Star Wars: Parsecs

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Tam Wyza'n put an unsteady finger on the coin before him and spun it. It had landed on crowns three times in a row, there was no way it would happen for a fourth.

"Stars" he said.

There was a slight murmur from the Twi'lek in front of him. The two of them sat and watched the coin spin on tavern's wooden table. The rotations slowed and soon the coin began to wobble. The Twi'lek smiled as the copper image of the three pointed crown began to appear through the coins rotation like a cheap conjurers trick.

"Crowns." He said. "Drink."

Tam buried half his face in the palm his hand and eyed his drink. It seemed simultaneously too far away and unwelcomingly close. He picked up the drink and just stared at it for a moment before draining the last of the Bothan ale. His stomach turned and his spit seemed to suddenly sour; but he kept the drink down. They had been drinking this way for over an hour and Tam wasn't sure how much longer he could keep it up.

There wasn't much to do on Armyne IV other than drink and wait for work. It was a dirty little moon in Eriadu's orbit. Treacherously mountainous and grey; it was surprising that anything grew there at all. But among the jutting boulders and sharp rocks, great big trees grew in abundance. Ashy brown with thin branches and sparse foliage; the trees looked like ruinous pillars. Though to Tam they always reminded him of the gravestones on his home world. The moon's atmosphere was thin and humans like Tam had to wear rebreathers if they were going outdoors for any extended period of time. But there was very little reason for anyone to go outdoors.

Tam flipped the coin to the Twi'lek who missed it entirely and had to crawl onto the floor to find it.

"Careful." Tam said "That's my lucky coin."

The door to the tavern opened, and through it Tam could see that it was still raining outside. He couldn't tell, however, if it was dusk or dawn on the moon, he had lost track of time and neither would have surprised him. Two Pykes entered and stood just inside the door. Even shrouded in their large cloaks Tam knew they were Pykes; the purple eyes and large skulls where so predominate, even under the hoods, that it was hard to mistake. One of them pointed to an empty spot at the bar and they quickly moved to sit. Tam wondered if the Pykes had come to look for work or to look for pilots, and hoped it was the latter.

Despite being largely abandoned, lots of business was still conducted on the Eriadu moon. And that business always started or ended at the Bloody Mynock. There had once been a mining town located on the surface of Armyne IV. However, but once the lommite ore had all been stripped and sold the town went bust. All that remained there now was the abandoned factory, the empty settlement homes, and Pryia Solan's tavern The Bloody Mynock. Pryia Solan was as hard and sharp as the moon itself. The Duros woman and her bar had resigned to stay on the moon more out of stubbornness than business savy.

Tam had heard tales of some of the unsavory acts that occurred in the ruins of the mining colony, but it all stayed outside the walls of The Bloody Mynock. The bar was a safe place, relatively speaking. There was the occasional fight, but it never amounted to much more than a few punches before it was broken up. It wasn't that the Mynock attracted a particularly civil crowd. Far from it. It was a regular hang out for smugglers, pirates, and freighter pilots from all reaches of the outer rim. But the three hundred year old Duros had no tolerance for violence in her bar. Anyone foolish enough to break the rules, had to deal with her and even the Hutts would think twice before crossing Pryia Solan.. And though few would admit it, they liked it that way. The Bloody Mynock was a place where even the most crooked of con-men knew they could rest without an angry mark coming to find revenge.

There was once a Gran with a ten thousand credit bounty on his head who tried to claim sanctuary at the bar; and it had worked…. until his money ran out. He spent three days and nights drinking, gambling, and carousing the bar until he couldn't afford another drop. At which point Pryia kicked him out.

THe Gran had started to panic at first: screaming, crying, begging, his three eye stalks twisting wildly in search of some sort of salvation only to find down cast faces. He started to fight the bouncers to stay, but one look into Pryia's cold red eyes and he stopped dead in his tracks. A moment later he walked solomly out of the bar without another word; choosing to face the sentence of the bounty hunters over the wrath of Pryia Solan. The craziest part of it all, as far as Tam was concerned, was that the bounty hunters were with the Gran the whole time. The knew exactly where he was but none of them tried to collect.. For three days and nights they sat next to their bounty, acting without a care in the world, and none of them dared lay a finger on him.

