Clan Terakian: A StarWars/Heavy Metal (Taarna) crossover
As the title implies, I have had this story (Originally a fantasy world where the last survivors of a clan by that name marches primarily to end their long servitude) kicking around in my head for longer than most of you have been alive.
You have stories of clans bound to serve as guardians for people, in fact the primary reason I loved the Taarna segment of Heavy Metal was that a warrior, the last of her race and clan still goes off to fulfill the pact her ancestors made, even unto death.
But my story is a bit darker. By moving it into the Star Wars Universe, I came up with this...
2000 years BBY:
Riyal, crown prince of Naboo paced down the hall toward the Residence. He saw the guards standing every five meters along his walk.
Guarding my father against what? he thought. An absolute monarch afraid of his own people. Needing these mercenaries to protect his life.
He stopped at the door, the two guards stiff, yet watchful. As he approached to less than ten meters, they stiffened even further, hands dropping to the sub-machine guns at their sides. If he had approached another two meters they would have killed him even as they identified him. So sorry, Your Highness, your son violated the perimeter you set and was terminated.
“Yes, my lord?” The senior asked.
“My father sent for me.” He replied. The soldier touched the communicator stud on his wrist, and his lips moved as he spoke sub vocally. Then he snapped to attention, and the door behind him opened.
Riyal passed them. The Sitting room of the residence was huge. He considered that an extended family of fifteen would have enjoyed that much space. all of this just to have a place to show off in. His father was busy at the desk, just about the size of the cargo bay of a plane. It was big enough to be a bedroom for that huge family. He stopped before the desk, ignored. He waited; his father liked his little power plays, and even his own son had to deal with that.
Miraz, King Imperial of Naboo looked up. “Casaway has demanded that we surrender our world to them.”
Riyal stared at him. “What can we do, Father? We have no army; we are a peaceful people.”
“You will get the army for us. The Terakian Clan of Manda'lor.”
Riyal shook his head. “The Terakian are a myth, father. No one has seen them since before you were born.”
“They exist. They have not been called since my grandfather's time, but they still obey the pact. With them to defend, we are invincible.”
Riyal mentally shook his head. His father was expecting a childhood story to save them! Could their own people not do this? Even as he asked the question, he had to answer it himself.
The Terakian had protected his world for eight generations, had fought and died so that Naboo could live in peace; ever since the Sith had blasted their way into the Republic, and been beaten back. But eight generations of peace were no preparation for war and an invasion. As much as he hated the logic, his father was correct.
“How do I contact them?” He asked.
“You will take your scout and go to Concordia, the moon of Manda'lor. When you arrive, you will use this program.” He handed across a chip. “They have separated themselves from their people because of the pact. When they receive the message, they will guide you down. You must show them this.” The king took off his ring, and held it up. “When they ask, you will do this.” he twisted the red stone inset into it, and the stone lifted. Beneath the stone was another chip.
“Three generations ago, Sogan the Usurper made a duplicate of this ring and went to call the Terakian. His brother, the true heir took the true ring to also gather their support, but half of the clan as the pact calls for had already been sent to usurp the throne.
“He was adamant, and the remainder of the clan left to fight their own. After the fighting ended, the Terakian inserted this chip in the true ring. We don't know what it holds, the heir, my grandfather was told that any attempt to read it or duplicate it would destroy the chip, and void the pact.” He handed it to his son. “Go, bring them.”
“At once, father.” Riyal took the ring, closing his hand over it.
Slipstream came out of hyperspace with a burst of Chernekov radiation. Riyal shut down the hyperdrive motivator, looking at the planet and the huge moon before him. Manda'lor and Concordia, sometimes called the Concord Moon. He didn't know much about the worlds themselves, but like anyone who enjoyed history he knew about the Mandalorians! Two millennia ago they had been the bogeymen that mothers used to terrorize their children in submission.
He took out the case with the contact information in it. The case had two symbols on it. One was of a red bird with bifurcated wings. The other was a stylized rendition of it, looking like a dagger with the paired wings as the guard, the symbol of the Terakian Clan. He opened it, took out the chip, and fed it into the reader in the communications console, hitting the play button. Now how long-
“Ship signaling, identify yourself.” A harsh voice asked.
“Scout Slipstream from Naboo, Prince Riyal commanding."
For a long time, there was silence. “Follow the approach vector.” A course flashed up, and he fed it into the auto-navigation system. It look to be halfway around the-
There was a flash to his left, and a contact appeared on his sensor screen. Then his ship rocked as lasers blasted into her tail. He grabbed the stick, automatically negating the autopilot, jerking into a dive toward the moon. The Casawayans must have known what his father would do and had sent a ship to stop him. As he dived, he looked at the mass reading. Small, barely larger than his own ship. But armed, which he was not. He desperately maneuvered, slapping the communications console.
“Mayday, mayday. This is Slipstream. I am under attack. I repeat, I am under attack.” He stayed as close to the approach vector he had been given as he dodged fire.
That's all? He growled. They're trying to kill me, and all you can say is understood? The navigational shield lit up as his ship hit atmosphere. More of the console lights were red than anything else, meaning serious damage. The ship was going to crash, there was no other landing option.
“Slipstream, download the approach vector into a pad and eject from your ship now.”
“Are you out of your fracking mind?” He screamed.
“We can kill the attacker, but not if we have to shoot around you.” Came the calm reply. “You're going to come down only ten klicks out from our compound. Follow your instructions.”
Cursing in the languages he knew, he maneuvered, and at the same time, clicked a pad into the communications panel, and set it to record the vector. He needed three hands to do it, but succeeded somehow. Then he snatched the pad out, slapped it into a pocket, and leaned back, pulling the ejection ring between his legs The ejection system kicked him in the butt with what felt like fifteen Gs, and he blacked out for a second as the life pod shot up from his dying ship. For an instant he saw the battered ship flash past him, then it exploded, the debris scattering toward the planet below.
Something shot past him, a black ship following his own. It looped upward, rolling to come back after him. Then something flashed below, and a bolt of fire ripped the attacker into scrap which barely missed his lifepod.
All he could do for the next minutes was sit there like a crated cargo as the lifepod began the auto landing sequence. Then he was bounced around like a ball in the hands of a demented child learning a game requiring that you bounce it as hard as you can. He counted seven bounces before the pod finally came to rest.
He shook himself, then pulled the handle for the hatch. It protested, then slid upward and open. Grumbling and feeling very put upon, he stood, stretching his back. Then he looked around. He was in a forest. All he could see was trees in every direction, except for the shattered ones where his pod had plowed into them then bounced out to shatter still more on a zigzag course behind him for several hundred meters. Hot metal still fell out of the sky, and he ducked as something hit the ground a few meters away. Finally the metal rain stopped. Nothing but silence.
