Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 12- A Dry Welcome

Four days in hyperspace, considering the company, could have been worse. Ev and Bastila only fought three times. Canderous and Carth only accidentally offended Juhani on two occasions, each. Zaalbar kept to himself. Mission brooded about her brother. And Jolee poked into everyone's business while letting no one pry into his own. Ev was as fluid as ever.

Carth was glad that he at least had Ev to confide in without fear of offending or angering her. Of course, it did happen now and again, but she was quick to get over it and move on. As a soldier and ex-soldier they seemed to understand each other. The rest of the crew still remained largely a mystery to Carth.

It was late afternoon, into evening, local time, when the Ebon Hawk came out of hyperspace above Tatooine. “Sorry sir, I lost track of the time,” Ev said as she slid into the cockpit and took her seat in the copilot's chair.

“Don't worry about it,” Carth replied, already preparing to descend through the atmosphere. “It looks like we'll have a pretty easy landing. There's only one spaceport and only one settlement.”

“Anchorhead,” Ev reported ran her fingers across the dials. “Yeah, looks like there is clear weather. No sign of sandstorms in the area.” Ev glanced up through the wide front viewport. “Although, why anyone would settle on a ball of dust like this is beyond me,” she commented, “I can't see either green or water.”

“Probably for money,” Carth shrugged. The ship began to burn easily down through the atmosphere.

“So, are you going to go looking for Mission's brother?” he asked after a pause.

“She has been talking about nothing but Griff since she found out we were headed here, hasn't she?” Ev mused, “Yeah, I'd like to. Mission has done a lot of favors for us. We owe her this one. Though, Bastila may take some convincing.”

“Maybe Bastila will surprise you some day,” Carth suggested.

“Maybe,” Ev replied noncommittally. “Anyway, we're through the atmosphere now, so we clear to hale the spaceport.”

“Right, go ahead,” Cart responded.

Ev adjusted the com channels and pressed down the comlink button, leaning close to the microphone outlet. “Anchorhead space port, this is the Ebon Hawk requesting permission to land,” Ev announced clearly.

Shortly a male voice replied, “Ebon Hawk, we read you. What is your purpose on Tatooine?”

“Tourism,” Ev replied quickly.

“Tourism?” the voice replied skeptically.

“And visiting some family,” Ev amended, “Griff Vao.”

“Very well, Ebon Hawk, you have permission to land in docking bay 32,” the voice replied, “We will transmit the coordinates to you momentarily.”

“Thank y...” Ev's eyes suddenly rolled up in their sockets and she released the call button. She lurched limply in her seat with the swaying of the ship.

“Ev?” Carth asked urgently, “Ev!” Quickly checking to make sure the Ebon Hawk was on a safe and even course, Carth leaned over and pressed the call button, “Thank you for your time, Anchorhead space port.” He then grasped her nearest shoulder and shook her. “Ev, wake up! What's the matter?” She didn't respond. He momentarily took the controls again to redirect the ship, and then shook her one more time. Again, there was no response. “Bastila!” he yelled, “Get up here!”

Mission scurried up instead. “She just fainted or something,” the Twi'lek reported quickly. Seeing Ev, she gasped, “Her too?”

All of a sudden, Ev came to. She blinked rapidly, as if disoriented. “There's a star map here too,” she said distantly.

“Ev are you okay?” Carth asked urgently.

“Yeah...” she replied, still distantly. A moment later, fire came back into her eyes. She looked directly at Carth and retorted, “I was just having a vision, that's all. Don't get your shorts in a knot.”

“But you looked like you were—” he stopped himself. “Anyway, Mission, make sure Bastila was only having a vision too. Ev, let's bring this thing in.”

“Sure thing, Onasi,” Ev replied and got back to work.

The rest of the landing process did go smoothly. As soon as they touched down, however, Bastila strode into the cockpit and addressed Ev, “It's here. Close by, at any rate.”

Ev nodded, “I saw it too. I think the vision triggered when we passed over it. It looked like it was in some kind of cave.”

“It would have to be to survive tens of thousands of years on a planet of perpetual sand storms,” Bastila assessed. “At any rate, we have something to go on. Let's get moving right away.”

Carth stood up and started, “Look, you don't have to listen to me on this, but it's coming on evening here. The sun will go down in a few hours. How about we get a feel for the town tonight and head out tomorrow morning. Maybe there could even be someone here that already knows where it is, a guide or something.”

