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Thread: Star Wars: Tapestry, Volume III

  1. #31
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    The Ship

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    The vast shipyards of Kuat orbited the planet as a continuous ring of stations, docking ports, construction slips, and countless support satellites. The pilot of the small orbital ferry deftly maneuvered through the carefully coordinated spacelanes to arrive at its destination. Todrin Doule mused that, not more than a few months ago, he was in that same position: obediently shuttling ranked officials to their destinations. Instead, he was a mere passenger—no, he was one of those ranked officials now, on his way to his first command.

    “Here we are.” Admiral Harmod leaned close and pointed out the viewport. Outside, the labyrinth of stations and platforms opened up to a brightly lit orbital drydock. “That one right there is yours.”

    It was only half again as large as the pureball pitch he used to play on back home, small and slight and lightly armed, but it looked fast. It had the same distinctive wedge shape of anything Doule had seen come out of Kuat, but with two thick nacelles reaching port and starboard; a bristling array of communications equipment extended from each. It was the Inun, the “lynchpin of the squad,” and it was all his.

    “It runs on minimal crew,” Harmod explained, “which makes room for a full platoon of army troopers, a lance of scout troopers, and naval security staff. Her bay’s got a pair of ATPTs in it as well as the lance’s bikes…”

    Doule’s imagination reeled with the military potential he suddenly commanded. “We’ll be conducting ground combat, then?”

    Harmod’s uncomfortably close mannerisms shifted as his features became more guarded. “Our squad is… versatile. We need to be ready for any mission. There may even be contingencies where the Inun is sent ahead to reconnoiter and establish a foothold before the rest of the squad arrives.”

    Versatile indeed. Doule didn’t relish what his imagination now offered: alone on a planet with only a handful of troops and awaiting firepower from overhead. Doule had entered the Fleet Academy for a reason: he was no ground-pounder; still, the thrill and freedom of leaping ahead of the others with a small but swift task force had a certain appeal. Doule found himself looking forward to polishing his crew into a skilled and dutiful group of veterans.

    Given the size of the Inun, the tour of the interior was brief. It had a standard design for lesser Imperial craft: tight corridors, tighter bunks, and no space wasted. There were only a few exceptions to this economy of living space: commanding officers and meriting visitors were afforded some degree of luxury in private suites, the engineering room boasted two floors of technical stations and a maintenance platform overhead, and the crew enjoyed a rather sizable mess hall for the proportions of the ship.

    There was another large space, which Harmod informed him was called the “Nexus room,” a large almost spherical space located at the center of the communications trunk. Within that space was a semicircle of a platform, at either end a door and stairs curving up to a higher platform. The wall by the lower platform was lined with long, narrow windows, offering a vista Doule sneered at silently. Typical Imperial architecture: always a fitting backdrop for the melodramatic.

    What really captured Doule’s attention about the Nexus room was in its center and not its walls. Mounted on a column of power conduits and technology—which Doule failed to recognize—was a large metal sphere. “What’s this, Admiral?”

    The Admiral was distant and guarded again. “Need to know, I’m afraid.”

    “You mean I’m not allowed to know about equipment installed in my own ship?”

    “For now, at least. All I can tell you now is it has to do with the communications array. Once the squad has gone through its shakedown, I’m sure you will have been fully briefed about the Nexus.”

    “You’re ‘sure’? I don’t understand what you mean, sir.”

    Harmod clapped him on the back and smiled. “You aren’t the only one who feels like a puppet captain, Doule…”

  2. #32
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    It took all of Hartor's willpower not to laugh right off at Du'ul's answer. "Come now, Warlord. Do you really expect me to believe that you've been alive for thousands of years? Seriously, how do you know about this planet?"

    Du'ul smiled, "Admiral, it's true. I am thousands of years old. And I'll tell you how it happened.

    Back in the time of the Old Republic, thousands of years ago, I was a young Jedi apprentice to Master Tharcor, a well-respected and powerful member of the Jedi Order. We were sent on a mission to a world that was rumored to be home to powerful Force-users, and our mission was to see if we could bring them into the fold of the Jedi. It took us several weeks of searching, but we finally found the world we were looking for, and even from space we knew it would be everything we had hoped for. We could feel the Force radiating from this planet and it occupants, and so we were eager to land and get to know the place.

    We were directed to a primitive little spaceport, and were greeted by throngs of locals who had detected our Force presence and wished to come speak with us. It was incredible, every person there was as strong as or stronger in the Force than most Jedi I knew, even the more powerful members of the Council. We were brought before their High Council immediately because they wanted to speak to us, their wisest people talking to the Republic's wisest people. It was when we met the Council that things became interesting. Expecting to meet some of their oldest and wisest, we were instead greeted by a group of people no older than eighteen standard years. At first we thought it was a polite joke, or a misunderstanding, but we realized this was not the case. In fact, we realized that there was not an older person in sight!

    We kept our curiosity to ourselves for the most part, knowing full well that this was probably a highly guarded secret, and we did not wish to intrude or seem as if we were coming to take any such secrets. After several weeks, we finally did ask them why there were no older people around. They gave us a single answer: The Well.

    When we asked what "The Well" was, they took us high up into the mountains, a trip that took days and days. Finally we reached the summit, and there was a massive door in the side of the mountain. One of our guides, the "oldest" member of the Council, reached out and pulled the door open with merely a wave of his hand. My master tried to move it a centimeter and was unable to, that is how heavy the door was. These people were far more powerful in the Force than anyone in the history of the Galaxy! This was an incredible discovery for us, and for the Jedi Order. We walked deep into a cave at the top of the mountain, and there, in the middle of the cave, was a brightly lit well of water. It was the clearest water I had ever seen, but the well extended down far past the extent of the light. They told us the well came from deep beneath the surface of the planet, and was cooled as it came to the top. They said that the water was imbued with the Force, and that any who drank from it could receive eternal life through the Force.

    Naturally, we were curious about the water. They told us they had brought us there to taste of the water, to become one of them, to learn their ways so that we could show others as well. My master stepped forward, and reached down to sip the water. As soon as the water touched his lips he began to radiate energy. They asked him to step away, but he took a deeper gulp of the water, and then the energy turned to electricity that arced out from the center of his being. I could feel the Force - and the dark side - growing around him.