He staggered from the life pod, and only then remembered the survival pack. More sotto voce grumbling as he went back, retrieving it from under the command seat. Not much in it; a few ration bars and slip bottles of water, a rebreather mask for hostile environments, a knife and a sidearm. He put on the belt with the weapons, slipping the pack over his shoulder, then pulled out the pad. There was a red arrow, and he turned until he faced the way it pointed. That way.
The forest was tightly grown, but the branches were high enough that he only had to deal with the underbrush. It wasn't like he hadn't been in a forest before. It's just the Royal Forest Preserve near the capital of Theed had paved paths and drinking fountains along them. He was used to his wilderness being better organized.
As the wildlife finally decided all of the hullabaloo was over, they again reasserted themselves. There were calls, and grunting, a roaring sound and chittering. Some kind of arboreal monkey troop followed him for a hundred meters or so, complaining at him with shrieks and bellows.
He paused to take a sip of water, and that was when he noticed the stench of death. The air was still, so he must be approaching it. Something, or maybe many somethings had died, leaving behind a charnel reek. He didn't want to get any closer to whatever had caused that if he could avoid it. Yet the arrow pointed right into it.
He pulled out the rebreather. A full faced mask with a small hyper-compressed oxygen tank; with it on he could no longer smell the funk in the air. He'd walk a hundred meters more, then take it off to check before going on.
He walked on. The underbrush had been cleared away from here at some time in the past, and he made better time. He decided it had been a hundred meters, and started to reach for the mask when he heard a growl from ahead. Ten meters in front of him, something moved. It paced from the growth, and now he could see it. A red animal with brown stripes crouched there, tail lashing angrily. It had a wide head shaped like a spade, and more teeth than he might ever have imagined in a mouth that was wide enough to swallow his head. It stood even with his waist, and the claws that shredded the ground would be more than enough to kill him without those teeth.
He took a step back, matched by the animal. The growl had a clock like sound, going up and down like the ticking of a mechanical clock. He took another matched step. Whatever it was, it was hunting him! He considered his weapons, and discarded the idea. The knife would only irritate it, and he wasn't sure the pistol would kill it. He turned and ran. There was a howling sound, followed by a thumping sound as it leaped into pursuit.
He'd run only a few steps when someone came out of the brush ahead of him. He could see long white hair, a slim face, and he tripped as he saw the rifle the figure lifted to aim at him.
The crack of the weapon and the animal leaping on his back happened at the same instant. He was driven into the ground as the animal flipped over his back to land in a heap before his face. He could see the fury dying in those eyes. The back of head looked as if someone had opened the skull, put a small grenade in it, and stepped back smartly. He looked up past it.
The figure was a woman. She was wearing brown pantaloons and a rust colored shirt beneath a tight fitting vest. She looked at him for a long moment, then knelt, picking up the brass from her expended round. She expertly popped out the magazine, drew a fresh round from her belt, put it in the magazine, then reinserted it. The expended brass went into the slot where the fresh round had been. Now he could see that the vest had long rows of similar rounds. Then she sighed, walking over to kneel beside the body of the animal. She spoke softly, as if it were an old friend she had just killed as she stroked it's flank.
Riyal got up on his knees. “I don't know how to thank you-”
“Don't thank me.” She snapped, still stroking the dead animal.
“This is not a matter for thanks.” She looked up, and gray eyes glared at him. “She died because you don't have the brains of a flatworm.” She stood, towering over him, ripping the rebreather off. Riyal almost choked on the smell. She held up the mask. “Anything with a functional brain would have avoided this area because of the stench. The Druhund leaves parts of her kills uneaten, scattering the body around where she intends to have her litter. The stench keeps scavengers and other predators away from her den while her young are still small.
“But you were too stupid to go around. Because of that, she died.” She stood, lifting the comlink at her wrist, speaking rapidly. The only word he recognized was Nabistte, Mandalorian for someone from Naboo. “I have called the clan. There will be an aircar here in a few minutes.”
Riyal stood, looking at the corpse. The guilt of causing an unnecessary death filled him. “Were would her den be?”
She looked at him as if he were speaking Huttese. “Why? Do you want to kill her kits as well?”
“What happens to her kits if she doesn't return?”
She gave him a look now that made him think he should be wearing a dunce cap. “She no longer feeds them, and they die of starvation.” She explained as if to a child.
“That is my fault. I will gather the kits and feed them until they can take care of themselves.”
“You will spend a year feeding her kits?”
“If I must.”
She sighed, then pointed behind him. “Follow her tracks back until they disappear. When they do, mark the path, look for the nearest tree, and circle it the same distance away looking for another trail. Druhund never come directly from their den when they have kits. They leap into a tree then to the ground in another direction so the enemy can't merely follow her back to her kits. I will be here.”
“You're not coming along?”
“No.” She looked at him for a long moment. “If you would do this, we will need something else.”
“What if the kits are half grown?”
“They will eat you, of course.” She replied levelly. He had the idea that she didn't care either way. He shook his head, walking down the trail. Behind him, the woman spoke into her comlink again.
It didn't take long. The Druhund had only come perhaps ten meters from where she had broken trail, and he found the other easily thanks to the instructions. He could hear a soft mewling sound, and found a hollow large enough for the animal to have slept with herself between the small forms further back. They were moving around blindly, their cries of hunger growing louder. He knelt, dumping out his pack. He took off his shirt, making a soft nest, and carefully lifted the four kits one by one into it. He had to do it one at a time. Though they were young each was larger than his two hands side by side. They squirmed, giving plaintive cries as he put the pack over both shoulders this time.
He reached the small clearing where he had been attacked, and looked at it with horror. The animal had been hoisted with a rope around it's neck, and the woman was carefully cutting it up with a vibroblade. Layers of plastic held the skin, the ribs cut first from the breast bone then cut in half and stacked to lay flat, and the legs chopped at the joints into manageable chunks. Except for the lungs and uterus, the entrails had been poured into a folding bucket.
“What are you doing?” He almost screamed.
She ignored his protest, walking over. She caught his shoulder, spinning him around to see his find. “From the look of them, there is perhaps two weeks before they will be able to eat meat as well as milk. We will need that-” she hooked a thumb at the remains, “-to feed them then.”
He felt something tugging at his pony tail, and heard a chuckle. “It seems one of them likes you.”
“Ha, ha.” he replied. “We have not exchanged names. I am Riyal, Prince of Naboo.”
“I am Taarna, of Clan Terakian.” He turned to face her. If anything, her face was colder than before. “I knew you were of Naboo. We've been wondering what place your line wished to conquer next. After all, the planet is now unified, thanks to our blood.”
“I don't understand.”
