Tara awoke from a nap she thought would help to center her mind and help calm her down to find a figure standing in the doorway. Blinking her eyes in an attempt to focus them, she saw the shape dissolve into a figure with red hair. For a moment, her heart skipped a beat, her subconscious mind telling her that this was Willow coming to rescue her.
Then her eyes settled on the figure, and she realized that this wasn't Willow at all, but a female who looked at her with thinly contained anger as she held a tray of food in her hands, stepping forward to place it down on the table.
Tara watched as she walked away, and then decided to ask her a question. "So what are you getting out of this?"
The female spun on her heel and looked back at Tara, her hold on the anger she felt slipping slightly. "What?"
"I know what my father...what he wants," Tara explained. "He wants to see my master humiliated and killed and then do the same to me." She looked into her guest's eyes. "What are you getting out of this?"
"What I should have gotten my entire life," the female responded after a moment's pause. "Somebody in my life I could look up to." Seeing Tara's expression, she continued, "Oh, sure, I found people who took care of me, made me feel a part of a group, but that's not what I wanted. All poor little Beth wanted was a father figure. Oh, sure. They tried to raise me right, but it's kind of hard to get that among a scattered clan of individuals, even if they do consider family the most important thing in their lives." She looked towards Tara and snickered. "At least that's more than you ever got. Never have anyone looking out for you, dear cousin? Anyone make you feel special?"
Tara refused to give the female, who apparently went by the name Beth, the satisfaction of responding to her comment, mostly because she was thinking about, and coming to a sudden realization, of the enormity of what the other had just said. "Wait a minute. So my father's..."
"He's my uncle," was the reply from Beth to Tara's unfinished question. "I guess that makes us cousins." Giving Tara a once over glance, she grimaced. "Can't say I'm glad to meet you, though."
"Why not?" Tara asked, genuinely curious.
"Never figured you'd be stupid enough to get involved in this situation," Beth replied. "But then again, that's what you people do, isn't it? Get yourselves involved in that which doesn't concern you, acting as if you're the galaxy's secret police and can stamp out anything you have a problem with."
"I...I..." Tara stammered, only to have Beth raise her hand and cut her off.
"Save it," she replied. "I'm not looking for an explanation. And I don't want your pity."
"Then what do you want?" Tara asked.
"If it were up to me, I'd burn you here and now," Beth said, turning back towards the door. "But apparently he's got some big plan for you that your friends are a part of. I think it's a bad idea, but I'm not the one in charge of this little adventure anymore, and maybe I never was, so all I can do is just go along for the ride and hope I don't get splattered all over the duracrete."
She walked through the door, leaving Tara alone with her thoughts. She made her way over to the meal, picked up the utensil and began to eat, all the while beginning to formulate a plan she hoped would get her out of here.
Faith led the group to the docking bay where her ship was berthed, she and Buffy agreeing (though reluctantly in the latter's case) that it would be a good idea for them all to get up to speed and formulate a plan on what to do about their mutual problem there instead of in a cantina where any being worth his, her or its salt could eavesdrop. Neither Faith nor Nejaa ignored the obvious feeling of anger Buffy felt towards their Devaronian comrade, but both agreed that, seeing as how the enemy of an enemy could be a valuable friend, they convinced her to put those feelings aside for the sake of cooperation.
Whether or not Dawn would feel the same way, however, remained to be seen.
The five beings and one droid entered the docking bay, and Willow let out a breath at the sight of the ship before her. "It may be a piece of junk, but I'd have felt a lot safer coming here on that instead of that bucket of bolts."
"It might be a junker, Red," Faith said louder than she needed to. "But she's got it where it counts." She took noticed of the fact that the exchange bristled the Devaronian a great deal; a sight that she also noticed brought great pleasure to her companion. Withdrawing her comlink, she said, "OK, brat. Lower the hatch. We're here."
The sound of the hatch unsealing was followed by the sound of the hydraulic whine of the ramp being lowered, a young girl dressed in a dirty grey jumpsuit and boots walking down it towards the others, her hair tied back into a ponytail and a pair of work goggles on her grease smudged face. Taking off the goggles, she looked towards Faith. "Hey, Faith. Sorry it took so long. I was busy recalibrating the quad mount and..." She then took notice of the Devaronian among their number, and immediately retreated back up the ramp.
