[FIN] Star Wars:The Beginning.
Please leave comments in this link. Thank you, Jae Onasi.
Picture a world where the Republic is still a distant dream, and the Jedi are not yet a force in the Galaxy. Like any fire, there needs to be a starting spark...
Sogor the Tyrant was not pleased.
“How many times is this?” He asked pleasantly. The men pushed back away from him. “How many times have these, these Echani slaughtered my troops?” He looked around but no one dared to meet his eye. He leaned back on the throne, growling. “Seven times I have sent my so brave warriors by the cannon, and seven times I have gotten that!” He pointed toward the open doors of his palace. Of the seven ships he had sent with seven thousands of men five had been returned on automatic pilot. The men he had sent were still in them, if you counted the fact that they had been rendered into parts. One man, One had returned alive this time.
“Bring that coward before me.” Two of the guards grabbed a man in bloody armor, dragging him to slam down on the tile floor. He was missing an ear, and his head was bloody. “And how did you survive? Did you lay down and pretend you were dead? No, of course not. They dismembered everyone else. So how did you arrive intact?”
“I hid among the bodies, Great one.” The man groaned from where he lay. “Beneath their parts.”
“Why?” Sogor stood. He was taller than his men, taller than anyone on the planet. A veritable giant among pygmies. “Did you think I would want a puling coward back?”
“I had to show you-”
“Show me what!” Sogor screamed. “What would be more important to me than your death, coward?”
The man reached to his side, and with a shaking hand laid a dagger on the floor. “This my lord.”
“A dagger.” Sogor sounded surprised. “You lived when all else died for a dagger?”
“A dagger that pierces our best armor as if it were skin.” The man quivered. “Swords of the same kind that cut through the hull of a ship as if it were warmed butter-”
“Lies!” Sogor picked up the dagger flinging it toward the stone wall. By chance it his point first. Instead of shattering it sank into the stone with a simple chinking sound. Sogor stared at it, then walked slowly the room. The knife was not where he had thrown it. It had been at a slight angles and as he watched the pommel seemed to ooze toward the floor, leaving a slice in the stone itself.
He pulled it out with no resistance at all. “Bring him.” He ordered.
The guards picked up the survivor, dragging him toward the tyrant. He looked at the blade inches from his eyes.
“How is this made.”
“Only one of the Echana knows, Terrible one.”
“Only one. Who is this one?”
“The master smith, Great one.”
“Excellent. Sogor turned, and the dagger punched into the man’s chest as if he had no armor on. Sogor pulled down, and the armor opened at it’s seams spilling his guts on the floor.
“This master smith will be mine.”
The young one had stared at the stars since she had first opened her eyes. So far, yet each according to her father, could hold life. Not like her home, of course. She reached out. They always seemed close enough to touch. But they were too far away. I will go to you. She promised silently. Some day.
“You are out of your tiny little mind Darshan.”
Darshan Solo snorted as he walked. The ships around him stood like pencils laid upon their sides. At the other end of the field he saw one lifting toward space on the system drive. A pity that was not good enough to reach the stars. He followed the flight of the ship, and as it started to disappear from sight there was a flash of purple. Another ship had been cannoned to the stars. That ship would reach it in a few hours and join those that traveled between the stars.
“Do you even understand the risks?” His friend Koori asked plaintively. “No one has ever returned from such a flight.”
“Maybe they haven’t done it right before.”
“And you will?”
“Koori, you designed the engines, all I am is the pilot. Why are you the one worried.”
Koori tore at his hair. It was a lifelong habit as anyone looking at the mop he had would have recognized. “Maybe I built it wrong!”
“Like the kite?” Darshan demanded. The kite had been a laughing stock. Large enough that a boy could sit in it, and strong enough to hold his weight. Everyone had laughed until five year old Darshan had climbed on, and after a brief run against the windy field with Koori and four other boys on the string, had lifted gently from the ground. If the string hadn’t broken he would still be up there.
Darshan had never looked at the world the same again.
“Well that worked-”
“And the boat.”
When they were twelve, Koori had built a boat of paper. The sail had not been a sheet but a series of strips controlled by a simple line. Everyone had laughed, but Darshan had sailed across the Great lake in it, faster than the schooners that ferried people across. A pity it had gotten soaked and fallen apart on the way home.
“Well that worked, sort of. But-”
“What about the bridge?” Darshan demanded.
Everyone had laughed when the young university student had built the bridge across the strait to Bendar Island on contract. It had been too flimsy every one said. Oh it had held the traffic but what would happen when the Great Wind came in the winter? The first storm had come, the worst in over ten centuries, and the next day it was still there. Now five years later others of the same kind had proven themselves even against the waves of the Crimson sea.
“That was simple-”
“So you think now your engine will not work.”
“No the Professor thinks it will not work.”
“Why? Has he inspected the plans?”
“He doesn’t understand them!” Koori shouted. “He says no scientist he has shown them to understands them.”
“But you do.” Darshan said.
“Well, yes... Sort of.”
“What do you mean sort of.”
“No one really understands the original engine. It came from a ship that crashed thousands of years ago, and can’t work as it sits.” He tore his hair again. “Whoever made it didn’t use any fuel source known to us, and there weren’t even fittings for a fuel system.”
“So why is yours better?”
“It just feels right. The parts I machined should make it work. The fuel injection had to be designed right from the tubing. But I think it will work. Just nobody else does.”
“As I said. If it’s every scientist on the planet saying it‘s going to be clear weather, and you saying there’s a storm, I don’t leave my slicker at home.”
“But what if I am wrong this time?” Koori asked plaintively. “What if you go out there, and never come back?”
“Koori, if that happened I’d have to come back just to tell you.” Darshan started up the series of steps into the university science building.
“You’re not making me feel better!”
“I don’t have time for my mother to make some Keflaka cookies and mail them, Koori.”
“That won’t, well actually it would make me feel a little better, but it doesn’t make me feel any safer.”
“Why not?” Darshan opened the door, shoving Koori inside. “It’s not like you’re going to volunteer.”
“You know that isn’t what I meant.” Koori started gasping as Darshan strode across the room to the lift. The advantage of having Darshan as a friend was you got a lot of exercising just trying to keep up with him. “I would miss you-”
“You didn’t miss me with the Seeker Dart.” Darshan retorted pushing the button. The lift rose smoothly.
“Don’t give me that, You volunteered!”
“Yes I did.” Darshan agreed. He watched the indicator, then looked down at his friend with a roguish smile. “And I slept for a week.”
“Hey, I didn’t design the sleep compound.” Koori grinned. “Besides, I got some rest for the first time since we met.”
The doors opened, and they hurried down the hall to the room where volunteers were gathering to test the hyper drive.
The door opened on a silent room. Old man Shoorilik was reading a book at the desk.
Darshan hurried over. Instead of being first, he’d decided to come in about half way. “What, everyone’s all ready been here, Professor?”
Shoorilik looked up, put the book mark in, and set the book down. “Yes. Quite a while ago, actually. As soon as they found out your friend had made the modifications, no one wanted to even try the flight.”
“So... Why are you still here then?”
The old man harrumphed. “Darshan, as soon as we knew your friend made the design, we knew you’d be willing to jump off the cliff with it.” He looked at his chrono, and made a note. “Someone just won a lot of money in the professor’s pool.”
“We picked times for your arrival.” Shoorilik commented. “If you had only waited three more minutes...”
Darshan ran out of the room. Koori stood there confused. Three minutes later Darshan came back in.
“Professor, I would like to volunteer for the hyper drive test flight.”
“Very good, Darshan.” Shoorilik stood. “Since there are no other volunteers, it seems you get the chance.”
“And I think you owe me a drink.”
“That I do, Darshan.”
CANNON, HYPER-SPACE: In the millennia before the rediscovery of hyper-drive Cannon, travel between worlds was next to impossible. A vessel leaving Coruscant had to accelerate until it reached near light speeds. However since nothing in normal or N space can exceed light, and the energy cost of accelerating even to 80% was prohibitive, there was literally nowhere to go, and no fast way to get there. The aliens that had left samples of what had to be hyper-light drives had left us no way to make them work. We were primitive natives trying to figure out how a flash-lamp makes light.
However hyper-space physicists on Coruscant came upon an interesting anomaly in some of the hyper-drive engines they had discovered; a field of energy still alive after countless millennia that literally made small objects disappear. The experimenters threw pens, paperclips, loose garbage, anything they could expend without too much cost into the field and watched it all vanish. It was postulated at the time that the unknown energy field entered another dimension, and objects stayed there.
However a simple prank proved this wrong. One of the younger researchers had been carrying a lurid magazine he subscribed to for several days to shock other more religious researchers. After an argument, one of those researchers had thrown it into the field.
Then a moon base on the edge of the system returned the magazine with a demand to know who had obviously thrown it from a shuttle. They knew who to contact because the address of the original owner was still attached to it. The magazine had struck the dome of the military installation hard enough to punch through the clearsteel of it.
The researchers contacted the moon base, set up a watch, and sent the same magazine through. Less than four hours later, they received word that the magazine had somehow covered the 10 light minute distance with a starting velocity of perhaps three meters per second. Clearly impossible in known physics.
The military became involved, and one day after the arrival of another operative engine at that base, a metal rod weighing 1 kilogram landed in the field outside the primary military headquarters. It had traveled from the base, and burned as it hit the atmosphere
It was discovered that the field actually made pinpoint wormholes between the generator and a specific distance determined by it’s mass. The lighter it was, the farther away it reached.
At this stage it was merely a useful toy. However the researchers now heavily funded by the military were able to build duplicates of the section of the drive that was working. It was discovered that the amount of energy (The unit operated in the millijoule level) was the most important. The range could be increased or decreased by adjusting the amount of energy consumed. The first successful launch sent a man sized research package to the same moon base. Later tests boosted that mass to a shuttle with ten men in it.
Ten years after this was worked out, plans for a ‘hyper cannon’ were submitted.
In comparison to the units it mimicked, it was hopelessly crude. The ‘barrel’ of this cannon was a grid 50 meters across, and a kilometer long. It used megajoules of evergy. But if they had judged correctly, it would transmit something large enough for a man to sit in across interstellar distances. The problem with that was it would take years before a message that the traveler had arrived.
Instead the data necessary to build a duplicate was transcribed, and a ship ‘Hawk 1’ was aimed at the planet Anaxes two and a half light years from Coruscant. The ten men of her crew entered their ship, drove toward the cannon, and were gone.
No one knew what happened to them. Hawk 1 disappeared with all hands. A second ship sent toward Corulag also disappeared. However, the third, launched toward Chandrila, returned eight months later.
It has been postulated that the first ships had been sent with either too much energy, meaning they passed through the target system before stopping, or too little, meaning they ran out before they arrived. The research council again returned to working out exactly how much energy was needed to move a specific mass.
The Chandrila route became an overnight success as commerce grew to include the new markets on both sides. With passage times between systems of less than a week tourism has risen. The three week round trip with a layover passages from Coruscant to Chandrila for a cruise on Lake Sah’ot or the Silver Sea has become the new cachet for the idle rich.
Before the decade was out fifteen planets at the center of the galaxy were trading with ease. Those systems built their own networks of cannon to spread farther and those new systems did the same. Soon dedicated cannon aimed for specific destinations were built, creating entire new networks.
Over 200 systems now inhabit the ‘cannon net’ from Lortu to Wayland, from Ambria to Kifex. From the core to the Inner Rim and beyond. Some of those planets beyond the rim have reported extending it further, and trade has become the glue that binds our association together. If the people can ever agree on something as simple as a name, a republic of independent systems will soon span the galaxy...
From: Encyclopedia Galactica:
He was tired. The cane he had carried as an affectation for 200 years was for the last five decade a necessity. He had traveled across half the galaxy to be here in this place at this time not from any solid reason. He was directed by the feelings of what his fellow monks had only begun to explore.
His home planet was unknown to these bustling people of a hundred or more worlds. This was something his race had agreed to back in their dim past when the Others struck at them. A primitive people, his forebears had hidden, something they had been quite good at. Able to disappear where there was no cover.
It had not worked with the Others. Huge creatures three times their height, the Others had tracked down and killed almost 80% of his people back then. They had been driven it seemed by a fury that never abated until finally they had fallen on each other in this fury. Why they had not simply destroyed the planet had never been understood. They had come, slaughtered, left few artifacts, and departed all in the space of a century.
The inquisitive secretive beings that had survived had discovered a wonder among the wreckage. An engine that moved itself through space as if the distance was not important. It had not been understood for almost a millennia, but his people were long lived, so that wasn’t the problem it might have been for more ephemeral beings. They worked on this interesting device at the same time working on their own minds. Something about the race had been a danger to those long ago enemies. Something that the remainder shared had been their salvation.
The engine was finally mated to a ship, and they traveled outward. They had no computers, and didn’t need them. The strength of what an old sage had called mind-glow drew them, and they moved toward it cautiously. Slowly, as if scouting for an enemy, they moved deeper into the Galactic darkness. They came across worlds shattered into ruin by their ancient enemy. Others battered until only remnants survived of their native populations. Others where the peoples that lived there had been transplanted for some unknown purpose. On each a single one of their people stayed. Concealing themselves they learned what they could.
They were still excellent at hiding. Invisible unless they wished to be seen...
Until one day on a planet where a native child had walked right up to the observer and asked what manner of creature he was. Stunned, the observer wished to flee, but something of the child’s wonder fed a yearning in the observer he did not even know existed before.
The young boy had taken what he took to be his new pet home, and the observer discovered that the boy was unique. A child of another race that held within him the same abilities his own people had. To touch that, that Force that seemed every present in the galaxy.
They grew to be friends, and when he discovered that his ‘pet’ was not only intelligent but sentient, the boy concealed this for fear that others might take him away. Together they explored the inner workings of their minds, found new places where each touched the Galaxy in ways no one else around them understood.
The boy began to drift away from his own society. He became an outcast, though only because he made others around him uncomfortable. They settled in the mountains overlooking the village of Knossa, and together they studied even harder. Some few began to make a pilgrimage to the rude shack they called home. Most came, and left confused. But a few stayed to learn.
In the fullness of time, the boy, now an old man died. His successor, named what was now a cloistered monastery after him.
A millennia ago that was now. The monks had spread very little. The jangling of the outside world bothered their search for the inner soul of all beings, and few liked leaving their cloister. When that first observer was ancient, and finally died, another of his race appeared to take his place. Always they kept their home concealed.
Dor was the fourth of his people to become a monk and join the order. Now he knew he would be replaced, because what he was about to do would end his life.
The auditorium was huge, stuffed with beings, all looking toward the podium where a human spoke. Dor stopped, looking down the steps. He knew the name of the man. Shoorilik, professor of hyper-physics of the premier university on Correllia. Behind him, looking very uncomfortable, were two younger beings also humans. Sighing, Dor surveyed the steps between him and the center, and began walking down a step at a time.
“...No one knows who they were.” Shoorilik said in answer to the question from a reporter. “All that is known is that there are copies of these engines, some working, and some not, on over 100 of the known worlds. The engines have been studied for almost two millennia without understanding a thing about their inner workings.
“However research on Coruscant over 100 years ago found a way to duplicate the effect on a larger scale with the development of the hyper-space cannon drive. But making them work as they sit, that has been impossible up until now.”
“But my readers do not understand what hyperspace even is!” A red Twi-lek complained. “Or how a hyper-cannon works.”
Shoorilik sighed. considering your readership, you’re people don’t even understand how the sun comes up. He wanted to say. “Hyper-physics is not for everyone. But we have created a visual demonstration for you. Lights.”
The lights dimmed, and in the center of the room above the professor’s head, a model of a hyper-cannon appeared. “A hyper-cannon focuses energy on what we call the Landau wall, the junction between our four dimensions, and the other eighteen believed to exist in current theory. The wall is like a piece of elastic, stretching ahead of you as you push.”
On the screen, a man was pushing his hand against a sheet or elastic, the fabric deforming and holding until he had leaned all of his weight against it, but remained unbroken.
“This is what traveling between our stars was like before the invention of the hyper-cannon. The more force exerted trying to gain speed, the less acceleration you are able to gain because the wall stretches, keeping you within 4D space. However discoveries on Coruscant showed that these still functioning engines would propel objects faster than light, meaning the Landau wall did not apply.”
On the screen, the man had taken a knife, and pushed the blade easily through the elastic.
“The way a hyper-cannon works is simple. A ship approaches it at a set vector and speed. The hyper-cannon’s capacitors are charged to a level necessary to break the Landau wall, and translation occurs.”
The bright bead approached the model hyper-cannon, and as it reached the filaments left by the capacitors, the breech, suddenly the bead stretched until it was a rod which vanished out of the cannon‘s muzzle.
“Well said, Professor.” Another reporter, human this time said. “However that doesn’t explain why it is easier to travel here from Brentaal than it is from Coruscant.”
“Space differently bends in some places.” All eyes turned to the stairway, when a wizened tiny figure approached. He paused in his descent, leaning two tridactyl hands on his short cane, green ears flicking back and forth. “Structure like paper weaker which is folded and bent.” He looked around blandly. “Corridors this makes between some stars, and others not.”
“An excellent theory, Doctor..?”
“Doctor am I not. Monk of Monastery of Jedi I am.” He replied. “Brother Dor I am called.”
Shoorilik looked confused. “This meeting is for scientists and the press, Brother Dor. Why are you here?” He worried because half a dozen crack-pot cults had condemned the test that was planned because it violated the will of whatever god they worshiped.
“Crack-pot I am not.” Dor said, seeing the flinch, and smiling. “Brotherhood of Jedi exploring unknown are interested in.”
“I have never heard of your order, Brother.” A reporter commented. “Jedi?”
“Founder of the order he was. Name we took memory to honor.” Dor looked down. “Only seat down there is. If I may walk continue?”
“Please.” Shoorilik motioned toward the seat. “To continue, the monk’s theory does explain a lot of what hyper-physicist see in the ease with which transit can be made on the three routes so far explored. To use his own analogy, you follow the fold of the paper from Brentaal to Corellia, but have to cross the fibers of it from Coruscant.
“Back to our subject, thanks to a young genius here at the Corellian Hyper-space institute named Koori Deralo, we believe that the first actual human designed hyper-drive is ready for test.”
“But it is within a ship, instead of surrounding it!” A reporter, this one Kubaz protested. “It is a violation of hyper-physics-” He spun glaring at the small figure still toiling down the stairs. “If you are going to speak, don’t mumble!”
Dor paused. “Violation of intelligence that you speak of that know you do not.” Dor said loud clear. “Original engine not outside ship. Unless miniscule creators were.”
There was a ripple of laughter.
“Again our friend the monk is correct. These were found inside vessels, some of them massive, discovered on a number of worlds. They had to have driven those vessels, therefore the effect must extend beyond what is known to us.
“Student Deralo is credited with finding a way to fuel an engine and rebuild parts that had corroded beyond use. With his modifications, we believe that a small ship will be able to travel without using hyper-cannon.”
“Fuel is what?” Dor had finally reached the floor, and was finally seated.
Shoorilik blinked. He could have sworn the little being had been twenty meters away from the seat only a moment ago.
“Hydrogen fusion with the plasma directed into the engine through shielded baffles.”
“Work it would. Like hammer hitting nutshell with. But will work well.”
“So glad you approve.” one of the young men commented.
Dor looked at the boy. So this was the one. “Name you have I may here?”
“Darshan Solo. I’m going to fly the ship.”
“Elegance problem is, not complaint. When alone is hammer you have, it must suffice.”
The meeting went on for another hour. Finally the last questions had been asked and answered, and the reporters surged in a body toward the exits. Darshan stood, then loosened the braid that held his hair, shaking it out into an ebon sheet.
“Chosen has destination been?” He looked down. The only ones in the crowd not moving were himself, Koori and Dor.
“Yes it has. Why?”
“Go with you I must.”
“You’re out of your tiny little mind.” Darshan retorted then stormed out.
“With you I shall go, little human.” Dor said.
Echana: Planet located around star named Shirrazu. Galactic Reference GSFD-421/CTS/ER/9.
Class: C-7 class, similar to Coruscant before urban construction. Native animals and planets graded at level 6, some dangerous, but within acceptable standards for human colonization under Coruscant Exploration Guidelines.
Economic rating: 2.
Technology level, in weapons, grade 5. In all other commerce grade 3 and lower.
Population: Last census 1.1 million.
Demographics: 97% human. Remainder are citizen/factors of other races including Duros, Hutt, Twi-lek, Arkanian, and Bim. The human citizens of Echana are known to be empathic.
Government: Oligarchy. Seven clan elders called Prefects, one of whom is Grandee for a five year period on a rotating schedule.
Exports: Leechu bark spice (Used in preparation of meat) and Tanif fish both luxury items demanding high prices. The locally made swords daggers and ‘ritual brands’ command high prices for each is a hand made work of art. The Echani have proven to be experts at weapons design and development, and now after eight years has matched or surpassed every other manufacturer in the quality of their weapons, though except for the blade weapons mentioned above they are still not for off-world purchase.
Imports: Their needs were and have always been small. Imports include primarily Cassoli oil from Coruscant and Mendrach incense from Corellia. Recently they had a now defunct treaty with Lortu that supplied the Lortuai with swords and the first production of other hand weapons in return for Darson wood from the Lortuai forests of Haanmelo.
Social conventions: Since the species of humans now living on Echana are known to be empathic, they have had no wars amongst themselves. It is reported by reliable sources that this is due to that empathy. The Echana are prized as trade negotiators, yet as such few have left their home planet to practice that art.
Social interaction seems to be highly confusing, and many consider their sexual mores perverse. There is no form of marriage as understood by the Galaxy as a whole among the Echani. The closest they have to this is what is called the Bonding.
Bonding: Echani society requires female children at the age of 13 to bond to a male other than her father or closely related male relatives. While considered a marriage by Galactic definition, there are bonds between two females which are usually considered for commercial gain, to the Goddess herself for those who become priestesses, and even to ideals, such as the present day commander of Echani Military forces Morgai Chandar who swore to be protector to her race when the planet was first attacked by the Lortuai.
These ‘self bonds’ are rare and have no discernable pattern.
History: The planet now known as Echana was settled in the first rush of the expansion caused by the invention of the hyper cannon. When the first attempt to reach Aargau from Brentaal arrived instead at Corellia everyone was surprised. The Corellians were able to ascertain that space folded in a detectable and easily verifiable manner between their planet and Brentaal, making it easier to travel along specific route, and this information and the development of the folded hyper cannon Matrix allowed rapid expansion along what is now called the Corellian Trade Spine.
Echana was the seventh planet discovered along that route by a combined Coruscanti-Corellian team, and the planet was put up for colonization at that time. Settlers from Coruscant and Corellia settled there less than three years after the development of the folded hyper cannon Matrix.
The first settlers from Coruscant were of a religious sect worshiping the Goddess whose name is now used for the planet itself. Radowin Chandar of Corellia, commander of the joint mission led the first settlement, becoming the first prefect of what is now called the Chandar clan, and the first Grandee.
For over ninety years, the Echani prospered in peace.
However starting nine years ago, on the rise of Sogor of Lortu, a low intensity war has broken out. Attempted invasions of Echana has been bested easily. In response to this aggression, the corporation EWI or Echani Weapons Institute was formed to develop and deploy new weapons in the ongoing struggle.
The worshipers of Echana, the ‘Mistress of Battles’ believe that the Goddess judges people not by any exterior form, but rather from within. and has the odd addition that prayer is done when practicing with a sword or ritual brand. The style is slow and smooth, forcing the mind to concentrate is a meditative state that allows communion with their goddess. All known followers of this faith live on the planet Echana and make up 95% of their human population.
Since the people of Echana are empathic, their religion does not forbid conflict, but rather assigns it as a necessary evil. ‘A blade in my heart hurts me as much as the blade in your own. Yet plunge it in I will if I must’ (Echana Do Suchi. Prayer book, page 421 ‘prayer for peace)
The worship of Echana is all pervasive in the society on Echana, but has little or no liturgy or ritual. The Priests and Priestesses of the faith are more akin to weapons masters, teaching the use of the bladed weapons the Echani prefer.
Prayer is done when practicing with a sword or ritual brand. The style is slow and smooth, forcing the mind to concentrate is a meditative state that allows communion with their goddess. The more adept of this faith can spend hours if not days in meditative prayer without undue fatigue.
People of this faith are considered forthright, and swear no oaths not taken upon their own blades. To them a violation of such an oath is tantamount to blasphemy. An Echani court has a sword rather than a holy book to swear upon, and that sword is always the property of a High priestess, since they are the leaders of the church.
Ritual Brand: Weapon and religious icon of the Worshipers of Echana.
The Ritual brand is a blade staff averaging 30 centimeters taller than the user. There are no hand guards on the hand grip since they are used only by the Echani, and those people learn at a young age due care with a bladed weapon. Blades can be single edged either straight or curved, single edge opposite (single edges facing opposite directions on a horizontal plane). Double edged both straight and curved, and double edged composite (One blade horizontal, one edge vertical). One rare model seen in a museum was double edged, one blade curved, the other straight, with a rotating gimbal that allowed it to be turned from opposite to composite with the touch of a stud.
Each Ritual brand is handmade and a weapons-smith can adjust the length to suit the user. The entire weapon had a memory plastic fold in the center of the grip which allows the weapon to be folded in half, and the blades held in a single sheath.
The ritual brand has been copied by a number of peoples, and the only way to tell an actual ritual brand from one of these knock-offs is by examining the handgrip. The entire handgrip on an Echani Ritual brand is smooth from blade to blade whereas those made by other people have hand-guards or discernable ridges in the center or at the edges.
The flight control officer noted the new arrival from Lortu. Only one ship this time. He smiled gently. Why would that idiot send only one ship this time? Still he tapped the button, and the military flight officer logged in.
“This is approach control to unidentified ship. Identification please.”
“Duros freighter Sarcbaliel. Bound for Correlia. One passenger departing this system.” Came back the guttural reply.
“Danger?” asked the Flight control officer.
“Possible.” The Military flight officer mused. “Where did the passenger board?”
“Sarcbaliel, where did your passenger board, what species?”
“Well?” Flight control asked.
“Still odd.” The Military flight officer replied. “I’ll assign a watcher. Let him land.”
“Sarcbaliel. You are cleared for landing approach. Welcome to Echana.”
“Gracious thanks, Echana. End communication.”
Since it was merely a passenger disembarking, Sarcbaliel allowed a shuttle to come alongside, then joined the queue at the hyper-space cannon drive.
The shuttle docked at the small station Echana maintained. The customs official stood at the entryway, clip board in hand. The slim woman that came down the ramp surprised him. She was tall, long red hair running in a bloody sheath to her breasts, dressed in about ten square centimeters of green cloth.
He gulped, shaking his head sharply. “Papers please.” She handed him her ID chip, and he fed it into the reader. Holani Jantri. Citizen of Alderaan. Profession... His eyes sharpened, and all sexual fantasies disappeared.
“You’re a weapon’s merchant?” He asked.
“Yes.” She tilted her head, green eyes amused. “What should a weapons merchant look like? A hulking brute that looks like he uses them instead of buying them?”
Considering the people that usually arrived selling or buying weapons, that pretty much fit them. The customs officer blushed. “Sorry.” He handed the ID chip back. “Purpose of visit?”
“Investigating, possibly purchasing.” She said. “I have heard rumors about the Master Smith.”
“She doesn’t turn out much. Maybe a blade a week. Unless you’re buying for a rich man, she can’t turn out serious production.”
“I was hoping I could find out how she makes them.”
The customs man snorted. “Dream on. No one knows but her.”
“Well I can only try.” Holani caroled. He made a notation, and motioned. “Due to attacks by the Lortuai, all transit is through this station. When you decide to depart, you will have to notify Transit control.”
“Understood.” Holani walked away from the man, thoughtful. The mission had started so smoothly, and she wondered what might go wrong.
Echana was a lush world, so like the parks and forests of her home. The ‘city’ that was the planet’s capital was barely the size of the city she had been born in, maybe fifty thousand inhabitants. All told there were less than a million citizens on the planet, and if it were not for the master smith, she understood why Sogor had considered them ripe for conquest.
But stepping off the shuttle shocked her. On her home world weapons were for hunting, for sport, for the army police and of course criminals. Here everyone from the age of five upward carried swords and knives. As she passed a temple, she saw a pair of eight year olds squaring off and fighting with live uncovered steel in a display that would have brought applause at an exhibition. That was where Sogor went wrong. She mused. Instead of maybe a quarter million, he faced almost a million blades. Even the five year olds were a danger. She filed that information away as she headed to the maglev terminal. It was an hour ride to the sleepy village of Sookor-Chandar, and she spent the time assessing these people. Every third adult carried a ritual brand, and she knew the difficulty of mastering it. With no hand guard the untrained would lose their own fingers wielding it. One of the children, all of seven was making passes with her ritual brand in a slow whirl, her eyes watching the edges of the blade to assure she didn’t menace another passenger. Her mother tapped her hand. For a moment, Holani assumed she would order the weapon sheathed. Instead the woman adjusted her grip and the slow wheel of death continued. No wonder the Echani called swordplay the dance of death!
The car stopped, and she walked down from the station. At the bottom of the covered stairway, four children of about five stood in two pairs five meters apart. As she watched, two of them began juggling three wooden blades each. “Throw!” one called. The children standing aside each tossed another blade into the pattern, and now four blades danced in the air.
“Throw!” The other, a girl called, and two more blades entered the pattern. Suddenly the pattern expanded as ten blades now fountained across the space between the children.
“Throw!’ Now twelve blades flashed past Holani’s path in a pattern as bewildering as it was deadly for the last two blades were steel.
“Children!” a policeman sauntered over, watching the blades in the air. “Let the passengers debark!”
“Yes sir! Throw!” Now fourteen blades flew, but the pattern had lifted enough to clear the walkway.
“Please.” The officer said. Holani felt a slight nudge and a three year old tottered across under the blade bridge holding her older sister’s hand. Nervously Holani followed.
“An off worlder?” The asked.
“How did you- wait, I’m not carrying a blade.”
“Got it in one. How may I direct you?”
“I’m looking for the Master Smith’s shop.”
