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Adrift
By Oddly Salacious

Disclaimer: Thanks go to Bill Smith, Donald Glut, and George Lucas. The writer assumes no legal ownership of this literary work. This story was written not for profit, but purely for the amusement of my fellow Star Wars fans.

SW Timeline: Sometime between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

There were trees; trees, trees, and yes, more trees. Over there...trees. Despite drifting for a day two kilometers above the forest, Veers could see no end to the verdant carpet. It was repulsive.

Plebeian, he thought darkly. The shirt he wore bothered him. The neck was too open; it was too casual. The brocaded cuffs annoyed hands used to command.

"Does something bother you, Maximillian?"

A woman of impeccable breeding stood near his elbow; her lofty chin in perfect conjunction with the angle of the high bones in her face and her straight nose. She wore her blonde tresses wisely in a tight bun at the back of her head. Her neck was long with creamy white skin. When she spoke, her accent was properly Core. Still, Veers reproved her tendency to question him. Of course, something was the matter! This whole damnable holiday.

He refused her his eyes. They were sparks in his starched face. He knew she'd continue her silent vigil, watching for the slightest catch in his cheek, or his lip, brow...something. Suddenly, it was her face that was too open.

He missed his life. The immenseness outside the gallery window afforded wandering ideas. He needed enclosure, metal, and hard lines. He needed confines. He needed...

"Is it..." the voice came to his ear from light years' distance, "Is it Zevulon, Maximillian?"

The Imperial officer turned so sharply as to make Alsa jump. Her high heel shoe took a step back. His face was locked and frozen. For a moment, she felt afraid of his coming wrath.

But no, this wasn't the man she'd married just the week before. Regret stabbed Veers and he felt the bounds around his chest fall away.

"Alsa..." he said.

She shushed him with her gentle smile; her soft lips conveying an understanding a thousand fold. Her blue eyes were alive again and she took his frustrated hand wordlessly in the strength of her own.

"Let's have a rest shall we? Over there by the promenade? I see a divan for us." She led him from the windows.

The blimp-like luxury liner boasted accommodations for 2400 persons with a total of 158 regal suites situated just aft the forward Theatre' Gran. Maximillian and his new bride had joined a thousand other patrons the night before for Xiln Votras' exceptional performance of Guile's il Manchant di' Zuns. There were twenty restaurants throughout the airship, each with chefs from around the Empire who vied nightly for the honor of satisfying the most pretentious and the most elusive of palates.

Three decks below the main gallery's 230-hectare spread were noisy arcades, gambling halls and smoky casinos stuffed with sabacc tables, holo-niff rings, and the very latest virtual sensory pleasers. Decadence held sway over the majority of the interior with the passengers' every want at the top of the resort staff's priority list.

"Max," she'd oft called him Max when they were by themselves. He hadn't quite warmed to the moniker and thought he could never face calling her anything but Alsa. But he remembered the warmth of her face when she'd read the luxury liner's brochure to him and exclaimed in breathy excitement: 'Oh, Max! Could we?' He'd personally made the honeymoon arrangements with minimal incursions from his staff interns. One of them had suggested the play.

"My thoughts are ever wayward, dear Alsa. Forgive me. I, of course, should think of you. A more...pleasing interest, yes?" The tight line of his mouth produced a whimsical smile.

"I'd hope to achieve more than 'pleasing interest' in your coffers, Maximillian." She chided him lightly and he found he liked it. Her eyebrow gracefully arched above an eye. He fancied kissing it. Foolish. But he laughed.

An automated announcement, that sounded ethereal in the vast airs of the gallery, listed the daily itinerary. There were several dozen forays to the surface for the adventuresome. But this was Chandrila; how adventuresome could you be? Alsa provided the answer by toying a finger over his knee.

Next stop: Onna and Cross. From there the debarking can catch the ferry on to the Cherished Isles.

##

Veers awoke early, showered and was dressed by the time Alsa turned her head to regard him in her misty morning ways. She saw he'd chosen a tight-collared shirt, perfectly pressed, with grey dress trousers. He looked very military indeed.

"The captain sent around the warder with breakfast. He's personally invited me for a tour of his ship."

"The ship is in the warder's property, is it?" Alsa asked.