Tam looked at those red featureless eyes as his friend Pontho scrambled drunkly on the floor for the coin. He couldn't tell who or what she was looking at, and it made him feel uneasy. Most species in the galaxy presented some sense of emotion in their eyes. But with a Duros it was like looking into a still red pond; all you saw back were bloody reflections. Looking at those eyes Tam could understand why the Gran had left the bar that night.

"Found it" Pontho said. Still on his knees he popped up from under the table and produced the coin in-between his fingers; a wide grin on his face. He got up and settled back into his chair.

"I still say it can't be done." Pontho said, resuming their conversation from earlier. "15 parsecs is the shortest distance possible. Anything beyond that is suicide."

"I heard some corillian smuggler did it in under fourteen." Tam said.

"You mean Solo?" came a voice from the next table over. Tam looked to see a grungy looking Besalisk pilot staring at him. Tam slapped a hand on the table and pointed to the Besalisk.

"That's it. Von Solo did it in thirteen parsecs." He said triumphantly.

"Kid. You ever meet Solo?" The Besalisk asked.

"No." Tam said. "Just heard the story."

"Lucky you then. Han Solo is a no good, lying, thieving little monkey lizard. The only reason he gets away with half the podu he talks is 'cause of that wookie of his." He laughed humorlessly "Even Pryia won't let the likes of him in here anymore. He's scum, plain and simple. And normally I'd mean that as a compliment. But you'd be better off trusting the word of (species) over him "

There came a series or chirps from the Kubaz sitting next to him. Tam didn't understand a word of it, but the Besalisk just laughed.

"If you believe that nonsense of his about flying heroics for the rebellion then I've got a high rise on courscant I'd love to sell you." He said. He turned back to Tam. "Listen to your friend there. No ship is fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than fifteen parsecs."

"Stars!" said Pontho. And he spun the coin.

There was a common misconception among non-pilots concerning the Kessel Run. The Run was set course but a series of hyperspace routes used to smuggle spice from the mines on Kessel to planets in the core systems. The Pyke Syndicate had long held control of the spice market and used smugglers to get the spice from the mines of Kessel off world and into the hands of distributors. There was no one route on the Kessel Run, only set destinations.

Due to the illicit nature of the cargo, the route often went through perilous regions of space rather than more inhabited systems.. For instance one section of the run was near a cluster of black holes. The closer you got to it the shorter you could make the run. But too close, what pilots called the event limit, and your ship would get pulled in and crushed; hyperspace or no. However, even before the event limit there was a strong gravitational pull. If a ship wasn't going fast enough the pull would drag it over the event limit before too long. So most pilots usually gave that cluster a wide berth. Theoretically though, a fast enough ship could skirt right along the event limits and use the black holes gravity like a slingshot, giving it the time necessary to do course correction and slip into a hyperspace corridor that would shave a considerable distance off the route..

Then there was the Shem nebula, a region of space so dense with radiation that it played hell with the hyperspace telemetry. Flying through it at lightspeed gave you equal odds of coming out at your predetermined system or in the middle of a star. While not very deep, the nebula was over a parsec wide in nearly every direction. Meaning it you could fly around it but it took time. Flying through it was technically possible but was a suicide mission. At the center of the nebula the radiation, which was the densest and thus the most problematic to telemetry, was high enough to be lethal if exposed for too long, even with heavy shielding. A few pilots have been crazy, or stupid enough to fly though manually at sub light speed. Most died of radiation poisoning before they were even half way through it. Only pilots with the fastest of ships and near military grade shielding had even the slightest of chances to make it through the nebula alive.