“Loo-ri street. Two blocks over, turn left, one block then right. On the corner of the next block.”
Holani walked on. Behind her there was a clatter and a lot of good natured laughter as the children gathered up the fallen blades. By the time she reached the street she had been directed to, she had seen on couple of children using all steel knives in a bewildering array of weights and shapes but this time on the sidewalk away from traffic. She turned as directed, and walked up the next block. Another pair of older children were juggling, but instead of knives these were full sized throwing axes. The blades impeded her path yet again.
“It’s called Cnifta.” A voice told her. Beside her stood a seven year old girl with raven black straight hair. “They’re not supposed to block access to a shop. That’s the rules.” She walked forward until the blades flashed past inches from her face. “Hey you nerf-herders! cut us some slack!”
“We’ll cut more than that Revana.” One of the fourteen year olds snapped.
“Want me to call Breia?”
“All right!” The blades were caught, and they glared at them as Holani crossed after the girl.
“Everyone’s afraid of my big sister. Breia is the best at cnifta, and even better at Soo-ti.”
The little girl reached into her hair, pulling out a straight needle thin piece of steel. Then her hand flicked negligently. The shaft punched into the wall, sinking ten centimeters into the hard wood. “Soo-ti.” She explained coolly. “My sister can do that from across the room with her back turned.” She grimaced. “When she’s not busy at the forge like it is lately.”
“This is the shop of the Master Smith?”
“You mean you came to see Breia?” The girl looked at her as if she were a beast in a zoo. “You don’t look rich.”
“I am not, but I work for people who are. Could you direct me?”
Revana grabbed her hand, dragging her into the shop.
It was small and cozy. Every wall had blades on display from the little needles of Soo-ti, balanced and matched blade sets for cnifta, axes like the ones being thrown again outside, and everything from daggers the length of her little finger to ritual brands. An older man stood talking to a customer.
“This lady came to see Breia.” Revanna called, leading her on like a tugboat.
The man nodded, and handed the ritual brand to the prospective customer. “Breia has a commission from the army for more of her special blades, so you’ll have to wait.”
“From what I have seen, it is worth the wait.” The customer brought the blade down on a meter length 40 centimeter thick log, and Holani stared as the blade sliced completely through it.
When Sogor had hired her, the mission had seemed merely difficult. Infiltrate Echana, find the master smith, wrest the secret of the blades produced, and return that information to Lortu. Now it looked to border on the impossible. If the only one who knew how to make a blade was the master smith herself (That surprised her as well) it meant she could not merely carry a datapad, but would have to consider kidnapping instead.
She shrugged. If it came to that, she would consider it.
At a compression forge, a figure stood, swathed in a robe from head to foot. One hand held a piece of almost molten steel in a negligent gloved hand. Only the glove she wore, proof against any temperature below that of a sun kept her from being burned. In the other was a hammer. But she wasn’t striking the metal to form it. She just stood there looking at it.
“Hush.” The voice was a throaty contralto. “I can’t hear the metal’s call.”
The girl stood shaking with repressed excitement. Suddenly the hammer rose, and struck four times, each time in a different place. Then the blade was thrust back into the forge. “Speak softly, so you don’t drown it out.”
“This lady came to see you.”
“If she can speak softly, she can stay. Otherwise she must leave.” The Breia pulled the blade out of the fire, striking it again, but only three times. Again each time in different places. “As for you little bullroarer, one loud word and you are out.”
“I came-” Holani stopped talking as a hand came up.
“My ears are excellent, woman. Whisper.”
“I came to commission a blade.” Holani whispered angrily.
“At the moment, I am taking no new commissions.” The blade came out, was struck this time with four blows then returned to the fire. “I do not forsee this changing unless Sogor dies and this war ends.” Out, three blows, in, out two blows, back in.
“We can wait.”
“Not unless you wish to wait for ten years.” The head under it’s hood cocked. “I have orders already covering that much time,” Out strike, in. Out, strike, strike in.
“I would feel better if I could see your eyes, woman.” Holani hissed.
The blade went into a cooling tank. The figure turned around. The front of the hood had a mask of metal. The gloved hands rose, lifting the hood away, then removing the mask. Holani stepped back in shock.
Breia’s face was marred by scars from above her expressive mouth to just below her hairline Her nose was pitted, and her eyes... Her eyes were empty sockets.
The master smith was blind.
Dor looked at the ship. Unlike the usual Corellian design, it was a sleek arrowhead of burnished metal. He walked across the tarmac, and ran his hand along the doorframe. The door opened with a gentle hiss, and he entered.
The ship was designed for long term occupation as all hyper ships had to be, but was cramped. He walked forward, entered the cockpit, and switched on the nav-computer. As he had suspected, the target system was Brentaal at the opposite end of the Trade Spine from where he had to be.
It had taken him years to understand nav-computers. His people didn’t use them, and all of the knowledge he had of them was second hand. He pulled out the slicer, and slid it into the onboard navigational update interface. Now, change heading, duration of flight, and power setting. The Galaxy seemed to approve of what he was doing. The computer didn’t ask for an authorization, for which he was thankful, he hadn’t bothered to find out if there was one.
Satisfied, he removed the slicer, then walked aft. The rebuilt ancient hyper engine sat nestled in the middle of the fuel tanks. No one, not even the genius that had modified it knew of it’s potential. Having seen a perfectly operational one, Dor could make a good estimate.
He found an air vent, opened the grate, and slid inside. Sitting, the small being meditated. He had several hours.
Darshan slid into the vest, looking at himself critically. Long black hair in a pony tail, black vest over white open necked shirt. Black breeches and boots. He was definitely a photo opportunity waiting for the camera. He took his multitool knife, slid it into the sheath on his left boot, then drank the last of his tea, picked up a wooden box from the table, and left.
Koori walked, or perhaps it might be more honest to say trotted as he walked out of his quarters, and climbed into the university ground car. The smaller man was nervous.
“Maybe I should-”
“No. For the love of the cosmos, Koori, get a grip. It’s not like we haven’t proven them wrong before.”
“But you never...”
“Never chanced getting killed before.”
“It isn’t happening. No one with my luck can die that easily.”
“Easily he says.” Koori mumbled. “Sitting on five tons of deuterium fuel with a fusion engine and plasma lines that have never been tested. If this ends badly, no one is going to say it was easy!”
“Calm down.” Darshan opened the box. “Here, this will shut you up.”
Koori picked up one of the keflaka cookies. “You didn’t.”
“Yup. I told mom you were bouncing off the overhead and she sent these to cheer you up.”
Koori nibbled, his face blissful. Nothing was as good as Mari Solo’s cookies! He grabbed two more, and thrust the box back.
“What are you doing? Three score cookies and you stop at three?”
“Take them with you and bring them back.”
“And I thought I was superstitious. Fine.”
The car slowed at the gate, then sped on to the ramp. Darshan climbed out, wincing as lights hit him in the face.
“Mister Solo! Are you worried about the danger?” A reporter called.
“No more than usual.”
“Does that mean you have faith in Professor Deralo’s design?”
“Professor?” He rubbed Koori’s hair playfully. “He’s like me, just a student in the best university in the Galaxy.”
“But this has never been tried!”
“Neither has dancing on the sun. But if my friend designed the dance floor, I’d be looking for a partner.” There was a laugh and he held up his hand. “Really people, if I stand here answering every question I won’t get off the ground before my thirtieth birthday! That’s all.”
He pushed through the reporters, and finally reached the ship. Koori followed as he walked forward, throwing his bag under the second seat. “Why did they bother to put two seats and four bunks in a one man ship?” He asked, sitting in his command chair.
“They didn’t build it just for you, you know.” Koori switched on the computers, running a diagnostic. “When you get back they’re going to use this as a advertising ploy. Take some delegate from a planet and let him pick the destination, that kind of thing.” He sniffed with satisfaction, and punched a button on the nav console. “Course locked.”
“I hate that part.” Darshan snarled. “Why do I have to have a locked down nav computer?”
“Because the University heard about how much you like Santi Morel of Kuat.”
“You’re kidding. I asked her for one dance! She still doesn’t even know who I am!” Darshan pictured the woman ten centimeters taller than he was, with rippling muscles. He was almost afraid to picture them together romantically. “Besides, she turned me down.”
“What, the great Darshan Solo couldn’t sweet talk a lady?”
“No. She didn’t know how to dance.”
So why did you spend three hours with her?”
“Because I was teaching her Tongo.”
“Tongo?” Koori stared at him in horror. “You taught the daughter of the Kuat ambassador tongo?”
“Why not?” He looked surprised. “We weren’t betting money!”
“What were you betting?”
“I give up.” Koori shook his head. “I’ll be in the control center.”
“You do that.”
The next hour was taken up in the checklist. Darshan pulled out his tongo dice, and rolled them on the panel beside them idly as he went through the process. Tongo used six dice, each with a different number of sides, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 20. It was played by trying to beat the total numeric value of an opponent’s roll, though matching it exactly was the big pay-off. Of course, the odds of matching someone’s roll exactly was right up there with getting struck by a meteor as you stroll down the street. But that is what gambling is all about.
“Checklist complete.” The control center reported. Darshan picked up the dice, stuck them back in his pocket, and began strapping in.
“All right, engines are hot, plasma temperature nominal. Engaging lift and drive now.” The jets screamed as the ship lifted gently. He rotated in place, giving the press a good look at the future of space travel, and then punched the thrust vectoring to forward. The ship slid like an egg in a greased skillet, picking up speed at a deceptive rate. He stood it on it’s tail, and less than a kilometer from the field was already pushing mach one.
The atmosphere behind, he headed for the test area. Every sensing device known to man was arrayed around the 500 cubic kilometer section of near space blocked off from traffic, and he reveled in the feel of the responsiveness.
“Darshan to ground, how about we change her name?”
“Ground to Darshan, you know the ship was named after University President emeritus Calrissian.”
“So what? Who goes adventuring in hyper space with a name like Han Calrissian?”
“What would you prefer?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Hawk or falcon. Something fast! Or maybe Millennium since I‘m going to spend that long for you guys to finish all of the telemetry adjustments.”
“Telemetry is set and rolling.”
“About time!” Darshan took the control wheel in his hands. He snorted to himself. Han! It sounds like someone who can’t spell hand. You’ll never see a Solo with that name.
His eyes tightened. He was approaching the test area, but the course didn’t feel right. He checked his own figures, and it was definitely wrong. “Control, the ship is approaching at the wrong vector.”
“The heading is 175, it should be 355. It’s heading in the wrong direction for
“Give us a minute, Han Calrissian. We’re checking the navigational vectors.”
“We haven’t got a minute. I’m disconnecting the nav computer and will return to base.” He reached across, and tapped the disengage switch. The red light stayed on. He did it again with no affect. “No joy, Control. The nav computer is locked.”
“We are trying to reprogram from here.”
Darshan flinched as he heard a whirring sound. “Control the fusion initiators have activated, get it done!”
“We’re, we’re locked out!”
Darshan cursed fluently in both Corellian Basic and Twi-leki, slamming his fist again and again on the button that refused to free him from this hell ride. “Control! I have a bad feeling about this!”
The ship seemed to stretch until it was a blazing beam of light, and was gone.
The night life in the capital was nothing much to speak of. Holani wore her red sheath, slinking down the street. On Coruscant or Corellia it would have drawn wolf whistles and propositions. At home it would have drawn shocked stares. here it only drew appreciative looks.
She had decided on a restaurant near her hotel, passed what was euphemistically called Embassy row. Yeah, right. The factors of a dozen business conglomerates that traded with Echana. Not an ambassador among them. She walked slowly past them. The man who had been trailing her since dark was much better than the one that had picked her up when she had arrived. She could lose him, no problem. Just a quick tint of her hair, dress like a local, and that was it. But she couldn’t do that without alerting the locals that she knew she was under surveillance.
The waiter at the restaurant brought a steaming bowl of the local chowder as the first course, and she moaned her appreciation. That was followed by flaky fish fillets then strips of broiled Nerf in the local sauce, hot enough to scald the uninitiated.
A Twi-lek passed her table, staggering from too much drink. He jostled the table, and went on. Holani looked sourly after him, palming the earplug he had dropped as he past, sliding it into her ear.
“Talk.” The voice said.
She leaned over her meal, speaking softly in Hutt in case someone was trying to lip read. “The target is a blind woman. No way to gain the secret without kidnapping.”
The speaker paused. “Either kidnap or kill.”
“No other options?” Her heart froze at the callous order.
“If second option, entire family must die.” The voice said. “No chance of anyone keeping secret must remain.”
Great. Either tear a blind woman from her home or kill the gods alone knew how many. Holani bit her lip. Which was worse? She remembered the sweet face of the girl The gruff but friendly man. Father, brother, husband? Who knew?
“Kidnap.” Holani sighed. “Need support vehicle.”
“Ship at space port. air car will be where you direct.”
She nodded. “Done. Tomorrow one block west of the hotel.” She ran her hand through her hair, the earplug not back in her hand. She dropped it into her water glass, where custom designed nanobots reduced it to it’s constituent molecules in seconds.
[i]All right Holani. You ran away from your family, your home, became not only a criminal but a master criminal. All so you could destroy someone’s life. Great resume.[/]
She stood, dropped her payment and a tip on the table, and went back to her room.
The next evening, she looked at what she had gathered. A locally made knife in a slim jeweled sheath. Wide trousers with a russet bloused shirt below a green vest. The dye she had carried in her make up case had changed her hair from red to brown, and the second dye had darkened her skin to match the sun bronzed local look.
Contact lenses had turned her an equal brown.
The watcher assigned to her was down stairs, and she knew that. No one was watching her window, and there were no listening devices. This was the time.
As the night deepened, she took the can of climbing thread. Based on the silk of a spider of the planet Hapes, it was strong enough to hold three times her weight. She pulled on the special climbing gloves that would stop the silk from slicing her hands to ribbons, and attached the hardener tip. She sprayed an attachment on the wall beside her balcony, kicked her feet over the edge, and began abseiling down the wall. When her feet touched the ground she popped the tip, slicing the thread off cleanly, slipped the can into her pouch, and strolled nonchalantly down the street.
The car, driven by the same Twi-lek that had pretended to be drunk was waiting, and it lifted into the air. The pair rode silently until they settled in the small park near Breia’s home.
“Give me twenty minutes. If I am not back, go for option two.” She ordered. In her mind she considered the knife on her hip. If she couldn’t be back, she’d warn the family, kill this little Hutt slime, and turn herself in.
The shop was closed, but she could hear the rhythmic hammering from the forge. Softly she padded around, looking in through a crack in the door. Breia was at the forge as if she had never left.
“Come in.” She said. Holani stiffened, then shrugged resignedly, stepping into the room. Breia had not moved from the forge. Now she thrust the blade into the cooling vat, and turned. “I knew you would be back. There is darkness in you, and it would harm my entire family. Why?”
Holani stared at her in shock. “I was hired by Sogor to discover the secret of your super sharp blades. When I discovered that you were...”
“Blind?” She took off the mask. “Since I was Revana’s age. My father had an accident, the forge blew back.” She waved toward her face negligently. “The plasma seared my eyes and optic nerves. But why would that stop such a cold person?”
Holani was hurt by the comment. “I had considered kidnapping you, but I didn’t want to do that. I contacted the ones that work here for Sogor they only gave me one other option.”
“To kill me.”
“No, if it were that I might have been willing. I was to kill not only you but your entire family.” Holani closed her eyes, picturing Revana. To kill her...
“So your choice is what?” Breia asked as if it were a choice as to which dessert at a meal.
“To take you.”
“Speaking to the constable was not an option?”
“I may work alone but Sogor has others here. If I had told the constables your family would have still died. Even my death would not have stopped it.”
Breia nodded. “I sense you speak the truth. Knowing what I do of Sogor the murder of one extended family would be an exercise of little thought to him.” She turned, removing the robe and choosing a darker one. Without the bulky robes she was slim, and Holani‘s estimate of her age dropped from mid thirties to early 20s. She swirled a red traveling cloak over the, putting up the hood again. “We must go then.”
“As you said. I could kill you or call the constables. Doing so would lead to the deaths of many. My life is not worth that.” Breia chose a staff that matched her new robe. ”Having me will not give Sogor what he wants. It is an equitable trade.”
Breia picked up her hammer, and laid it on the forge reverently. Then walked out.
Holani followed, walking beside her. “The hammer, a signal?”
“No, the robe. My brother worries about me, so he had a tracker with a life detector sewn into it. Right now an alarm is going out, and the local police will be moving in minutes.” Breia looked at her. “More than enough time for you to get away with me.”
They reached the car, and it rocketed into the sky. Breia sat face turned as if looking at the scenery.
“Why didn’t you get ocular implants?”
“When I was first blinded, I despaired. The stars were above me, and I can still remember their call. Without sight I felt worthless. But then I discovered the wonder of a world you cannot see.
“I found that I can hear the rhythm of the heart, the flow of what people say and what they really mean. That is how I knew you would harm me and my family.
“Then I learned that I could hear the song of metal as it cools. Portions of heated metal cool slower than others, and by striking them when the song reaches the right note, I can form it in the manner that astounds you all.
“I returned to the forge less than a year later, and began my first blade. When others saw what I had done they tried to learn, but no one I have met can hear the song, and that is necessary to form the metal.
“That is why having me will not give Sogor what he wants. It will earn your coin and little else.”
“All of this for nothing.“ Holani whispered.
Breia cocked her head, the empty sockets turning toward Holani. “You regret your choices. While your father has forgiven you, it will not return you home. Another must do that.”
“Just shut up.” Holani snarled.
Darshan stared at the swirling of hyper-space and vented the one Hutt curse he knew, which could be literally translated as ‘your father was your mother as well’ then turned toward the cabinet to his left below the console. He opened the door, looking at the droid with distaste. He’d never liked the housekeeping and construction robots that had come into vogue, and the idea that he might need assistance if the ship was damaged had offended him greatly. But this damn thing was his only chance to get home, so he flicked the switch.
The droid powered up, and a small red lens turned to focus on his face. It beeped at him. On the screen beside him, words scrolled.
-greetings, user. I am designated A1A7, Astromech robot designed by Droids incorporated, the premier-
“Can it, tin man. Find out what is wrong with the damn Nav-computer.”
The droid beeped another reply. -Interrogative: The nav computer has no control of water flow or-
Darshan clenched his fist. “Damn as in ‘to be damned’ as in cursing. Check out that collection of circuits and see what is wrong with it.”
The droid deployed a set of wheels, and rolled over to the console. An arm popped out, and inserted itself in the interface port. -Searching. No detectable anomalies in circuitry or programming.-
“Then why the hell are we going the wrong direction?” Darshan snapped.
-Searching: Anomaly detected. Course destination and fuel mix was altered 10 hours fifteen minutes ago using onboard navigational update interface. User not identified. However, anomaly was caused by a highly innovative slicing program of Coruscanti design-
“Coruscant! So we’re going there?”
-Negative. Course is down Corellian Trade Spine out galaxy rather than inward. Assuming fuel and course is correct, the ship will end it’s flight in the system controlled by the Lortuai-
“Lortuai? I’ve never heard of it.”
-Them. Data on planet Lortu in navigational database. Data on native race is in encyclopedic data base-
There was a clattering aft, and Darshan’s head snapped around. “Put all of the data on both onto a pad. I will be back in a moment.” He pulled out the multitool, popping out the blade. Razor sharp, it was only about 100 centimeters long, but he felt better armed. Surprising, because he’d never held a weapon in his life.
He padded aft, looking into the bunk area. No one there. The next compartment was the mess deck, and there was muttering from the compartment.
“-never put where easy to reach it is.” The gruff little voice complained. There was another clatter, and curses in an unknown language. Darshan peeked around the entry hatch.
The little alien that had grilled him at the press conference a week before was headfirst in a cabinet. A fry pan flew out as he watched. “Make tea all the time, they do, but pot they did not bring? Only humans so foolish.”
Darshan crept across, slamming the cabinet door shut with his foot. There was a squalling from inside, and he pinned the door with all of his weight. “A stowaway!”
“Observant you are.” The voice said from inside the cabinet. “To make tea I was, but pot I cannot find.”
“That’s because we only heat the water and use tea bags.”
There was silence. “Bags? Why bags for tea you have?”
“Maybe because I was supposed to be alone.”
“Point you have made. Release can you so I may prepare?”
“Why did you reset my navigation?”
“Destination where go I must is set. Where go you must as well.”
“That ship won’t fly. All I have to do is drop out, reset-”
The droid came down the passageway, squealing frantically. “What the- crap.” Darshan grabbed the chair, slid it tight against the cabinet door, setting the traction clamps so it would need to be released from outside, and ran forward. The screen flashed
-Danger detected. navigational system has been reprogrammed to cause fuel tank detonation if the ship does not reach set destination! Program will delete itself if this happens-
Darshan stared at the screen. “Anyway to circumvent it?”
Darshan stormed back to the mess hall. The chair was back where it had been before. Suddenly something hit him from behind, slamming him face first to the floor.
“Listen will you?” He spun. Dor was crouched on the frame of the hatch, looking down.
Darshan leaped up, charging at him. The little being seemed to levitate, and the stick in his hand caught Darshan across the shoulders, throwing him into the bulkhead with bruising force.
“Can all day do this. Listen will you first?”
Darshan turned, staggering. “All right you little Hutt slime! Talk!”
“Conversation tea would be better with.” Dor replied. “Show me you will?”
Darshan huffed, stormed over, pulling two cups down. Then he opened the food storage, dropped bags in each cup, then tapped the stud for the water filling them. “All right, shortie, talk.”
Dor leaped down, cradling the cup. “Interesting this is. Monk of Monastery of Jedi am I member. Know you of it anything?
“Explanation give I must. Monks the mind study. Thought nature of. Potentials untapped they are.”
“Millennia we studied have. Wonders find. Without as well within as. Discovered it was that Galaxy help us.”
“Wait, the Galaxy is helping your research? That’s impossible!”
“Possible or not, happening it is.” Dor replied. “Millennia ago, abilities discovered were. Things magic and mystical humans see as, possible was it to do.”
“So you’re people can do magic?”
“Science and knowledge magic to untrained seems. This we call Force for lack of name better. Flows from life it does.”
“So life somehow creates energy, and your training makes it something you can use?”
“Best explanation is.” Dor sipped his tea, sighing appreciatively. “Soon discovered it was that guided by force we are. Monks traveled at urge spirit of. Problems find they, answer they have. Peace brought in wars where warriors see not way. People science of given guidance they see not. Spread have we to worlds by commerce touched.”
“So let me get this straight. This Force as you call it makes you go places and do things because they feel right.”
“Explanation good is.” Dor drained the cup. “Please more?”
Darshan handed him his cup, and Dor sipped it. “Monk to Lortu go. Find conqueror would be, and... Other.”
“A conqueror. What other?”
“Force used many ways. As can I with skill of fight, others things touch and shape. Metal can this one form. Danger to her is it. Lortuai covet, take they would. But skill pass cannot. Must the person take.”
“So this woman who can use the force to form metal is going to be kidnapped. Why?”
“Blade you have. Valuable more is if it anything cut?”
“What?” Darshan ran the words through his mind again. “She can make a blade sharp enough to cut anything?”
“Truth is it.”
Darshan pictured a man with a sword cutting through armored soldiers as if they wore nothing. “So this conqueror wants these, these super swords for himself. So what? Corellia has weapons beyond something so archaic.”
“Understand do you not. Sign from god taken would if possess evil one does. Many waver, faith not strong. Failure or death temple from within can destroy.”
“But how does she forge metal that sharp?”
“Knew we how important is she not beyond life her own.” Dor replied. “Weapons with such fool try to conqueror others will. Many die stopped he is not.”
“So you stole my ship to rescue her?”
“True it is.” Dor waved at the ship. “Depends it not upon hyper-cannon controlled enemy by. Able slip in and out it is.”
“So why me?” Darshan snarled. “Why steal the first one?”
“Life of yours changed must it be. For you new path at Lortu begins.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Dice you have? Tongo play you?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Much know I of Darshan Solo you. Get please for me.”
Darshan walked forward, scooped up the box holding his dice, and returned. He set it down on the table.
“As if playing roll.” Darshan opened the cap, spilling out the dice. They fell with each numbering one. Dor dropped to the floor, leaped into the chair facing Darshan. “Number to beat easy, yes? But more paid for match, correct is?”
“Yes. But the odds are astronomical!”
“Luck with what I do has nothing.” Dor pushed the dice back into the cup, flipped it and lifted it.
Every die had a single dot.
“Many time how must I do to prove to you this?” He repeated it, and again the numbers were all one. Then again.
“Force my actions direct. Woman save I must Force directs does. Woman taking her prisoner has, Force directs does. Person that rescue must do,” He pointed at Darshan. “Force directs does. Lie to you do I not.”
“So I had to go on this little jaunt.”
“I think smoking something you have been.”
“My way of talking not make fun of.” Dor warned. “Read you what books say to learn. Prepare for rescue you must.”
Jedi, Monastery of: One of the religions considered odd by the peoples of the Galaxy is the order that started 2200 years ago at the Monastery of Jedi.
Named after the founder of the order, Jedi Horoni, the Monks of the order study the workings of the mind. They believe that the mind is capable of wonders that defy the imagination.
History: 2200 years ago, Jedi Horoni claimed to have discovered that there is an energy field within the galaxy that can be directed by the mind. He moved into a rude shack on the edge of what is now the city of Knossa (SEE OSSUS, Cities of) and began studying this phenomenon he claimed to have witnessed. Like a lot of founders of contemplative orders, he was at first ridiculed, but since he wasn’t considered a danger, he was allowed to live at peace. People came to witness these wonders, and while most left when miracles did not occur on demand, a small core remained, entranced by his vision. By the time of his death 2130 years ago, the order had grown to fifty members.
The order is odd whereas most such orders limit their members to one race, the Order allows members of any race willing to learn what they teach. By the second century after it’s founding, members of seven races on the planet were members.
There is a ranking system within the order of apprentice Padawan and master.
Like most contemplative orders, the members of the order learn martial arts for self defense, and watching a monk wielding a sword as if it were a natural extension of his body has become a spectator sport on some worlds. However while fully capable of defending themselves, the members see violence as the most distasteful option in any situation.
The largest growth occurred when Ossus was first visited by travelers from Belderone extending from the Permelian Trade route 57 years ago. At that time, the Order had approximately hundred fifty members, but as of this date they have grown to over four hundred members in five Monasteries located on Ossus Belderone Ralltiir Coruscant and Alderaan.
Fifty years ago, rival governments discovered that the Jedi as they are sometimes called were excellent arbiters of disputes. The trade war between Brentaal and Tepasi ended when the Jedi negotiator revealed duplicity by the little known Czerka Corporation of Coruscant in the conflict. The Corporation was almost driven into receivership when the weapons they had been supplying to both sides were itemized.
Footnote: While an interesting faith, few if any understand the precepts behind it, and it is not considered important enough to update the journal entries more often than every decade...
Padawan: Noun: Ossuia language native to planet Ossus.
Translation, ‘Traveler’. Member of the middle tier of the order formed 2200 years ago in the Monastery of Jedi. The word is linked to their duty within the order. Padawan are expected to spend several years of their lives traveling at the behest of the order and act as arbiters of disputes. To become a Padawan is an arduous process requiring study of what the order calls the Force, then training in several martial forms before a sword is gifted to them as sign of their position. It has been suggested that the prospective Padawan must make his own sword, but such is not proven, since no one is allowed contact with an apprentice of the order.
Lortu: Planet located around star named Sondiraco. Galactic Reference GSFD-774/CTS/ER/11.
Class: DA class 5, similar to Ossus. Native animals and planets graded at level 3, since the native species called the Lortuai have systematically over hunted the native animals into near extinction. Within acceptable standards for human colonization under Coruscant Exploration Guidelines, however off worlders are not welcome.
Economic rating: 1.
Technology level, in weapons, grade 8. In all other commerce grade 1 and lower.
Population: Last census 5.78 billion.
Demographics: 99% Lortuai. Trade is accepted, but only merchant factors have actually been allowed residence. All emigration banned unless the person has a skill deemed necessary by the Theocratic Knowledge Authority.
Government: Theocracy. The present ruler Sogor is titled ‘the Ever living' and his word is law to his subjects. Title is hereditary though those considered worthy can be suggested when a new ‘ever living’ is chosen.
Exports: Darson wood, Pipalli (A spice used and valued highly in preparations of highly spiced meals), Fulgathi oil.
Imports: Imports include primarily technological transfers, though the main ones to date have been licensing the CZ 1 assault rifle design from Czerka Corporation of Coruscant. Recently they had a now defunct treaty with Echana that supplied the Lortuai with swords and the first production of other hand weapons in return for Darson wood from the Lortuai forests of Haanmelo. Pipalli was also shipped until the Echani obtained seeds for the planet which flourishes there.
Social conventions: Place in society is rigidly controlled, and there is little or no social mobility. A person of the lowest cast (Goridai, or ‘excrement hauler’) can only aspire to Morgoshidai or ‘garbage remover‘. The Lortuai are a fiercely independent and argumentative people. Comments that would be taken as mildly insulting on other worlds would be considered insults worth a blood feud among the Lortuai.
Within their society someone of an upper cast may speak to anyone, where of a lower cast you may only speak to someone one step above you in social standing unless addressed. Any interaction not begun by someone of a socially acceptable level is ignored unless the very act is considered a blatant disregard of convention, which is punished swiftly and severely. The Lortuai feel that their race is superior to all other life forms, and even a Goridai is of a higher station than an off worlder. However knowing that the planet is dependant of technology transfers from these ‘lesser beings, rules had to be instituted to avoid problems. Social interaction with off worlders is only allowed between priests and administrators.
History: The planet known as Lortu by it’s inhabitant was first discovered when the development of the folded hyper cannon Matrix allowed rapid expansion along what is now called the Corellian Trade Spine.
Lortu was the eighth planet discovered along that route by a combined Coruscanti-Corellian team. That first contact almost led to war when the army of the then ruling Ever living charged the ship. The Coruscanti commander thought little of the attack. The stone, sharpened wood, and tooth encrusted weapons could not penetrate the ship, and the team merely stayed inside the ship until the attacks finally stopped. When communication was finally established, the Ever-living demanded that the ship surrender. instead the ship emplaced a Hyper cannon matrix and departed out-galaxy.