Veers awarded her with another smile. "Cheeky." He said, brushing aside her nonsense. He tapped a foot exposed by the bed linens in disarray. "I've your breakfast just there." He nodded to the suite's amicable kitchenette. There would be a red rose awaiting her beside the juice in the refrigerator. He finished buttoning his shirt and pulled at the bottom seam.

"You pass inspection, General." Alsa mumbled. She turned her head on the pillow affording him a very nice view of her shapely ear, down her neck, and of one bare shoulder.

##

"As you can see, General, the rudder control layouts are not that removed from the control systems of many of SoroSuub's designs. Trim is controlled automatically by a dedicated AN-477 droid cluster in the sensor housing."

Veers looked over the command room. He wasn't a naval officer, but the bridge seemed comfortable and accommodating. Soft lighting warmed each station. Crewmen dallied over wide navigation screens and various data scrolls. The proud captain beside him had gushed showing him the spacious officers' barracks and individual crew lodgings. But Veers relinquished his authoritative appraisals. This was a luxury ship, not an Imperial cruiser.

"Most of the bridge is out of the Coruscant Air & Space Academy." The captain continued, a bit taken aback at Veers' prideful silence. "Some have seen service within the Empire, and I have five currently aboard that are active RSSF reservists."

If that was to be impressive, Veers held to much higher standards. He thought nothing of Air & Space except that it was a good launching point for a TIE pilot. And then, for only those who flew the cushy courier lanes. As for the Ringali Shell Security Force...well, Veers thought, they handled the core-waste scum the Empire had little time with which to bother.

"Your propulsion is admirable, Captain." Veers said at long last.

"Thank you, General." The eager captain breathed. "SoroSuub contracted the turbine work to Ubrikkian. The repulsorlifts are SoroSuub's own. What's more..."

"Indeed." Veers said vacantly. His eyes drifted to the forward viewports, to the vastness outside. Six months ago, it'd been a different viewport and a much different landscape: barren and deathly cold.

##

Hoth. Cold. Desolate. Death.

"Sir? Sir! Are you alive or dead?"

Something sharp touched against the flesh inside his elbow. Dull pain followed as a parasitic worm of medicine began inching up his bicep. Veers blinked against the ice particles that had frozen his eyelashes shut. He was immediately aware of how cold he was… and yet how strangely warm he was at the same time. His sluggish rationality worked to decipher the sensation. The warmth wasn't the same as like enjoying...

"Sergeant! I think he's coming around! The General is alive!"

##

He'd floated in a bacta tank for thirteen hours staving off the worst of his frostbite and dehydration. Somewhere in recovery, he'd lost four of his toes. Later, Lt. Colonel O'Donnel had shown him his armored chest plate. It was scorched and dented above the heart. His helmet had apparently saved him from a wicked piece of fragment when the AT-AT walker had gone down. He felt gooey synth-skin on his cheek and nose.

##

"Nothing like an Imperial Walker I suppose, eh, General?" The captain said.

"No. It's nothing like it at all." Veers returned with hollow words.

##

Alsa. It'd been a semi-arranged marriage that had taken place promptly after his return from the Outer Rim. Both of their houses had approved. What was left of Veers' family had even managed a suitable dowry (customary for first marriages - not seconds, on Carida). His son by his first wife, Zevulon, had sung a song. Then left.

Maximillian Veers took a sip of his drink. The rich ale was dark and pungent. It pushed back the creeping acid in his chest. Zevulon had disavowed his father. Not in so many words, but in action. The boy had been promising in his SAGroup: COMPNOR was turning out another fine example of Imperial excellence. Veers would have a legacy. Zevulon even favored Alsa (Sarinia had died of cancer when Zevulon was but six.)

But his son didn't take with certain standard military practices. There were cover-ups and dismissive accounts, most in part due to Veers Senior's rank. Maximillian agreed that some punishments often carried the most extreme and perhaps unnecessary conclusions. But Zevulon refused the illogic of allowing negligence. Blunders could kill. Errors affected victory. Therefore, a commander must act decisively to remove the...cancer?

Veers took a slow sip of his beer.

"Maximillian, you stang-crusted boot scrape!"

Veers lifted his eyes to the reflection behind the bar. He saw the beginnings for the need of a haircut. The rest of the bar was quiet and dark. It was midday and only a handful of passengers were in drink attendance. The man approaching him was silhouetted by the light outside. But he knew the voice. A knobby knuckle of a man — a soldier — assumed the stool beside Veers.

