Rest Easy, Friend
Diana DeRiggs

Author's Note: I thank Csillag for lending me the use of some of her great characters from the Hobbie's Saga series of stories, and Rosie and Sister Shen for being courteous and wonderful betas.

Ton Phanan tried to piece together what had happened ... he recalled receiving the notice that his mother had died in her sleep. He had made arrangements to go home to help his Dad, talking with friends so the he could catch up on the missed lectures when he finally got back, talking to his teachers to push back exams, canceling his social commitments. He was just about to board the starship Imperial Cloud when his roommate came running toward him, yelling at him not to get on board. Ton, in a daze, stood on the skyway as people streamed around him, letting Jaken catch up to him.

"Ton! Don't! Wait!" Ton wondered how Jaken could keep yelling as he pushed past the crowd. "Your Dad! He's ..." Jaken realized he didn't actually know how to tell him, "Ton, come with me!"

Ton glared at him, "Do you know how hard I worked to get this ticket! I'll miss my mother's funeral!"

Jaken looked so sorrowful that Ton stopped scolding him, "What's wrong? Has something happened to the services? Tell me!"

His friend shook his head, "No, Ton ... your Dad. He's ... He was on his way to the funeral facility, and his heart failed ..."

Young Phanan's heart flopped over, "Where is he? Which medcenter, I have to get to hi-"

Jaken grabbed his shoulder and yelled over Ton's growing hysteria, "He's dead, Ton! Your Dad's speeder, it lost control and he hit a building. He was dead by the time the rescue forces got to him. I'm sorry, Ton. The message came in after you left, and I've been scurrying like crazy to catch you before you boarded. I didn't want you to find out half-way out of atmosphere."

Ton wasn't listening anymore. He was numb.

*****

He was in an operating theater, quite coherent, but unable to move or feel anything. Robotic limbs were working on something in his groin, but he was unable to move his head to see what. A hologram of the surgeon, a man he recognized, was in the room, directing the droids. He listened, but wasn't all that relieved to discover he was able to hear.

"No, not just the foreskin. There's not a chance to repair the damage on that. Yes, amputate."

Though he could hear, Ton couldn't speak. Actually, he wanted to scream.

For the surgeon was a faculty member at the medical academy he attended. Ton recalled that his roommate had told him his father had just died, and Ton ended up going to a tapcaf and getting royally drunk. He saw an older woman he'd often admired and bedded her. He realized now why the woman was familiar to him then - she was married to the surgeon directing the droid to amputate his penis!

My luck, he's the jealous type, thought Ton. He'd heard about men who were kinky enough to be excited at the thought of their wives sleeping with another man, but he'd yet to find any.

*****

The official version of the report stated that Ton had been in a speeder accident that had crushed his pelvis. The bone and tissue had been repaired by conventional surgery, but since Ton was noted to be allergic to bacta, the severed penile tissue could not be repaired and an adequate prosthetic was inserted. His plumbing was altered, so he could urinate, but he was essentially left with one testicle and synthetic skin and a prosthetic penis, for effect's sake. He could have children some day if he wished, but not by conventional means.

Ton was explaining this to the woman with whom he'd spent that night, months before. Her husband had been the surgeon who had overseen his surgery.

Jeannan Aandaas was much younger than her husband, a little older than Ton, well-preserved, pretty and imbued with ennui. She didn't even sigh when she mouthed toward him, "Too bad ..."

His heart sank. He had lain in the medcenter all those months, trying to figure out how to get back at the surgeon who had done this to him. He had not been in a speeder accident! His pelvis had not been crushed! He looked at the x-rays himself, and his pelvis had been fine! The man had deliberately removed a testicle and his whole penis from him! Why? Just because Ton had slept with his wife when he was in a drunken stupor!

He'd remembered being dragged out of her bed, taken away from her soft, warm body. Being injected with the drug that granted him coherence but not muscle control.

He'd decided to ask for the wife's help, as a witness. Surely, she couldn't sit by idly as her lover was emasculated! He'd hoped that Jeannan would be shocked, would help Ton by testifying or confirming the innocence of the affair. Dr. Aandaas deserved to lose his credentials and license, but Ton had not understood that Mistress Aandaas' lifestyle depended on her husband always being at the top and center of his profession, and she would do nothing to undermine him. Besides, who the hell was Ton Phanan to her?

She acted bored, didn't say a thing until he was done, until he had revealed his disfigurement. Then she had smirked. As though it was a little joke ...

In his rage, Ton Phanan couldn't remember how it started, but now she was under him, screaming bloody murder. His prosthetic penis was in her vagina and he was pushing the stubby, wide appendage brutally into her. To his surprise, she was tied with the remnants of her tunic and he had each of her ankles pulled wide apart from one another in his hands.

Ton felt power.

He felt control.

He felt great.

Her screaming subsided as she seemed to lose consciousness. The urge to hurt her further left him. He withdrew from her and tidied up. He untied her arms and took the torn clothing as souvenirs.

*****

"Well, Ton, the suturing is good, but it was otherwise a sloppy job," muttered Dr. Ames, "no wonder you're running a fever! Cherry, get that goop into Ton quickly and get this fever down! I can't go in with this infection raging! Woah, I'd never rest easy with something this sloppy on my conscience."

The pretty, shiny modified astromech quietly loaded a needle and approached the suffering medical student. Ton barely felt it pierce his muscle. Fortunately, he was feeling better, "Dr. Aandaas hates me."

The elderly physician wheezed in laughter, "No wonder, boy! You were railing his young trophy wife! He's been known to be a jealous one! What were you doing visiting the girl again?"

Ton shifted uncomfortably, but held still when Cherry clamped his arm down with a specially designed appendage. He shrugged, "Delusions, maybe? I was hoping that she'd be shocked and help me get him fired, or maybe lose his license, you know? Didn't turn out that way."

Ton Phanan's mentor, Dr. Crimin Ames, was tidying up the surgery done to him by his colleague at the Medical Academy. Poor Phanan felt his life going down a long drop. He grimaced as he felt Cherry dig the needle into him, "Now I'm in even more crap. I raped her."

Dr. Ames looked up at him, "Hmn?"

"I don't know what happened - I can't recall! She was mocking me, and suddenly I had her tied up with her own clothing and was forcing that monstrous prosthetic into her! I am so in trouble -"

The twittering of his comlink stopped him, as he answered it, "Phanan."

The voice on the other end was hesitant, "I'm sorry, Ton. I didn't know you'd do that to me. Meet me at 0430 at the Academy tapcaf, back booth."

With a click, the reception went dead. Dr. Ames was still looking at his patient, now arching an eyebrow in amusement.

Ton lay back, letting his mentor finish the corrective surgery. He had no idea what Mistress Aandaas would want with him. But he knew he was a dead man.

*****

Dr. Ames had insisted that Ton take Cherry, the droid, with him. The good doctor always referred to his heavily modified astromech as "she" and Ton felt reassured to have another female with him, albeit a mechanical one. Cherry would record the exchange between Ton and the wife of the man who had emasculated him, in case there was a criminal case that might require evidence of some sort.

Ton saw her in the back booth. He'd been in the tapcaf often; in fact, that's where he was when he met Jeannan Aandaas the night he found out his parents had both died. Senior and graduate students were allowed access to the faculty lounge, and the pretty young wives of older professors could be seen there, often flirting with the young residents and researchers.

