Introduction: The Cast

in order of appearance

Vacy Fiorst, "cargo transportation specialist." Fiercely loyal and with a long memory, she carefully projects an aura of easygoing professionalism, desperately hoping her clients and colleagues can't tell she's as green as she literally looks. Her cynical barbs and wry humor protect the passionate heart of a secret dreamer, and nowhere is she happier than on the bridge of the Wonder, sailing among the stars.

Skavak, the "Jackal of the Stars." Clever, charismatic, and cunning, this veteran spacer is known for his quick wit and a fierce sense of pride. Women love him, and he loves loving them. His silver tongue has gotten him into nearly as many scrapes as it's gotten him out of, but so far, he's managed to come out ahead every time. He's broken more than a few hearts while keeping his own unscathed, but it isn't long before he finds out that Vacy Fiorst isn't like any other woman he's known...

Corso Riggs, Farm Boy. Simple and straightforward – what you see is what you get. Despite troubles in his past, he remains generally optimistic and tries to stay true to his principles – though sometimes the Captain makes that a bit difficult. Still, his heart is warm and open, and he's always willing to lend a hand to someone in need.

Viidu Beretton, Fine Goods Enthusiast. His boisterous laugh and warm demeanor causes many people to underestimate him, but behind the easy-going charm works the calculating mind of a shrewd businessman. The ongoing conflict between the Republic and the Separatists has resulted in a bureaucratic mess of taxes and embargoes, and it's often difficult just to find items that aren't produced on-planet, but Rendia Freight is known for being able to obtain goods at surprisingly reasonable prices.

Syreena Sanphroix, Viidu's girl. Beauty can create as many challenges as opportunities, and no one knows that better than Syreena. Her affair with Viidu is based on practicality rather than passion; she is taken care of in terms of both material comfort and personal safety. Though she tries to be satisfied with this, she finds herself longing for something more.

Prologue – Flying Solo

The small mirialan who sat curled up in the pilot's chair looked even smaller next to the massive control panel that stretched out in front of her. She had just dodged and twirled her way through a blockade and past anti-aircraft fire, landing the starship without so much as a single nick, but for some reason it didn't seem like anything to celebrate.

The truth was, she'd never felt more alone.

Letting out a soft sigh, she reached under the collar of her shirt and pulled out a small pendant that dangled from a thin chain around her neck. She looked at the pendant for a moment, then wrapped her fingers around it and held it tightly.

"Just a few more jobs like this one, Bubba," she whispered. "Then I'll be able to hire somebody to come find you and get you out. Hang in there. Please, please, please don't give up. I'm coming back for you. I promise."

She tucked the locket away and pressed her fingertips to the triangular tattoos that marked her cheekbones. After she'd gotten the Wonder safely out of system that first time, Bryson had insisted she celebrate her accomplishment in the traditional way. A few other tattoos already decorated her olive-green skin, but these were the first that were so prominent. Whenever she was frustrated or discouraged, he would pinch her cheek, right on one of the tats. It had annoyed her to no end, and she'd inevitably rolled her eyes and swatted at his hand. But right now she would have given everything she had for a bit of his overbearing encouragement.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and stood up. "You always believed in me. I won't let you down."

And with that, she pulled her shoulders back, widened her stance, and strode down the ship's corridor to the main airlock.

Chapter 1 – A Simple Business Arrangement

As she lowered the landing ramp, she noticed that someone was already waiting for her on the ground. He was human, maybe a little older than herself, and very easy on the eyes. But what immediately grabbed her attention was the vivid tattoo that stretched across the right side of his face. Interesting, Vacy mused to herself. This one really wants to be remembered.

The metal of the ramp clanked under her boots as she made her way down to the landing pad. Her contact stood there with his arms folded, watching her approach. Vacy straightened a touch further and let her hips swing a little bit more, but kept her expression neutral.

"Can't believe you made it through that separatist shooting gallery, Captain," he said, walking up to her. His gaze swept over the XS freighter. "Your ship isn't even scratched. It takes guts landing in the middle of the battlefield. Nice flying."