Hearing Faith's words, Dawn paused halfway up the ramp and turned around. "What's going on here, Faith? Why are you hanging around with the guy that killed my mom?"
"I'm not," Faith explained, gesturing to Nejaa and Willow. "They are."
"And who are they?" Dawn asked indignantly. "I know we usually associate with riffraff, but I was kind of hoping that you would have found someone with credits who can put our info to good use."
Nejaa took that moment to speak. "Trust me, child. My companion and I are more than capable of dealing with the problem of which you speak."
Dawn crossed her arms over her chest. "Oh, yeah? Prove it."
Nejaa turned to Willow, and then noticed a packing crate across the way. Willow followed his gaze, turned back to Nejaa and nodded in understanding. Turning towards it, they both raised their arms; fingers outstretched, and used the Force to bring the crate over to the bottom of the ramp. Not surprisingly, seeing the display brought Dawn's attitude towards them around.
"You're Jedi?" she asked, letting out a squeal as they nodded in confirmation. "Cool!" She looked towards Faith as she and the group made their way onboard. "So you think these guys can make use of our info?"
"They came here looking for some hotshot bigwig," Faith explained. "If that's what you've got, I think they'd want to know about it."
"So how much?"
Faith blinked. "What?"
"How much are we going to ask them for it?" Dawn explained.
"We're not," Faith answered eliciting a look of concern from Buffy, one that disappeared as Faith turned to look at her. Dawn, however, was less tactful.
"I can't believe this, Faith. I know you like to go all gung ho for the good cause, but good intentions and being friendly don't buy food or spare parts, and there's only so far we can get by on our own."
"We would be happy to recompense you for your expense," Nejaa interrupted. "We may not have much, but you are certainly welcome to it if..."
"No," Faith snapped, then, after calming down, added, "No. It's not a problem. We'll give it to you freely." Seeing Dawn begin to protest, she jerked her thumb down the corridor. "Take Red and their droid to look over your collection; see what we can use to help them."
Knowing that she was beaten, Dawn shoulders slumped as she made her way down the corridor as Faith indicated, Willow and the R5 unit moving after her. Moving to sit down at the nearby console, Faith called up the information that Dawn had uploaded into their computer, playing back the last few moments of the recording. Nejaa watched in fascination, then in growing concern. Something about what he was seeing didn't sit well with him, that was certain, but he couldn't place what it was.
"I'll be spaced," Faith snickered. "It really is that space bastard." She turned to Buffy. "Whatta know, B? Look's like the brat's snooping turned out to be of use to us for a change."
"Remind me to raise her allowance," Buffy deadpanned in response.
Faith turned to Nejaa. "So now that you know he's here, what are we going to do?"
Nejaa rubbed his chin and cocked an eyebrow. "'We'?"
Faith let out a small chuckle and bit her lower lip. "Well, consider this my payment for giving you this info. Like Dawn said, I'm a sucker for a good cause. Besides, someone's got to teach her that life's not all about living from moment to moment scraping by just enough to do it all again the next day."
"Indeed," Nejaa responded.
"Hold on a second," Villie cut in at that moment. "I didn't sign up for a suicide mission." He glared at Nejaa. "I think it time to reevaluate the terms of this agreement."
"I agree," Buffy interrupted. "Why exactly do we...well, you, need him anyway?"
"We needed transportation from Bothawui," Nejaa explained. "I...I knew him from dealings in the past. I thought he could be of help to us."
"And I was, till you said you wanted to go here," Villie continued. "You lucky that Blondie came around when she did to help you. If not for her, Villie most likely have let you there to rot."
"Typically cutthroat of people like you," Buffy pointed out.
"Enough," Faith interrupted, working on the controls to refocus the image on the screen on the face of the person whom Kieran and his small group had just kidnapped. Nejaa hadn't given it much thought before, but upon seeing the magnified image of the person's face...
He gritted his teeth, his anger threatening to boil over at the sight of Tara getting captured by her father and his hired goons. Faith's next words did little to assuage his bad mood.
"That dumb blonde. I told her to keep her neck out of the trash compactor."
