View Full Version : Relics: Precious Cargo

Black Talon
Jan 1st, 2016, 11:07:28 PM

An alarm sounded through the cockpit. The barest fraction of a second later it repeated, echoed through the speakers built into the pilot's helmet. A string of aurebesh characters flickered across the holographic heads-up display behind the helmet's polarised lenses.

Proximity Alert. Gravity Field Detected.

No shit.

The control yoke shuddered violently beneath Black Talon's hands as he wrestled with the servos that instilled the controls with artificial feedback. Every stick, every button, every lever was digital, the inputs processed by sophisticated computers. But pilots couldn't fly that way. Pilots needed to feel what they were doing; they needed the control responses to match the way their fighter was misbehaving. Right now, Black Talon's TIE/sf was misbehaving, stubbornly refusing to do anything but a slow leftwards bank towards the upper atmosphere of Takodana, the yoke fighting his efforts to steer away with all their simulated might.

Another indicator flashed up on one of the displays scattered around his peripheral vision. The hyperdrive was disabled. Damaged by laser fire no doubt; the exit from hyperspace must have been the one last shock required to shake it loose beyond the boundaries of functionality. He was no mechanic, but he'd turn an eye to it later; maybe something could be patched, to restore his TIE Fighter to interstellar functionality again. He'd worry about that once he was on the ground.

Assuming he survived all the way until then.

At least the scopes were blessedly empty. Or rather, they were empty of First Order transponder signals, and that was enough. There were an assortment of other craft showing on his screens, but Black Talon didn't believe the validity of all of them. Takodana was a pirate haven, a wretched hive of smugglers, spice runners, and bounty hunters. Somehow he doubted that the IFF signals claiming to be a Republic medical frigate and her authorised escorts were entirely genuine. Not that it mattered now. There wasn't time to be looking behind him: the vast green orb that had quickly come to dominate his viewport demanded his undivided attention.

Something ruptured as his TIE caught the thickening surface of Takodana's atmosphere, the controls too unresponsive for the pilot to shallow off his trajectory. Entering an atmosphere was no simple matter: too steep and the friction could shatter you into debris; too shallow and you might skip off back into space, which was not the place you wanted to be in a battered and limping starfighter. From the damage the ship was taking, Talon's course seemed to be much closer to the former of the two bad options; his fist pounded against the breather unit on his chest, activating the back-up life support native to his suit. The events that had allowed air to seep in from the fighter's onboard life support sealed in an instant, shielding Talon's lungs from the wisps of smoke and coolant that tried to creep in. The same button would prepare his suit for egress, priming the magnetic seals that would keep him warm if he exited the craft into hard vacuum, and charging the mechanisms that would hurl his ejection seat clear of the fighter if needed. But not yet. He was too high for an EVA pilot to survive reentry, and yet too low for the seat to boost him back up into a stable orbit.

"Hold together," he whispered quietly to the TIE Fighter, his voice muffled within the confines of his helmet. He wasn't sure why the unprofessional words were leaving him; but then there was so much about today that defied the expectations of logic. "You can do it, girl. Just hold together."

Jan 1st, 2016, 11:52:48 PM
* * *

Smoke billowed from Ceto's lips, creeping out around the pipe that was gripped casually between his teeth. He watched as the cloud plumed it's way out across the porch of the cabin he'd constructed with his own bare hands - mostly - creeping out into the Takodana air to be torn to shreds by the breezes and humidity. It wasn't hot here, not particularly, but the air in this world's old woods was heavy, especially this close to the lake. He could see it, off between the trees, this spot on the mountainside carefully chosen for the view it provided. Practicality had been a distant second, as his aching knees reminded him; but Ceto was too stubborn to admit that his age was making the trek to and from the temple more and more problematic with each passing day.

The temple. It sounded like some sort of religious pilgrimage, but it was far from. Years ago, some enterprising spacer had stumbled across an abandoned temple on this world. Through events that Ceto didn't know and didn't care to, the ancient structure had been appropriated, converted from a place of worship to a notorious shadowport. In the past, Ceto might have looked upon a smuggler or pirate haven with a sense of disdain, but on Takodana it was a mercy; the reason he'd chosen to settle upon this world at all. It was remote, far from the New Republic, the population sparse enough and disinterested enough to not know or care who he might have been in the life he left behind. At the same time though, the illicit traffic provided a connection back to the galaxy at large: Captains willing to skim off a little of their cargo, or even to swing by with specific items, if Ceto was willing to front enough credits. Money was hardly in short supply for him, the nest egg that he'd accumulated and hidden away over the years barely even feeling a dent from the handful of familiar luxuries he afforded himself.

