He was resting, breathing carefully and focusing his energies when a soft tap on the chamber's only door caught his attention.
"Yes?" Darrus said softly. Though the wound to his throat that had, for years, ruined his voice was healed, he was used to speaking quietly. It would take a long time before he felt comfortable raising his voice. In truth, he was not sure he could any longer.
The door slid open, revealing Maya in a steel gray bodysuit and a loose fitting sleeveless robe the color of a Coruscant night. "I'm sorry to interrupt you."
He shook his head slightly, reaching out with one hand. It had taken a lot for him to make quiet gestures like this, casual intimacy, but Maya had earned them a dozen times over. "It's all right," he murmured as she approached and wove her fingers into his own. "What do you need? Have I been in here too long?"
It was a fair question. Darrus knew all too well that whenever he trained alone, time could easily get away from him. With the Force sustaining him, he could and often did put off sleep, nourishment and fatigue until their want came crashing down on him at the end of days of battle katas. Maya had seen this for herself a few times now and had a tendency to gently interrupt him if she thought he was going too far into such a state.
"No," she smiled gently. "Well, yes, but that's not why I'm here."
He tilted his head, blinking black eyes at her green ones. "It isn't?"
Maya covered his hand in both of hers. "The Mandalorian, the one that called you a Silverguard? He wants to speak with you in the Captain's Room. He's got several others in there with him." The concern in her tone was obvious.
And it was there for good reason. Darrus had been wondering how long this ruse could continue. "Right."
As he rose to his feet, still holding on to her, she looked up at him furtively. "What are you going to do?" Again, her intent was easy to read. If he was going to fight, she would be right at his side. He had come to depend on that loyalty. She no longer had to assure him of it; he knew she would follow his lead in all things.
With that devotion came a need to be closer and a responsibility not to abuse it, something he took very seriously. If he had been more cautious of others, more communicative and inclusive in the past, things in his life might have turned out differently. Dwelling on past mistakes would not help him avoid ones in the present, however. It was time to move on.
"If he wants a meeting, Maya, we'll give him a meeting." He helped her to her feet. "Are the Mandolorians wearing armor?" he suspected the answer was yes.
"I think so, yes. All of them. They never seem to take it off."
He nodded and gave her something he knew she could use right now - a kiss. It wasn't long or lingering but it made her face light up like nothing else could. Then, quietly, "Go suit up and meet me on the bridge. If we have to make a run for it, make sure you aren't leaving anything behind."
He watched her walk away, grateful that he had someone to watch his back. That was another thing he had missed in the past, another lack he could only blame on himself. There had people able and willing but be it arrogance or over-caution, he had never let them do it for long. Had he really been that much a fool?
Darrus clenched his fist and drove back the waves of doubt. No. No dwelling. No brooding.
By the time he met with Maya on the bridge of this strange new ship, he had already donned his battle armor, fetched his custom rifle and contacted his basilisk through the embedded communicator link in his head. The fact that he had a communicator stuck in his forehead was a matter of some concern on its own but right now, it was far more useful than disconcerting. His pensive droid was awaiting his arrival, as was hers.
If and when they fled this place, their rides would be ready.
They walked into the side room together, armor polished, weapons slung but at hand, a sign of prepared combat readiness. Maya had discerned this as a part of Mandalorian culture. Someone who stood in their midst unarmed was a victim, a civilian not worthy of attention. They needed to be taken seriously, thus they came to the meeting with every weapon their owned.
From the demeanor of the men in the room, some masked, others not, they had made the right decision. While there was some amount of bluster, it seemed to be the level of bravado that always lingered around these warrior folk. None of them seemed offended, a fact that Darrus verified by glancing to Maya and seeing her approving nod. Her mental voice whispered over his conscious thoughts.
*Go on. They seem calm enough.*
He thanked her silently and walked to the head of the room's stark metal table, standing rather than sitting. He cycled his helmet's voice modulator down to its lowest setting, lending just a little of the ominous tone to its amplifier. "You wanted to speak with me?"
The men at the other end of the table looked to their commander, saying nothing on their own. With a quick nod, that one opened both hands - a symbolic gesture of disarmament if Darrus read it correctly. Some of these mannerisms, he already knew. They were, it seemed, universal among soldiers, especially those of the Mandalorian mindset. He had seen all of this before with the clone troopers under his command. "We need to talk, sir. We have been in touch with homeworld."