After showing the hostess that Cherry was fitted with a working restraining bolt, he nervously made his way to the booth. He expected to be jumped by security or the local police, or at least by Dr. Aandaas.

He managed to reach the booth unmolested, Cherry carefully tracking the area. Jeannan saw him heading for the bench seat opposite her, and she quickly gestured to him that he should sit next to her. Cherry recorded this. The woman glared at the droid, and Ton ordered his companion to stay far enough from them as not to make the woman uncomfortable, but not so far that she couldn't catch what Jeannan was saying to him.

Ton ignored the welcoming gesture and slid into the opposite seat, then refused the offer to order a drink.

He said nothing as Jeannan nervously sipped on her drink, already somewhat intoxicated. She slurred her words as she talked and she stuttered, but Ton understood her clearly and could not believe what she was propositioning.

"Was the best damned fuck of my life. The best. You, with your artificial ... plug! It wasn't even a cock! I'd never felt like that, I've never come so hard. I have to have it again! Forget my husband, he gave you a gift! I've never wanted a man so much ..."

Ton stared at her. This is a setup. This is not happening. If I say yes, I'm a dead man. If I say no, she's drunk enough to tell the whole tapcaf what'd happened. Crap. He hoped Cherry had recorded the whole speech from where she was standing, because he doubted he'd be able to convince himself it happened otherwise.

"I know, it sounds like I'm some insatiable slut. Oh, help me, I feel like one. I can't get enough of you, ever! Look, I'll pay you. And if you like it, and you tire me out, I know other faculty and socialite women who'd pay to have your services. Please ..." The older woman had tears in her eyes.

Stunned, Ton gestured to a server droid to give his order for a drink, making it stiffer than his usual. He'd heard the Corellians extol the intoxicating virtues of Whyren's finest before, but loyal son that he was, he never tried it. Now seemed like a good time.

Her hand grasped his across the table, not caring who saw. Cherry did an artful zoom in and panned to her face.

"Please," she mouthed, "I'm begging. I'm never like this. But I have to have you again ..."

*****

Back in his room, he had Cherry play the recording again. To conserve power and memory, she had shot it as a strictly two-dimensional, two-color holo, but it was still clear and convincing. The low quality of the holo made it somehow more artful and surreal. Jeannan really had begged Ton to take her sexually, to violate her with the prosthetic that had now replaced his human organ. And the more he thought about it, the more disgusting it was to him.

And the more delightful.

He would have total control, she promised. He could do to her anything he wanted, as long as she could feel ravished and filled. She needed at least the width of the prosthetic to be satisfied. And she'd pay him, anything he wanted. He heard her say, "Whatever the amount - charge what you want! I'm a bored woman, married to a rich man. 500, 1000, whatever you want! Tell me, it's yours!"

It was a lot of credits. And the perfect way to get vengeance on Dr. Aandaas. If the old man caught them, Ton could show him - and everyone else - Cherry's recording. It would prove that Mistress Aandaas had begged Ton to screw her, and had offered herself completely and willingly.

He asked Cherry to download the recording onto several secure datapads. He would need to keep several copies, in several different places. He told her where those places would be, in case he would ever need them.

*****

Standard Services:
Sex, vaginal, consensual -- 500 credits
Sex, vaginal, non-consensual -- 1,000 credits

Prosthetics:
Large -- +100 credits
Extra-Large -- +200 credits
Jumbo -- +250 credits
Vibrations -- +150 credits
The Works -- +500 credits

Service Add-ons:
Bondage -- +250, plus materials and expenses
Spanking -- +100, plus expenses
Other Beatings -- +100 to +1,000, plus expenses
Public -- +1,000 credits, plus expenses
Additional Orifices -- +500 each, plus expenses
Branding -- +1,000 credits, plus expenses
Ton looked at the price list, and was satisfied that he could give this to Jeannan to share with her friends.

He had Dr. Ames attach the prosthetic he was now wearing. It contained a socket that could take different appendages and was drilled directly into his pelvic bone for stability. He'd found a talented and dishonest machinist in one of Imperial City's many service levels who was willing to make the obscene tools for him. Ton had not explained to anyone why he needed these things, of course, but best to separate the tasks which needed to be done, in case someone decided they needed to get back at him.

Jeannan had been a very satisfying customer, indeed. She had squealed with delight the first night he showed up after their meeting at the tapcaf. He had forced her to show her love for his prosthetic, orally. She had licked and kissed all around it, even suckling at the lone testicle left from his "accident." He watched in amazement as she degraded herself, making love with her mouth to the gross stump that her husband had caused to be placed on him.

He learned she didn't need to be raped; it was the mere width of the device he wore that excited her. But he discovered he liked seeing her bound, her arms and legs tied, making her passive. Oh, she was willing, and the thought made Ton's blood boil and his hormones rage.

He was addicted. He admitted it. He'd never felt so powerful when he had his flesh and blood penis. He was a monster now, disfigured, but not at all useless. He would use this monstrosity to give himself pleasure, to get back at Dr. Aandaas and every other man who had told him he'd amount to nothing. He even loved the money she paid him. She had tried giving it to him in a discrete envelope, but he made her take it out and count it out for him, place it in her cleavage, for him to scoop out. Once, he made her write a credit chit, so that she would have to explain to her husband what Dr. Phanan was doing with 500 credits of their money.

Ton realized he delighted in making her submit to his will. The rush of power was intoxicating and addictive, more so than the sex.

He had nicknamed the prosthetic. He enjoyed watching it violate Jeannan's orifices so much, that that became its name: The Violator. He was making a hefty income circulating underground holos of his activities, too. He was able to borrow Cherry from Dr. Ames from time to time to record the proceedings. He was careful to mask his head from the recording.

Before long, she had to tell him that her husband was angry with her for spending so much from their 'frivolities' fund, and she would have to decrease the number of times she saw him. He reminded her of her promise to tell her friends. At first, she refused, wanting to keep the secret of Ton's very useful disfigurement to herself, but he threatened to never come back. Then he showed her the holos, with her face and voice unmasked.

She had no choice, so she kept her promise. She had contacted Ton, needing a price sheet. Ton laughed, calling her his pimp. Ton enjoyed giving Jeannan a percentage of his fee as commission. It forced her to accept her role in his degradation as a gigolo. She'd blushed and protested when he told her he'd give her a percentage and free servicing. But she couldn't resist him and submitted to his game.

*****

He could barely keep up with his final year's studies at the Academy, and Dr. Ames, as his academic advisor and friend, hauled him into the Dean's office.

"You did well and passed your board certification exams earlier this year, Dr. Phanan. But that's not the end of the requirements. You still need to finish this year satisfactorily to get your license. It would be a disgrace to the memory of your parents to fail and be kicked out." The Dean of Students looked seriously at Ton. "I understand the loss of your parents is a devastating thing. But don't let it ruin your life, young man."

Ton forced himself to stay awake through the lecture. He had serviced the Dean's wife and elder daughter the night before, and was exhausted by the two women in the kinky joint session.

Dr. Ames joined in, "We can, of course, reduce your course and work load, but you wouldn't graduate in time, and your commission to join the Imperial Medical Corps would be revoked. You'd have to re-pay the Empire for your education."

