Why was she here?
She should have been trying to make her way to the spaceport in order to leave the planet. Imperial stormtroopers were out in force searching the town for her. So far she had managed to avoid being captured but they were very good at what they did and it would only be a matter of time before their net closed in on her. Inez Recillos knew that she was being foolish and risking everyone's life by continuing to remain on Cordoba when she ought to be making every effort to leave but she could not help it. She had to reach Ezra. She had to reach him before he did something to give himself away when he learnt of what happened to her. There was no doubt in her mind that he would and even if he did managed to remain composed, Inez did not thing his long standing association with her would allow him to remain unscathed by the implication of rebel collusion. Certainly Julia Pemberton had been watching him for months, waiting for the signs of weakness and Inez's exposure was evidence of her suspicions.
Inez was certain the main concentration of the search for her would be focussed on the space station and so there was some logic to not going there immediately. Instead, she made her way to the Imperial base, hoping that it would be the last place they would expect to find her even though she was not foolish enough to believe that this was not a highly dangerous course of action. She wanted to watch the place for awhile in order to learn what had happened to Ezra. If he was captured himself, then she would have to leave Cordoba and somehow reach the Alliance by getting through the formidable blockade posed by those four ships in space above the planet. She would bring the news to Nathan that his best friend was compromised. Ezra's capture did not pose much threat to the rebellion. While he could identify every one of the seven that he was a part, it was information the Empire already had. It was through his own wish that he asked not to be told the location of the rebel base in case his captured forced that secret to be known. Inez tried not to think about what they would do to him in order to find out what he knew.
The base was located some distance away from the main settlement and Inez kept watch of those departing its gates from a good distance away. From the moment she had settled on Cordoba to be the Rebellion's eyes and ears in the Territory, she had known that there would be a day when she was discovered. Inez was no fool and she had made preparations to depart should anything like what happened this afternoon ever take place. Part of this arrangements included her own ship the Windsong which was presently awaiting her at a private berth at the spaceport, registered under the name of a Chandra-Fan trader who also happened to be a loyal rebel agent. Following her dramatic escape from the Four Corners Tavern, Inez had returned to a storage facility where she had secreted away in one of their holding bays, a land speeder and a good supply of credits. All rebel agents were advised to take such precautions and for one such as her, who was a long-term agent, it was utterly necessary.
From an ample distance, she studied the comings and goings at the Imperial base, hoping to catch sight of Ezra. Inez knew that unless he was already in custody, the first thing he would do upon learning about her situation is to make some effort to find her. She kept watch on the base religiously, praying to Force that he was safe. Inez had always thought that she would never love another man after Buck but Ezra had been such a surprise and a welcomed one. He was so different from Buck and was exactly what she needed at this point in her life. Although she would always care about him, she knew that her heart was definitely Ezra's Standish exclusive domain. She did not even want to think about his being hurt. Her heart could not endure it.
She had made her way here almost immediately after she had eluded the Empire's clutches, aware that time was not on her side. She had no idea how long it would take for Ezra to learn of her situation and if he was capable of acting, he would do so quickly before too much suspicion was aroused by his interest. Inez's intentions was to cut him off before he actually reached town because they could not afford to expend the time it would take to locate each other. Inez had no idea for how much longer that small fleet in orbit around Cordoba would remain where it was but when it left, she had no doubt where it was going. The lengths that the Empire was taking to ensure that the Rebellion was not warned of their coming convinced the Rebel agent that they knew where the Rebel base was.
Inez continued to watch all speeders departing the Imperial outpost, aware that she could not do this indefinitely for the search would intensity once their lack of success at apprehending her at the spaceport became less and less unlikely. They would fan out across the city and begin search other alternatives, like Ezra Standish. Suddenly, she saw a speeder moving through the sentry gates and immediately boosted the gain on her binoculars. The image before her eyes speeded up dramatically and from a far away shape indefinable, she saw Ezra Standish and his adjutant, a young woman named Claire Moseley, emerging through the gates in an Imperial speeder. Even though his features revealed nothing was wrong, Claire's eyes told a very different story.
Inez thought as she saw the Imperial craft pull away from the base and headed. Wasting no time, she tossed the binoculars into the past of her speeder and lowered herself into the driver's seat once more, prepared to intercept them as soon as they were out of sight of the base. The craft was soon surging through the rocky terrain of Cordoba's atmosphere and did not take long before it was in the line of sight with Ezra's own speeder. Upon seeing her, the commander of the Cordoba base immediately changed course and headed her. Inez let out a sigh of relief seeing that he was safe. During her wait to see if he would emerge from the base, she was fighting off fears that she would never again see him alive.