And these were just a hand full of the lethal obstacles on the Kessel Run , there were several other problems, less fatal but no more appealing, like asteroid fields or regions known to be infested with flocks of Pergil. By themselves the Pergil were largely harmless creatures who floated through the depths of space feeding of mynocks and other space vermin. But these lumbering beasts often floated into hypserspace corridors or shipping lanes which had caused more than a few good pilots their lives.

There were other alternative routes as well, many of these often involved heavily trafficked and thus strictly regulated star systems. These systems usually had steep punishments for individuals caught smuggling spice and in the end dying quickly amidst a burning star or slowly in work camp amounted to the same thing.

Simply put; the faster the ship and the more skilled a pilot, the shorter the run. When pilots want to brag about their skill and the speed of the ship, the distance of the Kessel Run is their go to bench mark. The fastest route Tam had ever done was 17.5 parsecs. It was better than average but only slightly.

Later that night Portho and Tam stumbled back through the shipyard. While no one dared cross Pryia Solan, her rules did not extend outside the doors of the Bloody Mynock. So it was best not to travel alone anywhere on Armyne IV if you could avoid it. It was still raining when they reached their respective ships and that was the last thing Tam Wy'zan remembered that night.

He woke up the next morning on one of the spare bunks, with no clear recollection of how he got there. He sat up and his stomach turned. There was a gentle pulsing in his temples and he knew if he didn't do something about it soon it was just going to get worse. He opened the medical locker and dropped a tablet into an opaque drinking glass. He put the glass under a sensor and it filled 2/3 of the way with water. The tablet dissolved and the water took on a yellowish hue. It tasted foul but he knew it would do the trick. He sat down at the pilots seat and checked for any job postings on the nav computer.

There was only one posting. A delivery to the artificial asteroid field Pressey's Tumble. Tam wasn't surprised to see no one had accepted the job. The Tumble was First Order territory. While most systems in the core regarded the first order as little more than a shambling cult of Imperial worshipers, in the outer reaches of the galaxy the stories among freighter pilots and smugglers painted a different picture. More and more, ships that ventured into regions of space near First Order territory ended up on the drift; supplies raided and the crew dead. And that region was slowly but steadily widening

Tam was too young to remember the Empire, but he could remember his parents telling him about it when he was a boy. Both of them had fought in the rebellion; it was what eventually killed them 's mother joined the infantry after the destruction of Alderaan. She had no family or any connection to that planet, had never even been near the system in her life. But when she heard what had happened, what the empire had done, she felt compelled to join the fight. That is where she met Tam's father. He was a mechanic for the rebellion and she had noticed him hanging around the bay every time her squad returned from a was only after they were married that she found out it had intentional. Kazrack Wy'zan had pulled every string, called in every favor, and worked double sometimes triple shifts in order to be in the hanger whenever the infantry was going out on or returning from a mission - with the single hope of catching the young corporals . Miryam Bis had a reputation of rejecting would be suitors among her fellow rebels in the harshest of fashions. It was no secret why either; with Dark brown skin and red streaked hair in tight curls Corporal Bis was gorgeous by any standards in the galaxy. Had she not discouraged such advancements she would haven't had a moment's rest. And she had better things to do with her time. Miryam was as determined a soldier as any in the Rebellion. She spent much of her free time training; hand to hand combat, target practice, she even studied holos from old battles during the clone wars. So, Kazrack had reasoned if he couldn't approach her, he have to get her to approach him. Which she eventually did shortly before the Rebels had relocated to the planet Hoth.

"It was so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground." Tam's father told him one night as they sat around the table after dinner. "People could freeze to death just doing standard patrols if they weren't careful. So we had to spend all of our time locked inside the base. For months the entire rebel fleet was crammed into one area alongside the tauntauns and the hanger bays, day after day after day. THe smell was worse than anything you've ever encountered. I took me months to get it out of my uniform."

"That sounds awful." Tam had said.

"It was without a doubt, the best planet I've ever visited."

Tam looked confused.

"I got to spend months locked in a small space with the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. If it hadn't been for the frozen hell I don't think I'd have gotten to know your mother."

