While waiting for Captain Hayes and the Victory to arrive, Kaylani and Zeva go shopping on the station for cleaning supplies and a legal blaster pistol, among other things. At the same time, Kes and Kai begin summary repairs on the Silent Destiny.
During their second day on Velcor’s Cross’ largest orbital station, Kes, Kai, Kaylani and Zeva are asked to be present at Hangar 15 in one hour, where the personal shuttle of Captain Hayes will be landing.
As the four attire themselves for this meeting, Kay slips on a new shirt and some black leather pants. “Captain, can I bring my highly illegal hold-out blaster hiding under my vest? Pretty please?”
“No,” Kes replies seriously, dressed in her regular clothes but only sporting legal weaponry. “I won’t save you if you do.”
“Not sure I could either,” Zeva adds, leaving her lightsaber on the ship, while Kay straps on her new legal blaster pistol and sighs again.
Zeva wears a new spacer’s outfit, but still has the electrical tape-mended black jacket on top, while Kai dresses in his cleanest flight suit, leaving his knife behind.
Kay looks at the group and giggles. “Oh, we’re so pretty.”
Kes shakes her head at them. “She’s lying.”
“Artistic license, Captain. Lying is such an ugly word,” the younger woman tells her Captain.
“Not everything can be pretty. Let’s go, we’re not getting any younger,” Kes replies.
“It’s the ‘not getting any older after today’ part I’m worried about,” Kay edges in to get the last word.
The four make their way through various crowded levels of the station before finally arriving at Hangar 15, where a Lambda-class shuttle is sitting idly. There are no other ships or personnel in the very clean hangar.
Kay fidgets nervously and starts whispering to the others: “It’s too quiet like.”
Kes sniffs. “It’s clean. Too clean. A decent spaceport has a bit of scuffle to it.”
The shuttle’s ramp, under the cockpit, lowers and extends itself to the ground.
“Here goes nothin’,” Kes mumbles.
“We’ve got your back, Captain,” Zeva says in a low tone.
Kes goes up the ramp and quickly spots the only passenger in the shuttle, a middle-aged woman with a large burn scar on the left side of her face, her dark hair held behind her head with a pin. Bundled in the seat adjacent to hers are multiple stacks of datapads, one of which she is holding in hand as her head raises with Kes’ approach. Her Imperial gray uniform marks her as a captain in the Navy.
“Captain Hayes?” Kay asks. Unsure how to approach the woman, she salutes politely and stands still.
“In person.” Irene Hayes discards the datapad and rises. “Welcome aboard. I’ve been looking forward to this.” She holds out her hand to Kes.
Kes stares at the hand before slowly taking it. “I haven’t.”
“That’s unfortunate. I suppose you’ve heard terrible things about me then, Captain Varn?”
Zeva watches the exchange, still at the top of the ramp with Kai at her side.
“I hear a lot of bad things about Imperials. It so happens that I’ve been insulted by your lot. I don’t care either way, I just want to go on my way,” Kes remarks.
Once everyone is aboard, the ramp retracts and closes. Kai hastily gets inside.
“I serve in a rather broad organization, so that kind of judgment isn’t quite fair, now is it?” Hayes asks before turning to Kaylani and giving her hand to her.
Kay waggles her fingers nervously. “Captain Reyes wanted me to send her regards. I rather thought you wouldn’t, so let’s pretend you refused to shake my hand, shall we?”
“Reyes?” Hayes quirks an eyebrow and seems in thought. “Never heard of her.”
Kay shrugs. “She seemed a bit peeved with you, regardless. Of course, that could just be what she wanted me to think.”
“We’ll have time to discuss that later.” Hayes turns to Kai. “And you must be the pilot of the Vainglory?” She holds out her hand.
Kai shrugs and shakes her hand. “I am.”
Captain Hayes then turns to Zeva and seems puzzled. “And who might you be, girl?”
“Zeva Milaska, ma’am.” She looks carefully at the floor for a moment. “Seamstress.”
Kay gives out a slight cough.
Kes looks mildly relieved. She didn’t remember what name they’d given her, while Kai takes a keen interest in the ceiling.
“Yet you come with the others to be debriefed. Interesting,” Hayes adds more to herself.
Kes’ eyes flick to Kay.
“I was summoned. I didn’t want to get into trouble.” Zeva replies shyly.
“Well, we were in the way of giving her a ride off Erawlon, so she seems to have been invited,” Kay adds.
Captain Hayes looks mildly amused. “There’s no need to be defensive, I’ve done my fair share of reading on both of your ships… Now, if you would please take a seat.” The shuttle rumbles slightly as it takes off. “Reentry can sometimes be unpleasant.” She sits down again and straps herself in, taking back the datapad in hand.
