Many Happy Returns: Chapter Seven

"Okay, I think that'll do the job," Anakin said, testing his weight on the metal stool he and Tahiri had manufactured from one of the shelves. "It holds my weight all right. Stand beside me and check that it'll be able to hold us both." He moved to the end so Tahiri could step up on to it. They both jiggled up and down.

"Yeah, that's strong enough," Tahiri said. "Let's just hope it's high enough."

"Should be," replied Anakin, gazing up at the vent. "But if it's not, we'll just make another one." He flourished the multi-tool triumphantly. "This is even better than the one I gave Dad."

Tahiri smiled. "Thank goodness they didn't think to check all my pockets."

"Yeah. Right, you ready?"

"As rockets," she replied, slipping the multi-tool inside the top pocket of her vest.

Anakin squatted down and she seated herself on his shoulders, steadying herself as he stood up by holding on under his chin. Tentatively he stepped up on to the makeshift stepstool. He had used the laser-torch attachment to cut a shelf free of the wall, and then the micro-fuser, tuned down to half-power, to heat the durasteel sufficiently to bend the two ends at right angles to the middle section. The metal was thick, and he was reasonably confident that their creation was strong enough to serve its purpose. He braced himself, feet slightly apart for balance, and reached both arms up above his head.

"There you go, Tahiri. Think you're going to be able to reach."

"Yep," she said confidently. He felt the pressure of one bare foot on his left shoulder, and the grip of her hands on his arms as she hauled herself into a standing position. For a moment he teetered and wished the shelf had been a little wider, but then he managed to slide one foot a little to the right to give himself a wider base for support. Her right hand disconnected from his and he could visualise her stretching up to grip at the vent.

"Got it!" she cried triumphantly.

"Astral. Now see if you can cut those two lower louvres out."

"As ordered, Captain Solo," she said, and he could tell that she was smiling.

It was frustrating not to have his normal connection with her through the Force, but even without it he knew her well enough to be able to predict her reactions. Well, most of the time he could anyway. Even with the Force, he sometimes found her behaviour confusing -- although if he had to analyse it, he had to admit that dealing with the confusion was sort of enjoyable, especially the bit that followed the bit where he apologised for doing whatever it was that had annoyed her. He sighed. One thing was certain -- at least nobody could say their relationship lacked excitement.

Several bits of transparisteel sailed past his face, waking him out of his reverie, and one large piece hit him on the nose. He hazarded a quick glance up.

"Nearly got the first one out," said Tahiri. "Aren't you glad I got you this multi-tool?"

Anakin didn't reply immediately, and she looked down quickly to check he'd heard.

"I wouldn't stand with my mouth open like that if I were you," she frowned. "You might get a mouthful of broken vent."

"Um, yeah."

Tahiri flicked the last section of the first louvre out and began work on the second. "Are you okay? You're not getting after-effects of that drug are you?"

Again there was a pause. "No."

Tahiri stopped and gripped on to the ledge around the vent with her left hand to steady herself. "Anakin, if you're going to keel over or anything, you will let me know won't you?"

"No, no ... I mean, yes ... I mean, no I'm not going to fall over or anything," he stammered, and Tahiri noticed he sounded a little breathless.

She held on with both hands and stared down at him. His eyes did look glazed. "Maybe we should stop and have a rest."

"Um, no. I'm okay, honest. It's just, um ..."

"What?" Tahiri knew she shouldn't, but she couldn't help letting her frustration show. Sometimes Anakin, regardless of all his amazing abilities, still seemed to have trouble dealing with a simple thing like Basic.

"It's ..." he hesitated.

Tahiri waited.

"... your legs," he finally blurted out.

Tahiri glared at him.

"What's wrong with my legs?"

"Nothing. That's the problem ... they're very nice legs. Very nice. Um. Too nice. They go ... right up." He stopped, his blue eyes appealing to her silently with the semi-helpless, semi-bewildered look of someone who had just discovered yet another unread chapter in a book he thought he knew by heart.

