Myn Donos (human male from Corellia)
Kirney Slane (aka Gara Petothel aka Lara Notsil; human female from Coruscant)
Selan Donos (human male from Corellia – Myn's father)
Jaleela Donos (human female from Corellia – Myn's mother)
Voth Donos (human male from Corellia – Selan's brother)
Zeena Donos (human female from Sacorria – Voth's wife)
Crew of Fair Trade
Kolot (modified Ewok male from Endor)
Kard Venns (human male from Corellia)
For the Epilogue
Tyria Sarkin-Tainer (human female from Toprawa)
Tionne Solusar (human female from Rindao)
Jaina Solo (human female from Coruscant)
Zekk (human male from Ennth)
Doran Tainer (human male from Coruscant)
Kolir Hu'lya (Bothan female from Bothawui)
Thann Mithric (male Falleen from Falleen)
Tahiri Veila (female human from Tattooine)
Kyle Katarn (human male from Sulon)
"Dear passengers! We have just received landing clearance for Coronet Central Spaceport and will touch down in twenty minutes. We would like to thank you for choosing CoreFlight Spacelines and wish you a nice stay on Corellia. Please make sure you bring along your luggage and keep your documents ready for inspection by the Corellian Customs Agency. Thank you!"
Donos looked up from the issue of The Coronet Tribune he'd been reading and threw a glance at the blueish ball of his home planet through the tiny window. He hadn't been home for years. A swarm of memories fluttered through his mind, some belonging to the carefree childhood he'd had in a small suburb of the capital, some to the confusing years of adolescence and some to the four years he'd given to the Corellian Forces.
He sighed quietly and made a conscious effort to suppress the images. This was not the time to dwell on the past. He could do that after passing Corellian Customs, not now.
Thinking of the passport controls brought up a new bout of insecurity, a feeling he'd become all too familiar with over the past few days. Being here, flying into Corellia … it all felt alien to him. Not that returning to his home was an unpleasant sensation, it wasn't. It was more the How and the Why of this trip that left him dithering inwardly.
Throughout his life he'd been more considerate than spontaneous. His father had had a long career as Officer of the Corellian Defense Forces. Being a considerate and quiet man himself he'd instilled the same sense for planning and careful consideration in his only son. Myn could remember his father gently lecturing him.
Being spontaneous is a good thing, son. Never give up on spontaneity but don't let it rule your life. By planning ahead you can avoid having to improvise.
He squashed the smile forming on his lips and put on his habitual Sabacc face. He wondered briefly what his father would think of this very trip. It was anything but planned, he hadn't thought it through at all. In a military sense he was practically blundering into enemy territory without having any idea what to expect, what he would do and how he would get out again. He hadn't spent days and nights considering his options – he had acted. Being this spontaneous was alien to him, but on some basic level it felt right, too.
Three days ago the woman who had been Gara the enemy, Lara the friend and who was now Kirney Slane had managed to shake up his already confusing life. She'd shaken him up thoroughly, indeed. He hadn't seen her for weeks, but somehow she'd managed to infiltrate every dream and nightmare he'd had ever since – either teasing him with what could have been or shocking him to death with what had happened. The steady up and down of dreams mirrored the confusion within in his heart. Myn felt himself torn between his romantic interest in Lara and the nagging voice reminding him of what Gara had done.
He'd already come to terms with never seeing her again. She'd told him as much in the message she'd managed to send him. Even though a part of him had revolted against the idea he'd heard the determination in her voice to bring down Zsinj even at the cost of her own life. Her death at Selaggis had seemingly drawn a final line under that chapter of his life. He'd sworn not to forget about her until the day he died, but he hadn't wanted to cling to her memory wondering what might have been. He'd rid himself of one false deity, he would not slip back into old habits by taking on a new one. He owed it to his fallen comrades, to the Wraiths, to Antilles … And last but not least he owed it to himself. But then Clink had shown him a strange holo coming from Corellia.
"Hello Myn. It's been a while since we've seen another."