"Corellian Ale for the new gent, barkeep." Veers ordered. The other man grinned wickedly at the bartender when the latter asked which flavor: light, ultra-light, regular, or Hansbock Extra Stout. Silly man.

"Been hiding out, General?" the man asked. Veers saw the barkeep look up quickly, catching Veers' eye seconds before he returned to filling the order.

"I'm on holiday. Honeymoon, as it were." Veers answered, not taking his eyes of the bartender's back.

"Well, I'll be a flea-bit tauntaun." The man said.

"That wouldn't be much of a change then, would it?" Veers slowly turned his head him. "Cheers, Karl."

They took a table outside of earshot from the bar. Karl sat opposite Veers with their drinks in hand between them.

"I just got my command in the Ninth Omwati. You back yet?" Karl asked. Veers nodded.

"Upon my return. My new command is waiting for me."

"Any idea to where they'll send you this time?" Karl asked.

Veers looked sharply to the bar. The bartender had gone to the rear room for a new keg. "Moddell sector. I know nothing more than that." Veers said quietly in a tone that conveyed to Karl that he should steer clear of the subject.

"And where's the bride?" Karl shifted gears easily.

Veers inclined his head to the door. "She'll be around in a few minutes. There are credits to spend and shops to visit. Dreadful stuff, this shopping."

Karl raised his mug in toast to that.

Veers watched his career friend drink after putting his own aside. Karl wasn't military in the truer sense of the word. He represented a little known organization to which Veers also claimed membership. Their forearms bore a tattooed witness to their supreme loyalty to Emperor Palpatine.

"I'm fine, Karl. Passed my psych tests, didn't I? ...If that's the reason for this social."

The big man chuckled into his second mug and put it down slowly. "No. It's not you or Hoth or anything like that, Maximillian. We won that day. And Vader trusts you implicitly, you oaf. I'm here with Takel."

"Governor Takel is onboard?"

Karl mumbled acknowledgement and told Veers that the governor of disputed Esseles was currently enjoying a refresher from the Bormea/Darpa conflicts.

"I'd word that the Bormea was growing restless. I'd put no credits on them joining in with the Rebel Alliance though. They're brigands plenty."

The luxury liner would stop at Esseles on its trek through the Bormea and Darpa Sectors of the Perlemian Trade Route. The fact that the resort's captain had a few RSSF onboard no longer served as a surprise.

"Who's not joining the Rebs these days? Would it not have been for that cur Tarkin and his mad schemes to blow up everything from here to the Unknowns; the entire Empire might be enjoying a refresher.

"Sedriss is at Esseles watching Hall President Ralle." Karl finished.

Veers rolled his eyes. They were all brethren in Palpatine's Inner Circle, but Sedriss was somewhat of a scabby bedsore. Veers could respect Dark Jedi from a warrior's standpoint. But they were a volatile lot, these Force-wielders, especially the spike-haired Sedriss. He'd already been kicked out of the military and that was blight enough for Veers. But Sedriss enjoyed Palpatine's favor as Veers had Darth Vader's own.

Karl looked at his chronometer and made to leave. "Been real, General." He saluted. "But I must be off. Takel is going dancing tonight. It'd be my skin if he were to fall and dislodge his hip. Make sure to bring around that wife of yours. I'm in 5150. That's deck five to you, you elitist."

They exchanged handshakes and Veers watched the big man leave.

##

"Zevulon rang!" Alsa exclaimed a little too loud. Veers glanced around cautiously as he welcomed her to the table. No one seemed bothered in the restaurant and there were no nosey bartenders here. She passed him a small data chit.

Veers quickly slid the card into his shirt pocket wondering what for all the galaxy his son could have said. Alsa said the message had required his personal key code, so she couldn't tell him anything of it.

Dinner was quick: prawns from the Silver Sea served on a bed of rice in a spicy etouffee sauce. A bold red wine was served with the main course, a Hüs Dinrow from Garos IV. Veers paid little attention to the delicious meal. His mind was ever on the data chit.

##

"Greetings, Father. I trust you are well."

I am, Veers thought hurriedly as he watched his son's hologram recording. Zevulon seemed calm, his face blank.