"Right," she drew the word out in a tone implying not a little sarcasm. "Anakin, why is it that when I want you to give me compliments you never do, and when you do, it always seems to make me want to slug you?"

"I dunno," he laughed weakly. "Funny thing that. Although I do remember saying that I liked the skirt, and it was nice to see you in a skirt for a change."

"Yes, well next time we go out shopping with Lando and Tendra, I will definitely be wearing something more practical. A mimetic suit and body armour for instance. Or maybe even vonduun crab armour," she added, smiling wryly to herself. She switched the vibroblade on again, and went back to work on the second louvre.

Vonduun crab armour. Anakin squeezed his eyelids shut and then shook his head, trying to rid himself of the image he had seen in a vision many months ago: Tahiri, grown, and wearing tight-fitting Vong armour. The image still frightened him, but underneath the fear he had begun to recognise other feelings -- feelings that were in some ways just as scary, although not because of their fright value. As yet he had no way to categorise them, no previous experience to compare them with. All he knew was that their power made him tremble, and it reminded him of the first shared dream he and Tahiri had ever had, of the river back on Yavin 4, and of being overwhelmed by the current, of wanting to fight and yet at the same time wanting just to yield and be carried along. He opened his eyes as more pieces of transparisteel showered down, and he forced his thinking back to their current situation.

"Nearly done," she said gleefully. "I hope nobody can hear all this."

"I doubt it," said Anakin. "And anyway, I think this room is pretty soundproof."

"Well, I haven't let any of the bigger pieces drop. I've just been poking them out through the hole. There, that's it."

"Okay -- uh oh!" Anakin felt the table give very slightly under him, obviously surrendering to the pressure of their combined weights being concentrated on one spot. He reached up and grabbed Tahiri's ankles to steady her. "Just in time I think. Are you going to be able to pull yourself up?"

"Yep." Moving slowly and deliberately, Tahiri slid the multi-tool back in her pocket, and searched with her fingers for the best place to grip on to the ledge around the vent. She reached up on tiptoe and then pushed off from Anakin's shoulders, bringing her knees up and then lifting her lower legs so that they slid into the gap she had created between the louvres. The jerking movement was too much for the table and it buckled in the middle, but Tahiri was already hanging upside down, breathing heavily but grinning from ear to ear. "I feel like a trapeze artist," she said, holding on determinedly to her skirt.

Anakin grinned back. "Well, I guess if things get any worse we could always run off and join a circus. In fact we could probably begin our own -- we've got a weird enough set of family and friends."

"Now there's an idea." Tahiri took a breath, tensed her stomach muscles and reached up with her arms until she could grab on to the metal struts that held the louvres in place. Now that she had removed two of the pieces of transparisteel, she was able to use the framework for support. She made sure her left hand had a firm grip, and then she pulled out the vibro-blade and began work on the next louvre.

"I reckon you'll only need to remove two more of those to make enough room for you to get through," said Anakin. "Then you can take out the last two from the outside."

"Yeah, that'd be good. This is quite hard work."

"Be easy using the Force," he reminded her.

"True. You'd better get ready to catch the big pieces -- I need my other hand for holding on."


They worked in companionable silence for a while, feeling the cool night air filter in through the rapidly widening hole in the vent. Eventually Tahiri cleared a space large enough to fit her slim frame through, and Anakin watched as she wriggled and slithered into the greyness beyond.

"Wow!" he heard her whisper. "Freedom. A bit cold though."

"No sign of anybody?"

There was a pause, and Anakin assumed she would be checking all sides of the roof.

"No. All clear. Right, you want to climb up and get ready. It shouldn't take too long to get these other bits out."

"On my way," grinned Anakin as he pulled himself up from the second to the third shelf.

Tahiri cleared away the last shards of transparisteel so Anakin wouldn't cut himself, and then watched as he leapt from the top shelf and grabbed on to the bottom ledge of the vent. Even without the Force, he moved with an athletic grace that would indeed have gone down well with a circus crowd. She bent down to help him as he grabbed on to the metal frame and pulled himself up slowly. He wedged his knees just inside the lower edge of the vent and pushed his head up through the gap she had created.