Despite her determination to play it cool, Vacy felt herself begin to smile at the words of praise. She recovered herself quickly, though, letting the smile flow into a smirk, then shifted her weight to one foot and arched her back some, lifting her chest. The ruse seemed to work; he glanced at her chest for a moment, and when he looked back up at her without so much as a blush, his eyes were narrowed thoughtfully. "Guess I'm just that good," she replied with an ever-so-casual shrug.

His brows arched. "Is that so?"

Vacy lifted two fingers to her temple in a mock-salute. "I owe it all to my lightning reflexes and crackerjack timing."

That earned her an eyeroll as he turned to head back into the warehouse. "You clearly have a lot of experience getting shot at," he retorted. He headed over toward a large workstation – probably one they used to track inventory. "The name's Skavak. Excuse the rush, but I need to get those blasters out of your cargo hold and get out of here quick. This village used to be safe, but the separatists are taking over. If I were you, I'd haul jets as soon as we're done."

"Suits me just fine." The sooner she got offworld again, the sooner she could head for her next payout… wouldn't bring in quite as much as this one had, but every little bit helped.

Skavak looked up with a frown. "Sounds like the bombing's getting closer. The separatists will be right on top of us at any minute." He plugged a credstick into the terminal, ran a quick process, and then walked back over toward her. "Here's your payment for making this run, Captain. Soon as I have those blasters, you'll be free to fly."

Just then, someone else came running up. Eyes dark with anger, he didn't even glance at Vacy. "Skavak, we got a big problem. Separatists took over the local air defense cannon!"

Shaking his head, Skavak looked at the other man incredulously. "Woah, slow down, Corso. What're you talking about?"

The man he'd called Corso had thick dreadlocks and warm brown skin. His entire body was tense, and he gestured furiously as he spoke. "They deployed some kind of remote control station. Hacked the cannon's targeting computer. Damn separatists just destroyed an incoming Republic transport!"

With a low whistle of dismay, Skavak looked back at Vacy. "That's bad news, Captain. The separatists'll blast you out of the sky if you even think about taking off."

You've got to be kidding me. "Isn't that why the Republic army is here – to deal with the separatists? They should be able to take care of a bunch of locals."

Corso shook his head slowly. "They've already got their hands full. Separatist rocket launchers just attacked a Republic walker, an' knocked it down hard. They're gonna be dealing with that for awhile… and we ain't got awhile before the seps get through the town and hit this warehouse," he concluded with a grim frown.

"You'll probably have to hit several of those remote stations before they lose control of that cannon," Skavak explained. "We'll get your ship unloaded, so as soon as it's safe, you can get out of here."

Inside, Vacy was seething – saving the day was not remotely covered by her contract or her pay – but she put on a wide smirk, flipped her ponytail and winked. "Bah. Separatists an' cannons? Not a problem. 'Sides, I enjoy a bit of a ruckus now and again."

The darker man took a step toward her, then hesitated. "Good luck. And… stay safe, Captain. Hope we see you again soon."

Her grin broadened – at least she'd been granted a pair of rather good-looking fellows to brighten an otherwise dull situation. This one was kind of sweet, too. "I'll be back before you've had a chance to miss me."

As she left, she saw Skavak heading out toward the landing pad. "Let's move, Corso. We're runnin' out of time."

Taking a breath and checking her blaster, Vacy jogged out of the warehouse and down the path that led to Drelliad Village.

Author's Note: Whew! It's been an interesting few days. School got called because of the weather (hurray winter!) and it's been impossible to get bread and milk. :P

I haven't given up on my other stories, but I've had some reviewers mention that they're not all that familiar with the source material. So I thought I'd put something together that introduced the world and the characters and the basic storyline. I'm really hoping that this story will be accessible to new readers without being dull or repetitive for veterans. Let me know what you think! As always, reviews not only welcomed but encouraged. :)