“Four and a half centuries of the pact. 'To defend' was what we were supposed to do. You forefathers, your 'kings' would push a neighbor until they attacked, and use us to conquer them. Land under your control now, watered with the blood of the thousands we once were, over and over.
“But with the planet under one ruler, we could not see a local enemy for you to face. So we waited for the next summons to end our long enslavement.”
“Again, I don't understand.”
“You don't need to, yet.” She looked up. The aircar comes.”
The vehicle circled, then came down in the clearing. The rear hatch opened, and two small children came down. The eldest, a girl of perhaps six glared at him, then spoke to Taarna. She replied, motioning to Riyal. “Kneel down so they can get two of the kits.”
He did as he was told, and the girl walked around him, lifting a kit from the pack. The boy, around five, he estimated reached in and took out another. Riyal glanced over his shoulder. Both children had ecstatic looks on their faces as they cuddled the kits, scratching the young animals ears or stomach as they cooed to them.
“Come, we don't have time to watch the grass grow.” Taarna walked over, taking out the remaining kits. “Here, your friend.” She said, thrusting one into his arms before taking the other as she walked toward the flyer. The pilot had come down and loaded the butchered remains. He followed them aboard. There were four seats facing each other, and each had what looked like an emergency medical IV bag, but filled with a bluish liquid, the tubes hanging down beside the seats to a small thumb clip that stopped the liquid from flowing out. Taarna and the children sat, laying their burdens over their knees only long enough to strap in, and he followed suit. Once they had, each took the tubes hanging down, set the ends in the kit's mouth, and released the clip. The kits they held immediately had something more important to do, sucking the tubes avidly.
“Nerf milk.” Taarna explained. “Are you going to feed her? Or merely tease her with the smell?” He took the tube as they had done, sticking the end into the kit's mouth and released the thumb clip. His burden began to suck, and he winced as the forepaws settled against his hand and began kneading, the needle claws burying themselves in his hand. Taarna shouted, and the ramp came up, the flyer lifting.
Terakian Compound: Concordia
Riyal had to admit the Druhund kit was cute, except for those needle claws. The ramp dropped before the bag was half empty, and she still sucked greedily. Taarna took her bag, linking it to a clip on her vest. She unbuckled, stood, then looked at the man. She sighed, removing the carabiner clip opposite the one she had used, and after a moment, removed a strip of leather from her vest, tying it around his neck, then linked the clip through it and the bag. When he stood the feeding was uninterrupted. He walked down the ramp, and looked at the buildings around the pad. Half of a dozen children as young as the two with him came running out, picked up the remains of the druhund, and hurried it inside. One older boy came to Riyal, and spoke to him.
“Shema is going to take the kit.” Taarna told him. Riyal knelt, and the boy professionally transferred the clip to his own body suit, then cradled the kit in his arms as he carried it in. “Come with me.” Taarna told him.
He looked at the buildings. He wasn't sure, but it looked like it might hold two or three hundred people. But the compound was silent, almost eerily so. “Where are all the people?”
“Except for those out tending the fields, everyone is inside.”
She took him through the door into the building following the others. There was a narrow hall leading back to a larger room. He had expected some kind of throne room, maybe a military command center. What he got was a large room that looked like a mess hall with two men bent over what was obviously a map of the compound they were in. The older man was pointing. “The Calor will be ready to harvest in two weeks. The cahval of course has three more months.”
“We will take care of it for you.” The younger man agreed. “When you return, the food will have been harvested.”
“Yes.” The older man said softly. “When we return.” He looked up. “We're going to be preparing for a contract and have to depart tomorrow morning. If anything happens, you have the buildings.”
The younger man laughed. “No contract is that lethal.”
“There's always a first time.” They clasped hands, and the younger man left. The elder rolled up the map. “Bring him, Taarna. Call the clan to witness.”
“No, Taarna.” He corrected gently. “All of them.”
“Chu!” She nodded, and left.
“Come, Prince Riyal. I do not bite... often.” Riyal walked toward him, and the man clasped his hand. “I am Takad, Clan father of the Terakian. We have been waiting for you world's next call upon us.”
“After my grandfather had to put down the coup, he decided, as did my father, that your clan needed time to rebuild their numbers. I remember from the history classes than half of your clan died during that.”
Takad looked at him for a long moment. “Yes, they did. As soon as we have taken oath, we can discuss this further.”
There was a clattering of boots and dozens of people came running in. The one thing he noticed were their ages. Most were elderly, in their seventies to nineties like Takad. About ten were below 20 in age; Taarna falling into that group because she was perhaps nineteen. The rest, perhaps fifteen, were between those ages, but far fewer than would be normal according to demographics. There were more of the aged than anything else.
“The clan is gathered, clan-father.” Taarna told him.
Riyal looked, doing a quick count. There were only about sixty of them. Where were the others?
“Man of Naboo? You come to call us to battle once again?”
“Clan-father, this is madness!” One man in his forties snarled. “We are to die for them yet again?”
Takad looked at him. “My son, we knew it would happen. Every warrior knows that death is his lot. It's all a matter of when. It is our time.” He looked mildly at Riyal. “I have spoken the ritual words, Riyal of Naboo.”
Riyal sighed. He opened his hand. The signet of his house was up in his palm, and he held up his hand so all could see it. “By the pact agreed, I call you. Our people are in danger, and need our strong sword arm. I, Riyal of the house of Megrim call for you to march.”
“And by the change the Jettise negotiated when Sogan called us falsely?”
Riyal took hold of the signet, and twisted. The plate pulled free revealing a gold and green chip. He held out his hand. “The proof that I am the true messenger.”
Takad walked over, lifting the chip; barely the size of the nail of his little finger, and put it in the slot on his pad. He touched a button, and typed in a code. The screen flashed. “Accepted.” He set down the pad. “My clan brothers and sisters. The day is finally at hand. The last time we can be called.”
The younger man glared at Riyal. “If this one hasn't stolen the ring, father. What of when this one's brother arrives-”
“I swear on my honor-”
The man spun, his finger aimed like a weapon. “Don't use that word! No man of your clan knows the meaning of the word! Your entire line would not know what honor was if I spread it like soft cheese on crackers and fed it to you!”
“Sammel, calm. This one is a bit different.”
“Different?” Sammel looked him up and down. “He's from Naboo, of the house of Megrim. The same filth as all of his forebears.”
“Different enough.” Takad demurred. “He caused the death of a druhund-”
“And he is different?”
Takad looked at his son mildly. “Then he gathered the cubs that had been left for dead and brought them, vowing to raise them himself if need.”
Sammel looked at him sneering. “An easy promise, since he will not be here to do it.”
“I will take them home with me.” Riyal replied softly.
Sammel shook his head as if it didn't matter anymore. “As you have taken oath, father, so have we all. We will prep the ships.” He motioned and most of the older people and the children walked out along with all of the ones in the middle.
