Colbrec Rayne was a grown man now. Tall, as tall as his father had been, with smooth, light-coloured skin and pale red eyes, he resembled more his father than his mother. He was athletically built, the result of a stringent exercise routine. His mother had often told him that fitness was important, and he had taken this information to heart.
Colbrec had spent the last twelve years going from place-to-place, job-to-job, all the while collecting various pieces of information that would, he hoped, help him on his search. It had not taken much for him to find out just who had sought out his mother and why. The other matter was finding them, and someone like that of such a standing within the Rebellion, and in turn the New Republic, was well-protected. All these years later, Gale Hawker had left the war behind her, her personal quest to hunt down as many former Imperial officers as she possibly could having come to an end. Colbrec had paid good money for the latest piece of information, the very one that would lead him straight to Gale. And he moved on to meet her with a very specific purpose in mind.
This planet was as backwards as they come, barren and dusty, with only a small smattering of mining settlements on one continent. It was, from what Colbrec had uncovered, Gale's home-world. The Empire had come here many years before to lay claim to the mines and the resources they had tapped into; it was likely when this had occurred that Gale's sister had been killed. Whether or not Lyssa had done it, he could not be certain, in the end who could? Not even Gale, who had apparently been on the scene at the time. And with most, memories became less reliable as time wore on. Any one trooper could have killed her sister, which only made Gale's fixation on Lyssa all the more ironic. If Lyssa had not been responsible, then all of this would have been over nothing. At least, nothing more than the anger of a troubled woman.
Colbrec was dressed in a set of freighter pilot's gear, with a brown jacket, beige cargo pants and a blaster at his side. Typical gear for a traveller such as himself, and as a result he did not turn many heads as he wandered the streets of the ramshackle settlement. He was just another passer-by, and like many of the people here, he would not be staying for long. As he walked, a wind blew through the narrow, dusty street, kicking up dirt and rattling the canvas flaps serving as shelters off of the fronts of some of the nearby buildings. One door was tucked away at the end of an alley, guarded by a single Devaronian. He hardly gave Colbrec a second-glance, allowing him inside when he was slipped the appropriate amount of credits.
The interior lighting was subdued, the air hazy. Only a handful of people were inside, scattered about on the collection of tables and chairs. A few looked his way as he entered, but otherwise no one gave him another look. It was the person seated at the far corner, alone at a booth, that Colbrec sought. He headed straight for her, uncertain of just what to expect. Even from here, he could tell that time had not been kind to the woman seated at that table. She was well into her forties, her red hair long and a little unkempt. A cheek bore a burn scar, and both her hands were artificial. Her eyes, both filled with a weariness that made her look even older than she was, were fixed down at the table before her. A half-empty glass of some brand of strong liquor was on the tabletop, and one of her hands wrapped around it slowly, as if she was debating with herself to have another sip or not.
Colbrec did not announce his presence. Instead, he sat himself down on the vacant table opposite her. The woman's reverie was broken suddenly, and she fixed her eyes upon him.
"What do you want?" Gale Hawker simply looked rundown. All that she had been through had taken its toll on her. The bitterness practically seeped out of her every pore, and Colbrec's fine sense of smell certainly detected a less-than-pleasant odour coming off of her. When was the last time she had bathed?
"I want to talk," Colbrec replied. His voice was a little gravelly, a trait he had acquired from his father's side. "You probably don't know me. But I know you, in a way."
"Again," Gale said, her voice souring. "What the hell do you want?"
"You." Colbrec reached for the gun at his holster. He brought it out slowly, as to show that he did not intend on shooting her. At least, not at this moment. Instead, he placed the gun down onto the table between them, the barrel pointing off to his left. He kept a hand on the hilt for now, whilst Gale eyed it and then him with her eyes narrowing into a frown.
"I was told you were a war hero," Colbrec said. "I read all about you. The leader of the Outer Rim Taskforce during the war against the Empire. Captain Gale Hawker, the 'young renegade' they used to call you in the broadcasts. I even dug up a few, listened to the propaganda myself. Did you ever hear what the Rebellion radio used to say about you?" He could tell right away that she was beginning to piece it together. She might not have known who he was, but she would certainly know why he was here.
"I never listened to that stuff," Gale said, carefully. "Why?"
"Because they never mentioned any of the more questionable things you did," Colbrec replied. "They never spoke about the collateral damage, the executed prisoners, the loyalist civilians being thrown out on the streets and left to fend for themselves. Wherever you went, you made the Empire suffer. To you, it was a crusade and a personal quest. But no one on those broadcasts spoke ill about you, or any of your compatriots. I can't imagine why."
