Out of Your Mind
Part 2
Rating: PG
Thrawn McEwok

Three Days Later

The chair was big and heavy, forged together from panels of welded durasteel and bolted down to the deck.

It was the only fitting in the bare metal box which was now Jacen Solo's entire universe: a torture cell aboard an alien starship.

Broad leather straps held him down in the seat — thick, heavy belts, bound painfully tight around his forearms, shins and throat. The calloused edges of the leather chafed the skin of his wrists and jaw and ankles, pressing his flesh back tight against the flat planes of cold metal.

Too tight. His hands and feet were almost numb.

The straps were secured by winding mechanisms concealed inside the hollow structure of the chair. Every few hours, the windlass motors whirred, and the straps drew a little tighter.

There was a bandage-white clasp around his left bicep, with a row of catheter tubes protruding from it, pumping truth-drugs into his bloodstream.

He was still wearing the pants he'd had on when they kidnapped him. Nothing else.

And there was a ysalamir draped on its nutrient frame across the shoulders of the chair's bulky metal upright, behind his head. When he had the strength to lean his head back could just feel the tickle of its hide against his scalp.

"I know I wanted to stop using the Force for a while," he mumbled, through a mouthfull of blood. "But this really wasn't what I'd planned."

In answer, the interrogator hit him again, a swift, angry backhand across his bruised right cheek. His head spun round from the impact, his temple and cheekbone cracking against the metal back of the chair.

He heard the sharp sound of the impact, felt the agonizing echo inside his skull, and slumped his head forward, chin jutting over the strap. He could feel the bite of the leather into his throat, the raw ache where the movement had seared the skin of his neck; but he felt strangely indifferent — strangely detached.

Bleakly, he stared at the deck in front of him: bare metal plating, without the burnish on the surfaces that was usual in a starship's habitation decks, or the smooth finish between the edges of the plates. The steel was badly scuffed, stained with what he supposed might be smears of old blood.

"Jedi Solo," the interrogator said, speaking Basic. "Do you know why you are here?"

Jacen didn't answer. He lifted one eyebrow, and saw the guard's muscles tense. He anticipated being hit again.

But the woman leaning against the way in the corner of the room made a gesture — just a flicker of her eyes.

The guard paused, relaxed. Jacen winced, and lifted his head a little.

The woman against the wall was looking at him, her gaze level and steady. The pale blue uniform she wore accentuated the colour of the sky in her eyes.

She darted a quick gaze towards the interrogator, then raised one eyebrow at him.

"Centerpoint," he croaked. "I'm here because the Force told me not to fire at Centerpoint. And when Thrackan took the controls, half your fleet was destroyed in the blast. I ..."

There was nothing else he could say.

A single twitch in the interrogator's cheek answered him — the sort of tick that hinted at massive reserves of suppressed rage. Jacen wondered if the interrogator had known people in that fleet. More than likely.

He couldn't even bring himself to look at the woman in the blue.

Blearily, he stared at the trim black uniform of the interrogator — the uniform of the Hapan royal guard. There were two other troopers in the cell, he thought, but they were out of sight, probably behind him.

The guard's shoulder bulged with muscular fury, elbow jerking back for a punch.

"Enough," the woman in the blue uniform said. She didn't move, but her voice had the sharp clarity of a blade.

Jacen stared at her, his eyes pleading for mercy — for understanding.

For anything.

Anything except the cool, distant indifference with which she was favouring him now.

He stared at her, and saw a tall woman in the sky-blue uniform of an Admiral in the Hapan Navy: hip-hugging breeches, long black boots, and a tailored tunic with the empty sleeve of her amputated arm pinned across the front.

Her hair was scraped back in a clubbed braid, and her expression was as cold and hard and beautiful as a mask.

"Tenel Ka," he said. "I'm so sorry."

"You address Her Highness as Chume Ta', barbarian," a harsh voice rasped. "Or Tenel Ka Chume Ta', if you are showing the politeness that you should."

"Okay. Okay."

The guard stepped back, offered him a twisted leer.

"Tenel Ka Chume Ta'," he said. "I ... with all my power, I apologize."

"Apologies will not bring the Hapan dead back, Jacen Solo," she told him, cold and implacable. "I defended you to my Mother, the Erenada, and the court. That was why I was sent here, to supervise your apprehension and punishment."

"Tenel Ka ..."

The interrogator's black-gloved fist smashed through his face, cracking his skull hard against the steel.

"As I have heard your excuses and your denials, I have realised that you deserve this," she continued. "This is justice, Jacen Solo. Which is more than your cowardice gave the crews aboard our Battle Dragons."

"Chume Ta'," he gasped.

"Enough of this. We will return to resume your punishment tomorrow. Or perhaps the next day. When I can bear to look at you again."

Tenel Ka pushed off briskly from the wall, and gestured for her black-clad guards to follow. With the lidded eyes of a hunted animal, Jacen watched as they paced round behind his chair, and listened as they left the cell.

He heard the door open, then close. Then a volley of bolts being slammed.

Then silence.

The lights winked out.

Darkness.

After a little while, he heard a sobbing voice.

He listened for a while, until he realised that it was his own.

***

Two Days Later

"Friend Jacen. Friend Jacen. Wake up."

