The Jedi Purge
The execution was a simple affair.
At noon the notices went up outside the Imperial military bases and Civilian Planetary Police stations. The spectacle itself was transmitted on global television at the command of the regional governor.
"How do you feel?"
"The risk of execution is an occupational hazard for one of his convictions."
"Shut up "Jedi", or I just might turn you in as well."
"That implies you might not."
Petri spun on his left heal and backhanded the Jedi across the face. In the old days it would have been an act of bravery or stupidity. The price would have been imprisonment if not a vicious retribution on the spot. Now it only served to ease Petri's temper.
The Jedi took the blow well, rolling with it as much as the restraints would allow. When he straightened his face showed no signs of injury and his eyes no sign of anger. His captor turned and stalked away from the Imperial army base they had only just arrived at, dragging the Jedi behind him.
Petri was feeling mean. He walked quickly, each stride eating up the ground. It was too much for the Jedi to match with the restraints. They got half way down the street before Petri heard the thump of a falling body and, surprisingly, a swear word.
Kelly looked up at his captor who, surprisingly, was laughing.
"You're a Jedi? One of the great protectors of the Old Republic? Nice to know you're only human." Petri turned away with a particularly dirty chuckle.
Kelly looked up at the bounty hunter. One cheek was red where he had landed. From what he had seen of Petri he guessed that the man still had a conscience. Under the mask the bounty hunter was probably still a young man.
"Come on, we haven't got all day. How can one of the great Mind Knights of the Old Republic be so slow getting to his feet? Then again, maybe that's why there are so few of you left."
Kelly felt a sudden flare of anger towards this man, this mercenary who made a living out of blood money. Underneath the armour they were probably much the same. Yet while Kelly's training had made him serene Petri's experience as a bounty hunter seemed to goad him in the opposite direction. For as long as Petri had held Kelly in his power, Petri had never failed to provoke his prisoner at the slightest opportunity.
Petri dragged Kelly to his feet and Kelly considered using the opportunity to slam his tormentor against a wall. Despite the temptation, he did not. Kelly knew that he would lose any fight with his hated keeper for as long as he was kept in restraints.
They walked back to the space port because no taxi would give a lift to a bounty hunter with a prisoner. When they got there the skin on Kelly's legs was blistered from the chafing of the restraints.
Petri hauled Kelly into the docking bay where the ship was sitting like a drunk beetle. The bay was shadowed and uncomfortably warm.
"What, ya didn't turn him in?" The speaker was Chainy, Petri's unwilling and unequal partner. "Are we going to take him some place else?"
"Shut up" replied Petri.
"Didn't they want him?" Chainy was around thirty, but always acted so nervous that he seemed much younger. Watching them both carefully, Kelly was sure that the main reason Petri never took off his mask was that he didn't want Chainy to discover which of them was older. "Hey," Chainy just didn't know when to quit, "Does this have anything to do with them executing that guy?"
"The old guy. The one you handed over the Navy."
Petri grabbed the space pilot by the shirt. "What guy?"
"Nothing, forget it." quaked Chainy. The pilot raised his hands and backed off. Petri let him go and began stalking towards the ship. Chainy followed a few steps behind him.
"Only I heard ya didn't get paid for that one."
"Well, even if ya didn't paid I figure I deserve something." Petri spun round and faced Chainy again. "I mean, I took ya between all those worlds. Without permits. I didn't even ask any questions."
"You did nothing but ask questions."
"But ya never answered." Petri advanced on Chainy, who backed into a wall.
"As I understood it," Petri observed, "my part of this deal was that I wouldn't turn you in. The Solars still want you for smuggling."
"I swear I'm innocent."
"I'd say you got the best of the deal." Petri turned away from the smuggler. "Anyway," he snarled over one shoulder, "since when where you ever innocent of a smuggling charge?"
"Since I went to Mentilental. The local Solars..." But the conversation had drifted beyond the range of Kelly's enhanced senses.
The young man gazed around the docking bay. Over in the corner the diminutive figure of Chainy's engineer was working on something complicated.
