The sun pinching at her skin roused Mary from the light sleep she had fallen into. She opened her eyes to see the sun fading away into the horizon. It took her a few seconds to remember where she was and when the memory returned to her, with its warm and tender images of love making, Mary could not help but allow a small smile of content to run across her lips. She was still lying in Chris arm, naked on a tropical shore and could not help chuckle at the thought of being found by the Empire in this manner. The look on their faces might just be worth the capture. Shifting her head slightly, she noted that Chris was dozing just as restfully as she had been and took a moment to watch him in his sleep, relishing the pleasure of knowing that he loved her as much as she loved him. For a few seconds, she stared at him, thinking that he looked so much younger with a hint of boyish innocence that was not at all marked by pain and loss. She wished she could see him like this all the time but supposed the memory of this day would have to be enough to sustain her in what was to come.
Mary took a deep breath and steeled herself inwardly as she shifted out of Chris embrace, careful not to wake him. She knew he was weary because he had been through as much as she on this day but as a soldier and the leader of the rebel base, she had learn to get by on less sleep. The priorities of the job had taken that away from her. Mary rose to her feet and was grateful that Chris remained in slumber allowing her to do what she had to in relative peace. She gathered her clothes and dressed quietly, still watching him and basking in the sight of him in the wake of their intense pleasure before she left him and headed towards the life pod. She did not have much time and him being asleep was probably the best chance she had of doing what she intended without interruption. While she was certain she could have masked her thoughts long enough to carry out her plan, this way was less strenuous.
Reaching the life pod, she glanced inside its confines and noted that Chano was still unconscious since what he was experiencing could hardly be called sleep. His color was pale and his condition appeared to be worsening, confirming again that her decision to something was the only chance Chano before it was too late. Without wasting time, she went to the communications panel and activated it. As anticipated, the panel flashed warnings that the scrambler coils were damaged and that any signal sent could be intercepted but Mary ignored it, choosing to continue with her transmission. Her fingers flew over the keypad and in a matter of seconds, an unfamiliar voice filled the inside of the pod.
"This is the Chimaera, what is your operating code?" The voice demanded.
Mary closed her eyes, knowing that even now, they were tracking the transmission from the bridge of that ship back to her. Releasing a held breath, she answered bravely, even though inside she trembling with fear. This is Commander Mary Travis of the rebel fleet, I wish to speak to Grand Admiral Thrawn."
"Stand by," the voice returned and confirmed to Mary that there was no other choice. Even Thrawn knew that eventually they would have to surface.
Less than a minute ticked by before Mary received an answer to her request and in that time, she prayed that she could gamble with a Grand Admiral and win because if she was wrong, then Chris and Chano were as good as dead. Chano would be left to die in his present condition but Chris would be delivered to Vader and his Emperor and that was something Mary did not wish to see. Her thoughts returned to the moment when a holographic image of Grand Admiral Thrawn appeared on the console panel before Mary.
"Commander Travis," he said coolly. "How nice to see you are in one piece."
"Lets dispense with the civilities shall we Admiral?" Mary retorted, having no patience to endure idle chatter. "You have me at disadvantage and you know it. I am here to talk terms."
"Very well," Thrawn replied unperturbed but then he had no reason to be, Mary thought bitterly, he held all the cards. "Although what terms you are referring to seems to elude me since the only course of action you have at this point is unconditional surrender."
"We have terms to discuss," Mary reiterated. "Make no mistake on that. You may have caused significant damage to my fleet but you have not destroyed it. I have been pondering what you said about being given this assignment to bring me in. I take it such a directive would have come from the Emperor himself."
"You assume correctly," Thrawn responded, his voice hiding his puzzlement at where she was taking this conversation. "What of it?"
"I assume a significant part of this order requires my being taken alive," Mary returned and noted the flicker in Thrawns eyes as she made that statement. It could have been fluctuations in the holographic image but somehow Mary did not think so and she was proven right by his answer.
"A great deal," Thrawn confessed, starting to see the strategy she had in mind. She was certainly determined enough to carry it out and with that Thrawn realized that the woman was correct; they did have terms to discuss. "Your capture and trial would be given the morale of the Empire a well needed boost, I am told."
"I see," Mary nodded having suspected more or less the same. "So I assume everyone in general will be rather upset if I chose to blow my brains out right this minute, rather than risk capture?"