The pipe had been one such thing. A Toydarian captain had sourced the plants themselves - a few herbs, a few medicinals; nothing dangerous, nothing narcotic, nothing addictive; just a little something to soften the edges of old age, to abate the arthritic inflammation in his joints; to keep some of the other detriments of old age at bay as well. It had taken a little getting used to, his lungs not really prepared for such things; but it was better than pills and needles and every other way of administering his health supplements. He wasn't sure how people did it; the galaxy seemed filled with relics and fossils of bygone eras, still surviving and enduring. He'd met men who still remembered the Clone Wars. Hell, there was one cycloptic Admiral he remembered from back in the Republic who seemed old enough to have witnessed the Ruusan Reformations first hand.

From what Ceto could tell, it was alcohol, stubbornness, and the galaxy's cruel sense of humour that kept such men alive. It was if bitterness and resentment for life had turned into a fuel, every sorrow, hardship, and cruel twist of fate adding another decade to their lifespan. Ceto couldn't rely on such things. He didn't survive out of resentment, there was no anger, there was no desire to prove to the galaxy that he would still endure no matter what it did.

His eyes settled on a tiny pair of boots abandoned haphazardly on the porch, caked in mud and leaves, too small for any adult to reasonable wear. No, for Ceto Rübezahl, there was no bitterness about life. Every day that he was granted, every extension that he could steal, was a precious gift to a man desperate to linger in this life for as long as he was able. So he medicated. He exercised. He struggled, and endured. He'd become a dragon up here on his mountain, scaled and gnarled, curled up around the precious treasures that life had given him, utterly unwilling to leave for as long as he lived.

Another curl of smoke escaped, meandering through the air in front of him as usual, until suddenly it took a sharp turn, slammed aside by some unexpected unseen impact. Unseen, but not unheard: an unnatural scream echoed down the valley, bouncing off the mountainsides like some reverberating banshee wail. As familiarity dawned, Ceto's blood turned just as cold as if it had been such a mythical creature; the reality was just as much a harbinger of death as the folklore. There had been a time when such a sound hadn't phased him, where it had almost been a comfort, not a source of fear. That had changed now. That familiar cry was the sound of his past catching up to him.

Ceto watched with narrowed eyes as the injured beast responsible rocketed overhead. The split-second glimpse as it cut across the pleasantly blue sky didn't reveal much, but it was enough to piece together some sort of a story. Smoke plumed from a wound across it's hull, char marks and blaster scoring hinting at the injury's source. Ceto wasn't wise enough about such things to know who had taken a shot at the TIE Fighter, but he could feel in his gut how bad it was. Wherever that fighter touched down, it wouldn't be taking off again. For a moment he wondered if one of the pirates or spacers in orbit was responsible: a lucky hit inflicted in the interests of protecting their haven. But no, if one of their ilk had detected the First Order, they would have warned their comrades, and the sirens at the temple would have begun to ring. People would have scrambled to their ships. The air would have been filled with the rumbling of engines as everyone raced to make sure the Imperial was well and truly dead.

No, there was more to this. Whoever had shot down that TIE Fighter, no one here on Takodana was aware of it. There was a greater story; and damn Ceto's infernal curiosity for demanding he find out what it was.

He heard a creak from the doorway behind him as his wife emerged, racing as fast as she could to witness the source of the sound that had shaken the cabin.

"Honey," Ceto said quietly, pausing for a moment to draw one last puff from his pipe before tapping out the contents onto the ground beside him, and stiffly easing himself from his chair. "Grab the blasters. I think it's time for our afternoon stroll."

Colonel Tallen
Jan 29th, 2016, 11:00:40 PM
* * *

Her eyes had darkened to their burnished gold feline state when they’d left the cabin, cautious steps carrying them through the thick jungle of the world they called home. It had been years since they’d settled there, a world as far from those they’d each known in the past but still linked to the galaxy at large. A place where she could roam in her feline shape at will, giving free reign to her feral side, though even she had mellowed to a degree with age.

Mara kept to her human shape, however, unwilling, for the time being, to tempt the aches that would settle into her joints if she shifted for a second time that day. While the shift itself did not cause her discomfort, resuming her human form after multiple shifts did often remind her of her age. Not that her standard years were particularly advanced, but those years of being a genetic hybrid certainly took a peculiar toll on her physically.

She paused in her movement, half closing her eyes as she breathed deeply, nose wrinkling before she shook her head at Ceto’s wordless query and they continued on. Her woolgathering, she mused mentally, would have to wait.

