JUST ANOTHER CRAZY BEGINNING
The story that started it all and continues in the follow-up tale "Don't Worry, Everyone Crashes on Taris Their First Time!" Because ain't that just the truth.
THE ENDAR SPIRE: 0300
The mad siren-wail of the alarms tell me that the ship's under attack, but it's the shock of the accompanying jolt that actually wakes me from my sleep. First thing I do is leap from my bunk and drop-kiss the floor. Ouuuch. I wipe away the blood from my nose—that fragging' jolt hurt like a bantha. On the bright side, it's nice to know the grav grids are working—at least today I won't be running away from battle with my toochus half in the air. That happened at Naos 3 once and somehow, the experience wasn't quite as funny as it sounds… Ah, the joy of air-swimming past thirty Gammoreans with their buttcracks flying… I don't think I'll ever quite wipe that smell from my mind. (Mental note: If ever find self on gravless ship again, turn around, go home, and don't even be there when the shikie hits the generators.)
I shake off the wooz and check my bearings. Thankfully, the room's empty, so at least no one else was here to witnesses my little 'fall from grace.' I pinch the bridge of my nose to stop the bleeding and wince as the artificial lights flicker and send slivers of pain through my eyeballs. Midget Wookiees in my head are having the time of their lives ripping apart the nerve clusters in my brain. This has got to be the last time I ever dip into an Ithorian's ryll stash. Those knob-heads don't have the synapses to fix a decent high.
But the crashing sound of personal items falling off the shelves—toothbrush, hair comb, datapads, and a happy-face caffa mug… wait, is that really mine?—reminds me that I'm still on an uncertain date with death if I don't get out of here. Lesser sentients might spend time wondering: What's going on? But I like to think I'm more enlightened. Run now, think later.
The bleeding's stopped, so I get up on my feet and suddenly this blonde cooze in a red coat rushes into the room: "We've been ambushed by a Sith battle fleet! The Endar Spire is under attack! Hurry up—we don't have much time!"
I stare at him blankly. Was this some kind of joke? …Between the guy's vacant stare and the wookiees in my head it takes me a few to wrap my head around Captain Redundant. He's looking at me like I'm a lobotomized trach. Gotta think of something smart to say. I go for a classic: "Who are you?" Oh, yeah, that was brilliant…
Blonde and dangerous laps up the words like a diva to her cue: "I'm Trask Ulgo, ensign with the Republic Fleet. I'm your bunk mate here on the Endar Spire. We work opposite shifts; I guess that's why you haven't seen me before."
Ha!—Those midget Wookiees may have done a real number on my head, but I knew that smiley-faced mug wasn't mine.
"Now hurry up, we have to find Bastila! We have to make sure she makes it off the ship alive!"
I return the vacant stare. Just who does this chump think he is? I square my shoulders and look him in the eye. It amazes me how some people can't get their priorities straight: "Forget this—I'm looking after my own skin! C'mon," I add, "I'm sure a soldier like yourself could make a decent living with me as a merc…"
"You swore an oath to protect Bastila when you signed up with this mission, just like everyone else in the crew! Now's the time to make good on that oath!"
Oath? I wrack what's left of my brain for answers. If I didn't have the death sentence on twelve systems, I'd never have gotten into bed with the 'Public and its stupid promise for a full reprieve if I helped them run a gambit through the Sith blockade. Did I swear an oath for that? Guess I'm not doing such a hot job. Story of my life. I wonder I can still get that pardon if I survive this. Then again...
"Oath or no oath—I'm headed to the escape pods!"
"Don't be stupid! You won't stand a chance against the Sith by yourself. I know Bastila may not have an official rank, but she's the one in charge of this mission, and now that you've signed on, you're part of the fleet. Bastila needs all her troops at her side during this attack! We've got to stick together if we want to make it out of this alive."
I sigh, realizing that the grunk isn't gonna get off my back. I throw up my hands and give him my trademark grin that's all sideways cheek, "Alright, Red, I'm all yours." The square doesn't even blink. I shrug into my gear and grab my gun.
Turns out room's on lockdown too, so Red starts punching codes into the door, but he screws up somehow and starts cursing like a drunken Rodian. I feel a little bead of sweat form on my brow. Why do I always get the incompetent one? I consider making peace with one of the three hundred and sixty seven indigenous gods in this sector before I have to kiss my sweet toochus goodbye, but then the door finally opens with a heartening swoosh. The beeper on my comlink sings and a scruffy-looking guy with a reedy voice pops up to lay out some more bad news:
"This is Carth Onasi. The Sith are threatening to overrun our position. We can't hold out long against their firepower. All hands to the bridge!"