Bastila nodded slowly, “That is a fair plan, Carth.”

Jolee poked his head into the cockpit as well. “And how about some dinner? I've had enough of the slop that your synthesizer produces. I could deal with some real food about now,” he suggested, “This little sandbox here has got to have a cantina somewhere.”

Mission joined the crowd in the corridor, “And can we ask at the Czerka office about Griff.”

“If we have time,” Bastila nodded and strode back out of the cockpit. The others trailed after her voicing suggestions and requests. Carth made a few final checks of the ship and activated its security system before following.

Four days confined to the Ebon Hawk conjured enough cabin fever in everyone that the entire crew, astromech and droid remote included, crowded around the loading ramp as Bastila lowered it. Kashyyyk had been hot and humid, but it was nothing compared to the scorching dryness of Tatooine that flooded up the ramp and into the ship.

Zaalbar shied away, back into the ship. He rumbled something at Mission.

“Yeah, Wookiees aren't made for head like this. I get you,” she replied, nodding, “I'll bring you back something real good to eat, I promise.”

“Ah, then you can look after the ship, Zaalbar?” Bastila asked, pleased. The Wookiee rumbled affirmatively.

Bastila, with Ev following after her, started off across the docking bay. She didn't wait for the others to even leave the ship. Carth had to hurry to catch up with them. Suddenly, Bastila froze. Ev mimicked her moments later.

“I feel it,” Ev murmured, “They're here too.”

“We have to be careful,” Bastila agreed.

“When don't we?” Ev asked. Both seemed to be focusing on something distant and yet close by.

As Carth reached them, a burly Aqualish approached them and asked a few questions.

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Ev replied, waving her hand dismissively, “Go right ahead.”

“How did they find us again?” Bastila whispered as if the Aqualish had never come by.

“I hope it's coincidence, and that Malak has stationed them everywhere,” Ev murmured.

“What's going on?” Carth pressed, “What did that guy want?”

“What guy?” Ev asked, turning to him.

“The Aqualish,” Carth reminded her.

“Oh, I, ah, wasn't paying attention. I forgot,” she shrugged. “The Sith are here in Anchorhead. I'm sure of it.”

“We both are,” Bastila nodded firmly. By that time, Canderous, Jolee, and Mission had joined them as well.

“Sith? Here as well?” Juhani asked.

“It seems that they're everywhere,” Bastila responded, “So we all must be on our guard. We must be careful not to be caught alone. We can't know if they know who all is traveling with us. They may go after one of you in order to get to me.”

“If they know what we're after,” Ev said in a low voice. She was barely audible, “They'll want to kill us all, connection to Bastila or not.”

“Fine, we get it, no playing lost puppy until we smoke out the Dark Jedi. Fair enough,” Jolee said. Carth wasn't entirely convinced that the old man was taking the situation seriously. He brightened up and suggested quickly, “Let's find some dinner, shall we?”

Ev chuckled and Bastila glared at him. Without another word, Ev strode off towards the large doors at the other end of the bay, which started the rest of the group in motion.

Anchorhead seemed sparely populated. Most of its inhabitants were either uniformed by Czerka, thugs, or related to one of the later. There was little activity, but even in the evening, the air was almost unbearably hot. Anyone who could be, was indoors.

They had not gotten far into the settlement when Jolee pointed out a building on their left, “Hunting Lodge? Maybe they serve some kind of dinner.”

“Looks like a bar to me,” Canderous put in.

“Who is with me?” Jolee asked.

“I would like to visit the Czerka office to see if they have heard anything about a star map first, or if there are any good local guides,” Bastila said.

“Can we ask about Griff there?” Mission asked tentatively.

“Sure,” Ev nodded, “I'll go along with you too.”

“Bastila, you just said we should be careful not to get split up,” Carth pointed out, “And I agree with you, if there are Dark Jedi around. I'll go with you to the Czerka office and the other three can try the hunting lodge. That way our numbers won't grow too thin.”

“You're even thinking strategy when it comes to food,” Jolee observed.

“He has a point, you know,” Juhani pointed out sharply. “Would you like to fight a group of Dark Jedi on your own.”

“Hey, hey,” Jolee protested, “Don't get all snappy on me. And don't for a second thing that I have done just that many times before.”

