R0-N1 and the last MSE droids finally had the hangar deck in sight. Hanging back, R0-N1 sent them in to investigate. Find a small ship that I can get to easily. Split up to cover more ground. We’re almost done. The two MSE droids scooted away, one to the left, the other to the right as they entered the massive hangar bay.
While the MSE droids scouted, R0-N1 found a small alcove near the entrance. He stayed out of sight as best he could, pressing himself against the wall, senses tuned for anything he could learn without exposing himself. He had just settled in when one of the MSE droids shot past the entrance. R0-N1 radioed a question. What are you doing? I told you to split up.
There’s nothing that way, responded the droid. Just people and a massive rock. Ships are on the other side.
R0-N1 sent an acknowledgement. That had to be the Parantua Stone. Is the Inquisitor there?
I don’t know. I thought you wanted a ship?
Yes, that’s correct. R0-N1 also wanted to keep an eye on the Inquisitor, but the sooner he could get off The Conviction, the sooner she would no longer be a problem.
As R0-N1 waited for the MSE droids to report to him, he heard voices coming down the corridor. “…I don’t know. It’s like every Mouse droid on the ship has suddenly gone haywire. They sent my buddy TK-1104 on some wild womp rat hunt for plasteel repair kits.”
“Well, better that than this detail. Morek creeps me out.”
The pair of stormtroopers emerged around a bend in the corridor, escorting one of the citizens from Ryndellia, a boy barely past puberty. His hands were shackled in binders, and he stared at the floor as he shuffled by.
“What, because of her arm?”
“No, because of all of her. I swear the temperature drops about ten degrees when you get near her.”
“That’s your imagination. I just want to know what’s under that mask.”
As they passed R0-N1, one of the stormtroopers shook his head vehemently. “Are you crazy? That mask is the worst part of her. I heard that glowing under there is her eyes. Nuh-uh. Nope. It’s not right.”
Taking a chance, R0-N1 slid quietly out of his hiding spot and watched the trio disappear into the hangar. They turned to the right, in the direction the MSE droid had said the Parantua stone was. Just stay away from the ships, thought R0-N1, as he settled back into his cubby.
A few minutes later, one of the MSE droids transmitted, I found something you can use. It’s a Lambda-class shuttle. The transmission included a partial layout of the hangar, giving R0-N1 a path to follow.
I’m on my way.
R0-N1 left the safety of his hidey hole and headed for the ship, taking care to go at a speed that wouldn’t attract attention should someone spot him. He weaved in and out of ships, heading as directly as he could for the shuttle the MSE droid had indicated, but everything was packed in tight and a straight line was impossible.
When R0-N1 got to the shuttle, both MSE droids were waiting at the foot of the ramp.
Are we coming?
Can we come?
R0-N1 hadn’t expected this, and stopped before boarding, looking from one MSE droid to the other. How did a pair of rolling toasters manage to look so expectant? He responded, No. Where I’m going may not be safe. You should stay here. Go back to maintenance and plug back in to the charging cradles. Don’t tell anyone what we’ve done.
R0-N1 boarded the shuttle, making his way to the cockpit and plugging in to the flight systems. He started a pre-flight check, hoping to be able to take off before anyone spotted him or The Conviction went into hyperspace.
Barely into the check sequence, the shuttle’s computer shut it down with a proximity warning. R0-N1 tried to bypass the check, but the computer steadfastly refused his commands. Were he a biologic pilot, he could simply throw a manual override switch, but R0-N1 couldn’t reach it and was stuck with whatever the ship’s computer would let him do. Unplugging, R0-N1 rolled forward to look out the cockpit window. Right away, he could see that the massive overhead hangar doors were wide open, and they were still in normal space, so there was no problem there.
He extended the channel with his optical sensor higher so that he could better see in front of the ship. There were other craft nearby, but nothing that should be preventing the shuttle from departing. Further ahead, he could see the Parantua Stone, with Inquisitor Morek, the priestess, the young male, and a handful of troopers keeping watch. He couldn’t quite tell what was going on with the Inquisitor, but she was with both the Ryndellians. The priestess seemed to be held in place by stormtroopers. All of them were dwarfed by the stone, which was meters tall and big enough around that it blocked docking bays on both sides of the hangar. That explains the pile-up back here, thought R0-N1. But that shouldn’t be causing the proximity sensors to complain.