Here it comes, Darrus thought to himself. He had been worried about this since he had been told the ship's communications array was online. He had hoped for a little longer before the crew managed interstellar comms but they were nothing if not efficient. Were they all here to calmly push him out an airlock now?
"I see. Go on." There was no sense in not seeing things through to the end, but just the same, he sent a quick command to his Basilisk to start up her engines. Maya did the same, sensing his concern.
"No one from homeworld sent you , sir. They had written us off as lost when we lost holonet link. No reinforcements were sent either." The tone was obvious. They had realized their mistake in assuming where he was from and since he had not corrected their error, he had obviously meant to deceive them. This was about to get unfortunate.
*It's all right, Darrus. I still sense no hostility in them.*
That surprised him. Still, if they were not upset, what did they want?
The leader of the Mandalorians stood up. Darrus knew his name to be Tymor; the man had introduced himself shortly after the end of the survival celebration. He had been instrumental in the rest of the crew so easily accepting his temporary command. "We think we understand why you let us believe you were from homeworld. We won't question you again, Silverlord."
And then he bowed, followed quickly by the other warriors in the room.
Darrus quickly looked to Maya for some kind of explanation but all he got was the psychic equivalent of static. She was just as bewildered. Covering quickly, he turned to face Tymor and rested one hand on the table. "I appreciate that. My actions should matter more than where I am from."
To his relief, his words were instantly agreed upon, the Mandalorians nodding among themselves. Tymor sat back down before answering. "Yes, sir. We are glad to feel that way. That makes the next step much easier."
The Mandalorians behind Tymor all stood at attention, arranging themselves in a line formation, hands resting on the stocks of their carbines. Darrus' eyes narrowed behind his reflective visor. Perhaps things were not as disarmed as he had hoped.
"Sir, the ship needs a captain. We want you to step up and fight for the position."
Darrus almost asked what the man meant but thought better of it. This was likely some kind of tradition, some system of promotion by combat. Professing ignorance of it would only make his appearance as a fellow Mandalorian more tenuous. Quickly, he thought-asked Maya how she believed they would react to his polite refusal.
The answer was exactly as he expected. *Very poorly.*
For the moment, at least, he would need to play along. Later, when the ship was no longer bound to dry dock and getting back to Tattooine was nearly impossible, he and Maya would be able to slip away quietly. If they tried it now, they would have to steal a ship, something he was loathe to do for many reasons.
"All right. I accept. When?"
Again, it seemed like exactly the right answer. Tymor folded his hands and smiled, his mouth visible under his half-mask. "Everyone eligible has agreed to withdraw from the shin'ador, Silverlord. There will be only you and I in the circle tomorrow."
Darrus noted the term, 'shin'ador', and resolved to look it up as soon as he could. Without asking it to, he instantly sensed the mind within his Basilisk, take the word and start researching it. The droid was already sliced into the ship's computer and, before he could ask her to stop, she had cross-referenced 'shin'alor' with the vessel's language files. In that strange place where Darrus' thoughts and his droid's consciousness overlapped, the word translated to 'crown of blood'. To his great relief, he also felt that such a combat was to first flesh wound, not to the death.
"Acceptable. Summon me when it is time."
Tymor bowed again. "It will be done, Silverlord Wraith." Then, once the other Mandalorians had paid their respects and left, he added in a more personal voice, "I am looking forward to seeing you fight, my lord. It will be an honor to cross steel."
After Tymor had gone to join the others, Darrus pulled Maya down into the chair beside him and pulled off his helmet. "This just keeps getting more complicated, doesn't it?" he asked her with a long, weary sigh.
Maya reached forward and rubbed his neck as far down as she could reach. "Yes, but this way the crew still believes you are who you pretend. And with you as the ship's captain, we'll have a much easier time getting home, right?"
Darrus rested his hand on hers, offering Maya a rare smile. "Thank you. I really don't know what I'd do without you."
She leaned forward, nipped him on the lips and grinned playfully. "That's easy. You'd wallow in self-doubt and senseless guilt until you became a danger to yourself and everyone else around you. Again."
Then she collapsed into giggles because the look on Darrus' face was priceless...