Hey, everyone! This story hasn't been bumped up to the top page since the beginning of the year, so I thought I'd give it a boost. If you've already read it, I hope you enjoyed it—if not, check it out! See if you don't burst out laughing, especially if you have a love-hate relationship with the Star Wars: Expanded Universe as I do.
Okay, let's get something straight right now…I'm not a bad guy. I didn't ask for bounty hunters to shoot at me, Imperial enthusiasts to hunt for me, Hutts to torture me, and I certainly didn't want to involve any Jedi Masters in this mess. Who knew everyone would get so up in arms about ancient Death Star blueprints? So, when the blasters start blasting and lightsabers start swinging, just remember…this is not my fault.
Luke Skywalker and the Outer Rim Profiteer
As I dangled twenty stories from a mining tower on the desolate planet of Kessel, it dawned on me that maybe my life wasn't going the way I hoped. Inside the tower, I heard the boom-boom of blasters and the hum of a single lightsaber. A hint of ozone choked my throat; I was getting a slight headache.
What made things worse was the simple irony that I was dangling twenty stories for my protection. Yeah, that's right. The legendary Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker, had planted me here, tying my right ankle to one of the tower's support cords, and telling me to keep quiet.
He was a pretty big jerk, I had decided as the blood continued rushing to my head. After all, I didn't mean for any of this to happen. It wasn't like I was trying to create a new Empire and declare myself Emperor. Only people with an aversion to sanity would want that job.
No. I wasn't trying to cause any trouble. I was a businessman, that's all. I used to be a damn good one, too, when the Rebellion surfaced decades ago. After the Battle of Yavin, the Empire began rampaging the galaxy for Rebel-this and Alliance-that, and didn't pay as much attention to smugglers and pirates and small-timers like myself.
And I was small-time; I knew it, and that was okay. I had settled into that role in the Outer Rim, making a profit in the gambling rings with podraces and my sabacc skills. I rarely had to cheat at all; I was that good.
There was a flash of green, and it snapped my attention back to the present. Skywalker was nearing the tower's ledge. His Jedi robe was missing, leaving only a solid black, Imperial-ish outfit that looked almost sinister for a Jedi. His hair had been combed back a few hours ago, but now it was tousled about like a toddler had grabbed a hold of his head and went wild. There was a streak of blood at the side of his face; he locked his eyes to something I couldn't see.
No more blaster fire—it was just that hum. There was another swing of the saber, and then Skywalker was out of my line of vision. Farther away, a woman cursed, and then, something heavy whooshed through the air. I knew what it was; I had seen it in action. A tail. It was a massive, scaly thing, and its owner was no prettier than it was.
Chyleal. She might have been beautiful once, but her body had been so mutilated with modified appendages, she almost resembled three bodies sucked into one frame. Kind of gross. She released a battle-scream that pulsated my eardrums, and then there was silence.
No humming lightsaber.
No whooshing sound.
Across my ankle, the cording was losing its grip. As I tossed a glance downwards to the barren planet below, I considered again that maybe—just maybe—my life wasn't turning out the way I wanted after all.
On the fear of being cliché, it all started less than a standard week ago. I had been on the planet Ryloth, in the Outer Rim. In a tiny underground facility called the Tas'reen, I was handling inventory for some smuggled Ryloth spices—for medicinal purposes only, of course. I sipped at a cup of hot cocoa on my desk, and checked my crew's budget for the last week. Even with the spices, we were short more than four hundred credits. The Hutt crimelords were beginning to ask questions about their "supplies" and my throat felt like sand from constantly spewing excuses.
It had been that way for awhile. Ever since the Empire and New Republic created their "truce" over a standard year ago, the Outer Rim was being overrun by self-righteous authority figures. Retired CorSec officers and Coruscant security. Then there were the Jedi. Yeah, the Jedi Order had been swelling into an especially irritating presence within the Outer Rim recently, which only emphasized my point—I, Arvis Tasric, am the victim here.
I mean, did I go to the Core Worlds, selling spices and running smuggling trades? No. When a civil war was about to break loose or a crazy Sith was on a rampage, then call in the Jedi. Otherwise, stay out of the way. I was just a small man trying to make a living. Unfortunately, my organization had taken a nose-dive because of all the extra New Republic presence out here, and my crew of twenty had shriveled to a crew of six.
I suppose that was why, as I sat with my cooling hot cocoa, trying to conjure up what I'd tell Fayla the Hutt about why my cargo was half the size it should have been and, 'no, I didn't have the credits to pay her back yet,' that one of my crewmembers managed to surprise me.
Or the simple fact that he tried to race through the doorway to my office as the durasteel slab was still rising, and slammed his head into its bottom edge. With a curse, he sprung a hand to his forehead, but didn't slow his feet.
My brother, Paiden.
I couldn't even remember the other crewmembers' names; they rotated out so much. But Paiden, my dear brother, had been with me for decades now. Dedicated. Caring. And kind of stupid.
My brother was the real idiot of my organization. Most of my successes were based on dealings he didn't know about, and I usually assigned him to lackluster missions I knew would be dead ends. I wish it didn't have to be that way, but the man lacked brains, charm and creativity—and please don't ask me about his hygiene. He had as much appeal as a Hutt with a digestive disorder, and I was stuck with him.
An eyeblink later, Paiden slid to a stop in front of my desk, his lanky body panting, and sweat staining his pits as if he'd just jogged through the Dune Sea.
I sipped at my cocoa. "Trying for that heart attack early this morning, aren't you, Paiden?" I asked.