Thrawn smiled faintly, admiring her bravery if not her cause. "It would be most inconvenient," he remarked. "So what would we have to do to keep you from doing just that Commander?"
"Are you man who gives his word Grand Admiral? I havent met anyone of your rank who was unable to keep his word to a fellow officer although Imperial officers seem to be the exceptions these days. I need to know that since I have no bargaining points other than my life."
"I do not give my word lightly," Thrawn said after a pause and surprised himself by meaning it. She had been a worthy adversary and occurrences were rare when he encountered one. As two battlefield commanders, he could make a gesture, considering he had some idea of what she wanted. "If you tell me what it is you wish of me, I will try to accommodate it within reason."
"Alright," Mary swallowed and knew that this was for the best, no matter what the outcome. "If you send a shuttle to these coordinates, I will come with you willingly. I will place myself in your custody without incident so long as you leave the system immediately after my incarceration. Youve achieved more than an outstanding military victory here already and you will have captured the most decorated commander in the Rebel Alliance fleet. A handful of lives on the planet cannot make that much difference to you."
"It does not," Thrawn replied automatically since she was right. He had accomplished all he had set out to do. The defeat at Siraj was a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance, especially with Mary Travis in custody. If it would guarantee him her incarceration without incident, allowing him to present the Emperor with his prize, Thrawn was willing to sacrifice the rest of the expedition. "Are you so willing to trust that I will keep my word?" He asked, not thinking her gullible enough to take him on face value.
Mary was prepared for this. "You will send one pilot in a short range shuttle to these coordinates. I will not be able to leave the system in it even if I chose to renege on our arrangement. I will however, be able to land within the Chimaera and use its internal sensors to ascertain whether you have jumped into hyperspace. I will remain in your landing bay until I am certain that the attack force has left Siraj. If for one moment, you attempt a deception, Ill blow the thing sky high and take half your ship with me. Do we understand each other?"
"Perfectly," Thrawn smiled. "Masterfully played Commander, I wished we had met under different circumstances."
"You will forgive me if I dont say the same," Mary returned coldly.
"How soon will we put this little play into action?" Thrawn inquired not at all offended.
Mary felt time pressing against her and wished she had never conceived of this terrible plan but her regret was brief because she had done what was necessary. Chris and Chano would survive. She would use the Imperial shuttle once she had control of it to send a coded frequency to the coordinates for the rendezvous point and the rebellion would dispatch a rescue ship for both of them. It was the best she could do for the two men because she was Commander Travis and no matter what the cost, they came first. They would always come first.
"Have the shuttle depart immediately and I warn you Thrawn, no tricks. I expect you to keep your word but if you dont, your Emperor will have no prize. The last thing I do in this life will be to ensure that much," Mary repeated herself, her voice filled with venom.
"Understood," Thrawn said tautly. "Our pilot will be at your coordinates shortly. Please leave this frequency open."
Mary nodded and stepped away from the panel as the image of Thrawn faded from view with a slight ripple of static. Well it is done, she thought silently to herself as her eyes searched the pod and found the weapons locker. Moving towards it, Mary almost felt as if everything taking place was no longer happening to her. Everything had taken a quality of unreality that did not seem as if it were apart of the physical world. When she pulled open the locker and sighted the blaster within, she knew that this was real because what she was about to do could not be imagined even in her worst nightmares. She adjusted the blaster in her hand and focussed herself, aware that the ruse she was about to perform required the deepest concentration.
Once she had steadied herself adequately, Mary Travis went to find Chris Larabee.
Something was wrong.
Chris felt it immediately and woke up.
The tremors he felt in the Force where like quakes, signaling calamity in each wave of prescience that moved through him. He thought it might be the Empire and immediately got to his feet, having awoken so abruptly from his fitful sleep that he cursed himself for letting down his guard in the first place. However, it did not take long to realize as he quickly put on his clothes, that there was no sign of the Empire but the danger whatever it was, loomed in the darkness, waiting to spring. His Jedi senses were functioning with their usual potency but there was something wrong and he could not imagine what it was. He saw Mary gone and noted that her footsteps had taken her to the life pod. Pulling on his boots, he quickly followed the tracks hoping they would lead to her. His heart was pounding and there was this terrible feeling he could not shake that was growing more urgent by the minute.