"I'm not sure how to proceed. But I sent this on your security code with reason. You probably haven't heard, but I've been abducted by the Rebel Alliance."

Veers stomach journeyed back to Hoth. It filled with frigid snow. But Zevulon smiled and he appeared in good health. Perhaps they'd barter for him. How much did his wedding dowry have left in it?

"You need not fear, Father. I'm in no danger. And I no longer pose a danger to you. I've joined the Alliance. There was a rescue mission and I..."

Maximillian Veers heard little of his son's efforts at ingratiating descriptions. His mind seemed to snap shut; something inside him locked. His jaw clenched and refused to soften. Alsa's sudden hand on his shoulder went unfelt.

"But I think you should debark at the port in Hanna or at least at Esseles. I cannot say too much more..."

Veers yanked the data chit from the reader shattering the image of his son violently. He smashed the card under a fist then swept the larger pieces off the edge of the writing desk.

"What was that last bit?" Alsa asked alarmed. Her eyes were fixed on the broken remains her husband's hand had missed.

"The Core take him, take him straight to the Abyss! I do not care." Veers stood. Stood in the middle of the room. Stood looking out the suite's large viewport, at Chandrila dressed in nightfall.

"TRAITOR!" he screamed with raised fists.

##

"No. We are leaving." Veers seethed through clenched teeth. Alsa stood aloof behind him, helpless. The golden protocol droid stared at him with its blank, expressionless eyes.

"Have you not enjoyed your stay, General Veers? Perhaps something is the matter which we here at..."

"I wish our travel arrangements immediately changed. If you cannot do this simple task, then I'll have your manager's attention."

"That would be most unnecessary, General. I assure you that your departure will be amended. But it is my duty to ensure our patrons are well cared for, and should there be anything that I can do, or anyone else here at..."

"Make the changes and send the tickets with the porter. We'll wait in the gallery. How long to Hanna?"

The overhead announcement answered him.

"We'll be arriving in Hanna City in three hours. Those furthering to Lake Sah'ot should inquire at the reception desk as to recent airlift services to Shoreline Cove. Current airspeed is..."

"Excellent." Veers sneered at the droid.

They sat on the very divan that Alsa had pointed out two days earlier. He looked at her. Alsa wore a worried smile. He'd lost a son, but still had her. She silently assured him that they would see this through.

Months later, a Chandrilan court would rule that the Bormean strike-fighter that had launched the torpedo had suffered a misfire and the explosion that ripped through the grand gallery was, in fact, accidental and not due to pilot error.

##

Veers cradled Alsa's head in his lap. Fires spouted everywhere around them. Razors of broken glass embedded in cushion, flesh, and plaster alike. Veers felt the cold unstaunched wind gutting in from the shattered viewports. People were screaming. The golden protocol droid lay in a heap under an overturned potted plant. One of its dismembered arms repeatedly wagged a scolding finger at its own unrealized demise.

Maximillian sucked in a panicky breath. His fingers were coated in bright crimson. There was a sick wetness on the back of Alsa's head. Her eyes were unfocused, but she was alert.

"Max? Oh, Max. Are you unhurt?"

"I'm well, dear. Shush. Just relax." He crooned, bending his face to hers and gently kissing her chin.

"What happened, Max?" she asked.

Yun-grade midrange torpedo. Explosive yield: 1.0 decaton. Powerful; a one-hit wonder. Veers mind instinctually assessed the carnage around him. Incidental fatalities, minimal structural damage; most of the blast force was spent on contact. Good thing, too. If that torp had entered here before going off...

Alsa shifted and whimpered as something crinkled inside her.

"Just lay still. They'll send someone around. You're fine." Veers searched the cabin. Most passengers that were still moving were panicked. He watched one passenger draw too close to a viewport, waver at the newly opened edge, and disappear over it.

"If I leave you..."

"Don't. Stay here."

"Shush, now. I must go and find help."

"Don't leave me, Max. I'm...I'm scared." Wavering smile. Tears.

"So am I, Alsa. But I can't..."

She smiled again, her wet eyes blind to everything around them. "You always can, Max. That's who you are. You can and you do. But...but just stay with me...stay for now."

"You need assistance."

"I have you."

"I..." his throat tightened refusing words.

Alsa looked blissful despite her injuries. She lasted with him for another two minutes. -end-  

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