Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 3- The Ebon Hawk

Their escape was a blur of adrenaline. As soon as he boarded, Carth took over the pilot's seat while Ev stayed in the cockpit as a copilot. Bastila paced and stumbled abound behind them as the ship pitched through the atmosphere.

“Bastila, would you strap yourself into something?” Carth snapped as she tripped into the back of his chair again. “Maybe your battle meditation could help us out?” he added.

“How can I concentrate when the ship is so unsteady?” she shot back, strapping in.

“Do you want to fly this thing?” Carth demanded. When was the last time I was in a firefight like this? At least Carth had one thing to be thankful for; the ship was fast.

“Carth!” Ev yelled a warning.

A silver Sith snub fighter whizzed in front of them and missile lock warnings whined. Before he could dive below it, the fighter exploded under laser fire.

Evidently, the freighter's gun turrets were occupied.

“Nice shot,” Carth commended over the ship's intercom.

“My pleasure,” the gravelly voice of the Mandalorian mercenary responded, nearly drowned out by Wookiee war cries. Carth didn’t have time to wonder over how Canderous had joined them.

Above them still loomed the Leviathan. Carth’s anger that Saul was at the helm of all this destruction only fueled his drive to get away from Taris alive. It took all of his attention just to avoid the laserfire that rained down on them from the Sith cruiser. Several more snub fighters met their end at the freighter's laser turrets, but not before getting off a few shots.

“How are the shields holding up?” Carth asked, bringing the ship up from another sharp dive.

“We're losing some of the rear shields to those fighters, but if Canderous and Zaalbar keep doing their job, the shields should hold out,” Ev reported.

“Good,” Carth said tersely, “Keep an eye on them.”

“Yes sir,” she responded.

“I found T3-M4!” Mission called, running up the hallway behind them. There were sounds of a droid’s treads and mechanical chirping accompanying her. She stopped short and gasped as she gazed out the front viewport, “Taris...”

“Mission, sit down and strap in,” Ev ordered.

“T3-M-what?” Carth asked, not daring take his eyes off the destruction that raged around them.

“An astromech we picked up,” Ev explained then cursed. “They're picking at our rear shields again.”

“Divert more power to those shields, but keep the engines full power,” Carth ordered, “We need as much speed as we can get.”

“Droid, plot an evasive course to Dantooine,” Bastila cut in.

“Dantooine?” Carth asked, “That wasn't on your original—”

“There is a secret Jedi enclave there,” the young Jedi explained as T3-M4 set to work, “We can get refuge and seek guidance from the masters as to our next move against Darth Malak.”

“We need to get out of Taris' gravity well first,” Ev reminded them impatiently.

Carth ignored her, “Fine, Dantooine it is.” He determinedly set his jaw, searching for openings as they drew nearer and nearer to the Leviathan. We just need to stay out of range of its tractor beams.

“Taris...” Mission moaned quietly from her seat behind him, “How could they?”

After a minute of dare-devil flying that seemed to take hours, Ev announced, “We're clear!”

“Hyperspace routes plotted?” Carth asked.

“Affirmative,” Ev confirmed.

“Make the jump to hyperspace,” he ordered.

“Yes sir!” Even as Ev spoke, the stars in front of them drew out in long streaks and they whizzed away. They were safe.

The Zaalbar and the Mandalorian whooped victoriously from the gun turrets above. Ev sighed and leaned back in her seat, while Bastila unfastened herself.

With a shaking hand, Carth wiped the sweat off his forehead. All the while, he hadn't dared to hope that they would get out alive, and yet, here they were.

“That was some amazing flying, Lieutenant Onasi,” Ev panted, grinning. She had been holding her breath.

“This is one agile ship,” he responded, rising from his chair, “Where did you get it anyway?”

“This is the Ebon Hawk,” Canderous explained for her, striding down the corridor towards the cockpit, Zaalbar trailing behind him. “It belonged to my former employer, the Exchange boss Davik Kang.”

“Then how did you—?” Carth started.