    He lit his lightsaber and began to attack us. It was all I could do to survive the onslaught. One of the council members called out to me, told me to drink from the well, that it was the only way I could stop him. I managed only a tiny sip, but instantly I felt rejuvenated, and I struck my master down, an act that I will never forget. But they thanked me, and told me that I was now the Warlord of Aeterna, that all of Aeterna - for that was the name of the planet - was now in my debt. I told them that I was a mere apprentice, that I didn't know how to be a warlord, that I didn't want to be a warlord. But they begged me to stay, they began building me a massive fortress befitting a warlord, and so I stayed. For years and years I stayed. Eventually I decided to become the warlord they wanted me to be, and I had them build me factories to produce ships and shipyards, and I produced a fleet. Then I went on the warpath.

    I stored the spoils of my war on the planet, and for years I struck out from my hidden base. Soon, the Aeternians grew dissatisfied with all of the killing. When I asked them what they expected a warlord to do, they told me they had wanted a warlord who would conquer and teach, not conquer and pillage. They finally attempted to overthrow me, but I had been growing stronger in the Force by day, until finally even their most powerful Force-user could not touch my power. I ordered a bombardment of the planet, to quell any further resistance to my rule. The last remaining High Council member was on my ship at the time, and the destruction of the planet practically killed him. His last words were this: For the suffering you have brought to this planet, you shall wander the galaxy for five thousand years, never knowing peace.

    The next thing I knew I woke up on a ship different from the last one I had been on. I attempted to get back to Aeterna, but I found I could no longer remember the coordinates, or even the sector of space it had been in. All of my work as Warlord had gone to waste. Since then, I have wandered the galaxy, learning, being, waiting. And now, those five thousand long years have passed and I shall have my spoils at last."

  3. #33
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    Hartor took the story Du'ul told him in silence, absorbing the words and everything they meant. After a few moments of silence, he finally fixed Du'ul with an inquisitive stare. "So this whole thing really was about treasure? That's it?" He almost couldn't believe it. With five thousand years, the best plan Du'ul could come up with was to wait? That did not sound quite right. And yet, he knew that Du'ul had not just waited, but like he said, he learned. Du'ul was powerful, very powerful indeed. Powerful enough to convince an entire Imperial Star Destroyer crew to mutiny and leave the Empire. Powerful indeed.

    Du'ul had turned back to the star charts, and as Hartor surfaced from his thoughts he saw the navigation officer standing next to him, listening to Du'ul. Moments after he left the room, the ship shuddered and Hartor knew they were on their way to Aeterna. Du'ul looked up and said, "As I was saying, yes, this really is about the treasure. But it's not merely the physical treasures that I'm looking for. It's the Well. That is the true treasure of Aeterna. And imagine, once all of you have immersed yourself in the Well, we will have an army even the Empire will not be able to defeat!"

    That did sound like a good plan, Hartor had to admit. Even though he wasn't exactly a believer in the Force, he knew it existed, or at least, something existed that allowed Du'ul to do the things he did. And if everyone on the ship could do those things...Hartor couldn't even imagine the possibilities. And plus, if this whole thing turned out to be a sham, they'd still be rich beyond their wildest imaginations, which was a bonus, to be sure.

    Hartor excused himself, and left Du'ul to his charts. Outside the briefing room stood Pirta, armor, weapons and all. "Admiral, it seems we've got our heading, finally."

    "We do," he replied motioning her to follow him. They stepped into the turbolift to head down towards quarters. "Warlord Du'ul managed to figure out our final destination from information taken from Praesitlyn, and we're en route there now."

    Pirta, helmet off, smiled a mirthless smile. "Right, Warlord Du'ul." She turned to look Hartor in the eyes, "You realize you're being played, right? Like a bad children's game?"

    Hartor laughed through his nose. "In what way? By Du'ul you mean? Jedi mind tricks only work on mindless thugs, not someone like myself." It felt a little odd praising himself like that, but he knew it to be true. And besides, there was nothing wrong with a little self-assurance.

    "True, but that's only if the person is being tricked into doing something they wouldn't want to do. I read your files, you were a great asset to the Empire who got passed over because you weren't as rich as others were. You got stuck with a pointless assignment, assigned to a nerfherder of a commanding officer. You wanted out, but couldn't do it yourself. I've seen Du'ul in action. He can do things other Jedi would never have dreamed of being able to do." He took this in silence. She continued, "Think about it. An entire Imperial Star Destroyer crew that just so happens to think the exact same way as you do, and Du'ul just magically appears right when it's best for him to? Something doesn't add up." A moment later the door opened and Hartor stepped out. He turned to see Pirta still standing in the turbolift. "Just keep your eyes open, is what I'm saying. And watch your back." The door slid shut and Hartor heard the turbolift head below-decks. It did make sense, what she had said. But it all seemed right too...Hartor's head started to hurt, and he hoped that tonight sleep would come easy.

  4. #34
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    The room was dim and filled with the muted hum of a hundred voices speaking in as many tongues mixing together over the melody slow ballad played through tinny speakers. Tendrils of smoke drifted along the booths, complimenting the aroma of the generous amount of intoxicant that was constantly ordered, served, and drank down. Some sipped it, some savored it, some let it slide right down into their gut like water. Dante Atilles sipped his. It was a crystal blue liquor from Malastare, thick and bitter. Little by little the glass was drained down lips grizzled by several days’ unshaved hair.

    He shouldn’t have been there. The scruffy-faced man knew it. He ought to have been going to meet with the authorities, reading his equipment, searching news feed, something. Something to find and free Bear. But instead he was here, sipping his alcohol. And he hated himself for it.

    He hated himself because he could so easily justify this one drink. No matter that his companion and friend had been abducted. No matter that every minute could very well have counted. The drink came first, even now. Besides, he could not really do anything until the port authorities rallied and were ready to begin a search, and that would take a few minutes more. So he drank on.

    “What’s happened to me?” This was not the first time Dante had asked himself that question. And it was not the first time that no agreeable answer came. He looked around the salon, his eyes flashing the same sapphire color as the drink at his fingers. It was everything he detested about society, here in one place. And he in the middle of it.