By the time Tam was seven his mother had gone from a strong rebel warrior, to a frail, bedridden wraith of a woman. He would lay in bed with her and she would tell him of the battles she fought against the empire; the mid-rim retreat, the Battle of Hoth, Lothal. He listened intently to every word she said. By age nine Tam he had a better understanding of the military history of the Galactic Civil War than some professors. He knew every battle by heart by his mother's teachings. It was the last battle that his mother had fought in that killed her, though it took almost a decade for death to catch up with her.

A few months before the battle of Endor rebel spies had begun picking up a great deal of unofficial chatter amongst various Moffs concerning a top secret project in a relatively uncharted region of space. Further investigations revealed that the Empire had a large scale mining operation on a planet designated TI-Mk2. The uninhabited planet had a large source of rare mineral that the Empire was collecting en masse. It wasn't until well after the Battle of Endor and the fall of the Empire that imperial reports surfaced showing that the ore was to be used in the second Death Star. At the time, however, the Rebel Alliance simply recognized that if the Empire wanted it, then the mine a viable target.

Despite a moderately high level of imperial traffic the mine didn't seem well defended. Early intel implied that the mine was run by a skeleton crew of officers and a single platoon of stormtroopers. In typical imperial fashion the ore itself was mined by slaves and political prisoners.

What had started off as a by the books operation turned into a veritable suicide mission for all involved. Three teams of ten soldiers had been deployed on TI-Mk2: Echo, Bravo, and Charlie squad. Echo squad, of which Tam's mother was captain, was in charge of capturing and controlling the communications array. They could not simply destroy it, as any communication issues could create imperial interest. They had to take it quickly and block any outgoing transmissions. Bravo and Charlie were to engage in simultaneous attacks on the mine and the base.

The taking of the communication array went off without a hitch. Capturing the base and freeing the miners, however, was another story altogether. Bravo and Charlie squadron where less than half a klick from the base when someone sounded the alarm. The deep electronic howl echoed across the planet's rocky surface. The clang of massive blast doors shutting could just barely be heard underneath the repetitive blaring of the alarm. A few minutes later it started to rain.

Everyone assumed that they had been picked up on sensors or been seen by some scout droid, no one even considered that the alarm had anything to do with the rain. Tam's mother was the first to notice something wrong as after the alarm. No signal had been sent out from the base. No call for reinforcements. No alerting the Empire that they were under attack. Nothing. It was strange. Strange enough that she tried to radio to the squads but the sudden storm seemed to be interfering with their short range communicators.

Believing the element of surprise was gone the squads abandoned the attack on the base to focus on the primary objective: free the prisoners and destroy the mine. Each squadron had been outfitted with a small amount of explosives. It took all they had to get through the blast doors into the mine. They managed to free the prisoners but failed to destroy the mine. All teams rendezvoused at the landing site, during which time the Imperials were able to regain control of their communications and send a distress signal.. Moments after rebel transports arrived so did an Imperial Star Destroyer. The squad of X-wings assigned to escort the transport had been too busy fighting off tie-fighters to drop even a single bomb on the base.

What the Rebels hadn't expected and that the Empire had known all along was that the ore was highly toxic. So much so that it had contaminated the entire planet's water supply. The scant few hours that the soldiers had spent in the rain on planet TI-Mk2 had sealed their fate. Within in five years almost every solider there had developed a highly resilient cancer. In ten they were all dead. Including Tams mom.

Tam's father had lost his arm during Operation: Cinder, the Empire's last ditch effort to maintain order before the battle of Jakku. The Alliance had fitted him with a robotic hand. However, as the Alliance disbanded so did any further medical aide. As time went on the hand grew and less and less reliable and eventually was all but inert. With his wife gone and no longer able to work as a starship mechanic Tam's father resorted to less savory methods to provide for himself and his son. He eventually got in with the Hutts and owed more money than he could pay. Tam wasn't home when the bounty hunters came. But he was old enough then to know what the scorched blaster marks on the walls of their empty home meant. He never saw father again.