Ton blinked, "I understand, sirs. It's possible this ... trauma concerning my parents has hit me deeper than I thought. I can't sleep at night. I feel weak, sirs ... emasculated."

Ames rolled his eyes, knowing when his student was serving up bantha poodoo. But the Dean nodded, "Very well. We shall reduce your workload. That can be done in a preliminary sense under bereavement purposes, but you will need to see a counselor --"

"No, sir. No counselor. I'll continue to work at this pace. I won't let you down, sirs. But if I fail a course or two, what are my options?"

The men discussed the possibilities, and concluded that if necessary, Ton could make up the coursework via exam after the graduation exercises. He had no intention of attending them, since his parents could not attend, so it was not a problem that he would be barred from walking through the ceremony.

That matter settled to everyone's satisfaction, Ton was allowed to leave the Dean's office. He had an appointment with the President's wife in 15 minutes, and he tried not to look rushed.

*****

He found himself occasionally accompanying women to high-level Imperial social events. Word was getting around about "The Violator" and women were anxious to show other women that they were privy to his favors. His hair had been thinning since he was a teenager, and his new "service" and the demands of school did not give him much time for the proper rest, adding dark circles beneath his eyes. His lifestyle and his descent into the darker side of human sexuality gave him a wicked and highly seductive edge. Consequently, he looked a lot older than his real age.

He networked a lot at these events. He realized he didn't have to service these bored wives of the Imperial elite. He didn't need the credits. Lawyers had sent him notice that his parents had left everything to him, their only child, and they had planned carefully. Knowing they were advanced in age to have so young a child, they planned on leaving a large sum for him to start a life without them. If he wished, Ton didn't ever have to work again. Or he could have started a business. He could quit school, take up with whatever woman he wished.

To honor his parents, may they rest easily and in peace, Ton knew he would finish his medical education, would be a doctor. They had always been so proud of him, of his achievements at the academy, and it was something he had to do. Sometimes, he felt it was his only connection to humanity. But seeing patients every day, knowing that they each had a dark, dirty, little secret, eroded his passion for medicine and for healing the masses.

Then came the day he failed a course in forensic pathology. He'd simply been too tired to concentrate on the data to form an analysis. His answers and conclusions had been so random and incomplete that the exam paper was withheld from grading all together, to spare him the embarrassment of a numerical grade for his work -- or lack of work.

He was forced to resign his upcoming military commission. Dr. Ames pointed out that this was not a bad thing, since they would have eventually discovered his disfigurement and discharged him anyway. The Imperial military had exacting standards and expectations of their officers, in terms of mental and physical perfection. An officer who was not exactly a "man" would have been difficult to accept.

He would have been required to pay back his tuition and the cost of his board and supplies, but several of his highly-placed-by-marriage "clients" promised to intervene on his behalf, and he could simply be released of his commission. He could continue in his coursework and graduate at the end of the summer session, one term past his original graduation date.

So he was in a dark, dark mood the day he attended a military formal function, and found himself dancing with a beautiful, raven-haired woman. She pressed up to him and whispered, "You are the Violator?"

He nodded to the affirmative, and as they danced, he felt her pressing a card into his palm. This happened often, and he understood what to do. He gathered it secretly, and waited until the dance was over before looking at the note.

It stated merely a location and a time. The location was the Imperial Palace. The time was later that night.

*****

He'd never known a woman so ravenous. He'd come to her at the appointed time and place, no longer wearing a formal uniform, but dark clothing covered by a cape. As soon as the doors were closed and locked, he started his seduction. But she knew exactly what she wanted, and told him so, clearly. She provided all the ropes and chains, the belts and flails. She also seemed to know about the nature of his prosthetic socket and had had a prosthetic extension already made that she wanted him to use on her. She moaned and begged for him to pull the knots tighter, to scar her body more completely, to push into her harder and faster. Her impassioned pleadings fired up the darkest of his desires and he responded as he had never before, exceeding even the first time when he raped Jeannan Aandaas.

But she wasn't content to be submissive only. Several hours into the session, she turned the tables on him, had him strapped to the bed and she used a vibrating, buzzing prosthesis - fitted to her - on him. The burning sensations he felt were more depraved and erotic than he'd experienced in his life to date. He found himself mewling and begging her not to do what she threatened, until she gagged him. Unstrapping the device and holster from her body, she left it in him while she heartily paddled his aching backside.

*****

He left much richer - the woman had paid him more than the à la carte fee - and he resolved to bring Cherry with him the next time. This woman was wild and beautiful, and the things she did would create a holo for which he could command top prices. He knew she would need him again; she had his personal comlink number and the kiss she'd given him at the end was definitely not one of goodbye. He just needed a reason to borrow Cherry from Dr. Ames, who would roll his eyes and tap fixedly on a marking book, to remind Ton that he needed to make up his studies.

He was sore, not used to being so brutally used himself, so his progress back to his room was slower than usual. He was uncomfortable, but he had to admit that the woman's skill in taking him were admirable. He'd even learned a few new tricks he'd be able to use on other clients.

He opened his door to find Jaken and Cherry sitting in his room. "Wha-" started Ton.

"Sorry to be the conduit of bad news again," whispered Jaken, who looked pale and ashen. "I let Cherry in. She has something to tell you. Close the door."

Jaken had been the one to tell Ton that his father had died. Both parents were dead now, no other relatives remained to die on him. What did Jaken mean?

Cherry activated a hologram. The image of Dr. Crimin Ames stood in the middle of the room.

"Ton Phanan, if you're viewing this message now, I'm truly sorry. There were so many things I wanted to talk to you about, about me, my life, things that have happened to you. I was friends with your father, of course, but you knew that. Anyway, let's get the bad news out of the way. If I'm talking to you like this, it's because Cherry knows I'm dead, and I haven't deactivated the command to seek you out to let you know. I wanted to talk to you, to discuss a few things, but life gets in the way, heh.

"You know, that like your parents, I have no other living family. Unlike your dad, I never had children, so I have no one to take care of my things and honor my memory when I pass on. So it's occurred to me that I should ask you to do it. Why not? You've been - to me - a son, a student, a friend.

"I'm sorry I didn't ask you when I was still alive. Ironic that the process of living makes courtesy a secondary thing. I hope you accept this burden, in the spirit of two generations of friendship. If you did, I know I would rest easy, friend. That's a precious thing.

"Anyway, I'm leaving you all my things. Not the apartment, of course, that belongs to the Academy and they will likely want it back. But all my papers and collections, furniture, etc. And Cherry, of course. She seems to like you, trails after you, talks about you all the time. Take good care of her for me. She was my first and only confidant, and she'll be the same for you.

"We'll meet again, Ton, my friend. Use your time wisely."

Then the holo disappeared, and the room was pitched into the depths of despair.

*****

Ton had hired a company to help him wade through the many years of Dr. Ames' work, and had recruited other students to read the paperwork. He'd found much worthy of publication, and resolved that they should be submitted, so that Dr. Ames' work would not die. Even now, his work was being formatted into a posthumously "self-published" book.

He admitted to himself that his mentor's death had hurt him more than his parents' demises. Crimin had been a school friend of his dad's, and had been more than just a second father to him. He was a confidant, someone Ton trusted to tell him the truth. Ironically, Ton had not granted Dr. Ames the same courtesy, and his life as a sex purveyor and dominant had remained mostly hidden.