After watching her message again and again that night the only things he remembered were applying for a leave of absence, booking a flight to Corellia, throwing a random choice of clothes into his old flightbag and storming off to the next spaceport. The greatest obstacle of visiting his home planet had not come to his mind until the space liner had been well underway to Corellia: he was a member of the New Republic Military. Even though Corellia maintained nominal independence from both the Republic and the Empire the imperial factions had gained a lot of influence on his home world after the death of Palpatine. While he was not in the same league as Han Solo or Wedge Antilles there was a chance of being arrested and thrown into prison. Or worse.
For some unfathomable reason he wasn't overly worried about that possibility, though. Corellia was a trade junction and a haven for smugglers and other shady figures. Tens of thousands of people were coming in to Coronet City every day so the chances of him being picked out by the Immigration Agency were very slim. As long as he didn't advertise his current affiliation he should be fine.
A light above the passage into the First Class department flashed and the speakers cackled to life.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! This is your Captain speaking. We're expecting some atmospheric disorders so we'd like to ask you to fasten your seat-belts. Thank you!"
Myn sighed and clicked the belt into place, pulling it tighter so he wouldn't get tossed around by the turbulence. Just what he needed – as if his stomach wasn't making somersaults already.
Pull yourself together, he told himself sternly and took a calming breath. It's not like you're being inserted undercover into an Imperial world.
He wasn't completely without resources, Corellia was his homeworld after all. He still had his parents, his uncle's family and some of his childhood friends to turn to if he snafued something. His father might have been pensioned years ago but Myn figured the old warrior still had some connections to certain people. Yet the Ranats kept gnawing at his innards.
"Nervous?" The voice was manly rough but full of warmth. And dripping with amusement.
Myn gave his neighbor a measured glance from the corner of his eyes and nodded. "A little," he admitted.
"Don't worry," the stranger answered and showed a toothy grin. "It sounds worse than it is."
A corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "I wasn't exactly nervous about the turbulence."
The older man cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. "Bey Valle Ihn fitel fil de Corelli?"
It took Myn a few seconds to sort through his memory for the correct answer. The old Corellian dialect had come pretty much out of fashion nearly half a century ago and while he'd learned it in school he'd never used it outside the lessons. "Jes, Minmin Bey Ihn fitel fil de Ten planeto."
His neighbor laughed lightly, a deep rumble which Myn found strangely comforting. "I'm impressed, son. It's hard to find a youngster who can still speak the High Tongue." He held out his hand. "Kard Venns."
Myn grasped the outstretched hand and shook it. "Myn Donos."
"So how long have you been away from home?"
Donos didn't bother to hide the surprise on his face. "How did you …?"
Venns grinned. "Just guessing." He gave him a thorough up and down glance. "I like to think I can distinguish a soldier from a civvie. Been one long enough, you know. And since you're not in a military transport I don't think you're still with CPD." He cocked his head again. "Flyboy, I'd say."
Myn felt uncomfortable being this … transparent. He wasn't used to having someone read his body language and hit the Death Star exhaust port with the first proton torpedo. "True," he admitted quietly.
The older man laughed again. "Don't worry. It isn't that obvious. Your little secret is safe with me."
Donos grimaced. "Thanks. I guess I should hope the Customs Officers don't have your practiced eye, shouldn't I?"
"Don't worry about it." Venns waved his concerns off. "Leave them to me. I know how to deal with them."
Myn raised his eyebrow and clamped down the urge to snap off a retort. There was a certain edge in the older man's voice, a familiar edge. He'd heard it before, his father had used it, his instructors, Wedge and even General Solo. He knew he had used it, too. It was probably a feature of the Corellian gene pool, something connected to the violent instincts they'd inherited from their distant ancestors. Military training seemed to bring it out, refine it, sharpen it.
He regarded Kard Venns for a few seconds, studying the sharp lines of his massive skull, the angular features of his face, the short-cut brown hair streaked with gray strands and the deep blue of his eyes. Something about this man - A complete stranger, Myn reminded himself. – seemed to suggest complete trustworthiness. His instincts told him that Kard Venns was an akin soul, a warrior like him. But Myn discarded that notion immediately, smashed down walls around his mind to keep these traitorous thoughts at bay. He could not rely on his instincts anymore. He'd trusted Lara and …
He squashed that thought, forcing it into the darkest corner of his mind. It was unfair to think of her that way. Hadn't she proven worthy of his trust? Hadn't she remained loyal while working undercover against Zsinj?
