“GET HIM!” THE SQUAD COMMANDER ORDERED HIS MEN. “STOP HIM!”
TIGEREYE LAUGHED WITHOUT MIRTH.
“COME CLOSER, TIN SOLDIERS.”
The stormtroopers charged Sully Tigereye, their personal blast shields up and disruptor batons crackling blue fire. Hugo stood there in the open airlock, a quizzical look on his face, caught between confusion and determination.
Pulling the blaster rifle up, the Trunsk waved Brixie to stay back.
“Get to the shuttle!” he yelled.
“No!” Brixie pulled out the blaster pistol and took aim, old reflexes kicking her into a defensive pose.
Never leave a teammate behind. Not Sully, nor Hugo.
Tigereye opened fire on the advancing troops. Their riot control shields were built for this punishment, absorbing the powerful blasts aimed their way. They spread out, trying to surround him. Three of the stormtroopers broke away from the main group, past the Trunsk, and headed for Brixie.
All her training as a physician disappeared. These soldiers weren’t trying to arrest her or hold her for questioning. The weapons they carried were meant to pacify and hurt. But the small blaster pistol, a sidearm meant for officers, had the strength of a flashlight beam aimed at the stormtroopers.
The circle of troopers around Tigereye took turns attacking with their disruptor batons. Sully blocked their attacks with the blaster rifle, but there were more troopers than he could stop. Crackling energies from the painful disruptors scorched his arms and his legs. Enraged, he lashed outward but swung at empty air. Unable to protect himself on all sides, the troopers used their greater numbers against him. One strike knocked the energy rifle his hands. Another hit him across the back with enough energy to knock down a human, but Tigereye only roared in pain.
“Brixie!’ he yelled towards her. “Get to the shuttle!”
A disruptor struck him in the leg, dropping him to one knee. The troopers, sensing he was weakening, closed. Disruptor hits came at him from all sides. There was a sharp tang in the air—the smell of burning skin and hair.
“Sully!” Backing away from the trio of approaching stormtroopers, Brixie refused to leave him. She turned her attention to Hugo, who remained paralyzed at the airlock. “Hugo, help us!”
Clutching the carry-all in his arms like a child, Hugo couldn’t move. His real self was warring with the mission programmed into him. His friends were in mortal danger.
“Brixie?” he called out.
“Hugo! We need you!”
Hugo started towards them, but a figure—his face cloaked by a black hood—appeared from the blast door. He put a hand on Hugo’s shoulder. The figure spoke to him in words Brixie could not overhear. The childlike confusion on Hugo Cutter’s face slowly changed back to an impassive statue. He turned and disappeared into the airlock leading to the B-wing.
“Hugo!” Brixie called out in dismay. “Don’t leave us!”
“He’s mine, Doctor Ergo.” The figure in black called out to her. “You can’t have him.”
Her gaze still stuck on the man in the cloak, a disruptor baton struck Brixie on the arm. Everything from her shoulder down to her hand felt useless. The blaster pistol fell. The blow from the swing, enhanced with the disruptor field, propelled her backwards against a rack of fuel cells. She crashed against the metal shelving, crying out. One of the stormtroopers kicked Brixie’s pistol across the shed floor, keeping it out of reach while the other two soldiers struck at her again.
She tried to raise her other arm to block the next blow, but it was pointless. The baton crashed down like a hammer stroke, numbing the other side of her body. The other stormtrooper with the baton clipped her on the jaw and her head snapped hard to the left. She crumpled to the floor, unable to protect herself. The soldiers stood over her, their crackling batons swinging down on her again and again. She was blinded, her senses dulled, every strike sending a ripple of pain across her body.
As though separated from herself, she felt the physical effects of the batons in rote medical terms. The disruptor energies were wreaking havoc on her nervous system, resulting in an interrupted or erratic heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and traumatic injuries to her head and spinal nerves. She would either fall into cardiac arrest or suffer from a severe concussion, followed by a loss of consciousness. If the stormtroopers didn’t stop, she would soon die.
Covering her head uselessly with her arms, Brixie tried to look up. Her eyes could barely focus on the pack of white-armored men clustered around a fallen Tigereye, doing the same to him as the other troopers were doing to her. She weakly called out as the pain overwhelmed her.
The circle of stormtroopers surrounding the Trunsk exploded. White-armored bodies were thrown off in all directions. Sully Tigereye was once a slave, a gladiator forced to fight for his life or die. Pushed hard enough, he could summon a rage few beings could match.
Beaten back, the stormtroopers hesitated, holding in disbelief. They had hit him with everything and more and yet Tigereye stood there. Blood trickled from his curled lips and patches of long hair on his arms, legs and back were burnt away, but he remained unfazed and utterly defiant.
“Get him!” the squad commander ordered his men. “Stop him!”
Tigereye laughed without mirth.
“Come closer, tin soldiers.”