Trade was finally opened fifty years ago with the assistance of a Monk of the Monastery of Jedi. The Lortu promised to trade Darson wood and Pipalli for technology transfers from such corporations as Czerka of Coruscant the chartered Tokara Company of Coruscant and Merr-Sohn Munitions of Corellia, though they only purchased licensing rights for local manufacture.
Fifteen years ago it was discovered that Borogor the then seated Ever-living was not using all of this technology to bring his society up to the standards of other planets. Rather he was using it to develop weapons for conquest. A monk of the Monastery of Jedi asked to mediate a trade dispute with the neighboring system Duloc and Lortu revealed this. The horror of the civilized Galaxy did nothing to stop that conquest.
The Corellian Navy was ceded control of the hyper-cannon network within the Lortu system to forestall further attempts using the existing hyper space cannon when it was discovered that the Coruscanti corporate operators of the local matrix had been bought by the Lortu with bribes of vouchers used to purchase Darson wood and Pipalli at government regulated prices, a tenth of their sale price to corporations, and one hundredth of their value upon resale. It was the biggest scandal in Coruscanti history, causing the collapse of the government. The embargo did not stop the attempts by Lortu to expand. They had already bought the technology of the Hyper-cannon, and built a second competing system inside the Sondiraco system which allows them to bypass restrictions on the original Hyper-cannon system. They emplaced mines which were under their control forcing ships to either risk damage or use their own system and pay duties on cargos shipped through their system. They have conquered the Berodilo system nearby, but there are no other systems close enough to attack from either Lortu or their conquests where they will not face superior firepower except for the Shirrazu system, holding the planet of Echana.
Nine years ago, on the rise of Sogor to Ever-living, the Lortuai attempted to annex Echana, but the invasion was easily defeated, even though at the time Echana was considered a nonexistent military power. Sogor has concentrated on Echana as a system he must have, and a low intensity conflict is ongoing...
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Second edition
The transfer of the prisoner was easy. At the same time that Holani was paying for her room, and buying a ticket to travel to Berogol, the next planet beyond Lortu, Breia was sedated packaged and immersed into a tank of live Tanif bound for the same destination. A Hutt transport which arrived took the consignment and passenger aboard, and when they arrived in Lortu, they were removed.
You regret your choices. While your father has forgiven you, it will not return you home. Another must do that.
Holani remembered the angry look on her father’s face, the shocked look on her mother’s. The money and jewelry she had been accused of stealing. Above all the sanctimonious smirk of that damned Jedi Monk. She’d run away, stolen some money, stowed away. Vowed that if she was thought a thief, she might as well be one. The name she had once cherished, Organa, heir apparent to the throne, was cast away with her old life. Now her last name changed as often as her employers and her missions. She was called a lot of things now. Every nickname attributed to her was of something sleek fast and in most cases deadly. Her skill were great enough that she could command top credit if she was called, and she had never failed to complete a mission.
But that wasn’t without price. Five years of espionage murder and crime had marked the child she had been in ways her father would never understand and even if he had accepted her innocence of that initial charge she was not the hurt and angry girl she had been.
Holani felt even worse when she saw how her prisoner had been transported. She stood there as the capsule Biare had been stuffed in was cranked out of the tank, and deposited on the deck by grinning Lortuai. One of them opened the casket, and roughly injected the unconscious woman. Holani wanted to object, but the rank tabs on the little monster were of a Su-tai, equivalent to a Corellian Commander. Her own rank as a spy was just above a Merchant.
“Wake up.” The Su-tai leaned forward, and slapped the slowly rousing woman sharply. Holani pictured killing the little creep. It wouldn’t save Breia any pain, but it would be a pleasant sight to take into death with her.
Breia rolled onto her hands and knees, then vomited all over the Su-tai’s leggings and boots. As much as it looked like an accident, Holani caught the savage grin the woman hid when wiping her mouth.
Guards dragged the woman to her feet, and one of them pointed. “Both of you, go!”
Holani steadied the woman as they walked. “You have a way of getting even that is sublime.”
“Isn’t it just?” Breia whispered. “Think of what I have in store for you.”
“I will accept it when it comes. I owe you more than that. Anything you do to me is richly deserved.”
They were chivvied along to a car, and driven toward the massive pyramid shape of Sogor’s palace. A couple of new structures were going up, and Holani stared at them. “What are those?”
Breia seemed to listen. “The workers speak of forges of massive size.” She snorted. “Obviously he seems to think that I can be coerced.” Breia looked at the other woman in her uncanny way. “Why are you still here? I know you have already been paid. Why are you not off ruining someone else’s life?”
“I don’t know.” Holani whispered back. “I can’t just leave you here. It’s my fault that you will be tormented, and I... I can‘t live with that. If there is a way to free you someone must be outside to plan it.”
“Now she gets remorseful.” Breia snorted. “Maybe next time you ask me how to do it?”
The car arrived at the palace, and the women walked up the steps. Guards stood every few meters, eyes watching them balefully as they went on. The massive doors of the throne room opened, and before them across an expanse of crimson tile was the throne. Sogor was bouncing up and down on it like a demented jack in the box.
Holani stepped back, allowing Breia to walk alone as they approached the throne. “She must show proper respect!” Sogor roared. A guard stepped out, clipping the blind woman across the back of her knees, dropping her to the floor. Sogor snorted in satisfaction, then looked at Holani. “As you have promised. Go with my blessing.”
“Please.” Holani raised a hand. “I have come to learn of this woman, and my offices can be used to aid in her redemption.”
“I think not.” Sogor motioned, and her own voice rang from the air.
“...I can’t just leave you here. It’s my fault that you will be tormented, and I... I can‘t live with that. If there is a way to free you someone must be outside to plan it...”
Before she could move Holani was thrown to the ground, her arms bound. Sogor stood walking down to stand over her. “My blessing is always saved for the dying. You will join them at my pleasure.” He kicked her in the face, then turned away as Holani was dragged out.
“As for you, master smith. You will teach my smiths your secret or you will suffer.”
“I think not.” Breia started to rise, and Sogor put his foot in her back, slamming her back to the tile.
“I will have your skin ripped a centimeter strip at a time if you speak to me again!”
“And what if doing so destroys my abilities, you moron?” Breia asked in a conversational tone. “Do you even know what magic i work with steel? Is it something that my mood will affect? Or my physical well being? Which is more important to you, the weapons you demand or the pleasure of my screams?”
Sogor stepped back. “Put this filth in my cells. If she does not relent, I will use that condemned one to convince her of how serious I am.”
“Now, come, and briefing I will give.”
He led the pilot back into the mess deck, where he started a hologram. A flat topped pyramid rotated before them. “Palace of the Ever-living this is. Weapons many, but here is way in secret.” A small red dot flashed, and the hologram zoomed. There was a tunnel running deep into the pyramid, with a flashing area near the center. “This prison area is. Prisoners here will be held. The one we seek is in this room.” A clawed finger marked one of the small compartments.
Darshan looked at the hologram. “How wide is this way?”
“Fifty meters wide and tall.”
“How could something this big be a secret?”
“Lortu mind makes it so.”
“Wait a minute, that doesn’t answer the question. fifty meters square, half a kilometer long. How the hell can that be invisible?”
“Lortu only what is important sees. This path waste from Sogor’s palace is used for. Toilets and trash do go here.”
“Wait a minute. It’s the sewer chute?” At Dor’s nod, Darshan laughed helplessly. “Well, if I have to end up where it’s brown and smelly, at least I have a ship to sail that creek in!”
Dor looked at him. “Humor humans have none. Now...”
The Han Calrissian came out of hyperspace. Ahead at ten AU was a bleak planet. Darshan looked at the globe, snorting. “Why can’t the bad guys live on a beautiful planet instead of some slimeball?”
Dor shrugged. In the last week he and Darshan had come to a truce. Dor would stop telling him about his destiny, if Darshan would supply tea and stop asking questions he could not answer.
“When find on pleasure world an enemy, you I will contact.” Dor promised.
The ship drifted silently as the sensors scanned all frequencies. What people didn’t know was that since a space ship required communication and detection of possible dangers, even the simplest adjustment of the operational parameters could turn that around and use it as an undetectable scanning device. The radar frequencies and ranges were mapped. Communications between the ground bases and the fighters that swept their skies were recorded, analyzed and plotted. For once Darshan was happy to have a droid around because only A1A7 had the patience to do it all.
Finally Darshan had it all down. His insertion orbit was laid in, and he sat in the command chair, ready.
“So tell me.” Darshan asked, nudging the controls so the ship began to drift forward. “Why is this mission so important to you?”
Dor sat looking toward the planet. For a long moment, Darshan thought he wouldn’t answer. “Lortu traded because convinced them I did. Saw within them darkness, but thought it was minor. Something grow out of they would. But wrong was I.” He looked down. “Foolish I was. Fifteen years ago mistake was dark with fruit. Lortuai evil spread. Duloc conquered. Millions died. Berodilo then was taken. Millions more. All deaths, all pain my fault.”
Dor stared up at the young man. “Think young one. To be millions of deaths, hundreds of millions of suffering the one to blame. Save these women limit the workings of Sogor I must.”
“So you’re powers don’t make you perfect?”
Dor snorted. “Power responsibility begets but beings still are they as before. Evil in all, restraint of evil best goal. Use wrong causes pain. Those of us that learn sometimes darkness have. Those that do, we must follow and stop. Balance maintain I must. My acts unbalance, restore my acts must.” He looked back at the planet. “Sogor student was. Evil has he done. Came home before father war began. Pushed to make this empire. Killed father when failed he did.”
“Wait. This Sogor was a student of your order?”
“Surprised you are? Think you what value this be if evil you are.” He waved at the ship. “Superior it is to all. Until drive created again, raid you could. Take millions. Escape no one follow can.”
“But this isn’t my ship! I’m just a pilot.”
“Difference is between you and Sogor. He pilot of Force, but see it as his to use as he will. Stop him I must.”
“Great. So we have to save these two women, stop this guy, and by that I think you mean kill him.“ Dor nodded sadly. “It’s hopeless. Are we going to live through this?”
“Ambiguous question is. Remember always, life permanent is not. No one in long run survives.”
The planet had systems for detecting approaches by ships, but it had a blind spot as most did. Anything unpowered object traveling below ten kilometers a second was labeled as an asteroid, and ignored. Weighing less than 50 tons, the ship was scanned and catalogued as such as it plummeted into the atmosphere. The ship raced across the sky until it was beyond the range of the ground based sensors of the Palace complex. At that point, Darshan brought up the lift and drives, coming out of the dive and rocketing along the surface of the ocean at low speed. He was flying at zero altitude, faster than anyone would have imagined on this little planet, and this part at least he loved. Nothing pleased him more than seat of the pants flying. He grumbled as they approached the palace, having to drop to the same speed as an air car on his home world.
The pyramid bulked ahead of him, and he inched lower as he approached. “There.” Dor said. Darshan could see the passageway, barely ten meters larger that the wingspan of the ship. The ship slid into the hole. Darshan was in his element. He’d always wanted to try flying something this tight, and disconnecting the collision and proximity alarms had been a big help.
The ship slowed, and settled, the skids sinking into something he’d rather not think about. Dor had told him that the palace had 20,000 residents. He mentally figured how much waste that was of every type, and wrinkled his nose at the thought. No Solo is every going to have to do something this disgusting ever again!
“Now, your tool we have need of.”
Darshan figured it out, and sighed. His multitool had been a gift from his mother when he’d gone to college. It could slice cable, strip it for connections, weld them firmly, and allow him to work on micro-circuitry. He wasn’t sure if removing the screws from the grate was on the list but as it dropped to squelch in the muck, he knew he’d have to add that to the list.
Holani stared at the wall. Her back was a mass of pain as the torturers began flaying her slowly in strips. Her teeth bit, and she tasted blood. She steeled herself not to scream. Yet when something burned into the wound she couldn’t help herself.
Breia moved slowly, the rhythm of the dance of death, even without a sword in hand was unhurried, casual to those that only watched. But every move she knew would bring death or salvation if she ever held a sword again. Forgive me Echana. My worst fears are realized, death will be mine soon enough, and I do not even have the means to properly pray, She thought. [i]Is my life worth the pain of the woman in the next cell?[/]
She had been trying to sleep when the screams began a short time ago. With her extraordinary hearing she could see the knives cutting flesh, feel it ripping free. There were taunting demands, telling her that the pain would stop if only briefly if she begged Breia to surrender.
Yet while she screamed, cried out in her anguish, the words they demanded never came.
So strong of will she is Breia thought. I know he will never let her go. Will kill her by centimeters if I do not submit. My death is ordained as is hers. Only the manner now remains. Do I have the strength of will to die so she might die a merciful death?
She had not told the woman of the coins she had in her pocket. Soo-ti taught how to throw any object with deadly accuracy. She could kill the first guard through the door, then charge them. No one would expect a blind woman to fight back. If she could lay her hand on a sword she would teach them master lessons in Mah-rehal, the ‘dance with eyes closed’ before they killed her.
But that would only be an option if she could send Holani on her way first.
The grating slid aside, and Darshan stuck his head up. “I never pictured me breaking into jail. Breaking out is more my style.”
“Not good at it were you.”
Darshan looked back into the hole, then climbed out. “So you know about that?”
“Behave your self than you should.” Dor stuck his head up. That way they are.”
“Right-o.” Darshan walked down the hall, freezing as he looked into one of the cells.
The Lortu were hominids with tightly curled fur standing about as tall as Darshan’s 1.75 meters. He knew without any closer examination that this being would never stand again. That was the least of his injuries. “What kind of monster does this to people?” He whispered in horror.
“Kind that his own superiority assumes.” Dor said. “Help him we cannot. Hurry we must .”
“I can open the cell, put him out of his misery at least.” Darshan protested.
“And what of hundreds more here?” Dor asked gently. “Every door behind is more horror. Days we do not have.”
Darshan shook his head, and followed. He refused every desire to look.
Sogor paced angrily. Something didn’t feel right. Something was out there, something that would end his reign if he wasn’t careful.
The pacing slowed. Some-
He spun, calling for his Ever Living Guard. The best warriors of his world. They charged toward the cells ten floors below.
The halls seemed endless. The design used every available space, halls formed it into separate boxes with dozens of cells on each stretch left and right, other halls every fifty meters. Pain and suffering cubed and neatly organized. Darshan considered what would happen if he flared the engines on the way out, vented half a ton of fuel as plasma. Would it reach up high enough to put all of these poor people out of their pain? or merely make it worse?
He heard something, and stopped. “What was that?”
“Torture done is. One we seek to save they do this to.”
Darshan felt something give inside him. He was moving fast, suddenly he was running. One cell ahead of him was open, and he heard a gruff laugh from within, a whine of someone in unspeakable pain.
He rounded the door, and even as he plunged forward his eyes recorded it all. The woman held against the wall with manacles, her back a bloody ruin. A face he saw only in profile tugging at his heart, two Lortu turning stupidly as he charged forward.
He slammed one against the wall, feeling bones snap, not caring if they were his or the enemies. The multitool snapped out, the other Lortu falling, blood geysering from his throat.
Then it arched back, the Lortu in front of him spasming as the multitool punched into his head so that the handle stuck out.
Darshan followed the body down, suddenly wanting to scream as he felt his dislocated shoulder. He knelt, wanting to vomit, wanting to scream in joy that he was still alive, and the others were dead. He gagged fighting the natural reaction.
“At least miss my legs if you can.” The woman gasped.
“We’re here to rescue you.” Darshan gritted out, standing. Her eye looked at him.
“Dislocated your shoulder?”
“How did you know?”
“I’ve had it done. My luck I have a klutz for a knight in shining armor. Next time maybe you should plan the operation better. If I‘m still alive I can give you a few pointers.” She winced as she laughed, gasping in pain. “I think maybe you should hurry. But that’s just me talking.”
Darshan reached down, and the multitool came out of the corpse’s head. He wiped it off on the dead man’s clothes, adjusted the tool option, then leaned up, wincing as overstressed tendons stretched to unlock the right manacle. The woman flinched as her arm dropped. He moved past her and started on the opposite manacle. The left arm dropped as well. He dropped to his knees, attacking the ankle cuffs.
She tried to laugh, wincing in pain, but humor was in her voice. “My fondest dream, to have a man at my feet on his knees.” She shook her head as the cuffs fell away. “Not as good as the fantasy.”
“Give me time, I grow on you.”
“I am not a tree, and you’re not moss.” She turned around, then caught his hanging arm. Before he could do anything She whipped it out, set her foot in his armpit, and pulled.
Darshan started to scream. then he stopped. He swung the arm experimenting. “You reset it!”
“Said it had been done to me.” She looked toward the door where Dor stood. “Whose the little friend?”
“Dor of Monastery of Jedi am.”
“Jedi?” She shook her head. “As if the situation isn’t bad enough!”
“Why do you say that?” Darshan asked.
“I left home because of one of them.” Holani said in her fury. “One minute my father loves me, the next every little thing they thought I did is laid out like a trial.”
“Holani name yours is?” Dor nodded. “Young one did arbitrate. Learned lies and accepted truth they were. Others followed and proved innocent you were.”
“So one of you condemns me another exonerates me!” She winced as she felt a laugh bubble up. “My luck runneth over.”
“Hey, you were on my list to be rescued, so give us some thanks, okay?” Darshan said. “Where’s the other one?”
Both Holani and Dor pointed to the wall. “In there. Go first this time I must.”
The door slid open, and Breia felt with that sense she had discovered. The half credit coin lay in her hand, 20 grams of metal, enough to crack a skull at this range. But the figure merely stood there. “You to rescue have we come.”
She laughed. “Right.”
Trust us you do not. Understand I do. Listen to Holani will you?”
Breia stood slowly. Holani came rushing in, and Breia hugged her. She felt the woman wince, and her hands could feel ragged tears in her skin.
“No time for that. Let’s get the hell out of here then we’ll both cry until our eyes dry up.”
They hurried down the hall. Suddenly Breia whirled, a coin flashing from her hand, and they stared at the soldier that staggered into the wall, blood pumping from the wound in his head as he collapsed. Before anyone could stop her, Breia ran back, snatching a sword and a pistol from his belt. She was grinning when she rejoined them, handing the gun to Holani.
Darshan reached the grate, and lowered Dor first. Then he handed down Breia, then Holani before following.
Dor motioned, stopping the others, and moved down to the grating they had merely jammed back in place. There was grumbling, and his eyes tightened. He moved back up to them.
“Guards there are below.” He whispered.
“I knew that might happen.” Darshan sighed. “People will forget their prejudice when someone screams loud enough at them.”
“Considered this I did not.”
“Good thing I did.” Darshan lifted his com link. “A1, emergency start. vent plasma.” He ducked, and everyone else did the same as there was a blast of light and heat from below, followed by screams. When the sound died, Dor moved carefully to the grate. The blast of heat had been sufficient to melt the weapons of the guards around the ship into puddles, and Dor leaped down past them. The mass of fecal matter had been turned into a crackling dust, and they coughed as they staggered across it. The ship, still sealed, sat in the middle of a lot of carbonized people. The ramp came down at Darshan’s command, and they ran aboard.
Breia spun on the ramp just as shots rang out, and Dor staggered. Three bullets whined into the darkness as she deflected them away. The firing stopped as the Guard stood stunned. Holani spun, her gun tracking, and she returned fire at the group that had been far enough back to escape immolation. “Get us out of here!” she screamed.
Darshan caught the little being, lugging him aboard. He dropped him in the mess hall, threw a med kit to Holani, and ran forward. He could hear bullets like a lethal hail slamming into the hull, and he slapped the controls, lifting the ship. He started to spin it, stopping when he realized that it was too long to fit. He jacked up the nose, dropping the tail, and the ship spun in place with centimeters to spare. Then he goosed the engine, the ship leaping forward as those behind them died in a massive fireball.
If someone had told Darshan that he would fly at high speed down a corridor this small, he would have told them they were insane. Yet flight was their only option, and the faster the better. They bulleted out of the tunnel as all of the waste dust in the air ignited. As the ship rose toward the heavens they missed the explosion that first lifted the building as if it were a toy, then leveled the pyramid.
They screamed out of atmosphere, the nose aimed at the Corellian hyper cannon. Alarms screamed at Darshan as he saw fighters, old L7 Tomcats that were obsolete on Coruscant, but deadly enough to kill an unarmed ship. One of them fired, and the ship staggered as the Nav-computer blew up.
Aft Breia despaired for the little being that had led her rescue. She couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. Dor’s eyes opened, and he looked around wildly. “Forward I must go.”
“We can’t move you, you’ll die!”
“Dead am I already. All will die if forward I do not go.”
Holani caught him up, staggering forward as the ship seemed to try to fly up it’s own butt. She collapsed into the copilot’s seat, bringing a grunt from the injured monk.
“Trust me you must, Darshan. Turn over to me navigation.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Unless pain you enjoy, do this.”
Darshan hissed, flicking the switches. “All yours!”
“Fly toward farthest cannon. Vector to home is there.”
Darshan shrugged. The com panel flashed and he slapped it. “Not now I’m kind of busy.”
“Dor, my old friend. We meet again.” A voice answered.
Darshan rolled the ship, a fighter coming up from behind dodged to avoid ramming. “Who ever you are this is a really bad time.”
“Sogor it is.” Dor husked. “Redemption you want my student?” His fingers flickered across the keyboard, eyes tightly shut.
“Don’t be naive. If only you knew the power I have gained since I left.”
“Since thrown out you were.” Dor snapped. He paused, then his fingers again began their desperate tapping.
“I will spare your lives if you return. That ship is worth more than the Echani slut and that failed spy.”
“This ship you will not have.” Dor said. “If my death is needed to stop you.”
“And theirs?” Sogor was amused. Darshan caught a motion, and saw one of the fighters paralleling him. “To fly without the stricture of the cannon. Will Echana be able to stop my next invasion?”
“Tell you a secret I will.” Dor answered. “Invasion, happen will not.” He hit a last button, then his fist came down on the red initiate button.
Sogor screamed as the ship leaped into hyper and away. He vented his spleen for a few seconds too long. As he spun to return, the mines around him detonated, turning his ship into shards that continued into deep space.
“Dor, come on, you can’t die!” Darshan screamed as he carried the being back to the mess deck. While they had been busy forward, Breia had gathered every scrap of medical equipment aboard. The body was set gently on the table, his cloak ripped open, and Darshan worked to save his life.
“Stop my son.” Dor whispered. He motioned to Breia. “Tell you all things I must. Blind one, see with your ears and heart you do. Will for me do something?”
“My people believe that a debt must outweigh all wants. Ask.”
“Travel to Ossus. Speak with masters of the order you must. Your skill great. Your heart pure. Aid them in learning, for those you meet will hear metal’s song.”
“How did you know...”
“Matters not, explanation no time for. Young girl. Listen to me will you?”
Holani leaned forward. “Choice you have. Home you can return.”
“I can’t. I have become worse than my father thought I was. I can never forgive myself.”
“Forget. Father redeems you if you ask. If home you will not go, speak with Darshan. Corellia use some one like you can. Knowledge of dark paths necessary in coming years. Accept you they will at his word.”
“I will think about it.”
“Honorable your last name is on Alderaan. Return to it you must. Evil you have done fades with time” The woman bit her lip, and nodded.
“Darshan, for your ears alone last is.” Darshan knelt, and Dor whispered.
Darshan leaned back. “You’re joking.”
“Teach you humor not my place. Humor is self evident. May the force be...” Dor leaned back. The table felt soft for some reason. He saw a lambent thread leading back to his home world, felt it touch another of his race. The monastery was not yet strong enough to stand without their aid. He wanted to go home, and felt that he would. He pushed himself to his feet, shrugged off the hands that held him down, and began to walk.
Darshan closed the sightless eyes. Holani was holding Breia, both women weeping. Darshan lifted the limp form, placing it in one of the bunks, then walked forward.
Koori tore his hair. He had sent messages down every trade route he knew, worked feverishly to try to figure where Darshan might have been taken. If only he had gone with him-
The communicator bleeped and he slapped it, “Don’t bother me!”
“Student Deralo, Han Calrissian has returned to the system, Darshan reports that there was a malfunction. The ship traveled from here to Lortu and back in seventeen days.”
“Seventeen days! Thats- wait a minute. Where the hell is Lortu?”
The press was there to greet them as the good ship Han Calrissian settled down on the tarmac. The hatch came down, and every voice died as two women came down the ramp, followed by Darshan. He cradled a body gently in his arms, walking slowly as the women spread out to show a united front.
Koori ran forward, then stopped as he saw the figure. “That’s the monk, Der or Dir-”
“Dor.” Darshan said. He looked down at the peaceful face. “He had a mission for the monastery, and hijacked the ship to complete it. We rescued these women from Lortu.”
“Where the hell is Lortu!” Koori almost screamed.
“Down past Kinyen on the Trade Spine.”
“But that’s-” Koori stared. “Half way across the galaxy! In just over two weeks?”
“Both ways.” Darshan pushed through the silent crowd. An ambulance was parked there just in case, and Darshan lay the body on the gurney. “Notify the Monastery of his death. Ask what they want to do with his remains.”
“No.” Breia walked forward, hand resting on the gurney. “I need transport. I will take his body home as he asked me to.”
“This is a citizen of Echana, kidnapped by the Lortuai.” Darshan told Koori. “and this-”
“I am Holani Organa.” Holani said. “My father is the younger brother of the Alderaan king.”
Darshan’s eyebrow crooked. “She had been captured too.” He looked at the waiting press beings. “Ladies and gentleman, I am hot, tired, and need about eight hours sleep before they debrief me. Will you allow me that before you start asking questions?” He held out a hand to each woman, leading them to a car. Koori followed, a terrier after a mastiff, jumping into the jump seat as the car roared off.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again!” He said.
“Oh, here.” Darshan pulled out the box of cookies. Koori held it to his chest as if it were a sacred icon, then opened it.
“Wait! My cookies!” He reached in taking the last cookie from the box.
“Friend, the next time you send me off to the back of beyond, make sure they put enough food for four in it, okay? We were down to cookies and tea by the time we landed.”
Darshan leaned back, looking at Holani. He remembered Dor’s last words.
[i]Home she will go only if you with her go. Support she will need, and loving attention, for belongs there she does not. Take care of her you should. Depends the future on you. Wife she will become. Descendants of you both shall free the Galaxy some day.[/]
The woman stood on the stone of the courtyard, her face turned up as if to gaze at the stars. Now she knew her destiny. The people of the temple needed one such as her. Dor had been correct, for a dozen in the Monasteries had already proven to be adept.
But there was so much more they needed to learn. More that she was uniquely qualified to teach. To teach them to use senses other than their eyes in a fight. To teach them to forge the weapons she could make. To teach them all the intricacies of the dance of death, and when to invoke it.
The stars were still there. Now, using some of what she had learned in her brief time here, she could feel the life of them. So many worlds, so many peoples. Good and bad. But now she knew she did not have to reach them herself to know satisfaction. Her students would.
Solo, Darshan: Corellian citizen. Pilot of the first ship using an integral hyper drive. His first flight is still shrouded in secrecy. The ship was supposed to travel to Brentaal, but instead traveled to Lortu, proving the capability of the system more thoroughly.
Solo took a sabbatical from his school work to escort Holani Organa to Alderaan. The woman’s parents, in line for the throne, were happy to see her, however the life of a court dilettante did not suit her. She asked Solo to escort her back to his home world.
On Corellia she first renounced all claim to the throne for herself and any children, then returned to work for the Corellian Navy in classified operations. All work she has done for them are still under seal and will remain there for a minimum of 100 standard years after her death. A year after they arrived, she married Darshan. As of this printing they have a boy named Koori and are expecting their second, a girl in the next year. They have already announced that this one will be named Breia.
Solo completed his college work, and talked his long time friend Koori Deralo into going into business together. They founded Corellian Engineering Corporation with Darshan as chief test pilot and Koori as the head of research and development. The first of their designs, the YT01 was a light freighter with a unique flat disc design allowing it maximum maneuverability. the YT01 was purchased by many planets needing small cargo vessels, and has been purchased by the navies of fifteen systems to date for use as customs patrol vessels. The design is easily converted to military use with the addition of blaster cannon on the dorsal and ventral faces, and there are hard points in the existing design to hold heavier cannon when they become available.
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Second edition.
Sookor Bai Echana, Breia: Human female, Native of Echana.
Called the “Master Smith’ by the Echani, Breia Sookor Bai Echana is credited with the very rare ‘mother blades’ that were manufactured briefly on that planet.
Blinded at the age of five, she spent her life learning how to form steel, and the ‘mother blades’ she made for the Echana-Lortu war which have a monomolecular hand formed edge are highly prized to this day.
She is also the creator of the sword fighting style known as Mah-rehal, the ‘dance with eyes closed’ where the student is taught how to wield a blade, yet must do it with eyes covered. Few master this art, and until a few years ago she was the most efficient practitioner of the art.
This has changed due to circumstance. During the last year of the Echana-Lortu war, Breia was kidnapped by the Lortuai who hoped to gain the knowledge of the forming of mother blade. She was rescued by Darshan Solo, Holani Organa, and Padawan-teacher Dor of the Monastery of the Jedi. In their escape Padawan teacher Dor was killed. Sogor the conqueror attempted to bring down the hyper-drive ship Han Calrissian but died in the minefield surrounding the Corellian Hyper-cannon which was emplaced near his planet. His death and the accidental destruction of the Palace complex by what is now believed to be a dust explosion devastated the theocracy that had existed up until that time. The occupied planets of Duloc and Berodilo immediately revolted, and the insurgency goes on to this day.
In repayment of her debt to her rescuers, Breia traveled to the Monastery of the Jedi mother monastery on Ossus, where she joined the order. Her swords are now made only for members of the order, and other Jedi smiths have discovered her secret which is kept jealously guarded. They have also incorporated the training of Mah-rehal into their training regimen making them feared foes in combat.