“Don't take his animosity too badly, Prince. He had hoped he would be dead before the call came; a wish we all share.”
Riyal stared at him. “Everyone who meets me seems to think I am a plague carrier, could you explain that to me?”
“You mentioned history. Have you studied the history of the Pact?”
“Of course, I did.” Riyal commented. “If I am to eventually rule, I have to understand how and why our government works.”
“So tell me. Astound me with your acumen.”
“Your clan swore an oath to my house to defend us from aggressors 450 years ago. The clan chief then swore that half of the clan would come at our call at any time if we were under attack. You have bravely fought our enemies fifty times during that period. The last time you were called was when my Grandfather's younger brother Sogan brought a duplicate of the ring, causing not half, but all of your clan to be called to our service.”
“Like all history, self serving.” Takad commented. “The Jedi say, everything depends upon your point of view. Would you hear it from our end?”
“Four hundred fifty years ago, we had been hired by Megrim to put down a small rebellion. Your ancestor had dreams of uniting the planet under his rule, but his nation was small and could ill afford an army or such a long conflict. Also he wasn't foolish enough to think it would be within his lifetime, so he decided upon a plan. After our victory in that conflict, he invited our clan leaders and their sons to a banquet.
“Megrim's son Rothgar was instructed to goad one of our young men into a fight, and he chose the clan father's son Dayal. He did as instructed, assuring that Dayal threw the first punch. They were separated. Our people have always tried to avoid breaking local laws, but Dayal was charged with striking a member of the royal family, punishable by death by beheading. Our clan leader tried to negotiate, but Megrim was adamant; 'who raises his hand against my family threatens me'.”
Takad walked to a tea pot, holding it up in mute offering. He poured tea for them both, then walked over, setting it down as he sat across from Riyal. “Our clan-father offered to come at need. Megrim agreed to commute the sentence to exile provided the clan swore a pact to come at his call. Our clan-father was wise enough to assure that we could only be called if you were attacked or to be attacked, but Megrim only agreed if we did so for 'as long as my line exists, or your clan lives or until released'.
”The clan leader loved his son, yet if he had known what would happen to us, he would have killed the boy himself. Less than six months later, Megrim's largest neighbor attacked him. Of course we did not know then that he had goaded them by taking villages and incorporating them into his country until shots were fired and he had men dead. When we arrived half of your nation had been occupied and we had to go for their capital to defeat them. Hundreds of our clan died, and thousands of theirs, but we won handily.
And the instant we had, when we had taken their politicians into custody along with the leaders of their military, your father sent his men to take over, and shooed us on our way. And what did your 'history' say about that war?”
Riyal considered. “That after due process was observed, all of those who had orchestrated that heinous attack were executed.”
Takad chuckled sourly. “ 'Those who had orchestrated'. If nothing else, your line does have a grasp of how to make a bitter truth a sweet lie. The truth was that all members of their military down to the common soldier were executed. Their leaders both military and civil were also eliminated; down to the youngest child of their families. We may have killed thousand, but you family's 'police' killed hundreds of thousands. At least our victims had a chance to fight back.
“Then of course the next war. Your history probably records that 'terrorists' had fled across the border into the next largest neighbor, that the government there refused to turn them over, and your line swore they would hunt them where ever they went. The nation treated in such a manner had to fight back, again, starting a war you pushed.”
That was almost exactly how history had worded it. He nodded mutely. “By this time we realized what was happening; that your line was bent on conquering the entire planet with our arms and our blood. But our clans are used to poorly worded contracts. That war cost us almost a thousand more; cost those valiant people tens of thousands before they finally surrendered. Cost them hundreds of thousands more when your 'police' hunted down any who might think of fighting back.
“Attempts to renegotiate the pact were rebuffed. Why do you think your ancestor stated 'as long as my line exists, or your clan lives or until released'? As long as your line could show an actual attack by a neighbor, or prove that they had threatened you, we could not claim otherwise in a contract court. We were bound by our honor to fight for you. If we refused, we would be legally declared foresworn.
“We could not even argue against his extermination of all opposition. 'Who raises his hand against my family threatens me', remember? They acted in opposition of your ancestor's 'just claims' and your law also enshrines the idea that any member of the family of a traitor shares their guilt. We tried using our own laws, but they were also rebuffed. We take brave women as war brides, we adopt children of brave enemy warriors to raise.
“But we were told that if we took them, those who did would also be executed. Under our own laws that can be done by the contract partner unless it is negotiated first. Fifty of our people who used our laws to do so were executed 'legally' by you courts. So the wars came, our people died. Many went into honor death, killing themselves rather than continuing. Others merely hoped that some lucky man would kill the royal family and free us that way.”
Takad drained his cup, then walked over, taking down a dusty bottle. “Tihaar. Bottled the year of my birth. The year of Infamy. Something to drink when having bitter thoughts.” He took down two thimble sized glasses, poured for himself, then for Riyal. “Oya Manda!” He knocked back the drink, then watched until Riyal followed suit. The boy gasped, coughing. “It is an acquired taste.” He poured anew.
“Then, with no more enemies upon Naboo, Sogan became greedy. His father was old, and his brother Seagrim would take the throne. So Sogan had a duplicate of the ring made, and came to Manda'lor where we still lived. He led half of our clan, merely 200 to 'take back' his throne.
“Of course his duplicity was discovered, and Seagrim came bearing the true ring less than a week later. When asked by our clan-father how we could tell which was the truth? His reply? 'I swear on my honor that my brother is false, that he wants my father dead, and that he will take the throne and his crown over the bodies of my own sons'.” He smiled sadly at Riyal's wince. “Yes. That is why we do not take the words of your line when speaking of honor as truth.
“The 'coup' lasted mere days; the amount of time it took for us to board ship and come to Naboo. From orbit we told our brothers what had happened, and the fighting stopped as they handed their weapons to the police. By then your great-grandfather was already dead, and most of your house. Only Sogan's children and his concubines still lived. Your grandfather had them executed. Then he turned to our clan-father and demanded the lives of every one of our people who had come at Sogan's call. He declared them foresworn.
“Our clan-father refused, and he threatened to declare our entire clan foresworn, so our people in their hands killed themselves, going into honor death rather than let your ancestor destroy our honor. When Seagrim tried to merely send us on our way, our clan-father refused. He argued before the throne that if it had happened once, it could happen again, and that he was not willing to slaughter half of what remained every time you family had a squabble. When Seargim refused and began the words of dismisal, that brave man, in front of his entire court, and a witness cut his own throat on the steps to the throne.”
“I drink to your father's honor.” Riyal knocked back the second shot.
“That clan-father was not my father.” Takad leaned on the table. “He had already ordered his followers in the hands of your police to go into death with honor. That man was my uncle.