    He stood to go and jostled against a four-eyed alien on his way out. The being shoved him back, barking a Huttese obscenity through its shapeless speaking orifice. The blue-eyed man retorted with a particularly explicit profanity of his own and tried to brush past. A fist in his gut stopped him short and sent him staggering. As if on cue, the music stopped and someone with rough hands propelled Dante back toward his opponent, then joined the newly-formed circle which cut off the human from any easy escape.

    This was not the first time this had happened either. And Dante knew there would only be one way out.
    Last edited by Fingon; 07-13-2011 at 01:43 AM.

  5. #35
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    He had promised himself that Ferai Junction would be diffrent. That for once he wouldnt have to stand there while someone told him that the shipping contract had been given to someone more "reliable." Of course, as usual, he'd been wrong.

    Now, like so many times before, Matrim Locke sat in some seedy bar drinking bottom shelf liquor while he tried to decided if he was going to buy fuel, or pay another few days of docking fees. He nursed his repulsive drink, wincing with every sip, and stared into the swirling liquid in his cup, looking for answers. He wasnt suprised when it didnt surrender any.

    "I didnt think it would be like this when I mustered out you know." Matrim said to the alien sitting on his right. " I thought that I'd by a ship, start freelance trading, and then retire a decade or two later. Who knew that I'd spend six months and all of my savings being told that I wasnt qualified?"
    The alien looked at him, bleated something, and turned the other way. Matrim decided that the bleat sounded sympathetic.

    The music stopped and the voices in the bar went quiet.
    Only one thing that could mean.
    Matrim stood up and turned around. Sure enough, a ring of aliens had formed around what may have been the only other human in the bar. The whole bar quivered with anticipation.

    I'm not going to let some other down on his luck human get trashed by some aliens. Not today.

    Matrim sauntered through the fixated crowd towards the ring of aliens. On his way he aquired a conveniently unoccupied chair. He crept up, tightend his grip on the chair, and prepared to bring the chair down on a unsuspecting alien. Someone cried out to him, but it was too late. The yellow-green humanoid turned his head just in time to catch the rapidly descending chair on his face. They met with a solid thump and the alien crashed to the floor. Everyone in the bar turned thier heads and stared and him, the aliens with outraged disbelief, and the human with regular disbelief.

    Matrim let the chair drop and stepped up next to the other human.

    "Hey there, I'm Matrim Locke."

    Then the aliens remembered they were in a fight.
    Last edited by Orpheus; 07-13-2011 at 03:21 AM.

  6. #36
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    "Hey there, I'm Matrim Locke.”

    Dante sized up the man who decided to interject himself into the bar fight. He was taller and older than Dante, clean shaven and wearing a stylized flight suit that would have been nice if it had been clean and several years newer. He had strong, defined features, but his eyes were bleary and red, as if he hadn’t slept for days. For all his stature, however, he didn’t seem a fighter.

    “A pleasure.” The newcomer man might not be a brawler, but he was better than nothing. Besides, this was no longer a fight—the floor erupted into a free-for-all, the larger beings gleefully joining the fray, the more fragile ones scrambling out of the way. Dante only had time to tell his new friend to get back-to-back with him before the pair of humans was engulfed into a torrent of strikes and multi-lingual screams. One particularly ugly gran smashed his fist into Dante’s face, sending the scruffy-faced man reeling.

    The shorter human could taste the blood running down his face and stinging his eyes. It was times like this that Dante cursed his biology. Why hadn’t his race evolved to be ten feet tall, or covered with protective armor, or with incredible strength? Or maybe claws, those would have been good too. Then again, the bloodied man thought through the haze that clouded his vision and mind, it could have been worse. We could have been Jawas.

    Dante was dimly aware of a hand at his shoulder, dragging him backward. He tried to struggle against it. His efforts were responded with a smack to the face a gruff voice in his ear. “It’s me, nerf herder! I’m getting us out of here,” the voice said. And that seemed like a good enough idea.

  7. #37
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    Another night, another nightmare. Hartor was almost getting used to their presence, but he would never be prepared for the feelings that came with his waking moments. He found himself sitting up in his bunk, staring at the wall for quite some time before pulling himself together. He couldn't remember this dream either, and that was disconcerting. He made his way to the refresher, and splashed some cold water on his face to bring him out of his thoughts. He stared at the man in the mirror, wondering how he had gotten to this point in his life. Things had been going so well, up until he met Khazad Du'ul. Relatively well, anyway. Now, he was a fugitive, being led by a man who may or may not be clinically insane. Hartor thought himself insane as well, considering all that had happened up to now. But when he looked in his eyes, he did not see the eyes of a madman, he saw the eyes of someone who merely wished to change his lot in life, and had made some mistakes along the way.

    As he stared through his reflection, he began to hum a tune that he had not heard since he was a little boy. It was a completely instrumental song, the main theme of one of his favorite holos as a child. The story was an epic, and the music to go along with it was equally so, and it had always made the hairs on his neck stand up when he heard it. As a child, he had been filled with the desire to become a hero when he heard this song, wanted to go out and rid the galaxy of evil, to become a legend. Over time that desire had fallen to more practical dreams, but now, remembering the song, he could feel that desire swell within his heart once more. His eyes hardened with his will, and he became determined not to let himself, or anyone else with him, go down in history as just another person caught up in events. He would be the one to shape events from now on, he was the master of his own destiny. He nodded to the man in the mirror, knowing that things had changed.

  8. #38
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    The Sphere

    Shakedown of the Inun was nearly complete. Todrin Doule was not surprised with the initial resistance he faced when his crew realized he had the position thanks to Imperial string-pulling instead of paying his dues as a ranking officer; it took some time for them to appreciate both his competency and his desire to listen openly to the experience of the enlisted crew. Hierarchy was a tool of organization aboard the Inun, not a weapon to threaten and subdue subordinates. His crew was adjusting nicely.

    Of course there were exceptions: officers who still felt jilted by his unprecedented advancement and frequently grumbled about formal complaints and petitions to officials evidencing the mistake of Doule’s captaincy. No official action had come from these appeals, suggesting to Doule that they were either set aside in order to see how this unprecedented command structure would play out, or that they were simply ignored.