They were both culpable in his parent's death as far as he was concerned; the empire and the Alliance. It didn't matter that they had changed names; the Galactic Senate, the First order, the Resistance. It was all the same thing as far as he was concerned.

Tam's father had taught him how to fly and how to do repairs on the ship and so smuggling was a natural choice. It provided him with a freedom few other jobs did. He had no bosses and was not beholden to any government in the Galaxy. And if the opportunity to screw over either the Republic or the First Order presented itself in a job, so much the better.

Tam clicked off the monitor. The medicine had started to take effect and so he made his way back to the Bloody Mynock to wait for work. When he got there Tam noticed the two Pykes from the night before where back. They were talking to a very nonplussed looking Gand, who Tam knew only in passing.

The Gand shook his head and walked away from the Pykes, who then began talking amongst themselves excitedly. Tam was watching the two with mounting interest when he spied Pontho at the bar.

He strolled over and sat down next to the Twi'lek.

"What's got those two all hot and bothered?" Tam asked hitching his head towards the Pykes.

"Seems they've got themselves in a bit of a trouble."

"Troubles good." Tam said. "Trouble pays extra."

"Yeah well, it also comes with an undue amount of risk."

"What kind of risk?"

"They're looking for pilot to do the Kessel Run."

Before Tam could respond Pontho added "In 15 parsecs or less."

"You're kidding?"

Pontho shook his head. "They seem to have a rather strict deadline. The standard run just won't be fast enough."

"How much are they offering?"

"Not enough."

"That's not a number."

"No. But is the most you're going to get out of me. You've got enough of death wish as it is and I ain't adding to it."

"I don't have a death wish."

"No?"

"No."

"Nar Shadda. Sullust. The Bacta fiasco. That deal with the Bothans. Want me to go on?"

"Oh god. They were just jobs. Things don't always go according to plan in this line of work. You know that."

"No." Pontho put down his drink and turned to the human. "They weren't just jobs. They were unnecessary risks. You didn't have to accept any of them. Each time there were plenty of other offers out there.

"Yeah, that paid squat."

"They paid enough. You wanted to take the dangerous jobs. You like the risks. Always have."

"Life rewards the risk takers Pontho."

"Yeah." He said turning back to his drink. "But you have to be alive to spend a reward."

"You've got the spine of a protocol droid."

"And you've got the brains of a gundark."

Tam scowled. He long ago learned it was useless to argue with Pontho when he was like this. Instead he turned and walked over to the Pykes.

"I hear you're looking for a pilot."

The pykes looked him up and down and then conferred amongst themselves for a moment.

"I'm sorry…" The taller of the two said "… but we are looking for someone a bit more experienced."

"No problem." Tam said cheerily "At least not from me. I can walk away from this job. The question is can you?"

The Pykes didn't respond.

"I didn't think so. And in case you haven't noticed no one else is exactly jumping at your offer. Which means the longer you wait, the shorter you will have to make the run. And if pilots aren't clambering to do the run in less than 15 parsecs imagine what it will be like when they have to do it in 14... or less. We both know that right now I'm your best and only bet and I can start immediately."

"You haven't even asked about payment."

"Don't need to. 50,000 credits. In advance." Tam said.

The pykes laughed. "We just offered Othal Za'han 40,000. Why would we offer a young pup like you more?"

"Looking past the insult here; as far as I can tell you have two options. Me. Or you fly it yourselves while you still can."

"45."

"Well gentlemen enjoy your flight. Be sure to use extra caution around the moons of Phaden. I understand pirate activity as had a bit of surge there recently." Tam said and started to walk away.

"50,000 credits." The smaller of the Pyke's agreed. "But half now. Half on delivery."

"Deal." Tam said smiling. It was then that he noticed that Pontho had gone.