“There was a witness as I said. A Jedi who had come to Naboo on other business. You see, we had already filed protests in the contract court here, and when we won them and were technically free, Seagrim's great grandfather had filed counter suit in the Republic court which held the pact valid until it decided. They will be heard any day now.”
Riyal shook his head wearily. The Republic's courts had backlogs spanning decades. But Takad claimed one almost two centuries long!
“Oh it is true. After all when a Senator wants his case heard, it can be moved up, and if the Senator of Naboo offers to let another case be heard first, why any senator is happy for that chance. Anyway, the Jedi suggested that since there was proof of duplicity in your line's dealing with us, that he would program a chip to hold the Pact, one that with the help of some of the best programmers in the galaxy assisted by the Force could not be duplicated. Seagrim agreed, provided that from that day, our people were not allowed honor death. There is precedent for that; Before the Jedi Civil war of two millennia ago, the Jedi Revan denied our entire race that when their honor was stripped from them for a time.
“So we were patted on the head like loyal hounds, and shooed back to our kennels; no doubt because he believed we would run home, and go at it like Gizka. He might not be able to call us again, but his son, or perhaps you could call upon a clan rebuilt. But we were not so willing.
“When we returned home, our clan-father moved us here, to Concordia. Few of our people live here, not since the Mandalorian wars. Only outcasts, and those who believe they should be live here. The clan council and the Manda'lor were informed why we had taken this step to divorce ourselves from our own race. Then, as a clan, we decided that we would not have more children. That we would die because of the passage of time if it was the only way to free us.
“While your 'history' no doubt covers this last eighty odd years as a golden age of peace, we of the Mando'a know better. Attempts by Seagrim and your father to hire other clans of our people have been rebuffed. They would not act as his bodyguard, nor serve as soldiers. You have had peace because the Mando'a themselves will not serve such a line of monsters again. After all, they have lost most of a clan to them.”
“But you must have had children! Sammel is your own son!”
“Yes, but that was when we were going to other clans, and giving up our parental rights to that clan. Women would marry into the clan rather than stay, and no, I will not tell you how many. Some clans accepted, but sometimes the mothers would refuse to stay with their clan. Also, as I said, we adopt children, for our races loves them. Over half of them you saw today had become family in that manner. Taarna is the last of the Terakian born.” He touched a button on his comlink, and Taarna seemed to appear from the shadows. “At dawn the day after tomorrow, the Terakian will board our ships. We will go into our last battle and die. It will end then.”
“And how many will come? How many hundreds will you bring?” Riyal asked.
Takad looked at him, and for a moment, he gave wry grin. “You do not understand. I told Taarna to gather all of our people. You saw them when I took oath.”
Riyal stared at him in dawning horror. “There were barely sixty of you!” Takad nodded. “What will you do with so few?”
“Do?” Takad gave him the gentle smile again. “We will die, and finally be at peace.”
For those who have read (Yet not commented, I altered the last posted portion because I reconsidered. With all of them already there to work, there was no reason it would take two days to prepare. So we have a clock running down to less than twelve hours.
As mentioned above, I rewrote the las section because it shouldn't take them two days to prep for this mission. So now we continue...
Terakian Compound: Concordia
“Your quarters are down here, Prince.” Taarna motioned. She still carried her rifle, now slung. He followed her down another hall, then down a flight of stairs. As they left the stairwell the boy Shema came the other way. While Riyal considered him a child, he knew that by Mandalorian standards, he had been a man since the age of thirteen, which meant for the last three years or so. The young man looked at him coolly, then at Taarna.
“I will be in the armory starting on the weapons we will be leaving. Join me?”
“As soon as I am done here.” Taarna replied.
“What, an adult male of Naboo needs his hand held?”
Riyal hissed. “No. Your clan-father thought it would help if I knew where I was sleeping.”
Those cold brown eyes looked at him, then up and down as if cataloging him. “Of course, the Naboo always need babysitters.”
“Listen, child.” Riyal snapped. “If you want to make it a confrontation, this 'Autisse' is ready for it.”
The boy smiled, if you call baring his teeth a smile. “Ah, the little Prince has teeth! I think you need some... personal attention.”
“All I have to say is, bring it.”
“Oh, I shall.” Shema replied. He motioned behind him. “Your quarters are the ones where you can hear children laughing. There is no other place in our compound where that is true.” He pushed between them, taking the steps at a fast jog.
Taarna looked up the steps pensively. “That could have gone worse.”
She turned, looking at Riyal. “Among the Mando'a, calling a proven warrior 'child' would cause a duel. Of course killing or crippling you within minutes of us taking oath might be seen as... provocative.”
Shema had been right. Behind one door there were gales of childish laughter, and when they open it, the three children, two girls and one boy looked up before returning to their play. The four kits lay on the bed, scattered about as they followed strips of fur leather or feathers the children held. Riyal couldn't be sure, but the laughter seemed to goad the young Druhund to chase even harder.
Except for one. That one ignored the tools the children used to entice them. Merely lifting it's head and whining plaintively.
“What's wrong with this one?” Riyal asked. He reached out, and the kit froze, then humped itself around as if sensing his hand. It raised it's head, giving a querulous grumble, then lifted it's nose to smell. Riyal started to pull back, but Taarna stopped him. Her grip strong enough to keep him from moving.
“She is bonding.” Taarna explained, then she drove his hand down as if he were caught in an hydraulic press, forcing his hand closer. She stopped bare millimeters from the seeking animal, who became even more excited. The kit's breath pushed against his fingers, then flowed inward as the kit inhaled. The grumbling died, then it humped itself upward on it's haunches, forepaws coming up to capture two of his fingers. The claws did not hook into him, rather it held them delicately as it rubbed it's head against them like a cat marking it's territory.
Taarna released his wrist, but he didn't move away. The kit almost purred in the same clock like manner of her mother, then began licking his fingers.
“I don't understand.” Riyal whispered.
“Druhund can see, but that is not their primary sense. They hunt and bond by scent, and this one recognizes your scent as of home. That is why the children are using animal scents to lead the others around.” As she said this the girl that had been on the flyer was guiding her charge using a strip of leather toward his hand. Before he could protest she lifted it up to run over his hand so that the following kit lifted to smell him instead. It froze as if it had never smelled that scent before, then like his sister he humped upward until his blindly seeking paws found the edge of Riyal's hand. It keened in delight, holding his hand as it gently gnawed on his wrist.
Before he could protest the others had been led to him. Soon he had one holding his thumb to lick, the other gently gnawing on the web of his hand between thumb and fingers.
The girl that had led the second one to him asked Taarna something. “Tyra asks if they can play with your kits when you are not with them.”