Not finding an answer to the problem from the cockpit, R0-N1 exited the shuttle to check the exterior. There it was, on the port side. The shuttle had been parked too close to a rack of TIE fighters, and there was no room for the shuttle to rise up without colliding with the fighter’s hexagonal wing panels. R0-N1 angled himself backwards to get a better look. On closer inspection, this rack wasn’t completely full. If he could just ratchet everything up one slot, there would be plenty of room.
R0-N1 moved between the wing panels towards the back wall and found the control unit for the TIE fighter rack. He was hidden from view for now, but as soon as the fighters moved up and back, he would be exposed to the better part of the hangar. R0-N1 calculated the odds of someone noticing him doing this and caring. They weren’t great, but it was his best shot. Preparing to hightail it back up the shuttle ramp, R0-N1 activated the TIE elevators. The TIE fighters each raised up in sequence. Each one took about twenty seconds to lift before it locked into place, starting with the one the highest up, followed by the next one down, and so on. The whole process took nearly two minutes.
When the lowermost TIE had cleared the floor, R0-N1 spared a glance at the front of the hangar. No one was paying him any attention, and the scene seemed to be unchanged, save for the boy now kneeling in front of Inquisitor Morek. So far, so good.
R0-N1 returned to the shuttle, and just before rolling up the ramp froze at the sound of blood-curdling screams echoing throughout the hangar deck. He backed up and looked for the source of the sound, and saw that the boy had now fully collapsed to the floor, and the priestess was straining to break the hold of her stormtrooper captors. A third trooper, Stretch, had turned and was walking away from the scene, coming towards him.
Moving out of sight, R0-N1 turned his auditory sensors to maximum. Stretch seemed to be on the comms. “…are you? We need to talk.” There was a pause for a response that R0-N1 couldn’t make out, then, “All right. I’ll be there in five. It might be time.” R0-N1 let out the astromech equivalent of a sigh of relief. He’s not coming for me.
Next, R0-N1 focused his attention on the group by the stone. Inquisitor Morek’s voice came through loud and clear. She seemed to be panting with exertion. “Get this out of here. Stop your sniveling, priestess. His blood is on your hands. Maybe if you had provided some useful information, he would have survived.”
“I told you, I don’t know—“ That was the priestess.
“Oh, shut up. Take her away. Maybe some time in the detention block with her flock will bring her to her senses.”
“Yes, Inquisitor.” There was a scuffling sound, then, “Come on, priestess. You heard her.”
The Inquisitor spoke again, louder this time. “I’ll be down in an hour. You think about how to be more useful, or I’ll keep at it until none of you are left.”
There was silence after that, except for the sounds of booted feet against the deck. R0-N1 risked taking another look forward, just in time to see the priestess being escorted away, while another pair of stormtroopers carried the lifeless body of the boy. His skin hung on him like paper, as if he were a meiloorun fruit left out in the sun and forgotten.
R0-N1 edged out a little further to get a view of Inquisitor Morek and the Parantua Stone. Morek was preparing to fit the prosthetic back on her arm. R0-N1 couldn’t be sure, but it looked as if the open sores on the stump had scabbed over, and the color of her flesh seemed healthier. At the same time, the red striations and charred flesh were visibly returning, as if she had just been wounded again. She cinched the prosthetic on tight, causing fresh drops of blood to bead up as for a moment the light behind her mask glowed fiercely red.
The stone, however, appeared to be fading. The bioluminescence was still there, but it had turned dim. R0-N1 hypothesized at first that this was because it had been removed from Ryndellia, and was dying as Baohu had feared. However, as Inquisitor Morek walked away, R0-N1 could see where a channel had been traced between two points in the lichen. It looked as if someone had channeled waves of electricity through the entire stone, focusing on two small handprints and coursing from one to the other.
R0-N1 backed out of sight and considered what he had just seen. This is no rescue mission, he thought. She’s going to kill them. R0-N1 considered his options, then took off after the priestess. I’m going to regret this.