“Alright, so it's settled then?” Carth asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Bastila answered quickly, “Let's go.”

The two groups parted ways, Jolee rattling at Juhani about the war with Exar Kun. Carth and his group continued to walk in silence. The Czerka Administration office was only just around the corner.

When they entered, the woman in charge was already in a heated argument with a Huttese-speaking Duros. For once, that was a language Carth understood.

“What you are proposing is genocide!” the Duros exclaimed.

“We are doing what we must to keep our employees and this settlement safe,” the woman explained calmly, but Carth could see that her patience was running thin, “You must understand how difficult that can be.”

“You are simply taking the easy way out with a blaster rather than diplomacy. This is outrageous,” the Duros accused, “And don't tell me to take my complaints to the Czerka head office on Coruscant. I know just how much good that will do, filtering through all the bureaucracy.”

“Then I see that we have no more to discuss,” the woman replied, “Take your complaints elsewhere or be silent.”

Grumbling, the Duros stormed off.

Seeing the four newcomers into the office, the Czerka official put on a smile and said, “Welcome. What can I do for you?”

“We are looking to do a bit of exploring out on the Dune Sea,” Bastila explained, “Do you have any recommended guides?”

“I am afraid that we do not, and we are not currently issuing hunting permits, which you will not be allowed to leave the city without,” she replied clearly.

“We are on rather timely business for which venturing out into the Dune Sea is a necessity,” Ev said as diplomatically as Carth had ever heard her, “Is there any other way we could be allowed out?”

Carth eyed her, astonished. Is she suggesting a bribe? We don't have that kind of credits to spare. For once, Bastila didn't seem bothered.

“Well, there is one thing,” the woman said after a moment's pause. “We have been having serious trouble with the Sand People of late. We are looking to hire someone to get rid of them. They have been attacking our miners and transports far too often, and we just don't have the manpower to compensate for all of the abductions and casualties. Agree to do this, and I will issue you a hunting permit. You look like a capable group.”

So that's what the Duros was complaining about...

Bastila turned to Ev and hissed, “We don't have the time for this.”

“But it may be our only chance,” Ev replied softly, “We need that permit to leave, legally.”

“Who says we have to do what she says,” Mission whispered.

“You realize that Czerka will enforce this deal by contract,” the woman said. Carth couldn't tell if she heard Mission or not. “We take this matter very seriously.”

“Fine, we'll do your job,” Ev said, “Now where's that permit?”

“It will be yours in just a moment,” the woman said with a smile and shuffled through papers on her desk, “Whose name shall I put down?”

“Pell,” Ev replied.

“Do you have a surname, Ms. Pell?” she asked.

“Ruen'ev Pell,” Ev lied. Bastila shot her a surprised glance but Ev didn't seem to notice.

The woman scrawled Ev's name across a certificate then signed it herself. Handing it over, she said, “Bring me their gaffi sticks after you have killed them. Be sure to bring the chieftain's as proof you have done it to completion.”

“Why their weapons and not their heads?” Ev asked, “That's more solid proof.”

“Which would you rather have dropped onto your office floor?” the woman retorted.

“Fair enough,” Ev shrugged, “We'll get the attacks to stop for you.”

It seemed that they were wrapping up, but Mission cut in, “Do you know anything about a miner named Griff Vao?”

“Griff Vao? Never heard of anyone by that name. No, I believe you must be mistaken in thinking that he worked here,” the woman said quickly and she shuffled her papers nervously.

Ev saw through her lie. She conspicuously put the hunting permit into her hip pouch. “Lying to your employee's little sister. That's low. We might have to reconsider our deal after all,” she said threateningly.

“Oh, Griff Vao, must have slipped my mind,” she laughed uncomfortably, “The Twi'lek that was reported for repeatedly calling in sick, sleeping on the job, and shirking his responsibilities. He was even suspected for stealing company equipment, but we never had enough proof to convict him. He was one of our worst workers.”

“That sounds like Griff alright,” Mission sounded encouraged, “So where is he now?”

“Well, that's difficult to say,” the woman replied, shuffling her papers again, “He was lost in a Sand People raid not long ago.”

“He's dead?” Mission exclaimed.

“We never found his body, and it wasn't cost effective to keep searching,” she replied, “It can be assumed that he was captured and used as a slave at their camp.”