“Of course they may. Any of the children may.” When Taarna translated, the children almost leaped for joy.
“You have brightened their last days. For that I thank you.”
“What do you mean?” He realized that everyone he'd met expected to die very soon. “Surely you will not take children into battle with you!”
She gave him that same look her clan-father had. “We cannot leave them here. When the battle is done, and all of us are dead, your father will know that some few remain. Or perhaps you will tell a child of yours. How long will it be, oh Prince, before your own grandchild or great grandchild calls them forth again?” She shook her head in disgust. “We will leave no hostages to fortune behind. When the clan dies, it will be all of us who march into death with it.”
She took out a pad, bringing up a map,handing it to him. ”Shema and I with a few others will be in the armory here.” She touched the map. “There are many weapons that must be prepared for storage so that when we are gone, others can still use them. Our own weapons in case we fight upon the planet itself will also be prepared by those who would use them. The others are preparing our Assault shuttles for the voyage. Once our preparations are complete, we will rest, and in the morning all will meet one last time to bid farewell to each other, then we will launch.”
“And what am I to do during all of this?”
“The last time one of your line came, he spent the time whining that we were too slow. Times before that it varied. Cosrein, the fifth of your line actually inspected our work, though he admitted he had no clue as to what we were doing, and didn't care to learn.” She smiled at his look. “All that we see, that our ancestors see, is recorded on our Soochir.” She pulled a chain around her neck, showing him a crystal in a metal matrix. “We have records of everything that was done by those of your line sent back to the Pact itself. When we die, the Soochir of the dead are collected, and all is recorded on the great Soochir of the clan itself.”
“Why did you clan father say I was different?”
“I had told him of the druhund.” She replied. “If you look at that, and think of what your line has done to conquer Naboo, you can see yourself like them, and unlike them. You walked into the area around her lair, forcing her to confront you. When she came you backed away; a wise move for they know our weapons. If you had drawn your blade or pistol she would have attacked immediately.”
“But she followed!”
“You were still close enough to her young to be a threat. If you had backed away just a few more steps, you would have been close enough for me to warn you to keep backing as you were. After a time she would have stopped pacing you. She would have stopped and merely watched to make sure you would not return. But you ran.
“The mind of an animal is simple; to a druhund you are nothing to worry about, a threat, or prey. If you are not a danger, she ignores you as she did me when I passed by her lair outside of the zone. If you are a threat, she confronts you. But to a druhund, only prey runs away. When you ran, you became something she could hunt and kill, for nothing else would flee. You ran, she hunted, and I killed her. In this, you were like all of your line, pushing the limits of those you confront, expecting us to fight for you.”
She gave him time to understand the analogy. “But then you became different from those of your line. When I explained why she had died, your first thought was not that you were safe, but what would happen to her kits. I assumed then that you would be like all the others; that you went to kill them. I thought when you asked about how old they were, that you would use it as an excuse, for if they were merely a week older than they are, they might have attacked you if they were hungry. You would have killed them easily when they made their clumsy attacks, but you could sleep well assured that no enemy stood behind you.
“Yet you brought them out as gently as a mother druhund moving her kits somewhere safe. You showed compassion instead of expedience. That is something I did not anticipate, and neither did the clan-father. That is why he freely admitted to you our state, and that whatever else comes of it, that this will be our final battle for your line. He gave you the trust we would extend to any honorable client.”
Riyal considered. “If you will excuse me?” He nodded, and she left.
“Pretty.” He looked at Tyra, who repeated the word.
“You speak Basic?”
She shrugged. “I speak some. Not well. Next year-” She stopped. “Next year will not be. I will learn no more in short time. Will die together with my sister Suli and clan brother Moro.” Her fingers ran delicately over the druhund before her, and the animal arched into her hand. “But will die happy.”
“I will be back.” She nodded absently, all of her focus was on the new life before her.
As he walked the compound, he felt even more alone. Except for the children and Taarna, the others ignored him as unimportant. Everyone else was busy. In the hangar fifteen assault shuttles were opened for repair and fine tuning, and about forty of the clan were there, working on them.
They see me as just another of my family. He thought. An uncaring paymaster who whined because they bring so few when we called. That will watch them die, and whine again that there are no more to send out the next time.
He found himself at the ramp of one of the shuttles. Unlike most races, the Mandalorians didn't use snub fighters, except in defense of a specific system; after all, until they made a hyperdrive motivator small enough to take one to another system they were limited, requiring a mother ship to transport them. Their attack shuttles however were almost four times the size of a fighter, and could travel to another system. They were more like the blast-boats of other societies. Large enough to leap from system to system, armed well enough and maneuverable enough to face fighters on almost equal terms, and capable of carrying perhaps fifty troops to land in a combat environment. There was a clanging, then a spate of Mandalorian that sounded like cursing.
He walked up the ramp. Sammel was laying beneath the command console, cursing, and feeling with his hand for the tool box just out of his reach. Then he squirmed out. He saw Riyal, snorted in disgust, then took a tool from the box. “What do you want.”
“I wish to learn.”
“How to repair one of these shuttles.”
Sammel glared at him. “On your world it is simple. You point at a mechanic, tell him 'fix it' and walk away with a job well done.”
Riyal smiled. In fact until today, that is what he might have done. “But if I did not have a mechanic, what would I do?”
“Probably curse it and kick it a few times.”
Riyal chuckled. “And that would work?”
Sammel looked at him as if he expected Riyal was teasing him. “Sometimes. The cursing at least vents frustration.”
“So teach me.”
Sammel's look spoke volumes of what he consider Riyal competent to accomplish. “I began working on shuttles before you were born. We do not have time to teach you how to fix something like this.”
“Ah.” Riyal walked over, sitting on the decksole beside the toolbox. “But I think I am competent enough to pass the tools you need as you work. And if it does not interfere with what you do, you can explain what you are doing, and why.”
Sammel snorted. “The targeting system is refusing to lock onto target. I have a diagnostic running-” he pointed up at the small flat screen to the right of the command pilot's seat. There was a red dot, and a targeting caret on it, but the caret was moving around, and passed over the dot refusing to lock on. “-so I must tinker, look at the screen, and if it continues to fail, try something else.”
“Then I will watch the screen, pass tools, and when it decides to work, tell you.”
Sammel growled, and slid back under the console. There was the clink of metal, then he asked. “Now?”
“The caret stopped on the red dot, but moved on.”
“Hand me the number seven circuit tester.” Riyal searched, found the tool, and exchanged it for the one in the seeking hand. They worked companionably for a time until the recalcitrant system locked on the target with a bleeping sound, turning red when it did. But the range was incorrect according to Sammel. After another time it finally locked on and gave him the range he expected.
“What else?” Riyal asked as Sammel crawled back out and began replacing the panels.