Venns' voice shook him out of his thoughts. "Corellia isn't the same place you've grown up on, son. You've been away for years, I guess. Some things have changed. You'll understand once we touch down."
What is he trying to tell me, Donos wondered. He thought back to his youth, to his father's lectures about the structure of Corellia's security forces. All civilian aspects of public security were combined under CorSec's banner including the everyday police work, immigration and customs checks. Back in his day CorSec had had a spotless reputation. How had his father put it so eloquently?
CorSec is a powerful shield against the evils of this galaxy. Battered, scarred but still unbroken.
"Remember – CorSec is no more." Venns's voice had dropped to a low growl and one of his eyebrows began to rise.
Myn could have kicked himself. He'd completely forgotten about that – even though it had been a hot topic among the Corellians attending the New Republic Naval Academy. He had not paid much attention, though, as he'd been occupied studying for the intermediate exams. "I'd forgotten. Sorry."
"You've not given this a lot of thought I see." Venns sighed and put a hand on Myn's forearm. "Let me deal with the Customs folks. It will spare you a lot of trouble."
For a moment instinct warred with insecurity, trust with distrust. Instinct and trust came out on top, much to his own surprise. He sighed and nodded. "Ok, old man. I'll trust you on this one."
Venns faked righteous indignation pretty well. "Who are you calling old, fledgling? I'm not even sixty!" Then a broad grin split his tanned face, a grin which Myn returned.
As their ship sank further down into Corellia's atmosphere Myn kept his gaze on the fuzzy features he could see outside of the cabin. Far to his right he saw the snow-capped peaks of the planet's highest mountain range sticking out of a solid cloud layer. He'd been there many times, either with his family visiting the Nature Park surrounding the collection of six thousand meter mountains or during excursions as part of his High School curriculum. He remembered trekking through the dark woods at the mountains' foot for days, sleeping in his trusty old tent, living on berries, rationbars and the snackpacks his mother had made. Once, autumn had been about to give way to winter in this part of his home world, his class had gone on a six-day excursion to study the effect of winter on the local fauna, trying to understand how evolution had prepared them to live in a world full of ice and snow for more than six months. He saw a younger version of himself, shoveling snow with a tiny folding spate …
A sixteen year old Myn shoved the spate into the snow, stitching off a straight edge and proceeded to prepare a safe place for his tent. Just as his father had taught him. The spate's blade dug back into the snow and he flung it to the side of the narrow pit he'd dug so far.
The class had set up camp in a narrow gash on the southwestern flank of Mount Shervhan, just above the timberline. At this height a little more than a meter of snow was blanketing the naked rocks below. The steep flank of the mountain was providing protection against the icy winds from the north and a broad rocky ledge above sheltered them from avalanches or tumbling rocks. Around him his classmates were busy setting up their own tents, some small one-person tents like his own, some larger three- or four-person ones.
He turned around and gave the tow-headed girl a questioning glance. "Yes?"
Ihna was trying to sort out the mess of tent poles and ropes. "I think I'm stuck here," she admitted and gave a dejected sigh. "I need help."
"Sure." He trudged through the knee-deep snow over to where Ihna was trying to set up camp. He gave her tent a practiced glance and immediately went to work. "First you need to unroll the tent. You need to know how much space it needs. And after that sorting the poles and ropes is easy."
The girl shot him a mock glare. "Easy for you. I'm not cut for this survival stuff."
Ain't that the truth, Myn thought derisively. Ihna was the child of wealthy parents, unused to manual labor and physical exercise outside of an air-conditioned gym. He didn't know much about her nor did he particularly care. Long ago he'd decided that she was one of those party girlies living on Daddy's money and Mommy's reputation. For all he knew she could probably babble about fashion trends, cosmetics and how cute the latest teenie holostar was for hours. She was living in another world, wasn't part of his.