Mos Eisley was a small creature, but Chainy treated him with reverence, rather than the nervous respect he conferred on nearly everyone else. That alone was enough to win Kelly's interest. Petri, on the other hand, treated Mos with the discourtesy he handed out to all beings less powerful that himself.
For his part Mos contented himself with playing with the complex engines on the "Stag Party". He had a quiet contempt for anyone who couldn't repair a hyperdrive while blindfolded and a barely hidden mistrust for human kind in general; including Chainy.
"I've had enough of this. You can find your own ship." The outburst from Chainy was startling. Kelly turned in amazement.
"Do you really think you have any say in this?" Petri demanded in angry disbelief. He had Chainy up against one of the ship's support legs. "Are you really that dumb? Get the ship ready to take off." Petri turned and walked away, leaving a humiliated Chainy behind. "You don't go anywhere." he ordered Kelly as he passed on the way out.
Chainy stood next to Kelly, staring after the bounty hunter. "You know," he told the would be Jedi, "I'm tempted to just take off without him."
"I don't blame you. Don't though. He's regretting something for the first time in his life."
"Strife! You're the last person I'd expect to make excuses for him."
Kelly looked after the departed bounty hunter with a pained look about his eyes. "I could easily have turned out a lot like him." he explained.
"You could turn out a lot like Gamma." Kelly looked up at the mention of the recently executed man's name.
"I don't think it'll come to that."
"From what I've seen ya mostly okay. Why don't ya come with us? Moss could probably get those", he gestured to the restraints, "off, no trouble at all."
"He would only report us to the Solars." Kelly looked up, a sudden interest burning in his eyes. "I'll take that offer about the restraints, though."
Mos had a habit of keeping his distance during arguments, now he took the center stage. He sat cross legged on top of the strange repulsor lift droid that served him as a platform.
"Tricky." He remarked in a high, rough voice. "Best to leave it until I've got the right tool. And the plans to this type of lock."
Without a sound Mos returned to his earlier work. Behind him Kelly hung his head in disappointment.
"Aw, don't take it so hard." advised Chainy. "He won't keep ya in those things forever."
"No." agreed Kelly. "They'll take them off when he hands me over to the Solars. So he can slap them other poor... Forget it. It's not your fault, and you can't do anything about it."
Chainy left the younger man alone out of sympathy. He joined his Jawa engineer at one of the work benches, where a vital part of the ship's hyperspace drive was undergoing repair.
"How come you wouldn't open the handcuffs?"
Delicate hands froze over their work and then started to slowly fumble with the tools they were holding. It gave Mos time to think.
"I've seen ya fix things like that. For a wager over a round of drinks. And I don't mean early in the evening, neither."
"Now didn't seem like a good time. Besides; even if Petri isn't the safest company, he has those things on our friend there for a reason."
Chainy nodded to himself. It sounded fair enough, and if that was the way Mos wanted it, that was the way it would be.
Kelly had been listening to their conversation with his force improved hearing, mostly because he had nothing better to do. Suddenly there was a deafening crash. Covering his ears with his hands, he looked up from the landing support that Petri had chained him to.
Smoke hung around the entrance to the docking bay. A second blast caught the floor about midway between the ship and the door. Smoke curled towards the ceiling from the tiny creator in the landing platform.
Kelly gaped towards the open blast doors in amazement. Repeated blasts sounded from outside the bay. As the red tracery flickered back and forth outside the bay, Chainy shook off the paralysis of surprise and ran to the ship. Only as he passed did Kelly wonder weather they would take off with him still chained to the landing gear.
The noise outside paused, as though to catch it's breath. Kelly looked desperately to the engineer, Mos, in the hope he could persuade the tiny creature to release him.
The Jawa was at the blast door.
Mos stretched tall on his droid platform. The control for the bay doors was in his grasp. With a twist of his nimble fingers the heavy blast doors began to slide close. Petri slipped between the monolithic slabs a shear second before they came together, forming a seamless wall.
"Get away from there!" Petri yelled at Mos.
Mos barely had time to fall backwards from the door control before it exploded in a shower of sparks. Petri fired a second time to make sure the blast doors would stay shut and ran for the ship.