“With the help of your friend here,” Canderous said, gesturing towards Ev, “We got the droid and the launch codes, then plucked it out of Davik's private hangar. The whole time, he thought that she was a new hire and this pair here were her slaves,” he finished with a chuckle.

“You stole this ship?” Carth asked in disbelief.

“It is a nice ship, you have to admit,” Ev put in, “And it did get us off of that rock.”

Zaalbar rumbled his agreement.

“Do you have any idea what the repercussions of having a ship stolen from the Exchange could be?” Bastila snapped, standing up, “You could have at least told us what you were planning, since you evidently don't believe in consulting your superiors before taking action. Did you even know what our plans were?”

“I was under the impression that you didn't have a plan,” Ev spat back. “Canderous had a good idea and the resources and connections we needed, so I ran with it. And besides, if we had come back to ask for your gracious permission, we would have wasted precious time. I bet we'd still be down on that planet, fried and buried in rubble, if we didn't take action right then.”

Watching Ev and Bastila fight was like observing a landslide. Carth wanted to step in and stop it, but he didn't know how. He was supposed to be defending Bastila, but—

“And what of giving us any warning?” Bastila demanded, drawing closer to her. The two women glared at each other, barely a hand's span apart.

“Did it ever occur to you that Davik's estate was bugged?” Ev retorted, “We were watched closely. Davik trusted me even less than, say, Carth does. One little comlink chat could have ruined our only chance.”

Carth caught her flick a glare in his direction out of the corner of her eyes. It shouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did.

“Ev's right,” Mission piped up defiantly, “We gave you as much warning as we could.”

Bastila scowled, “And that's another thing. This was supposed to be a top secret mission between the Republic Military and the Jedi Order. You had to go and bring in a Mandalorian mercenary, a street rat, and her Wookiee friend. By what authority was that?”

It seemed as if Bastila wanted an answer out of Carth, but Ev was faster.

“They helped us get as far as we did,” Ev said firmly. She stepped away from Bastila and closer to Mission, Zaalbar, and Canderous, who all clustered around the door. “We couldn't have gotten off of Taris without them. You, and all of us, owe them our thanks, and at least a safe passage off of that planet. Or did you want to leave them to die the fiery death that we would have, if not for their help?”

Taken aback, Bastila was speechless.

Ev turned her attention to Carth. Still seething beneath the surface, she asked evening, “Lieutenant, permission to be dismissed?”

Carth sighed and waved her away, “Go ahead.”

Clicking her heels, Ev pivoted then retreated away from the cockpit, with Mission scurrying after her. Zaalbar grumbled irritably then followed after them.

The Mandalorian, if anything, looked amused. “I guess I should leave you two to your top-secret Republic-Jedi discussions then,” he said and strode off after the others. Only T3 remained, bumping around the cabin. He was a spindly little silver droid with a wide disk-shaped head piece.

Bastila sunk back into her chair and rubbed her temples, “You really have to do something about that woman.”

“We both owe her our lives,” Carth reminded her, “You could at least go a little easier on her.”

“She needs to know her place,” Bastila retorted, but the anger was fading from her voice, “A Jedi's judgment deserves to be respected.”

“Ev may be an unpredictable woman and an unconventional soldier,” Carth found himself saying, “But she's been single-mindedly doing her duty since I pulled her out of the wreckage of our escape pod.”

“Lieutenant Onasi, it sounds like you actually support that blasted woman,” Bastila said in mild disbelief.

“You Jedi were the ones who specially requested to have her put on the Endar Spire in the first place. You should know what she’s worth,” Carth stated, “But if you want me to ask for her to be transferred elsewhere when we reach Dantooine, I can do that.”

“No,” Bastila said so quickly that Carth was taken aback. She took a deep breath and sighed. “I should not have let her rile up my emotions so much,” she said and stood again. “If you'll excuse me, I am going to go meditate until we arrive.” Without another word, Bastila turned and left the cockpit.

