Heh...thought I should get around to posting a story here...so here it is...
In Brief: The original intention behind this story is to explore the relationship between Jan and Kyle, and that will become clearer in later chapters. I wanted to set the scene first with Jan working almost on her own...so you question why Kyle isn't there with her.
I want to try and flesh out a little bit of what happened after the defeat of Jerec at the Valley Of The Jedi and the situation directly after the incident on Dromuund Kaas.
by Rob 'StormHammer' Bowen
Chapter One: The Flying Assassins
The sleek black speeder banked and turned onto the flight-way, and melted into the flow of other southbound traffic. Behind the tinted wind-visor, the driver seemed indifferent to the horn blasts elicited by his action as he peered into the twilight gloom. The sun’s last dying rays caressed only the tallest skyscrapers, transforming them into golden-crowned edifices, as it sank into fiery oblivion on the eastern horizon. Along the avenue many of the flight-way restaurants and cafes had already turned on their harsh neon signs, which accomplished little in the fading light, yet would transform the city into a multi-hued explosion of colour in the encroaching darkness.
“How much longer?” A tired voice questioned from behind, and the driver turned slightly to glimpse at the passengers on the back seat.
“Not long. We’re on the last stretch,” he returned calmly, and shrugged as his partner fidgeted.
“Thanks,” Jan Ors breathed, and continued to look out the side window. Her anxiety faded as she remembered the driver from a previous assignment, more than a year before. Tam Darson, an experienced speeder driver, had already surveyed the city street plan, driving around for almost a day in order to obtain a clear understanding of the layout, and identify alternative escape routes in the case of an emergency. He had come to know this quadrant and all avenues to the spaceport like the back of his hands, in a remarkably short time. Jan seemed to recall that Tam had years of service with several other vehicle types, including land transports and spacecraft, and her qualms about the journey faded as she took in his weasel-sharp features and keen wide eyes. She knew she had picked the right agent to back her up on this assignment. His reflexes were second to none - except perhaps for Jan’s own.
Tam’s foot came down on the accelerator, pressing Jan back into the comfortable padded leather seat of the unmarked, nondescript state-owned black SkyRanger Special. If the bullet-train connection from Vektra had not been running behind schedule, there would have been no reason for the extra speed. However, some incident in one of the maintenance tunnels had determined that Jan and the man in her charge arrived late. Tam now attempted to make up for lost time, cutting corners with barely centimetres to spare, and temporarily ignoring the altimeter limits and speed restrictions of the city flight-ways.
Jan felt it unwise to interject on Tam’s concentration in case they ended their journey unexpectedly in an apartment house.
“You’re making me nervous, Jan.” The other passenger, a short, stocky man observed. His pale grey eyes locked on the woman’s own as she turned to him. Jan gazed back at him critically, her brown eyes burning and probing. He could see the slight bulge of the blaster under her black waist-jacket.
She pursed her lips and tightened a gloved hand into a fist as she responded. “I’ve been given the job of protecting you, Precept Tol-Rion. Out here we’re easy targets. I’ll only be satisfied of your safety after we’ve reached the Space Port, and you’re off-world.” The woman returned icily.
The Precept raised an eyebrow at the agent’s tone, and retreated slightly along the back seat. He took in the lithe, sinewy frame under the lightweight body armour only half-concealed by her casual wear, the mess of golden-brown hair and grim eyes that scrutinised every street block. Her hands knotted occasionally in anticipation of some catastrophic event to come. Tol-Rion knew that Mon Mothma had personally selected this agent from a mere handful of the elite operatives of the New Republic to protect him. So far, her performance and planning had been exemplary.
The air traffic thickened as they reached an intersection between two major flight-ways, down one of which the SkyRanger sped with abandon. Then the speeder slowed as Tam applied the decelerators. Jan leaned across, frowning, then noticed that the other traffic had slowed to a crawl.