He met Chainy coming the other way.
"It's no good." Chainy told him. "The drive's in pieces."
Both men looked to the engineer.
"Did you have to take the engines to bits today?" demanded Petri.
"Routine maintenance. Want drive failure in space?" Mos snapped back; his vocabulary suffering under stress.
"Right now I'd settle for taking the risk." Chainy told him. "How long?"
"Half an hour. Sub-light's okay. It's just hyperspace motivator on workbench."
Petri looked to the blast doors. They wouldn't hold for long. The ground hogs were probably already working on them. From behind him the engines, minus their powerful hyperspace drive, began a high pitched whining.
Chainy appeared in the ship's doorway. "I've started the warm up sequence. All we need is somewhere to go." he told them.
"Then we go." Petri started for the inside of the ship.
"No, no." Chainy blocked his way, hands raised in supplication. "If we just take off we could find anything up to a star destroyer waiting for us. Mos, get the sensors running. Find out what's up there."
"Er, while we're waiting." Kelly rattled the restraints.
"You'd better un-chain him. What ever we do, we can't very well leave him there."
Petri growled at the pilot; he didn't like letting Chainy run the show, but the ex-smuggler experience left him little choice. Pulling the key from his pocket, Petri undid the restraint that held Kelly to the ship.
Mos met them half way into the ship. "No good." he announced. "Two customs ships orbit, another down here."
Petri looked to the smuggler. Chainy was running a hand through his tangled hair. His expression was one of despair.
"There's no way we can get past two guard ships, never mind three."
"Is there any way we can take two down?" Petri asked.
"You've got to be kidding."
"Those things are armoured, shielded..." put in Mos.
"And even if we could we'd end up with the navy on our backs. Never mind every bounty hunter that can read a wanted bulletin."
"I have a solution." All eyes turned to the Jedi.
Kelly held out the restraints and shook them to make his point. His audience exchanged debating looks. Finally, as an ominous noise came from the blast doors, Chainy nudged Petri in the side.
"Well go on then. Not like ya going to get a chance to turn 'im in now."
Reluctantly Petri held out the key and undid the security cuffs. The Jedi held out one hand, ready to receive something.
"My light-sabre." he prompted.
Petri gritted his teeth. "After you tell us your plan." he tautly replied.
Kelly nodded to the "Stag Party". "Your ship has robot pilot?" he asked Chainy.
The heavy hyper-alloy of the blast doors weighed tons. The circuitry that controlled the powerful hydraulic rams had been roasted. Without it opening and closing the doors meant a lengthy repair job.
When the doors finally started to slide open the planetary police already knew that it was too late. Their com-links were buzzing with the news of the Stag Party's illegal take off. Through the shield doors they hadn't heard a thing.
The crew on the "Honest Truth" had not expected the "Stag Party" to make a fight of it. When the smuggler lifted out of the space port they were surprised, but not unready.
As the captain called for the Stag Party to surrender the second in command noted that the smuggler had it's shields up. He warned the tractor-beam crews that the target would be "slippery"; he warned the captain that the smuggler might have hidden weapons.
The Party curled upwards in a clumsy attempt to avoid the waiting guard ship.
The Truth's tractor beams locked onto the fleeing ship. The energy beams struggled, fighting the shields for a hold.
As the battle began the Party's drives flared. Truth's tractor beams grappled with the smaller ship, the beams twisting to follow their target.
The Party gained distance, the beam gunner fearing that he would lose the target altogether if he tried to match the awesome kick of the ship's engines.
His ploy was to no avail.
Part of Truth's hull obscured one of the tractor beams. Automatic safety systems cut in, preventing the tractor gun from tearing loose of it's mount.
The second tractor followed the Party round as it soared above the Truth. It's grasp on the ship failed thanks to the powerful deflector shields.
There are good reasons why it's illegal to open up with a sub-light drive in an atmosphere. Even with the right suppressers the electromagnetic noise from the drive is enough scramble communications, sensors and computers.
The waste particles that the drive emits combine, producing noticeable radioactivity. The best reason is that a sub-light drive can move a ship fast enough to burn up with atmospheric friction. The shock waves of such a thing could flatten small buildings.
