Fane ran into the briefing room where Shadie and Knarf stood with the Mandalore. The monitor displays showed a blip hovering above the planet.
‘Talyc’s missing,’ he said, panting.
‘We know,’ said Mandalore sternly. ‘Shadie has just informed me that she sensed him leaving the planet.’
‘Wait, what? I thought he’d been captured again. Left the planet?’ Fane shook his head, confused. ‘I thought Mandalore was on lockdown!’
‘It is,’ replied the Mandalore. ‘No one can leave the planet unless they have the special codes, and only I, my wife, and clan leaders have those.’
‘So that explains Talyc being able to bypass the lockdown.’ Fane signed and clenched his teeth, closing his eyes. ‘The last time he went missing, he was captured and tortured. This time it’s the dark side influencing his decisions.’ Fane tried to quell the desperation he felt. ‘And communications are jammed.’
‘Not anymore,’ said Shadie. ‘Knarf sliced through them. It’s Perce, nothing he slices is permanent.’ She smiled gingerly. Fane appreciated the attempt to lighten the mood.
‘I tried to raise him on our comchannel,’ said Knarf, ‘but I’ve had no response.’ Fane closed his eyes, trying to feel Talyc in the Force.
‘I will have better luck,’ said Mandalore. Fane opened his eyes. Shadie looked saddened, Knarf looked worried, and Mandalore looked angry. The Mandalorian leader pointed at the blip. ‘He’s still in real space.’
* * *
Talyc punched in the coordinates, pulling on the throttle. He was about to make the jump when his fighter’s comsignal gave a shrill beep. He switched it off, ignoring it. It pained him to leave so secretively, but it was the only way he could survive this. The com beeped again. He hit it again, ignoring the call once more. The com chimed again, but this time with the private chime from the Mandalore. Talyc stared at the comboard. He had lingered above the planet long enough already; he needed to get a move on. He ignored Mandalore’s call.
‘Talyc!’ came Mandalore’s voice. Talyc looked around his unit.
‘Mandalore?’ he said. ‘How did you… I didn’t take this call.’
‘No, you did not,’ said Mandalore. ‘I forced it on you.’
Talyc nodded to himself: Knarf. ‘Those are some pretty fancy slicing skills, Knarf. I’m assuming he’s there with you, Mandalore?’
‘Yes,’ came Knarf’s voice. ‘Look, Talyc, if we can’t persuade you to stay, perhaps Fane can.’
‘No! I don’t want to talk to him.’ It pained him to say it.
‘Why? What’s going on in that head of yours?’ said Mandalore.
‘I’m sorry Mandalore, but I need to do this.’
‘Talyc.’ Knarf’s voice was soft, tender, caring, and it sliced Talyc’s heart with cold fear, as a whirlwind of conflicting emotions overwhelmed him.
‘You’re all the reason I’m in this mess. I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. No more captures, no more tortures. I just want to live.’
‘The dark side is influencing you and you are not yourself, Talyc,’ came Shadie’s pleading voice. ‘Your clan needs you.’
‘My clan needs me alive.’
‘Talyc Kandera,’ said Mandalore, ‘if you go rogue, I swear I will hunt you down myself. Don’t make me do this; don’t make me ground you on planet. I, Mandalore, order you to return immediately.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Talyc.
He punched in the confirmation to go to hyperspace.
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