"That was Carth! He's one of the Republic's best pilots! He's seem more combat than the rest of the Endar Spire's crew put together. If he says things are bad, you'd better believe it!"
Part of me hopes I live to save this conversation for later. Because I've never seen anyone so near-death who felt such a need for exposition.
"Yes, thank you, thank you ever so much. Even though I've been on this rust bucket for a total of three weeks now, I have, of course, completely failed to notice the Republic hero who…" But even as I'm snarking over at Red I can feel my legs starting to go limp. It always does when trouble's about to start, more accurate than an old man's rheumatism before a rainy day.
Blondie's got sweat beading all over his upper lip and just the sight of that gives my sense of morale a fast dive. If the damn soldier's quailing, how am I supposed to survive? But the opinion goes through a quick 180 as soon as we hit the decks. It's not fear on his face, I realize, it's excitement: "C'mon, we have to get to the bridge and help defend Bastila!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time around." This job's looking worse and worse, but what choice do I have? It's a one-way ride to eating space dust if I don't get onto one of the 'pods.
Sith stormtroopers are running around everywhere in the halls. I watch as they take down the Republic soldiers right in front of my door. I haven't even been up five minutes today, and already people are dying. "Shit, oh shit, oh shit," I say to the blonde, but he's already gone.
"Wha-?" I panic, but I turn around and sure enough, there's Mr. Blonde laying into the Sithboys like a krath hound on a femur.
"Crazeeee bastard," I say as I watch him take on the baddies three at a time. He keeps yelling "For the Republic!" like it's some kind of battle chant. Over, and over, and over again. Do the Sith look more afraid? I sneak a peek. Nope, not at all.
Red takes out the three Sith goons without even breaking stride just as another group turns around the corner. Their leader takes an unhealthy interest in my presence. I siddle towards Red, hoping to hide behind him, but I somehow manage to trip on my way over some loose power cables and end up tumbling backwards into the arms of the Sith.
"Fraaaaaag," I cry and I hear a metallic "oof-zzz" as the trooper breaks my fall. In the tangle of arms, legs, and weapons, I somehow land a miraculous shot that ricochets off the side panel and hits below the left arm where there's no armor protection. Next thing I know, metal-face is pitching head-first onto the floorboards and I scramble up. Red's finishing up another one of the other tinmen with a flurry of vibroblade when I finally get my bearings. His killing blow sends the Trooper's blood sloshing on my shoe. Eww.
We work our way past a couple more skirmishes and I start thanking the Force that I've got blond and burly on my side. Sure, the old boy's got a terrible haircut and no sense of humor, but he really started growing on me after the third time he threw himself in the the way of blaster fire for me. We finally hit the bridge and the place turns out to be a bust. "Bastila's not on the bridge!" Red shouts, "they must have retreated to the pods! We better head there too!"
"#$$$!$&!$&!" and I don't even bother with my usual eloquence. Part of me wants to cry for all the precious time we wasted getting here. We should have just hit up the 'pods like I said in the first place.
"The Sith want Bastila alive, but once she's off the ship there's nothing stopping them from blasting the Endar Spire into galactic dust!"
"No kidding!" I retort, as I watch the pieces of the ship have break off and float around the portholes like salvager's candy. "It only just now occurs to you that we're not paid enough to be here? No Bastila, no crew, no pods… We're all gonna diiiiiiiie!"
But Red ignores my breakdown and drags me by the lapels to the adjacent corridor. "There's something behind here," he says, approaching one of the two doors.
"Well, you can damn well forget it! C'mon, the 'pods are this way." I point at the closer entrance, but his hand's already on the door panel. I cannot believe this guy. How bloodthirsty can he be?
The metal plates slide open to reveal a guy who's ever balder than my great aunt Maija. My eyes fixate on the very shiny – very red – and very deadly lightsaber in his hands. I think I can hear the sound of doom doom doom, doom doom, doom, doom doom, doom playing in the background.
"Damn—Dark Jedi!" Red yelps. What in Devaron had he been expecting? "I'll try to hold him off, you get to the escape pods, go!"
"No!" I yell back, "You don't stand a chance!" But he's already gone. Fraggin' son of a whoring-Brubb, it's too early for people to start dying for me now!
"Open to door Trask! Dammit! Open it!" Nothing. Aside from the static singing of electricity on the broken door – oh, and the sounds of the ship falling to pieces – I'm all alone on this handbasket to Hoth…
But the litany's cut short as I hear my communicator beep. "'Y'ello? Unless you've got a pippin' big—oh jimcriminy, it's you! Thank the Force! I'm so glad to see even a 'Public face, Reedy!" I giggle like a 'stem high schoolgirl. But I even in my hysteria I gotta give the guy credits. Mr. Scruffy mows past my panic attack with all the stoicism of a true soldier.