“We must load the missiles and tibanna tanks for the plama cannon. But that takes skills you do not have, with no time to learn them.”
“But the missiles or tanks are moved with lifters, right?” Sammel nodded. “I do not think it would take that long to learn how to drive one.”
For the first time he saw something other than contempt in that gaze. “No, even a child of six can drive a lifter.”
“Then I try to be considered a competent six year old if you will but show me how.”
For the next hours he fetched tools, brought water for the workers, drove the lifter to deliver pallets of missiles and tanks for the plasma cannon. After a time, the tension eased. When Keeri one of the older clan members called him a stupid d'kut it was not because of who he was, rather that he had almost clipped the wing of the shuttle they were loading, followed by an expletive laden discourse on coming in from this angle to clear the wing, and adjust the load here so that they could be moved into final position by hand.
When they broke for dinner, they were being polite to him. Not friendly as yet, but they were treating him like someone with a functioning brain.
The dining hall was slowly filling when he arrived after washing up. There was a huge cauldron of some kind of stew, and a barrel of the black beer they favored. Beside the barrel were two more with taps, one much smaller than the other. The clan members were serving up bowls of the stew, taking sliced bread from trays beside it, and either filling the huge tankards (Called buckets, as were their helmets) with either beer or a reddish wine from the larger barrel.
“Well, get your food.” Shema said from behind him. “Unless or course you expect us to serve you hand and foot.” He waved airily. “I am afraid all the servants are on vacation, so you will just have to muddle along.”
“What is this?” Riyal asked, motioning toward the pot.
“Merdai.” Shema answered. “It is a dish made to show our strength, and our ability to live where others would refuse to live. It is what we can catch, and what we can find, so it is never the same twice.”
“Ah.” Riyal took a bowl, filling it. “I have heard of it, but never tasted it. What is it I have heard? 'Merdai is like the Mando’a. What you make of it'?”
Shema smiled sourly at him. “At least you have learned something of those you use like tissue paper. Most of those sent by your line merely called us Mandalorians, as if what an Autisse calls us matters. You have a choice of Gal or Verdyc to drink with it.”
“I know Gal is beer, and I will try it. But what is Verdyc?”
“Mando'a blood wine.” Shema took a tankard, and filled it with the red wine. “For after we have the hard Verdyc thrice distilled, or tihaar.”
“I will try the hard Verdyc afterward.” He took his bowl, bread and beer to a table. Shema followed like the druhund had earlier.
“What, tihaar is too strong for you weak Autisse palate?”
Riyal noticed that the small conversations about them were dying out as if everyone hung on his words. He looked into the mocking eyes across from him, and realized that as they had accused his line, Shema was goading him. His words of challenge earlier must have stung more than he realized. But he could not merely apologize; that would be taken for weakness. But he knew the Mando'a respected strength, especially in the 'outlanders' which is what Autisse meant in their tongue.
“I was merely surprised when it was offered as a drink. I would have thought from the smell and the burn that it was used to strip paint from hulls. Your clan-father told me it is an acquired taste. I will try it again, because I find I rather liked it. But it would not be fair to the Gal and the Verdyc, both hard and soft, to slight them.”
He lifted a spoon of the Merdai, and chewed it contemplatively. “An odd flavor, gamey. It must be the meat used. But I had been told that Merdai could also be used to strip paint, and this is as mild as any stew I have ever eaten.”
Shema pointed at the spices between them, taking a bottle of reddish liquid and dashed in on his own. “I thank you for the warning. I did not know the cooks were making it weak enough for a baby.”
Riyal watched the young man's face as he shoveled in some of the stew. Sweat started from his forehead, but except for that, nothing changed beyond his challenging look. Whatever was in that bottle must be very strong. He took it, then a spoonful of the stew. He dropped a single drop on the stew in the spoon, then ate it.
He felt as if he had taken a coal from a fire and tossed it into his mouth. He wanted to choke, to gag, to spit it out, to chug the beer before him in desperate need of cooling his burning mouth. Instead he chewed, as if testing a new cook, then picked up his beer and drank a measured sip. “Ah, that is what I thought Merdai was like. Thank you for teaching me.”
Taarna came in, got her own food, and sat beside him. She took a spoon of stew, shook her head, and took a shaker of a black powder, spreading it on the stew, then stirring it in before taking another bite.
“What is that?” Riyal asked.
“Pipalli. But it is a bit strong for those who are not Mando'a.”
Riyal took another spoon, dusted it with the powder, and fed it into his mouth. After the sauce this was almost bland, though it was hot. He slid the bottle of sauce toward her, and she looked at it, then at Shema. “That is ground pipalli steeped in tihaar. Only fools and Shema eat it all the time.”
“Steeped in Tihaar? That explains why I like the taste.” He poured a larger dollop onto the stew, stirred well, and went back to eating as if nothing had happened.
Shema picked up his Verdyc, taking his own measured sip. “I see that with you, I must work harder.” There was a ripple of laughter, and the conversations that had died began again.
Tyra came running in, paced by the other girl that had been playing with the kits, followed by the boy, a basket hanging from their hands. They saw Riyal, and came over to him. As they set down the basket, Riyal was inundated in the hungry whine of the kits. The children moved the kits onto the table, where they immediately made a beeline for Riyal. He sighed, putting out his hand, and the kits caught it, mewling in hunger as they pawed at him.
“I need some milk.” He sighed. The children ran into the kitchen, and came back with bowls they then filled with milk. They set them down, guiding kits to them, where they began lapping it up eagerly.
“When will they begin eating meat?”
“We can try it now.” Taarna got a fresh bowl of stew, then plucked out chunks of meat, teasing the meat apart with her knife until it was a mass of loose fibers. She picked up some between two fingers, and held them up above one of them. It looked up, and the mewling took on a deeper tone. It lunged upward, sucking the fibers from her fingers, then looked up again, whining. Riyal chuckled, picking up some fibers, and held them over the head of the kit that had bonded first. She sat up, daintily sucking the meat from his grip, then looked around.
“Ah, so you are patient?” Riyal fed her more. Again she waited until he delivered more.
“Tyra! Suli!” A woman came in, and began berating the two girls. Both looked sheepish.
Taarna said something that stopped the woman in her tracks. She looked at the girl, then at Riyal. “My girls, they have been helping you with the druhunds?” He nodded. She looked at them, then sighed, saying something softly. “But they must prepare their weapons for tomorrow, so you will be seeing to them alone.” She sighed, kneeling to hug the girls, then walked back out. Theycame back over as if they expected him to shun them.
There was much to do, but Riyal wanted to think. He carried the kits back down to his quarters when they had been fed to repletion, and walked out into the evening. The sun had not yet set, and he looked at the sky. There were streaks of red in it now, and he saw something. He shaded his eyes, watching the form coming closer, then gasped in amazement.