And like many good doctors, Dr. Ames did not take care of himself, pouring his spiritual and health resources onto his patients. His heart had exploded, and no prosthetic nor high-quality bacta would repair the damage. Cherry had reported the ceasing of life functions to the authorities, then turned over the holo - which served as a last will and testament - and ownership information. After the usual preliminaries, they released Cherry and all properties to Ton.

While brooding over his mentor's death and sorting through the stacks, he received a coded comlink message, which he understood. It was the dark-haired woman with whom he'd spent the night, when he could have been at home to help Dr. Ames. As irrational as it would seem to anyone else, Ton smiled at this chance to hurt her as much as he'd hurt himself.

*****

The security into the woman's quarters were much greater than usual, and Cherry could not follow him in. Ton was surprised. Though not fitted to break through security, Cherry's codes were normally more than adequate to sneak in. Well, there was a first time for everything. He was forced to leave her alone to wait for him. Via datapad, she cheerfully let him know she didn't mind.

The perfect woman, thought Ton, as he checked her with building security, and she's a droid. He couldn't suppress his guilt at having to leave her by herself. He'd make sure this woman felt his full wrath at having to leave Cherry with strangers.

He had planned to kiss the dark-haired woman viciously - lots of tongue and teeth - then to slip elbow bindings onto her, rendering her helpless except for her legs. Knocking her over, he'd have those restrained quickly, too.

*****

He hated when his plans didn't work out. It was because of loss of control somewhere along the way. Now he was bound onto something that felt and sort of moved like a gurney and he was feeling groggy. His left temple throbbed and itched at the same time. He felt himself being moved and the world whirled around him ...

*****

Ton woke up caressing the tall, lean body beside him. Her skin was soft, and unlike other women who never ate anything or lived to exercise, this one had just the right amount of fat on her to give her seductive curves and a nice feel under his hands. She was pampered and spoiled and obviously liked "forcing sex" as much as she loved it being forced onto her.

He felt dehydrated and his head ached. Well, excellent sex could do that to a person.

He stepped out of the warm bed and found his way to the refresher. Memories of the night came to him all at once in an unfamiliar manner. Wow, I need to be in better shape for this girl, he chided himself. He remembered tying about 100 meters of rope in intricate knots all over her, suspending her from a grappling hook he'd shot into the ceiling. She was upside down, and he delighted in lowering her down and suckling on her toes while she giggled foolishly, despite herself. He remembered ...

Wait.

Those knots ... how did he tie them? He had never learned to tie knots, and he knew that knots like that were not simple!

And what grappling hook? He tiptoed back into the room and looked carefully at the ceiling. No hook. No scar in the expensive inlay ceiling.

Relief flooded him. He'd noticed the expensive paneling the first night he'd been here. He loved architecture and interior detailing. He never would have forgiven himself for damaging such exquisite workmanship.

Stepping back into the refresher, he decided he was hallucinating. He needed more sleep, that was all.

*****

"Please tell Mistress Aandaas that Dr. Phanan would like to see her."

"Sir! Doctor, you don't understand! She can't see anyo-"

Phanan cut the social secretary off short, "She will see me, do you understand?"

"No, doctor!" Ton wondered what was up.

"Please repeat that, only with an explanation," hissed Phanan into his comlink.

The woman was audibly weeping, "She ... she had an accident, sir! She's not here! Mistress Aandaas is no longer alive, doctor! It's too late--"

*****

Ton found out through official channels that Mistress Aandaas had fallen down the main stairs of her big, expensive house and had severed her spinal chord. By the time the security droid got to her, she was unconscious, the angle of her head not conducive to breathing. She was declared brain-dead by the medcenter, and Dr. Aandaas had given his consent for her body to be donated for research and organ transplant and culturing.

Through unofficial channels, Ton heard that Dr. Aandaas has learned that his young trophy wife had taken on one more younger lover and he had threatened to divorce her. She, in turn, threatened to tell everyone what he did with her ex-lover. In a rage, he went after her, she ran away from him, tripped and tumbled down the stairs.

"It's true, Ton," said the dark-haired woman, "Jeannan was unhappy in her marriage, but it defined who she was and got her what she wanted. She didn't want a divorce. But she was foolish, always had been. Her husband had murdered his younger sister, did you know that? Got the whole inheritance that way, paid off people to keep quiet."

Ton was readjusting the harness to his buttocks. Cherry had engineered it for him so that it would take pressure off his pelvis, where the socket prosthesis was attached to his body. Some hairline fractures had shown up on his pelvis, which caused excruciating pain and cramping, so he needed to brush up on his biophysics to ensure his sideline would not injure him. He thrust the ribbed dildo into the woman, who oooh'd with unreserved delight. "Mmmm, yes! Ooh, is this a new one?"

He pushed it into her slowly now, letting her feel each bump and groove, "Made just for you, dollface. I know how you like oppressive variety, and I'm here to please."

She reached up to him almost tenderly, and fingered a point on his left temple. It was the spot where his headaches always started. He turned his head and bit her fingertips.

In that half light, the woman looked kind of familiar.

"It's just occurred to me," started Ton, not quite believing himself, "I don't know who you are. A friend of Jeannan's did you say?"

The woman smiled, "Yes, we went to school together. I'm sorry about not giving you a name -- I've had work problems on my mind. I work for Imperial Security. Please call me Ysanne." She wrapped her legs around the harness and he rode her to a blissful release.

*****

Phanan found himself in the room with Dr. Aandaas. He could barely contain his disgust at the man, and compromised by letting his lip curl into a sneer. Ton had - in an ironic twist of fate - been assigned as his advisee, upon the death of Dr. Crimin Ames.

It was clear Dr. Aandaas knew who this young man was. "So, railed any other sweet young things you have no right to ... oh, that's right! You had an accident, and are allergic to bacta! My, what bad luck! You can't screw them anymore, can you?"

Ton bit his tongue - literally. He could taste the blood trickling into his mouth.

"And your graduation has been deferred by the Dean, I see. Will have to make sure your procedures and knowledge base are good. Hmn, I see your tuition has been voided, so no need to repay even though you had to give up your commission. Well and my, my ... you do seem well-connected, Phanan. Wonder how you managed all that?"

He couldn't restrain himself, "Whatever connections I have, I earned honestly."

The older man arched his eyebrow at him, "Honestly is hardly the term I would have come up with when thinking of you. I think you're just a two-bit loser who preys on the wives of the powerful. They, for some twisted reason, feel the need to protect you. Hah! Well, that road's about to end. My wife is dead-"

Phanan couldn't help himself, though he knew he should have, and he found himself muttering, "... and you killed her."

He felt a sting on the side of his face as Dr. Aandaas struck him. The doctor backhanded Phanan and hit the other cheek, making Ton reel back, clutching his face in pain. The recurring headache he'd been getting lately started to throb on his left temple.

The senior doctor was shaking, "How dare you! You ... you ... perverted little gigolo! You have the nerve to accuse a mourning man of killing his wife!"

Phanan was on his feet, "And your sister! What do you have against younger women, anyway??" Little lights exploded as the doctor smacked him in the throat.