"Ezra!" Inez exclaimed once both crafts had come to a halt next to each other. She climbed out of her speeder and ran into his arms. "Thank the Force, you're safe!" She cried out as her arms encircled him and she pressed her head against his shoulder.
"I might say the same," he said just as relieved as he held her in his arms for a second. She raised her head and stared into his eyes, telling him in that one instant how much she had feared for his life. Ezra lowered his lips to hers and their mouths met with a passionate kiss where for a few seconds the danger that they were in seemed very far away. Ezra could have easily become lost in the power of her lips if he did not know that they had very little time for such indulgence.
"Are you alright?" He asked her once they had parted and his gaze moved over her form. She was still clad in her work clothes at the tavern and he saw a few spots of blood that gave him cause for concern.
"Yes," she nodded quickly, noticing the direction of his gaze. "Its nothing that won't heal in time."
"I take it you were trying to contact the rebel base?" He asked her.
"Yes," she nodded. "They must have traced the signal I tried to send. What's happening? I know that there's four ships in orbit around Cordoba."
"They have the entire planet under radio blackout," Claire said helpfully. "They were trying to ensure their attack fleet reached its destination without anyone warning them."
"I am almost certain they knew the location of the base," Ezra stated firmly. "There cannot be any reason for so much precaution otherwise."
"Oh Ezra, we have to warn them," Inez exclaimed. "If those ships reach them without any kind of a warning, they'll be wiped out!"
"I know that," Ezra said grimly. "Unfortunately we have no way of doing that without getting off the planet."
"Any transmission we make will be jammed and traced back to us," Claire sighed, trying to keep her worries for Chano from making her irrational.
"Then we have no choice in the matter," Ezra replied coming to the only decision they could make at this juncture. "We will have to escape Cordoba and warn them before its too late."
"It won't be easy getting past that blockade," Inez pointed out.
"It is not getting past it that worries me," Ezra remarked as he gestured Claire to board Inez's speeder, abandoning their own. "It is them leaving before we can make the attempt."
Inez said nothing but they all knew that if that were to happen, there would be no chance of saving the rebel base.
No chance at all.
"You were correct about Captain Standish," Pallaeon told Thrawn on board the Chimaera.
The Grand Admiral was standing by the huge observation window on the bridge of his ship. It gave him a magnificent view of the planet below them and the three destroyers that would be accompanying him on this expedition to destroy the rebel base in the Siraj system. The Shadowstar had arrived a short time ago and she appeared just as impressive as her sister ships. With her arrival, Thrawn had all the forces he needed to proceed to their destination. Although three star destroyers was already more than adequate for the capture of the rebel base, Thrawn was prepared to leave nothing to chance. The capture of Mary Travis was nothing to be taken lightly, like the woman herself.
"Well it did seem rather obvious since there could be no one else responsible for providing the rebels the information they seemed to be in possession of lately," Thrawn remarked relatively unconcerned. Ezra Standish was merely a curiosity he had wished satisfied a minor wrinkle that had very little effect on his overall plans for the Rebellion. "No doubt his liaison was his lover, a woman named Inez Recillos. If I am not mistaken, she was once wife to Buck Wilmington of the Rebel Alliance."
Pallaeon hid his surprise at how well informed the Grand Admiral was but then he recalled having Thrawn once tell him that the acquisition of data was power. Thrawn had a network of spies that were far more insidious and effective than any other in the Empire and resources whose existence was beyond the Emperor's knowledge. "His first officer has informed me that a planetary search has begun. There is no evidence that he has left the planet at this time."
"Tell Lieutenant Pemberton that she is expend every resource available to ensure that he does not leave the Cordoba. When we have him in custody, I am certain that he will make a nice little offering to Vader. No doubt, the Sith Lord will not be happy at my success at capturing Mary Travis and he is far too dangerous a man to have as an enemy. A little morsel may make my victory a little more palatable for him."
"Yes Sir," Pallaeon nodded and was about to turn away in order to fulfil that order when a thought crossed his mind. "Sir, what if he tries to warn the rebellion about our attack?"