The smile that curled her lips at his expression deepened the delicate lines around her mouth for a moment, the fingers of one hand slipping from the rifle in her hands to tuck a stray auburn curl back behind her ear. A twig snapped behind them a ways, a sound not out of place in the jungles of Takodana, but certainly out of place at that moment and from that particular direction.

Mara’s features fixed into a maternal frown as a growl formed in her chest, eyes narrowing as she turned back to face the direction they’d come from. Close as they were to the spot where the TIE had finally come to rest, the last being she wanted to see was her sheepish twelve year old daughter slipping out from behind a tree.

She and Ceto both had sternly warned her to stay in the cabin while they investigated, and true to form, Ruby had ignored them both. On the one hand, she was proud and delighted that the child had managed to follow them and remain undetected this long. On the other...something wasn’t settling right in her gut with the sudden appearance of a TIE and she’d learned long ago to trust her instincts. They’d kept her alive in the direst of circumstances, after all.

“Teshira Rübezahl Tallen, just what do you think you're doing out here?"

A slender brow lifted as her KX-80 was slung over her shoulder, and arms crossed over her chest. Mara gazed disapprovingly at her youngest child and waited for some form of response. At some point, she thought distantly, she'd have to find a covert way of praising the child for paying attention to her 'hunting' lessons.

Ruby Tallen
Jan 30th, 2016, 12:47:48 AM
It wasn't that she wasn't good at listening.

Quite the contrary.

She was spectacular at listening, having inherited her mother's enhanced feline senses.

What Teshira Rübezahl Tallen was no good at was doing as she was told. Tell her to clean her room? She'd pick up a datapad and three hours later the mess would somehow be bigger. Ask her to politely write a thank you note to her grandfather for the gift of her first Mandalorian blade? You'd have thought they'd asked her to donate her liver to a research scientist.

So when both her parents had cautioned her not to follow them as they armed themselves and left the cabin, Ruby nodded, waited until they were out of sight, and then slipped out the back door. While she herself could not shapeshift as her mother could, she had inherited some of the physical abilities of their feline heritage. Enhanced senses and the ability to move silently and unseen even in the most challenging of terrain were gifts her mother had been teaching her to use. Takodana had been her playground for almost as long as she could remember, and as such, following her parents undetected was almost easy for the young girl.

What wasn't easy was realizing the solid footing she thought she had was, in fact, far less stable. Ruby managed to catch herself from falling and creating a huge amount of noise and fuss, but one of the twigs insisted on snapping and drew a wince to her features. There was no way her mother would have missed that one, she thought, and stepped out from around the tree she'd been tucked behind.

Eyes of amber and gold gazed sheepishly up at her parents as she stepped forward, looking to each of them in turn. There was a moment when she thought her mother might have softened a bit, but that stance and that disapproving frown...well, she knew what that meant and it really wasn't good.

"Was just...practicing my lessons. Like you always tell me. And...and..." her voice trailed off as she swallowed and blinked up at her mother's implacable disappointment, head hanging a bit as her shoulders slumped. Time to appeal to dad, she thought, switching her gaze to him instead. "...I'm in a lot of trouble, aren't I?"

Jan 30th, 2016, 01:26:55 AM
Ceto had believed that by coming here to Takodana, he was leaving a life of politics behind him. It was a foolish belief, for a man about to be trapped in a cabin with two equally stubborn women, both of whom he regarded with considerable affection.

Most of the time, his task was simple: go along with whatever they wanted. It was an odd experience for a man whose past boasted so much wielded power; he had faced off against corporations, lobbies, military officers, gangsters, and all manner of other important and arrogant individuals, and he had always managed to hold his ground; but present a woman with Tallen at the end of her name, and suddenly he lost all ability to refuse. So, for the most part, his quiet retired life consisted of abject surrender and total obedience. They did the thinking for him; he just grudgingly - often with a lot more pretend reluctance than genuine - went along with it.

The problems arose when Mara and Ruby disagreed over something, and both looked to him to somehow resolve it. The great tattoo debacle from two seasons ago had been the worst in recent memory; arguments like that made him nostalgic for the days of the Alliance-Imperial Treaty, when all he had to worry about was the threat of either side firing planet-destroying superweapons at each other. The stakes were far lower and far less devastating back them.

Ceto tried to resist the look that Ruby was giving him; the look that she had given him so many times before. He didn't need to even glance in Mara's direction to know what her facial expression was doing. Don't you dare let her have her way. It was a glare he saw all too often; and yet no matter how much he dreaded being on the receiving end of it, and the uncomfortable night spent on the couch that often followed, he still couldn't manage to fortify his defences against Ruby's onslaught.