“Must be heavy traffic from the north.” Tam explained, cutting in the repulsor shields, in case one of the other speeders in the stream failed to brake soon enough. “Nothing to worry about.” With the repulsor shields switched on, Jan felt slightly less vulnerable. Then the Skyranger jolted as a long, sleek brown speeder with tinted visors slid in slightly too close, kicking the shields into operation. Tam scowled at the vehicle. “Business tycoons. They think they own the flight-ways.” He muttered something distasteful under his breath, and Jan smiled slightly as she allowed her gaze to wander.
She took in the other traffic with mild interest: company speeders, light duty transports, sleek modern business models, family junks and the odd Air Patrol skiff. The Skyranger had been sandwiched between the elitist brown Dorland executive model and a nondescript olds-mobile dressed in faded light blue between the dents and rust patches. Intrigued by the appearance of this defunct model, Jan peered more closely at the driver, attempting to understand what kind of person might hang on to a junk-pile like that. The window, however, reflected too much light, shadowed the hulking shape of the Skyranger and the Dorland beyond. Perhaps if she hadn’t been looking at that window, she might not have noticed the reflection of one of the Dorland’s windows sliding down - or the muzzle of a blaster that slid out and aimed itself at her head.
Without speaking, she grabbed Tol-Rion and thrust him forward, ducked down and shielded his body with her own as she heard a muffled roar, the shattering of glass. Hot, jagged fragments rained on her as the side window blew in, and she scraped molten glass off her flesh. She felt Tol-Rion shiver slightly as he realised he had just cheated death.
Tam watched as the windscreen shattered, peppered with some of the fragments, and snapped a glance back in the direction from which the blast had come. He reacted without thinking, slammed the Skyranger into gear and proceeded to make space for the speeder to get out of the traffic, bumping other vehicles to the side, above and below.
Another blast punched through the hull of the Skyranger, and shattered one of the back windows. Jan quickly drew her blaster: a long-muzzled Blastech DL-44 with modifications. Without hesitation, she used the weapon to knock out the remaining glass in the passenger window and squeezed off a couple of shots at the Dorland, had the satisfaction of seeing a ragged hole appear in the smooth surface just below the window of the back door. Before the attackers could return the fire, Tam smacked into the side of the olds-mobile, shouldering it aside, slid in front as the driver punched angrily on his horn. The traffic had started to move again, another speeder slid into the empty slot where the Skyranger had been - in time to receive a blast to the front fender, which exploded in molten fragments.
“Get us out of here!” Jan shouted, glancing back nervously to see if the gunman was about to try again.
“I’m trying!” Tam snapped with irritation, eyes scanning the traffic flow for openings. Seeing none, he decided to make his own again with the Skyranger, ramming other vehicles aside. If the Skyranger had been a less powerful vehicle, such a feat would have been impossible. Jan was grateful for small mercies.
She heard another muffled blast, the sound of a speeder’s hull being torn asunder - but not the Skyranger’s hull. A terrified woman at the controls of the vehicle to the Skyranger’s right glanced disbelieving at the sleek brown Dorland, and the gunman intent on taking her speeder apart to get at the Skyranger. She accelerated, bumped the speeder in front, creating a temporary open space between Dorland and Skyranger.
“Down!” Jan called in warning, and Tam ducked. The driver’s window blew outward and a ragged tear appeared in the fabric of the door. Jan cried out as she felt something tear at her back, sear her flesh.
“I’m hit.” She gasped through the pain.
“I don’t think so.” She arched her back and sucked in a ragged breath as something wet began to soak her thermal under-suit.
“There’s a Med-kit in the store box! Hold on!” Tam shouted, and Jan responded, snapped open the cubicle, riffled among the contents and withdrew a small but heavy case. Grimacing against the pain in her back, she took a pain capsule and bit down hard, breaking the seal and allowing a soothing pain-nullifier to slide down her throat. She did not dare ask Tol-Rion to look at her wound. Nor was she willing to risk removing her armour: it had just saved her life.