“Does Czerka treat all of their employees as expendable?” Ev asked.

“Of course not,” the woman replied with nervous indigence, “All of our employees sign a liability waver upon hiring agreeing that the company is not responsible for such accidents.”

“Compassionate group you are,” Ev commented sarcastically. “We'll see you once we have upheld our end of the deal.” With that, Ev turned and stalked out of the office, Mission after her. The young Twi'lek's anger was even more obvious. With one last disgusted look at the Czerka official, Carth too followed after.

“No wonder Czerka does so well in the Galactic Stock Exchange,” Carth commented, “All they care about is money.”

“You didn't notice before?” Ev replied.

Juhani, Canderous, and Jolee waited just outside for them.

“Did you already eat?” Ev asked.

“There wasn't much there,” Canderous shook his head, “But the hunters said that there's a cantina with decent food on the other end of Anchorhead.”

“They also confirmed that the Sith are here,” Juhani added, “They have been in the city for nearly a month.”

“And usually wait between the cantina and the supermarket,” Jolee reported.

“Which is where?” Bastila asked.

“Right around that corner,” Jolee replied, pointing ahead.

“At least we have some warning this time,” Carth said.

Bastila looked over the group. “Jedi lead out and gunners find cover. Start attacking once we have engaged them,” she instructed.

“And what about me?” Jolee asked.

“Use your head, Jolee,” Bastila snapped. Jolee shrugged and snickered.

They prepared to move out but the Duros from the Czerka office before stood in their way.

“I take it you are the killers they hired?” he asked disapprovingly.

“And what of it?” Ev asked.

“Has no one any sense or compassion?” the Duros lamented. “I have watched the Sand People. They are intelligent and organized. There should be no need for slaughter. We are invaders on their land. Czerka wastes resources and disrespects the environment. The Sand People have a right to be angry. There must be a way for peaceful solution.”

“You mean, talk out the problem with the Sand People?” Carth asked skeptically. “I heard that they attack anyone on sight.”

“Does anyone even speak Sand People-ese?” Mission added.

“No one has tried. No one in this settlement even seems to believe them sentient. I heard that Yuka Laka may have a droid in his shop that speaks their language,” the Duros replied, “Really, someone must try to end this madness without a blood bath.”

“This keeps getting more complicated, doesn't it?” Ev sighed. She looked at Bastila and Carth, “It's worth a try.”

“Being hired killers is not the Jedi way,” Bastila responded, “His methods, if the Sand People can be reasoned with, may prove to be the better. However, we have more important things to attend to than intervening between Czerka and another native people.”

“I hope you have more sense than Czerka,” the Duros said, not sounding hopeful himself, and hurried away.

“Well, first, we still must deal with the Sith presence,” Bastila reminded them, “Is everyone ready?”

“Yeah,” Jolee put in enthusiastically, “They're between us and our dinner.”

“Jolee,” Bastila said irritably.

“There are important things, and then there are very important things,” Jolee lectured jokingly. He seemed pleased to continue the joke at Bastila's annoyance.

Bastila sighed, “Let's go then.”

Among the people that did mill around on the dusty streets, their odd group seemed to attract some attention. Carth suspected that the Dark Jedi were just as prepared for a battle as they were. It didn't take long to confirm that suspicion.

Waiting around the corner for them, blood red lightsabers already drawn, were three more hooded Dark Jedi. Bastila boldly led the charge. She strode with deliberately slow strides towards them, flanked by Juhani and Ev. Jolee trailed slightly behind. All four triggered their lightsabers at nearly the same moment. It was a brilliant flash of colors; yellow for Bastila, violet for Ev, cyan blue for Juhani, and brilliant green for Jolee, against the red of the Sith.

“Lord Malak was most displeased when he learned that you had escaped Taris alive,” the center Dark Jedi threatened, “He has promised a great reward to whoever brings you back alive.”

“Yeah, yeah, we heard that already from your friends on Kashyyyk,” Ev replied lazily. Then she lunged forward, yelling, “On your guard!”

The clash began.

Four Jedi were more than enough for the three Sith, but one wielded a double bladed saber like Bastila's. Carth used the corner of a building for cover while Canderous and Mission crouched behind a pile of crates. Most of their bolts refracted away from one lightsaber or another, but it added to the confusion of battle. Distraction, it seemed, in a lightsaber battle, was as good as a death sentence.