He felt his insides twist into knots, a grimace already forming internally as he heard the words that sanity couldn't quite believe were tumbling from his mouth.

"It is only one TIE Fighter. One, maybe two pilots at most. Nothing you can't handle -"

He could feel the glare intensifying like the afterburners on a starfighter.

"- and you weren't much older than Ruby when you lied your way into the Alliance."

It was a low blow, and not an entirely accurate statement, either. From the stories that Mara had told him - and that Ceto had meticulously memorised for fear of being shredded by angry wife claws if he forgot anything - she'd been a few years older than Ruby was now when she'd manipulated the truth a little to enlist in the Rebellion; but if there was anything that Ceto had learned from the conflicts between his two ladies, it was that reminding Mara of just how much her daughter followed in her footsteps was a great way of both making her pause for thought, and reinforcing the fact that Ceto was entirely innocent, and could not be blamed in any way for Ruby being so rebellious.

Colonel Tallen
Jan 30th, 2016, 03:14:46 AM
Time and again, over the years, Ceto had bent like a noodle in the presence of boiling water. It was almost impressive the way their daughter could work him over with a single glance, and there were times when Mara didn’t even mind so much. Times when she’d object only half-heartedly and be oddly relieved when he’d capitulate. When the matter was truly minor and the danger non-existent.

This, however, was not one of those times.

This time, she expected her husband to actually have a spine and join her in sending the child back to the safety and security of their home until the situation could be properly assessed. After ensuring it was relatively safe, she’d have had no issue in calling Ruby back to inspect the wreckage and see what they could glean from it.

But no. Once again, Ceto utterly failed to provide back-up as he ought to have done. It was if he didn’t even attempt to resist. Mara did indeed level her glare at him, but it was a fruitless endeavor. The words that issued forth from his mouth brought her to an all new level of angry she’d not reached in a very, very long time.

...when she’d lied her way into the Alliance...

The color drained from her features and her expression went blank as she turned her back on both of them and took several steps away. There was nothing to say just then that would not emerge in an ugly manner, so Mara remained silent. There was no use in reminding Ceto that she’d had the benefit of a decade of Mandalorian training and the misfortune to tear out her boyfriend’s throat when she lost control of her feral side. It would have been a waste of breath to remind him that she’d needed the strict, exhaustive structure of the military simply to keep her sane as she tried to make sense of things.

It took her several minutes to calm down enough to be able to engage her voice properly, and even then it emerged flat and cold. There was no warmth, no purr rolling through her words and elongating the r’s, nothing.

“Teshira, tree. Now.” Mara said quietly, waiting until she heard the girl scamper back to the safety of the tree she’d been hidden behind previously. She didn’t even spare a glance for Ceto, considering that just the she wasn’t entirely sure she could speak without teaching Ruby a freighter load of new invectives.

Jan 30th, 2016, 01:01:39 PM
It was a difficult skill that had taken Ceto quite some time to learn: modulating his voice and volume so that Mara's honed ears would pick it up, but so that their child would not. At first it had been about not disturbing her as she slept; but as she'd grown older, it had been more to do with being able to talk about her without anything being caught by her ears. This was how it always went: Ceto dredged up an insult, a cutting word to forestall Mara before her animal instincts lured her into a shouting match. Then they would step away, take a breath, and discuss things so that Ruby couldn't hear. Unhealthy perhaps, but effective; and about the only way a mere human could hope to hold his own in situations like this.

"If we send her home," he said softly, advancing a few paces to stand just outside of arm's reach from Mara, not even trying to catch her gaze, "She'll just wait until she thinks we aren't watching, and she'll turn around and sneak back."

He let out a small sigh, a tremble of worry adding a slight shudder to the breath. He wasn't foolish, and he certainly wasn't cavalier with his daughter's life. He was the sensible one, believe it or not. The reckless choice was supposed to be Mara's contribution; he was the mediator, the Moff, the diplomat, smoothing everything over. Making everyone happy all of the time was an impossibility, but at least he could make everyone equally unhappy; at least he could make it somewhat fair.

"If she's with us, we'll at least be able to keep an eye on her. If the First Order is here -"

His voice trailed off; his eyes finally glanced in Mara's direction, giving her a glimpse of the concern that played out behind them. Why would the First Order be here, except for him; for them? Some subversive attack against the traitor Moff who had betrayed the Empire to the cause of peace? Some intrusion into his exile, to repeat the harm that been inflicted already?

His vision strayed for a split second towards Ruby's hiding place, before finding his wife again.

"We were not there to stop it the last time. I do not wish to make that mistake again."