The blackness of space enveloped the cockpit of the Guillotine as Ajyyn “Deadeye” Ellor throttled the engine and steered the etheric rudders hard to port, orienting the patrol craft away from Celanon’s primary star. The Duros punched a series of coordinates into the navputer and then leaned back in the pilot’s chair, kicking one booted foot up on the console. For the fifth time that day, he keyed a button on the holoprojector and played back the footage Gutz had taken of the Eradicator disintegrating into smoke, sparks, and metal shards. Soon the holovid would be broadcast across several high-frequency bands in the Mid-Rim, and although the Imperial propaganda machine would try their best to lock it down, they wouldn’t be able to stop word from spreading across the galaxy. The message was loud and clear: Imperial convoys who blockade and embargo Alliance worlds would be targeted. Starving innocents and withholding essential medicine from member systems would not be tolerated by the Rebel High Command.
Ajyyn looked down from the projection of the star cruiser exploding into billions of particles and pulled a small holocube from his pocket, triggering the ‘on’ button with his thumb. A small beam of light threw up another projection, one far more beautiful and heartwrenching than the destruction of the Eradicator to the Duros: a Bothan woman in an oil-stained blue jumpsuit leaning against the duracrete wall of his garage, casually fingering a holdout blaster on her belt and smiling rakishly at the holocam. An image of a past that Ajyyn couldn’t bear to relive—and of a future that he would never have.
We got them, Cindes, Deadeye thought to himself. For all the damn good it does you now, we avenged your death.
“How many times you gonna watch that feed, Deadeye?” A cheerful, rapidfire voice chattered from the galley behind the Duros—the voice of Gutz Brym, the Sullustan pilot who’d filmed the destruction of the Eradicator.
“As many times as I need to,” Deadeye answered.
Gutz padded up to the copilot’s seat and flopped down unceremoniously. “These new operatives that Domir and Taleli recruited aren’t bad, ya know. Even if a lot of them are ex-Imperials. I figured at least half of ’em would be dead by the time we got this mission done.”
“One of them almost was,” Deadeye said, his fist clenching around the base of the holocube. “Next time I see Drak Ores, I owe him an ass-kicking.”
“For what?” Gutz asked in an uncharacteristically stern tone. “Doing exactly what you wanted to do? We all know what you had planned for Brask, and it ended with a blaster bolt to the head. Don’t kid yourself, Ajyyn.”
“Brask was supposed to be my kill,” Deadeye answered sharply. “I was gonna enjoy it. I wanted to tell him, you know. To his face. What he took from me. What I was gonna take from him in return. I wanted to watch that hope die in his eyes, like mine did when she…” The Duros trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
Gutz reached over, placing a small, reassuring hand on the Duros’ shoulder. “I get it, bro. If someone had gunned down my man, I’d probably wanna do the exact same thing.”
No, you wouldn’t, thought Deadeye, his eyes clenched shut. You’re a good person. You’re not like me.
Neither man spoke for quite some time. Gutz, as always, was the first to break the silence. “Kinda weird when you think about it, isn’t it? 300 lives on that ship. Nearly 200 of them soldiers. And we killed them all. Snuffed them out in an instant.”
Deadeye’s red eyes shifted toward the Sullustan. “You knew what you were signing up for when Commander Domir sent you here, Gutz. This is a civil war now, not a demonstration.”
“I know, I know,” Gutz said sadly. “Those pilots and stormtroopers were here to kill people. Even if they think they’re just doing a job, they’re still wrong. We stopped a lot of bad stuff from happening today. Or at least, I hope we did.”
“We sent a message,” Deadeye affirmed. “That message is gonna get answered. Probably with more troops and ships.”
“More things to blow up,” Gutz said with a tilt of his oblong head.
“Damn right.” Deadeye turned off the holocube and put it back in his pocket, then hit ‘replay’ on the video console and watched the star cruiser blow up for the sixth time.
“So what now, Deadeye?” Gutz asked. “Brask is dead. His flagship is gone. What’s next for you?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Deadeye said. “Guess I’m gonna go look for the next fight. More Imps to kill.”
“Ajyyn, I like you…but you’re worrying me. No number of deaths is ever gonna fill that hole inside you, man. You gotta accept that, or it’s gonna drive you bonkers.”
“You know what the problem is with all these Imperial types?” Deadeye asked. “They don’t see the consequences of their galactic order on individuals. They say to themselves, ‘I had nothing to do with that person’s death; I didn’t know them, so it’s not my responsibility.’ It’s easy not to care about the faceless victims—those without a voice, the ones who starve in the streets or are murdered by Stormies in a dark alley.” He touched the holocube in his pocket again. “But you know who did care? Cindes. And they took her away from me. So now, I’m taking everything away from them. Brask’s soldiers are gone. His cruiser is gone. He’s gone.” He laced his fingers together and cracked his knuckles loudly as he grabbed the pilot’s yoke. “And we’re not stopping here, Gutz. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all valid targets now. I want them all gone, Gutz. Every bureaucrat and Stormtrooper, every transport and battleship, every Admiral and Moff—and if we get really lucky and live long enough to see it, their damn precious Emperor.”
Gutz sighed. “Want me to fly for awhile? You look exhausted, man.”
Deadeye shook his head. “Nah, I’ll take her out. You go get some sleep. It’s gonna be a long jump back to Toprawa.”
The navputer finished its calculations, and Deadeye activated the hyperdrive. The empty blackness transformed into a field of light around the Guillotine; true to its namesake, the ship cut through empty space like a blade through flesh.
Behind him, Ajyyn heard the whirring of servos and the sound of rubber tread scooting across metal flooring. The green-and-orange astromech droid the Rebels had rescued from the cruiser came trundling up next to the pilot seat. She beeped perkily at him; the familiar sound only made his heart ache more intensely, reminded him of days he couldn’t bear the pain of reminiscing. “Go away, H1E.”
The droid tooted again and scooted forward and backward briefly, bumping the arm of the chair and rotating her dome toward him to show her built-in monitor display. Basic scrolled across the screen. You can’t be alone all the time, Deadeye, it said. It’s not good for living sentients to be isolated. Cindes wouldn’t want that.
“Oh, what do you know about it? You’re a droid, not a psychologist. Now buzz off.”
I know she cared about you. That’s why she programmed me to look after you. You wouldn’t want me to act against my programming, would you? That’s devastating to a droid, you know. The display message was followed by a guilt-trip-inducing trill.
Ajyyn sighed. “Okay, fine. You can stay. For now,” he amended. “But pipe down.”