“Where are we going and why?” Kes asks the Imperial Captain.
Zeva straps in, eventually remembering to start breathing again. Kai soon joins her.
Kay grumbles softly. “I hate being a passenger. Can’t see anything.” She settles down anyway.
Hayes doesn’t look up. “I’ve made reservations at the Al Daer. Apparently, the cuisine there is quite good.”
“Really?” Kay can’t help sounding suddenly cheerful.
Kes stares, before starting to snicker and sitting down, strapping in. “You’re…feeding us. Okay, then.” She casts a look at the others, as if to say, ‘what?’
“Nerfs to the slaughter,” Zeva murmurs.
“I thought you’d like that better than going back to my ship.” Hayes shrugs, still thumbing through the datapad.
Kes suppresses a snort, barely.
“Well, obviously the fancy restaurant is a bit less nerve inducing, but we’re still a bit unclear on the whole why you’re wanting to talk to us,” Kay tells her.
“But you wouldn’t want us busy eating unless you had a lot to say.” Kai adds. “So I’m happy to listen.”
“I’d rather not go into it right now, but I wished to talk of what happened on Erawlon and something else.” The ship begins reentry; despite all the shaking, Captain Hayes is still working on her datapad, a few fall from the nearby seats.
“Men think with their stomachs,” Kes says quietly, not really paying attention anymore.
Kay grins at Kai. “Such a sensible fellow. Most of the other pilots I’ve met are even loonier than I am.”
Zeva’s stomach makes embarrassing noises as she tries not to think about food. She shifts around in her chair.
“Ah, Milaska, I keep telling you to eat more.” Kay winks at Zeva.
“Keep up your strength, you know. Goodness knows you need it.” Kai grins.
After about five minutes, the ship lands smoothly, though both Kaylani and Kai suspect they could have done better. The ramp opens out from the ship and expands itself. The weather is clear, but very warm and humid; the air seems heavy, almost oppressive. Not far from the ramp is the terrace and entrance of the restaurant, which seems to be located on the top of a rather tall building.
“Oooh, fancy schmancy. We’re a tad underdressed, I think,” Kay remarks.
Zeva takes her jacket off and leaves it on the seat.
Captain Hayes unstraps herself and leads the way, Kai follows congenially.
Kay offers Zeva her arm to lead her in. “Shall we, hungry lady?”
Zeva accepts it. “I feel like I’m going to wake up any moment.”
“I could pinch you if you’d like. Prove you’re not dreaming,” Kay suggests.“Maybe you’d better,” the young Jedi replies.
The Imperial Captain briskly cuts through the long line at the entrance and follows a waiter through two dining rooms before being led into a cozy private room.
Kai’s smile fades. “Very nice reservation.”
Kay laughs. "Ah, that was a dangerous offer. You didn’t specify where I could pinch you… "
“Does it matter?” Zeva answers Kay, oblivious.
Some of the patrons, many of them Viashin, give odd looks at Zeva and Kaylani during their exchange.
Kay closes her eyes and blushes, muttering, “Bad Kaylani. bad, bad…” She then opens her eyes. “Course not.” She lightly pinches Zeva’s arm. “There you go, wide awake.”
“Thanks.” Zeva takes a seat at the table.
The large wooden table, inlaid with various motifs, is well stocked. Irene Hayes unceremoniously sits down. She looks over the many odd fruits at the center of the table and seems hesitant.
Kay shakes her head sadly behind Zeva’s back and glances at her captain, then sits down herself.
“Now then… where to start… " Kay eyes the fruit happily and makes a plate for Zeva. “Time to eat, seamstress.”
Zeva thanks the captain and tries to eat with more manners than usual.
“Miss Seren,” Hayes says, disregarding the fruits. “I believe you wanted to tell me something about this Reyes?”
Kay glances up from the plate she was making for Kes and passes it quickly to her captain. “Well, not much to tell, really. She seemed a bit upset with you, and wanted me to shake your hand with this.” She pulls a box out of her pocket and tosses it to Hayes. “Strongly implied we’d all be stuck in lock up unless I agreed.”
The Imperial captain studies the box, opens it and looks at the contents. “I assume if you had done as asked, things would have gone poorly for me?”
“That would be the impression Captain Reyes was giving, yes,” Kay confirms.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention.” Hayes nods at Kaylani. “I’ll take care of her later.”
“Sooner would be nice, since I’m quite sure she’ll be a might upset with me that you’re still walking around and all. If possible, and all.” Kay shrugs uncomfortably.
“I’m sure she won’t bother you for some time if you make the right choices tonight.” Captain Hayes turns slightly to face everyone. “Now, I went several times through the reports about what happened at Erawlon. I’ve also talked to Sergeant Ilvar who spoke with admiration about most of you. I was intrigued. I wonder, did you know how many people you saved on that world?”