"Who are you?" Now Gale's annoyed voice gave way to something more measured. Colbrec offered her an amicable smile, bearing a set of pointed white teeth.
"Colbrec," he stated. "Colbrec Rayne. Does the name ring a bell?"
There was a pause. He saw it on her face, the flash of recognition and the sudden move she made in turn. One hand went for her waist, but Colbrec had anticipated as much. He punched her hard in the nose with his free hand, a short, sharp blow at that. It knocked her back into her chair. Spinning his pistol around, he pointed the barrel to her, waiting for her to recover from the blow.
"Get your gun," he ordered, slowly. Now heads were turning, others were watching. Not that it mattered much, as long as no one interfered. None should, given the general attitude people had in places like this. 'Mind your own business' was a rule to live by out here.
"Hand it over." He waited for Gale to do as she was told. Reluctantly, she pulled her DL-44 blaster pistol from her waist holster, and as soon as it was free Colbrec snatched it from her grip. He stuck it down his belt, keeping it there for now. "Sit back. Up against the chair."
Gale wiped away the blood trickling out of her nostrils with one sleeve. She settled against the chair at the wall.
"Hands on the table."
Again, she did as instructed. Her hands settled upon the tabletop.
"The lengths I've gone to find you," Colbrec stated, once she had settled. She scowled at him, the anger evident on her face. She could be as mad as she wanted, he did not care. "Do you have any idea what a ten-year-old boy, with no family and no home left to go to, ends up having to do in order to survive?" He scrutinised her, trying to find some trace of sympathy on her face. As expected, he found none. "I ended up killing a man at the age of twelve. Not much different from you, I'd say. Am I right?"
"You're her son, aren't you?" Gale gritted her teeth. Blood continued to ooze out of her nose. It might have even been broken, and a bruise was already forming over it. "The one she had with that snake, Korba. I knew she got you away from that farm somehow. Believe it or not, but I had a feeling you'd show up one day. When it comes to long searches for vengeance, I'm an expert." She said this last part almost jokingly. "If you're here to kill me, just do it already."
"Why would I put an end to it so quickly?" Colbrec might have found satisfaction in finding his quarry so bitter, so weary and so down. However, he instead felt some disappointment. He had not known what to expect, exactly; yet what he had seated opposite him was not the woman he had heard about. There was no fire left in her, none of that ruthlessness that had carried her through her crusade against the Empire. That spark was gone, and only a hollow shell remained.
"You spent years after the war killing former Imperials," he added. "People who were just trying to get on with their lives. Officers who were no longer part of the Empire. You hunted them down with your hired thugs and killed them and their families. What kind of hero does that make you, Gale? You think the people out there, in the Republic, would like to know about this? That one of their own was a monster?"
"Do what you want," Gale snapped. "Does it look like I care? Did you come here to gloat? To rub my face in it? To maybe convince me of how much of a wrongdoer I was?" She shook her head. Defiance had come through; the bitterness and weariness having faded. "I don't care. I stopped caring years ago. I swore to myself that I would make the Empire pay, and I did just that. Your mother started it all when she killed my sister. I ended it by killing her. Now you're here, and you're going to do what? Kill me as well? Because you can go right ahead. I've got no friends, no family. No one will miss me, not anymore."
Colbrec's grip tightened around the hilt of the blaster on the table. He considered it, like he had so many times before. He had thought carefully of what he would say to his mother's killer, so many times over so many years. Now, though, he found that his mind had gone blank. Instead of the ruthless soldier he had expected, he found a woman so thoroughly burnt-out that he felt almost sorry for her. She had spent ten years after the war hunting down people like her mother, and after that she had dropped off of the map. Presumably she had come here to live quietly, the same way his own mother had returned to her home-world to live a normal life. One that Gale had robbed the two of them of in the most definite way possible.
"I've come a long way to find you," Colbrec finally said. "I don't intend on leaving without something being done. The things I've done, the things I've seen, all to find you…It has to have been worth it, somehow." He picked up the blaster, pointing the barrel to her. Just about everyone else in the bar was watching the pair now, not that anyone acted to intervene. People had a habit of beating each other up or outright shooting each other in places like this. What Colbrec was doing with Gale right now was practically the norm around here.
