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For long moments after Halonan departed, Jacqueline lingered at balcony bar, her glass empty save for the amber hints of the whiskey that earlier filled it. She stood stooped, leaning atop the lit counter top, her gaze on the passing ships and colorful Nar Shadda skyline. 

It was a planet that rarely slept and was even more rarely given the opportunity. The very lights that etched its infamous skyline also brightly painted the clouded sky overhead, creating a constant, almost unsettling neon din. The city was shrouded in a constant twilight, humming with speeders and other aircraft, like arteries of a mechanical heart. 

Jacqueline hardly seemed perturbed by it. Lit by the fluorescent counter top, her face was painted in sharp contours. Her characteristic smirk absent, her expression was left pensive, her dark eyes watching the skyline. Her face in this light betrayed either a few extra years seen or perhaps hard stories to tell. As time passed and she shifted out of comfort, the counter top lit her face from a new angle and the earlier hints of mileage were gone.

“Another drink, Captain? Closing up for the night,” The barkeep inquired politely. Clearly a veteran of her craft, the young woman wisely opted to tend bar than disturb a patron so in deep thought. She had quietly polished glasses and took shelf inventory instead, and made more than one prolonged trip to storage to restock for the inevitably thirsty crew tomorrow. 

“Eh? Oh, no,” it took a moment for Jacqueline to rouse from thought. Giving a half-grin, she waved the barkeep off. “Nah. All good. Thanks for letting me perch.” Dipping back her head, she took in the last remnants of her forgotten glass and slid it across the bar. “Help yourself to a tip on my tab. Keep stocking the good stuff. S’nice to have one place without the usual Nar Shadda swill.”

“Thanks Captain,” the barkeep deftly caught the glass as it swiped across her counter top. “Got more coming in tomorrow if you’ll be in.”

“Yep,” Jacqueline replied, already leaving. She spoke over her shoulder. “You know the drill. Save a bottle for me.”

She was already through the door before the barkeep’s muffled “goodnight” reached her ears. Headquarter walls did well enough to drown Nar Shadda’s constant hum, and with well-timed lights, it seemed night enough at the proper hour. Ascending the staircase into the lobby, Jacqueline was guided primarily by the glow of emergency lights just a few inches above her feet. She took on a wistful smile as she ascended the final staircase back into the open air, finally catching a glimpse of home: The Gunstar stood on the nearby tarmac with smaller ships nestled beside her. The docking bay that had started so very empty was now beginning to fill. It brought a smile to her face.

She disappeared into the ship’s underbelly, took in a slow inhale, and headed to the cockpit. Waking the waiting console, she lounged in the captain’s chair and readied the holocorder. As its light came on, its first recordings were a chuckle and quick flash of a smile.

“Captain’s log. Some updates. So there’s –“

The cockpit holoterminal beeped, finally awake enough to inform of messages collected while its captain was out. Jacqueline paused mid-sentence and flipped a switch, allowing the message to fully download. Her eyes sorted through the message data feed, seeking a note of the sender. Spotting something, she abruptly leaned forward and switched off the holocorder, all her focus now trained on the message. Download complete, a voice spoke, partly distorted by interference:

They have her. I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to contact you like this. But they have her. I don’t know if or what they know, but they came. I sent you their last coordinates. I hope that you get this message. They —

The distortion overtook the remainder of the words, but already the engines of the Gunstar were hot and primed for takeoff. Breaking through the colored clouds, Jacqueline sped off without hesitation in the middle of the night.

(( The story continues here. ))

Author Ari
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