He concentrated on finding Mary, to ensure that she was not in any kind of danger and found her almost immediately. After what happened between them, their connection seemed even stronger. She was close, he discovered and on her way to find him. Her emotions were filled with sadness, an acceptance that they were not going to escape this present trap. Chris supposed he could not blame her for that because things were rather dire at the present and considering how responsible she felt about all of this, it was no wonder she was dwelling on it. However, amidst the thoughts of desolation that filled her heart, her mind was thinking of their love making, replaying in her head as she saw in her minds eyes their heated coupling. Chris could feel those same passions as she did and was almost lost to them when he noticed something beneath it all that only an experienced Jedi was capable of seeing past. Something that concerned him right away because what she was thinking about seemed forced, like a series of numbers she was reciting in her head over and over again, as if trying not to forget it or worse yet, trying to conceal her real thoughts from him.
Chris looked up in understanding just in time to see Mary appear before him and pull the trigger of the blaster in her hand. She caught him completely off guard, the beam of energy digging into the flesh of his stomach and sending his flying backward from the power of its discharge. The pain came almost immediately after, a deep searing sensation that would have torn a cry of agony from him if he were not so confused. He landed hard on the ground, feeling bones break on impact and then having his nostrils filled with a smell he knew to be charred flesh. He was dying and he knew it, even as the agony of the blast twisted him with its unrelenting waves of pain. He raised his head, staring at her in shock and betrayal as she approach, uncomprehending of what Mary had done, the gun in her having dropped lifelessly to her side. Tears were running down her cheeks and he recognized the sound coming from her as weeping.
"I love you more than anything in the world Chris," she whispered. Mary was standing a good distance away from him but close enough so that he could look into her eyes and understand that what she had done was for him and Chano, even if it did not appear that way right now. "I could never let them hurt you but I know you would not let me save you even if I could. A choice has to be made Chris and the Rebellion needs the Force and the Jedi Knights to be more than just an army but to be a beacon of light against the darkness that is coming. I cannot provide that light but you and Vin and others like you can so none of you can be sacrificed, not for me."
"NO!" Chris groaned, understanding completely what she intended. He did not have much time left, already his training and his natural impulses were kicking in. In a matter of minutes, his body would shut down and he would enter a Jedi healing trance that would render him unconscious for however long it took to heal from his injuries. "Dont do this!" He begged almost reduced to tears. "Well find another way!"
She swallowed hard as she saw him grow weaker and left the weapon on the ground when she finally reached him. He was in no condition to offer her any resistance and Mary lowered herself next to Chris and took him in her arms. "This is the only way Chris," she whispered, her salty tears landing on his cheek as she tried not to cry. "I cannot bear it if you were to die, I just could not imagine living in a world without you."
"And you think I can!" He swore and winced in pain as blood gushed out of his wound from the exertion. He was badly injured but within the capability of the healing trace to survive. However, he was helpless to do anything else. "I love you Mary, please dont do this. I cant lose you."
"Youll never lose me Chris," she smiled and kissed him tenderly on the mouth. "Ill always be with you. Tell Billy that I love him and ask Orin to take care of my son. I know you will protect them both. I do not intend to give up our secrets but I need you to ensure that what I know is worthless to the Empire. My son and Orin will have to removed from Bakura." She paused a moment and blinked, fresh tears rolled down her cheeks as he stared into his horrified eyes. "I am sorry that it had to be this way but this was for the best, I love you Chris."
"MARY NO!" He hissed but his ability to stay conscious was slipping away fast and Mary held him in her arms as she watched him succumbed to the trance, holding him until he was unconscious. When his eyes closed, her tears came, loud racking sobs that shook her whole soul as she wept for him and for herself. She hoped Chris would forgive her but understood that if he did not, in a matter of days it would make little much difference.
She would be on Coruscant and nothing would matter then. Not even forgiveness.
Vin heard a scream inside his mind.
Its power was such that it sent shock waves throughout his body, leaving him for a moment disorientated and uncertain of what had happened. The scream, like the howl of an animal, echoed through his consciousness and shook him to the core with the intensity of its pain and sorrow. Vin felt his heart shrink inside his chest as if someone had thrust a blade through it and was proceeding to cleave into two. At the cockpit of his ship, Vin barely had presence of mind to turn the controls over to his co-pilot who was demanding to know what was wrong with him. Vin could barely answer as he tried to catch his breath, aware that whatever it was came from the Force. While it was not quite like what he experienced on Ithor it was similar by its anger and pain.