Tam came out of hyperspace shortly after making his drop on Rion. Tam had made the run All had gone without a hitch but he still needed to shave some time off his route if he wanted the rest of the 50,000. The obvious choice was to go through the Hosnian System. However, it didn't add as much time as he wanted. More than that Tam wanted to get as close to 14 parsecs as possible, If only to prove to Pontho and the rest of the podu shovelers at the Mynock that it could be done. But Tam couldn't shake Pontho's chide about having a death wish. He didn't really have a death wish...did he? Was he really taking dangerous risks for the fun of it? He was starting to doubt himself and hesitation wasn't a healthy thing for a pilot in deep space.

He decided to let fate decide it. He pulled his lucky coin from his pocket.

"Stars the black hole. Crowns the Hosnian system" He said. He tossed the coin and caught it. He opened his palm and looked at it. Stars. .

He smiled and put the coin back in his pocket "Life rewards the risk takers." He said aloud and began entering coordinates for the cluster of black holes commonly known as The Maw..

Truth be told Tam had wanted to try his skill against the black holes on the kessel run since he was a kid. Using the blacks holes as a gravity assist in the kessel run had been a maneuver favored by the legendary pirate Hondo Ohnaka as it saved both time and fuel, which usually meant increased profits. Tam's father would always tell him bedtimes stories about pirates back in the days of the clone wars. And though his mother never approved, Tam would beg for stories about Q'anah, Klethtu or Kaz Rendar. But, his favorites had always been the ones about Hondo Ohnaka. The only problem with the maneuver was any pilot that could slingshot around a black hole was very guarded about how they did it, especially towards other pilots. Tam had some theories on how to do it, but they were just that - Theories. He had never had the opportunity nor the reason to put them in to practice.

Tam set the computer to find the coordinates to the nearest black hole event line along the route and waited. The safety protocols kicked on and the computer wildly advised against any of the results. There were five potential spots and Tam reviewed each of them on a holographic projector before deciding on one that he was sure had a solid rotation. Tam entered the coordinates into the hyperspace computer. Once again the computer flashed several warnings. Tam ignored them all

AS soon as he came out of hyperspace the alarms on the ship began to go off and the whole vessel rocked violently. Tam switched off the alarms and took the controls in both hands. Even with full thrusts he could feel the ship sliding sideways towards the event line. At the same time he could feel the added force propelling him forward with the rotation of the black hole. Only three hundred kilometers until he was at the peak of the rotation and would be free of the black hole with some much needed forward momentum. The ship's computer began to spew a long string of numbers on the readout. The numbers were counting down.

It took him longer than he would've like to admit before he realized the countdown was not the range until he was free of the black holes gravity but rather how long until he was pulled over the event line. The number was considerably less than 300 kilometers. He either had to jump now and chance the Hosnian system or find a way to boost the power to the thrusters.

Tam turned on the auto pilot and raced to the back of the ship. There was an accesses panel that led to the conduits of the ship, allowing for inflight repairs, or in this case – modifications. Most ships had a power regulator that kept fuel consumption to a predetermined ratio. Altering the ration meant a ship could go faster. However, most ships couldn't handle the higher ratios and would burn out the stabilizers in minutes or worse cause a coolant leak that would cause the drive to overheat and potentially explode; taking the entire ship with it.

Plenty of ship jockey's would adjust the ratio themselves to boost their speed but usually at the cost of replacing parts after a dozen or so runs. Tam's ship was already at a higher than average ratio, but he had upgraded to parts that could handle the extra thrust. His plan was not to simply increase the ratio, but to remove that regulator entirely. Theoretically, he reasoned, the ship should launch into near light speeds shortly after it's disabled -or at the very least at speeds fast enough to get past the pull of the black hole. The real trick was to get up to the cockpit and shut power off the ship before it burned through the engines leaving him adrift in space.

Tam crawled through the conduits to the back of ship. He could feel the whole ship shaking more violently than ever. Time was running out and the regulator wasn't budging easily. By the time he detached the regulator, both it and he would be crushed into an infinitesimal amount of space. Tam pulled his blaster and aimed at the yellow conduit of wires going out from it. He fired once. There was a puff of smoke and sparks and the lights on the regulator went out. A second later Tam was launched face first into the regulator as the ship lurched forward at an incredible speed He tried to break his fall with his right hand but only managed to burn it on the laser scorched conduit.