"You do know you can't just put up a tent on loose snow, don't you? You need to dig a small pit and compress the snow at its bottom."
The girl's face lost all color. "Dig? Myn, I don't have a shovel with me."
Lousy preparation, Lady. He suppressed a sigh of irritation. Knowing her next question he decided to spare her the embarrassment and offer his help. "Don't worry about it. Let me finish setting up my own tent. Then I'll help you."
"You would?" Ihna beamed at him. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome." He pointed at her tent. "Just put the tent where you want it and mark the edges."
The girl nodded and dragged the tent to her chosen spot while Myn turned back to finish setting up his own. He kept working on his own pit, compressing the snow at the bottom to a solid fundament, piling it up on the sides of the pit to offer some additional protection against the wind. He was drilling the last peg into the snow to secure his tent when he heard Ihna scream.
"You stinking little Womprat!"
He whirled around and saw her wiping the remnants of a snowball from the back of her head. Another ten meters away a dark-haired boy was crushing snow into another ball.
"Tsktsktsk … What would Mommy say if she could hear you now, Snow Princess?"
Ihna had finished picking the snow from her bright locks and glared at her assailant. "You're such a jerk, Reid."
Reid laughed and threw the next snowball. It missed but Ihna had already crouched down and was making a snowball of her own. Even before she managed to throw it the whole class was engaged in a snowball fight.
Myn shook his head in exasperation, turned away from his classmates and continued setting up his tent. He ignored a few near misses, shoved his sleeping bag into the tent and put a few finishing touches on his camp. When he was satisfied he grabbed his backpack, pulled a thermos bottle from its depths, took a swig of tea and stowed the backpack in his tent, too.
His teacher approached him. "You're ready, Donos?"
"Would you mind helping the others setting up theirs, too? Some of them have little to no experience with camping."
"Yes, Sir! I'm waiting for them to finish behaving like obnoxious brats, then I'll help Ihna setting up her tent. She's forgotten to bring a shovel."
The teacher chuckled and studied the snowball battle with amusement. Reid and Ihna had locked up each other in a wrestling grip and were tumbling across the snow while they tried to shove the other's face into the white mass below. The other boys and girls were trowing snowballs at each other, howling with laughter or cursing, depending on them being assailant or target.
"Why don't you join the fight? You're done with your tent."
Myn shook his head. "Waste of energy and body heat, Sir." He jerked his thumb at the descending sun. "Another thirty minutes or so and the sun will disappear behind that ledge. Then it's going to be awfully cold."
The older man gave him a long contemplative glance, one that Donos missed completely. Then he put a hand on the teenager's shoulder and waited for Myn to meet his eyes. "It's no crime to loosen up now and then, Myn. You shouldn't be this serious and matter-of-fact all the time."
Donos shivered as the flashback ended and he returned to here and now. He hadn't realized how long he'd locked himself up in that straitjacket of regulations and decorum. He'd been a boy for Sith's sake. What had he been thinking?
"You reading me, Donos?" Kard's voice was dripping with sarcasm. Obviously he'd been talking to him for a while.
"Sorry. Been a couple of systems away," he muttered in apology.
"Never mind." Venns shook his head. "I just told you to stick close to me and let me do the talking."
That certain edge was back in Kard Venns's voice. Myn knew he wasn't suggesting – he had just given him an order. "Yes, Sir!"
"Good." Kard nodded. "Now listen. That new Security Agency is called Public Safety Service. If you think Imperial security is bad you haven't met some of these guys. When the Diktat dissolved CorSec he sent a lot of honorable men and women into the wilderness just because they weren't politically trustworthy. To get a job with PSS all you gotta do is to lick the Diktat's boots, even if you're the scum of society. People say a lot of bad things about Black Sun and rightfully so, but some of these new PSS guys could teach them a thing or two about being greedy." His face took on a decidedly ominous expression. "You'll see."
Myn wanted to ask for some more details but Venns' glare convinced him to wait and see.