"Vin!" JD demanded again when Vin had not answered him the first time. "Whats the matter?"
"Take over," Vin muttered as he clutched his head, trying to cope with the overload to his senses.
JD did not need to be told twice. The young man immediately switched command control to his console and guided the Tracker through its emergence from hyperspace. Considering what they might be emerging into, this was not the time for Vin to be having an episode. He sometimes wished the Jedi flashes did not pick such inconvenient times to exert itself though he knew his opinion was due to his ignorance of the subject. Of course today, that could mean virtually any subject. JD concentrated on taking the Tracker out of hyperspace, trying not to worry too much about Vin or think back on the events of today. So many people had died needlessly, including his friend Finn. Finn had been shot down during the attacks on the fighters sent to protect the rebel transports. The young man, with barely enough experience under his belt to be flying a patrol was no match for seasoned TIE fighters and despite JDs best efforts, he could not save his friend. He was not about to let the same thing happen to Vin.
"Are you okay?" JD asked apprehensively.
"Im fine," Vin muttered, clutching his head. The shock wave had evaporated into an echo but there was nothing else to follow that initial burst from the Force. He felt its rumblings dissipate and once it was manageable, Vin was allowed to discern its origins. It did not take him long to find out. "That was Chris."
"Chris?" JD stared at Vin, hoping that nothing bad had happened to the Jedi. "Is he okay?"
"I dont know," Vin answered disturbed. "I dont think so. I heard his pain. It was terrible. Like something had ripped the heart out him. There was so much anguish."
And then it clicked in his mind without any difficulty at all. There was only one thing that could make Chris scream out in agony like this. "Its Mary." Vin stared at the younger man. "Something has happened to Mary."
"What?" JD asked fearfully. They had anticipated the worst for Mary ever since learning the Purgatory had been destroyed but until now, it had not felt real. Nobody could bring themselves to think that Mary Travis was dead but hearing Vin say it with such conviction in his voice, following a cry of anguish from Chris Larabee, there could be no denying it.
"Is she dead?" He was almost afraid to ask.
"I dont know," Vin shook his head. His connection was to Chris, not Mary. He did not have the ability to seek out a specific person as a fully trained Jedi Knight was capable of doing. Vin was still so new at being a Jedi but he had knew with certainty that some misfortune had befallen Chris because following that tortured cry, came a sound that was even worse.
"We have to find him," Vin declared, staring at JD.
"We have no idea where to start looking," JD pointed out.
The slipstream starship began to hum as it began the process of emerging into normal space. With a slight lurch, the streaking stars around the Tracker started to slow and soon came to a stop in the place of their usual constellations. The ship had re-entered normal space and the system appeared nowhere as chaotic as it did earlier. Vin, who was somewhat, recovered from his experience studied the console screen that displayed the readings from the long-range sensors.
"Massive energy surge just above Siraj 2," Vin pointed out. "Looks like the Empire is leaving."
"Leaving?" JD said with surprise. "I thought it was standard procedure for them to mop up after a battle like this one."
"It is," Vin retorted, familiar enough with Imperial procedure to know this much was true but for some reason, this fleet was not following those rules. "But according to these readings, theyre jumping to light speed. All of four destroyers and its support craft." He continued to watch the screen for a few more seconds before the fleet disappeared entirely. "Theyre definitely gone."
"Is that good?" JD looked at him suspiciously.
"I dont know," Vin shrugged, a bad feeling coming over him even though he could not decide why that was. "I guess they got what they came for."
"Hey wait a minute," JD spoke up once more. "Ive got an incoming transmission on one of our scrambler frequencies."
"Someone must be down there," Vin replied, leaning over to study the energy signature of the transmission.
"No," JD shook its head. "Its been left behind on what appears to be an Imperial beacon."
"What?" Vin met his gaze and the younger mans confusion was just as evident. "One of our codes is coming from an Imperial source? If it's a trap, it's a pretty obvious one. What does it say?"
"Its brief," JD replied as he studied its configuration. "On a rotating modulation, repeating on cycles of two minutes."