“Who, us?" Kay asks.
“You did broadcast the message, didn’t you?” Hayes retorts, almost rhetorically.
“You got that? Really? Well, that makes the running in terror from the pirates and their asteroids a bit less depressing.” Kay seems relieved.
“Still, we weren’t sure that it saved anybody,” Zeva adds.
“About two thousand people got out of Erawlon alive because of your message,” Captain Hayes tells them.
Zeva’s face lights up.
Kai swallows. “How many didn’t?”
“Before the attack… Erawlon’s population was roughly sixty three thousand.” Sadness creeps into the Imperial captain’s voice.
Kay swallows hard and pushes her plate away. "Six… sixty-three… "
Kai crosses his arms and waits for elaboration.
Kes’ hand bangs against the table underneath. Her jaw clenches. But she says nothing.
“No.” Zeva’s voice is almost a whisper. “Why would… how could anyone do such a thing?”
“On behalf of the survivors, I wished to thank you for what you did. I also want to get any first hand information about this group; their tactics, equipment, how they think, anything.”
Kay reaches for Zeva’s hand, squeezes gently. "Anything that can help, of course. Don’t know that we’ve got much, but… "
“We don’t know why or even how they could assemble such a force. But rest assured, they won’t like my response,” Captain Hayes states firmly.
Kes tilts her head. “What interest does the Empire have in retaliating for an attack on such a small planet?”
“How quickly after our message before any response was mustered?” Kai asks Hayes.
“The Victory was four hours away when your message came in. Rescue ships for the civilians took a bit longer.” Hayes turns to Kes. “The Empire has no interest in this. Moff Yeagar is washing this off as an incident unrelated to the rising piracy in the sector, and is pulling back as many ships as he can to what he deems more important worlds.”
“Is this… personal, then?” Zeva asks.
Captain Hayes gives off a small smile to Zeva, as if sharing a private joke. “That would be highly unprofessional of me.”
“Of course. I am sorry. I don’t know about such things.” Zeva apologizes.
“Unrelated? Who…” Kay slams her mouth shut before she says anything else.
“I see. You disagree,” Kai remarks archly, and with venom.
Kes watches the woman, not bothering to hide her searching expression, trying to find what her angle was.
Hayes then turns to Kai. “That could be one way of putting it. Another would be that I’ll kill every one of them. I don’t want another Erawlon happening; some of the other captains agree with me, but it will takes us time to assemble.”
Kes leans back in her seat casually and bites her lip. “I still don’t trust you. But if what you’re saying is really your motive, I have no reason not to tell you anything.”
Captain Hayes seems to be lost in thought for a moment as if recollecting something, before speaking up. “I know they have Marauder Corvettes, older fighters, they seem mostly alien, somewhat disorganized. Well equipped in ships, not so much on the ground. Have I got it right?”
“We aren’t dead, so you can’t be far off,” Kai quips.
“They had a lot of ships. And yeah, pretty disorganized on the ground. Didn’t catch any names though. They knew more were coming, but that’s all I remember,” Kay replies.
“There was a name I overheard on a comlink. Someone called ‘Skobra’ was sending backup,” Zeva adds.
Kes shoots a look at Zeva, but catches herself and looks back at Hayes.
“Thank you; we’ll look for that name in our databanks,” Hayes says to Zeva before addressing everyone. “I want you to know, everyone of my ship who went groundside on Erawlon and those who survived the attack, they all consider you heroes, I tend to agree. That’s why it makes what I’m going to ask rather difficult. Bluntly put, I need the Vainglory.”
Kes’ head thunks onto the table. “THE VAINGLORY? THAT OVERPRICED PIECE OF JUNK?”
“I can’t speak to the price, but she’s not junk,” Kai shoots back.
“Then why’d you want to talk to all of us? I mean, it’s Caster’s ship, right? Up to him, and all…” Kay wonders.
“That thing is way too shiny for its own good,” Kes snaps at Kai.
Zeva continues to eat as shouting erupts all around.
“There were also other topics. The Vainglory was one of them, and it’s not up to Captain Novastar. I am taking the Vainglory. It remains to be seen if the ship’s crew will be kept,” Captain Hayes bluntly states.
Kes’ mouth drops open. “Oh.”
“What?” Kay seems confused.
“That’s not so bad for me as for Caster, but I’m awfully confused,” the Vainglory’s pilot replies.
“At least he’s not here to flap his yap at her and get us into trouble,” Kes mumbles, leaning back contentedly. Her ship was an ugly thing, thankfully.
“Apparently ‘cause he’s busy handing over his ship. Add me to the confused list with Kai,” Kaylani adds.