Tam hunched over the controls and slammed his foot down. Spaces were opening up everywhere as the southbound traffic took off. Tam kicked the Skyranger into a dive that slammed it onto the roof of an accelerating Estate model, eliciting worried cries and a scream from a young girl. As Tam accelerated, the Skyranger snapped off the air vent and Channel Receiver aerial. The alloy hulls screeched together as if in a longing kiss, then parted as the Estate twisted away and scraped along the side of a hulking white business mobile. The Sky-ranger growled to life, speeding across a line of traffic coming up fast on the left. Another blast punched a hole in the roof between Tol-Rion and Jan.
“They’re behind us.” Jan growled with frustration, keeping Tol-Rion bent forward and out of sight. He knew enough about their situation not to complain, and the New Republic agent was grateful. The last thing she needed was to cope with a hysterical citizen.
“Hold on.” Tam gritted, and Jan barely had time to take his advice before the grim-faced driver put the Skyranger in a hard turn onto the Eastern Avenue, skidded past the oncoming traffic, and proceeded to make headway up the one-way flight stream, travelling in the wrong direction. Jan pressed herself into her seat, expecting any moment to become just another piece of debris on the street forty metres below. Somehow, Tam avoided a collision. The howl and screech of buckling plasteel evidenced that the Dorland had not. The long brown muzzle of the business machine came on, swerving back and forth like the nose of a mechanical shark desperately seeking prey.
Twisting in her seat, Jan took careful aim, fired, and missed her intended target as the Dorland swerved to one side. She squeezed off three more shots, which punched holes in the windshield. The Dorland gained altitude, rising up behind the Skyranger. The blaster spoke again, rupturing one of the power-channels on the Dorland’s underside. The big speeder whined with protest, then climbed above the Skyranger, out of view.
“Dive! Take us down!”
Even as Jan shouted, the roof of the Skyranger buckled down as the Dorland landed hard from above. Tam took the vehicle down in a stomach-churning dive, almost to ground level. The Dorland followed with deadly purpose, gained as it swerved around the oncoming traffic. Tam gauged distance, speed, and at the last moment took the Skyranger into a tight turn down a narrow side alley not meant for speeder traffic. The speeder could not straighten out properly, and the left side screamed along one of the walls creating a fountain of sparks.
Jan lolled back in her seat and sucked a ragged breath, hissed against the pain across her back. Her jaw clenched as she looked back through the hole of the rear window. The Dorland had not attempted to follow down the alley. No doubt they would be looking for another way around, to intercept the crumpled Skyranger, which now came out onto another avenue with light traffic.
“Where are we?”
“Second quadrant, I think.” Tam grimaced.
“How far are we from the Space Port? Can we make it?”
“We can surely try.”
Hands shaking slightly from too many close calls, Jan surveyed the damage the Skyranger had sustained. Mainly body work; the controls remained functional; all windows were gone, and the chill air rushed in, bracing them. As Tam drove on, he studied his partner intently.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better,” Jan admitted quietly, perspiration running down her ashen cheeks. “My back’s on fire, but it can’t be too bad. I wouldn’t be able to move otherwise.”
“How about you, Tol-Rion? Are you okay?”
The Precept simply nodded, unwilling to test his voice just yet. They fell silent, Tam wincing as he wrestled with the controls, and Jan kept her eyes peeled for any sign of the Dorland. As she searched the flight ways, her mind locked onto the thing that had been bothering her: why the attempted assassination now? Surely it would have been easier on the bullet train? Or even to lay in ambush at the Space Port? She could recall no details of enemies from the assignment profile with the inclination to go to such lengths to settle an old score. She knew Tol-Rion had stepped on plenty of toes in his time, but there had never been an incident serious enough to elicit such drastic measures. Just why was this man so important? She chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip, wiped the sweat off her palms on her trouser leg. The blaster remained locked in her fist.