Soon, it was all over. Carth didn't notice when the first Sith fell, but the other two were defeated only moments apart from each other. Taking a deep breath, Carth stowed his blasters and moved out of cover. He saw a large crowd of gawkers dispersing. People retreated back inside or down the road. Shutters on higher levels of buildings were drawn shut again. Just what we needed; an audience.

“Move on,” Bastila ordered as she clipped her long lightsaber hilt back on her belt.

Carth watched in amazement as their little party formed up in regimental rows behind her, Carth himself taking up the rear. Everyone got the point that a little bit of showing off couldn't hurt for avoiding trouble in the future. As they rounded the next corner, the cantina came into sight.

“At last, dinner,” Jolee said happily and broke rank with the others.

“After that, I'm starving too,” Ev agreed, grinning. “This place better be good.”

“Or at least edible,” Jolee pointed out, “That's what's important.”

Canderous chuckled.

Ahead of them another irritable Duros stalked out of the Cantina. Waving spindly fingers at them, he ranted, “You humans should be ashamed to have one such as that woman in your race. One would have thought that Helena was your word for 'pit rancor.'” Having vented his anger, he stormed off in the other direction.

“What was that about?” Ev wondered out loud.

“Helena,” Bastila murmured, “That was my mother's name. I wonder if...”

They pushed on inside. The dingy cantina looked like most others he had been in. Twi'lek dancing girls performed on a platform above the bar while shady characters of all races clustered around the too-small tables. Jolee, Canderous, Mission, and Juhani made straight for an empty table in the back while Bastila followed them in a thoughtful daze. Ev headed for the bar instead. Carth found himself following after her rather than with the rest of the group.

Leaning over the bar, she hailed the barkeeper.

“What can I do for you two?” he asked, eying Carth and Ev.

“You got some old Coruscant Dry?” Ev asked.

“Of course,” he replied and turned to Carth, “And for you?”

“Nothing for now,” he answered.

Ev settled down on the nearest bar stool and propped her elbows up on the counter. Carth sank down next to her.

When the bartender returned with her foaming drink, Ev beckoned him with one finger. He leaned closer. “We're looking for some interesting antiques out on the dunes,” Ev explained enigmatically, “Know of any good guides around this place?”

“What kind of antiques are you talking?” the bartender replied lowly.

“Old machines. Really old ones. We're treasure hunters of a sort,” Ev replied.

“Then you'll want to talk to the Jawas,” the barkeeper replied, “They're the only ones that go real deep into the Dune Sea and they're always picking up bits of machinery. Right old tinkerers they are.”

“Thanks,” Ev said, leaning back. She stood up and flipped him credits enough for her beer and a few extra, “For your trouble.” Taking the drink in hand, she swaggered back towards where the others sat.

“Good work,” Carth commended, “But I hope you speak Jawa.”

“A bit,” Ev replied with a smile.

“My god, it is you,” Bastila exclaimed quietly, staring at a woman who sat alone at the table next to their group.

“Do I know you?” the woman asked, self-importantly.

“It's me, Mother,” Bastila replied, “Don't you recognize me?”

“How could I when I've had not so much as a picture since you left?” her mother, Helena, demanded.

Ev sipped her drink as they stood watching the conflict unfold.

“You know as well as I did that communication would be impossible when I joined the Order,” Bastila retorted, “You were the one that forced me into it when I didn't want to go.”

“Oh, isn't this lovely?” Helena snapped, “Do you have any idea how long I've looked for you?”

“What are you doing here on Tatooine? Where is Father?” Bastila demanded quickly.

“That is part of the reason why I was looking for you,” Helena replied, “Your father is dead.”

“Dead!” Bastila exclaimed accusingly, “What did you do to him?”

“So you want to blame me for his death?” her mother demanded.

“You were always sending him out on those terrible treasure hunts just so you could live in luxury,” Bastila accused, “You knew how much I loved him and yet you never let me go along.”

“And you hated being stuck at home with your mother, didn't you?” Helena spat.

“Well? What happened to Father?” Bastila demanded again.

“We came here on one of his hunts. This time he was looking for krayt dragon pearls. He went out on an expedition into the dessert, was attacked by the dragon, and died,” she replied dryly.