"That 'dumb blonde' just happens to be a very dear friend of mine," Nejaa replied calmly.
"Really?" Faith responded with a shake of her head. "Looks like B was right. You do have bad taste in friends."
Nejaa ignored the comment, deciding to focus his anger towards the others, looking at each of them in turn. "None of you tells Willow about this." He gave the Devaronian an extremely hard glare. "Especially you. I swear by the seven Corellian hells if you say anything about this to her, I'll grind you into meat chunks so small, even the Temple's finest forensic droids won't be able to tell who you are."
Villie held up his hands defensively. "Believe me, Halcyon. Doing anything to anger Blondie the furthest thing from my mind."
Letting out a breath, and with it his anger, Nejaa turned his attention back to the console, reaching over to call up plans of the local area. "Now that we've got that settled, let's get to work formulating our plan."
Willow had been thankful to get back inside a spaceship, even if it wasn't the one on which she had arrived. Being out in the open presented too many opportunities for her to have been taken out by some wayward sniper or backdoor dealer with a vibroblade or hold out blaster. But being here among friends, even if some of them were less reputable than she would have liked, helped to calm her frayed nerves, if only to keep her from jumping out of her skin.
Of all of them, though, this young girl was the one that intrigued her the most. Far from being the sort of young person she would have expected to see, Dawn apparently had the wisdom of a woman twice her age, though from snippets she had overheard, she still had the maturity of a teenager.
And as she followed Dawn into her quarters, one other fact became immediately apparent.
"And the cleaning habits of one as well."
The room was not unlike others she had seen, but what made this one stand out was the fact that nearly every square inch of the place was festooned with droid parts in various states of disrepair. Among the parts she immediately took notice of was the rusted head of a 3PO protocol unit on the pillow lying on the bed, several boxy MSE "mouse" droids on a nearby workbench, a pair of pit droids, one of which was turned on its side, at the foot of the bed and the bent arms of a WED Treadwell stacked against the side of the workbench.
"Impressive," she whispered despite herself. Dawn smiled and picked up the head of one of the pit droids.
"Yeah," she agreed. "It might seem like a lot of junk, but...it's my junk."
"So what do you do with it?" Willow asked.
Dawn shrugged. "Not much. Tinker with it a bit; see if I can get it operational."
Willow cocked an eyebrow. "Use them to get into places you shouldn't?"
Dawn smiled sheepishly. "Well, Buffy and Faith won't let me go anywhere dangerous without their supervision, so I'm usually stuck here whenever we all stop somewhere like this. Besides, I usually don't get us into that much trouble."
Willow couldn't help but notice the emphasis the young woman placed on her words. "Usually?"
Knowing who Willow was, and feeling that she was beginning to be interrogated, Dawn shouted, "It wasn't my fault! How did I know Gorpa had a droid sensor in his private treasure room? And it wasn't like I was looking to get into trouble. I just wanted to get an accurate map of the place so that I could catalogue it for future reference."
Deciding that it was probably in her best interests not to pry any further, Willow picked up the severed torque arm of an R astromech as R5 followed her into the room, doing his best to avoid tumbling over. "Doesn't look like there's much that we can use."
"You'd be surprised," Dawn said. "Like I said, it might be junk, but it's my junk. And I can put anything together out of this stuff."
Turning to look at Dawn, Willow found herself impressed at hearing her speak so well of her abilities. Then again, even as she admired her words, one question found itself being asked. "And how often do those things usually work?"
"Long enough," Dawn countered, and only after looking at Willow for several moments did she finally admit, "Not long enough to do most things, but long enough to serve as a distraction while we get away."
Willow started to pick up random junk. "Then let's start putting together something from all of this. I get the feeling we might need a distraction."
As the three of them got to work, Willow couldn't help but feel through the Force the adulation that Dawn felt towards her, a feeling that she found herself liking. Too many people these days were out to kill people like her, Master Halcyon and Tara, and it was nice to meet someone who saw her not as someone to be feared, but as someone to look up to and help, even if she wanted to do it for monetary compensation.
Thinking of Tara made Willow think briefly about her beloved, and she wished that, wherever she was, she was safe. The way things were going here, she was glad that the blonde was as far away from all of this as she possibly could be.