Gale looked at the gun, and then her eyes met with his. He looked right into them as he pulled the trigger, and he saw the noticeable intake of breath Gale made as she tensed up for the shot. Instead, the pistol clicked, and nothing left the barrel. No blaster shot sounded out within the bar. Instead, Colbrec smiled at her again, raising the gun before he used his free-hand to spin the blaster's rotating cylinder. Unlike most, the DT-19 used a limited power pack of six rounds; this made for heavy firepower but frequent reloads.
"One in six," he stated. Abruptly, he handed the pistol to Gale. She took it with a bemused glance, unsure of why he would play with her in this way. "You know, I must remind you of her, somehow. Or maybe of my father? The man you had killed, when all he was doing was protecting his way of life? Unlike your crusade to destroy the Empire, my father actually stood for something a little more than vengeance."
"Is that what Lyssa told you?" Gale shook her head. "Your father was ruthless and power-hungry. Just another ambitious Imperial. Difference with him was that he was an actual snake. So yeah, you do remind me of him. Because you've got that same 'quality'." She spoke this last word with a good deal of venom in her voice. Colbrec scowled at her, figuring that she was trying to get a rise out of him. What better way to do that than to insult his father?
He held the gun out to her, easing his expression into a light-hearted smile. He pressed the hilt of the weapon into her right hand, and she grabbed it with some surprise flashing on her features.
"Now it's your turn," he said. He grabbed her hand with one of his own, forcing her to point the barrel squarely at his head. "Sooner or later, something's got to give."
Gale pulled the trigger; another click, another empty chamber. As expected, she pulled it again, and then again, intent on finding that one shot. Colbrec grabbed her gun-wielding hand, laughing as he pried the gun from her grasp.
"So I lied," Colbrec remarked. "It's empty. Like I would seriously hand you a loaded gun." He slid the weapon back into his waist holster. Gale looked angry now, positively fuming judging from the blazing fire in her eyes. There it was, having finally returned. At least now Gale had some real life in her.
"I came here to meet you, Gale," Colbrec said. "I wanted to look you in the eyes, the very one who killed my mother. I wanted to look you in the eyes and see if I could work you out. Make sense of why you would go to all this trouble long after the war had ended just to kill one woman. What I see is someone well past their prime, scarred both physically and mentally by the things they've done. You let your crusade against the Empire consume you, and like so many obsessions, it's chewed you up and spat you out." His left hand had drifted to her DL-44 blaster, which was still under his waist-belt. A precaution, as he did not trust Gale whatsoever. "I want to kill you, Gale. I really do. But I know that doing so won't bring back my mother. And as you've made clear, death would be an easy way out for you. Leaving you here, in this hole, alone and broken, is all the punishment you deserve."
Colbrec slowly rose to his feet. He had spent a lot of time searching for her and almost as much time fantasizing about killing her. Now, though, his desire to end her had waned. Looking at her, this scarred, weary woman did not put in him any desire to commit harm. Yet, at the same time, it was clear that she wanted to kill him. It was, from what he had gathered, the one thing she was very good at.
"You're leaving?" Gale asked him.
"Yes." Colbrec looked down at her, offering her a gaze that suggested some sympathy for her. "You're not worth it. I just had to be sure, that's all." He allowed his eyes to linger upon her for a moment more, before he turned around and started for the exit. He could almost feel her eyes burning into him from behind. He ignored them as best he could. As for her DL-44, he would leave it with the guy at the door. He had no use for it, but maybe Gale might turn it on herself one day. She certainly was not far from doing that.
Gale was alone, with no man (or woman) in her life, no children and no friends. She had come home to this cesspit because she had nowhere else to go. Colbrec knew that his mother had at least tried to make a proper life for herself, and to put her past behind her. Gale, on the other hand, had allowed her past to consume her. Alone and broken, Gale was a woman waiting to die. Colbrec felt almost sad for her, to an extent; she had still been the one to kill his mother and nothing could make him forgive her for that.
The years had not been kind to him, either. Still, he had a place of his own, people he could rely on, even a cause to align himself to. Out there on the edges of known space, he had found his calling. They would be waiting for him, another able-bodied soldier for their new order. The recruiter he had met some weeks before had painted a very attractive picture of the organization he represented, and Colbrec saw opportunities there he would not find anywhere else. With this bit of business concerning Gale behind him, he could move on.
Lyssa Rayne had been a soldier of the Empire, loyal almost to a fault. He intended to follow in his mother's footsteps, even if he needed to go well out of his way to do it, given how much the galaxy had changed during the intervening years.
Note: If you stuck with it until the end, I hope you enjoyed it.