His claws out, Tigereye’s true ferocity was revealed. Lunging with surprising speed, he seized one of the stormtroopers by a leg, swung him over his head and launched him into several other stormtroopers, knocking them into a disorganized pile of armored legs and arms. Hauling back, he punched another stormtrooper directly in the face plate. Brixie had never seen a stormtrooper’s helmet crushed inward until now. That strength, fueled by rage, only grew. Yanking the helmet off another trooper, Tigereye used it to bash anyone within his long reach. One stormtrooper tried hitting him with his baton again. Sully grabbed the sizzling blue end of the stick, ignoring the pain the weapon caused. The soldier, too stupid to let go of the handle, went wildly flying into the cabinets lining the shed wall.
The other three troopers standing over Brixie, realizing their squadmates were being decimated one at a time, turned their attention away. Her eyesight wildly out of focus, her head spinning and body shaking from intense pain, Brixie spotted a latch for the rack of fuel cells…and a yellow warning label affixed to it.
LATCH FOR LOAD-LIFTER USE ONLY.
DO NOT MANUALLY UNLOCK.
HEAVY CONTENTS CAN SHIFT.
“Thanks for the tip,” Brixie croaked in pain. She reached up and threw the latch, unlocking the shelf exactly as the warning said not to. She rolled towards the base of the shelf while gravity took hold. The shelf door swung open and the heavy stack of cylindrical fuel cells promptly rolled out.
The three troopers had only enough time to say something unintelligible as the fuel cells crashed into them. They were bowled over, their disruptor batons and shields scattering.
The squad leader of the stormtroopers leveled his blaster rifle at Tigereye from behind.
“To hell with this,” he aimed. “Fry him!”
An energy bolt struck the commander in the arm. More blaster fire erupted from the stolen shuttle’s airlock. New Republic quick response troops spilled inside the shed. Blaster fire ricocheted inside the tight space. Tigereye opted to roll out of the way and crawled towards Brixie while both sides exchanged colorful blasts of fire.
“Now they decide to show up,” Sully grumbled. Brixie could barely understand what he was saying. She was fluttering in and out of conscious.
“Did you say something?” Brixie mumbled, one eye gazing at him with her other eye was painfully swollen shut. “You look awful.”
“My dear Lady Ergo,” the Trunsk shielded her as energy blasts and ionized smoke trails filled the shed’s interior. “Once again, you notice the obvious.”
“Retreat!” the commander of the stormtroopers ordered. Hiding behind their riot control shields, the outnumbered Pentatar Alignment soldiers headed back to the airlock from where they came. The blast door was quickly sealed and its locking controls fried, keeping the Republic response team from pursuing them. A large black, bat-winged shape moved past the shed’s viewports and peeled away.
“They’re in an Upsilon command shuttle. Get an E-wing squadron after them!” the leader of the Republic troops spoke into a comlink in his uniform’s wrist cuff. He gazed down at Sully and Brixie. “Send a med team to this docking stall. I’ve got two wounded here. They look pretty bad.”
Tigereye’s gruff voice echoed inside her ears as Brixie plummeted into a black hole of unconsciousness.
“Like I said. The obvious…”
The bio-dome stretched out before Brixie. She could hear every amphibian croaking and the flapping of a bird’s wings. A canopy of trees, green and lush, while humidity dampened her skin’s pores.
She stopped by a brook. Her mother was standing there…and her father too! They were linked arm-in-arm, their backs to her as they admired the forest, the water and the unspoiled beauty of the bio-dome. Her father turned his head and spoke.
“We see you back there, Little Brix.”
They turned and opened their arms wide, inviting her to them. Brixie fell into their loving embrace, sobbing like a little girl. It had been ages since she had seen their faces, heard their voices.
Brixie pulled back, anxiously staring into her mother’s face, looking for answers. She didn’t return her gaze, appearing only troubled. She wouldn’t speak.
“Mother? Won’t you talk to me?”
No words came from her mother, only a tiny smile on her lips as she stroked Brixie’s hair and marveled at how much her daughter had grown up. Her fingers’ light touch on Brixie’s cheek was reassuring.
So many questions. What had gone wrong? What happened to them?
“It’s going to be all right,” her father told her. “You’re the best of us. I know you’ll find a way to help others. You always do.”
A tickle formed at the back of her throat. Brixie stepped back from her parents and coughed. Looking down inside her hand, she found something red and oozing in her palm. It wasn’t blood.
“Brixie?” her father pulled back, his face full of concern.
First there was the cough, then there was an awful taste in her mouth. The bio-dome felt real enough, she could see the trees and the animals, hear the water lapping in the brook and the chattering of birds. But smell and taste were powerful mental triggers, too. Brixie was not where she thought she was.
The myths surrounding bacta were as legendary as the Knights of the Old Republic. Brixie’s career in medicine was based the study of knowledge, not fiction. Bacta did not cure everything, but it could work wonders. Manufactured on several worlds, bacta resembled a red, sticky ooze. It reversed skin and tissue damage, healed brain injuries, and could undo the effects of certain diseases. Many patients undergoing treatment experienced hallucinatory dreams while the body knitted itself back to health. It was the mind’s defense, surrendering to the bacta’s abilities.
Brixie knew where she really was…and struggled to rip the bacta induction device off her face. Bells and gongs went off near her ears. She must have tripped an alarm.