"That's pretty rapid," Vin noted and considered what could come from an Imperial beacon with such urgency. "Let's check it trajectory." He took charge of deciphering it, allowing JD to handle the cockpit controls for awhile as he attended to this himself. After a time, the answer flashed before him. "Hell, its being directed straight at the Elrood System."
"Our rendezvous point!" JD exclaimed, wondering if the Empire was leaving the system in order to continue its attack there. Suddenly JD was very grateful that Ezra had opted to move the fleet in anticipation of discovery by Imperial forces. If that was the fleets destination, then they would arrive in the Elrood system to find nothing.
"There's more to it," Vin's voice became soft and strained as the message relayed itself to him in its entirety, explaining a great deal more than why a message for the Rebel Alliance would come to them in such a manner, as well as what Vin had sensed from Chris. His heart ached for his friend while at the same time, filling him with the urgent need to reach Vin before it was too late.
"JD, set course for the planet, I'm feeding the planetary coordinates to the navigation system," Vin ordered sharply.
"What is it?" JD stared at him, recognizing the tension in his voice and knew this could not be good news.
Vin paused long enough to answer JD before he resumed what he was doing. "It's Mary."
It did not take long for the Tracker to home in on the coordinates sent to them in Mary Travis last message to the Rebel Alliance. The craft landed a short distance away from the life pod, its remains easy to see from the air because of the large grooves of charred earth that had been left in the wake of the pods violent landing. As the Tracker put down, Vin Tanner worried what he would find even though Marys message had given him a clear indication of what awaited him and JD on the surface. Even now, the apprentice was still in shock at what their leader had done even if it was just like her to take such action. For Mary, those under her command always came first no matter what the risks to herself. In this instance he questioned her judgement, wondering if she knew what was her capture would mean to the Alliance and most specifically his best friend, Chris Larabee.
Chris mind was silent but Mary had explained that too and so Vin had little trouble locating him. They arrived at the life pod first and quick examination of Chano who was still rendered unconscious through a Jedi technique no doubt, implemented by Chris, to spare him the pain of his injuries, was quickly realised to be in grave condition. Vin was grateful that his ship came equipped with a stasis unit for that was the only way that Chano would make it back to the Rebellion without dying during the trip. As it was, Vin was somewhat amazed that he had survived this long. Before he sought out Chris, Vin ensured that Chano was delivered safely to his ship so that he could placed into stasis.
Once Vin was certain that Chano was taken care of, he went in search of Chris Larabee. His friends life force though weak, was a beacon that drew him to Chris presence. He found the wounded Jedi in a clearing of trees, unconscious. Mary had been precise when she fired upon him, aware that his injuries had to be serious enough to force him into a Jedi healing trance but not so much that he would be killed instantly. Vin marveled in morbid curiosity the strength of will that was required for Mary to pull the trigger on Chris when it was obvious that they both loved each other deeply. However, it also made sense that she would take this course of action in choosing to surrender herself to Empire, to save not only those here but also the wounded still trapped in the wreckage of the rebel base. Chris would never had let her go and Vin supposed that when faced with that obstacle, what she had done was pure Mary Travis, brilliantly unexpected.
Vin doubted Chris would have known what hit him until it was too late.
"Is he alive?" JD asked when he saw Chris in Vins arms after the apprentice had found his master and dragged him back to the ship.
"Hes in better shape than Chano," Vin grunted an answer as he moved quickly up the ramp with Chris in his grasp. "But not much."
JD immediately descended the platform and met him part way to help carry Chris into the ship. The younger man noted Chris lack of response and looked questioningly at Vin. "Is he one of those trance things again?"
"Yeah," Vin nodded. "Mary figured if she could hurt him enough, he would go into the healing trance so she could turn herself into the Empire."
"Do you think he knew?" JD asked, unable to assimilate the situation because it was so unimaginable. However, he soon realized that almost all of it was. It would sink in soon enough but for the moment, he was still trying to take in everything that had happened today.
Vin remembered the scream he had heard in his mind. That wail of anguish, sorrow and utter defeat had come from Chris, Vin had no doubt of that. Until receiving Marys message, Vin had not understood why. Now he did.
"Yeah," Vin nodded somberly as he gazed at his unconscious friend. "He knew."
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