Dr. Aandaas growled, "You will never graduate, Ton Phanan. Consider yourself expelled, and if I were you, which thank the creators I am not, I'd be watching my back from now on ... "

Coughing, Phanan managed to choke out, "Are you threatening me?? You? You cowardly, murderous ...."

It was becoming a bad habit of Ton's to lose his temper, then to lose memory of everything that had happened while in this state of mind. He flashed in and recalled he was raping his newly-appointed advisor, sodomizing him as the man screamed beneath him. Ton was screaming, "Watch my back? You'd better watch your ass, asshole!"

Then, there was a corpse lying at his feet.

He didn't know what to do. If he thought he was in deep when he raped Jeannan Aandaas, that was nothing compared to his present predicament.

*****

Cherry had suggested he call Ysanne, since she worked for Imperial Security. He was unsure if she'd arrest him, but he recalled she didn't seem to care much for Aandaas either. So he called, and gave her a hypothetical scenario ... if someone killed in justifiable rage, what were the options?

Cherry was busy slicing up the frozen body, as instructed, into small, easily digestible pieces. She knew a droid who worked with the local zoo, and she would give him a large portion of the flesh and bone material for the animals. Another droid asked for the remaining pieces, but refused to answer for what purpose. Ton had authorized the gift anyway and a bedrock-level address was stipulated.

Ysanne had pointed out that without a body, there was no cause to assume murder. True, many murders could be pinned on various folk without much evidence, but if no one really knew of a motive, there would be no reason to suspect Ton.

Not to his surprise, Ton discovered that Dr. Aandaas was not well-liked and had many enemies, any of whom might have killed him. Since no body had ever been turned up, it was impossible to ascertain the cause and mode of death. He had no next-of-kin, and so no one raised a fuss about how he might have died. Many were just glad to be rid of him.

*****

Jaken was concerned, "Ton, you're scaring me. Can you hear me? You're scaring me and I don't like it!"

Ton, feigning sleep, was silent.

"I know you can hear me! You've changed. I know you're out screwing faculty wives and rich bitches, but now the Aandaases are missing ... I hate this. I hate what I'm thinking! Ton, what happened to them??"

Cherry didn't even chirp. She was finished stacking the bags of flesh into coolers for shipment, and was on standby mode.

Jaken punched his pillow in frustration, "Ton, damn you! I can't sleep for fear of what you might do to me in a rage one day ... argh! Why am I telling you this? You'll smother me in my sleep ... I'll never rest easy ..."

"All right, all right!" hollered Ton, beneath his pillow, "I did it ... I killed Aandaas, but I had nothing to do with his wife or his sister! He killed them!"

Jaken curled up into a fetal ball and started sobbing, "I know ... oh mama, I know ..."

Ton was standing over his roommate, uncertain of what to do. His confession was not cathartic, and he knew he should have felt horrified at this revelation, but he only felt numbness. He reached forward to touch Jaken, but stopped. His roommate and Academy friend was quivering in fear, crying into his pillow.

Ton settled for sitting on the bed, "Jaken, I'm out of control. I can't remember when I do stuff. I think I killed Aandaas, you know? But I honestly can't remember, like I had a selective memory wipe."

Jaken sobbed harder, gasping as he spoke, "People suspect, Ton ... I've been questioned. So have a bunch of the other guys. It's only a matter of time before they get you ..."

Now Ton was shocked. Questioned?

Jaken's face, red and puffy, finally came up from the pillow, "You're a dead man, Ton. I'm going to beg for my life, please don't kill me. I have a widowed mother and four sisters at home. I took this scholarship so I could get an education to support them. All my spare money goes home. They'd be impoverished and devastated if -"

Ton waved at him to stop, "I know all that. I'm not going to kill you. But ... but ... you're in trouble now, for telling me all this!"

His roommate sniffed and shrugged, "We're buddies, Ton. I know life hasn't been kind to you this semester." He crawled to the edge of the mattress and lifted it up, thrusting his hand beneath it. He felt for something, found it and handed it to Ton.

It was a recruitment brochure, text only, on a tiny, thin datapad. Put out by the Rebel Alliance, it appealed to those with medical training to join in the fight against the Empire.

He looked up at Jaken, stunned, "This is treason!" His voice was barely a whisper.

Jaken nodded, "Yes. I can't take them up on the offer. My family ... they'd die. I'm trapped. But you ... Ton, you have nothing left to lose. And what the hell do you have left here?"

Phanan nodded, "In fact, I have a lot to gain by jumping, eh? So how do I know you're not setting me up?"

Jaken looked stricken, but nodded in understanding, "What difference would it make whether they caught you for murder and prostitution, or for treason? You'd die faster as a traitor."

Tears filling his eyes, Ton stared at his roommate. He bent forward and caressed his head. Jaken resisted for a moment, afraid of what Ton might do, but yielded when he felt his roommate's lips on his. Closing his eyes, Jaken responded to the kiss. He didn't open his eyes again for an hour or more after he heard the door shut.

*****

Ton went to the busy information center and paid his credits for an anonymous transmission. He punched in the contact codes on the recruitment datapad he'd received from Jaken and waited. A series of numbers came up, and Ton copied them onto the datapad he carried. These represented coordinates for a meeting place.

He showed the numbers to Cherry and she quickly projected a map onto the datapad, pinpointing the location. It was not an abandoned factory, as Ton had expected. It was a busy tapcaf, full of any number of Imperial City denizens, from politico lackeys to bottom dwellers. Droids were allowed, chirruped Cherry, happily.

Not knowing what he was looking for, Ton and Cherry entered the tapcaf and had to wait a while before he could even approach the bar. Cherry flipped a little tabletop up from her many appendage ports over her head, enabling Ton to put his glass onto a clean, level surface. He pat her domed head, realizing how much he loved this little droid. He decided that he would not give her up to the Alliance, and he'd require that she stay with him.

He was staring at the bartender, thinking she was quite attractive. She had a hard look to her, and a big, curly mass of purply-black hair piled on top of her head. He had nothing else to do while he waited, so he studied her. She moved crisply from customer to customer, remembered their orders and refilled on demand quickly and efficiently. It surprised him that she filled the server droid requests as courteously as a human server's request. However, human customers who overstepped their rights were given short shrift. He watched as she grabbed a hovering Toydarian by his harness collar and flung him away from the bar, over everyone's heads. The remainder of his party flitted away quickly.

Cherry quietly cooed at him, loud enough for him to look down. She blinked a sequence, which Ton came to realize meant she wanted to tell him something. He plugged in his datapad; Cherry told him that she'd just received an infrared signal saying to not worry, he'd be treated well. The droid was shaking in agitation.

Ton did feel funny ... he made sure to hold onto Cherry before he passed out.

*****

The hum of motors droned in his skull, marking time with the throbbing in his head. Ton first thought is that the left side of his temple was making his skull vibrate. It was really uncomfortable, and he'd have to get it seen to someday. Since he took up with some of those Imperial women, that spot on his head really bothered him.

Happily, he heard the familiar tweeting of Cherry. So she hadn't been separated from him. She was trying to tell him what happened, but he couldn't follow, and he didn't seem to have his datapad anymore. He panicked for a moment thinking he was imprisoned, but then realized no prison system would allow you to keep your droid.

He sat up and Cherry slowly turned on the room lights. He wondered how he'd ever lived without a butler droid before.

