Out of Your Mind
Part 1
Rating: PG
Thrawn McEwok

The alley was dark, narrow and deserted, with sheer metal walls rising high on either side of the walkway, blank for the most part except for tiny 'fresher windows and external heat-sinks.

Trash was piled in Hutt-shaped bulks outside the blank, scuffed doors at street level, giving the air the ripe, sweet smell of decay, enriched now by the fresh dazzle of the morning's rain.

Nothing moved here — not even a stray spukamas or a granite slug. The nearest approximation of life came from a few scraps of flimsi, skiffing across the shallow puddles in the weightless breeze.

But the alley stood high amid the towers of Coruscant's diplomatic district, guarded by security cams and far from crime and danger. Bright blue sky was visible overhead, and the afternoon sun slanted down the axis of the street.

Jacen Solo had been using it as a shortcut home since he was ten.

Bundled inside his Jedi cloak, wrapped up in his determination to avoid the Force, he didn't even sense the trap until it was too late.

He was reluctantly reflecting that the warmth of the sunlight on his face brought back memories of happier times, when a movement to the side made him turn sharply on his heels.

A big man in a tight black uniform was dropping out of one of the doorways, moving with a grace that belied his muscled bulk. The man had a compact pistol in one hand, chrome muzzle gleaming in the sunlight. He had a handsome face, bright bronze skin and honey-coloured eyes.

The blaster flashed.

Reaching for the Force, Jacen just had time to throw up the feeblest of deflection shields, before the stun-blast enveloped him.

Too late. He dropped to the deck like an empty thing.

He didn't even feel his body hit the ground.

Seconds passed in darkness.

In the Force, he caught a glimpse of a hawk-bat wheeling in the bright sky, high overhead. Steel and glass, gleaming in the sunlight.

But he was lying face-down in a puddle, in the bottom of a deep alleyway. His attackers had emerged from their hiding-places, and were standing round him in a circle now, like hunters inspecting their prey.

More than one shooter, he thought, still more unconscious than awake. He could barely feel his body, but the anaesthetic ache of a second energy impact was sharp enough in the back of one shoulder, and another on the opposite flank, in below his ribs.

Trying to move just brought a slight shiver of helpless fear.

He could see the toecaps of military boots close to his cheek, the gleam of the pavement in the sunlight.

He groaned, but it came out as nothing more than a breath.

So he breathed in again, and waited.

Footsteps strode through the puddles, predatory and graceful in their pace. A woman's footsteps — and with them came a will forged like a swordblade, steely and supple and sharp-edged: aimed at him.

She knelt down beside him, and her fingers ruffled through his unkempt hair, as though searching for something. He felt the brief regret of an unasked question, and then calm self-control, the quiet satisfaction of a job well done.

She stood again, and when she spoke, she wasn't speaking Basic — but the lyric of her voice was hauntingly familiar, and the tone of command in her words was as clear and cold as ice.

His attackers replied automatically, with murmurs of acknowledgement — more foreign voices, quiet deference and soldiers' confidence.

Then someone shot him in the back again, and he knew nothing more.


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