Tam wove a path down unnecessary avenues in an attempt to shake any pursuit. Of the Dorland, she could see no sign, as if it had only been a bad dream. The state of the Skyranger and her own injury reminded her otherwise, kept her keenly alert.
Not alert enough, it seemed.
A hail of blaster fire suddenly chewed into the front section of the Skyranger, ripping through the hull and most of the flight cabin. Tam screamed, and suddenly lolled in his seat, his hands slipping from the controls. The Skyranger immediately slid into a spiralling dive. The sudden movement of the vehicle saved Jan and Tol-Rion from being blasted to pieces under the continuing fire.
“Tam!” Jan shouted at her partner, but the man had slumped forward and to the side. He was either unconscious or dead, but whichever it was, he would not be regaining control of the speeder. Jan gritted her teeth in panic as she saw the ground rushing up to meet them through the shattered wind-visor. She did the only thing she could think to do, and threw herself forward, grabbed the flight controls, and wrestled passionately with them. She discovered she had no leverage, and quickly struggled to get at least one leg into the front seat, over the back of Tam. While she was otherwise occupied, her right hand jerked on the flight stick, and the Skyranger lurched, started to roll onto its back.
More blaster fire tore chunks out of the underside, and came close to punching a hole in the engine. Jan almost fell into place, and punched the accelerator pedal with her left hand as her right compensated on the flight stick to correct the vehicle’s angle of descent. The Skyranger shuddered violently, and Jan forced herself not to think about it. The vehicle remained aloft, and that was all that mattered. She snarled with frustration as the nose of the hulking vehicle slowly came up. She suspected it would not be fast enough, but she didn’t tell Tol-Rion.
You really messed up this time
, she cajoled herself. “Hold on, Tol-Rion!” She shouted back to her ashen passenger, and just had time to kick the repulsor shields up to full as the ground completely filled her vision. She squeezed her eyes shut.
A heavy impact, a screech of twisted metal, a roar of battered engines. She opened her eyes to witness the nose of the Skyranger rebound from the floor of the alley, saw the hail of sparks as the belly of the vehicle tore up a section of ferrocrete. Then suddenly the battered speeder was five metres up in the air, flailing from side to side like a drowning man trying to find the surface of the water. She had managed to bring the nose up just enough to prevent a head-on impact. Now she had to make the most of it.
With no time for niceties, Jan sat on top of her partner and assumed whatever control of the vehicle she could muster. She kicked Tam’s feet out of the way and positioned her own over the pedals. She gripped the flight stick in her left hand, and worked the other controls with her right. The Skyranger steadied in the air, and although it shuddered with protest, it began to accelerate.
That was just as well, because the Dorland was back on their tail. She suspected it must have followed them down, to witness the crash and make sure everyone was dead. She allowed herself a tight-lipped smile of satisfaction as she imagined the shock on their faces. She floored the accelerator, and the Skyranger jolted forward. It jolted again. She hastily scanned the readouts on the controls, but they had been shot to pieces, and offered no expla-nation. Perhaps the power conduits had been damaged, or the engine had suffered damage in the impact. It didn’t really matter. All she knew was that the Skyranger was shuddering with protest, and barely managed to keep aloft.
Blaster fire punched another two holes in the rear of the vehicle, and the Precept cried out in surprise. “Return fire, Tol-Rion, or we’re both dead!” Jan shouted at her terrified passenger, and saw him reaching down for the abandoned blaster. He found the weapon, and hefted it, feeling the weight. “Aim as best you can!” She directed urgently as she took the Skyranger down closer to the ground.
The refuse littering the alley was whipped up as the speeder passed. The Dorland, ten metres above and to the side, was well out of range of any fallout, but Jan was not really trying to blind them. She needed to keep the Skyranger low to the ground in the hope the repulsor shields would help to keep the vehicle in the air and take some strain off the engine.