Monastery, Jedi Of: While the editors assumed that nothing of consequence would he discovered abut the Jedi within a decade, the incorporation of Jedi blades as they have come to be called, and learning the skills of Mah-rehal , the ‘dance with eyes closed’ has made them a force to be reckoned with. The opening of a new monastery on Corellia last year was witnessed by Darshan and Holani Solo this last year along with their two children Koori aged two, and Breia, five months old.
Padawan Teacher Breia Sookor Bai Echana was on hand to commemorate the Monastery, and it is believed that she will become Master of this newest Monastery.
At that time, she gifted the planet of Corellia with an Echani ritual brand named Freedom from Tyranny which was donated to the Galactic Museum that is being built. Her gifting speech thanked both Darshan and Holani Solo for their efforts in her rescue. A small mishap occurred when Breia tripped at the opening ceremony, causing the glass she held full of Corellian Summer wine to spill down the dress of Holani Solo ruining it. While known for her temper, Holani began to laugh, and went the entire day with her stained dress as if it were a badge of honor.
In return, Darshan Solo gifted the order with a brand new YT07 class light freighter which he named after the fastest native bird of Echana, the newly verified Millennium Falcon...
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Third edition
Falcon, Millennium: Bird native to planet Echana.
Size: Seven meters in length, wingspan fifteen meters. Mass, 60 kilos full grown.
Population: Assumed to be less than 10,000 planet wide.
The name was given to this rare bird because of it’s long maturation cycle. The Millennium Falcon has a lifespan which is over a thousand years. They are not often seen except for at a distance and for a long time have been considered only the fantasy of those that have reported seeing them. For ninety odd years they have been considered an omen of good luck. Seeing one is considered a blessing of Echana herself. Viewing one more than once, which happens so rarely that only fifty of the inhabitants can truthfully claim it, is proof of true favor and the person is considered lucky from that point on
They are the fastest known bird in the galaxy achieving 600 kilometers per hour in level flight, and capable of Mach two in a hunting dive. They have easily outrun or avoid civilian air cars, and because of this capability, only long distance photos which had been assumed to be fakes have been taken until two years ago when an adult millennium falcon was accidentally killed in a mid air collision with a military fighter near the village of Brahival on the newly settled second continent. They were later found to live in the tallest mountain range on the planet, the Spinar Range which reaches to 11 kilometers in altitude.
Most knowledge of their life cycle is conjecture, however examination of the bones of the dead animal was able to ascertain the length of their lifespan.
Their diet consists of other much smaller birds, fish, and animals massing less than ten kilos since their unique honeycomb structured bones while strong will not carry much additional weight. They can store food for several weeks if need be and because of their slow metabolism are believed to eat only once a week.
Their size would be an impediment in the lowlands, because a millennium falcon can only gain enough speed for take off by either dropping from a height, or a run of several hundred meters. It has been postulated that if a millennium falcon were fenced in it would be unable to gain enough speed for launch.
Upon discovery, the government in a rare move passed a law forbidding any attempts to capture or kill the animals, and attempts to take eggs either for study, breeding or off planet for sale have been dealt with severely.
Last year a geosynchronous satellite was emplaced, and thousand unsuspected nests have been discovered. Ornithologists who study the birds are restricted from approaching within one kilometer of a known nest and have been forcibly evicted from blinds that approach or are found to be within that limit of any new nest discovered. Autopsies are allowed only on birds that have died of natural causes, and except for the initial victim of the collision, there are no displays of the animal anywhere in the galaxy.
They live exclusively in the recently surveyed Spinar mountains of the planet Echana, and nest high in these forbidding massifs. Little is known about their mating and life cycles because they are shy creatures and shun contact.
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Third edition
Exploration, Galactic: The development of hyper-drive capable ships has had no direct impact on the Hyper-cannon network as yet. Even as CEC and Kuat shipyards began turning out such ships, the process of slowly expansion using hyper-cannon has still continued. All five of the great trade routes were well established long before the Hyper-drive ships made a serious impact.
Fully 400 planets and over a hundred races have been discovered, and commerce has bound us together. The companies and Corporations have carried the brunt of the cost of such ventures. Frankly no government could afford the expense except in the long term and most planets that have Corporations have given them wide latitude in dealings with the systems they have discovered.
They faced terrible dangers out there. Hostile alien species, deadly animals, planets where nothing lived. They also faced the rare race which had achieved local space travel and had a bent for piracy.
In reaction, the Coruscanti Trade Authority was the first to authorize defensive armament of ships registered on Coruscant. This was followed by a dozen other planetary governments deciding to follow suit.
However this posed a problem for the planets that either did not have their own ships, or feared invasion. How could they know that the ship that arrived as actually a merchant with a slight amount of Paranoia and not an invader?
Five years ago, the major planets of the trade routes met on Corellia, and that year, the Galactic Trade Authority was created. A combining of the older planetary bodies, it sent listings of corporations and companies that had armed vessels, the numbers, types, and armaments. It reached the point that the largest armed navy in known space belonged to the Tokara Company of Coruscant. The first actual hyper-drive ’war’ occurred when ships from two rival companies met in the Naboo system. The armed merchant vessel Frisia of the Twi-Leki Sulorio Corporation laid claim to the planet at the same time that the Hutt Trade Alliance vessel Chaamagki did.
The battle lasted seconds. According to the flight recorders, Frisia opened fire with concussion missiles, Chaamagki returned fire. Neither ship survived. Over 400 beings were killed. The trade vessel Coruscanti Sheen of the Tokara Company discovered the wreckage a week later when they arrived to claim the planet. The ongoing trade war between the two corporations has driven both into bankruptcy.
Such things were not merely left to lie. Struggling to make the most profit is understandable, but fighting over it was considered a bit much. Those planets with defensive navies began to build up their forces and extended patrols into nearby systems. Then the planets agreed on simple rules of engagement. They would patrol systems they considered of vital interest, and warship captains were ordered to refrain from conflict unless attacked, or going to the assistance of ships that had been.
The first Frigates, two hundred meter long engines of destruction were designed. Unlike the earlier vessels, these were built from the keel out with hyper-drive capability.
What the hyper-drive ships did affect however, was the speed with which troubles could begin. When a military force had to push it’s way through junctions, and hyper-cannon could be readily destroyed, even the attempts of those such as Sogor of Lortu were doomed to failure in time. With ships that no longer needed cannon, an invasion force could leap straight to the throat of a rival planet. It had been hoped that such would never occur. That the sheer distance would deter hostile entities but this has not occurred.
Last year a brief war between the Corellia and Coruscant in the Sullust system ended. It was believed that the Catharia Corporation of Corellia had attempted a Corporate takeover of the planet. The Tokara company of Coruscant had been trading with the native Sullust and resisted. The unarmed ship Tokara Star was destroyed by the Catharia corporation fleet though they later denied it. Both Corella and Coruscant sent warships in, and fighting broke out when the Tokara Company freighter Tokara Venture reported that they were under attack by Corellian fighters. Both fleets raced to the scene.
No one is sure who fired the first shot. The Corellian escort Shantil reported missiles coming from the region of the Coruscanti fleet at the same time that the Coruscanti escort Surprise did. The fleets opened fire for ten fateful minutes before order could be restored. Five escort and frigate class ships, two Coruscanti, three Corellian were destroyed. However the war ended when Admiral Bono Antilles of Coruscant met with Admiral Freido Dodonna of Corella face to face. The navies retreated away from each other, and the Sullust system was declared a protectorate with both navies patrolling separate sections of the system. This status would last until the Sullust develop or purchase enough ships to protect themselves. Tokara Company has offered to supply snub fighters to the Sullust, and with the permission of their government, offered escort class warships as well. Catharia Corporation has protested, claiming the entire incident had been caused by an attack by Tokara, but since the only ship lost belonged to Tokara, and was not on the armed vessel list, they have been ignored...
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Fifth edition
The jungles stank, there was no other way to describe it. The managing officer of the Tokara Company Caral Santee hissed as the stench raced into his opening shuttle. Meera was not turning out to be a plum assignment. He stormed through the deadfall, passing the stumps of trees that had been harvested to clear the site of the new super hotel that had been planned. Off in the distance, the tallest waterfall so far in the galaxy thundered.
Closer was his target, the huddle of earth movers and excavators that should have been clearing the second hundred hectare area where the landing fields would be placed. The crew were around their huge machines, and too many of the side panels were open for the MO to feel comfortable. The planted saplings that surrounded the machines was a dead give away to what had happened.
Cor Faslan, Construction boss saw his superior coming, and wiped his hands on a rag. This was the fifth time in as many days that the damn natives had disabled the equipment. The building schedule was shot, probably for good this time.
“Report.” Santee demanded.
“They ripped out the molycircs along with the initiator plugs this time.” Cor reported. Santee glared into the opened panel before him.
The machines were idiot simple. After all with the labor they hired it had to be. Faslan was an architect, and smart, but the quality of his crew plummeted when you got below the shift foremen. He could see where the precious molecular circuitry runs had been ripped out, the entire runs missing. Even with the replacement of the initiator plugs the damn things were still disabled. Without molycircs the things were lumps of metal that had to be hand controlled rather than run by the sophisticated computer interfaces.
“How long to get back in operation?”
Faslan stared at him as if he’d just heard a dog talk. “Boss, we don’t have enough molycircs in stock to repair this! We have enough to get one and only one machine in operation. And that is still enroute.” He waved toward the coastal base they had set up three years before. “Figure another hour before it gets here, two more to install and test. We’re talking tomorrow. Assuming the bastards don’t do it again tonight.”
Santee wanted to scream, but the Construction boss was right. Molycircs didn’t break down, at least not in less than a century or more of constant use. In the construction equipment it should outlive every member of the crew, this job, and maybe thirty more.
“What did they do with the molycircs? Eat them?”
The construction boss walked around the machine, and as he walked pointed at the ground. The precious filigree of circuitry, all thirty meters of it had been shredded into ten centimeter lengths. Similar trails ran from the other vehicles, headed for the forest. Santee wanted to scream again. A molycirc bundle was built on the nanotech level, and there was no way to replace them except contact the company. Hell, even if he had the factory here it would be quicker to order it from home.
“All right, the gloves come off.” He snarled. “Clear these trees out of the construction area. By hand if necessary. Second, pick the smartest guys you have and arm them. I want around the clock security on this site until the hotel is completed. Get more men from the base if you have to.
“I’m contacting the company. We need replacement molycircs and a full scale security/combat team to get this back on the road.”
He sighed. “Knowing the company, my successor will handle it from there.”
He trudged back to the shuttle. All in all it wasn't really that bad a planet. He would have liked to have been here. To see the hotel open, to welcome the first of millions of guests. It was not to be.
The workman shifted his shovel, digging at the roots of the tree. It shifted, trying to move away from him, but after a few weeks of dealing with these damn trees, that didn’t bother you anymore. He finished uprooting it, then looked around. No one was watching him so he lifted it out of the ground, setting it on it’s roots. For a moment it sat there apprising itself of situation, then the roots began a rippling motion, moving the tree into the edge of the forest.
When the shift ended, the workman boarded the shuttle back to the base. He wasn't considered very bright, and the shovel he had wielded all day was about the most complex tool he was expected to operate. He picked up his meal chit, and went to dinner.
One of the supply ships was in, and the crew was at a group of tables. He looked, and spotted the contact. She was a pretty little thing 1.5 meters tall, long hair dyed green, which was the current thing on Coruscant, and her fingers were drumming on the table in tune to the music she was listening to on her headset.
Of course, if you knew the old tapper code, what she was beating out was;
TO ME...TO ME...TO ME...
He walked over, setting his tray down. “Mind if I join you?” He asked.
“Jet off, Mig!” One of the men at the table said. Mig. Migrant/indigent. The people who worked shovels while others flew the stars. He looked away, flushing.
He started to stand, but a gentle hand on his wrist stopped him. The girl was looking up, smiling. “No, stay. The planet is beautiful, but it’s so, untamed. It‘s nice to see something that isn‘t covered with moss, you know?” The password was so smooth. He upped her chances of being a professional by several percent.
“Cali you want to slum, why not pick up one of the shuttle jockeys?” The first man snarled. “Why pick up someone with a size three head and a size 20 neck?”
The workman slowly settled down. “Untamed is right. But that’s what the company is here for, right?” Her eyebrow, unnoticed by her associates, lifted a trifle. She nodded. Sign and counter sign.
“So tell me, what do you do?” She asked with a winded eyed innocence that was as well faked as his stupidity. He spun a tale of clearing brush away, and hand grading the sites as the machines did all the real work. He had learned to spin such boring tales for hours from those he worked with. After all, there are only so many ways to describe operating an idiot stick regardless of where.
Her eyes glazed after about ten minutes, and he knew her friends had tuned him out after the first five. But he scanned around anyway. The security camera for the mess hall was directly at his back, and no one was watching him. He reached under the table, and her hand took the offered cylinder. He pulled back, then as the table mates began to leave in disgust, he stopped talking.
“Sorry, ma’am. I have early shift tomorrow. Hope to see you again.”
“No such luck. We’re inbound for home.”
“Well maybe you can get me something?”
“I can try to have something sent for you if I can contact the next supply ship bound here.”
“Some Pipalli. The Echana kind if possible.”
Her eyes stayed wide but the tip of her mouth flinched. The code meant some serious trouble coming down, and the need for an urgent response. “I will find a way if at all possible.”
“Thanks, ma’am.” He stood, and walked to the refuse slot, dropping tray and scraps into it.
Professor Harlan Coor, Professor of Ecology at the University of Coruscant stretched his arms, thanking the body builder father that had taught him that big arms didn’t mean a small head, and went to the barracks.
The woman’s staff moved slowly, tapping before her as she walked. It had been only two or three hours since she had arrived on Bandomeer, but already she had detected a quick shuffle in the police and prosecutors attached to the case.
It was simple on the face of it. Two young men from the Mandalore Embassy had entered a cantina, started a fight, and seriously injured fifteen Bandomeeri. They had been charged, and only the fact that Mandalore was a newly discovered planet had stopped the locals from simply buying a couple of lengths of 12 mm cable and stringing the pair up.
The Ambassador had found that a Jedi Monastery ship was coming through the system, and asked for assistance. She had agreed, more from curiosity about these newfound people than anything else. Their language was archaic and rife with words for honor and battle. So like her home world in that regard. But the quick dance being done behind the scenes had drawn her interest even more. Why would they now try to adjust an open and shut case? Ahead of her she could hear chanting.
“Bal kote darasuum kote,
‘Jorso’ran kando a tome,
Sa kyr’am Nau tracyn kad, Vode a.”
She paused, thinking of what the words meant. Then she turned the corner. The cell was set in the very back of the local constabulary headquarters, far enough back that only the person delivering meals would ever see the prisoners.
She walked up, and stopped two meters from the door. She sensed two pairs of eyes scanning her. “Hut’uun.” A young voice snarled.
“I have never been a coward, ad.” She replied. There was silence from the boys. “And glory, eternal glory. We shall bear its weight together. Forged like the saber in the fires of death, Brothers all.” She translated the chant smoothly. “So like my own people. Except we don’t speak of glory so much.”
They thought about this. She stood patiently. “Why are you here then, Yuru’ike?”
“Little mother?” She smiled gently. “Since I will be adjudicating your case, I wondered what type of boys did as much damage as is claimed.”
“You are the judge?”
“Yes. At the request of your father, Sev Soochin.”
There was a laugh. “Buir’ike finally acknowledges me?” He snarled. “So he sends me a blind woman to help? Such is his concern for his son.”
“I am not here to help you. I am here to judge this case. As for my infirmity, it is said that justice is blind, but it is neither stupid nor deaf. If you wish I will leave, hear only their side, and find you guilty. The punishment here is ten years per act of personal violence. Neither of you will live to see the outer world again.
“Or you can answer some simple questions.”
She went over the particulars of the case as explained to her. While she listened, she also probed outward with that sense she had only discovered when she had been blinded. Not using your eyes meant you had to read the person before you. Something she had been teaching the Monks of the Monastery of Jedi for five years now. That you must know the inner person when you meet, when you talk, and when you fight.
“So you went to this cantina at the request of a young lady. You had two drinks each, and then things became hazy. When you awoke you were in this cell, and were told that you had attacked 15 of the locals.
“Yes. But we knew it was a lie.”
“Because only six of those that supposedly fought us were injured. The other nine were unmarked.”
She tapped the staff on the floor gently and the voices stilled. “Enough. I have only one question. You are what, thirteen and fifteen?”
“What is your training?” There was a deep resentful silence, and she sighed. “Mando’ade are known for many things to those that study them. What level has your skills reached?”
“I am judged verd by my teachers.” The older of the two replied. “Vode Anak is ge’verd. We would not be allowed to travel from our homes with less standing.”
“But you are small for your ages, yes?”
“Does that matter?”
“More than you might know. Very well, tomorrow we go to court.”
Prosecutor Moruth looked around, irritated. The idiots in the government had started this mess, but who would be blamed if it failed? No one had anticipated a damn Jedi Monk arriving when she did.
Make sure the case succeeds The Governor General of the continent had told him. We need soldiers to deal with the uprising on Beta continent, and we can’t just recruit here. Too many have family on Beta. Too many will pass information. So we need the Mandalore. Who cares if a few hundred die?
Moruth snarled. He understood the colonial government's problem. Too many free spirits leaving the safety of Alpha continent. Too many not being supplied by the government, fending for themselves, trading without government oversight and tariffs. Wondering why they should have to pay for a government they didn’t need and didn’t want.
Where is the damn judge? He asked himself. Court should have been in session five minutes ago. Some blind woman was wandering about the court room. She had already spoken to the three best witnesses he had, spoken with the Chief Constable, with the officers called to testify. The ruffians that had shown exactly how inefficient they were. Now she was walking toward the front of the court room. Why didn’t someone tell her to sit down?
“Madam, will you please be seated?” He growled. She stopped, leaning on the staff, her blind eyes turned toward him. “That is exactly what I had in mind. Too much time wasted on this as it is.” She continued walking forward, her staff shoving open the door between the audience area and the court itself.
Moruth stood, then his jaw dropped as the woman made a beeline to the steps up to the Judges seat. She drew the sword at her belt, and suddenly it flipped into a pair of blades on opposite ends. She sat primly, the naked steel across her lap.
“In accordance with the request of the Mandalore Ambassador to Bandomeer
I, Breia Sookor Bai Echana have been asked to adjudicate this case. The Bandomeeri colonial government has agreed with protests.” She looked at the woman recording the trial. “Young woman, unless I say, the record will be taken regardless of protests from any party to these proceedings. Nothing shall be expunged from it without my authorization.”
She stood, looking at the room with her blind eyes. “Bailiff, please bring in the accused.”
The two were unprepossessing. Sev Soochin was perhaps a meter-five tall, and sticky. Anak Vau his companion was perhaps two fingers shorter. Both were manacled with full restraint chains.
“Bailiff, remove the chains.”
Moruth leaped to his feet. “Your honor, I must protest!”
Breia looked toward him. “Sit down and shut up.” She turned to the bailiff. “Remove them.” The bailiff did as he was bid, stepping warily back, the stun rod he carried ready. “Unless you want me to remove that weapon and your hand with it, I suggest you sheath it.” Breia said calmly. The bailiff sheathed the rod.
“I know the form of jurisprudence used here on Bandomeer, and I will not use it. I see no reason to assume that the defendants are automatically guilty. Instead I will use the form I grew up with. There is no book to swear upon, no gods to claim. My people believe in the sword and that is what it shall be.
“I will warn the people in the audience that once I invoke Echani law, no one will leave this room. If you try, I will stop you. All oaths are sworn on the blade.” She touched the sword on her lap. “There is a precept under Echani law that states ‘the steel speaks truth alone, and does not abide the lie’. Under it, any proven to be lying under oath will lose a measure of flesh equal to that lie.”
She seemed to scan the room with her eyes. “Under Echani law I call all witnesses to stand before me. The prosecution may question them, but only after I am done to assure that all evidence has been revealed. As I wandered around just now, I spoke with many of you. I have discovered many things of interest that must be brought to light before this trial can continue. Witnesses, step into the room provided.”
The men who would be called shuffled into the room she had earmarked. There were no windows, no doors. The only way out was past the harridan holding court. The bailiff at her command stood before the door. What they did not know was that the listening devices in the court had been deactivated. No one in the witness room could hear what was going on. She smiled. It helped to have a droid now and then.
“I call Boroda Soochin, Ambassador of Mandalore to Bandomeer to give testimony.” The bailiff leaned in, called, and the Ambassador entered the court. “Ambassador, touch the blade and repeat after me. I swear by the steel beneath my hand, that all I say in this court shall be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I shall keep opinion to my breast unless asked, and will not allow it to color what I will testify to.”
The Ambassador, fully ten centimeters taller than his son gave his oath.
“Your planet was discovered four years ago.”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Please, no titles. I am Padawan Teacher. Call me Padawan.”
“Ambassador, Mandalore is a poor planet, correct?”
“At this time we have yet to produce exports.”
“So what do you export at this time?”
“Our warriors are hired as bodyguards, security forces for planets that need them, and soldiers.”
“Has there been talk of a contract with the government of Bandomeer?”
“Tell me. What did Bandomeer need from you?”
“One strike force of ten phalanxes.”
“Five hundred men.” She mused. “What was their assignment?”
“Padawan, I must protest-”
“Prosecutor, I feel no taint in you. Those that have placed you here hope for victory but refuse to pay for it.” Breia looked at him in her uncanny way. “The protest is noted, and denied. Ambassador, please answer the question.”
“They wish to bring the second continent named Beta at this time back under governmental control.”
“What have these rebels done to deserve an attack?”
“Nothing, Padawan. When I spoke with the Governor General, he said merely that they have ignored the government. We were to land forces and convince them otherwise.”
“Was this contract signed?”
“Money, Padawan. We asked for 20,000 for transport, 100 credits a week per man, Our supplies paid for from a disbursement account, 20,000 credits on completion, and costs of ammunition and replacement costs of all damaged equipment. They countered with 5,000 for transport, 75 per man, Our supplies paid for by us, and 15,000 on completion.” He shrugged eloquently. “That would not even pay for transport of the men hired. All they would have to do is delay our departure four months to dispose of every centi-cred except for the men’s wages. Paying for supplies would eat that up very rapidly.”
“Was your contract offer standard?”
“Ambassador, has the situation changed since that negotiation fell through?”
“Yes, Padawan. When my son and his companion were arrested, an unknown person screened me at the residence, and told me that the charges against them could be expunged if I would accept the government’s offer.”
“A pity there is no proof of that.”
He smiled, holding up a datachip. “Your honor, as asked, I have pulled the communications records of the residence, and they are here. The person was recorded.”
She considered. “Prosecutor? Do you have any questions?”
“I call the defendants.” They stepped forward. She swore them in. They recounted the events in the cantina.
“I find it curious that two young men could injure six men even under the effects of what might be a soporific.”
“We are trained well, Padawan. I am judged verd by my teachers. “Vode Anak is ge’verd.”
“For the edification of the court, explain.”
“Verd means I am considered a full warrior, able to serve or take contract. Anak is almost fully trained.”
“Tell us more of this training. Would it help you if you had been drugged?
“Our training assumes injuries, wounds, and the effects of drugs, Padawan. A Mandalore warrior is sudden death on two feet even if he is dying.”
“Were you armed?”
“As we always are.”
“Describe what you were carrying. Not both, just one.”
“Koororil, shiv, strangling wire, I also carried a Shukilo.”
“That is a metal knuckle plate for striking, a knife, garrote and a battle-chain?”
“Yes. Anak carries a sakilo-si instead of a shukilo.
“Ah, a whip baton?”
“So you would have used these?”
“Only if attacked.”
“Yet none of the men you supposedly injured were injured by a weapon?”
“That is correct.”
She nodded. “I call the chief constable.”
The constable came in and was sworn. “Sir, Describe to me the events of the evening three days ago.”
The report was brief. A call from Kuptir’s Cantina of a riot in progress. Three units arriving to find two Mandalore men fighting with the crowd.
“Now, where is the Cantina located in relation to the Mandalore Embassy?”
“One half kilometer.”
“How often have Mandalore been there?”
“It is the closest cantina to the residence, Padawan.”
“So they are common. The Mandalore embassy has been here for seven months. Has there ever been a fight there between Mandolorians and the locals?”
“Have the defendants been there before?”
“Perhaps a dozen times.”
“Was there something different this time?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
The sword in her hand spun, stopping less than a finger’s breadth from his face. The constable stared in frozen horror at the blade. “One lie I will accept. On the next, there will be blood. Was there something different this time? Speak!”
“They were alone.”
The blade did not flinch. “So there were no adult Mandalorians there. Who contacted you first?”
“I fail to see-” The blade whipped, and he felt blood on his cheek.
“No more lies. Who?”
“The Governor’s attache, Brenner Voss!”
“And what did he have to say to you?”
“That an incident would happen at the Cantina, and I was to treat it as it appeared.”
Her hand snapped, and at the back of the court room, a man who had been whispering into his comlink dropped it as the small sliver of steel punched in like a toothpick, shorting it out.
“Brenner Voss, come forward.” When the man didn’t move, her hand snapped again, and another sliver punched into the wood beside him. “I will not ask again. I will have your corpse removed instead.”
The words galvanized the man to his feet. He stumbled forward, hand reaching for the small of his back. “If you draw that weapon, I will kill you.” The hand leaped back into view, empty. He came forward, entering the court.
“Swear, Brenner Voss. Swear and pray that I ask you only what is connected with this case.”
The man reached forward, fingers trembling as she extended the sword. Then he tried to snatch it.
He screamed as four fingers dropped to the floor, sliced off by the monomolecular blade.
Breia stood, waving the constable aside. “Blood has been shed, and it was not I that did so. Now, speak!”
Voss began, speaking rapidly for several minutes. Finally he ran down. The court recorder reached for the pad, then flinched back as Breia’s hand rose in warning.
“So you arranged this. Did your master know of it?”
“No. He was considering accepting the proposal by the Mandalore.” Voss gasped, clutching his hand. He flinched back as the blade came down, touching his undamaged hand but not cutting it. “Yes he knew!”
Breia stood back from him. “Prosecutor, have you anything to add?”
Moruth stood. “Padawan, I ask that all charges be dropped. That the defendants be declared free.”
“So ordered.” She turned. “Bailiff, release the witnesses. Tell them what has happened in here, and if any wish to give further testimony, I will hear it.” She walked over to the recorder, picking up the transcript of the trial. She handed it to the Mandalore Ambassador. “For your pains, Ambassador.”
“What can my people do to repay you?”
“Repay me for what? For seeing justice done?”
Sev walked over, kneeling. “Yuru’ike, like your people, we feel a debt must be paid. Accept me into your service until you judge it paid in full.” Anak walked over, kneeling as well.
She looked down at them. “Ambassador?”
The ambassador looked down, face glowing with pride. “My son has proven he is worthy of the title warrior. Unless he has sworn to another, I have no say in what he does this day. He is a man full grown able to make contract as he sees fit. Do us great honor, my son. And forgive me any faults I have had in your rearing.”
“Forgiven and forgotten, Buir.”
Just what I need Breia thought. A pair of coursing predators without a leash. “Very well.
Mandalore: located around star named Buir. Galactic Reference GSFD-450/CR/EN1/5.
Class: D-9 class. A heavy world with a gravity of 1.5 Coruscanti Standard. land/ocean ratio; 65/35. Native animals and planets graded at level 11, extremely dangerous, but within acceptable standards for human colonization under Coruscant Exploration Guidelines.
Economic rating: 2.
Technology level, in weapons, grade 3. In all other commerce grade 2 and lower.
Population: Last census 4.7 million.
Demographics: 99% human. Remainder are citizen/factors of other races including Duros, Hutt, Twi-lek, Arkanian, and Bim.
Government: Military meritocracy. A council of the 400 clans ruled by The Mandalore of Mandalore. Title passed on to the survivor of a death duel, or person chosen by the Council.
Exports: Few at present. Venom of the Bacatra lizard prized as medicinal supplement used in emergency medical kits. The locally made swords daggers command high prices for each is a hand made work of art. The Mando have proven to be experts at weapons design and development, and their soldiers are masters of all forms of combat which is why they are hired as Guards and security forces.
Imports: All basics of a colony world. Technology transfers so far have included modern weaponry and some ship designs. The Mando prefer small ships of less than ten man crew which fits their military conventions.
Social conventions: All social interaction is between three casts. The Narir Jatne (Leaders of the best) those who lead, Verd (Warriors) those who fight, and the Jatne Dinuir (Giving to the best) those that supply. Upward mobility is measured by your own skills at what they consider important, which is warfare. A child of Jatne Dinuir parents can excel in training, and become Verd. At least once in their recorded history a Jatne Dinuir has even succeeded to the title of Mandalore.
They are prized as personal bodyguards and security forces for once paid, they rarely if ever renege. Negotiation for their services requires contacting the Aliit buir or Father of the Mandalore family or clan. Some have made contracts on their own, but this must be accepted by the Aliit buir.
Social interaction is easy to understand once you discover your place in it.
History: The planet now known as Mandalore was settled long before the invention of the hyper cannon. A long war between the people of Coruscant and an offshoot race called the Taung ended when a volcano spewed ash and smoke over the battlefield for over 3 years. The Taung, trapped under the cloud took the name of Dha Werda Verda or ‘Warriors of the Shadow‘. Outnumbered, they departed Coruscant in long liners, the ships used for attempting star travel. They were rediscovered four years ago on what is now called the Corellian Run.
Mandalore was the fifth planet discovered along that route by a combined Coruscanti-Corellian team, and the planet was contacted at that time.
The settlers intentionally chose the planet due to the extremes. The axial tilt (52%) causes massive weather changes in the seasons from four meter snows in the winter temperate zone to in excess of 50 degrees centigrade.
Mando'ade: People descended from the Taung of Coruscant, living on the planet Mandalore. Translation 'The sons of Mando'
A long war almost 2500 years ago between the people of Coruscant and an offshoot race called the Taung ended when a volcano spewed ash and smoke over the battlefield for over 3 years. The Taung, trapped under the cloud took the name of Dha Werda Verda or ‘Warriors of the Shadow‘. Outnumbered, they departed Coruscant in long liners, the ships used for attempting star travel. They were rediscovered four years ago on what is now called the Corellian Run.