    But what was only simmering frustration aboard the crew of the Inun was often outright hostility on the part of the other captains of Morning Star Squad, as it had been dubbed. They made no attempt to hide their opinions of how Doule’s position cheapened their own advancements in the Empire; they often assumed they could order Doule around as if he was still a non-com, and even on occasion issued commands to his crew directly, disdainfully bypassing his authority. Doule tried to deal with these problems as amicably and professionally as possible, but he couldn’t deny how the arrangement rankled. He had spoken with Admiral Harmod on several occasions, but the leader of Morning Star Squad often just laughed, patted him on the shoulder, and reassured him that once all the components of the squad were in place and operational such problems would resolve themselves.

    Such consolation always reminded him of the Nexus room aboard his ship and the spherical apparatus at its center. What was it? The core of some new superweapon in the Imperial arsenal or simply a hoax: a decoy to attract the attention of Rebel forces, to be sacrificed along with its phony, expendable captain? Doule often spent such despondent thoughts in the Nexus room itself, circling about the central apparatus on the stairs and platforms in a contemplative mosey. For some reason he found comfort in the room, more so than in his own quarters, as if by simple proximity he would be able to coax out the secrets of the Nexus sphere. He often examined the sphere, gazing at the curved panels, seams and joints, wondering what could be inside.

    “Captain Doule.” A security guard stood at one of the doors to the room, aware of the standing rule that Doule’s privacy could be interrupted by important information without fear of reprisal. “You have visitors.”

    Visitors? The fact that Doule wasn’t expecting visitors told him that this was an Imperial superior; even the sanctimonious captains of the rest of the squad has the courtesy to announce their arrival. “I’ll see them in there, Lieutenant. Thank you.” In the Nexus room, whoever his visitor was wouldn’t be able to ignore the sphere—the proverbial two-ton bantha in the room—and may finally be persuaded to offer information on its role in the squad’s purpose.

    The man who entered was a tall man in dark robes: the unofficial uniform for the Empire’s intelligentsia. His stark features seemed pleasant and agreeable despite the garish cybernetic implants comprising one eye and much of his face around it. And he looked looked all too familiar.

    “When last I crossed your path, Lord Tremayne, I was ordered to escort a young boy to the Maw installation.”

    “Excellent memory, Captain Doule.” The man paced along the lower of the room’s two platforms, his arms placed comfortably behind his back. “I congratulate you on your subsequent successes.”

    “You’ve no doubt read my report on the mission’s failure. I did everything I could, given the circumstances, and my current position was none of my doing, I assure you.”

    “Failure?” The High Inquisitor gave an uncharacteristic belly laugh. “No, my good captain, there was no failure. And concerning your new rank and command, I had a hand in that, so your defensive statements are unwarranted.”

    “I see. Forgive my candor, Lord Tremayne. I’ve felt frustrated and poorly informed in my new position.”

    The tall man waved a dismissive hand; the only apology Doule could probably hope for. “I’m here to change that, Captain. I assume you’ve been told very little about the nature of this room.”

    “That is correct, my lord.”

    “Because the nature of the Nexus is a closely guarded secret. Only moments ago, Admiral Harmod was given the explanatory files. His reaction was… noteworthy. What I’m about to explain to you requires a great deal of open-mindedness.” He spun around to face Doule, his mechanical eye a piercing red blaze. “What do you know about the Force?”

    “I’m familiar with history, milord. The Jedi were a major power in the galaxy until their attempted coup was thwarted by Emperor Palpatine and those loyal to him. The Force was the purported source of the Jedi’s mystical power.”

    “’Purported,’ Captain? You don’t believe in the Force?”

    “As you said, milord, your briefing requires open-mindedness.”

    “Well put, Doule. You may have a future in the political arena.”

    Tremayne pointed a finger at the Nexus sphere. “In that sphere will sit a powerful being, sensitive to the ebb and flow of the Force.” He gestured to the cables and junction tubes extending to the port and starboard. “The sphere is linked to the communications array in such a way that it can augment the being’s unique abilities, enabling unprecedented communicative and coordinating capabilities. In full operation, the ships of Morning Star Squad function as extensions of this being’s body; hands, limbs, weapons. The crews are conduits of control, neural pathways acting in concert to ensure instant and complete cooperation.”

    Tremayne’s eyes, both real and replaced, shone with religious fervor, yet his words were madness. Doule recalled learning about species in the galaxy that existed in what was called a ‘hive mind,” all working together, and no individuals. The image of Morning Star’s personnel operating like worker drones at the whim of some psycho-despot made him shudder. Tremayne at the helm of this magical monstrosity was truly frightening, and Doule wondered if there was some way to safely extricate himself from this situation.

    “The experience is much more subtle than you imagine, Doule,” said Tremayne, far too observant of Doule’s distress for the captain’s liking. “The crews are still in full control of their faculties, but their awareness is drawn to opportunities for action. The petty selfishness and squabbles you’ve faced with your fellow captains and crew will dissolve as common causes take precedence, and this squad will function with the greatest precision in all the fleet.”

    Doule took a deep breath. “I understand the value of such capabilities, milord, but I must ask why you chose me for this station. I was a non-commissioned shuttle pilot up to this point.”

    “The captain of this ship has to be someone in whom the Force user can place a certain degree of trust, to understand and cooperate with his directions while he focuses on the grander movements in the theater of war. You’ve shown exceptional skill, a remarkable sense of duty, and a tenacity that is all too rare in Imperial ranks. I have no compunctions with bypassing Imperial chain of command and granting you a captaincy.

    “But I must point out that I didn’t choose you.”

    No? Tremayne expected Doule to be a trusting lackey while he explored his delusions of supernatural grandeur, but he hadn’t chosen him? “May I ask who did?”

    “I did.” A new voice came from the same door Tremayne had entered through moments ago. It was a young voice, but tempered with a cool, purring certainty that spoke of a lifetime, however brief, of determination and adversity. When Doule turned to see who was speaking, he saw a boy whose youthful vigor had been whetted into a pallid, bladelike resolve, apparent more than anything else in dogged but inextricably sad blue eyes. He saw a ghost.

    He saw Tam Dawncaller…

  9. #39
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    Reil stood at the side of the road, grinning with nostalgia as he looked over the property. Cali looked it over to, and was less than impressed with their new accommodations. The property was a scrap heap, and on top of that, the actual house was a dump. The roof was sagging; the paint was peeling off and an ugly white with puke green trim.

    “This is home?” She asked with a mixture of disappointment and incredulity.

    Reil kept smiling.
    “As close as it gets, anyhow. Come on, I should probably tell Sunny we’ll be staying with him for a bit.”