“You sent him after krayt dragon pearls?” Bastila exclaimed, “You should know just how dangerous that would be! They are some of the most fearsome predators in the galaxy.”

“Did you ever think for a moment that he actually loved his treasure hunts?” Helena retorted. “I am dying, Bastila. Your father knew that finding those pearls would pay for my treatment. It was his idea. But it's no use now.”

“Dying? You don't look ill at all,” Bastila retorted doubtfully, “Are you trying to draw me in through pity? It won't work.”

“I don't need your pity,” Helena replied.

“Then what do you want, credits to make up for father's failed expedition?” Bastila asked venomously.

“No, I don't want your money,” her mother retorted. “I only wish I had his holocron.”

“Why? So you can sell it?” Bastila shot back.

Suddenly Mission stood up, fuming. “I can't believe you Bastila! She's your family,” she cried.

“Family?” she scoffed, “How can I call her family?”

“She's your mom!” Mission exclaimed, “You actually have one!”

“Mission, this is none of your business,” Bastila retorted.

Mission set her jaw and stormed off. As she brushed between Carth and Ev, he could see tears welling up in her eyes. “I'm going back to the Ebon Hawk,” she muttered.

“No one ever told me that Jedi can be so spiteful,” Helena observed. “Is it too much to ask to have something to remember him by? Can't you use that power of yours to find it out there in the dessert?”

“No,” Bastila refused, “I am on an important mission from the Jedi Council. We don't have time for any more diversions.”

“You would deny your dying mother?” she asked sharply.

“I, for one, do not believe that you are dying,” Bastila retorted.

“I am your mother, Bastila Shawn,” Helena said and slammed her fist on the table, “You owe me this much.”

“For what? Sending me away from my father as a child and then getting him killed? I think not,” Bastila fumed. “I've heard enough!” She turned and stormed past Ev and Carth.

“Bastila, we ordered you a—” Juhani called after her.

“I'm not hungry any more,” Bastila replied over her shoulder and disappeared back outside the cantina.

“What a reunion,” Helena murmured and sat back in her chair thoughtfully.

“That was—” Carth started.

“A mess,” Ev finished for him darkly. He glanced over at her. Ev's dark eyes looked troubled. “And she said I had anger issues. She really shouldn't be...”

Suddenly, there was a scream outside.

“Sithspit! Bastila!” Ev cursed under her breath. She took the last two steps towards their table at a dash, slammed her mug down, and unclipped her saber from her belt. “We've got trouble again,” she said with quiet urgency, then bolted for the door.

“Ev, what's—?” Carth didn't bother to finish the question. He pulled out his blasters and dashed after her.

Canderous and Juhani leaped up as well.

“I'll hold the table!” Jolee called after them.

Outside the cantina, Carth skidded to a halt just beyond the doorway. Surrounding Bastila were a motley crew of thugs; Aqualish, Rodian, Duros, and Nautolan. A short man wearing a long blue coat and a white head wrap with a prominent chin stood at their front with a gun pointed at Bastila's head.

“Who are you?” Carth demanded with his blasters pointed straight at the man. Juhani and Ev's lightsabers were already alight.

“Calo Nord,” Canderous observed gruffly, “We left you for dead back on Taris.”

“You'll find I'm harder to kill than that,” Calo sneered. “You didn't think you could take Davik's prize ship and run away unnoticed, did you? You have given me a long chase, but I have you at last. I've waited a long time for this.”

“Get out of here,” Ev snarled.

“I want these two alive,” Calo ordered his thugs. He gestured to Bastila and Ev with his second gun. “Kill the rest.” A shot burst from his gun and Bastila crumpled to the ground, stunned.

Juhani roared angrily and leaped at him but two of his thugs blocked her way, volleying rounds of shots at her. She deflected them in a frenzy. Meanwhile, Canderous staked out some shelter in the doorway. Ev hovered protectively in front of them.

Calo fired another stun shot at Ev, but she deflected it. It hit his Rodian thug instead. Juhani finished him.

The Aqualish came at her with a vibroblade and engaged her. For a burly thug, he was surprisingly nimble and gave Ev a tough time. Meanwhile, Juhani whirled through the battle and decapitated the Nautolan.

Just then, Carth noticed Calo Nord coming around behind Ev for another shot.

“Ev! Watch out!” he cried and leaped from the protection of the doorway.

