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  1. #61
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    Neva Xolte

    Her head lifted to look upward at the ceiling only briefly. She too had identified the source of the sound, and had leapt to a similar conclusion. Something had to be done - and quickly.

    "This vessel does have weapon capabilities, I can go up and capture their attention. Everything in the hold is already strapped down and we're ready to go here. Once I'm up there, I'll know more about who we dealing with. These will keep us in contact."

    I was an assumption on Neva's part that Siralai would want to stay planet-side and try to move the colonists into the relative safety that the forest canopy could provide. She pulled a few communication devices out of a compartment and tossed them to the Mahrs. Technically, being on the ship wouldn't be any safer than being on the surface, but Neva was certain that regardless Rossi would wish to stay with her parents and vice versa. Besides, she would have been been rather nervous having someone not used to aerial combat, let alone flying at all, at her side in the cockpit. Of course, if Trystan decided to stay and man one of the guns, she wouldn't say no.

    "I'll lift off when you're clear. Don't worry, I won't fly away without you."
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  2. #62
    Siralai and Trystan Mahr



    "I'll stay and help," Trystan volunteered immediately. "It'll be easier to fight if you're not trying to do all the shooting and all the maneuvering at the same time."

    Trystan wasn't familiar with this particular model of ship, but he had done both piloting and weapons on a variety of crafts during his stint in the Imperial military. Though he wasn't eager to repeat the experience, he had to admit that the skills often came in handy.

    "Rossi, you're with me," Siralai said, giving Trystan a nod to indicate agreement with his plan. "I could use an extra set of hands, and the Imperial colonists will probably be happier if it isn't just a Jedi-type barking orders at them. We'll get them under the cover of the forest canopy - they'll be harder to see from the air there - and hope whoever this is doesn't have anything incendiary."

    Had Siralai known the mission would turn out this way, she would never have brought her teenage daughter. This was supposed to be a simple supply run, a peaceful aid mission. It couldn't be helped now, though, and Rossi was probably safer with the civilians than in the middle of an aerial fire fight.

    Once the ship was airborne and the attacking crafts came into view, Trystan frowned. There were three of them, but light ships, not a massive invasion force. And then there was the odd thing...

    "They look completely unmarked," Trystan said, gesturing to the viewscreen. "I don't see any Imperial or Republic identification. Not so much as a number or a color on any of them."
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  3. #63
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    Neva Xolte

    As soon as she reached the cockpit, the Neva that the Mahrs were familiar with disappeared. She settled into into a steely battle mien with liquid precision. Once Siralai and Rossi were clear, the vessel leapt into the sky and cleared the canopy in seconds. The other ships stood out in sharp contrast in the morning light - black shapes tearing apart the hazy sky - and Neva could see that Trystan was right.

    "No markings. No affiliations. That generally means marauders, but they look a little plain. Usually pirates decorate."

    Here, she paused. Had it been obvious that the ships belonged to marauders seeking to take advantage of a bad situation, Neva would have simply blasted them out of the sky without a second thought. But no, this was a game to someone. Information would be more useful than smoking hulls in the dirt. She shot a glance at Trystan.

    "I think we should try to pump them for information before we shoot them down...and after we have to shoot them down, perhaps we can do our best to leave us someone to question."

    Not really waiting for a reply, she punched the console.

    "Unmarked vessels, this is the Wayfarer. Hold your fire - those are civilians you're targeting. Repeat, break off your attack."

    'or we'll make you' she finished, after completing the comm.

  4. #64
    Trystan Mahr



    Static crackled on the com, and an image briefly flickered on the view screen. The vessel was transmitting something. That was interesting, Trystan thought. There was a glimpse of a humanoid face, then a hand making hurried contact with a touch control. The image went dark.

    Not an intentional transmission, then, Trystan realized. They hadn't intended to respond.

    This became even clearer when the vessel abruptly broke course and headed out of the atmosphere. Trystan wasn't sure whether the crew had completed their mission as they saw it, or had abandoned it when they realized they would be opposed - but either way, they were leaving as abruptly as they had come.

    "I got a capture of the image," Trystan said. "Give me a second and I'll clean it up."

    In literally a matter of seconds, he had a still frame available for Neva to view, the figure captured in mid-reach with a sleeve visible. There was a patch on the sleeve.

    "That patch belongs to a Senate staffer," Trystan said with an intake of breath. "Damn. That is not good."

  5. #65
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    Neva Xolte

    As the craft retreated, Neva flew in an arcing pattern behind them, as though creating an invisible wall in the sky. Their own ship responded to the smallest of her movements, and so the ride felt not unlike being inside a dog's mouth as it shook a rat. The motion wasn't out of control, but the raw emotion it conveyed may have been unsettling. As they turned, the ship flew in a smooth straight line back to where it had been positioned - Neva's shoulders relaxing only slightly as it did so. She glanced at the image Trystan produced.

    "The Senate sent goons to shoot at defenceless people? What are they playing at?" She stewed on that for a moment before adding, "I suppose it s a good thing we didn't shoot them down. That could have caused more trouble for us."

    Upon arriving at their previous docking place, Neva carefully moved through the trees to reposition the ship while out of sight under the canopy. The next time those vessels showed up, they might be targeting someone other than Imperial citizens. She turned to Trystan, grave and thoughtful.

    "I feel we are at an impasse. We need to get supplies to the Republic side of the planet, but in doing so we will leave this side unprotected. What do you think was the true purpose of firing on the Imperial colony? If they intended to destroy them, they could have used a ship better suited to that task instead of a few light carriers. How do we move if we don't know what they are planning?"