    As they picked their way through the front yard, or the forward debris field, Cali couldn’t help but wonder about their new host. Zealos had not been forthcoming with any details.
    “So, is Sunny like a relative of yours, or something?”

    Reil snorted as he picked his way through the yard with considerably more ease than Cali.
    “Nothing so unfortunate. He’s the one who took me in when I ran away from home.”

    Cali had to climb over a rusted hull panel to keep up with Zealos.
    “Why’d he do that?”

    Reil paused for a moment to let her catch up.
    “You’d have to ask him.”

    Reil ignored the front door, and Cali followed him around to the side of the house. The property dropped off quite steeply a few feet in, and they had to jump down the ledge.
    “So you don’t have any idea why he helped you?”

    “Sunny does things for his own reasons, speculating on what they might be don’t interest me overly much.” Reil said as banged on a door that lead to the basement of the house.

    The wind began to pick up as they waited, and Cali shivered as she felt it cut through her heavy jacket. “So how do you know he’ll help us now?”

    “Truth be told, I don’t know that he will”, Reil said just as the door unlocked, “But I take that to be a very good sign.”

    Inside it was dark, and filthy, and cold, almost as bad as it had been outside. Buckets full of dark liquids gave off a terrible smell and odd pieces of machinery were littered about here as well, but there was a clear path between the doorway and the far end of the basement, where there was a workbench. Sitting at the workbench was an older man, so fat the chair he was sitting on looked as if it could go at any minute. He had a stubby cigara lit, and he sat there sizing up his new guests.
    “Zealos, that you?”

    Zealos sighed.
    “If you’d turn on a light, you’d see for yourself who it was.”

    The fat man laughed.
    “Doubt it. Eyesight’s not what it used to be. I always knew you’d come crawling back.”

    Reil raised an eyebrow.
    “Did you?”

    “I was gonna give you a proper trade, a mechanic’s a good living, but you knew better! Too good to be mucking about in grease, you had to go be a fighter pilot! Well how’d that work out?”

    “I was shot down.” Reil conceded.

    “HAH! Well, you aren’t dead. Got that part right, heya? I don’t suppose you brought your ship here, maybe I could take a look at ‘er.”

    Reil shook his head.
    “It was scrap Sunny.”

    Sunny scowled.
    “Bah, like you’d know! I could have taught ya how to put it together blindfolded, but you never had any time for lessons. ‘That’s broken, can’t be fixed’, ‘It’s a wreck, not worth the time’” He mimicked. “Well now you’re short a ship, so who’s the clever one?”

    Reil sighed.
    “For the record, it exploded. It was literally just scrap metal. And secondly, I never actually saw you fix anything, while I was living here, so when were you going to school me in your mechanical craft?”

    “I fixed lots of things. Like that swoop, whasshisname brought in.”

    Reil tried to recall the incident.
    “Harque’s swoop?”

    Sunny nodded.
    “ ‘Attsa one.”

    “You rigged it to explode!”

    The fat man took umbrage to that.
    “He wanted it to explode! Split the insurance money with me. . .”

    Zealos rubbed his temples.
    “Be that as it may, blowing it up, even on purpose does not in any sense of the word; qualify as ‘fixing’ it. I would have been better prepared for a career in demolitions than mechanics apprenticing with you.”

    Sunny struggled out of his chair and flicked a light switch. It didn’t help overly much.
    “Hah! That would have been worse than your becoming a fighter pilot. Come here, lemme get a look at you.”

    Zealos stepped forward and extended his hand to shake but Sunny pulled him close and mussed his hair instead. As Zealos pulled free Sunny turned his attention to Cali, who had been waiting patiently for someone to remember her.
    “Who’s this then? Got yourself a girl have you?”

    Zealos hesistated for a minute before answering. I've been with Cali for months and I still don't know what I've got. Or what I want.

    In the meantime Cali stepped forward and took Sunny's hand.
    "I'm Cali, Reil's partner."

    Sunny grinned.
    "Partner eh? In what sort buisness?"

    "The keeping out of jail sort." Zealos replied. "I was hoping you could help us out with that for a bit."

    Sunny sighed.
    "Yeah, I reckon I could help with that. I suppose you'll be wanting your old room back for a time."

    "A room for Cali as well. Ya know, you don't have to look so pained about it, we won't be here more than a week."

    Sunny shrugged.
    "It feels like it's been month's already."
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  10. #40
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    Sunny gave Cali the code to unlock the front door, and Reil sent her out to bring their luggage inside and unpack. Just like how Reil had sent her upstairs at the house to pack it and bring it outside, and just like how he had sent up upstairs to unpack a brief two days before that, and then there was the time before that where she had been stuck with the same job.

    “I am not the frakking butler!” She called back over her shoulder as she exited the workshop.

    “Not with language like that, you’re not!” Reil called back as he closed the door to keep out the cold. Or to keep in the cold; Cali couldn’t quite decide whether the cutting winds outside, or the damp chill inside had been worse.

    As Cali tried to retrace her steps back up to the front of the house, she couldn’t help but contemplate on all the things this planet did to make her miserable. There were the little things like getting arrested for accidentally smuggling spice, or getting smacked around by the police, or that the whole planet is devoted to agriculture making it mind numbingly dull, or staying with people who hated Reil, or staying with people who hated Reil in a stupid town with nothing to do, or the fact that it had crappy river transit. Then there were things that were so mind bogglingly torturous that it seemed like the planet was going out of its way to punish her, like the rapid weather shift between intense heat and chilling cold, or the 15 days of complete and utter darkness, or the fact that they now lived in a literal dump; like the places people go to dispose of their trash. This was a stupid planet. Reil was a stupid person for bringing them there. And if she had to carry this kriffing, gor-rammed crate up one more flight of stairs. . .