They chose the planet Mandalore because of it’s inhospitality. (SEE: Planetary database; Mandalore), and practiced a ruthless eugenics program upon themselves. The average Mando is stocky, and inured to a gravity half again what a citizen of Coruscant is used to. This makes them stronger and gives them higher stamina.
The brutal weather and fierce adherence to their eugenics program at first drove the population down, then back up as stronger children survived and reproduced. They are now facing a population explosion.
History: When the first settlements were built almost a thousand years ago, the Mandalore had to split up to forage for sufficient food. This caused them to break down into family groups, and these became the clans of today. One Clan, the Ordo, settled in the Bika valley, which is the primary breadbasket for the major continent called Mando. They were successful in fending off attacks by poorer clans, and eventually made alliances with them, supplying food to the weaker clans in return for loyalty and troops. In their history oddly enough, the Ordo have never aspired to the Mandalore title. Instead the clan has taken the forefront of their history by recording events of other clans for future edification.
Most of their history is still hidden because if their view, anyone who is not Mando is worth the effort to even discuss it with. They accept anyone with the same view of life as colonists, refusing to allow those who would want to change their society too drastically.
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Seventh edition
There was a wordless roar, and Breia sighed. Having two Mandalorian boys running around on a ship this small was like having a herd of Gianta puppies from home! She heard a pattering of feet, followed by a thunder of boots. Padawan learner Sanji roared again, followed by a thump that rippled through her feet. Breia could hear laughter. She stood, moving into the mess deck.
Sanji stormed forward limping, growling in his native Twi-Leki.
“Sanji, try Basic for me, please.” Breia asked.
“Those, those... boys.” Sanji snarled. “Have you seen what they did?” He paused, flustered. “Sorry, Master.”
“Of course I have not. Why don’t you describe to me what is bothering you.”
“They’ve turned the port storage bay into an obstacle course and ambushed me when I chased Anak.”
Breia pictured the area. A wide pie wedge space with cargo tied off to the deck and bulkheads. Then she pictured it as an obstacle course. It didn’t quite come to her. She picked up her staff, and walked aft.
Obstacle course was right. Directly in front of the hatch a stack of crates required you to climb twist right and climb again to enter the bay. There was a drop on all sides with a stack of crates placed just out of easy stepping distance, meaning you would have to jump there. She paused, waving her stick. As she had thought, the gravity plates in the gap had been set to 2 standard gravities. You would not only have to jump, you would have to literally vault over.
She heard surreptitious movement, and turned, her hand catching the thrown practice knife out of the air. She ducked, and something spattered on the bulkhead behind her. The smell identified it as an overripe Chunga Cherry.
“Vode, come here now.” She said.
She could feel them coming closer, slithering around the crates to drop to the deck below her. Grunting they swarmed up to stand beside her.
She sighed. “I understand that training is necessary, but this will stop now.”
“Chu, Yuru’ike.” Sev replied.
“I know what you have done, and if this were a Mando ship, I would applaud your creative use of space. However this is a light transport, and there are safety issues to address. First, there is no clear way to reach the portside emergency breaker panel, which is right over there behind the staggered stack. There is no way to reach the portside fresher controls, which are behind the pyramid abaft the vent space there. There is no way to reach the food for our dinner, something I consider important, which is on the bottom of the stack in the corner. Not to mention that if Sanji had to run in here in an emergency the gravity shift would cause injury.
“Just for my own interest where did you get chunga cherries?”
“So instead of eating them you let them go to waste?”
She could picture them digging toes into the crate. “Well, we sort of bought them overripe.” Sev said.
“No. we use blow pipes.”
“They make great blood spatter patterns!” Anak added.
“That explains the accuracy.” She murmured “And the mess and smell.” Breia looked around. “Since you need something to do, I will suggest that you first set the entire bay to 2 gravities. Then you will get the cleaning supplies and clean up every speck of cherry juice and pulp. My nose is a lot more sensitive than yours, so I suggest you not miss any. Especially that one hit above my head and three meters aft on the overhead.” She pointed at one of the strayed rounds. “Then you will stow all of these packing crates where they belong and have Sanji verify that they are where they belong, and all panels we may have to access are clear.
“By then we should be dropping out at Coruscant. You will clean your gear, pack it, and be prepared to move by the time we land.”
“Chu!” They leaped to the other stacks, and swarmed down to the deck. She left the bay, walking forward to the cockpit. Sanji was massaging his foot.
“They really are good boys.”
“For a pair of homicidal reprobates they are perfect.” He growled. “I think I might have broken my ankle.”
“Give it here.” She sat on the co-pilot’s chair, and took the appendage. “No, merely badly strained. You haven’t been practicing in heavy gravity.”
“And what if you had to fight in it? What did I tell you?”
“A warrior can learn to control his weapon and himself. All else is determined by luck.” He repeated.
“If you remember what I said, you should use it.” She admonished.
She looked toward the view ports. It was times like this when she wished she could see with real eyes. People were always telling her about the tunnel like beauty of hyper space but she had never seen it. This was her ninth mission for the Jedi council since she had joined the order and every time she felt this wistful yearning.
The ship shuddered, and she could feel a massive out flowing of the force from ahead of her. She was still tasting it when the com panel bleeped.
“This is Coruscant approach control to Jedi Council transport Millennium Falcon. Respond please.”
Sanji was busy shutting down the hyper drive systems, so she reached across, long practice guiding her fingers to the panel. “This is Jedi Council transport Millennium Falcon receiving Coruscant approach control.”
“Millennium Falcon is requested to dock at the Coruscant University Annex station. Jedi Council has requested Padawan Teacher Breia Sookor Bai Echana hold herself there to meet with Government representative.”
“Understood. Will comply.”
“Coruscant approach out.”
“What now?” Sanji asked.
“I don’t know.” Breia sniffed deeply. “But I think we’ve already got another mission.”
The Coruscant University Annex was a huge fifty kilometer disc stationed in geosynchronous orbit above the University it served. A docking port in the outer ring accepted their authorization, directing them to one of the smaller ports designed for personal transports.
The YT07 was dwarfed by the larger shuttles that plied space between the planet and the 50,000 student annex. It settled on the deck, and Breia scanned the figures that people waiting for her. There were three men and a young woman. The ramp came down and they headed for it. Breia stood, arriving in the mess deck as they entered.
The older of the men carried himself with the stiffness of a military officer recovering from an old wound. His long hair was black with streaks of gray through it. Beside him the Jedi Monk that was administrator of the local Monastery would have been laughable. He was about a meter five in every direction, a huge roly-poly caricature to the undiscerning eye. Master Hontu had proven to be her first and best student at Mah-rehal, the ‘dance with eyes closed’ which was the fighting style she had pioneered among her own people. He had taught her how to use the same sense she had honed for combat into the ability to detect not only the force but duplicity as well.
The third man was an interesting view using that ability. He had threads of duplicity and anger in his aura, but she knew that he was a glad-handing political hack to the naked eye. His blonde hair fell in a long train behind him, and she could tell by the smell that he wore cologne and expensive fabrics.
Compared to them all, the woman was a breath of fresh air. She was petite, probably cute, and had the air of someone that would have been more comfortable in a wilderness than on steel and plastic decks. She carried a pad, and was entering information as she walked up.
“Padawan Teacher, may I introduce Admiral Bono Antilles of the Coruscant Navy. Conno Daystrom of the Tokara corporation, and Daysah Shani of the University Anthropology department.” Hontu said.
“Greetings.” Breia turned her head, and each felt as if she was looking at her. “I assume there is another mission?”
“Yes. May we be seated?”
She stepped aside, motioning toward the table. The others passed her as she walked to the carafe. “I have Echani tea already made. If you would like some, please indulge.” She poured, and wordlessly filled a cup for herself then another as Daysah came up beside her. She took her seat, sipping the hot spicy beverage. Daysah gasped, but kept drinking.
“I don’t know where to begin.” Daysah said.
“At the beginning is always best.” Breia commented dryly.
“Yes. Well four years ago, Mr. Daystrom’s company filed patent on a paradise world that has been named Meera. At that time, the government did nothing about it.” Her voice was sour at the statement. Corporations controlled too many seats in the local Assembly to really be restricted. “Three years ago, one of our students reported to the anthropology department that he believed the larger primate species might be intelligent.”
“It’s all a tissue of lies.” Daystrom snapped. “Anyone who has seen one of them knows they don’t have a large enough brain pan to be intelligent. Besides our survey team attempted to communicate with them and found that it was impossible.”
“The fact that they have four throats and mouth causes them to speak in stereo.” Daysah replied levelly. “When we heard this, we began assembling a translation program to try again. We are uploading it in a new series of homo-form droid supplied to us by Droids incorporated. May I continue, sir?”
Daystrom snorted, nodding.
“As I was saying our student believed the primates were intelligent, yet all requests by the university for permission to study them have been rebuffed. One of the members of our University Harlan Coor of the Ecology department had other issues with the company’s handling of the planet. Tokara is building a massive new super hotel on the plains below a giant waterfall. He was concerned that no study had been made of the environmental impact of the construction and potential guests, and when he requested such studies the company again refused.”
“We can’t be expected to deal with every possible complaint!” Daystrom almost shouted. “We have a business to run, and facilities to maintain and build. If we stopped every time someone assumed that we were in violation of statutes we would still be in a two room office over in west sector.”
Daysah sighed, rolling her eyes. “When attempts by both departments through the government also failed to gain us access, one of my associates Ton Morant got a job as a surveyor with Tokara. As an architecture student, he was assigned to the hotel project. He disappeared six months ago. Professor Coor on his own also infiltrated the company. His reports were sufficient for us to finally gain access to the government offices we needed to contact, yet they still ignored us.
“Finally our department contacted the Jedi Monastery, and they were able to break through the bureaucratic deadlock. Tokara finally gave permission for myself and our droid to meet up with Professor Coor and permission to do the surveys we had requested for several years.”
Breia sipped. “All right, that explains two of you. Why is the Admiral here?”
“The Navy is going to place a defense base orbiting the fourth planet of the system.” Antilles said. His voice was soft, but used to command. “I was assigned to survey the chosen site when Mr. Daystrom’s company requested that we await the arrival of a Padawan who could accompany us.
“At Tokara Company’s request the Frigate Duroc will accompany the Liner Tokara Requiem to the system.”
“Which leave me there without a ship?”
“Of course not. There is enough room in our forward hold to carry your ship in it. Once we’re there, your ship can be unloaded, and when you’re business is done, you can leave without waiting for us.”
“Or you can travel aboard Tokara Requiem. She is brand new and will be making the run from Kinyen to Toprawa and return twice a year.” Daystrom enthused.
He’d rather we rode in the Frigate. That offer was for form’s sake only, if we agreed something would come up. I wonder what? Breia thought.
“Thank you, sir, but we will ride with the Navy if it is all right with you. Is there anything else we need to discuss?” She ducked aside, as did Hontu.
There was a phutting sound, and the other people leaped up, cursing at the stench of seriously overripe Chunga cherries.
“Except for the cleaning bills that is?
“Oh this is rich.”
“What Master?” Sanji asked. Breia held up her brail pad. He took it, reset it to standard, and read the document. “A party?”
“Yes.” Breia leaned back, staring at the overhead. “Tokara company has extended an invitation to the crew of Millennium Falcon, The officers of the frigate Duroc, and the party from the university to a farewell dinner aboard Tokara Requiem. Dress is mess dress and uniforms for officers, formal for all others.”
Sanji tapped the pad on his chest, an annoying habit but Breia let it slide. “Odd. You and the council seem to think that Tokara is up to something, yet they invite us to their ship for a party. I wonder why?”
“Can you think of a better way to have us thinking what jolly people they are?” Breia asked. “Sanji, what do you see when you look at Daystrom. Not with your eyes, but with your senses?”
He paused. “He is a duplicitous man who thinks of himself and the company in that order.” He paused, considering. “He doesn’t seem to notice me, but you he does not like at all.”
“How perceptive. Now, assuming he has some deep plot in mind, why ask us over there?”
Sanji shrugged. “You must be right, Master. He is hoping to keep you from seeing what it is.”
“So I will accept, with regrets for you.”
“For me? Why?”
She shook her head. “Sanji, you can make people forget you are there, a usable skill and one all of the Monks will wish to learn if it can be taught. I wish you to... Exercise that ability. We need to know what they might be hiding aboard that ship.”
“But isn’t that... Illegal?”
“Sanji, I have explained to you before that it is only illegal if you intend to steal. Are you feeling acquisitive again?”
He flushed, with his skin color that meant he turned a violet color. “Will you ever let me forget that?”
“Why student, every new member of the order has their... foibles.” She laughed. “When I first entered the order the old sword master thought it was funny to move the furniture in every room when I left a building. So I... dealt with it.”
“I rigged the gravity generator in my rooms so that if anything shifted on the floor that I had tagged, it would shift from roof to floor and back once per second at standard gravity for thirty seconds.”
Sanji pictured it. One instant you are moving something, the next, the floor has become the ceiling. Like suddenly finding out you are standing upside down. You would fly up, taking perhaps half a second to impact the ceiling, and an instant later slam into the floor only to hit the ceiling a second later... He snickered. “I can see it.”
“See it! He felt it for a week.” She laughed. “Considering what I did to you, I think that was a bit much, so I toned it down.”
He flushed. It had been a dare from the other students. Just go in her rooms and steal something, then bring it back. He had succeeded, walking by her without being noticed. The object he had chosen was a small picture of her sister Revana. But when he had picked it up, it began speaking to him.
Try, the equivalent of a full scale popular music concert at two paces.
Breia had merely sat there unmoved as he had put back his trophy and slunk out. The next week he had been assigned as her pilot and student at her request.
“I am not telling you to do this. I am asking if you can.”
“Of course I can.” Sanji answered.
“Then please do so. Oh, and send in the boys. I think I have something right up their alley.”
The ballroom looked like it belonged in an expensive home. Rare woods from a dozen planets paneled the bulkheads. A chandelier hung ten meters in the air over the tables lined along the bulkheads. The buffet line held over twenty meat courses alone. Servants, not droids stood behind the tables. A show of extravagance that paled beside the clothing of the dozen or so officers of the ship herself.
Tokara had spared no expense on dress uniforms for their officers. Rich silk in the company green and gold colors with stripes in the color of their departments. Captain Werrol Magtyar looked them over with a critical eye. He was a tall heavily built man with a shock of short black hair and green eyes that bored through you. He had started on one of the pirate chasers, the old Tokara Fist, and his new command was supposed to be even more interesting.
A pity the company had to act as if it were a display piece.
There was a gong, and the first of their guests began to arrive. The students from the university.
“All right men. Just remember best behavior.” He whispered. “So help me the first one of you that tries to get it stuck in will deal with me afterward, clear?” The men nodded.
Magtyar turned around, and his voice oozed charm as he approached the students. He recognized Daysah Shani from his briefing. “Welcome aboard. You must be Ms Shani.”
“That is Professor.” She replied. Something about the man didn’t fit. His uniform was sleek and high class, but the man in it... “And you are?”
“Captain Magtyar.” He motioned. “May I present my officers?”
He introduced her around. The others had broken up to one officer per student, pointing out the fixtures on the newest luxury line of the Tokara fleet. There was another gong, and Magtyar looked toward the open hatch. Antilles and his crew were coming in, followed by...
His eyes tightened. One of those damn Jedi Monks. Behind her in flanking positions were two young men in... He blinked. Mandalorian Kama with weapons belts. “Excuse me, Professor, I am after all the host.”
Daysah watched him walk away, rubbing her hands on her sleeves. The captain had struck her as a cold man better suited to a pirate’s life than a luxury liner command.
“Someone is coming toward us.” Anak said, scanning the crowd. “Large man, looks like a brawler.”
“Yes, I can feel him.” Breia sensed a dark shot cloud approaching. She stopped as it cut between her and the buffet.
“You must be Padawan Breia.” The voice was smooth and melodious. So why did she feel her hackles rise?
“Guilty.” Breia answered She stuck out her hand as if to shake, but it was off to the man’s right a bit. He smoothly moved to intercept it, his large hand almost swallowing hers.
“Welcome aboard my ship. Would you like something to drink Padawan?”
“Not yet.” She shook hands with him, then placed both on her staff. “I was thinking about sitting down for a while. Sev, guide me to the nearest chairs, please.”
Sev stepped forward, extending an arm. Breia reached out, feeling along it hesitantly, then caught him at the elbow. Sev led her to a table, and guided her to a chair. After watching her walk through crowds with no problems, he knew she was merely giving this aruetti a show. “Shall I get you something?” He asked solicitously. “You know you get grumpy when you haven’t eaten.”
She grimaced. “Yes, please.” When we get back to the ship, you and I will have a little talk, boy.
Anak stood behind her as Sev marched across to the buffet line. “The Admiral is headed our way.”
“Anak, I may be blind, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sense things.”
“Admiral.” She waved toward the crowd that had gathered. “What do you think?”
“Too rich for my blood. From what I hear the first class cabins will cost my monthly salary for a one way trip.”
“I meant the crew.”
He looked back toward them. “Magtyar I have heard about. Made his name in one of their armed auxiliaries. Considered a good man in a fight.”
“Then why send him here?” Breia asked. She took the plate Sev had brought. It was loaded down 20 centimeters thick with meat. He’s just trying to harden every one of my arteries isn’t he? She drew a small eating knife, slicing the meat swiftly into bite sized chunks, and speared one.
“I have no idea. Tokara has a new pirate chaser the Tokara Saber. I would have expected him to get her instead of this luxury barge.”
Breia nodded. Something didn’t quite fit. She turned her head. “Admiral, two men have just entered. Would you describe them for me?”
“Two more of Tokara’s finest. Vice President Suli Corona and his nephew Dasa Sunrider.” He had an eye for detail. The men were something she could almost see with the eyes she no longer had when he was done. Her face turned away, but she followed them through the crowd with that extra sense the Force gave her.
Ah. So that is what it was...
Daysah backed farther into the corner to escape the first officer. She didn’t know where Tokara had gotten this crew, but the nicest man in the group was actually the captain, and he terrified her.
It wasn’t that they were unpolished or unintelligent. But they had a level of violence in their eyes she had only seen in rabid animals. This man for instance. Nemo Pahner. Smooth, very efficient she could tell. Yet when he looked her over, she wondered if he was going to... well, she feared for her virtue.
“Lieutenant, allow me to break in.”
The officer looked up, then snapped to attention. “Of course, sir.”
Daysah looked up. The man was thin, hair lay in layered perfection on his head, and laughing green eyes met hers. The suit was worth more than she made in a year, and the single ring he wore would have cost her a decade of work. Behind him was a smaller man nearer to her age. The hair was blonde instead of black, the eyes blue. But the younger man looked like a copy of the elder.
“I am Suli Corona, Vice president of shipping for the Company. This is my nephew Dasa Sunrider, my assistant.” He looked at the lieutenant, and something cold flashed in his eyes. “My apologies. We had to find a crew for the ship in a hurry, so we took the entire crew from one of our ships under repair. A pirate chaser. Captain Magtyar is excellent in that role, but will not command the ship when it is in service. For a milk run from here to Meera he is adequate.” He looked to the first officer again. “Lieutenant, go mingle. And try not to terrify our guests.”
“You are Professor Daysah Shani of the Coruscant University anthropology department. I do so love to study people. It helps with my job. May I?” He motioned toward the couch beside her.
“Very interesting.” Breia murmured. “Corona and Sunrider busy with Professor Shani. That means...” She turned her head. The cloud of repressed fury that was Magtyar was headed for her table.
“Padawan, Admiral. May I join you?”
“Of course, Captain.“ Breia waved idly for a seat. Since she used the arm away from the table, she seemed to be motioning for him to sit somewhere else. He sat, and she returned to her meal. “The stuffed roasted Nerf is excellent. I will have to ask for your recipe.”
Magtyar laughed. “Don’t ask me, Padawan. If it isn’t moving when I start eating, it’s good enough. I’ll have the chef make up a card for you.”
She sensed a lightening of his mood. “My thanks. You served on armed ships before this I am told.”
The mood darkened. “Yeah. Six years working my way up on some of the first armed ships. Five years in command of Tokara Fist, then...” He waved around. “This barge.”
“I would have expected them to give you the newest ship. the Saber if I recall?”
“You and me both, Padawan.” His mood darkened again. “When you’ve spent your entire life working to one goal, being handed this gilded box was a slap in the face.”
“I understand.” She said. “After a decade and a half as a blacksmith, I got this.” She waved at her robes. “With little on the job training.”
His mood lightened a little at that. “I am sorry I have tried to bite your ear off, Padawan.”
“I get that a lot.” She admitted. “So, what can you tell me about this planet Meera?”
“Not much to tell you the truth. The Company found it a few years ago. They seem to think a paradise world is perfect for hotels and resorts. I didn’t even hear of it until about four days ago when I was sent over to command the ship.”
“Perhaps there are survey reports I can read?”
“Be my guest.” He snapped a finger, and Pahner came over. “Nemo, get the full survey readout for Meera, and give it to the Padawan.” As the officer walked off her turned back to his guest. “To men like me a planet is a destination or a target that needs defending. Not within our job description.”
“Is your ship armed?”
“Yeah, but not that heavily. The refit included two missile launchers a heavy projectile cannon and five anti shuttle chain guns. Enough to deter a pirate. In something this size that’s like the eating knife you’re using.”
She nodded. Over near the bar, she heard singing. “Oh dear. I hope that is only the Mando singing.” As she said it there was the slamming bang of fists hitting armor.
“Why?” Magtyar asked. Three of his men had joined in, slapping their chests and thighs as they tried to sing along. Suddenly the two Mandalorian boys leaped and spun in place. Anak’s fists pounded out the rhythm on Sev’s back plate. unfortunately Sev’s fist punched the unaware lieutenant off his feet.
Again the boys leaped and spun, now facing the other way. Sev’s fists beat out the rhythm on the smaller boy’s back, while Anak punched another man on his side.
“Captain, I think we had better get over there.” Breia stood, and walked toward the soon to be confrontation. The captain hurried after the suddenly adept Padawan.
The first lieutenant, blood spraying from his mouth leaped to his feet, just in time to get punched again. Before he could rise again Breia’s stick stopped him.
“[i]k’uur![i/]” She snapped. The boy’s faltered, then stopped, looking at her confused. “Why did you strike those men?” She demanded.
“Permission to speak.” Anak said.
They were talking with us about Mando customs. Sev told them about Dha Werda, and they wanted to see it. When we started the chant and began the rhythm they stood too close.”
Breia looked down, hiding her laugh with a cough. She blistered the air for a full minute in Mando‘a. By the time she was done both looked ashamed. Then she turned to Magtyar. “I must apologize for my young warriors. They forget that most people do not have their reflexes. Boys, if you wish to show them the Dha Werda, I suggest we use a couple of empty tables they can waste.”
Magtyar had two tables cleared, and the two boys danced again, this time to completion. It was grueling even for the observers.
The evening wound down, and Breia finally left with her charges. “Sev, I told you to create a diversion. But did you have to hit the first officer?” She asked as they entered the lift.”
The young man looked at her placidly. “It was either that or something more, lethal.”
She shook her head, then put her arms around their necks. “Boys, we need to talk about your style.”
Sanji had not even known he had a special ability when he was younger. Sure he could duck a fight or his parents when they came looking to punish him, but every child has those days when everything goes right. He merely thought he was lucky.
But that had changed when his parents died in a transport accident when he was ten. Left alone, the boy had run the streets, stealing what he needed to live. The Constables had come looking for him. The Constables on Triseki had been ruthless especially when the offender was not human.
He had been trapped in an old abandoned house and had hidden in a closet. If he were lucky, they would only send him off to one of the asteroid mines. If not they would beat him to a bloody pulp then send him to a mine. Or kill him depending on their mood.
He had heard them coming closer, smashing doors, occasionally blasting a closet rather than open it. Their mood obviously was not conducive to being taken prisoner.
I am not here. He thought. I slipped out some other way, I’m a block away at least running like the hounds of all of the hells are after me.
The door opened, and he stifled his scream by stuffing his hand in his mouth, biting down hard enough to draw blood. The man looked huge, the bore of his rifle the size of a tram tunnel. The man stepped in, looked around, then stepped back out.
“The little crapper must have gotten out of the building somehow.”
“How?” another officer asked. He stepped over, looking idly into the closet, then shrugged. “We had the place surrounded.”
“Don’t ask me. I just work here.” The first constable slung his rifle, lighting a smoke-stick. “If he’s smart he’ll run and never come back. And I was so looking forward to shooting him when he tried to escape.”
“Unit 7; fight at Baleka Cantina.” his com burped.
The officer took a leisurely drag on his smoke before touching the key on his wrist. “Unit 7 responding.” He slammed the closet door hard enough to smash the lock, and Sanji stared at the door in amazement as he heard them walk away.
From that day forward, Sanji had become the premier sneak thief of the planet. He had found that some people could see him when he was concentrating on being unseen, but that person was rare. By the simple expedient of casing his robberies first, making himself unseen then walking around and gauging reactions, he was never caught.
Until that day three years ago.
He had been casing the docks. There was supposed to be a shipment of medical supplies, and among them were a lot of drugs the poorer people couldn’t afford. He had walked through the dock area unseen, and had found the warehouse where the shipment was supposed to be stored. The only person near by that might have seen him was an old human in some kind of robes, and he didn’t pay any attention to him.
A few hours later, he had slipped in with the largest bag he could find. He had gone through the shipment, grabbing out the supplies he had earmarked. Enough to keep four or five dozen people in health. It had gone great until he had been ready to leave. Then something had slapped his foot tripping him.
He’d rolled over, looking at a big mother sword, and the robed guy holding it.
“Why are you stealing, boy?” The man asked calmly. “Didn’t your family teach you better?”
Sanji had glared up at him, a thirteen year old tough that wasn’t taking crap any more. “If they’d actually let some of us have medicine, I would have let the slags keep it!” He growled. “And my parents taught me pretty well before they died!”
The man stood there, then turned the blade of his sword so the flat was up. “Lay your hand on the sword. Swear to me by the steel you touch that all you say is the truth.”
Slowly, Sanji’s hand came up, and his palm rested on the sword. He wanted to grab at it, but some instinct told him that was a bad idea. “I swear.”
“And if you could take more?”
“Hey, this will take care of a few dozen, but there are thousands of us that need but can’t buy because of our race.”
The man considered, then with a fluid motion he sheathed the blade. His hand reached down, and he helped Sanji to his feet. “Then we had better make sure to help everyone.”
To Sanji’s amazement, the man had led him toward the Planetary controllers office. “This skill you have, does it work with everyone?”
“No.” Sanji admitted. “After all you saw me.”
“No, I felt your presence. I asked because we can help everyone if you can merely walk in there,” He motioned toward the building, “And you can get into the office of the Health department.”
“Are you crazy?”
“My friend, with a little help on your clothing sense, we can do this.”
“But why do you care?”
The old man looked at him for a long time. “I am a monk of the Jedi order sent to negotiate for the Galactic Trade Authority. when I arrived, I called up the records of the ships of the past week and found a lot of Ridastinal was being sent here.” At the boy’s blank expression the monk took pity. “When used on say a Hutt or your own Twi-lek species, Ridastinal is medicinal. With the Hutt it is a contraceptive, with the Twi-lek it lowers your blood pressure, very necessary when your species has certain heart conditions.
“However on humans, it has an hallucinogenic affect and is highly addictive. This planet has bought enough Ridastinal for a population of 40% Twi-lek. But the Twi-lek population here is less than 5%.” Still there was incomprehension. He sighed. “How can you be so clever and so dense at the same time? Since as you say the aliens are not getting medicines they needs, someone is diverting it. Someone in the Health Ministry is buying it for resale. Either out system or as drug dealers. I am here to stop them.”
“So what do you need with me?”
“As I said. Just get into the Health Ministry, and put this on a computer.” The old man flashed a disc.
Two days later, Sanji was ready. The old man had bought him some nice clothes and coached him ruthlessly.
“This isn’t going to work.” Sanji said following the old man up the steps.
“Some of them are going to see me no matter what I do!”
“Ah, but what will they see?” He stopped, turning to face the boy. “Before they would see a street urchin, obviously up to no good. But now? They see a young boy in off world clothes, obviously the son of a rich off planet merchant. Whatever they may think of their own alien immigrants, they will hesitate to assault you. After all, they are trying to join the Galactic Trade Authority. It would be hard to convince that authority when all of the peoples they oppress are members in good standing. They might see you, they might even stop you, but they will be polite about it.
“So do this ‘now you see me now you don’t’ trick of yours, and let’s continue.”
“I’ve been ‘doing’ it as you say, since we got into the taxi at your hotel.”
The old man grimaced. “So everyone who has walked by thinks I’m some senile old monk talking to myself or my imaginary friend. Just wonderful.” He smiled ruefully. “But that is also an advantage.”
They entered the building, and Sanji immediately moved to the right toward the lifts. The old man went up to the security kiosk, asking for directions.
The biggest problem with being functionally invisible was that if people don’t see you, they don’t avoid you. Sanji had to leap out of the way as a human matron almost large enough to be mistaken for a Hutt stormed past. The second biggest problem was doors. You can’t very well open them without being noticed.
However lifts were easy unless they were crowded. He palmed the button and waited. A lift opened, and he allowed the half dozen or so humans waiting to enter, taking the second lift that came instead. When it opened on the seventh floor, he merely concentrated, and at the same time strode down the hall. Pretend you’re the biggest meanest gangster on the street. you own that hall. If someone talks to you, keep it in mind. The briefing he had gotten echoed. In his pocket he had both the disc he had been given, and a pass that said he was a member of the GTA entourage.
A woman stood, carrying her cup toward the carafe, and he slid into her seat, slipping the disc into the reader. He punched the button, and as it ran he stood. The woman was staring at him.
“What are you doing there?”
when in doubt, remember you’re a kid. whining at your age is not merely acceptable, expected in small quantities.
Sanji imediately remembered a six year old human he‘d seen on the street, and put that look on his face. The woman’s irritation faltered. “I was just tired. I’m with the group from the GTA, and I got turned around and tired.” He put the whiny edge in his voice. “Do you know where I’m supposed to be?”