Cherry must have notified someone that Ton was awake, because a small door opened and food and drink came through the opening. Sniffing it suspiciously, Ton decided if they were going to drug him, they would have while he was unconscious - indeed, that was probably why he passed out in the tapcaf in the first place - and so he ate what was offered. He felt much better.

After his droid took the tray of crumbs away, Ton tried standing up, and a screen on the wall activated. A flat holo was projected there, of a woman with purple-black hair. Ton's memory was clearing and he recognized the bartender.

"We are sorry for this means of spiriting you away, Dr. Phanan. I take it you are well and healthy, and that you understand that you have not been harmed."

Ton squinted up at the holo, "Where am I? Who are you? What-"

"In good time, doctor," replied the holo. "Please make yourself comfortable. Do not attempt to leave the chamber. We will communicate with your droid when contact is attempted again."

"But I need a datapad to understand her! She and I haven't been together long, I don't always understand her -"

"She will make use of the dataport at the other end of this chamber. Until we meet again, Dr. Phanan. May the Force be with you." Ton noticed the woman looked amused at Cherry being referred to as a girl droid.

*****

Linked to the dataport, Cherry told him that he had been drugged so that undercover medics needed to be called into the tapcaf. They had taken him away on the stretcher and allowed Cherry to come with him. She was quite excited at being allowed to ride on the ambulance speeder, and at being on a starship for the first time.

Starship?

Ton was on a prison ship full of Alliance recruits, heading out of Imperial City. He was being abducted away, heading toward some intermediary processing and interview point. It was too risky to do so on the capital planet. He would never see Jaken or his other belongings ever again, for if they ascertained Ton was insincere or a spy, he would be killed and Cherry would be recruited into the Alliance droid pool. Her memory would be wiped and she'd likely be assigned to a starfighter. Cherry seemed both frightened and excited by this prospect.

*****

Ysanne Isard was in bed with a younger man, the same age as Ton Phanan. "You have given him the brochure?"

Ton's former roommate, his mouth on her breast, grunted an affirmation. She pulled him off of her nipple by his longish hair, "Answer me, please."

Jaken gasped, "Yes, like you told me to. I did everything. He should be with the Alliance right now. He hasn't come back in nearly a month, and he's been officially expelled from the Academy. I've been receiving all his mail, and I've turned it over to you. Just like you told me to."

She smiled and kissed the eager boy full on the mouth, "Excellent. That temple implant has worked marvelously, as have you, my Little Sprocket." She almost cooed the endearment.

He sighed in contentment and nuzzled her breast again. He didn't even feel the syringe entering his neck. He wouldn't die, but he wouldn't remember anything about the Director of Intelligence. In fact, any mention of her would cause great pain until he thought about something else. I love these chemical toys ... and boys who are so easy to play with! delighted Isard. Having female body parts was a useful thing, indeed.

*****

The Alliance required Cherry to undergo a memory wipe, but Ton refused, explaining that she held information valuable to him. She was also a surgical assistant, and wiping her memory would delete that usefulness to him and to the Alliance. And anyway, she was his friend. Friends don't let friends get wiped.

So the Alliance technicians were running programs through all portions of Cherry's memory and had even opened her up to see if some memory had been physically hidden. Dr. Ames had heavily modified her, so the process was taking longer than expected. Ton hovered nervously in the adjacent room, watching the procedure on holo, standing up and pacing every time another part was removed or returned. He hoped his droid would come out of this process alive and well. He stopped at that thought ... of course she would. He laughed to himself when he realized he knew nothing of droid health, only of living beings.

In any case, they wouldn't find his storage area for his prosthetics. He'd ejected those when he left the room he'd shared with Jaken, for the last time.

At last, they closed her up and refueled her batteries. Cherry reported that she felt fine, she didn't think they added or subtracted anything from her. Except maybe that bumpy prosthetic that he liked to use on some of those women. Ton was immediately concerned, thinking all the prosthetic penises had been removed. Then he saw Cherry was rocking back and forth and squealing as if in laughter. She was playing a joke on him! He laughed despite himself.

Ton was happy that he was beginning to understand some simple things in her beeps and buzzes. He was also a little sad that his closest friend - and almost his only relative - was a loyal droid.

*****

Ton's temple bothered him occasionally, but he decided not to say anything to the Alliance recruitment officers about it. But as careful as they appeared to be, once they ascertained he was who he said he was, and that he had a medical degree, the officers couldn't contain their eagerness.

Though medical and surgical droids were common, even on the poorly equipped Alliance medcenter ships, live surgeons and doctors were valued for battle, reconnaissance and bad terrain activities. Medical droids could not be moved very far or fast during battle, so in the field, live doctors were still valued. This was a large contrast to the Empire, where live medics and doctors were used mainly to program and check droids. Diagnoses and surgeries could be done entirely by droids, and many were not even overseen by live men or women.

Ton found this refreshing - he enjoyed being a "real" doctor, at last! He had been allowed to keep Cherry with him while doing field work, since she could carry and sterilize his equipment for him. The Alliance hoped to configure other astromechs to assist in medical procedures, and saw Cherry as a valuable model.

He joined the ground crew as they fanned out, looking for survivors to a freighter ship crash. The other team was looking for salvageable supplies. Ton had never felt so useful as he did now. He was no longer servicing rich, older, women. In fact, it seemed like forever since he last whipped out the Violator, but he didn't feel the need to.

Cherry liked being with him more often, even though she now required more maintenance and care than when she lived with Dr. Ames on Imperial City. She traveled with Ton over rough terrain, still looking after his needs. To her, it didn't matter whether he needed a specially made prosthetic or laser scalpel. She lived to serve.

Ton made a broadcast call on his comlink. He'd found bodies, but some were showing life signs. Other medics soon joined them. Triage required that the least injured bodies - the ones most likely to survive - be tended to first. Those mostly likely to die were left till last, to allow more beings to survive.

It was a hard thing for living creatures to evaluate, so droids were preferred for the evaluation. Cherry hastily ran her triage program and passed the evaluation lists on to the human medics.

Ton ran to the droid, and saw the bodies in their stasis bags and boxes. He ripped open the first bag Cherry has electronically marked. The de-hibernation procedure was already running. A pretty, green-eyed, red-haired woman was in limited stasis with contusions and bone breaks. Ton quickly got to work setting her injuries before she woke up fully.

He moved from patient to patient, down the list. This freighter was transporting new crew for the Alliance and had lost engines over an outer-rim world. Little was known about this world, designated only by the code EQ-RA177, but it had vegetation and a carbon dioxide-heavy, but breathable atmosphere. There were birds and reptiles, but no mammals or intelligent beings. As the world's gravity tugged on the freighter, crew and passengers filled escape pods and stasis boxes and bags and ejected. Supplies and rare materials were likewise jettisoned to protect them.

That freighter had crashed spectacularly, much of it burning up on descent to the surface.

The rescue team were told to find as many beings and supplies as possible. Even now, months after the retreat from Hoth, the Alliance was still hurting for staff and materiél. Every salvaged person, bandage and credit was precious.

Back on the medical frigate, Ton and Cherry worked efficiently performing surgery on the people they'd rescued. He'd hand materials to her, and she'd incinerate or sterilize them. She'd hand them back, cleaned and powered up, on demand. He carved living flesh, making life, saving it.