“I am loath to do this, but the Vainglory is a one-of-a-kind scout ship; I don’t have access to anything remotely equivalent. If I am to find those mass murderers, especially in a this area of space, I will need the best scout ships I can find,” Hayes tells them with some remorse.
“Nah, don’t feel bad, Captain. He won’t like it, but he’s a jerk,” Kes says honestly. “He could use some time away from it. Learn some humility.”
“All members of the crew can work for me if they want to. Of course, I will make sure the ship is kept in the best shape possible. As for you, Captain Varn, I have a proposition, though nothing as demanding,” Hayes continues.
“And now we’re both wondering where that leaves us, right?” Kai asks.
“Am I getting paid?” Kes quickly asks. Kay snorts. “Sorry, I meant, are WE getting paid.” Kes gives Kay an apologetic look.
Kay grins. “Wasn’t worried, Captain. But thanks.”
“Not only paid, but your ship will also be well taken care of. The catch, of course, is that you might be called upon to do some things that are highly illegal and dangerous, things that will require deniability on my end if things go wrong,” Hayes explains.
Zeva’s eating pauses.
“Because we’ve never done illegal or dangerous things before.” Kes pauses, then glances at Kay. “Shouldn’t have said that, should I?”
Kay laughs. “I think she figured that out already. Probably why we’re popular with all the Imp types lately.”
Kes snorts to herself.
“Last I heard, scouting wasn’t illegal. Where can we read the full job description?” Kai asks the Imperial captain.
“I’m not asking Captain Varn to scout anything, Mister Waldo. I have something quite different in mind for her if she accepts, and perhaps for you if you do not want to stay aboard the Vainglory,” Captain Hayes explain to Kai.
“It didn’t sound like my decision,” Kai replies.
“It is,” Hayes assures him.
“I’ll stay with the Vainglory. Sounds like that’s the most direct approach to dealing with the pirates,” Kai decides.
“Well, we’re none of us going to be making any decisions until you spit out some details,” Kay replies for the Silent Destiny.
Kes silently watches Hayes.
“Well Miss Seren, I cannot go into great details right now, but I intend to launch an investigation of Moff Yeagar, perhaps more if I don’t like what I find.”
“You want help bringing down your Imperial Commanding Officer?!?” Kay asks, incredulous.
Zeva narrowly avoids a spit-take.
Kes starts to snicker uncontrollably. “Someone’s ambitious! Can’t you just sleep with him?”
Kay coughs again. “Captain!”
“What? I did it!” Kes replies innocently. “Okay, not quite the same situation… at all… but still.”
“You slept with Moff Yeagar, Captain Varn?” Zeva asks, surprised.
Kay chokes a bit at Zeva’s comment.
“Do you truly believe I will get any kind of promotion out of this?” Captain Hayes asks sardonically, ignoring Zeva.
Kes shakes her head at Zeva, then looks back at Hayes. “Well, if you show he’s ruining the Empire rather than helping, that’ll give you sticker stars, no?”
“I believe they shoot or space traitors, they don’t give them a raise.” Hayes states coldly.
Kes’ laughter subsides suddenly. “So what’s your gain in this? The greater good?” She quirks an eyebrow, smirking.
“Frankly, I’ve had lieutenants serve under me in the Clone Wars who now outrank me, I don’t have a shred of a career left. I’m doing this for the same reason I joined the Planetary Defense Force of my homeworld all those years ago, for the same reason I joined the Grand Army of the Republic, because it needs to be done.”
Zeva nods, then goes back to eating.
Kes’ expression turns very serious as she studies Hayes, silent for a long while. Her eyes shift to the woman’s scar, then back to her eyes. “Right then.” She sits up straight. “I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”
“Wherever you go, Captain, I’ll fly you.” Kay nods at Hayes.
“I should hope so. Or else I’m not going anywhere, and not because I don’t want to,” Kes replies to her pilot.
“It’d be good to be back in service. Assuming you know what you’re doing. How’s the chain of command going to work?” Kai asks.
“Are we beating anyone with the Chain of Command? That never works out,” Kes quips.
“You will be taking your instructions from me or my XO, though in Captain Varn’s case, there will be a lot of leeway,” Hayes explains.
“Who’s the XO? So we know which Impie message not to be scared of?” Kay asks.
“Commander Maximilian Dreen. I trust him implicitly, in case you are wondering,” the Imperial Captain reassures them.
“Well, as you’re trusting us rather than throwing us back to Reyes and her folks, can’t really argue with your character judgment skills,” Kay tells her.
Zeva tears open something that almost looks like an orange.
“I hope I will earn your trust in the coming weeks. For now you’ll be on a retainer and officially you will be employed as my consultants, unofficially…” Hayes is interrupted by a loud crash in a nearby room and then the sound of blaster fire.