Tam pushed himself up and, ignoring his hand, looked at the conduit. It was fixable as long as he got to the cockpit in time. He wasn't sure how much time he had, but he knew it wasn't much. He crawled through the cramped space snagging and cutting himself on ship parts as he did. Once out of the framework he ran to the cockpit and shut everything down to emergency settings leaving only life support, some basic running lights and a systems check. Even without engines the ship was flying at several thousand kilometers an hour.

Tam decide to leave the systems check till later. First thing was to take care of the burn on his hand. At the medical bay he realize the trip through the innards of the ship had taken a greater toll on him than he had thought. He was bleeding badly from the head and leg. There were several other cuts but only those two needed stitches.

When he had finished he hobbled back up to the cockpit. He was going to have to replace some parts on the ship before this was over, but it was worth it. Not only could he afford a new ship after all of this, he would have bragging rights galore at the Bloody Mynock. He sat down and checked the coordinates. His stomach dropped. The gravity assist had worked, but he had the trajectory wrong. He was nowhere near the hyperspace corridor he needed. He was so far off that even if he took the safest route past the Phaden moons and didn't get arrested in the Hosian system he was still a dead man. The Pyke's had made it very clear that failure to deliver the spice in the allotted time would mean that the 50,000 credits they intended to pay him would become the bounty on his head. No one with a bounty on their head that large lived very long. He thought of the story of the Gran. Tam wondered how long he could stay in the bloody Mynock before his money ran out. More than three days? Probably. More than a week? Unlikely.

There were two options as Tam saw it, lam it with the spice and sell what he could to stay on the run or go through the Shem nebula. Tam pulled out his coin and gave it a flip.

"Crowns the nebula. Stars I run." He said.

He caught the coin, slapped it on the back of his hand, and hesitated.

"I can do this." He thought. "I can do the run in less than 15. I don't have to run."

He slipped the coin back in his vest and ran the systems check. The ship was in better condition than he had hopped aside from the regulator he destroyed only minor issues that wouldn't need to be dealt with right away. But with the regulator smashed he was going to have to manually bypass that system. The only way to do that meant a very low output from the standard engines, the hyperdrive would be relatively uneffected. Outside of lightspeed the ship would be crawling through space. At those speeds he would have difficulty escaping the gravitational pull of larger planets. If he wasn't careful he could get stranded on a planet or worse pulled into a star. He would burn up long before he actually reached the star, of course, but that was of little comfort.

Tam diverted a little power to the navigation system and pulled up several star charts. It seemed possible to make it to the shem nebula from where he was. If he put the coordinates right on the edge of the nebula he should enter in at his current speed. It would be fast enough to get him to the center without much issue, but he would need to power up to change course half way through to get to Kessel and he would lose all that momentum. He wouldn't survive in the nebula with a bypassed regulator. The only choice was to fly in at full speed, turn on the power to make a course for Kessel, then pull the bypass and let the engines burn at full and hope for the best. If he was lucky he could still make the jump to hyperspace once he was out. It would undoubtedly put enough strain on the damaged ship to fry much of its innards. Once out of hyperspace the ship would be reduced to a floating piece of rubble. But if he was really, really lucky he would be able to make an emergency landing on Kessel, or a nearby moon and signal his employers from there. He would worry about that later though. First things was to make it to the Shem Nebula.

Tam bypassed the regulator with relative ease but with such low engine power it seemed to take forever to make the course corrections toward the Nebula .

"It'd be faster if I got out and pushed" he muttered as the ship rotated towards the set coordinates.

Finally the engines cut and the nav computer began spooling up the hyperdrive. The stars in front of him melted away into waving streaks of blue light. As he watched the computer readout countdown the minutes to the nebula he began to relax. He was making good time and it was starting to look like he could do the run in well under 15 parsecs!