Ton had to admit that being a doctor had become fun again. He liked healing patients, rebuilding young men and women, human and alien. He sometimes suffered from jealousy when they were dipped in bacta, then came out healed and strong. How he longed to plunge his body into that magical bath, and come out whole and unmarked!

Big contrast from what I was doing on Imperial City. The words prostitute, rapist, murderer still haunted him. Any time he thought of his life then, his temple would throb in pain, so he tried not to ruminate too much on his life before the Alliance. Anyway, he was happier not remembering.

The patient he had attended first on EQ-RA177 had recovered. She was an Alliance nurse, a veteran of Hoth and other battles. She was without family, and had joined the Alliance when her home planet had been subjugated by Imperial forces. The Rebellion had cleverly learned to place agents on-planet to recruit volunteers and mercenaries of such situations. They were learning to be opportunists of the Empire's dirty work. Nia was on the freighter as part of the recruitment efforts.

She learned that Ton had saved her, and she shyly came to thank him while he was grabbing a snack at the Redemption's cafeteria.

He liked how her eyes would meet his, then shyly look away. Her voice was soft and her face glowed with an innocent happiness. He wasn't sure whether she was like that with everyone, but he found her adorable. Ton learned her name was Nia Ponsed, that she was single and had been tapped to work with Dr. Marran Telsan, the senior surgical specialist. She'd been working with him on the Redemption since a few months before Hoth. Unlike Ton, Telsan had not trained at an Imperial academy, and had instead been taught on his home planet by apprenticeship. He had much more practical triage and emergency experience than the doctors recruited from the Empire, and he preferred a skilled living nurse over a droid. It was old-fashioned, but Ton promised himself that he'd come up with an excuse like that when he was old enough.

He liked the pretty nurse, and took to taking meals with her. They talked about their homes. He told her about his parents, growing up as an only child. He introduced her to Cherry, who tooted cheerfully at her. Ton generously allowed Nia to borrow Cherry from time to time, when they needed more help in the recuperation wards. All spare astromechs were fitted for fighter and craft repair duty. Cherry's strange modifications spared her this service, so she was in great demand on the medcenter ship.

From Cherry, he learned what Nia's day was like. She accompanied Dr. Telsan on all battle calls; it was rare for non-droid staff to stay in one medcenter location permanently. Since he was an emergency specialist, he often went with special missions and front-line battle crews.

He also learned that she was visited often by a pilot from the famous Rogue Squadron, a man named Derek Klivian. The Rebel fleet was massing near Sullust, so the Rogues were on hand more often.

Still, Nia was nice to him, even accepting a date for dinner at the officer's mess on Home One, the Mon Cal flagship. So things between this Klivian fellow and her couldn't be that serious? In any case, the food was rumored to be excellent on the flagship.

However, before the date could be consummated, the medical crews were gathered and Admiral Ackbar, Mon Mothma, General Crix Madine and Dr. Telsan called a meeting for all medical staff. They explained that everyone needed to be on-alert from this point onwards. There was an upcoming land and space battle, which promised a high death toll. This might mean less activity for the medical corpsmen, but they had to be prepared for emergency landings. This would be one of the first battles they will have experienced where the medcenter was entirely in orbit, with no fixed facility dirtside. And they would be in the thick of the fire. Volunteers were already selected for commando duties dirtside.

General Madine also addressed a rumor that had been percolating among the troops. In the past months, it seemed the Empire always knew where they were. They had amassed a history of narrow escapes as the Imperial fleet followed them from hideout to hideout. But in all this time, it seemed like a pitt-and-ninx game, with the Empire stomping on them, forcing them to move and suffer losses of men and materiél in the process.

The destination of the battle was not revealed, to preserve operational security. The medical units all felt this meant there was a traitor amongst them. Nia and Ton discussed it over their dinner - in the cafeteria aboard Redemption rather than the planned-for meal on Home One. They were both on edge, but Ton found it soothing to talk to Nia.

"I don't know, Ton," she said, pushing her food around her plate, her appetite diminished, "I know it should make me feel vulnerable and scared, but I feel sorry for the spy. I mean, he or she is going to die with us ..."

Only a woman so innocent could feel sorry for someone who would be responsible for their deaths ... Ton tried not to sound sarcastic, but he couldn't help it, "Well, who ever it is, there will be plenty of company. All of our bodies will be vaporized into the supernova that was the Alliance. BOOM!"

There was silence. She sighed. He sighed, "I'm sorry. That was mean of me. I'm scared." He reached across the table and took her hand.

Nia smiled at him, "I know. But it just doesn't make any sense, see? The spy would lose as much as we do!"

Ton had both of her hands in his, "It's too late to think about that now, Nia. I have something I need to ask you ... When the battle is over, could we ... well, what I mean is ... We all need to look after each other ... and ... um ..."

She looked confused, "Yes?"

Suddenly feeling bashful, Ton let go of her hands and smiled, "Hey, eat up! No telling when you'll get another chance to sit down and eat a full meal! Got to keep your strength up. And in this war, it's every person for him or herself. Except for me - I have Cherry to take care of me!"

Still looking confused, Nia laughed, nonetheless, "Yes, you're very lucky! What I wouldn't give for her to look after me!"

"Nia!" called out a man from across the cafeteria, "I've been looking for you!"

Lieutenant Derek Klivian bounded across the room, "Hey, Dr. Phanan! Jenan said you and Nia were having dinner, sorry to interrupt!"

Mention of Nia's roommate's name always jolted him. By evil bad luck, her name was pronounced the same way as Jeannan Aandaas's first name. Any time he thought of his former lover - actually, when he thought of any of them, or about sex at all - that headache would fill his head, starting from his left temple. The headache pulsed and throbbed, sometimes interrupting his vision.

"No, not at all, Lieutenant. In fact, I was just about to leave, have to deal with the upcoming battle preparations. Please, keep Miss Ponsed company for me?" Ton spoke quickly, trying not to reveal his sudden pain, "Nia, I'm sorry, I'll catch up with you later? Lieutenant, make sure she eats!"

*****

Ton went to his quarters. Cherry recognized his condition and pulled out a circulating buffering tool that he liked having rubbed over his head, neck and shoulders when these terrible headaches took over. As he tried to relax, he vaguely felt that uncomfortable feeling that always washed over him when they leaped into hyperspace before he fell into a deep sleep.

*****

Back at Imperial City, Ysanne Isard stood at attention in front of the hologram of the Emperor, "Yes, My Lord. The Rebel fleet has been confirmed to be jumping into hyperspace toward Endor now. Expect them as scheduled, in a matter of hours."

*****

Ton found he could not move, and that he couldn't see. The pain he had experienced on his left temple had spread to almost the whole left side of his head. He couldn't feel one of his legs, but he was so addled and disoriented, he couldn't tell which leg was which.

He called for Cherry, and didn't hear or see anything. He started to feel that he was forgetting something. He couldn't remember if Cherry had red hair... is that why she was called Cherry? No, no, no, Cherry is red, she's a droid ...

A familiar-looking man appeared in his vision. He was talking to him, but Ton couldn't hear his voice. He started to panic. The man reached past his vision and tapped something on the left side of his head. Suddenly, Ton could see - it was a bit blurry, but he suddenly had stereo vision - and he could hear.