"Whew!" he gasped, holding on to the frame and resting his head back against the other side of the vent. "You're right -- this is hard work."

"You can do it. Remember -- there is no try."

"I dunno about that," he grunted as he tried to wiggle his shoulders through the hole.

"Would it help if I said size matters not?"

"That would be of no help whatsoever. Hang on, we'll try something different." He ducked his head down for a moment so he could push his arms up through the hole. Tahiri took his hands and began pulling, and this time he was able to wriggle through, although not without acquiring a few cuts and scratches.

"Okay, that's stage one," said Tahiri as she brushed some fragments of transparisteel off the back of his tunic top. "Now for stage two."

Anakin gazed around the expanse of roof, noting the security fencing. He presumed that was there to stop intruders from breaking in, but it was just as effective a deterrent to people trying to do the opposite, so it was just as well they had already decided that they would have to break back into the building. For one thing, they needed their lightsabers, but also they hoped to be able to access Tag's files to find some clue as to where he was keeping Lando and Tendra -- assuming they were still alive.

"It's a pity we can't get to those ysalamiri," said Tahiri. "That would make the whole plan much easier."

It seemed obvious to Anakin that Tag would have the ysalamiri as close to their prison as possible, and so he had already checked out the sections of roof in their immediate vicinity.

"Yeah," he muttered, "it would. But unfortunately it looks like we're going to have to do it the hard way." He threw her an apologetic look.

Tahiri shrugged. "So, what's new?"

Anakin studied their surroundings and pointed to the sections on each side that rose up into a second storey. "Maybe that factory bit has skylights or ventilation shafts or something. We'll go up there."

"I suppose they'll have guards or droids inside," said Tahiri as she clambered up after him, searching for niches for her hands and feet in the rough stucco that covered the exterior.

"Let's hope they don't have security alarms," grunted Anakin, pulling himself up on to the top level.

"So much for having a nice rest on a peaceful planet," she reached up and took his proferred hand

In spite of their circumstances, Anakin grinned. "Hey, at least we're not in any danger of dying of boredom."

"Now that," said Tahiri as she followed him over the dark roof, "is definitely something we'll never die of."

* * * * *

Dajira slipped her card into the scanner at the main entrance to the factory, and waited for the system to deactivate the alarm before she opened the door. The building lay in darkness, and like the night around it, also in silence. Well, she corrected herself as she entered and closed the door behind her, silent at least from the outside. She followed the sound of raised voices, which as far as she could tell were coming from the corridor in which the Jedi were imprisoned.

"She ain't," she heard one voice protesting. "She's only sixteen."

"Aw yeah - sixteen going on thirty," replied another, dripping sarcasm. "You're a ... What the ..!" He stopped and stared open-mouthed as Dajira's face appeared round the door.

"Could you make any more noise?" she demanded.

The man shrugged. "Aw come on. What difference is it going to make?"

Dajira gave him a withering look. "I would have thought that a good security guard would know to listen for strange noises. If you didn't hear me coming, chances are you haven't been able to hear any suspicious noises they might be making." She pointed to the prison room. "I think you should check."

The other guard snorted. "Who the hell do you think you are, anyway? You're not even his real daughter."

"Maybe not," she replied snarkily, "but at least I know where my loyalties lie, and who pays my wages," and she went to get down on her knees.

"Better check," the older guard grumbled, waving his head at the other to indicate that he peek through the door slot.

The younger one bent down muttering comments that cast serious aspersions on his companion's masculinity. He waited while his eyes adjusted to the darkness. His eyes widened and he pressed his face as close as he could to the slot. "Oh criminies!"

"What? What?" the first guard grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him out the way.

Dajira watched as he peered through the hole and sat up staring at her, his face drained of colour. "Where's Mahko?" she hissed.

"I'll get him," stammered the man fumbling for his comlink. "Jessen, get that door open!"

It was an unnecessary command as Jessen was already keying the code into the lock.

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