    And there lay the truth in Neva's irritation - she hated feeling trapped or stuck and this new, more overt, threat was creating that circumstance. She had vowed to finish the task, and finish she would, but she didn't have to accept every situation as it was. No, sometimes you had to create your own situation to get results.

  6. #66
    Trystan Mahr



    Trystan had never seen flying quite like this. Flight was as much an art as a science, no matter how much the instructors at Imperial flight school might try to reduce it to a simple set of coordinates and calculations - but this was something different. Emotion expressed in movement. Communication without words. Trystan knew enough to understand that Neva's hands on the controls were highly skilled. He was no danger. So he simply sat quietly for a moment, not interrupting her moment to use her craft to say what she needed to say.

    "I truly don't know," Trystan said when Neva asked what the Senate was playing at. "Officially, the Republic is not currently at war with the Empire, no matter how uneasy that truce may be. To violate that truce would be an act of war - war the Republic claims not to want, and which would be foolish to provoke over a barely armed colony with few resources. It's possible war has already been declared in the past few hours and we've missed it... but that seems unlikely, and there's the matter of the unmarked ship. That's something quite unusual. In battle, they should be flying their colors proudly, so to speak..."

    His brow was furrowed as he thought all this aloud. Truly, he was no further than Neva in understanding it.

    "I do have one thought about our next course of action. My suggestion would be to try to raise the other colony on a com channel and see what's going on over on the other side of the planet. It may not help us at all - but at least we'd have more information to make our decision, instead of potentially flying in blind."

    It might be that the Republic colony would be doing better, and would say they could wait for assistance. That would simplify the decision about how to prioritize their aid. Trystan was starting to have a sneaking suspicion of what they might actually find out, though.

    "I could be completely wrong, but if you'll pardon a moment of wild speculation... I suspect that we'll be told that the Republic colony has also recently been bombed by an unmarked ship. The only reason I can see to fly without colors is if you plan to play both sides by allowing each to assume you're the other."

  7. #67
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    Neva Xolte

    After a moment of silence, she punched the keypad to open the side door and ramp. "I believe that your suspicions will prove correct. Playing both sides is a dirty trick. Left to my own devices, I would simply show this video to both parties to indicate the Senate's involvement and let them decide what to do, but I am not sure that would help."

    Certainly that is what she would have done. And she would have flown away. Remembering them only in her dreams. But, things seemed different now - how that had happened, Neva wasn't sure, but she couldn't deny the truth of it. She could sense the shift in her own psyche. It was unsettling, but she could also sense that it was the beginning of a journey. Neva was never one to delay departure.

    "Despite knowing what we believe to know, I will still attempt to contact the other colony. I can at least get an idea of the damages incurred and what we have just escaped. Once we know the severity, we may see a clearer path."

  8. #68
    Trystan Mahr



    "I will not try to stand in the way of what you feel is right, " Trystan said carefully. "But I would strongly discourage hasty action here. If you simply reveal this information indiscriminately, I assure you that the Empire will seize on it as an opportunity to declare war on the Republic. If open war breaks out again, it will probably result in billions of deaths."

    He sighed and rubbed his forehead, frustrated by the impossibility of their position. The lack of good choices available to them.

    "This was not an action of the Senate as a whole. The Senate is often ineffectual and occasionally corrupt, but the Republic is a reasonably functional democracy for all that. There would have been protests. There would have been dissent. So many are weary of war. And frankly, official Senate policy is a fairly blunt instrument; acting as a group, they probably couldn't have pulled this off."

    Maybe he was biased, he couldn't help acknowledging to himself. Maybe as an Imperial by birth, he was too blinded by his desire to save his people. To see them find redemption, not just oblivion. But in fairness to himself, he didn't wish oblivion on his adopted group, his fellow Republic citizens, either.

    "We need to find out who in the Senate is responsible for this, and expose them to their fellows. If the Republic pursues justice for the victims on both sides, the Empire will be hard pressed to interpret it as an act of war. So please, Neva, just... consider the long view. We can solve this without that kind of death toll, with your help."

  9. #69
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    Neva Xolte

    Halfway down the gangplank, she stopped abruptly and held up her hand. She turned to face Trystan, a fierce grin on her face, grabbing his jacket in her fist in her excitement.

    "If we can't defeat them head on, then we need to play them at their own game. What about this - we report heavy casualties at both camps. We allow the ships to pick up the feed and then when they go to make their report, we follow them to the source. We can come back to deliver aid after we eliminate the larger threat. How is that for the long view?"

    Releasing his coat, Neva let out a 'ha!' then turned to continue down into the forest to meet up with Siralai and Rossi. What she saw were some of the villagers who were staring at her wide-eyed. They turned and ran into the wood, completely under the assumption that Neva was threatening Trystan.

  10. #70
    Trystan Mahr



    "A devious plan!" Trystan said - with obvious full approval. His Imperial roots were showing, he told himself. But that wasn't always a bad thing. In this particular situation, Neva's brand of cleverness could save many lives.

    "Devious and brilliant. Unless we've totally missed our guess on what's happening here, they'll be reporting back to Coruscant. If we include some trackable data packets in our 'report,' that would make it even easier to keep them in our sights."

    He gave Neva a comradely slap on the back - pilot to pilot. "Neva, you're a genius!" he said with genuine admiration. "You've just saved us a great deal of work and uncertainty."

    He was a little amused by the settlers' reaction. Still, he went to reassure them. The last thing they needed right now was confusion of who was on whose side, or who might be willing to act as a friend to Imperials.

    Siralai also agreed that Neva's idea was a good one. Though she had been raised by the Jedi, she was not one to put ceremony ahead of practicality. This was the most workable solution they had.

    "Let's do this," Siralai said.

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