"It won't matter," Thrawn turned towards the younger man, having already considered the possibility. "The only way he can penetrate our jamming signal is to make the transmission from space. Since there is every indication that he is still on Cordoba, the chances of that happening are remote. Nevertheless it is never wise to take chances. Following your instructions to Lieutenant Pemberton, I want you to give the order for departure. If by some instance that Captain Standish does manage to contact the Rebellion, it will do him little good. We will be in the Siraj system already."
"How many?" Ezra asked.
"At least three," she declared, looking over her shoulder. Behind them were at least three Imperial speeders, bearing down on them in close pursuit with heavily armed stormtroopers in each one. Despite the danger to themselves, there had been little choice for the trio but to make the attempt to reach Inez's ship at the spaceport. Somehow, they had to make it into space to warn the Rebel base on Siraj what was coming for them in less than a day. The Rebellion was ill equipped to battle a quartet of Star Destroyers. If caught unawares, the consequences not just for their friends but the entire Rebel Alliance could be devastating. Unfortunately, accomplishing this minor miracle was easier said then done. No sooner than they had entered the town limits, the speeders had located them. There were already a sizeable number of Imperial troops in the community, thanks to the search for Inez to ensure that their departure from Cordoba would be anything but simple.
"At least three," Inez said apprehensively as she and Claire positioned themselves in the backseat of the craft and prepared to deal with the enemy behind them. Inez handed the younger woman a blast rifle and extra power packs, which Claire promptly stuck in her belt for easy access when she needed them. Exchanging a brief glance with Inez, she swallowed thickly, giving the rebel liaison indication that she was ready as she was ever going to be.
"We need to keep them off our backs until we arrive at the spaceport," Ezra ordered as he sat behind the controls of the craft, preparing to navigate through hell itself it was necessary. "Once we arrive, they will be less reluctant to open fire with so many civilians around."
"We'll do what we can Ezra," Inez responded bravely.
Ezra had not expected any less. Until a short time ago, those troops were under his command and he knew how thorough they could be. Turning the controls sharply to the right, the speeder darted down a narrow alley that cut across two major streets and a block of low cost dwellings. Ezra did not even bother to try hiding their advance to the spaceport because he knew Imperial troops would be swarming the place no matter what. Whether or not it was Thrawn's orders or Julia's did not matter, he was certain those troops were directed to intercept them before they left the planet.
The three speeders followed them into the passage way at top speed. There were barely inches between the vehicles and the walls of the alley as they surge through it, sending litter and garbage in the air as they moved down its length. Despite his best efforts to maintain a steady course, it was impossible for the speeder not to scrape against the uneven brick walls. The impact of metal against stone sent sparks flying through the air like frantic fire flies and created a screech of iron that tore through the night like the wail of a dying animal.
They emerged into a main street and narrowly avoided collision with a transport moving up the main thoroughfare. Ezra swerved out of the way a second before the vehicle could smash into the side of them. People were emerging from their homes to catch a glimpse of the commotion and were treated to the sight of Imperial speeders banking hard to avoid crashing into the vehicle that Ezra had narrowly avoided.
The lead craft in pursuit moved out of the way quickly and continued the chase while the second Imperial transports slammed headfirst into a nearby wall and exploded into a ball of fire. Debris and pieces of ignited metal rained down on the half empty street as the driver of the civilian transport brought his vehicle to a halt to investigate. Meanwhile the third speeder that veered hard to avoid the collision as well and had instead ended through someone's front window, was now backing out of the building to resume the pursuit. The dazed owner could only stare at the ragged hole of falling timbers and plaster falling through the front of his home. He looked in astonishment as the craft sped away, kicking dust and debris into the air.
"Are we almost there?" Inez shouted as she saw one of the two crafts in pursuit once again after that melee in the busy street.
"Almost but not quite enough," Ezra answered as a bolt of energy smashed off the back of the speeder's pexiglassed windscreen. Ezra had to turn away to avoid being hit by glass flying in all directions.
Inez cried out in surprise as sparks bit into her skin. "Keep your head down, they're shooting at us!"
"I had not guessed," Ezra said dryly. "Do you think you might reciprocate?" He retorted as he saw they were running out of back streets. He banked the controls hard and the speeder veered out of the alleyway emerging into another main arterial roadway. There were numerous civilian crafts, skimmers, speeders and large transports whizzing up and down the road in both directions even at this time of the day. As he pulled out onto the street, the other vehicles braked hard to avoid a collision. Ezra drove his speeder through the nose of oncoming traffic, oblivious to the fact that he was throwing the other vehicles into complete chaos in the frantic effort to avoid hitting him.