“Oh get away from my desk.” She sat, thumbing her com unit. “This is Gerda over in Med-records. Could you send a security guard down please? We have a youngster who says he’s with the Trade Authority party down here.”
“Right away.” a deep voice replied.
A guard stepped out of the lift, and stalked over. “ID.” He snapped. One look at the ID caused him to motion politely. “If you will follow me, sir?”
Sanji concentrated instead on being the petulant little boy as they rose to the 18th floor. The monk merely nodded, motioning toward a seat. Just as the negotiations resumed suddenly every transmitter station including the dedicated military and transit ones began listing the names of ships and people that had brought drugs, sold them, and especially diverted them. It took less than four hours before a dozen member of the Central Committee, including the Controller were being arrested.
The negotiations continued afterward, were completed satisfactorily and the monk left. followed by his young protégé. Sanji followed him off the planet, and never looked back.
For his disguise this time, Sanji was using a simple key-pad. He concentrated on being unseen, but in the part of his mind trained by the order he added. Don’t mind me. I’m just that twerp from inventory control you’ve seen a dozen times trying to find that missing case of whatever.
The disguise and his own innate abilities had gotten him just about everywhere. But the last section, an area large enough to hold a thousand men or more had been sealed, and he didn’t have any access codes. He looked at the pad as he turned into yet another storage hold.
Odd. All of the cargo holds for passenger luggage and ’steerage’ berths are sealed. But there is no reason for it in the log or the manifest. Construction crews are supposed to be finishing up the fitting out, but there are no construction men on the crew or in their quarters. No beds for that matter. No beds in steerage yet according to the manifest.
He walked back to the landing bay, and was back aboard well before Breia returned to the ship.
The woman nodded at him, taking a seat at the mess table, opening her own pad. “Get us out of here, Sanji.” She looked toward the two Mando boys. “Planted as requested?”
“One on the Chief engineer another on the First officer.” Anak said.
“One on the Captain when I jostled him before we finished Dha Werda Sev reported.
“And I placed six on the table to place themselves.” Breia said. “Well done. “Now, let us see what we will see.” She touched the button, and scanned.
Back when men still used wire for listening, they would cut into communications line to plant listening device. Later they made specific units that they called ‘bugs’.
The modern equivalent actually looked like small bugs, less than a centimeter in length. They ran on six small legs, and would implant themselves if it was at all possible.
Seven of the screens showed movement. Six were scurrying across floors toward their targets. The other was on the Captain’s sleeve as he marched toward the bridge. The other three were riding on clothes of men who at present were at rest.
As they watched, one ran under a foot, then was riding along with it. Then it moved surreptitiously around the edge, catching a pants leg. It scurried upward, catching a cloak, and climbed even higher.
“Excellent.” Breia mused. “Either Corona or Sunrider has one.” She checked the others. “No, that’s Sunrider with Professor Shani.” Two of the bugs were scurrying toward the pair.
“So what do you think?” Sunrider waved at the grand decor.
“Too rich for my blood.” Shani said wistfully. “For a girl from the sticks, this is a bit much.”
“Ah, but such opulence grows on you. After a while, you only notice when it’s not there.” Sunrider said. “Come, I will give you a guided tour.” The bugs made a final dash, one running up Sunrider’s pants leg. The other attached itself to the professor’s shoe.
“Not bad, eight of nine.”
“Where’s the last one?” Anak asked.
Breia keyed in the last unit and chuckled. While programming the bugs to act like real insects, glitches occurred. One such glitch was that sometimes the camouflage programming overrode the device’s tiny little mind. One of the bugs had decided it was hungry, and climbed onto the buffet table. After biting into some cheese, it had fallen into a bowl of gravy, and was sinking rapidly. She sent the self destruct, and it shut down, already dissolving.
“All right, we record now, and play it back when we’re safe in the Duroc’s hold.”
Daysah was stunned by the sheer opulence around her. The ship was almost 500 meters long, three hundred tall deep, and four hundred wide. Almost 60 million cubic meters! In a warship that would be enough weapons to devastate any attacker. The Duroc was 200 meters shorter alone, and considered huge.
In a cargo vessel it was large enough to carry a full colonial cargo load for fifty thousand people. Or to carry that many people to a new colony.
Instead it was designed for a mere 4,000 passengers and 8,000 crew.
There were four decks that could only be defined as one massive shopping mall in her belly. Four hundred stores selling everything from candy for the children to gowns that cost more than her annual salary.
After seeing ballrooms larger than her lecture hall, a swimming pool large enough to be considered a small lake, and every other thing they had decided to put inside this huge ship, she was almost overwhelmed.
“-That is the only branch of the Bank Of Coruscant not on a planet.” Dasa Sunrider was saying. Without his uncle standing there, the young man was actually quite personable. Though he did come across as a commentator for Lifestyles of the Embarrassingly Rich.
He wound down, then smiled wistfully. “I’m probably boring you.”
“No. It’s just that I never enjoyed looking at something I can’t have.” She waved at the vaulted ceiling and the shops above and below them. “That’s all well and good, but to me it’s what I can never have.”
“Don’t be so sure.” He smiled shyly. She started to ask him what he meant when there was a chime from his com unit. “Sunrider here.”
“Dasa, we have business to discuss.” Corona’s voice sounded like he was standing right there.
“On the way, sir.” He switched off, then reached out taking her hand. “There will be several days when we are at Meera when he won’t be looking over our shoulder. May I ask you over for dinner one evening at least?”
“I’d like that.” She replied. He tapped an annunciator plate, and a ship’s crewman arrived. “Escort the lady to the boat bay, please.”
“Why was he talking like that?” Sev asked as they watched through the lens on Sunrider’s attendant bug.
“He was trying to seduce her.” Breia sensed the boy’s confusion. “A mating ritual.”
“Ah.” Sev nodded as if it explained it all. “We don’t do that at home.”
“Obviously.” Breia replied coolly. “What do your people do?”
“Well you don’t learn about sex beyond basic hygiene until you’re thirteen or fourteen.” He replied. “Everyone goes through the military training first, you see. You can’t be thinking about what your team mates might be good for other than combat until you’re done with that.”
“When you enter the last stage of training, they teach primary mating methods, you know, positions, how to-”
“I get the drift.” Breia interrupted hastily.
“Well, then the week before graduation, they take the entire remaining class and give them a full 28 hour day to... Practice what they had been taught. Just like every other part of training, you learn by doing.”
Breia had a vision of several dozen young Mando of both sexes locked in a room with no adult supervision. Or tried to. Her mind rebelled. “That is really more than I needed to know.”
“You did ask.”
“Sunrider is approaching the door.” They tensed. When Corona had opened the door, his bug had suddenly ceased transmitting. Breia had a good idea what had caused it, and she set this bug to record only electronic emissions. As the door opened, there was a sudden burst of energy, and the bug went dead.
“So we won’t hear what is happening in there.” She said, closing the monitor.
“Why?” Anak asked.
“EMP barrier. Fries the circuits of the devices. Lucky for us they merely begin decomposing when that happens.” She leaned back. “Now all we can do is wait.”
Meera: Planet In the Otegga system deep in the Lesser Plooriod Cluster. Galactic Reference GSFD-446/CR-A4/E-2/3.
Class: C-7 class, similar to Coruscant before urban construction. Native animals and planets graded at level 4, some dangerous, but within acceptable standards for human colonization under Coruscant Exploration Guidelines.
Status: Property of the Tokara Company.
Meera is a world discovered five years ago by the Tokara Company vessel Tokara Explorer using the Hyper-space Cannon extension from the planet Taris. Meera was surveyed by the company, and discovered to be a wilderness paradise.
The company is building a resort hotel to rival the largest ever constructed near the largest fall known in the explored galaxy.
Wildlife: Except for the large animals known as Meeran Hammerheads, there are virtually no large animals on the planet. It is a paradise with few dangers, notably a feathered serpent which can be dangerous, but is shy and retiring.
Tokara Company planned to open the hotel last year, however there have been unforeseen setbacks...
From: Encyclopedia Galactica: Fifth edition
As the two ships began to move away from Coruscant, a message torpedo passed them. It flicked into hyper space, travelling many times the speed of the snail like ships. They would take over a week to arrive when the torpedo would be there in less than a day...
“This is just too much!” The foreman roared. The labor crew looked at the earthmovers. It had taken weeks to get enough moly-circuitry to get them working again, and the damn animals had ripped it out again!
Harlan Coor, leaned on his shovel, looking at the neatly spaced trees that again filled the cleared space. He shook his head, smiling slightly. No matter what the company said, these things weren’t animals.
He noticed a small shiny dot near the trees, and leisurely walked over. A coin. Just as he wondered what it was doing here, something smashed into the back of his head. There was screaming, and he rolled over, looking back toward the open spaces. In the haze of his injury, he saw a horde of figures in black suits had descended on the crew, blades flashing. Someone ran toward the transport trying to call for assistance, but was cut down. One figure standing aside turned, drawing a weapon from a holster. He fiddled with a control, then put a single bullet into a tree. Figures surrounded the massive earthmoving machines, then ran away as flames licked upward. The earthmovers exploded one by one, and when Coor finally came completely around, there was nothing but bodies scattered among the wreckage.
He staggered to his feet, moving to the men he had worked beside for the last months. Something caught his eye, and he bent, picking it up.
It looked like a club with an edge that had been sanded into a blade. Pieces of sharp stone flakes had been imbedded in it.
He reached the transport, keying the alarm, then looked at the weapon again. Evidence of a native attack. The problem was the weapon was an exact copy of what was used ten centuries ago on Coruscant by one now extinct tribe on a small island. Something obscure that most wouldn’t know, and they wouldn’t have made here. He pulled back, and threw it as hard as he could into the underbrush. He couldn’t stop what was going to happen, but maybe he could delay it.
He froze, staring into the jungle. A figure stood there, watching him. Then there were more.
A lot more.
One moved closer, until he could recognize it. A hand came up, waving for him to follow.
“So that’s Meera.” Sanji said. Breia had come forward a few minutes before, almost as if she had known precisely when they would arrive. They stood well back from the bustling crowd on the frigate’s bridge.
“Yes.” Antilles said. Our base is going to be out there.” He motioned toward the planet on the edge of the system. “Too many reports of pirates in the area.”
“Pirates.” Breia looked toward him. “From where?”
“I don’t know. The reports from Tokara have been vague. Ships attacked, but the enemy has been beaten off. Not without losses, mind.” Antilles moved back to the bridge windows. “So we’re setting up a base to protect them.”
Breia nodded. The download from the Tokara Company had been vague to her as well. There were holos of the native wildlife, including a bipedal creature with a curved spine, and eyes on a forward sweeping trunk. The survey looked to have been well done, but that biped still bothered her.
The ships plunged toward the planet. Antilles stood beside them, watching the planet they were approaching. “It is beautiful.” He mused.
Breia raised her head, sniffing, then turned toward one console on the edge of the compartment. The crewman there stiffened, then turned sharply. “Admiral! The Tokara construction base has called in. Their crew at the building site were attacked and slaughtered!”
“Prep my shuttle for launch. I want a squad aboard by the time I get down there!” Antilles looked at the two monks. “Coming?”
Breia motioned then moved rapidly through the compartment to the lift, pacing the Admiral.
“We will take our own ship down, if you don’t mind.” She answered. “My two... hounds shouldn’t be left unsupervised for too long. Besides, they might be of some help.”
The lift stopped, and they headed for their ships. Breia slowed as she entered the mess deck. “Boys?”
“Yes, Yuru’ike?” Anak answered.
“How are you at tracking?”
“I was first in my class in basic, standard and advanced tracking.” Anak said. There was no pride in the statement. He was good, but didn’t brag. “Sev was first in basic, but fourth in standard and ninth in advanced.”
“My ad is the best I have seen.” Sev added.
“Good. Sev, I want you to play the bodyguard. Anak...”
The scene looked like a war zone. The Millennium Falcon settled down, crushing some of the newly planted tree, and a moment later was followed by the shuttle from Duroc. Soldiers poured from the shuttle, surrounding it as Antilles stormed down the ramp. He moved forward, his men keeping a tight perimeter as he stopped at the first body. It had been hacked again and again as if by some blade wielding madman. He walked slowly through the battlefield, and his face was cold.
A guard clicked his tongue, pointing something out to his sergeant. The noncom walked over, picking up a war club. “Sir?” He held it up. Antilles waved, and the weapon was brought to him.
He looked up as Breia walked toward him followed by Sev and Sanji. Then he looked back at the club. “Any idea of the losses?”
“Thirty dead. According to the base camp there were thirty-one, so someone is missing.” The sergeant reported. “All four earthmovers were torched. The fuel lines had been hacked open.”
Antilles looked at the carnage. “Natives?”
“May I?” Breia held out her hand, and Antilles passed the club to her. Her fingers ran over it delicately. “Odd. Admiral have you been to the Museum of Natural History?”
“Why is that important?” He rasped.
“Being blind, I get to handle the exhibits when it’s safe. This-” She held up the club. “-is an almost exact duplicate of a Chambri Islander’s war club from Coruscant. The odds that a native would not only know what it looked like, but how it was made are miniscule.”
“Convergent evolution.” The sergeant harrumphed. “Happens all the time.”
“I mention it because four cases of artifacts from the Chambri exhibits were hijacked two weeks ago.” Breia demurred. “Odd that an exact copy turned up here.”
“Sir.” One of the guards had knelt beside one of the bodies. “Most of these cuts weren’t made with something like that.”
Antilles and the Jedi moved over to the soldier. Breia knelt, running her hand along a slash. “He is correct, Admiral. These were made by modern swords.”
They looked up as a pair of shuttles came in. The first was a standard cargo lifter large enough to put two of the earthmovers in. The other was a slim two man personal model.
Men poured out of the larger shuttle, stopping to stare in horror and anger at the scene before them.
Dasa Sunrider followed Suli Corona into the front. The older man paused, his face cold as he surveyed the site. “So they’ve struck again.” Corona said.
“Who?” Breia asked.
“These damn natives.”
“This wasn’t done by any natives.” Antilles interrupted. “Whoever did this used modern weapons, and left these-” He waved the club, “-to make you think it was.”
Corona locked eyes with the Admiral, then stalked forward. He took the weapon, looking at it. “What proof do you have?”
Antilles walked the new arrivals through their discoveries. Corona’s face became thoughtful, then looked at the Jedi Monk. “It seems that someone else is trying to convince us to attack innocent wildlife after all.” He agreed. He walked over to the earthmover, looking at the wreckage. “Pirates perhaps?”
“Possibly.” Breia agreed. “But why would pirates want to disrupt your business here?”
“We are a large fish in a very small pond here.” Corona answered. “If they could convince the Galactic Trade Authority that we are fighting a native species, the planet’s classification would change from class 2 to class 3.”
“Ah.” Breia pondered. A class 2 planet was open for colonization or exploitation. But a class 3 was a planet with an indigenous intelligent species, and while they could trade with them, the company would not own the planet. That would not stop exploitation, merely slow it down. She looked at the Vice President. “So they would be able to trade here without your clearance.”
“All right sergeant. Spread your men around, and see if you can find anything that tells us where the enemy came from and where they went.”
The soldiers supported by the Tokara guards spread out. Sev watched them go, then leaned forward. “ They’re not Mando.” He whispered. “But they move well.”
Breia scanned the forest beyond the men. Her head cocked. “Did you hear that?” Sev started to ask, but she shushed him. From deep in the forest, there came a thrumming sound. Like a bow pulling across a taut string. It fluctuated up and down, then repeated. From another point much farther away, there came a reply. The pair stood in silence as a third then a fourth thrum sounded. Then the forest fell silent again.
Three hours later, the command team surveyed the findings of their men. There had been foot prints, but they had been muffled by cloth so no discernable pattern on possible footwear had been found. The prints had come from all sides, but had left, and deployed from the east along a game trail. Two hundred meters down that trail was a clearing, and in it were depressions that looked like landing gear.
Breia scanned, and detected Anak coming back from the forest where he had been. In one hand he carried a recorder. In the other, his rifle. He paused, slung the recorder, and walked toward her.
“Anything to add?” She asked. At his terse nod, she looked back toward where Antilles Sunrider and Corona were standing at a table which had been set up. She walked over to see what was so interesting. In the center of the table was a single distorted slug.
“May I?” She asked. At Antilles’ nod she picked up the lead, rolling it around in her hand. “Weight about five grams. It feels like...” She set it down. “Admiral, when you analyze this I think you will discover it came from an Echani designed pistol.”
Daysah Shani looked at the package that had come over from the Tokara Requiem with a note. “I would enjoy the pleasure of your company at dinner.” Signed by Sunrider.
She tapped the message against her hand, and looked again at the package. She touched the ribbon, then carefully peeled away the paper. Under it was a box with the logo of one of the shops aboard the massive liner. A very high end clothiers.
I wouldn’t eat for a year if I shopped there even for gloves she thought. She lifted the lid, then stared in amazement. Carefully she lifted out the dress. It was of Aldarian Spider-silk, light enough to blow away on a gentle breeze. The bright teal color almost glowed in the fluorescent lighting. The comment ’less is more’ came to mind looking at it. The dress was an open weave that would look as if she was wearing nothing. At the bottom of the box was a smaller box. In it were three Aldarian starflowers. How many years would I have to go without eating just for this dress? Her mind rebelled. It would cost what she made in five years if it cost a centi-cred.
A small note fluttered out, and she set the dress down to look at it. My gift to you. Something beautiful to wear for a beautiful woman.
She snorted. She was short, a little overweight, and her hair looked like she’d survived a tornado. It always did, even with the work she did. Beautiful my rosy red bum.
She walked over to the communicator, and flipped it on. “Connect me with Dasa Sunrider aboard the Tokara Requiem please.” The screen flared with a small light show, and she ignored it, looking again at the dress.
“Ah, I see you got it.” Sunrider commented when he saw who was calling.
“Dasa, I can’t accept this!”
“Please Daysah, it’s not like it’s going to be bought in the next week or so, right? Besides, it’s good advertising. It will look smashing on you, and if you come to dinner, you can’t come in your grubbies. Besides, except for that dress you wore to the party, how many dress clothes did you bring?”
I didn’t expect to have to go to formal dinners, you twit she didn’t say. “All right, I will wear it, but just once, and then it goes back.”
“Can’t.” He smirked. “Aldarian Spider-silk takes on the scent of the wearer. The dress will smell like you forever.”
She really liked the dress, but she’d never be able to wear it ever again. “Then I am not coming. I can’t accept this.”
His face fell. “Then bring it here, and we’ll find something you can wear. Something not so, exorbitant.”
“All right.” She switched off, looking longingly at the dress again. Damn. I don’t even get to try it on! She sighed, packing it back into the box.
“Report.” Breia sat, rubbing her temples.
“There were some of those hammerheads around the site.” Anak reported. “And some had been close enough to witness what was happening. There was a human with them.”
“Wait, someone is running around there with them?”
Anak held out the recorder. Breia reached into her robe, lifting out the plug. Grimacing, she reached behind her right ear, and slid it into the emplaced socket. She had finally had the procedure to give her sight, but it never really gave her the same visual acuity she remembered. But for scan data or written reports, it was adequate. Besides, it impressed people when she moved more readily than they had anticipated, so she generally didn’t wear it.
The recorder had fine detail, and with her implant she could focus down to the microscopic level. A line of foot prints from work boots started at the edge of the trees, staggered back toward where the transport was, then toward the trees again. There was a splash of blood at the forest edge, but no body. The prints stopped facing another set of footprints. Anak had followed them into the forest arching away from where the attackers had been.
“What about the bullet?”
Anak adjusted the feed. The tree where the bullet had been was highlighted, and every blood splatter or body marked. There was nothing near the tree. He fiddled with it, and now the footprints were also marked. Except for the muffled prints, none were anywhere near it. “There were no targets anywhere near the tree. Whoever fired the shot planted the bullet intentionally.”
“So someone used an Echani pistol to fire a shot into a tree, so we would think pirates had killed everyone. But at the same time planted evidence that natives had done it. But they are supposed to be animals.”
“One man was missing from the crew according to what I heard.” Sev said. “Maybe he met a friend?”
“But who? And why did they follow the hammerheads?”
“They didn’t.” Anak replied flatly. “They were with them, not following.” He slid the recording a little farther on. At one point, one set of prints disappeared. “The man that was missing at the site must have been injured. They put him on a stretcher of some kind.”
Breia mused. She unplugged “I think we had better talk with Professor Shani.
Daysah was about to board the shuttle when someone shouted her name. The female monk was walking toward her, followed by her bodyguards. “May I help you Padawan Breia?”
“You said your University had a droid to attempt translation. May I ask where it is?”
“In my quarters. Why?”
“Something in our investigation from below.” Breia said. “You said there were two people that infiltrated. One was Professor Coor, the other?”
“Ton Morant. But he’s missing.”
“I remember that much. An architecture student. What was his minor?”
“His minor?” Daysah considered. “I think it was contemporary music. He was the one that suggested the droid in the first place.”
“May I borrow the droid for a while?”
“For a short while, yes. I will be back in a few hours. Where are you taking it?”
“We’re returning to the area where the construction crew was attacked. I believe you might be right. The hammerheads do appear to be intelligent.”
“Are you sure?” Shani stepped off the ramp. “I’m coming with you.”
“Professor Shani sends her regrets. She is accompanying the Jedi Padawan down to the construction site.” The communications tech reported.
“All right.” Sunrider switched off.
“So you’re plan didn’t work.” Corona commented.
“It still can work, Uncle.” Sunrider replied. “She’s enamored of our lifestyle. She just hasn’t had a chance to witness it fully.”
“But if that damn Jedi convinces her the hammerheads are intelligent, we’ve lost.”
“This actually works in our favor.” Sunrider demurred. “We have all of the people we want to contain in one place at the same time without military assistance. Our assault team can take them down, and once they are out of the way...”
The Millennium Falcon settled down on her pads, and the ramp came down. Breia walked down, paced by the homo-form droid.
“I do not understand why I am being subjected to this environment.” The droid complained. “After all, most sophonts understand the need for paving.”
“I can tell you’ve never been where people really live, B-7.” Breia replied. “Most life forms feel more comfortable in this setting than on asphalt.”
“That may be so, Padawan.” The droid replied. “However droids are not most life forms, are they?”
Breia simply shook her head. The others came down the ramp, Anak in the lead. He passed the quarreling pair, and led the way to his find. Sev stayed beside Breia, his rifle at high port. Daysah pushed past them, followed by Sanji.
“Just shut up and do your job.” Breia finally snapped.
“Well I can’t very well shut up and translate now can I?” The droid visibly wilted under her glare. “Shutting up.”
Daysah was kneeling, looking at the footprints. “So they came this far, and then carried someone off that way?” She asked, pointing.
“Correct.” Anak replied. He swiveled, his rifle swinging toward the trees. “Down!”
The rifle purred, bullets hosing the trees a few meters away. Someone screamed, and fell.
A net dropped. Sanji leaped, diving out away as it hit. Anak and Daysah shuddered, falling. A man ran over, his weapon pointed at the prostrate pair. “Move and I blow the woman’s head off!”
Sev stopped, assessing the situation. He could detect a dozen or more people out there, and not all of the weapons were pointed at Daysah and Anak. “Options?”
Breia sighed. “Except for dying gloriously, I don‘t see any. Do you?” He shook his head. “Drop it, Sev.”
The young warrior growled, then knelt, setting his rifle down. The men moved out of the trees. They were obviously Tokara Security. One of the men lifted his com. “We’ve got them, sir.”
“All of them?”
“All but the younger Jedi. I’ll send a team after him.”
“If he gets away, you had better have died in the chase.” The voice warned.
“Yes, sir.” The man looked at one of his men. “Take six men. Find that little Jedi and make sure he dies. I don‘t want to hear anything from you until you can report him dead.” He looked at the blind woman and her escort. “We have a few minutes.” He motioned. “Back aboard.”
Men rolled up the net, cuffing Daysah and Anak. Their limp bodies were dragged aboard. Two of the men went forward, and the engines purred.
Sanji watched from his hide. He kept thinking I’m not here, I’m not here as he did. The patrol was moving around, looking for him. He heard shots, but they were more probing fire than actually aimed at him. He moved farther back into the trees. Suddenly something covered his eyes.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” He whispered.
“If you want to live, don’t make a sound.” Someone whispered. Then he was picked up, and thrown over a shoulder.
Far above, the two ships orbited. As the Frigate moved into the sensor shadow of Tokara Requiem, the Millennium Falcon lifted off, running toward the larger ship. A docking bay opened, and the ship slipped inside. Another A-7 dropped from the same bay, and headed down. By the time Duroc could again see the landing zone, all was as it had been.
“Sir! The security team reports they’re under attack!” The communications officer shouted.
Antilles spun around. “What?”
“The Jedi landed, supposedly to do some more investigating. One of the security guards saw those two Mandalorians carrying something down the ramp, and when they went to investigate, they came under fire.”
Antilles ran toward his command console. “Get me the Millennium Falcon!”
“Sir, the Millennium Falcon is lifting off!” On the screen, the ship was an arrowhead on an arrow of fire, aimed straight at Tokara Requiem.
The cannon in the defense turrets opened fire, spalling the hull of the liner. Then a pair of chain guns opened fire. As the ship dodged, it ran toward the bow of the liner. Then it came apart as the projectile cannon turned it into confetti.
“Get me the Requiem!“ Antilles waited impatiently until the screen came up showing captain Magtyar. “Who ordered those guns to open fire?”
“My crew was on alert because of the reports of Pirates, Admiral.” Magtyar replied. The guns were on automatic. If anything approached us in a hostile manner they would be engaged.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop them from firing in time.”
“So what were they delivering?”
“Haven’t gotten a report yet. Wait a minute.” Magtyar looked to the side. “Split screen it.” He snapped.
The screen split. on one side, Magtyar watched, on the other, a man in Tokara uniform was prying open a case. Inside it were ten Echani designed cone rifles. He hefted one, opening the action. A 1mm discarding sabot projectile winked in the camera. The man on the ground ejected the 8mm diameter cartridge. “It looks like we don’t have pirate, unless the Jedi Monks are supplying them.” The man said. “There’s three cases of these rifles, and ten cases of ammo.”
Antilles shook his head. “I don’t believe it.”
“Then who?” Magtyar asked.
Daysah rubbed her head. She had a splitting headache. Where-
A net falling, power surging through her sending her into blackness.
She snapped upright.
Not a good idea. Her head seemed to lift, then swivel as if it were going to fall off. She clutched her head, whimpering. The noise faded as she made it. Soundproofing. Where was she?
She opened her eyes just mere slits, but the light didn’t increase the pain. She opened them fully, looking around. It was a luxury suite. She looked down, and grimaced. That damn gown was on her. The flowers she saw, went where they would fig-leaf her breasts and crotch, and had opened of their own accord, the cerulean color offsetting the teal.
Beside her on the night table was a carafe of water, and two small pills. Beside them was a card.
FOR THE HEADACHE
She poured then considered. The water might be drugged. She took the carafe into the fresher, dumped it, and used one of the sanitary wrapped glasses from there to drink tap water. It was only after she had swallowed them that she considered that they could have easily slipped whatever drugs they wanted into the pills she had just taken. For that matyter into the air or the very tap water she had drunk.
She padded back into the suite, and began searching it. A closet held more clothes than she had owned in her lifetime, all of it the same quality and cost as what she wore right now. Of her own gear, there was no sign.
There was a gentle bell tone, and she looked around frantically. The Com annunciator on the night table was blinking gently. She walked across, touching it.
“This is Dasa. Care for that dinner you missed now?”
“Let me out of here.”
“I will be down to get you in a moment.” The light shut off. She touched it again.
“I’m sorry, all communications lines are temporarily out of order. Please try your call again later.” A recording answered her.
She flounced into a chair, crossing her arms angrily. Whatever they were up to, there was nothing she could do at the moment to stop them. She considered slamming something on that idiot Sunrider’s head, then shook her head angrily. If he had a brain he would have a guard or two with him. If he didn’t just send a guard to get her instead. There wasn’t anything heavy enough to hurt someone through a helmet in this room.
A short time later, the door opened. Sunrider was standing outside in the passageway. Two men in security uniforms flanked him. “Please, this way?” He motioned gracefully.
She stood, storming out. The passageway was a step above the opulence of the typical passenger quarters. This must be the first class area. Sunrider walked beside her, directing her to the lift, and they shot up two decks.
If the regular passenger quarters were elegant, and the room she had left opulent, this was positively sybaritic. The floor were a deep pile carpeting thick enough to lose shoes in. The walls were Coruscanti marble in a smooth continuous sheet broken only by doorways. Sunrider pushed open a double door into a private dining room twice the size of her apartment. Larger than the three room suite where she had woken up.
There were three place settings at the far end of the table, and Corona sat at one, flipping through a fan fold report. He looked up, standing and moving toward them.
“Well, Professor, what do you think?” He waved at the room. The clearsteel windows beyond looked out over the planet. “The quarters and dining area for Tokara Board members and their families. If we booked these rooms, they would cost more than you make in a year. And we would already have a waiting list a year long for them.” He motioned, pulling out a chair. “Have a seat. We have a business proposition for you.”
Daysah sat, looking at the place setting before her. All her life she had dealt with meals by using a single fork knife and spoon. Before her were six forks, three different spoons, and as many knives. Already she was out of her depth.
A silent droid rolled in, and a bowl of soup was placed at each seat.
“Lastafarian Snailfish. The absolute best soup made anywhere.” Sunrider boasted. “Dig in!”
The men began to eat, and she watched before picking up the matching spoon. Whatever else happened, she needed to eat. The soup was excellent.
“Running a major corporation is not easy.” Corona commented between spoonful. “We have so much competition that sometimes it’s a war going on. When we discover a planet it seems like you have time for one deep breath before someone else is there trying to muscle you out.”
“Oh how dreary.” Daysah replied smoothly.
“Yes isn’t it.” Corona ignored her sarcasm. “Until a few years ago we were running into so many problems. Until I found a solution.” He looked up and she flinched at the cold look on his face.