    She was sparred that particular horror, as Sunny’s shack was only a single level. The front door opened right into the kitchen, which, in breaking with the style of the exterior was not a complete mess. Aside from a pan and two plates in the sink, it was more or less acceptable. She dropped the container and moved on to explore the rest of the house. Straight through the kitchen was the dining area, which was just a round table with a bench at one end, and a couple of chairs at the other. It looked dusty, like it hadn’t been used in ages. On the walls around the table were some old paintings. A old freighter with the words Seagrun written on its side, a group of old men sitting around smoking, watercolours of a city she’d never seen. From the dining room she turned right, into the largest section of the house. It was a big open space, like a sort of common area, and where the kitchen and dining room had both been painted the same bright white as the exterior, this room was very dark, with stained wood and few windows to let in the light. There was a couch against the left hand wall, and a sitting chair on the right hand one, with an exposed fusion furnace, which Cali assumed was how this place was going to be heated. On the far end was a sort of wooden partition that sectioned off the common area into another two rooms, but didn’t extend all the way to the ceiling. Cali assumed that these were the main bedrooms. The one that was behind the furnace had a piece of starship hull insulation hanging in front of it, probably to keep from cooking the occupants of the room. Cali could only see the two rooms though, so she moved her stuff in the room farther away from the furnace and figured Reil would have to find his own place to sleep. . .
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  11. #41
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    With Cali taking care of the luggage, Zealos and Sunny were left alone in Sunny’s workshop. Zealos seated himself on a table that didn’t have any dark liquids pooling on it.
    “So. How are things?”

    Sunny groaned as he sagged back into his chair, which made uncomfortable squealing sounds as he did. The chair didn’t collapse though, so Sunny reclined in it and took a long draw off his cigara.
    “Why don’t we skip the small talk, and you tell me why you’re here?”

    Zealos frowned.
    “I told you why we’re here; we needed a place to lay low.”

    Sunny shook his head.
    “If you were in serious trouble, you wouldn’t have come here. Too obvious; first place the police would look, since you hid here before.”

    Zealos shrugged.
    “I can’t really argue with that, though I doubt the TAR would ever come here in any advent. The River towns police themselves and they don’t exactly warm to outsiders.”

    Sunny nodded.
    “So. . . Why’d you come?”

    Zealos cocked an eyebrow and ignored the jab.
    “Do I need a reason to visit an old friend?”

    Doyle snorted in derision.
    “You ain’t the visiting type Zealos. Three years you lived here, and then you get a job on a ship, and I never hear from you again. Five years, never a call or a message-”

    “Inkabunka. I really don’t believe this, I mean I expect it from Virgil and Lucrecia, they’re insane, but when you start whining about how I never call-”

    “I ain’t criticizing; I’m just telling truths. You don’t visit Zealos, just isn’t who you are. So you showing up outta the blue raises some red flags; and you telling me you didn’t come here for something specific insults my intelligence, so: why are you here?”

    “I have business with Doyle.”

    “This would be the town to do it in then, but if that were the case you would’ve gone to see him first. Why didn’t you?”

    “He doesn’t exactly know we have business yet. I was hoping you’d help me out, give me an introduction.”

    Sunny raised an eyebrow.
    “Me? I haven’t worked for Doyle since before you were born. You did a job for him before you left; make your own introduction.”

    “You haven’t worked for anybody since before I was born. And this business we have; it isn’t so much business as I need a big favour from him.”

    Sunny rolled his eyes.
    “Great. You want me to stick my neck out for you while you waste the man’s time looking for handouts. That sounds like a fine plan. Why don’t I just call his wife fat, and his kids ugly to seal the deal?”

    “I’m not asking for handouts, I just need some information he has, and then we’ll be on our way.”

    “I really don’t think Doyle’s the man to give you what you want.”

    “Well he’s the only one around here who has what I want, so I have to try.”

    Sunny sighed.
    “Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

    Zealos cleared his throat. Sunny glared at him.
    “What?”

    Zealos rubbed the back of his neck anxiously.
    “That, isn’t the only thing I came here for. . .”

    “I knew it! So, whadya want?”

    Zealos sighed.
    “Advice.”
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  12. #42
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    Sunny started laughing so hard he began to choke on cigara smoke. Coughing and hacking he struggled for breath.
    “That was a good one. . . Too good maybe; I feel light headed.”



    Reil frowned.
    “What’s so damn comical about me needin’ advice?”



    Sunny shook his head grinning.
    “Nothing, you’ve needed advice your whole life; just never seen you take anybody’s.”



    “Great. Have yourself a grand guffaw. When you’re finished, and I’m just tossing this out as a suggestion, maybe you could hear me out and impart some of that sage wisdom you’re s’posed to have.”


    “Don’t get tetchy. What’s the matter?”


    Reil sighed.
    “It’s Cali.”



    Sunny frowned.
    “What’s wrong with her?”



    “Nothing!” Reil got off the table he was sitting on and began to pace, “It’s not her.”


    Sunny rubbed his eyes and counted to ten.
    “All right; so what’s wrong with you?”



    Reil threw his arms up in defeat.
    “I don’t know what to do with her!”



    Sunny looked puzzled by that.
    “Like, you don’t where to put it?”



    Reil blanched.
    “What? No! Why would you think that?”



    Sunny raised his hands defensively.
    “Hey; you’re the one pacing and shouting that you don’t know what to do with women.”



    “I didn’t say that! I said I don’t know what to do with Cali.”


    “Well, unless I’m very much mistaken, she’s a woman.”


    “She’s a girl!”


    “Kinda the same thing here Zealos.”


    “No, I mean she’s just a girl; she’s only seventeen.”


    Sunny thought about that for a second.
    “Wow, really? That’s kinda young for you to be fooling around with ain’t it?”



    “ARGHHH!” Reil took a minute to calm down, “There is no fooling going on between me and Cali.”


    “Then what’s the problem?”
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  13. #43
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    Reil sighed. And now we get to the heart of the matter.
    “The problem is that I’m going back to the Rebellion as soon as I can, and there’s no place for her there.”


    “That’s it?” Sunny growled. “That’s easy; just don’t go back to the Rebellion.”

    Reil frowned.
    “I’d appreciate it if you could be serious for one minute here.”


    “I am being serious. Plenty of ways you could fly for a living, one’s that don’t involve you joining terrorists and ending up as a silhouette on some Imperial’s TIE.”

    Reil exhaled deeply, and watched his breath mist in front of him. It was getting colder.
    “Look, I have to go back, there are people. . . They need me there, alright?”


    Sunny shrugged.
    “Fine then, go and take her with you. Problem solved.”


    “What is Cali going to do in the fleet?”

    “Same things other people do there. Kill people and spread freedom I suspect.”