"Whuh? Huh-huh?"

Jacen blinked groggily, and gazed at Tenel Ka — her face leaning in very close to his own.

She was wearing a look of beautiful concentration, he saw — lips thinned and eyes narrowed, with a calm so serene that it could only hint at mischief. The hair that framed her cheeks was bound in clever Dathomiri braids, and the protruding peak of a war-helm shaded her smoke-grey gaze.

She seemed like a completely different person from the implacable Hapan princess who had been supervising his "punishment" for the past ...

How long had it been?

For a moment, her eyes met his, and she gave him a dazzling, happy smile.

"Ah. Aha. You are awake."

Jacen blinked back at her, suddenly aware of what he was looking at: toned muscles flexing easily beneath smooth skin the colour of hot chocolate; kilt and cuirass of green dragon-hide leather, armoured plates of tight, bright scales protecting her waist and chest and shoulders, leaving little to the imagination. She moved with hypnotic grace, a long, sharp hunting-knife held in her hand — sawing through the strap on one of his wrists.

He could feel the back-and forth of the blade against his skin, in the narrow cleft beneath the leather.

"You have been punished enough," she said, with a strange, crafty smile. "I am here to rescue you."

He gazed in worshiping disbelief at her naked midrift: waist narrowed elegantly above strong hips, belly as sheer and strong as a sheet of fire.

The last of the leather straps tore open, the needles ripping painfully from his arm, and he was free.

He collapsed into her embrace, and felt her arm clasp tight around him. He could feel the reassuring heat of her bare body, the warmth and welcome of her curves — tan skin over toned muscle. There was warrior strength and confidence to her body, but it was that robust power which made her embrace so supple, so accommodating.

"Friend Jacen," she repeated. "Can you stand?"

"I think," he said, swaying on his bare feet, her arm around her shoulders. "I ..." "Here," she said. "Away from the ysalamir."

He stumbled as she led him round the back of the chair, and tried to walk. But his feet tripped over each other, and for the most part she dragged him bodily — he felt her shift his weight against her, practical and practiced, and for a moment, he was just dead weight in her grip, like the carcass of a prey brought down.

But then they were clear of the ysalamiri, and the Force filled his blood and breath. He gasped — ecstacy, relief, disbelief.

"Can you walk?"

"I," he nodded, standing straighter. His body ached and burned in painful places, and his blood was still thick with sedatives. "I'll manage."

"This is a fact," she said, with an appraising glance, admiring his chest and shoulders. She seemed to linger on the burns and bruises the interrogators had made. A small smile touched her lips. "Come. We must do this quickly."

"Where are we going?" he asked, but she was already disappearing out the door — the perfect curves of her leather-covered rump bouncing for a moment between her bare back and the toned, smooth movement of her long, strong thighs.

Blinking in disbelief, shaking his head, he followed her.

In the darkness of the unlit corridor, she was even more beautiful than she had been in the cell. The shadows deepened, accentuating the curves of her silhouette, transforming the scales of her Dathomiri armour into a glitter of dark and light, clasped tight around the swell of thighs and cleavage.

He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but she silenced him with a finger to her lips, then slipped her hand around his wrist, and led him noiselessly away.

He followed her through the ship, barely exchanging a word. With the Force to aid him once again, his strength returned, and after a while — with nothing more than a glance and a smile required for mutual understanding — she loosed her grip, and let him keep pace alongside her.

Her supple skin buskins and his bare feet conversed with each other on the deck, quietly and quick.

He smiled as she dropped gracefully down a hatch in the bulkhead, and he swung after her.

He felt the patterned treads of three punched metal steps, then the sharp edges of a grille. Hatches lined the opposite wall, and Tenel Ka was keying in commands at a control console.

One hatch swung open, and he peered into the interior of an escape pod.

"Hurry. In you go." She wrapping his shoulders to push him in, then paused. "Friend Jacen," she smiled.

Jacen gazed into her grey eyes, unfamiliar feelings surging in his blood.

Must be the drugs.

Dizzily, he smiled back at her. She smiled back again.

Then she grinned, and grabbed him up towards her face, kissing him quick and hard.

It lasted just a moment.

But in that moment, Jacen Solo thought he saw infinity.

Then he broke away, retreated into the pod, staring at her in disbelief.

She smiled at him again, eyes level, and stayed where she was in the boarding corridor

"Are you not coming with me?" he asked. He could feel the tang of her on his lips. He didn't know what else to say.

She laughed.

"Friend Jacen," she said, a note of tart amusement infiltrating her tone. "I am the Chume Ta' of Hapes, and such a leave of absence from my flagship would certainly not achieve what I desire." Her eyebrows quirked, and her gaze lingered significantly on Jacen. "I am also a daughter of Allya, and tradition dictates that I must hunt down and capture the man I wish to take as mate."

Jacen's eyes bulged wide with disbelief.

"Run fast, friend Jacen," she said, with a brilliant smirk. "When next I speak to you, it should be to pronounce the words that bind you as my slave forever."

"Tenel ...?!"

But she just laughed, and tripped the switches beside the door. The hatch slammed shut, the escape pod boosted away from Song of War, and Jacen tumbled down into helpless oblivion.

Towards Dathomir.


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