The sniper in the Dorland decided it was time to take a few more pot shots at the sluggish vehicle. A section of the roof in the passenger compartment disintegrated, and Tol-Rion threw himself back in the seat to avoid the molten shrapnel. His face twisted with fury, and Jan saw him prime the blaster, then throw himself forward, under the hole in the roof. He aimed through the unnatural vent and started returning fire. She could see he was inexperienced with guns, because he did not expect the kickback. She suspected some of his shots only managed to widen the hole in the roof.
A few got through, though, and two smacked into the underside of the Dorland.
Their pursuers got the message, and began to weave from side to side, making a harder target. It also kept the sniper from getting a clean shot, as Jan had hoped. Then the Dorland changed tactics, and started to lose height. She knew their intention: the Skyranger was practically sitting on the ground as it was – one heavy jolt from above, and it would slam into the ferrocrete, probably destroying the vehicle - or perhaps they meant to crush them in the process. Regardless, they would be instantly transformed into a sitting target, and the sniper in the Dorland could pick them off at will.
Jan was not about to let that happen. She had managed to keep Tol-Rion alive this far, and had no intention of giving up on her assignment. One way or another, she would deliver Tol-Rion to the Space Port. All she had to do now was figure out how.
Then a glimmer of hope sparked in her eyes as she saw what lay ahead. The entrance to a tunnel leading to the bullet-train subway loomed in the middle-distance. It was not designed for vehicles, only pedestrians – and only the foolhardy, because this was a rough neighbourhood. It would serve her purpose well enough, she suspected. The Skyranger was a big vehicle, but the tunnel mouth was not exactly small.
She kept her foot pressed to the floor, and willed the Skyranger to increase speed. It didn’t. In fact, it seemed to be slowing down. The Dorland continued it’s descent, directly above the vehicle, and Jan began to suspect they were not going to make it to that welcoming bolt hole. Then she had another idea. She would have to time it just right, but she thought it might work.
As the Dorland came down to within two metres of the Skyranger, she glanced up, watching keenly for the move she knew must come. She was so intent on watching the nose of the vehicle above, that she almost missed the sudden movement when it came. The Dorland seemed to fall rapidly out of the sky – and Jan reflexively slammed her foot on the decelerators as she simultaneously thrust the vehicle into reverse. The Skyranger’s engines screamed with protest, but it slowed almost to a stop. The tail of the Dorland clipped the Skyranger’s nose, and then the heavy brown speeder slammed into the ferrocrete of the alley floor, throwing up a hail of sparks. Jan threw her head to one side as shards of hot metal rained into the flight cabin, even as she punched the accelerator once more. The Skyranger’s nose smashed into the rear engine of the other vehicle. The heavy impact smashed a metre of metal before grinding to a halt, and Jan immediately kicked her vehicle into reverse once more.
The two vehicles parted company.
The Dorland screamed along the alley floor, suddenly without altitude or direction, simply carried by its momentum toward the subway entrance. Jan quickly searched for Tam’s sidearm, found it and wrenched it free. She did not even bother to aim, but started firing at the rear of the Dorland, partly to dissuade any of the occupants from bailing out, partly to get her own back. Then the Dorland disappeared in a hail of sparks as it entered the tunnel. She thought she heard someone screaming as she forced the Skyranger to gain height. Her action came not a moment too soon, because the Dorland exploded. She must have hit the power cells or something. The tunnel mouth filled with fire and smoke, and shrapnel leapt out of the hole in a deadly hail.
A large piece of twisted metal rebounded off the underside of the Skyranger as the vehicle clawed its way up to an altitude of five metres. Jan floored the accelerator once more, uncaring of the grinding sounds and heavy vibration that rattled the vehicle. She had an assignment to complete.
She checked for clearance, and brought the battered black speeder limping into one of the docking bays of the Space Port, the nerve centre of the planet’s galactic relations. She looked across at the silent, bloody body of her dead partner as the Skyranger touched down. She had managed to manoeuvre Tam into the front passenger seat with Tol-Rion’s help, and checked him over for life signs. The scorched and gaping holes in Tam’s chest and neck had already convinced her she would not find any. She gritted her teeth and forced her jaw to stop trembling as she powered down the hulk of scrap that had somehow managed to bring them here. She could not afford tears just yet. This was not the proper time for mourning her loss. She had yet to complete her assignment.