Inez watched the lights of the speeder coming at them in top speed with growing horror. She glanced at Ezra and saw that he was unconcerned with the danger of their situation and was making no move to alter their current direction. People were shouting at them and throwing curses as they drove past. Inez saw vehicles upturned, she saw them crashing into other docked transports and into buildings. People were wisely running off the pavements and going indoor to escape the carnage taking place on the roads.
As if things could not have been reduced to a further state of pandemonium, their Imperial pursuers began firing at them despite the number of civilians on the street. Now amongst the sound of crashing steel and shattering pexiglass, were the screams of frightened people trying to evade the blaster fire that ricocheting off their speeder whenever it impacted. The stormtroopers did not seem to care that some of their random blasts were murdering innocents. The action infuriated Inez who began firing at their pursuers, hoping to kill them before they wiped out any more helpless civilians.
"They're insane!" She shouted. "They're going to kill innocent people."
"They are fodder to the Empire. We are the prizes worth capturing," Ezra retorted but he could not deny that he was just as outraged as Inez and Claire about this. Unfortunately, there was little they could do except shoot back.
Inez fired once more and decided that it was not enough. Sliding off her seat, until her body was draped over the back quarter of the speeder, Inez held the weapon and prepared to fire. Taking aim at the pursuing transport, she pulled the trigger and released a series of short rapid bursts. Claire held her steady, aware that the rough ride they were enduring made it impossible for her to do it herself.
"I've got you!" Claire shouted over the sound of gunfire, her arms wrapped securely over Inez's legs. "Take em out!"
Inez was more than happy to oblige and she took careful aim of her targets, careful not to let loose a murderous hail of random shots where only one in five blasts would meet their target while the others murdered innocent bystanders on the street. She took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger gently, firing only once at a time. The blast connected with the stormtrooper behind the pilot of the lead transport. She saw him convulse with pain as the impact threw him off the back of the transport. Without missing a beat, she targeted the other trooper next to him and repeated the same action, killing him just as efficiently as he slumped against the side of the speeder, his body smoking with heat.
"Where did you learn to shoot?" Claire looked at her with mild admiration. Small arms' proficiency was not the usual requirement of a bartender but then Inez was hardly a regular bartender, Claire supposed. In fact there was much about the lady that she did not know even though Inez had been keeping Ezra's company for quite some time now. Claire wondered where Inez had obtained her training because she handled the blast rifle with the expertise of a professional who was very good at what she did.
Inez did not answer until she fired again. This time her shot hit the front quarter of the lead speeder and smoke began to billow from the fissure she had made in its hull. With satisfaction, there was enough clarity to see the dark rage on the pilot's face as the speeder was forced to come to a halt. No doubt, this was a temporary reprieve. There was one more fully functional speeder in pursuit and the spaceport was still some distance away. Besides, a protracted chase in the streets would bring other Imperial crafts to the pursuit and they could ill afford that at this time.
"I wasn't always a bartender," Inez replied. "I sure wasn't one when I met Buck."
Claire looked at her. "So what did you do?"
Inez did not answer as she took a moment to reload her weapon. "Do you know Ordianis 6 is?" She asked as her eyes darted back to see how much distance the other speeder had gained on them. At the moment, they were still some distance away and the traffic had thinned out enough for Ezra to switch lanes to the correct side of the road.
"Yes," Claire nodded remembering her history well enough. "It was one of the last worlds to fall during Clone Wars. There was a massive ground battle on the planet during the last days of the fighting. I think we sent thousand of Ground Pounders to take the planet."
"Well there you go," Inez responded as she prepared to shoot.
"You were a Ground Pounder?" Claire exclaimed with some measure of surprise. In the days before the Empire, Republic surface troops were often referred to as ground pounders. They were an elite force of battle hardened troops trained to win by any means necessary. A prelude to the Imperial stormtroopers of the present day, in their time, the Ground Pounders had been a formidable force. With the coming of the new order, many of the Ground Pounders found themselves absorbed by Empire.
"Since I was eighteen years old," Inez replied tautly. "That's where I met Buck. He was one of the pilots that flew the Ground Pounder transports during the Ordianis 6 campaigns."
Inez shifted her attention away from the conversation she was having with Claire and looked at the streets around them. The spaceport was drawing closer and closer but if they arrived with that speeder still following them, they would never be able to lose themselves in the crowd or reach the Windsong. Somehow, they had to shake off their attackers and right now before they drew any more attention then they already had.
