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(( RelatedSWTOR Journal (Brembal) Paternal Instinct. The following is on my SWTOR smuggler, Captain Jacqueline “Jackie” Rees. ))

The guards escorted her all the way to the tarmac. They lay no hand on her, but the tension was thick in the air. Burned, bloodied, and her body suit armor caked in Tatooine dust, Jacqueline Rees walked from Brembal Kybersmith’s shadow to the Gunstar. Her mind was elsewhere, her feet walking on their own, as resolute as they could be without a pilot at the helm. She activated the ship’s controls purely on instinct, taking to the air without conscious thought. Partway through launch, her ship wobbled, completing a semi-circle swoop about the compound, immediately prompting a hail from the watchtower inquiring on her clumsy take off.

“Heh, sorry,” she mumbled into the comm. “Guess I had too much to drink.”

She was entirely sober. Flipping a switch and gazing out the viewport, Jacqueline took in what she assumed to be her last free look at the old Sith’s compound. She memorized every outward detail. What she couldn’t commit to memory, her semi-circle attempted to capture with a crude holocorder. It was rough, improvised, and from the constant storm of sand swirling in the air, likely hardly usable. No single pass could gather all the data needed. But she collected what she could within an excusable window and retreated, countless Imperial eyes trained on her from the ground below.

As the navcomputer calculated the jump to hyperspace, her hands worked over the console. Maps, contacts, profiles, countless bytes of data she had compiled over the last few months. She cycled through it all, moving at an almost inhuman speed, matched only by the sudden white blur of hyperspace as her ship made the jump. The ship communications cut out, blind as the ship traveled at lightspeed. The HoloNet was severed, all things in the galaxy cut away except the pilot alone in her cockpit, but still she worked, operating off harddrive only, until all that was left was to stare at the console and the ticking timer of when she’d finally arrive at Nar Shadda.

In that moment, in that forced stillness, she broke. 

It did not happen all at once. Silently, she rose from her chair, exiting the cockpit. She strode mechanically down the hall and stopped. Then with no word, no introduction, she drove a fist directly into the bulkhead wall.

Bone on metal ended poorly. Pain shot up her arm, her knuckles freshly blooded through the thinned armor where heat from the recent mission burned through. It took several moments till she registered what occurred. She started at her knuckles, at the bloodied skin, then strode to the training area set aside on her ship. Again and again, her fists landed on a training bag bolted to the floor. She dug in mercilessly, till both sets of knuckles bled, a new sweat licking her brow. Though she bled, she did not stop. It was not till the ship finally exited hyperspace at Nar Shadda that she finally brought her onslaught to a stand still.

The ship’s lightspeed engines kicked off, sub-light engines took over. Standing inert in the galley of the ship, the same almost languid change came over Jacqueline. The landing was a blur. As the ship docked, the HoloNet connection was restored. Fully connected to the secure lines of headquarters, all machinations she set on Tatooine started anew. The consoles hummed on their own as Jacqueline stood still. All that was in motion was moving, save her.

Finally, she exited. The familiar halls of headquarters made it simple to find the med bay. Finding Halonan so soon was unexpected. She stared at him, lying back in a chair as he was, a child curled up against him. Jacqueline realized from Halonan’s expression that her own probably looked like it had been dragged through hell. Immediately he rose, coming to strike up conversation with her. She went numb.

It’s not his fault, she told herself. Let the kid go.

What followed further cut her adrift. He was confused, hurt. Likely full of questions. Something within Jacqueline knew she could guess at them all, even answer them, but her mind felt like a short wick burnt to nothing from flame. For this moment, she was spent. She looked at Halonan, at his face, and saw the Alderaan sunset they once briefly shared together. It felt like a faraway time. A dream.

“Go fight for the Republic,” she told him. “Go be a hero.” He stepped forward to give a lingering kiss on the cheek. She turned her head and let it be a first and final kiss on the lips. 

For all the past promiscuity both admitted to, for their separate sets of immaturity or flaws, they were reluctant to touch one another. Their connection was hardly more than the occasional banter or heated glance. Yet even the smallest admission between the two felt deeply intimate. “We’d make a good screw,” she once joked at him, ages ago. “But not sure if it’d be much more.” Those words echoed painfully. Standing silent in the med bay as they were, a goodbye hanging heavily between them, it felt like a brief lifetime was shared then abruptly cut short before its depth was explored.

Moments later, he was gone. Nearby, Sian’li and Emilea slept, either oblivious or polite to the goodbye made with them so near. Jacqueline was dimly aware of another friend entering. Soult eyed her, again taking cues from the hell her face displayed, inquiring of her health. He did not only refer to her bloodied knuckles. Seeing him, she nearly spilled everything, but kept herself shut. Minutes later, she was back on the Gunstar, thankfully alone. Minutes were hours, each made longer by the compiling data on the ship console that took far too long to complete.

The comm sounded. Viessa called Jacqueline to Coruscant, her voice deep in concern. Jacqueline grimaced. Jedi were observant, even from the other half of the galaxy. The planet-city was the last planet she wished to see. But pulled by as if a string, Jacqueline plotted a course through hyperspace once again. The white blur lit the cockpict. Again she was cut off from the world, the ship’s communications in waiting until it broke into real space. Jacqueline sat unmoving, staring at the racing blur outside the viewport.

Landing was again a blur. She somehow recalled coming into Kentin’s quarters on an upper sector of Coruscant. Viessa was quick to rush her, nearly choke Jacqueline in her arms. Words were exchanged. Jacqueline fumbled through it all. For all on her mind, her words were monosyllabic, brief. Both Jedi were not oblivious to it.

“I just gave a Sith a big win. Kinda tired,” were her most verbose words of the night. Kentin nodded in understanding. Damn that Jedi, Jacqueline managed the thought. She wanted to embrace and punch him at once.

For Viessa, she cut out all thoughts. Her begging, her embraces, her words echoed in Jacqueline’s mind. More needed to be said between them, but the best she managed was tucking the padawan in for more rest.

She excused herself as soon as she could. Back on the Gunstar, in the merciful silence, she rested. She refueled and hit hyperspace again, her destination chosen without thought. Hopping from one Core world to another, she exited hyperspace quickly and beheld Alderaan. Inert in the cockpit, her mind caught between there and elsewhere, Jacqueline Rees watched the Alderaan sunset from the silence of space.

Author Ari
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