She’d seen a huge Pantha cat at the zoo when she was young. Two meters at the shoulder, rippling muscles. It fed on herbivores the size of cargo lifters. Like any kid she had pressed herself against the armorplast of the enclosure.
One moment, the great cat was simply laying there, almost asleep. The next she was bounced back as it leaped, slamming a clawed paw against the glass at her face. The cat’s expression had not changed between those moments. It would have killed her without a thought of malice. Just because it could.
Corona had the same look.
“I found a way around all of that three years ago. I was commanding Coruscanti Sheen, one of our first armed, or at least partially armed vessels. I found a pair of rival corporations arguing about an unnamed little planet in the mid-rim. I was really upset. The planet would be a perfect home for colonists, the company would make billions. But here we had two others already squabbling over it.
“We were on the very edge of their sensor range, but they were too busy watching each other to notice us. I suddenly considered that you have two very hotheaded crews arguing over money. Then I had a thought...
“When you have two people or groups arguing, what can cause them to go from argument to fighting? You’ve seen it. The two rival gangs standing each other off then suddenly a rock comes out of nowhere. Maybe it’s just some kid standing on a fire escape and no one is watching him. Everyone assumes the other side threw it. The fight is on.
“We had some missile pods. Not much really, but enough for my purpose. I had one pod inserted in a slow orbit. When it reached the area between the ships, it automatically locked on one of the ships. A Hutt ship if I remember correctly. Half a dozen concussion missiles. Not enough to even scratch their paint. But the Hutt reacted as anticipated. Their guns tore into the other ship. A Twi-Leki I recall. The Twi-leki opened fire, and a minute later, poof!” He threw his hands up as if throwing money into the air. “Both ships were dead in space.
“We waited for a while, then approached, and collected the bodies and their data recorders. I checked, but neither one had recorded the missile pod.
“So I had a newly discovered and unclaimed planet, and the salvage from two ships. The Company didn’t have any rules about salvage at that time, so the crew spilt it. Fifty men were rich over night. They weren’t going to complain. The Company had the planet Naboo. They weren’t going to complain.
“I used the same method a few other times but not enough for a pattern to be noticed. A rival company would approach a planet we traded with, and boom. Another horrible pirate loss.
“Then there was Sullust. A planet with a native species, so we couldn’t really stop anyone from trading there, could we?” He smiled, a feral grin that didn’t touch his eyes. “Unless they attacked us first that is.”
The second course arrived, and as horrified as she was Daysah kept eating. Whatever else happened she would need the energy to survive.
“So I had some very special cargo loaded onto one of our older ships the Tokara Star. It was sent to deliver a load of consumer goods to the planet. The Catharia Corporation was building an orbital warehousing station to use, and had half a dozen ships there, including two armed vessels. My ship Tokara Venture was already in orbit, and was headed out. A computer program activated, and the Tokara Star detected a missile launch from one of those armed ships. They frantically called us. You see, we were armed, but they were not. Then the cargo did what it was supposed to do.
“Four hundred kilos of thermo-concentrate blasting explosives, scattered through her cargo holds, marked as different items. One minute our ship is there, the next it is gone. And we have Captain Maro Antilles’ voice saying they are under attack. So elegant.”
“Yes, the Admiral’s son. A martyr for the people.”
“You sick bastard.”
“Well things escalated as you might imagine. Both Corella and Coruscant sent warships in. Soon thirty warships were jockeying for position, ready to blow each other to hell at the first provocation.
“But military men are more restrained than merchants. They have to have proof, and orders before they do what they do. When my ship returned a month later, they were still there, posturing and complaining. Something had to be done to break the deadlock.
“I had some computer records of the Corellian navy when they were testing some of their new fighters. I had my first officer splice the record together so that it looked like a possible attack. A pair of my crewmen went out in spit-kits, and they used a small cannon to pound a few shells into us. Not enough for real damage, but enough to appear serious. Then I set out two of our missile pods at a sharp angle from us.
“Then the poor under armed merchantman screamed for help. Of course everyone had to charge toward us. The Corellians to find out what the hell was going on, the Coruscanti to gains revenge for the cowardly attack. When they were close enough, I activated the pods, one at the Corellians, the other at one of our own ships, and ducked for cover. They blew each other to hell before the Admirals could stop the fighting.
“I offered my ship as a meeting place, and mediated the dispute despite my own losses-”
“Losses.” She knew what he was going to say even before he said it, but there was a horrible fascination at the rendition.
“Of course. Two of my men were on the hull when the attack occurred, and they were both killed rather horribly. My first officer against orders attempted to rescue them but one of the fighters brutally strafed him. A tragedy I had to set aside.
“Both were upset about their losses, and Catharia wasn’t helping, but here was a mere captain setting aside his own pain to bring peace.
“I suggested that Sullust become a protectorate. That both sides patrol the planet to assure this didn’t happen again and all companies would be allowed to trade. They hailed me as a master peace maker.
“Of course who do you think got most of those contracts? The horrible Corellian company that had started it? Or me?
“Tokara Company suppled snub fighters and escort class warships to the Sullust. My Company built their industrial infrastructure.” He leaned back, happy.
“So you’re doing it again. And this time who do you blame?”
“Why those horrible Jedi of course.” His face turned ugly. “We had a very profitable deal going on a planet named Triseki. The politicians were so corrupt we didn’t even need to bribe them. They wanted money fast, and we supplied them with Ridastinal a drug manufactured by another company. The Twi-Leks use it, as do the Hutt. Humans use it for... mood alterations.
“But those damn Jedi broke the drug ring wide open. Fifty of the local politicians and their flunkies were thrown in jail, along with four captains of our ships implicated. The Corporation lost those ships when the more honest government seized them for transporting the drugs. It cost us billions.
“So I am going to inflict losses on them. When this is over no one will ever even think of asking a Jedi for anything!”
“But why?” She screamed. “You own the planet no one can-” She gasped. “The hammerheads are intelligent, aren’t they?”
“As intelligent as you or I am.” Corona answered softly. “We didn‘t discover that little fact until we‘d already started construction of the hotel complex, however.
“But they won’t deal. To them that-” He waved toward the planet, “-is sacred! They haven’t developed technology because of the possible repercussions to the environment! We have a paradise that is worth trillions of credits in tourist trade and they won’t deal!” As he reached the sentence he was on his feet roaring.
“If they’d fight us it would be easier. Mean and nasty primitives murdering our people. But on top of that they’re pacifists!. They obstruct, they plant trees in the areas we’ve cleared, but they won‘t fight! Our crews won’t shoot at them because all they need to do is push them out of the way as they work!
“Then something changed. Someone started sabotaging our equipment. First it was just dirt in the fuel tanks, or bolts loosened in the earthmovers. Then they began ripping moly-circs out of them, shredding the bundles. Those cost over 5,000 credits apiece!
“But as much as the board was upset, I was not. You see, if they are natives, we can’t exterminate them. But a pirate force using the planet?” He smiled. “All bets are off there. We can pursue them to extinction and be applauded.”
“So the attacks, the people, your own people down there...”
“Yes. A small team of security personnel sent on the last ship. They were shipped down secretly. Their orders were to make sure first that natives were accused, but with a twist I added. They had regular weapons, but they weren’t supposed to use them until told to. Meanwhile they had some extra, special weapons.”
“The Echani pistol.”
“Correct. We couldn’t assure which planet the Jedi sent would be from. We have weapons made on every planet that supplied members to those fanatics. All we needed to do was make it look like a badly botch frame-up, yet leave one item that can be tied to a specific planet. The planet the Jedi came from.
“We carried several tons of additional weapons aboard this ship. Crates and crates of weapons and ammunition made on Coruscant, Corellia, Echana, you name it. Even Twi-Lek and Mandalorian weapons.”
“But Breia and the Jedi will deny it!”
“Oh the Jedi will. But our delivery ship, manned by several men, was painted to look exactly like the Millennium Falcon. So was her transponder. When we took the Millennium Falcon we merely assured that our ship was between the planet and the frigate, so they didn’t see the switch. Then the ship took off, attacked us, and ran away. A pity the mercenaries didn’t know about our cannon. They died sure we would miss them.
“The only loose end is you. And you are going to help us.”
Explanation and plans
Sanji blinked as the hood was taken off. Two men sat before him on a log. Behind them were maybe forty of the Hammerhead natives. The native were nude, but that didn’t seem to bother them.
“First, who are you?” The smaller of the two men asked.
“I am Sanji. I am a Monk of the Jedi order.”
“So they got through.” The larger man growled. “It took them long enough.”
“I assume that you must be Professor Coor. This then might be Ton Morant?”
“Yep.” Morant replied.
“But you went missing six months ago.”
“Not missing, researching.” He waved toward the natives. “When I came I was studying the natives on the sly. The Company says they are animals. But something about the sounds they make seemed contrived. Language of some kind I was sure. I studied music because I enjoy it, and I rigged this.” He tapped a box on his hip that ran up to a plug in his ear. “I found out why they were able to convince everyone they were animals.” He turned, and spoke in a guttural tone. One of the Hammerheads moved forward, and took a deep breath. As it did, four mouths opened in the neck of the creature, and a sound like a pipe organ began. Sanji closed his eyes, listening.
Language is communication, whether it is body language, sound, moving of the fingers, smell, or a combination of them Master Mogo, one of the few Hutt that had joined the order had taught. As you progress, you will discover even more possibilities. Ways of speaking that you cannot even imagine. To be efficient in spreading our beliefs, we must learn the languages of those we meet, even of those that are of our own races, but speak another. The Force will guide you if you let it in this.
The language was not only audio but harmonic, sounds combined in such a manner that only someone capable of the same stereophonic rendition could duplicate it. Suddenly there was a feeling almost like a switch being thrown in his brain.
“-I continue? The being seems to be asleep.”
“No, I am not asleep.” He opened his eyes. Morant was staring at him as if he’d suddenly sprouted hair instead of Lekku. “I can understand her.”
“How did you know it was a female?”
“The harmonic sounded feminine.” Sanji looked at the creature, no the woman, in wonder. “I can understand why you need a translation droid. I don’t know many species that can reproduce that with any fidelity.”
“Young one, this one seems to hear and understand without a box. Why is that?”
“Do you understand me?” Sanji asked.
The native watched him benignly. “The young one has been with us for many days. It was easier to learn his language than to teach him ours. As you have said, not many can reproduce our voice.” The female replied.
“I can understand that. Now. I need a full report of what has occurred. Whatever you have done has convinced the company to commit genocide, and we must stop that plan before it can begin.”
Daysah wanted to scream that Corona was insane. But she knew that even uttering it would have led to her death. “What makes you think I will help?”
“You’re a humanitarian type. Every anthropologist is. You never see the dangers and the problems in the societies you examine. Only where their beliefs and actions mirror our own.” Corona sneered. He stood, going to a wall, touching it. The wall slid aside, showing her a large view screen. The screen lit, and she started to her feet in shock.
Breia was bound, collapsed on a bed. She had her eyes closed, but Daysah knew somehow that she was resting rather than asleep or unconscious. The view moved backward smoothly, and she saw the two Mando boys also on beds. Neither one was even pretending. They glared angrily off to one side. As the view expanded further, she could see the squat droid sitting on tracks nearby, and the man behind it.
“These people live only because of their value in convincing you.” Corona said. Daysah could see a look of distaste on Sunrider’s face. “Shall we begin persuading?” Corona turned his back on the screen, watching her instead. “Begin.”
At the word, the front of the droid opened in a slow motion explosion. As the carapace slid aside arms extended. Every one had a different tool, every tool a possible weapon or instrument of pain.
“Which one?” The man in the room asked.
“Your choice.” Corona replied.
The man looked at each of them in turn, eyes bright with excitement. “The smaller boy.” As he said that the droid rolled forward slowly, each arm spreading wider away from the other and extending forward. Anak glared at it, but didn’t flinch.
“This is obscene!” Daysah gasped.
“It is obscene that you think I will not do it. The only thing that will keep these people whole and undamaged is your obedience.”
The droid was almost within reach, and one of the arms, carrying a surgical saw blade whirred into life. It extended toward Anak’s hand, coming down-
“Wait a moment.” Corona snapped.
“Hold!” The man growled angrily.
Corona looked at her, and she could feel his satisfaction. “All right. I will do it.”
Corona just watched her. “Good. We won’t need your little toy just yet, Conoro. Stand down.”
The man in the room glared at the camera, then sighed. “Yes sir. Retract and retreat.” He ordered. The droid paused, then the arms folded back into the carapace, which closed with a gentle hiss.
The view screen blanked. Corona closed the wall, and resumed his seat. “Unless you do everything I say all you have gained is a reprieve. If you refuse, if you balk, if I even think you have done so, Conoro’s little toy will be put into action. There are so many parts of the body that are not absolutely necessary to living. I have watched him literally vivisect one of those damnable natives down there but they still refused to submit.
“The next time someone will lose parts of their body and the only thing that keeps it from happening is your obedience. Have I made myself clear?” She nodded. “Answer me!”
“I understand.” She husked. “But what good would my testimony do? If it goes to a full council or a court, I have to make the statements under a verifier scan. You can’t lie with that!”
“Oh the scanners aren’t that perfect. We have used chemically induced mental blocks for decades to keep business secrets away from each other, and false memories are easy to create when you know exactly what you want to create.
“The scenario we are going to create is very simple. This Jedi is in league with a business consortium on Echana. They want to seize the planet, but they don’t have enough armed vessels to challenge us openly. So they began sending in insurgents to slow us down. When that didn’t work, they escalated again, and again. Now they have attacked our people, but their attempt to make us think it was natives failed. Knowing this might occur, the woman hired two Mandalorian mercenaries as a cover, and brought in weapons for the teams down below. Widely scattered teams as it will turn out.
“She knew you could be used as a pawn, so she told you this. But you were more loyal to your home planet than to any ideal. You reported it to us. We will find the documentation aboard the Frigate, well hidden.”
“How are you going to fake that?”
“That was easy. While neither Captain Magtyar nor Admiral Antilles know it, both ships carry several of my people in key positions. The man operating the sensors aboard Tokara Requiem deleted the liftoff and arrival of Millennium Falcon aboard our ship, which was hidden in our sensor shadow from the Frigate by the way and others have already planted the data we will find.
“It has a probability of success of over 90%. But you are right. Perhaps it will fail. If it does, all of that evidence will lead from the Jedi to our good captain. He was so unhappy that he was assigned this ‘pleasure barge’, and he did it out of spite. Of course he used you to plant that evidence against the Jedi.
“That will not stop us, it will merely delay the inevitable.”
“But the verifier!”
“We will create the images we want you to remember. All of what we don’t want you to say will be buried behind a block that would kill you if anyone tried to break through it.
“Of course you will lose your position as a professor. Too much scandal for the University to accept being linked to such goings on. But my nephew has grown quite fond of you.” He looked at Sunrider with a slight grin. “He will take you away from all of that. He will marry you, and you can then go where ever you want as an independent researcher. Perhaps one day you will even get published again. I can guarantee that, considering how much of the Company’s money has been spent keeping that University afloat.
“Eventually you will grow to enjoy your new life. You will bear children who will sit on the board of directors. Be the talk of the elite sect. The poor little girl that made it rich with one step.” He smiled almost gently. “Don’t worry about whether you love him or not. If need be we can correct that little problem in the same manner.”
Daysah stared at him with dawning horror.
“So let me get this straight.” Sanji said as he paced. “They call this planet Ithor. The Ithorians,” he waved toward the natives, “Tried to communicate with the original survey team, but their language was too complex, and they decided that it couldn’t really be a language because their translation program ignored it.
“The survey team reported that the planet was uninhabited, and a few months later, machinery was delivered that began ripping out the trees where they plan to set the hotel.”
“Yes.” Morant said. “When I arrived I was sure they were intelligent because of the way they resisted. They would stand in front of the machinery to make the drivers stop, and had to be physically moved out of the way. Every night they plant bafforr seedlings in hope that they will not crush them.” He waved toward a tree nearby. It shivered as if it were wind blown. Sanji could almost feel an intelligence there.
“These are really exciting trees to study.” Coor said. “When the seedlings grow to about ankle height, they migrate away from the mother tree to find a place to grow. The roots are mobile, and it is like watching an animal scurry across the ground. When they find an open space they plant their roots again, moving only to gather other nutrients. In a decade or so, I might discover how they know where to look.”
“But that wasn’t working.” Morant continued. “The Company just kept ripping the trees out, and going on with their construction. Finally I disabled one of the earthmovers. When that didn’t work, I did it again, then I finally began ripping out moly-circ control runs-”
“Wait!” Sanji spun. “It was you doing that?”
“The Ithorians have a sense of property like no other. They don’t steal from each other, and they don’t even have words for things like steal or kill. If an Ithorian saw something he wanted to possess he’d either trade for it or make his own. They are such devout pacifists that if there was anything predatory on them here, they would have been extinct millennia ago. They live in complete harmony with their environment. They don’t even kill insects that attack their crops. They evolved other species to do that for them!”
“Evolved other species? You’re saying they are not only intelligent but technically adept as well?”
“Just as early man bred our farm animals and grains to get higher yields, they did the same with insects and small animals. A filed of grain or vegetables they have planted are ringed with plant the local animals don’t like to eat, and animals that feed on the parasites flourish there as well. The only things they haven’t figured out how to combat yet are like plant diseases, but they have been dealing with that by destroying grain from the infected plants and replanting the resistant strains. If they had access to a modern laboratory they would be unbelievable!”
Sanji sighed. “So this is all your fault.”
“What do you mean?” Coor snapped angrily. “How is this our fault?”
“Not all of it. Just what is happening right now. How to explain...” Sanji scrubbed his face with his hand. “The Company would have had this hotel built and running if you hadn’t begun destroying their equipment. You have created an image they can use of actual attacks by a hostile force. If they had admitted that the Ithorians were intelligent, that would be easier to deal with. They could at least attempt to negotiate.”
“They tried.” The Ithorian female Waashiri told him. “We would not let them soil our planet. If they had come and lived as we did, or only used the islands off the coast, this would not have occurred. But the Falls of Dessiar drew them. Such beauty they cannot describe, only witness. This they believed would bring more people here if they could stay rather than camping out.” She sniffed, an almost human sound. “So instead they inflict pain and when that does not work, kill us.”
“So all they could do is leave.” Sanji nodded. “But you have given them a way around that.”
“Again with us being to blame!”
“Damn it think! How long do you think it would take before someone that can hear the harmonics would arrive? Both myself and my master Breia could hear it, and it wouldn’t have taken very long to force the issue. I know that a decade might be too long to you, but it would have gotten them free of it eventually.
“But not any more. They have evidence that an outside force is now killing their people. They can get permission to act to stop those ‘terrorists’. How many villages of the Ithorians can they slaughter from orbit? Or from shuttles? Once the killing begins no one is going to care if they are intelligent or not. Every village will be a strike on an insurgent stronghold, and what makes you think they can’t keep planting evidence to prove it?
“Now take it one step further. Let’s say you get off the planet and convince people that they are intelligent. They can spin that too! They paint the Ithorians as cowardly creatures not even willing to fight. Instead they contacted these same pirates, and have been paying them with whatever might be of value. They don‘t even need to have anything on sale to point to. Just the idea that is happening.” Sanji slowed down. The faces before him, both human and Ithorian looked at him in dawning understanding and horror.
“What can we do?” Waashiri asked. “We can leave, go far away-”
“Forever?” Sanji asked. “How long will it be before they start hunts? There are people that would pay well to put you in a museum or zoom. More still would pay to have you stuffed on a podium.”
“Our doom is before us.” She whispered. “There is nothing we can do.”
“Yes there is. But we need to get them off the planet.” He pointed at the two humans. “We have to get them aboard the Frigate before someone finally give the orders that destroy your race.” He stood. “If you want them to live, come on!”
Breia turned her head. The droid and the human were in one direct line for the first time since they had been put in the room. She could feel that the monitoring camera was off. How she would have not been able to explain. She shifted her hands, then snapped them down at the same instant. There was a plinking sound as the first dart punched into the droid just below the retractable carapace. It whined, but the motivator that would have sent it charging at her was shattered by the dart.
The second one caught Conoro below the eye, skating up the cheek bone into the eye and on into his brain before it stopped.
She rolled to her feet, feeling in her robes.
“Is there a reason you took so long to do something?” Sev asked with a mildness that had nothing to do with his mood.
“We had to find out why we hadn’t been killed below.” She replied. She brought out the set of lock picks she carried, and began fiddling with the cuffs. “It is more logical to have merely killed us, but as long as they can threaten us, Professor Shani is their pawn. We have to save her as well.” The cuff opened, and she started on the other. “If that machine had actually started to cut you, I would have stopped it even if it meant our deaths.”
“May you come back Mando’ade.” Anak said, shoving his hands into her grip.
“That isn’t what I planned for today.” Both boys were now free. She turned to her own cuffs, and they clattered to the floor.
“I don’t have anything that will open the door.”
“I do.” Sev walked to the obviously frustrated droid. The chest opened up, arms extending, and he leaped over, catching it from behind. He spun it around, the sheering blade cutting into the doorframe. Before it could retract and try for him he cast it aside, shoving his fingers into the hole. He locked his feet against the wall, took a deep breath, then with one smooth jerk ripped the door open.
The guard on the other side spun, clawing for his pistol, but Anak leaped, feet slamming into the man and throwing him into the wall. The boy landed on his shoulders, snapped his knees to his chin, then back out sharply, flipping his body into the air, and onto his feet in a crouch. The victim was still standing against the wall stunned when the boy hit him with a punch that shattered his ribs against the unyielding metal. He snapped the man’s neck even as he collapsed in agony.
Breia clucked her tongue. “So much aggression. She stepped over the body, head scanning. “I think you eat too much meat, young man.” Her head stopped looking down the passageway to her right. “That way. A large room. Empty at the moment.”
Sev flipped the knifes he had taken off the corpse to his friend, pulling the pistol. “Pathetic. He could have shot me with this and I would have killed him before I even noticed the wound.”
They hurried down the passageway. The room as not large, it was huge! On the far end they could see the Millennium Falcon. Between them were stacks and stacks of crates. Sev gave a glad cry, and a fist shattered the thin plastic of the cover. His hand came out with a Mando weapon. “Anak! A’den ehn!“ He threw the weapon to the other boy, pulling out another. A quick search gave them enough ammunition for any foreseeable firefight.
“We can’t just blow everyone to hell, boys.”
“Why not?” Anak asked. He checked the tri-barreled ’rage three’. “Kill them all, the Gods know their own.” He quoted.
“Not everyone aboard is in on this, or even against us.” She explained. “If you want to damage company property, that is one thing, and defending yourself is good. But mass murder is out.”
“Spoilsport.” Sev said. He went to another box, reading it carefully. The tool inside looked like a small jackhammer He picked it up, and flinched as Breia slapped it up.
“Di’kut! Do you even know what that is?”
“A beam weapon of some kind.”
“It’s a short beam cutter.” She said. “It isn’t a weapon, it’s a tool!” She touched it. “Magnetic field, monomolecular thread. You can set it for any distance you want up to about fifty meters. Flick it on, and it punches forward, and you merely swing it to cut through anything. They use it to cut down trees among other things."
“The boy pondered, then he grinned. “You said damage is all right?”
“Of course...” She suddenly pictured two irate Mando with short beam cutters. “Oh you are so nasty. little man.
“well they did think we were pawns.” He checked the setting. Five meters maximum. “Maybe they need to see how we play chess?”
Breia sighed. “Give me a few minutes.” She walked over to the ship, and climbed aboard. A few moments later, she stepped down with a metal staff. The sword she normally carried was not on her hip.
“Now. Give me a five minute countdown.” She walked across, opening the door into the passageway. “I will find the professor and while you are... Indulging your aggressions, I will make sure she is safe.”
“Chu!” The boys shouted together. She shook her head in exasperation and padded forward.
“You know, she didn’t say we had to start here.” Anak said.
“You’re right. Oya!” They loped down the passageway aft.
“Well now that the details are settled, would you like an aperitif?” Sunrider asked.
Daysah stared at him. “You two have already planned to reprogram me like a new droid one second and the next asking if I want a drink?”
Corona shook his head. “I could have merely done it without informing you, now couldn’t I? The luxury suites aboard the ship have full pharmacopoeia already installed. You can heighten your sexual potency, go straight into a dreamless sleep, focus your memory on exactly what you are working on or lay in a stupor without having to leave your bed. They can also be controlled from that panel.” He waved toward the now hidden view screen. “You could have woken up a few hours from now, ecstatic that you were going to marry my nephew, and remembering everything I wanted you to remember. But Dasa seems to be overly fond of you.”
He leaned forward, thumbing a contact. “Two brandies and the lady will decide when they arrive.” Then his head came up, the cold look in his eyes. “As it is the only reason you are here and not below learning about Conoro’s little toys first hand, I suggest you simply thank me for my courtesy.”
The door opened, the droid rolling toward the table. Corona leaped to his feet. There were no brandy snifters. There was merely a small round ball.
“What the-” Dasa started to reach out.
“Don’t touch it!” Sundrider’s fingers barely touched the ball.
Daysah winced as a bright flash and concussion threw her out of her chair. An alarm screamed from everywhere as she tried to understand what had happened. She blinked, her eyes tearing from the harsh chemicals, and a hard hand caught her, dragging her to her feet. She was staggering, her course directed by the person pulling her. They entered the passageway, and the same hand pulled her relentlessly.
There was a rumble of footfalls from before her, and she was shoved against the wall. There was a scream, gunfire, then blessed silence. The hand caught her, and she was dragged forward again.
“Hush girl.” Breia said. “We’re in a bit of a hurry here.” A door whooshed open, then Daysah felt the drop of a lift. “We have maybe three minutes before all hell breaks loose.”
Daysah shook her head. and it was as if a film poured down off her eyes. The blind Jedi Monk was looking upward, head cocked as if thinking. “How did you escape?”
“One advantage of being blind is that people always seem to underestimate you.” She replied coolly. The lift opened. “You have to run down the passageway. Three hatches down turn left, go one corridor then right. There is a double hatch ten meters farther on. Inside there is the Millennium Falcon. Get aboard, go to the cockpit, and look for a flashing red button. Punch it, then sit down and wait for us.”
“Why are you-”
Breia shoved her out. “Those men will be after you unless I lead them on a chase. If you do as I say nothing on this ship can touch you. Just watch out for irritated Mando.” The door slammed shut.
Daysah ran, following the directions. The hatch opened, and she felt the joy a relieved outpost feels at the sight of the ship. She ran up the ramp. From behind her she heard a shout, but she ignored it.
She ran into the cockpit her fist slamming down on the flashing red button. Before the viewport a group of men were running toward her. She recognized the Tokara Security uniforms, and didn’t need to identify the weapons to know she was in deep trouble. There was a hiss, the ramp coming up, then suddenly the auto-tracking board lit up. There was a thunder and the men dissolved in a red mist as the belly turret roared into life.
She sat stunned. On the board near her hand, she saw the guns tracking endlessly. The main hatch opened, and she winced, plugging her ears.
The three fugitives watched from the woven coverings the Ithorians had supplied. Liberally sprinkled with mud and uprooted plants, the small pit was invisible.
An assault shuttle settled down on it’s legs, and men poured out to join the troops already on the ground. Tokara had been ready for this, Sanji saw. There were fifty men already here, and they had laid a standard minefield around their encampment. They had gotten the hole dug and concealed just in time.
“We can’t get through that!” Morant couldn’t scream and whisper simultaneously, but he gave it a good effort.
“If you do exactly what I say, we can.” Sanji whispered. “Notice they don’t expect an attack from here, do they?” Coor punched the smaller man in the arm. “He’s right. Every sensor is aimed at the tree line.”
Morant leaned up, looking. He had to admit it looked wrong. Not only were the sensor platforms aimed at the trees, but every head was turned that way as well. A man with a Commander’s bars waved, and all but the six men manning the two mortars moved forward.
“They’ll slaughter the Ithorians!”
“They won’t have time. Come on.” Sanji eeled up and forward, his head below the berm, and invisible. Coor followed. A moment later Morant moaned, and followed.
Sanji stopped and reached forward. He lifted a small hand held sensor. “Better and better.” He looked back at the two scientists. “They have them on command detonators. If you don’t touch a mine, you’re safe.” She knelt up into a high crawl, and moved forward. As he did he stuck small pieces of split wood that marked the mines. They had to follow a serpentine path, but ten minutes later, Sanji motioned them down, and peeked over the edge. He watched for several seconds, then moved back to the men less than five meters back.
“Keep moving, head straight for the shuttle.” Then he was moving up slithering over the edge of the berm without a pause. The two looked at each other, then moved to follow.
Sanji had risen, and moved toward the men. One of them looked up, stunned, but before he could shout Sanji threw the small knife he carried. The man choked, falling backward. The other two men at the mortar stared at him surprised, then back toward where Sanji was. But they didn’t see him. Yet.
Sanji drew his sword, leaping the five meters in one bound. Both men went down as he barreled past them into the second group. All six were down before Coor’s head popped up over the edge.
“What, you’re waiting for invitations?” Sanji hissed. He looked around, then found the control panel for the mine field. Six concentric rings, the outer ten meters from the edge if the berm, the inner right on the outer face of it. He picked up the microphone, and screamed.
“The camp is under attack!” He heard. He leaped straight upward. The men had turned, and even now they were pounding back toward the camp.
“Sanji!” He could hear the engines of the shuttle revving. They had to be closer.
“Sanji!” The first man was past the outer edge of the minefield. Sanji stood, watching.
“Damn it Sanji, we are Leaving!”
The first man was barely head up over the berm when Sanji flipped the switch, diving for cover.
The mines went off in ripples. The outer ring first. With a command still being issued the second ring went off, then the third, then with a bare pause each ring followed. One rolling thunder of death and destruction broken by one 10th of a second pauses.
The man, who Sanji could now see was the commander had dropped aiming his rifle even as the sixth and last ring flashed death and destruction. One of the mines was less than half a meter from him.
There was screaming, the crackle of secondary explosions as ammunition went up, the hiss of flames. Sanji stood, brushing himself off, and walked up to the edge of the berm. Except for several badly wounded men, no one moved between him and the forest line. He walked calmly to the shuttle, passing Morant, who was standing higher, and could clearly see the devastation.