So much for that shield against the evils of the galaxy, he thought darkly and turned to look out of the tiny window again. He briefly wondered if CPD had gone through the same washout process but decided not to waste brain time dwelling on it. It didn't matter. He wasn't here to get an update on Corellian politics.
The CruiseLiner turned to port and gave him a grand view over the Corellian capital Coronet City and its major spaceport. It consisted of a large flat duracrete circle of about ten clicks in diameter on an elevated platform just northwest of the city. In the middle a single tower arose above the central flight terminal in the form of a five-pointed star. Ferrocrete bunkers of the CPD, hangars, smaller passenger and freight terminals cowered at the edges of the massive ferrocrete disk while myriads of smaller ships dotted its surface closer to its center.
Myn raised his gaze and took a look at the city stretching beyond the confines of the spaceport. The thin needle of the Lastdark-Club soared above the skyline which looked more ... right ... to him than any of Coruscant's ferrocrete canyons. Off to the left he could see the silhouette of the Governor's Palace, the seat of the Corellian Diktat. Just left of it he could make out the old CorSec HQ complex and the rotunda of Coronet's sports stadium.
Even though Kard's words had stung he couldn't shake the emerging well-being in his guts. Even reminding himself of the passport controls ahead didn't help focusing. He'd come home and that emotion overruled any negative thoughts.
The landing sent a jolt through the ship and Venns stiffened for a moment. "Sorry," he apologized. "Old habits die hard. Had one too many botched landings."
"Any landing you walk away from is a good landing," Myn deadpanned.
Venns glared. "So there is some Corellian blood in you after all." He grabbed a backpack from the luggage compartment above their heads and flung it over his shoulder. "Let's get going."
Myn grabbed his flightbag and followed the older man through the narrow access tunnel and into a rather utilitarian reception hall. High transparisteel barriers on both sides channeled the travelers and herded them towards a set of simple control stations. Each station was manned by a human officer clad in the spotless dark gray of Corellia's new Security Agency.
It wasn't just their uniforms that gave them an air of imperial grandness, even though the style and color reminded him very much of the dull attire worn by Imperial Officers. There was something about their bearing, something he'd seen before on Storinal, Halmad and other worlds. These men – he didn't spot any females wearing PSS uniforms – were trying to appear grand and graceful, not by virtues of their character but through the power they'd been given. Maybe, he mused, this was what drove Imperials into service of that dying colossus. You did not have to be a natural leader, you were given power to act that part.
Kard reached into the pocket of his jacket and held out the document between middle and index finger of his right hand. But underneath Myn thought he spotted the outline of a decent-sized credit coin, which neatly disappeared below the document scanner in the hands of the customs officer. Venns jerked his head at Myn. "He's with me. Had to yank him away from work to visit his parents. He's OK."
Donos kept the habitual Sabacc face in place, for once glad he'd practiced its use so often. He held out his own ID Card, but the officer did not bother to pick it out of his hands. He gave it an indifferent glance and nodded.
"Fine. You may proceed. Welcome to Corellia."
It was not before they entered the main hall that Myn dared to speak up. "How much?"
Myn shook his head. "If this is the new Corellia I prefer to stick to my memories."
Kard nodded in agreement and shot a look at the chrono on his wrist. "Listen, son. I have to hurry. My wife is expecting me and I don't want to be late."
"I understand." He held out his hand. "Thank you, Kard Venns. I owe you big time."
The older man took the offered hand and grinned. "Yeah. Exactly one hundred credits. But don't go all saintly on me and start thinking about repaying me. A chance to trick those PSS nerfherders is worth a little financial investment." He slapped Myn lightly on the arm and turned to leave. "Enjoy your stay."
"Thanks again," Myn called and watched him leave. Then he turned and headed for the turbolifts in the core of the terminal.
From afar Venns watched him enter a turbolift and activated his comlink. "Boss? Kard Venns here ... Yeah, yeah – I should have called earlier, but ... Now don't blame me for that. It's not my fault that you were unavailable. ... Ah, shut it. Listen. You won't guess who I bumped into on my return flight."