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Chapter 53

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Ben

Ben was in the cargo hold when Daniah walked in resolutely, an ashen look on her face. His heart sank. He'd known then what had happened, even before the words left her mouth.

Daniah reached for her holocomm, and her voice sounded through the speakers of the ship.

"This is Captain Pace speaking. Despite the valiant efforts of the Halcyon and her crew, we have been captured by the Kur'zo."

A wave of emotion swept through the passengers, some yelling out, some crying, others simply stone faced. After giving the crowd a moment to react, Daniah resumed.

"I know that this comes as a shock. We've done our best to rescue you, all of you."

"Commander Kenobi and I will do what we can. If there is any possible means of escape, we will find it." There wasn't any chance of escape, but Daniah didn't want to remove all hope for her passengers. "In the meantime, I strongly advise each of you to contact your loved ones. The crew will lend you holocomms for personal use."

"Be strong, and may the force be with you."

With that brief speech, Daniah walked over to him, and she reached out and grabbed his hand earnestly. "I need to find Echo," she said. "Can you handle the crowd for a few minutes?"

"Sure...only, isn't Echo everywhere in the ship?" Ben asked.

"She is, but not right now. Look, I'll explain later." Daniah replied. "Thanks. Here if you need me," she held up her holocomm as she walked off.

For the next few minutes, Ben coordinated his soldiers and assigned passengers to groups, to best share the limited number of holoterminals on the ship. The force called to him with a strong pang of anguish, and he saw a sobbing woman, slumped in a corner. Her name was Shae, she worked in HR, and her husband had been murdered by Krul in the assault. There wasn't much he could say, or needed to say. He listened and provided words of comfort.

After a few minutes, Ben excused himself and searched for Daniah. He could just call her, he realized, but he wanted to find her. After all, he told himself, the ship wasn't very large, and they weren't going anywhere.

* * *

Anakin

Anakin sat in his co-pilot's chair, his mind drifting to the fate that awaited them at space station Zadu. After being tortured by Chona, ransom, slavery or being sold as meat no longer seemed like a distant possibility. He imagined what he would have thought just days ago if he heard about himself on the news. Probably write it off as some poor tourist who got careless and go back to playing Return to Shimmerfall.

"Hey," Owen said, as he entered the flight deck.

"Hey," Anakin replied with a long exhale.

Owen walked over and placed his hand on Anakin's shoulder. "I heard the news from Captain Daniah. I'd suspected as much, but like everyone else I held out hope." Anakin stayed silent. "Just thought I'd see how you were doing. I'm sure you and the Captain did your best."

"Yeah, our best." Anakin rose to his feet, his lower lip beginning to tremble. "This wasn't a grade for school, Owen. I wanted this. I wanted to make the Kur'zo pay after the hell we've been through. And I wanted to protect you."

Owen let Anakin's words hang in the air for a long moment. Then he hugged Anakin tightly, and cried. "I know. I love you."

Anakin tried to hold back momentarily but the tears welled up in his eyes. He felt the anguish and pain cascade out of him. "I love you too," Anakin cried into his brother's shoulder. "I love you too."

* * *

Ben

After wandering the ship for a few minutes to no avail, Ben paused in the hallway, frustrated. Echo was a part of the ship and couldn't travel except on rails, so Ben had checked the obvious hardpoints. No Echo in the common room, no Echo on the flight deck.

Ben was about to give up and use his holocomm to locate Daniah, when he heard her muffled voice. He looked up and saw that he'd paused adjacent to Daniah's quarters. Collecting himself, he thought about what he'd say to Daniah and Echo that wouldn't seem trite. They shared a common plight, and he could start there if it seemed right.

The door to Daniah's quarters opened as soon as he pressed the control. Inside Daniah sat caressing an astromech droid, tears glistening on her cheeks, pouring out her sadness in song. Daniah kept her eyes on the droid, and sang the song's final words. "With you..." the words floated on her voice, settling deep in his soul with a final decrescendo.

"Echo can control any astromech on the ship," Daniah explained without looking up or acknowledging his presence. "Sometimes, when she's scared, she takes one of these little droids and hides in my quarters."

"You asked me once how I got this ship, and I said I bought it which is mostly true," Daniah said. "Despite what you might think, I wasn't the most confident at first. To be honest I just left home with my eyes on the stars and a ticket to the nearest space station, with no idea of what I would do once I got there."

"I scrounged together some credits with a few other girls in a thrasher chick band, but it wasn't much. I didn't have many friends at the time, not real friends, anyway. One day I found a beatup, abandoned astromech in the hallway. I fixed it up, and we took to each other. I called her Echo."

"Since then, we've flown with the Epsilon Aeri, salvaged and refitted the Halcyon, smuggled spice from Kessel, and almost cooked our goose over the twin stars of Matacorn. Throughout it all Echo and I have been the one constant. We've seen a lot together."

A moment of silence passed between them. Ben never knew what to say. He always felt so distant when Daniah spoke like this, even though he wanted to give her the closeness she yearned for.

Daniah looked up, fixing her gaze on Ben's eyes. "Why did you leave me Ben?"

It was the first time Daniah had asked that question. At least, the first time she said it in such a matter of fact way. Her story, her presence, her voice cut through the layer of ice that shielded Ben Kenobi from so much of his world, and he felt a sharp pain in his heart.

"When I first met you, I was drawn to your passion, your impulsiveness, your craving for life." He paused. It was difficult to lay out his soul, but he realized he had to, and he wanted to.

"I thought it was because I was insanely attractive," Daniah smiled coyly, drawing a laugh from Ben.

"That too," he admitted. "I was struggling under the strictures of the Order. You--" Ben cut himself off. He was about to say that she was a means of rebellion against the Order, but that was only partially true. It was the partial truth he had told her when he broke up with her. She, and he, deserved better than that now.

Ben's eyes watered, but he pushed forward. "You made me feel, Daniah. I don't think I ever did that for you." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Not enough at least. I'm loyal, fearless, intelligent... but I can be distant. More dedicated to what's in my head than what's in my heart. I couldn't help think you'd be happier with someone else."

They had locked eyes now, and Daniah came over to sit with him in the crash couch. She held his hand and said, "We're drawn to what we need the most, and sometimes that's the opposite of who we think we are." Leaning closer, she added, "That's true for me too."

Heat flushed his cheeks, and Ben felt his heart pumping faster. "I'm glad my final minutes of freedom are with you," he whispered, gently cupping Daniah around the neck. Pushing all reservations aside, Ben pulled her mouth towards his lips where he found his passion returned.

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