"I'm gonna make it." Tam laughed as he watched the countdown.

The blue tunnel of hyperspace eventually faded and gave way to the fixed light of distant stars. Known for its beauty as well as its perilous nature Tam had seen several holo's of the Shem Nebula. Normally depicted as a giant cloud of bright neon color, he was disappointed to see that none of that was visible from within the nebula itself. He double checked the coordinates and frowned. Everything looked right, so where were the clouds, the colors, the splendor of the whole thing?. He still wasn't sure until he looked at some of the readouts. The levels of radiation where through the roof. He was in the nebula alright, maybe Pontho could explain it to him when he got back to the mynock. The Twi'lek pilot spent as much time studying holos about space as he did flying in it.. What Tam was never going to get the chance to figure out was that the disbursement of light meant that the wonderful colors of the nebula could only be seen from a distance.

Once he was in far enough Tam set the coordinates for Kessel into the nav computer and the ship started its slow rotation. There was a sudden metallic groan and a pop. The ship began to shudder and tilt to one side. Alarms started going off in the cockpit. One of the engines was dead and there was a hull breach. A couple of theories popped into Tam's head; it could have been stress from the initial destruction of the regulator or flying through hyperspace with the regulation system bypassed causing undue strain on the hyperdrive. But that could wait, first was to determine the extent of the damage.

The realization that there would never time to figure out what went wrong would come all too late for Tam. There was a second metallic groan and another pop. Tam could feel that all vibrations from the engines was gone. The ship was tilting even further now too. He was adrift in the Shem Nebula, in a slow gentle tumble. It was slow enough that he wasn't being tossed around the ship. Luckily Tam had grabbed an emergency repair kit and sealed off some of the paneling near the hull breach. It would be enough to keep the oxygen from being sucked from the ship, but not enough to keep the radiation out. It would be seeping in at a much fast rate now.

He had just enough time to finish the seal before the artificial gravity on the ship went out. Tam swam through the ship, brushing aside clothes and personal effects that now looked like the space debris of some tragic wreck, which he decided, it kind of was. Tam strapped himself into the seat and looked out among the stars. There were no planets he could see, no space stations or lanes of passing cruisers, just an ocean of light spread across a galaxy; the rotating view from the cockpit was breathtaking. He had spent most of his life among the stars and yet they still had the power to strike awe in him.

"I guess if I have to go, there's no better place than here" He thought. "I just wish it didn't have to be now." He started to think on all the choices he had made since he left the Mynock that got him here.. He wished he had let Portho talk him out of taking the job; the two of them would be in the Mynock right now, maybe tossing javelins at a board and drinking pints of dark bothan ale. He had never really gotten close to anyone after his father had died. Partly because the life of a smuggler is nomadic and filled with less than savory characters. But also out of choice. It had hurt when his parents had died, hurt more than he had thought it was possible. It was a pain he hadn't wanted to repeat. Pontho had been the closest thing to a family he had had. And he had never told him as much. Not even close. And now he never would. He stopped himself right there. There was no point in dwelling on the mistakes of the past, this was his fate and nothing was going to change that. He could turn on the distress beacon, but the signal would never make it out of the nebula and the probability of another ship passing through the nebula was astronomical. There was only one thing left to decided, and that was how he wanted to go. He could sit and hope that someone came along before the effects of the radiation sickness were irreversible. The radiation would kill him within 48 hours. And those 48 hours would be hard. His hair would fall out. There would be fever and dizziness. He would start to vomit and have diarrhea, and soon both would have blood in them. The other option was to open the bay doors and asphyxiate. It would be quick, but not entirely painless. One option had hope and the other had mercy. But he would never experience both in his life again.

He pulled his lucky coin from the pocket of his flight jacket. "Crowns, now. Stars, later" he said and flipped the coin in the air. It spun slowly, almost majestically in the cockpit. He watched it for a minute, then closed his eyes and caught it. He slapped the coin on the back of his hand and looked down, for the last time, to see what fate had in store for him.