    And wouldn’t that be a radical departure from the present? Reil grinned as he thought about it.
    “The fleet doesn’t take in strays-”


    “That’s a good policy. I think I’ll adopt it from now on.”

    Reil felt his blood pressure begin to rise again.
    “You’re mad, I get it! I don’t care, but I have received the message. People in other counties are aware of your displeasure with my decision; can we please get back to the point now?”


    Sunny rolled his eyes.
    “Why do you even need to find a place for her? Why can’t she just go back to whatever she did before you two hooked up? Platonically. Allegedly.”


    “Because she was a slave when we met.”

    “Perfect, I know just the guy to give us top billing.”

    Reil was not amused.

    “You know, you were a lot more fun before you met up with whasshername.”

    Reil’s mood blackened.
    “Her name is Cali.”


    Sunny shrugged.
    “Right, Cali. You know, her being a slave still doesn’t explain why you’ve gotta be the one to decide where she goes. I mean, you set her free right?”


    “Of course I did-”

    “Then why doesn’t she just figure this out for herself?”

    Reil cocked his head to the side.
    “She’s seventeen, I can’t just leave her to fend for herself.”


    Sunny looked at Reil, and then formed his words slowly.
    “So you’re saying. . . and I want to make sure I understand this; is that at the age of seventeen, she is not capable of looking after herself, and needs you around to make decisions for her.”


    It clicked in Reil’s mind just what Sunny was alluding to.
    “Woah now, this is completely different from when I left home!”


    “Yeah, you were a year younger, and not half as pretty.”

    “I’m just trying to do what’s best for her, and her life before meeting me involved cooking meals and emptying trashcans. That doesn’t leave her with a lot of skills to fall back on, so I have to make a decision here.”

    Sunny began coughing and hacking furiously. Reil jumped up to help him when he heard “Virgil” in between the wheezes. Reil sat back down, fuming, and Sunny miraculously recovered, and began grinning.

    “One of these days, you’re actually going to be choking, and just for that, I’m not going to help you.”

    “I’ll manage somehow, I’m sure. Listen Zealos, have you even talked with her about this?”

    Zealos fumbled for the words. While technically he hadn’t brought the subject up with Cali, there had been perfectly good reasons. He just couldn’t think of any.
    “I suppose this is something I should go do now, huh?”
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  14. #44
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    Reil opened the garage door, and waited for Sunny to haul his fat self toward it. The wind had picked up, and was now howling fiercely, as snow began to come down, making it hard to see. Reil grimaced.
    “I suppose it would’ve been too much to hope that you’d started up the furnace already?”

    Sunny grunted.
    “Why yes, of course I did. And then I took a big pile of cred-chits, and just hurled them into the fire as well.”

    Reil began picking his way through the field back to the house.
    “Yeah because heating your home in this,” Reil gestured at the snow whipping around them, “would just be frivolous.”

    Sunny navigated his own scrap piles with considerable grace considering his bulk.
    “We’ll I’ll be turning it on now. . .”

    Inside, the house was dark and cold. While Sunny fiddled with the furnace, Reil was about to turn into his old room when he noticed that Cali was already in it. Wrapped in every single blanket the room contained, and still shivering, Cali was dead center in the mattress, which didn’t leave room for anybody else. Not that there would have been anyone else, Reil reminded himself. He turned to Sunny, and gestured towards the front of the house.
    “Is the bed in the other room still there?”
    Sunny nodded.
    “Yeah, I think it’s still set. Ain’t seen much use in a while, but it’ll do ya for the stay.”

    ***************************

    In the morning Cali awoke to the sounds of breakfast. Reil was in the kitchen, frying something that smelled like eggs and bacon, but the meat was too charred for positive identification. Quietly she sat down at the table across from Sunny, who occupied most of the bench on his own. Sunny smiled as she sat down.
    “Good mornin’ miss.”

    Cali yawned, and nodded her response.

    “How’d you sleep?”

    Cali rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
    “A’right I guess. It was cold though.”

    “Well I started up the furnace last night, so you should be fine now.”

    Cali was silent for a minute, then perked up.
    “Is your name actually Sunny?”

    Sunny chuckled.
    “Nah. It’s Saul. Saul Delas.”

    “Then why do they call you Sunny?”

    “ ’Cause of his sunny disposition.” Reil called in from the kitchen.

    Saul snorted in laughter.
    “I’m just a warm and radiant person I guess.”

    Reil carried two plates of eggs and . . . charred meat into the dining room, and put them in front of Cali and Sunny. Cali picked at the bacon.
    “You killed it. With fire.”

    Reil shrugged.
    “Fine, next time I’ll just bring it to you raw. Would like me to just bring you the meat, or do you want the animal, live and wriggly?”

    Cali stuck out her tounge, and made exaggeratedly pained faces as she crunched on the bacon. Reil rolled his eyes.
    “Well since you’re eating what was to be my breakfast, I guess I’ll just go make more.”

    “Pro tip here Zealos, cook the bacon, don’t punish it with hellfire.” Sunny called as Zealos headed back to the kitchen.

    Cali picked at her eggs for a minute or two, before turning to Sunny.
    “So, Reil was being all evasive about this. . .”

    Sunny looked up from his meal in puzzlement.

    “Why’d ya take Reil in? When he ran away from Virgil I mean?”

    “Subtle!” Reil called from the kitchen.

    Sunny took a moment to choke down the bacon before answering.
    “Well you see, it’s something of a long story. You see when I was young, I prayed to the Fates for wealth and power. So for my avarice, they cursed me with compassion instead. And then, one day, a skinny kid with a stupid haircut and terrible taste in music showed up at my door begging for a place to stay. So yeah, that really bit me in the long run.”

    “Mayhap you should pray to less fickle gods.” Reil chimed in from the kitchen.

    Sunny grinned.
    “Now where’s the sporting attitude in that?”

    Zealos sat down beside Cali with his own breakfast, noticeably less burnt than theirs.
    “Hard to imagine you doing anything sporting.”

    “What’s that s’posed to mean?”

    Reil took a bite of bacon.
    “It means you’re not exactly gonna be running any marathons soon. Or ever. Give it time, and a downward slope though, and you could probably out roll the competition.”

    Sunny looked indignant.
    “You try keeping in shape with a bad back, see how far that gets you.”