It was a bird, but like none he had ever seen. It had not a pair of wings, but two pair, one spanning in the front, but halfway back there was a second pair that was linked in some way to the front. Where the front pair drove it upward, the aft pair seemed to act more as control surfaces, directing its flight,making it's turn as swift and agile as a snub fighter.
“So beautiful.” Taarna was standing there beside him, watching the bird as he did. “They are called Terak; the symbol of our clan. You cannot tell it from here, but they are very large; large enough that they can pluck a full grown man from the ground to eat.” She laughed. “In mating season, we restrict smaller air cars from flying.”
“Because they are brave and glorious in flight, but not too bright. Many a time a warrior would call for a pick up after a stupid male decided they were something to mate with.” He pictured it, and they laughed together.
She became somber again. “Long ago, our first clan-father came here. It was after what your people call the Mandalorian wars, when our honor had been stripped from us, and we were denied honor death. No one knows what name he had before that. He came here, alone, hoping to meet something that would kill him, and free him from such a life. He watched the Terak, and in his warrior heart he saw what we did not yet realize. Honor is as much a part of us as breath. We cannot live without it. But it is not something that can be taken away by fiat, any more than you can decree that a man can no longer breathe and expect him to hold his breath.
“He gathered others who felt the same way from all of the clans, and when Canderous Ordo, who became Manda'lor years later came home, he found a few hundred here, already living the life Revan had decreed when she gave him the helm and declared him Manda'lor.
“Terak was one of the first to come, asking our new Manda'lor to judge his thoughts and words. So it was that Manda'lor, later called Redeemer of Honor agreed, and raised Terak up not as merely a man, but as leader of a new clan, named the Terakian in his honor. And when we go into battle, that line ends. Two thousand years of past glory swept away by the glory of what we will do in the name of our honor.”
“It is madness. All you can do is die, even if you succeed. Why?”
She turned to look at him. “Remember what I said about the Terak?” She waved toward that now vanished bird. “Brave and glorious, but not too bright. With your pardon, I must prepare my weapon for battle.”
“May I come?”
She looked at him considering. “I do not know how welcome you will be. Our people see you as the end of our enslavement, but seeing the headsman's ax waiting for you is not a joy, even to us.”
They walked around the main building to a firing range. A number of the clan were gathered, seated at tables as they dismantled and cleaned weapons. Unlike the rifle she carried, a number of them were blasters, most old enough that he had seen them in books of wars a century or more gone. Some looked up, but merely cataloged that he was there.
As they finished cleaning their weapons, they would walk over to the range itself. There they fired, others using wide angle scopes to mark their fire. They would fire, adjust and fire again, stopping only when they were satisfied.
There was a sound like an artillery piece firing, and he tuned that way. Half a dozen of the men and women were using the larger heavy assault blasters that could take out a vehicle. Shema looked up, turned back, and another bolt ripped down range. “Coming to see how a warrior would do it?”
“If one would deign to teach me.” Riyal replied. “I see it cannot be fired effectively from the prone position.”
Shema looked at him. “And from your many years of military experience you deduced this?”
“No. Merely that with the support brace where it is-” he pointed at the grip that thrust out on the left side of the barrel, “-it would be difficult to maneuver from side to side.”
“That brace is adjustable for right or left hand.” Shema lifted his thumb to a stud closer to the barrel, and the grip arched under the barrel, then back into position.
“Is there one of these I can test fire?”
“And who will clean it?” Shema asked sarcastically.
“I was told that a child of six could drive a load lifter in the hanger. How old would a child need to be to learn how to fire and clean this?” He motioned toward the ungainly weapon.
Shema shook his head. “A child of perhaps seven could clean it, but it takes a man to fire it. The weapons weighs fifteen kilos, and is directed by the arm, as it fits to your elbow.” He moved his arm, and the weapon lifted and pointed as he flexed his right arm. “To use it all day takes a real man.”
“Then if someone will fetch one for me, I will try to prove I am a fully grown man.”
Shema grinned. “Here then, man of Naboo. Use mine.” He shifted his hand from the brip to another one made for carrying, sliding the weapon from his arm, holding it at arm's length in offering. Riyal came forward, reaching out, and grasping firmly as Shema let go. He had anticipated that the young man lied, so he was not surprised as it dragged his hand down before he caught the weight.
“Fifteen kilos? I would say closer to 20.” He shifted his grip to his right hand, slidng his left arm into the socket at the rear. He felt another grip with a thumb stud, which he avoided. “I would assume that you have safed the weapon?”
“There is no safety.” Shema replied. “If you press the stud, it will fire. But if your hand is not within the sleeve, it would not fire if dropped a hundred kilometers onto rock.”
Riyal reached over, hard with such a weight, and shifted the support grip to a left handed firing position. Then he took a stance not unlike the one Shema had been in. The targets were a long way away, perhaps nine hundred meters. There were both vehicle and man sized targets, but at that range only the vehicles could clearly be seen. He touched the stud, and a bolt ripped downrange, cleanly missing anything important. He was almost blinded by the flash.
“Ah, they know you're here now!” Shema chortled. “Perhaps I should stand before you? Where it is safe?”
Riyal grimaced, then held the weapon, concentrating down the heavy barrel, the weight pulling him forward, which he corrected. For a long moment he merely stood, then a second bolt flew down range. It clipped the edge of a vehicle target.
“Oh! You singed their whiskers with that one!”
Before Riyal could fire again, Taarna was beside him. She slipped a headset like the one Shema wore onto his head. “The weapon will post a reticule over your eye; which one depending on your grip. It also darkens automatically when the stud is depressed, so you do not go blind from the flashes.” She gave Shema a cool look. “As a competent instructor would know to tell you.”
“Thank you.” Riyal aimed. As his hand tightened on the side grip a pair of lines sprang into his vision over his left eye, and to the side he could see the range, 915 meters. He found that broad movements of his arm cause the sight to leap more than a vehicle's length to either side, so he moved only slightly. He found a target, a vehicle, and pressed the stud gently. The target fell with a clang that was heard moments later. Then he shifted incrementally to a man sized target, range 904 meters, and again stroked the trigger. This one merely exploded from the heat of the round.
He paused, then stripped the headset off. “I like it!” He turned to Shema, and took the carrying grip as he pulled the weapon free. “I think I am not yet man enough to use it all day. I would need to build up my arms for it. When you are done firing it in to your satisfaction, let me know. I have yet to learn how to clean it. But wait.” He reinserted his arm, then moved the support grip to beneath the barrel. “I see it can be fired from the prone after all. But the man using it would have to move his upper body to sight it properly.” Shema took the weapon with a consodering look on his face. Then he turned back to his duty.
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