“No. Now we’re leaving.” Sanji said. He walked forward, flipping the switches. “Thank you for warming the ship up for me.”
Coor simply stared at him as the shuttle leaped into the air.
The engine crew turned as the hatch suddenly fell. Two figures stepped through. “Move and you’re dead!” One of them shouted.
Anak clicked the selector to Armor piercing, and aimed, putting one round into and through the control panel one of the men had leaped toward. Everyone froze in shock.
Sev smiled, the short beam cutter held even with his hip as if it were a machine gun at assault position. “Now we were told to try not to kill anyone, and we’re going to oblige our Yuru’ike in that. However she didn’t say we couldn’t kill you if you got in our way. You’re choice.”
The men moved into a clump, cowering back.
“Very good. You.” Sev pointed at the shift duty officer. “I need a full schematic of the ship’s decks. Everything. Just in case you forget-” He aimed, adjusted the setting, and a magnetic beam snapped out. The boy pulled the cutter left. One of the lift and drive engine manifolds shrieked, falling into pieces.
“Now think of what happens if I accidentally cut a fuel line or tank? We don’t all want to die, do we?”
The officer walked carefully over to a panel, downloading the information onto a pad. He held it out, and Sev walked forward, taking it. “Now I want all of you to run like hell. I would suggest toward the nearest escape pod bay.”
Without being told again, the men bolted.
“Ade, they’ll call for help.” Anak said.
“So? She said we could defend ourselves.”
Anak considered. “Can we hope they call in a lot of reinforcements?”
“I would.” Sev checked the holographic projection, then walked toward the door they had sliced free entering. “What is the record for totally dismantling a ship from the inside?”
“I don’t think there is one.”
Sev set the beam, slicing it first right at knee level, then left at just above his shoulder. Panels fell apart, sparks flying. Alarms began sounding. He grinned. “There will be when we’re done.”
When in danger when in doubt...
“Shut off those damn alarms!” Captain Magtyar roared. He loosened the buttons of his uniform, then with a curse he ripped the tunic off. “Report!”
Janos Tor at the security panel started talking immediately. “Someone attempted to assassinate Vice President Corona and his nephew. They failed but they did kidnap Professor Shani.”
“I thought she was aboard the Frigate.”
“No sir, she came across on yesterday’s shuttle.” Tor lied smoothly. He was sweating. “Then we have reports that the automated defense system of the Company supply ship was accidentally activated without someone aboard to shut it down. We have seventeen dead and thirty wounded down there. We had a vague report from engineering about maniacs. Now structural sensors in sections 15 and 13 have reported extensive damage.” He paused, checking his console. “Correction. Section fifteen sensor report that all five decks have collapsed. Ship is no longer structurally sound for flight. Section 13... The same for thirteen. Both sections are total losses.”
“What are they using? Explosives?”
“No sir. The engineers reported that one of them was armed with a short beam cutter.”
“Maniacs are right!” Magtyar turned, pointing at his exec. “Pahner. Head toward the docking bay. I don’t care if you have to blow the hatches get that damn ship out of there.” Pahner nodded, running out. “Toki, lead an assault team. Take out those maniacs before they get to the Mall.” The third officer nodded, running out. “Brekor, take a team and find those assassins.” Magtyar turned toward communications. “Where are the security troops we brought?”
“They were staged to the surface, sir. VP Corona’s orders.”
“Fine time for that. Contact their shuttle...”
As his voice thumped out orders, the panic that had been building leveled off then faded.
Daysah stared through the view ports in horror. She didn’t know how many times they had sent men in to try to stop the ship, but there were bodies and parts of bodies everywhere. She brought the engines on line, but stopped when she did. It wasn’t like she was in free space! The hull of the lighter ship would crumple into foil long before the behemoth’s hull even knew it had been kissed!
Suddenly lights began flashing. What the hell-
“Warning! Decompression in ten seconds. Nine, eight, seven-” she squeaked, grabbing the restraint harness, putting it on, the last buckle closing as the countdown reached zero. There was a thud and the loading hatches blew free, propelling the ship and several tons of cargo into space.
“Keep together.” The security sergeant ordered. His team of five had debouched a deck below the Company quarters. The point man lifted his rifle, using his scanner.
“Sarge, according to this, the intruder is right here!”
“Piece of-” Breia dropped from where she had been waiting, arms and legs pinned against opposite bulkheads, her feet coming down to pile drive the sergeant into the deck. He finger tapped, and the metal sleeves covering the blades of her sword snapped back. She cut twice, once forward, then back. The man behind the sergeant stared at the pistol grip that was all that he still held of his rifle. Forward the point man clutched his wrist where the blade had cut him just deep enough to sever the muscles, rendering his hand useless. The other two backed, dropping their weapons frantically.
“Cuffs.” She snapped. The unwounded man pulled his cuffs off his belt, holding them out in mute offering. Breia took them, cuffing that man to the sergeant’s left arm, using the cuffs from the point man to cuff his uninjured hand to the Sergeant’s right. She motioned the other two over, took their cuffs, and threaded them so that all five men were jammed together and cuffed tight.
She tapped the button, the sleeves dropping to hide the blades again. Now let’s see, two levels up to the Bridge, with any luck she would reach it without too much trouble. She stepped onto the lift, shooting upward.
Ten meters from the bridge she stopped, head cocked. She pulled a tenth meter long dart from her boot, stepping around the corner to throw. Fifteen meters away, the gunner on the chain gun they were setting up on it’s tripod gaped as the dart punched into the feed tray, jamming it. She sighed. “The only kind of luck there is are dumb, blind and bad.” She commented. The sleeves popped back. “Shall we dance?“
As the gunner frantically tried to clear the jam the two men with him drew their swords, charging.
“It’s my turn.” Anak said.
“In a minute. Sev was trying to puzzle out the schematic. They were down on the number 2 deck, second from the bottom. What kind of idiot numbers decks 01 02, then one two and three? He mused. The tank was marked with a brown sigil he had never seen before. Of course, he didn’t read Coruscanti that well.
Down the passageway, someone stuck his head around the corner low to the deck. The barrel of a rifle inched around the corner.
Anak thumbed the selector to flechette, and triggered a burst. There was a scream and some shouting. “Why should I wait?”
“All right, set your beamer, and give me a tick.” The two boys exchanged their weapons, Sev slinging his short beam and readying his Rage III. Anak doing the same thing in reverse. The younger boy set the beam for maximum extension, starting a cut left to right at knee level. A brown liquid spurted from the cut as he reversed to cut right to left.
“I said wait-” The wall exploded outward, a brown flood with a horrible stench filled the passageway, slamming them into the port side bulkhead.
“Di’kut!" Sev shouted. He held out the pad. “Your Coruscanti is better. What does that say?”
“Sewage tank.” Anak read. "What is a sewer tank?” Sev wiped the mess from his legs, sticking it toward his compatriot. “Oh.”
“We had better hustle. Cut us a place to climb out, fast!.”
Anak raised his short beam, and sliced quickly. Since he had not reset the beam length, they ducked as not one but two sheets of sliced out decking fell spraying waste everywhere. “what’s the hurry?”
“That tank?” Sev jerked a thumb at the flood as he leaped upward. “It goes up three more decks!”
“Shuttle 821. Emergency. Come alongside the ship at the starboard entry way. Prepare for boarding action aboard ship.”
Sanji clicked the microphone instead of answering, turning to approach the Tokara vessel. Morant at the second console turned in shock. “Are you out of your mind?” He screamed.
“That ship has five chain guns, one aft and two on either broadside, and two missile tubes, one on each broadside. It also has a heavy projectile gun forward. If we try to break past them they will blow us to hell. There is only one way to make sure they don’t kill us.”
“How is that?” Coor asked from the communications panel. Sanji answered by flipping a pair of switches. The weapons panel in front of Morant came alive.
“Are you insane?” Morant gasped.
“Insane is trying to outrun the bullets.” Sanji replied in a reasonable tone. “There is a targeting caret. Place it on the target, press this button-”
“This button?” Morant tapped it. The cannon fired, shells exploding against the other ship’s flanks. Air gushed from the breached compartments.
Sanji rolled the ship. “Now if you target their weapons instead of just pushing buttons...”
Morant hastily found the diamond shape, moving it onto a red spot on the hull. “That’s-”
“A chain gun. Tap the lock and fire!”
Morant tapped the buttons, and the small chain gun in the nose tracked as it fired almost 100 rounds into the ship. There was a puff of air, then a blast of flame.
“Hit! Now switch forward to the missile!”
A few moments later, the missile tube and the other gun had been destroyed. Sanji hit the retro thrusters bringing them to a stop. There was a flash, and something went past the view port. One of the hull sections ahead of them exploded outward. A mass of crates spewed out, followed by-
“Millennium Falcon, this is shuttle 821. Who is aboard?”
“This is Professor Shani. Who is this?”
“Sanji Gretu of the Jedi order, professor. Give me a minute, I need to clear our way out of here."
He turned to the weapons console. “Now since you warned them, this is tricky. We have four missiles, and this is how we need to use them...”
Tokara, like every company that made weapons, built them with specific missions in mind. As an example the chain guns were quite sufficient for destroying assault shuttles out to half a light second. They could spike a flying insect at half that range.
However the guns did have a drawback. They were direct fire weapons. They had to have a target in line of sight to aim at.
Missiles such as the large model 4s that were in the Requiem’s magazine had a range of over a light minute. They could track and home onto a target and follow it as long as they had fuel. The model 9s aboard the shuttle had an additional capability since the designer had forseen that you could be this close to an enemy vessel...
Already warned, and knowing they had an enemy close to their hull, the gunners immediately slewed their guns to cover the least time approach from it’s last reported location.
With five targets, Sanji had to take a big chance. The missiles were launched at approaches off that optimum least time, and still within the seeker envelopes, a difference of about 30 degrees off target.
All four missiles leaped out simultaneously. The missile tube exploded in a gout of fire, followed by the heavy projectile weapon, then the forward surviving cannon. The gunners on the other two guns immediately worked out what was happening, and set their guns for self defense, the aft firing chain gun blowing the missile fifty meters away. But as they did the Shuttle raced around the least time curve, gun slamming into the emplaced weapon.
“Professor, head directly toward their stern! “Sanji ordered, leaping up. “Take over!” He shouted at Morant as he charged aft. “Put us between the Falcon and that damn gun!”
There were half a dozen pallets locked down on the magnetic rollers. Enough supplies to keep the security force they had decimated in action for a week or more. Sanji checked the pallets.
As he had anticipated, the shuttle was designed for what is called parachute low level delivery. With a touch of a button the rear clamshell doors would snap open, and a parachutes would be deployed, dragging the pallets out and onto the ground as the shuttle raced by at about 200 KPH.
He unlocked the magnetic bearings. Then cut all of the bindings with his sword. He caught a stanchion, whispered a prayer, and slammed his hand down on the emergency release.
The gun started tracking on the Falcon, but immediately chose the shuttle because it was an offensive vehicle. But before it could open fire, the targeting system was overloaded as hundreds of boxes poured from the stern of the shuttle.
The gun immediately opted for a subroutine, targeting by distance, closest outward. It immediately began destroying the boxes one per shot. It was fifteen seconds and 200 boxes before the gunners could disengage, then retarget the ships. By then they had ducked behind the frigate.
Sev sliced open the bulkhead, and stepped into wonder. The mall stretched up four decks from where they were. Anak looked up, then at his war-brother. “Together?”
“Oh definitely.” They both unslung their short beams.
Magtyar turned, ready to shout, then gaped as Breia stepped onto the bridge. “You’re dead! We killed you!”
“You blew up a ship, but it wasn’t mine. Corona has my ship down on deck five-”
“Had.” Magtyar broke in. “We jettisoned it when the security system activated.”
“I only hope Professor Shani is up to flying her. The ship tends to pull right on docking thrusters.” She walked toward him, then paused, looking toward Tor at the security console. “Since your man has already called him, I think we should wait for Mr. Corona.”
“Sir! Two pirate vessels are approaching!” The sensor officer aboard Duroc painted the targets red.
“Stand down!” Antilles roared. He turned toward the sensor officer. “Stand down, Mr. Queek.”
“But sir, they attacked the Tokara Requiem!”
“Sir, the lead ship is trying to contact us.” The com officer shouted.
“They’re trying to confuse us, sir!” Queek pleaded. “All weapons-”
“If you finish that order, I will kill you.” Antilles warned. Queek looked at his Admiral, then turned back to his console. “All Weap-” The panel sparked as a bullet plowed into it.
“I said I will kill you. There will be no further warnings.”
“Sir!” The com officer flipped a switch, the call coming over the speakers.
“Shani aboard Millennium Falcon. Admiral, Corona admitted to murdering-”
“Fire!” Queek screamed. Antilles turned smoothly, his weapon coming up. The next bullet blew Queek’s body over the console.
One of the defensive guns opened fire, the shuttle staggering before Antilles could regain order.
“Emergency rescue teams, get aboard that shuttle, now!” He ordered. “Have Millennium Falcon brought aboard.”
Docking bay open. The ship is- Crap!” The ship crumpled as it veered right, spinning to crash on the deck.
Antilles ran through the passageways, stopping at the carnage on his deck. A team were cutting into the Falcon. Beyond the force field of the entry hatch, he could see the rescue team jetting back, towing stretchers.
The team leader turned. “She’s pretty badly banged up, sir. But it is definitely the Millennium Falcon.”
“Professor Shani was banged up, but should recover.” He held his hand to his ear. “The rescue team reporting. Three occupants. One dead, two wounded.”
Sev ran down one side of the atrium, Anak down the opposite side. As they passed each supporting pillar they stopped, making a figure eight whip, slicing the supports through top and bottom. They reached the forward end of the mall, and set down their short beams. Anak ducked as someone on an upper deck fired down at them. He switched to armor piercing.
The boy fluidly lifted the weapon, aimed not at the man shooting at them, but farther forward. His rifle coughed, and there was an explosion far overhead. Like a glittering missile the chandelier plummeted down four decks, slamming with a crash onto the sculpture in the center of the atrium. Shards of the crystal rattled off the supports, and two were knocked free as heavier shrapnel took it’s toll.
“Was there a reason for that?” Sev asked.
“Artistic freedom. That was a really bad sculpture.”
Sev sighed, setting his rifle for armor piercing as well. “Now!”
Both boys fired, each at different pillars. The shells penetrated, then exploded, shattering the supports one by one. They had gone only halfway to where they were when there was a creaking and groaning sound from above. They ran forward as several million credits of shops crashed into the lower deck. A bank machine slammed into the deck, and suddenly high denomination notes began spewing from it’s ruptured insides.
“Well we’re rich, brother.” Sev joked.
“Can’t spend it when we’re dead.” Anak replied. They shrugged and picked up their short beams again.
Corona stalked onto the bridge, glaring at the Jedi. He walked over, and swung backhanding her onto the deck.
“Do you know what this ship cost?” He screamed.
“More than it is worth now.” Breia replied, wiping her mouth.
Corona screamed, snatching up a pistol, pointing it at the woman with a quivering hand. “We are going to call those maniacs of your off!”
“Why?” She rolled to her knees, standing. “They are having so much fun.”
Corona stepped forward, catching her robe and slamming the woman against the wall. “They will stop or you will die!”
“All they have been doing is punishing you for insulting them.” Breia answered. “That and having a bit of fun. You want to see what they will do if they get angry instead?”
“Sir, put her down.” Magtyar said softly.
“Shut up, Captain. You work for me!” Corona had lost any shred of calm he might have possessed. Foam flecked his lips, and his teeth gleamed like a hunting predator. “They may have fun. but you won’t live to enjoy it!”
The gun came up, and Breia’s hand moved. The knife she held was only 75 mm long. But she had forged the blade herself. It went through muscle, bone, and the grip without even slowing down. Corona stared at the hand as the blade came back, removing three of the fingers from the other hand, forcing him to let go.
Breia stepped back from the bloody fountains. “Mr. Sunrider, I would suggest you either use that gun, or help him.” She looked up at the young man. He stood undecided.
“Kill her Dasa. Kill them all!”
“No Uncle.” Sunrider dropped the weapon. “It’s over. We lost.”
“You fool!” Corona screamed, leaping to his feet. pounding the stumps of his hands on his nephew’s chest. “We have money, we won’t lose!”
Dasa pinned the arm with the missing hand. Magtyar stepped forward, catching the other.
“Magtyar, a million credits. Just kill that-”
“Money doesn’t mean anything to me.” Magtyar snapped. “Not if it means a death sentence.”
Breia turned to Tor. “Surrender, and you will be granted justice.”
Tor stood frozen. Then his hand went for his pistol. There was a shot, and he collapsed backwards, a hole the size of a fist in his chest. Dasa dropped the gun he had snatched up, turning back to his uncle.
The shuttle landed in what was left of docking bay one of Tokara Requiem. The soldiers spread out as Admiral Antilles marched down the ramp. The people there to meet him were bloody but unbowed. Captain Magtyar and what was left of his crew, Breia, and Dasa Sunrider. Two men carried a litter with a screaming lump in it. There were thuds from aft, and he looked up at the noise.
“What in the name of all the gods has been happening here?”
“I am sorry, we just called the boys, and they have stopped dismantling the ship.” Breia replied. “That I believe was the first class swimming pool.”
“Admiral, as the senior-” Magtyar began
“Captain, it is my last act, allow me the privilege.” Dasa said. The captain waved graciously. “Admiral, as the senior representative of the company in the system, I request that you assist Professor Shani in communicating with the native species below. I now turn myself over to you for judgment.”
Antilles looked at him coldly, then walked past them to the litter, drawing his sidearm. Corona’s eyes fixed on him, though he obviously didn’t recognize the admiral. “Ten million credits.” He husked. “Kill the Jedi, we’ll cover it all up. They’ll never arrest us. We make the laws after all...” He fell to mumbling, then his eyes locked on the Admiral again. “Fifteen million. Kill the Jedi, we’ll cover it all up. They’ll never arrest us. We make the laws after all...”
Antilles turned away, holstering the weapon. “Put them aboard the shuttle. Captain, damage estimate?”
“Over half the ship has been gutted.” Magtyar could barely keep the pleasure from his voice. “Engines destroyed, everything except fuel tanks and electrical mains gone aft of the mall. I would classify her as a total loss.”
Antilles hid his grin. “Then we’ll have to salvage it, won’t we?” He turned to Breia. “One of my men, the sensor officer was in their employ. I am afraid the shuttle and your ship have been damaged.”
“Oh dear.” Breia felt a chill.
Loss and gain
Breia moved toward the table. The figure didn’t move. She reached down, running her hands across the forehead. “Oh Sanji.” she whispered.
“Stop playing with my Lekku unless you mean it.” Sanji gasped. His lungs felt like they were on fire. The last thing he remembered was the cargo spilling out into space.
“Maybe I do.” She joked, sitting beside him. “What have I told you about trying to breathe vacuum?”
He tried to chuckle but it turned into a wracking cough. “Nothing I remember.”
“That’s because I forgot. The thing to remember about breathing vacuum is; don’t.”
“I considered that at the time.” He gasped. “Maybe if you had told me before I wouldn’t have tried.”
“You are such a silly young boy. Get some rest. You’ve had a busy day.”
“Wait. The scientists. I failed them.”
“Failed them how?” She snapped. “You are alive because Professor Coor ran back, to drag you into the cockpit. Didn’t know that there were emergency air masks every two meters, did you?”
“I must have missed the briefing.”
"Good thing for you Professor Coor didn‘t. He strapped an emergency walk around tank on you before you’d done too much damage to yourself. But Sanji, if he hadn’t gone to rescue you he’d be dead.“
“While he was doing that, a traitor aboard the Frigate opened fire. Ton Morant was killed when they blew the cockpit right off the ship. Coor caught some shrapnel that would have killed you.”
“I failed.” He whispered. “I failed Morant, I failed you. I murdered so many men down there.” He turned away, tears of shame running down his face.
She wordlessly touched his cheek.
Daysah Shani walked into the brig. Behind the force field Dasa Sunrider sat, looking at the floor. She walked over to stand before it. After a moment, the prisoner looked up.
“Professor.” Sunrider looked away.
“Breia told me what you did.” She said softly. “Surrendering. Killing the man that tried to kill her.”
“Maybe being around people like you and her has rubbed off on me.” He joked. He wiped his face with his hands. “I have to tell them the truth. I have to... I have to atone for my sins.”
“For following a lunatic?” Shani asked. “Did you kill those ships along with him? Did you order the deaths of those men?”
“No.” Dasa whispered. “But I knew and did nothing.” He looked up. “Maybe when they are done with me I can see you again. Maybe that man will be worth your time.”
“You silly man, if I hadn’t liked you I would have told you to jet off when you wanted to take me on a tour.” She sighed. “After the trial, we’ll talk again.”
“Yeah. After.” He sat in silence as she left.
The Mando ship snuggled up against the Duroc. The captain stepped aboard, looking around. “Impressive, but I bet we could out maneuver her.” He commented. He saw the woman waiting for him. “Captain Johara Vau, Clan Ordo.” He said saluting. “I have come for my brother.”
Breia motioned for him to follow. “We were unsure what they should record on their Soochir.” She said.
“Battles and conquests.” Johara snarled. “Nothing else is worth recording."
“Then let us speak with him, and let them tell it.”
The Millennium Falcon looked as if she had come in second place in a collision, which was in fact the truth. The starboard mandible had been shattered and crushed to half it’s size, collapsed forward to where it scraped the deck. The starboard main gear had been shattered as well, the oleo struts slammed halfway through the deck by her mass. Breia walked up the slanted ramp, leaning as if she’d always boarded this way. In the mess deck, the boys stood resplendent in their full kit.
“Elder brother.” Anak bowed.
“Boys. Tell of what you did.”
“What are the losses?” The chairman asked. He looked out of the fiftieth floor window at the city skyline.
“The Requiem has been declared a total loss.” The new Vice President of Shipping reported. “It would cost us more to bring the hulk home than the salvage charges. It would be cheaper to declare her a dead loss where she is.”
“Almost a total loss. Over a hundred dead, fifteen earthmovers destroyed or so badly damaged that they might as well be destroyed.” The Vice President in charge of Commerce reported. “The hotel is set back at least a decade.”
The door swung open, and a small woman marched in, followed by Admiral Antilles. The chairman turned his chair back, glaring at the secretary that squirmed in Antilles’ grip. “What is the meaning of this?” He growled.
“This Jedi Monk and the Admiral wanted to speak to the board, and when I tried to stop them...” The man gestured with his head toward the arm lock. “They didn’t take no for an answer.”
“Have your say, and leave. The company has pressing business.” The chairman snarled.
“They have more than business to worry about if I don’t have my say.” Breia retorted. She looked at the men. Was there even a scintilla of good in them? She walked along the table, stopping beside the chairman. “Gentlemen, I have a deposition from Professor Daysah Shani of the University of Coruscant. She has some interesting things to discuss with the Galactic Trade Authority. Murder, fomenting the destruction of vessels that belong to rival corporations. Trade irregularities that well have your stock in the penny column by the end of the day.”
“Whatever Suli Corona might have done-” The Vice President of Shipping stopped as a blade suddenly lunged toward him, stopping 25 centimeters from his nose.
“I will talk, you will listen. That means mouths shut.” Breia said coolly. “I can have every member of this board in court for the next century with all of the proven irregularities. Care to bet who will win?” She looked around the table.
“The problem is, you’re not the best example of Coruscanti business, but you’re not the worst either. Removing your company will leave others just as bad if not worse out there. The Admiral had decided to set aside the vengeance he feels is owed for his son’s life. Assuming this board can come to an accord with me.”
The chairman looked at the extended blade which had not moved from the Vice President, staying exactly that distance, level and perfectly still. He licked his lips. “What do you propose, Jedi?”
“Meera is no longer property. The company will foreswear all claim to the system.”
“The Ithorians are interested in obtaining some technology. Specifically repulsor lift. You will give it to them.”
“For a reasonable-” The chairman stopped talking as Breia’s face turned toward him. “Free. An orbital factory.”
“Then there is the matter of some construction. The Ithorians don’t mind visitors. They would just prefer that they act like guests, not rapacious monsters. The people of Ithor have agreed to allow an orbital hotel, owned and operated by Tokara. In return they want something built. A floating city capable of sustaining one third of their population with a fair and honest price schedule for the construction of two more within the decade. The first will be built with the promise of payment paid for with medicinal herbs they will supply at fair market value.” She slowly leaned back onto her feet, the sword dropping to low port. “In return for that concession, they have agreed not to take Tokara to court and demand one trillion credits. Admiral Antilles and Professor Shani have agreed not to pursue the matter further. The Jedi will agree to let it be.” She looked around the table. “The only alternative is for all of this to become public. No one will care that some man did this, whether he had approval or not. Even trying to prove it in court could be slippery.” She touched the stud, the blades folding, and she sheathed the weapon.
“Shall I tell them your decision?”
Sanji gasped, leaning against the bulkhead. His lungs were healing, but even this short walk had winded him badly. The treadmill stopped as he did, so he didn’t face the indignity of being dragged onto the deck again.
“There you are.” Breia snapped tartly. “The entire council came from the Monastery to judge you, and you are playing in the recreation deck.”
“Judge me-” Sanji gasped, then coughed, his shoulders shaking with pain.
“Yes, judge you. Now come with me.” She caught his arm, throwing it over her shoulders. “I can’t leave you alone for a minute.” She growled, dragging him into the passageway.
The pair walked down the passageway, entering a large area set aside for briefings. Silent, the full council, all twelve sat, watching.
“Sanji Gretu, you are called to judgment for your actions on Meera-”
“Ithor.” Breia snapped, taking her seat. Sanji stood in the center alone.
“You are correct. Let the record show that Meera is now declared to be Ithor, the name the natives have given it.” Master Hontu corrected. “If we may continue Breia?”
“Of course, Berol.” she replied.
“You are charged with abandoning your master, fomenting a rebellion along with two scientists, decimating a fifty man landing force, and attacking a private company vessel destroying her armament.” Hontu looked at the young man. “Did you do these things?”
“I didn’t foment a rebellion. And as for abandoning my master, I was attempting to escape capture.”
“A technicality.” Hontu snapped. “I have never seen such arrogance in a student in my life!” He stood, storming down the steps to confront the younger man. Sanji straightened, looking down at the master.
“If you’re going to keep doing things like this, there is only one thing I can think to do about it. Are we agreed?” He turned to face the other masters.
Sanji looked at the faces. Human, Hutt, Twi-lek, Gram. They all looked at each other, then nodded. He looked at Breia, who also nodded, his heart sinking.
“Breia, he’s your student. You announce the judgment.” Hontu returned to his seat.
She stood, walking down to stand facing him. “As master Hontu has said, I have never seen such arrogance in a student in my life. So to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I will pass judgment. Will you accept my decision?”
Sanji nodded, closing his eyes.
“As the representative of the council, and your master, I strip you of the rank of Apprentice. From this day forward, you will be Padawan Teacher Gretu.” His eyes snapped open. She reached out, and he silently took her hand. “Next time try not to leave another of the order out there all alone. Now go away, and celebrate. The council has to decide which mission you have to undertake when an apprentice has been assigned to you.”
“Of course you young twit. You can’t be my pilot forever. You have your own duties, as I have mine.” She sniffed. “First I have to get my ship repaired. So go on.”
Aboard the Mando corvette Dhalmarta, Captain Johara Vau stood. “In circle we sit, to tell of our battles, and victories. Tonight we have a new voice in the circle. Tell us ade Anak Vau of Clan Ordo. Tell us of the gutting of the Tokara Requiem.”
The warriors looked at their youngest member as he stood up. “Listen brothers of war as I tell you of my first victory. The one I share with Sev Soochin of clan Ordo.
“We had been captured by the Hut’uun of the Tokara Company... “
Sanji walked slowly. His lungs would never fully recover, he knew that. But he didn’t let them slow him much. He looked at the sleek five man ship he had been given with pride. It was not the Millennium Falcon, but at least it wasn’t being repaired.
He walked up the ramp, then paused. There was a thump of a rock hitting the side of the ship, and he walked around it slowly. He had never seen anyone of the small creature’s race before. Green skinned, long pointed ears, tridactyl hands and feet. The being was sitting in meditation ten meters from the ship. As Sanji watched, the little being looked down, a stone lifting into the air, then shooting forward toward the ship to ring against the hull plating.
“May I ask you what you are doing?” He asked.
“Ask you may, Padawan teacher.” The little being replied. “Bored I am with study. Pilot I heard you need.” He looked up, standing. “Yodai I am. Apprentice I am.”
“And bouncing rocks off my ship was the only way you could think of to get my attention?”
“Worked did it not?”
He sighed, shaking his head. Of all the arrogance-
Just like I was all those years ago.
Sanji walked down toward the monastery. As he passed the rooms, he could hear snippets.
“Language is communication, whether it is body language, sound, moving of the fingers, smell, or a combination of them...” Master Mogo was saying.
A few steps farther he paused.
“As you progress within the order, there will come a time where all you can depend on is your blade.
“You are children, but this you must understand. Steel is pure in it’s honesty. It cares not for your values, or your beliefs. It will protect you only as long as you are honest to it as well.
“To become a full Jedi monk, you must master the blade. Any can master the single blade, few will master two blades. But only a true warrior of the heart will ever master the blade staff.” There was a clicking snap. “It is not to say that using a single blade is weak. Just that if you wish to stay and learn the twin blade and blade staff, you must show more heart.
“Now, each of you pick up a dull steel practice blade. I warn you now that it will be painful, but-”
“Master?” a voice asked.
“Hmn?” Sanji looked at the small human girl. She looked to be about six or seven.
“You are late for class, master.”
“So I am. And you are?"
“Breia, master. Breia Solo.”
“Ah. I have heard of you.” Sanji walked on, entering the courtyard he had been assigned. He sat, easing his form into a meditation seat. He looked at the expectant faces. Young Solo sitting off to one side.
“The art of concealment is sometimes necessary. There are those that can be convinced you are not there. But this is not something you can merely be told of. It is something you will practice in the coming years.
“Now I wish you all to meditate. As you do, I want you to focus on a single thought. That you cannot be seen. You are a wraith...”
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