    Reil shook his head.
    “You know, I don’t think it’s your back that’s the problem, so much as your missing organs.”

    That got Cali’s attention.
    “Wait, what?”

    Reil tried to recall the specifics.
    “You’re down to what, one lung, one kidney, partial liver?”

    “And a bad back.” Sunny insisted.

    Cali tried to wrap her head around this.
    “Why?”

    Sunny shrugged.
    “I hurt my back, almost thirty years ago. Wrenched it real bad, and the hospital couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t work, couldn’t walk, had no one to take care of me, so they had to put me on these pain killers. They work well and all, hardly feel the back now, but they’re like a poison. The more my body tries to filter it out, the more it damages those organs.”

    Cali didn’t quite know how to react.
    “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know-”

    “Sunny’s conveniently leaving out the part where he was only supposed to take them for a year before switching to a different medication. It was never a long term solution.” Reil interjected.

    “Those other meds were no good. Couldn’t hardly move from the pain.” Sunny grumbled.

    “And they didn’t stop the shakes.” Reil said pointedly.

    Sunny glared at Reil.
    “I seem to recall that this is my house, and you happen to be a guest in it. I don’t particularly care for your tone.”

    Reil shook his head.
    “Gods forbid I speak of good sense, and reason. No instead I should just let you die slowly from toxic pain medication. The smoking and the drinking aren’t exactly helping either.”

    Sunny cocked an eyebrow.
    “Like you’re anyone to talk.”

    Reil grinned.
    “Don’t know what you’re talking about. Never smoked a day in my life.”

    “I hear being self-righteous and preachy can be just as harmful to one’s health.”

    Reil raised his hands up in mock surrender, so Cali chimed in again.
    “I’m confused, you were only supposed to be on them for a year, so why do they keep giving you more?”

    “ ‘Cause I need ‘em.” Sunny grumbled.

    “But they’re killing you.”

    Reil shrugged.
    “No law against being terminally stupid. Since Sunny’s giving the pills to himself, nothing anyone can do.”

    “The law has many punishments for the atrocities we inflict on others, but has no recourse for the terrors we inflict on ourselves.” Sunny stated.

    Reil rolled his eyes.
    “Sunny has the soul of a poet. A dead one, most like.”

    “Your concern is touching. By the by, I’m heading into town today to set up your ‘introduction’ with Doyle, while I’m doing you that particular favour, on top of giving you a place to stay, again, is there anything else you need?”

    Reil shook his head.
    “Nah, I’m good. Wait, actually, while you’re in town, could you pick up some power packs for blasters? About six should do us.”

    “Yeah, I could pick those up.”

    “You want me to give you credits for them?”

    “Nah, don’t worry about it. Anything else you need though?”

    “My dress from Ryloth needs mending,” Cali interjected. “Is there a seamstress in town?”

    Reil cringed.
    “You know I really don’t think that’s necessary-”

    Sunny cut him off.
    “I know a good tailor that could probably take care of that.”

    Reil sighed.
    “Of course there is.”
    Last edited by Ice Hawk; 10-20-2011 at 07:02 PM.
    Zealos Reil thought he was hot
    so he left the sim-pod cold
    on his eighth mission he got shot
    and that's all there is to be told.
    Draw your own conclusions rookies.

  15. #45
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    Tey exhaled slowly, his breath condensing into a roiling cloud of vapour in the night air. His ears and nose just cold enough to sting, he was grateful for the long thick coat protecting his torso from Jodrell's cold nights. The sleepy town he had called home for the better part of a year was silent, a serene vigil to the astronomical parade taking place high above the planet. Looking up at them Tey caught himself remembering old friends, lost to time, battle, and occasionally just damn bad luck. Sitting back slightly on the rock he was perched on, he shifted the uncomfortable weight of the rifle in his hands. It had taken a while to adjust to the idea of carrying the damn thing; to his mind a rifle was a tool of war, not self-defence like the pistols he'd spent the better part of two decades getting used to.

    When he heard the voice behind him he nearly jumped out of his skin "Jord you still stick out like a dieting Hutt"

    Hoping the older man hadn't seen his reaction he turned around "And you Bellek still haven't learnt not to sneak up on people with a gun in their hands."

    "Doesn't excuse the fact you're still out here plain as day. You'd have been better off in that streambed a little ways down the slope." Bellek stated sagely. Pushing sixty years old, the native of Jodrell was the oldest member of the militia, and far and away the craftiest. It had taken a fair bit of work, but he'd weened Tey, now going by Jord Eran, off cities and taught him how to survive out here in the sticks.

    "I did think about that," Tey replied, "but line of sight there's limited, and I'd rather be able to see anything coming from a distance than miss something"

    Bellek had a wonderful habit of dismissing notions he disagreed with merely by shrugging "You'll here the engines on one of these ganger's swoop bikes for miles, no need to watch every which way."

    "And if someone else comes calling?" Tey asked tersely. The townsfolk seemed to live in a rose tinted bubble, where the only problem in the galaxy was an aggressive swoop gang nearby.

    "Jord, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, you are the most paranoid man I've ever met. Who else is going to be out to cause any real trouble? Now go get some sleep before you start imagining the Empire's legions descending on town."

    Gruting affirmation Tey slung the rifle over his shoulder, and began to head back towards town. He glanced up at the sky above him as he walked, still gently marvelling at the stars. Out here without light pollution the galaxy really was something to behold. Even having been chased across it, even outside it at one point, he still longed to travel it again, to experience a dozen new challenges in a month, to meet new people, see new worlds laid out like marbles beneath an orbiting ship. He laughed humourlessly at his own folly; a year ago the one word he would not have used to describe his life was dull, but here he was, longing for... purpose. Even when running, his life had direction, whether it was merely surviving to the next day, or trying to protect one of his travelling companions. Not that he'd done a wonderful job there, he remembered grimly, as he peeled off the rough clothes he wore when out on patrol. He'd been so tied up in his own quest he'd barely thought about how they would fare, and now he was safe from the Empire it was all he could think about. As he slept, he saw the faces of that group of misfits, all fighting for their lives against insurmountable odds, cut off and alone, and then as if he had no hand in his own fate, he saw himself wading in to help them, as if he was merely a Dejarik pawn in the hands of destiny, answering a call.

    He awoke, sitting bolt upright, and smiled grimly.

    He had a purpose again.

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