A woman’s voice tried to keep her calm, taking hold of Brixie’s hand and keeping it away from the plastic thing snaked down her throat.
“Doctor Ergo? Doctor Ergo. I’m your attending physician. You’re on the Republic medical station orbiting Bescane. You’re in treatment.”
Brixie tried to make an impassioned speech but the apparatus jammed down her throat made talking impossible. She couldn’t see anything either. Frantic to know where she was and what happened, she squeezed the woman’s hand tight.
“I understand you’re disoriented. I’m taking off the head pack. You can open your eyes after I remove it.”
Fingers removed the form-fitting mask from her head, the interior layered with bacta packs to repair the swelling around Brixie’s eyes and face from the disruptor baton strikes. The physician gave a verbal command; the illumination in the room immediately reduced. Brixie blinked hard and squinted. The light in the treatment room, even at its lowest settings, stabbed her eyes.
She looked around, confused. She was laying on a grav-support bed in a hospital treatment room. There was a soft plastic mechanism that kept her mouth open. A thick-looking red fluid moved from a pump stationed by her bed, through a translucent tube and down her throat. Claustrophobia overwhelmed her as she struggled, still unable to speak.
Get this thing out of me!
“Do you want me to remove the bacta tube, Doctor?” the female physician, wearing a white utility smock around her white jumpsuit, asked.
Brixe vigorously nodded and made a hand gesture consisting of two fingers pointing away. The signal was meant for patients to communicate they did not want further treatment.
“Very well. Gee-Twenty-Bee. Assist me.”
The medical droid, a multi-armed Treadwell model, rolled up and elevated. A grasper arm reached over and locked down on the external handle of the bacta immersion tube attached to Brixe’s mouth.
“Take a breath through your nose and hold it,” the physician told Brixie, elevating her head using the grav-support bed’s automated lift. She did so.
At the doctor’s command to the droid, the grasper arm pulled. The snaking tube left her mouth and kept sliding up her esophagus for what felt like dozens of feet. It kept on coming: an ugly plastic tapeworm filled with syrupy bacta.
The tube finally cleared her mouth. Brixie tried to take a breath and coughed up a storm of warm red goo. The physician helped her clear her airway with a suction nozzle. The Treadwell offered a cup of water and a portable spittoon so Brixie could rinse out her rough throat and mouth.
“Entralla’s ghosts!” Brixie found her voice ragged and hoarse. “I hate how that stuff tastes!”
“Everybody does,” the physician smiled, handing the tube and its gunk to the Treadwell for decontamination and restocking. “The bio-engineers tried to flavor the bacta once. The patients said it tasted like speeder engine coolant…with extra acid for a heady aroma.”
Brixie gave the doctor high marks for patience and a sense of humor. She tried to look out the room’s full bank of windows. The corridor was filled with staff, droids and patients on mobile grav-support beds who appeared in much worse shape than she was: terrible traumas, injuries and burns. An emergency of epic proportion was taking place outside her private room. Brixie felt sick to her stomach and it was not from the bacta.
“I’m on Bescane? How long have I been here?”
“Two days. You came from a big fight on Jaemus.” the physician nodded. “The First Order slammed a couple of star destroyers into the Republic’s defense wall. Hundreds of ships were involved. There were thousands of casualties. The medical center at Jaemus was overwhelmed. The overflow was diverted here and other facilities. Your treatment was given top priority.”
Brixie lowered her head, wracked with guilt. She was in a special treatment room. There were hundreds in the corridors who needed priority treatment more than she did.
“I didn’t need to be put in here.”
“I’d argue against that. Disruptor batons are not non-lethal. You sustained severe internal injuries. Shock and nerve damage. When they brought you here, you were in pulmonary shutdown.” She gestured to the bacta infusion pump on its rolling stand. “I don’t like using this thing on anyone. But someone who accompanied you in the medical shuttle would have torn this place apart if I hadn’t done everything I could.”
Everything came back to Brixie. Hugo taking them to Jaemus. The B-wing. The maintenance shed. The last thing Brixie remembered, besides the hammering she received by those stormtroopers, was Sully Tigereye shielding her from a firefight.
What happened to Hugo? Who was that man speaking to him in the airlock? Was Sully all right?
“Tigereye? Is he here? He’s a Trunsk…”
“I remember him very well. So does the rest of my staff.” The doctor made a wry expression. “He didn’t want to be put in a bed and he almost destroyed a medical droid that tried to take a blood sample. After the security team calmed him down, he stole a few bacta bandages, walked out and told my staff to ‘jam that bacta tube where the sun never shines.’”
Brixie smiled. “Sully doesn’t like being coddled.”
“He was released from the critical care level. When you’ve cleared post-treatment, I’ll notify him and the general that you’re ready for some company.”
“Who do you think put you on the priority treatment list?”
The doctor lifted Brixie’s medical datapad from the slot on her grav-support bed and ticked off several boxes on the screen, notifying the facility that Brixie was ready for post-treatment procedures and eventual release.
“General Lando Calrissian.”