"Ezra, we can't keep this up," Inez shouted at his direction. "They're gaining on us and if they send in reinforcements which they are likely to do, we'll never get out of here alive."
"Agreed," Ezra answered. He had hoped to evade their pursuers before they reached the spaceport but since that had not happened, he had to come up with an alternate plan no matter how drastic it was. Ezra Standish had every intention of surviving this day and getting the information to the rebellion before everyone they held dear were wiped out in a devastating assault. He had promised himself after becoming a part of the Rebellion that he would not fail Nathan as he had done when Ana had died and he had no intention of breaking that promise.
Inez was about to respond when suddenly her words were cut short by a sudden burst of sound as a blaster bolt impacted inches from her seat. The leather of the cushions began to sizzle under the tremendous heat as both Inez and Claire scrambled away from its reach. Inez rolled onto her belly on the back of the speeder preparing to fire at the approaching speeder when she realized that the odds had changed considerably. Instead of seeing one speeder, she saw a dozen and they were gaining on them. The reinforcements they had feared would be called during the chase had finally arrived. She estimated an entire garrison of troops riding the convoy. She nearly panicked but knew she could not do that. Ezra needed her to keep a level head.
"Open fire!" She shouted at Claire and both women begin firing a deadly barrage of energy at the pursuing crafts. Unfortunately, their firepower was simply not enough.
"Ezra!" She called out knowing that it was time for his input.
"I see them," Ezra replied tautly. He thought quickly. This had to end now. If they did not shake those stormtroopers now, they would be cut down before they could even reach the spaceport. "Inez, set your blaster rifle for overload."
She looked at him. "What?"
"Because we do not have explosives and that will have to do!" He said firmly.
Inez exchanged an uncertain glance with Claire but complied nonetheless, praying that he knew what he was doing. She found the power setting on the weapon and turned the dial until it could go no further. As she did that, she could feel the tickle of heat against the palm as the power core within began building up to critical mass. "I've done it," she announced over the whine of the engines and the sound of blaster fire.
"Throw it over. Make certain that it's directly behind us when you do!" Ezra retorted again.
Inez expected that and she flung the weapon over the back of their speeder. It hit the ground and skittered over the paved road until it paused in the middle of it. It would take a few seconds until the charge built up beyond the point of return. Ezra pulled out his own blaster and handed it to her. "Yours as well Lieutenant."
Claire took a deep breath, seeming reluctant to do away with their only means of defense but she trusted her captain and had faith that he knew what he was doing. She had to, there was no other choice. Without uttering a word of complaint, she repeated the procedure on the weapon and tossed it behind the speeder, watching it bounce of the paved road before coming to rest the same way that Inez's weapon had done. "If this doesn't work, we're in a lot of trouble," she declared.
"We are already in a great deal of trouble," Ezra deadpanned.
Ezra forced the speeder to surge forward at maximum acceleration. The force of the increased speed made Inez and Claire slide back into the back seat and held on for dear life. Ezra had not wanted to push the craft so hard. Although it was capable of handling this kind of speed, pushing it to its limits like this made steering difficult and increased the chances of engine failure. Unfortunately, he did not have the luxury of being cautious at this time. There was simply too much at stake.
Inez turned around to the sound of a sudden explosion of light. She saw a flare of white behind them as the blast rifles finally reached critical. It had erupted while a number of speeders were passing over it. Inez saw two of the transports flip unceremoniously in the air before they hit the paved floor with a loud smash. The others following close behind were unable to avoid the collision and Inez saw one transport smashed into the capsized two. While she hoped this would discourage the others from maintaining their pursuit, Inez knew better. She could already see the Imperial crafts matching their speed as it burst through the flaming wreckage of the other transports.
There were still a healthy number of transports in pursuit but this soon changed as she saw another explosion. This time, the others did not escape as unscathed. The rear of the lead speeder flipped upwards and Inez saw Imperial troops being thrown to the ground as transports fell around their ears. When it landed, it burst into flames killing everyone in it. Three other vehicles behind it took the brunt of the explosion, swerving before crashing into the buildings flanking the street. She saw the flames quickly envelop the structure as propellant leaking from the damaged craft ignited.
"It worked!" Claire gasped almost in astonishment.
"For now," Inez responded gravely but could not help feeling just a little relieved that they had managed to survive their arrival to the spaceport.
"I would not get too comfortable ladies," Ezra responded as he saw the spaceport in the distance. "I have a feeling this is only the beginning. It is going to get far worse than this before it gets better."
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