"This is Carth Onasi on your personal communicator. I'm tracking your position through the Endar Spire's life support systems. Bastila's escape pod is away—you're the last surviving crew member on the Endar Spire."
"But Big Red, I mean Trask… oh you mean I'm…? Frag."
"I can't wait for you much longer; you have to get to the escape pods! But be careful. There's a Sith patrol just down the corridor. Use your stealth skills to sneak past him."
"Stealth skills?" I look at him hopefully.
"Hit the black button on the left to activate the stealth generator on your belt."
"Oh, right, thanks. Yeah, I knew that." I'm glad the viewscreen cuts my body off at the chest. Scruffy can't see me rubbing my leg sheepishly with the palm of my hand. (Bad habit, don't ask.) The feral, drug-induced wookiees in my head are still having a field day, but I manage to find the right button and click on the stealth generator.
The lone trooper in the hallway I handle without a problem, and I even manage to pitch a couple of the unsuspecting guards with grenades under their boots. But then Unkempt Commando calls me up right before the 'pod bay. Apparently, there's a whole squadron stationed just outside.
"How in the nine stomachs of the Sarlac did you get past those," I ask Scruffy, who has the decency to look embarrassed.
"That's the thing, uh… I kinda had them on my tail. So I locked myself in the bay."
"… which explains—how?—I get to find this out the hard way?"
"Look, you can probably repair the assault droid there to help you, or alternatively, you can try to slice the computer terminal and use the Endar Spire's security systems against the Sith."
"Shouldn't the defense system already be active and targeting the enemy?"
His mouth was grim. "Not after they've gained control of your bridge."
Oh. Right. "Okay," I say, "I'll try the hacking." I lope over to the computer and throw down a few spikes. Hmm. Rerouting the defense sub-matrix on the 'Spire is going to be a lot harder than I thought. Oh, but hey, what's this baby here—
I fiddle with the console for a bit and manage to hardwire the cables to give me command access. Booyah! No defense sub-routines to run this way, but who needs subtly when all I want is the power to blow some Sith scum back to the dark side of the galaxy? I crack my knuckles as I do my best evil cackle imitation and hit the 'Enter' button. A loud Kr-bloom! Is followed by puffs of cloying smoke seeping out the battered door. I cover my mouth as I storm through the smog, practically running to activate the 'pod bay door. It shoots open and I nearly choke on a mouthful of Mr. Scruffy's beard.
"Holy firaxa!" I shout, arms waving wildly as I try to get him out of my face.
"You made it just in time! There's only one active escape pod left. Come on, we can hide out in the planet below!"
I stop flailing. "How do I know I can trust you?" I say, sizing him up. I really wasn't planning on sharing my last-minute escape with another castaway. Too much heat when it came to dodging the law.
"I'm a soldier with the Republic, like you. We're the last two crew members left on the Endar Spire." I look at him skeptically.
"Bastila's escape pod is already gone, so there's no reason for us to stick around and get shot by the Sith. Now come on—there'll be time for questions later!"
I frown and nod. I guess I don't have the luxury to argue with Scruffy's motives right now. "Alright, let's go." Since I have no idea where we're going anyway, I figure an extra set of blasters probably won't hurt—at least 'til I get my feet on the ground and find a way to ditch this 'Public jockey.
"Down we go!" I whoop as we leap into the cylinder and he buckles in. I cling tightly to a handgrip. The escape pod really wasn't built for two.
"Hang on," Captain Scruffy says, hitting release buttons like mad, "It's gonna be a bumpy—"
"And then we jettison just before the ship combusts. The escape pod shoots down and crashes, and suddenly, I can hear this loud orchestra swelling in the background before everything fades to black. And that's usually when I wake up. So what do you think?"
"About my dream! You think it's a vision from the Force? I mean, it feels so real, you know? Like something that actually happened, or maybe will happen. I dreamed that I was me, but yet not me. I had a different name, and a different job, and even a different haircut and everything."
"Honestly? I think you've been spending too much time hanging out with the pilots playing Juma penalty pazaak, Revan. How much did you drink, anyway?"
"I have not! Alright, maybe a little… But you haven't even heard the weirdest part yet. Guess what you were in my dream."
"A dark Sith Lord! With a jaw plate and everything."
"What? And hide this handsome face? Dream on, pipsqueak. That'll never happen."
"Hey! Call me that again and I might have to cut your mouth off…"
"Should I get a stool so you can reach?"
"Oh, shut up, Malak. Just shut up."