"Dr. Phanan, I'm sorry. We kept the devices off until you were conscious. You'd been injured during the battle. Your bacta allergy prevents you from healing faster or growing a live prosthetic. It's been about a week."

Ton blinked. It was eerie, but his left eye didn't seem to blink with his right one. "Cherry?" he croaked.

"Your droid ... I'm sorry, Ton," Dr. Telsan was familiar with Phanan's helpful companion, "she was lost. The Redemption took a hit from the destroyer nearest to her in mid-battle. You might not remember it now, but you were in the surgical ward with Cherry and several other men, women, and droids. The shot punched a hole in the hull as you were moving a patient. Many got sucked into hard vacuum. You would have been proud of Cherry, Ton. I haven't seen it before, but I know she was sentient. She held onto you and prevented you from being lost. When she couldn't keep her footing anymore, she grabbed a beam and dropped it on you. It was enough to keep you pinned down until the hole could be closed. She did the same to a few others as she tumbled past. At the end, she even grabbed a large piece of board and trapped it behind her, enabling repairs to be done quickly. Everyone who survived that part of the battle owes their life to Cherry."

Ton stared at Telsan and noted the tears glimmering in the older man's eyes. Ton wanted to cry. He tried to cry, but nothing came. He licked his dry lips, and his voice came out sounding foreign and thick. "Where is she now? Is she still helping?"

Dr. Telsan sighed, "No, no, she's not. She can't come, Ton. She's gone."

Ton didn't understand, "Is she with Nia Ponsed?"

"Yes," whispered the doctor, sobbing heavily, "she is."

And all at once, Ton understood. It was surreal, feeling tears only on one side of your face.

*****

Ton was in physical therapy, learning to walk on his prosthetic. The nerve connections were working, but perhaps some psychological barriers were preventing him from walking easily.

He'd had a lot of time to think. He knew he had become depressed, and he was learning to hide it from the counselors and evaluators. Though the Alliance had won what was now named The Battle of Endor, the Empire still had a strong presence and were still chasing the Alliance fleet.

But the pitt-and-ninx game that General Madine had described was no longer happening. The general feeling was that the spy within the fleet had escaped or died in the battle.

But Ton knew better.

He was the source of information to the Empire.

Someone had put something in him, probably in his left temple, where those headaches always started. But now that portion of his head was gone, and the implant with it. It had been replaced with a cybernetic plate and power supply, brain packing and optical sensors and nerves. He was officially a cyborg.

He remembered back to that night he had spent with Ysanne, when nothing he recalled made any sense, shortly after Dr. Ames had died. He did some research and discovered that Ysanne Isard was Director of Imperial Intelligence.

He was stunned. Well, at least the headache was gone.

*****

Ton was lying half-submerged in the river on a hostile world, hiding from Zsinj's Raptor patrols. Damn his inability to fly better, but at least he was resting easily. His TIE Defender had been shot down, his port solar wing array crushed and damaged. He'd managed to crawl out of the fighter. He was too badly injured to do much more than that; he did what he could to force Zsinj's men to waste time and resources searching for him. He also knew he was dying, and needed to stall them until he really couldn't tell them anything. Well, that part was easy. Having a superior intellect was useful for something, after all.

He didn't know if Commander Antilles would send anyone to find him. It would be too dangerous, and Ton would likely die alone out here, but he couldn't resist the temptation to leave a final testament. While he wrote it, he allowed himself the luxury of hope.

He knew where his fortunes would go. The credits his parents left him had never been spent, and what he earned as a student and gigolo enabled him to have a comfortable life, even within the New Republic military. His life since medical school had been one surrounded by death and loss, and he planned long ago where his personal effects and credits should go.

A large chunk of it would go to his best friend in Wraith Squadron, Face Loran, with the proviso that he have cosmetic surgery to remove that blaster scar from his visage. Lieutenant Loran was a contrary man who seemed enjoyed beating himself up over some imagined crime, so Ton happily put in a repulsive penalty if Face refused the surgery.

The remainder went to a secret fund that Ton had heretofore mentioned to no one. It was a memorial fund, in Cherry's name, for astromech droids. He wanted to throw a party for them. They were heroes - they worked hard for their masters, and Ton suspected many more of them achieved positive sentience than could really be counted. He knew that among the Rogues, Luke Skywalker's R2D2 and Captain Corran Horn's Whistler were capable of independent thought and real caring toward their masters and others. He had heard that even Commander Antilles' Rogue Squadron astromech, Gate, was reserved for him alone. Pilots all over the Alliance were attached to their astromechs. Face and Vape. Tyria and Chunky. Myn and Shiner. Lara and Tonin.

Ton had been distant toward them for a long, long time. He knew that losing an astromech could be worse than losing a person. Humans and aliens were supposed to die. They were made of flesh and meat and nerves and skin and bones. Astromech droids were made of metal and wires and chips. They were supposed to live forever, as long as you took care of them. They, after all, took care of you.

Ironic, that as the years went by, he had become more and more mechanical, he became more and more like a droid. He'd thought every time a piece of him was replaced by a mechanical prosthetic, that he was becoming more like Cherry, maybe even more acceptable to Cherry.

But Cherry had died, years ago on Endor, back when only a small part of him was cybernetic. Back when Nia Ponsed and thousands of other men and women who didn't deserve to die, had died. Nurse Ponsed was being courted by Lieutenant Klivian back then, and he relished the possibility of competing against the handsome pilot for Nia's affections. But more than losing his chance at a future with Nia, he had mourned Cherry. When she left, she took his humanity with her. How strange, that a droid was the keeper of what was human about him!

So he wrote a note to Commander Antilles, giving access to an account, and instructing him to spend the credits he'd left on a party for the astromechs, in recognition for their hard work. He specified games and refreshments for them, either as a good R&R break, or to congratulate them when Admiral Zsinj was, at last, brought down. And since astromech droids were happiest with their masters, invite them, too!

He chuckled to himself as he imagined Wedge's face reading this note. He wondered if he'd do it?

*****

Aboard the Mon Remonda, General Han Solo's flagship, Wedge stopped two people walking though the mess hall.

He tried really hard to sound like a superior intellect, "Where's your astromech?"

Myn Donos looked completely confused, "I don't think I will have an answer that will please you. Sir. Or Not-Sir. Whoever you are." His companion, Lara Notsil, was equally perplexed.

Wedge Antilles snorted, "You certainly don't. The astromechs are the backbone of Starfighter Command. Hardest-working beings in the galaxy. They need some rest and recreation, too. Don't you agree?"

"I, uh, I do," mumbled Donos, still confused.

"Good," Wedge turned his back on Myn, "Get out. Don't come back without your astromechs."

Wedge was surprised at how easily he seemed to channel the spirit of Ton Phanan, now dead for many weeks. Phanan had left a large sum of credits for a party for the astromechs, and had detailed games he thought they might enjoy and suggested giving them goodie bags containing lubricants, extra replacement parts and tools, rust inhibitor, extra sensor lenses and filters. Maybe it was a joke, but the note seemed serious, and Wedge felt if this is everything which Ton wanted in death - even if it was a final practical joke on his former commander - he'd be only too glad to honor him and his superior intellect.

As the next Sabacc hand was dealt, Wedge raised his glass in a silent, personal toast, and said a little prayer of thanksgiving to the secret benefactor of this little party.

Rest easy, friend.


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