Ev jerked away, but Calo, quick as a flash, turned his aim and shot at Carth instead. It ripped him across the left shoulder. Screaming in pain, Carth dropped both of his blasters and clapped his right hand to the wound.

“Carth!” Ev screamed.

Calo laughed and turned his entire focus on Carth. Carth gritted his teeth against the searing pain, but collapsed slowly to his knees. The shock to his body made him suddenly feel faint. You've had worse than this before, Carth... His vision began closing in.

Canderous, Juhani, and Ev seemed to roar in unison. He wasn't sure who finished off the bounty hunter, but, by the time he found himself again, Calo Nord and all of his thugs were dead. Ev already crouched at his side.

She grasped his hand and urged, “Carth, Carth! Stay with me!”

“It's just... a scratch...” Carth replied weakly and tried to smile encouragingly up at her.

“It's deeper than you think,” she shook her head. “Just hang on a minute.” As Ev lay her hands over his shoulder, Carth involuntarily yelled out again. His whole left arm was either numb or so riddled with pain that he couldn't make sense of it any more.

Ev closed her eyes and breathed deeply. A warm but not altogether pleasant sensation crept over him, as if his innards were shifting and knitting together. He winced and gasped. He wanted to pull away to make it stop, but he knew better.

Finally, Ev pulled back. “I'm not as good at this as Master Vandar, or even Jolee, but that should do it,” she said, relieved “Your collar bone is back together, blood vessels closed up, internal bleeding stopped, and all you've got is a scar that I couldn't quite patch together beautifully. Though, you're going to need to get this jacket of yours mended. And washed. After a good soaking of course. That will get the blood stains out.” It wasn't like Ev to babble or even give domestic advice of that sort. He noticed that her own hands were stained with his blood.

“You sound just like,” he started warmly, then caught himself. It was almost too much. Sighing, he finished softly, “Just like Morgan.”

Ev worked her way beside him and put his arm over her shoulders. Slowly, she helped him to stand. He winced as pain shot down his left arm again. “Sorry,” Ev uttered quickly, “I guess I didn't do as good a job as I thought. You should have Jolee look at that later.”

“Don't worry, you did great. How's Bastila?” Carth asked.

“Still stunned,” Canderous reported. Both he and Juhani stood around where Bastila had fallen, “But she'll be waking up soon enough, I'd wager.”

Ev ducked out from under Carth's arm and joined them at Bastila's side. “We should get her back to the Ebon Hawk,” Ev said quickly.

“We shouldn't hang around this scene any longer,” Juhani agreed, “And, I suspect she will not be wanting to see her mother when she awakens.”

“Fair enough,” Canderous agreed.

“I'll carry her back then,” Ev volunteered.

“I can carry her for you, Ev,” Carth offered. Though younger, Bastila was a bit taller than Ev.

“Not with that shoulder, you're not,” Ev said sternly.

“Fine, I'll help you carry her,” Carth persisted.

“If you're not going to give up,” Ev replied, then she turned to Canderous and Juhani. “Can you get us,” she paused, counting on her fingers, “five orders to go? This dinner party really fell apart, didn't it?”

Juhani nodded, “We will try to bring them back warm.”

“That won't be hard in this heat,” Canderous commented and turned back towards the cantina. With one last concerned glance at Bastila, Juhani followed after.

Carth helped Ev get Bastila's limp form up onto her back. The strain of lifting pained his shoulder, but he tried not to let on to Ev. The unconscious Jedi's arms hung limply over Ev's shoulders. With Ev's hands clasped behind her back under Bastila's rump, she dangled in a sort of sitting position. Ev sagged under Bastila's weight, but she stubbornly started walking forward. If Bastila was too heavy for her, she wasn't going to admit it.

Carth walked just behind her, lending a stabilizing hand to Bastila when it was needed. They were hardly half way back when Ev's comlink flashed and Mission's voice carried through, “Ev? You there?”

“Carth? Can you get that?” Ev asked as she adjusted Bastila's weight on her back.

Carth reached over and unclipped the comlink from her belt. He pressed the call button and replied, “This is Carth. Ev is with me. What is it Mission?”

“We have an interesting problem,” Mission started.

“What do you mean by interesting problem?” Carth questioned.

“Have you ever heard of a gizka?” Mission asked.

“Did you say gizka?” Ev stammered.

- Next Part -

 

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