Watching her go, Carth sighed as well. What did I get myself into, really? He sunk back down into the pilot's chair again, and looked over the Ebon Hawk's controls. It was a beautifully crafted ship, probably riddled with modifications and upgrades, but he was too restless to study it any further.

Carth suddenly felt exhaustion weigh down over him like a heavy blanket. Living under the shadow of the Sith occupation, he hadn't been sleeping well for the last week. He hoped that the navy would give him a few days on Dantooine to rest before sending him, and probably Ev as well, back into the war effort.

Slowly, Carth explored the various cabins of the Ebon Hawk. He had hardly noticed any of the ship as he first tore up the loading ramp and dashed for the cockpit. The main hold was spacious with spectacular electronics installed all over it. Not that you would expect anything less from a crime lord. There was a swoop bike and a work bench in the garage, which was otherwise empty. Carth heard Mission and Zaalbar's voices coming from the nearby bunk room, so he left them alone.

Carth found Canderous in the cargo hold, scavenging for something to eat. The two men silently locked eyes for a moment before Carth moved on. The door to the port dormitory had been sealed shut, and Carth could only assume that Bastila had shut herself in to mediate. He caught sight of the silver astromech droid scooting around the ship now and then, probably exploring just like he was.

But that still left Ev. Staring at the door, he thought, She can't be in there with Bastila. Where else is left on this ship?

Passing by the med bay again, Carth caught sight of some light filtering down from the gun turret. He grasped the ladder and climbed up. Sure enough, there was Ev, curled up on the seat and watching the swirling hyperspace pass by. There wasn't enough room for another person, so Carth held onto the top of the ladder and cleared his throat.

Startled, Ev looked down at him. “Oh, Onasi,” she said, “Is there something I need to be doing?”

“No, I was just looking around the ship,” he responded then added lamely, “Great work getting this, by the way.”

“Just doing my duty to the Republic to get one very important Jedi off a Sith-infested planet,” Ev replied, not looking down at Carth. She sounded more irritated than humble.

“Ev,” he started, “I'm sorry for how Bastila treated you down there, after all you've done. She's just—”

“A spoiled little Jedi princess with special powers that got her pampered all her life,” Ev bitterly finished for him. Catching herself, she said more evenly, “I'm sorry. Really, Carth, you don't need to be apologizing for her. You're not responsible for Bastila's personality defects.”

Carth sighed, “You're right, but I should have at least learn how to deal with them,” he paused then added with a smile, “And yours, by now.”

“Who me?” Ev laughed. “I'm sorry for the trouble I've given you, sir.”

“Trouble? I'd hardly call it trouble,” he replied, “You got us through all that trouble on Taris in ways I would never have thought of, and you saved my back more than once. I owe you my thanks.”

When it came down to it, Ev had matured significantly during their time on Taris. No longer a green recruit, Ev seemed to have forgotten her flirtatiousness and argumentativeness in favor of confidence and dedication to their goal. Granted, she was still argumentative, but now less so.

Bastila, on the other hand, was still as self-important as ever. Carth suspected that Jedi weren’t raised to change like that, or even question.

“If you hadn't held the last escape pod on the Endar Spire for me or didn't pull me back out of its wreckage when it crashed, I wouldn't be alive today,” Ev said seriously, “We're even. What else are a couple of stranded soldiers supposed to do anyway?”

“Look, I don't know what the Jedi or the military commanders are going to cook up for us once we get to Dantooine, but you deserve more than to just be sent back to the front as a ensign, even in special corps,” Carth said firmly, “I'll try to put a good word in for you.”

“Thanks, Onasi,” Ev cracked a tired smile, “And if given the chance, I'll do the same for you.”

“Though I'll have to mention that you come with a Wookiee and a Twi'lek now,” Carth laughed.

“They shouldn't have a problem with honoring a life debt, but it might be hard to convince them to let Mission come along,” Ev mused, laughing lightly with him, “She is a whiz with security, though.”

“Well, we'll tackle that issue when it comes along,” Carth said and began retreating down the ladder again. “But, for now, try to get some rest before we have to face the Jedi.” I think I might do that myself.

- Next Part -


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