Though the ship had escaped the first of the security cruisers, it was out of control.
The shields barely held back the wall of superheated air, a second's weakness and the ship would be flayed. The hull would buckle under an immense pressure of the ship's own making.
As the Party hammered it's way through the sky like a rising comet, the two waiting cruisers charged their weapons. They spread out to compensate for their target's unpredictable course.
Close behind the beleaguered ship was the "Honest Truth", working in overdrive to make up for it's earlier failure. Between the three cruisers there would be no escape.
The Party never even hesitated in it's uncontrolled rush for the freedom of space. Under the battering of the atmosphere it found itself directly before one of the cruisers. The cruiser fired even as it twisted out of the on-rushing ship's path.
The "Stag Party" took the blast head on, as pure light tearing through the feeble remains of the energy shields. It punched a hole in the side of the ship, but that wasn't enough to stop the vessel's desperate bid for freedom.
Without slowing the crippled ship plunged out of the planetary air envelope. By sheer fluke the Stag Party's escape became a real possibility.
The commander of the Cyclone, the only ship that the Stag Party had not engaged, was having none of it. Sub-light engines blazing, the cruiser quickly chased down the small freighter.
Cyclone's ventricle and dorsal blaster cannons flashed terribly and the Stag Party's engines fell dead.
Within moments the two other cruisers were upon the hapless fugitive, but by that time it no longer mattered.
The circus in the docking bay below had almost wound up. With the Stag Party's departure there was little for the police to examine or even see.
The news that the ship had been captured finally wound things up. The men idling around the empty bay left the door as it was and headed back for headquarters. The only thing that they left behind to guard the crime site was a yellow cordon tape and a tiny camera-recorder.
Petri threw back the hatch on the garbage can. Chainy had wailed at the thought of losing the ship, but Petri had left him no choice. Let Kelly sooth the smuggler if he thought it important.
Behind the bounty hunter Mos's repulsor lift platform hummed into life. The tiny Jawa rose out of the garbage can, his glowing eyes hidden behind sunglasses.
The bounty hunter crossed the room as Kelly helped Chainy out of the garbage. Mos drifted after him, but his eyes were on the Jedi and the pilot. Would Chainy be needing an engineer, now that his ship was gone?
"You can't leave." Kelly yelled after Petri.
The bounty hunter stopped and turned to listen. Progress, thought Kelly.
"Damn right you can't." put in Chainy. "What about my ship?"
"If you just walk out someone will report you and we'll be back were we started."
Petri seemed to mull this over before agreeing with it. He shook his head as though trying to shake off exhaustion. "How do we get out of here without being seen?"
Kelly was already looking at the garbage cans that had hidden them so far.
"How do they move those things out of here?"
"They use robo-loaders. Same kind that unload ships." replied Chainy.
"Can we get one in here?"
"Sure, just use the terminal. But the deck officer might get suspicious if looks at the docking bay number."
"Supposing we asked it to be delivered next door? We could intercept it."
"Robot loaders aren't that smart. I doubt we could persuade it."
"No problem." the humans turned to the Jawa, who was posing smugly on the repulsor-lift droid. Kelly shrugged. Chainy seemed pleased. Only Petri was less than satisfied. Mos cocked an eye at the bounty hunter, who explained what was worrying him.
"You're pretty distinctive. You step out there - I think we're going to get noticed."
"I'll send the droid. It can handle this." Mos bowed and spoke to the platform droid in his own language. The droid sank and Mos hopped to the ground. He sent the droid on it's way, knowing that he was in safe hands.
The droid had been the first thing Mos put together after leaving Tatooine. It was the best thing that could happen to someone living in a world of giants. It put him on their own level, literally. Without it he would spend his days getting elbows in the eye and being treated like a child. Mos looked after it, hoping that everything would be alright. Without it he wouldn't be able to reach door switches.
The loading droid arrived ten minutes later, with the platform droid in close attendance.
Mos breathed a sigh of relief and Petri put his gun away. Chainy put their feelings into words: "Well, I guess we made it. We out smarted them."