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Chapter 23

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The Halcyon's docking elevator hatch opened above Ben like a metallic eyelid. As the floor pad ascended, he saw the past. His past. There was the grey-bluish hue of the inner hull, the warm temperature that Daniah preferred and he had despised, the uneven distribution of lighting that created dark patches in the vast cargo bay. The phrase "without the air's resistance, a bird could never fly" still appeared in large letters on a prominent bulkhead.

The setting didn't only sing of nostalgia. There were fresh scars and dents along the room, as if some demolition derby had been held inside. This spoke of trouble, which worried him, even though he knew it shouldn't. Daniah could take care of herself.

The elevator locked into place and Ben stepped off the pad. He sent a command via his cyes to the Torment's End, letting it know that boarding the Halcyon was complete. The ship could travel back to Druckenwell without a crew.

Troopers bustled around the cargo bay, moving equipment and firearms into storage compartments in unused gun wells, while keeping out sim gear to bring to their quarters. Most of the troopers, like Ben, were already dressed in their civvies to fit in with the public once they landed in Iskaayuma.

With a rucksack swung across his shoulders, Ben strode toward one of two staircases in the bay leading to the central hallway when he spotted Daniah. She leaned comfortably against the railing atop the landing the two staircases ran up to.

Daniah's long auburn hair flowed over her left shoulder and across a striped tan leather jacket, the stripes running vertically on one side and horizontally on the other. Her hair stood out in stark contrast to her pale skin.

Having gone through a radiation storm, she looked too good, despite the scowl on her face. She must have freshened up.

Ben reached out with the force to sense her mood. Was she annoyed to see him, angry, or indifferent? Daniah was difficult to predict. The little he detected was slightly amused. She's remembered how to mask her emotions from Jedi senses. I never should have taught her that.

"Behold Obi-wan Kenobi," she said, looking down at him and shaking her outstretched hands. She spoke his Jedi title with extra emphasis. "Here I thought you'd never set foot on my ship again. I suppose you couldn't escape your... 'destiny.'"

The last word she spoke with an ominous, foreboding tone. To mock me, of course. I'm bound to get this treatment until the op's over.

"Guess not," Ben said, climbing the staircase. "Good to see you, Daniah." He reached out to shake her hand. Daniah ignored it.

"So like what I've done to the place?" she asked, and motioned with her hand to dents on the cargo bay walls he'd noticed before.

"Quite lovely," he said. "If you'd be so kind as to send me the name of your interior decorator."

Daniah grunted. "Oh, I think you know them. The AA."

As Ben suspected, the damage resulted from her close call with the Aqualish Authority. Rules were only helpful suggestions for Daniah, easily ignored when needed or desired. That attitude was an obvious point of tension between them. How was the supposed preserver of the Jedi order to be associated publicly with a scofflaw? It didn't make sense.

"I'll have to send them my approval then," he said. "In terms of decor, these new 'impressions' on the walls are far better than those tasteless Ortolan murals you had painted in the common room."

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