When the sound of the tortured engine had died, two rumpled figures staggered from the battered hulk. Before Tol-Rion could pitch forward, Jan caught his arm, took his weight and helped him over to the bay door. She ignored the fire of pain raging across her back, even though she knew her injury was more serious than she had at first believed. Tol-Rion also needed attention, having sustained a number of injuries, and he had started drifting into shock. Getting him to a Med-Lab once they were off world would be a priority.
The docking bay door opened, allowing them entry, and a reception committee filed out, headed by two high-ranking officers, who were flanked by six armed guards. They took in Tol-Rion, then noticed the Skyranger on the pad behind them.
“What happened, agent?” A tall man snapped forward, concern etching deep lines in skeletal features. Grim grey eyes darted to and fro, nothing of the scene escaping them. As he spoke, two of the guards paced forward to support Tol-Rion’s shaking frame between them.
“We had another reception committee on the way here,” Jan explained as she allowed the Republic soldiers to take Tol-Rion off her shoulder. “They tried to convince us to stay and take advantage of their hospitality.” She smiled humourlessly, and forced herself to remain upright, in spite of the buzzing that filled her head and the grey fuzziness that interfered with her vision.
“Are you all right?” A short, stocky Sullustan strode forward, wearing a thick tan jacket. Dark eyes squinted at her against the glare of a brightly-lit advertisement on the wall behind her.
She chose to ignore his question. “Agent Darson is dead. The Precept has been injured, and he’s slipping into shock. He needs immediate attention.”
The tall officer turned to the guards holding the sagging official upright. “Get him into the transport, and notify the Med-Lab to prepare for a casualty. And make sure I get a report on his condition as soon as possible.”
The soldiers quickly left, carrying Tol-Rion between them. Jan suddenly felt tired, and raked a hand through her hair, as she sucked air between her teeth. She noticed the blaster in her hand and gave it to one of the guards, who took it without comment. The two officers arrested her attention.
“Did you see who it was?” A third man in civilian clothes, a clean-cut gangly youth with brown eyes and thick lips stepped toward the Skyranger, and started to survey the damage.
“A light brown Dorland. Looked like a business model. I couldn’t catch the registration code, but then, I don’t think it had any. The blaster had the hallmarks of a high-power assault weapon, maybe military issue.”
“Impressive.” The walking skeleton assumed an incredulous expression, as if the very thought of an assassin carrying military weaponry shocked him to the core. “Do you seriously entertain the notion that this…” he gestured at the wrecked Skyranger, “…could have been caused by the local militia?”
“I didn’t say that…sir,” Jan started, then realised the three were complete strangers to her.
“Forgive me. I’m Commander Novo Daan.” He extended a hand and Jan took it, shook once, and then released herself from the vice-like grip. “This is Captain Brini Mund,” Daan turned to the stocky Sullustan. Jan acknowledged him with a nod. “And Senator Trabus Garm, who was involved in the negotiations with the local government.” Daan indicated the gangly youth, who smiled nervously as he looked up from investigating the internal damage to the Skyranger. Jan arched an eyebrow at the youth, who did not seem old or experienced enough to shoulder such responsibilities. She nodded again and looked past Garm through the entrance of the docking bay. Sounds drifted in from the flight-ways - the city thrived, pulsing with kinetic life, an almost perpetual motion that if stopped would indicate the city’s death.
She knew of at least one who had died tonight.
Jan grimaced, and wondered if any of the Dorland’s passengers had survived in the sub-way tunnel. Then the grey fuzziness filled her vision completely, and she felt her legs buckle under her. She didn’t feel the impact with the floor.
So endeth Chapter One. All comments/criticism will be most welcome.