sammy, and get everyone off the ship with you, save twofifty and the droids. If they don’t think I will make it back, tell them to take their things; I expect Madine is going to be in a giving mood today anyway.’
I stopped working and turned to face the mechanic. ‘But I’m going to be back, Sammy. I promise.’
He nodded slowly and disappeared into the lift, letting it close unceremoniously.
Thirty minutes later, shuttles left the Gun and Grave, threaded their way between the aftermath of slaughter, and descended to the bright planet bellow, teaming with comm’s, traffic and life.
I detached without asking permission, which really pissed off some computer somewhere, but I flicked the comm off. Coming under this Nebulon B, I banked the ship sideways, and then coaxed her into the black void of the gaping universe and faded among the ancient light of the pre civilized galaxy.