Slouching over my desk, my brother gasped. Sweat dribbled from his brow to the metal surface below him. I frowned. "For the love of everything sacred in this galaxy!...Paiden, straighten up!"
"Oh!" My brother jerked upwards, and then bowed his head at me like I was the friggin' Emperor.
Now, Paiden did possess one quality that put him above the rest—loyalty. He was the type of brother who would jump in the line of fire for me, which was good, because I really needed someone to do that on occasion.
He was also a former stormtrooper—one of the original deserters from the second Death Star, in fact. Surely, that was worth something. But I think his helmet had been too small or his stormtrooper gear too hot, because he just didn't seem bright enough to let go of the past. He still referred to the New Republic as "rebel scum."
"Get over it," I would tell him, but alas, he never could.
So, as my brother lifted his head and handed over a datacard with as much excitement as he would giving me a shipful of gold, my curiosity flared. Accepting it, I inspected the disk—a memory drive—and then shrugged. "What's this?" I asked.
"That," my brother said, pointing with purpose, "is our path to victory."
"I'm sorry—it's awfully small for a path to victory. You mind telling me what in the worlds you're talking about?"
"It's blueprints to...," he gasped, "the original Death Star."
That got my attention. Straightening up, I flicked my gaze between Paiden and the datacard. "What are you talking about?" I asked. "Where did you get this thing?"
With a sigh—or another gasp (I couldn't tell which)—my brother snatched the datacard from my care and lifted it like it was a precious thing he was showing off. "This is it, Arvis," he declared. "I found it on my assignment to Tatooine. Some Jawas were selling old droid scraps in one of the residential towns...uh, Aching-head, I think."
"Anchorhead," I corrected him.
"Oh...yeah—that makes more sense. Anyway, I got a whole lot of stuff for cheap—started cleaning out some of the droid parts, and—"
"Wait—wait." I lifted a hand. "Are you telling me, that the hundred credits I gave you to reserve a storage unit for our spices on Tatooine, you used to buy old droid parts?"
Paiden's face froze. "Well, there were so many droids for sale. I mean dozens."
"Any actually work?"
"You're missing my point," Paiden replied, shaking the datacard. "I found this in the memory logs in one of the Artoo unit's heads."
"Does its head still work?"
"It has a bad motivator, but I can fix that."
I released a groan, running my hands down my face as if I was trying to rip the skin clear off. He's your brother—no shooting of family members. Mom would never forgive you. Make it look like an accident.
"Anyway," Paiden said with more emphasis. "From the memory logs I downloaded, it looks like this Artoo unit stole this data from another Artoo unit while they were being escorted on a Jawa sandcrawler. Can you guess where?"
"I don't know, Paiden—in the desert?"
"Not just any desert. The farming regions. Moisture farms." Paiden grinned.
As the realization struck me, I lowered my gaze from Paiden's cocky expression to the datacard. I had heard the tale of the Battle of Yavin—how the Rebels stole the blueprints to the Death Star and, in an effort to keep them from the Empire, dropped them down to Tatooine. Luke Skywalker had found them somehow...and the rest was history.
Releasing a breath, I slumped back into my chair. Could the blueprints have been duplicated? Could my brother truly be holding the designs for the most destructive weapon in history?
A minute rolled by, and finally, I brought my attention back to my brother. "Are you sure about this?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah," Paiden replied. "It's them. The Empire's ultimate weapon...and we have the instructions for building it."
Adreline burst through my body—my brain not able to process all the thoughts that suddenly flooded throughout its crevices—and my brother's cheeky grin wasn't helping. Slowly, Paiden extended his hand, swaying the datacard in his grasp like a bully dangling something of value to his victim. Clenching my jaw, I snatched it from him.
In my hands, the dull gray disk shimmered from the lights above, and I wondered...wondered what I could do with a find such as this one.
I wish I could say how I lingered on my decision-making process for days, tugging at the pros and cons, and tormenting myself as no clear answer would surface. Yeah, that should have happened, if I'd realized just how significant my brother's discovery had been. I didn't realize and it didn't happen.
I made my decision before I finished my cup of lukewarm cocoa, and hurried up the turbolift to the docking bay to make a call. The downside of an underground facility—bad communication signals when you're fifty stories below the surface.
Paiden followed like I was pulling him on a leash. In short, he wasn't too happy with me.
"So, that's it, then?" he questioned. "You've made up your mind?"
The old turbolift opened with a clank-shrill, and Paiden and I exited. In front of us was my ship. It might have been Corellian once, but with all the transplanted parts—hyperdrive, converter, modulators—hell, even the pilot seat was an office chair I bolted into the cockpit's flooring—it had become a scrap heap that somehow still managed to fly. Most of the time.
In front of it, my five other crewmembers hauled out bags of spice. One of the women, a Twi'lek named...well, I couldn't recall her name, but she had some nice legs—glanced at me, disinterest covering her features like bad make-up.
Reaching the ship, I boarded through the ramp, Paiden following. We entered the cockpit; brushing away the mess of droid parts, datacards, and old ration wrappers from the console, I flicked on communications and waited for the thing to warm up. On my ship, everything needed at least five standard minutes to warm up.
"You can't do this, Arvis," Paiden insisted.
As I sat at the office/pilot chair, I replied, "Actually, it's surprisingly simple. Turn on communications—open a channel—talk. Yeah, I think I can handle it."
Plopping into the copilot's seat, Paiden opened his hands to me. "You can't sell these blueprints," he declared. "They're too important."
"And that should make them worth a few thousand credits."
"No!" Paiden slapped his armrests. "No—no—no, brother! It was our destiny to find these! With these plans, we could bring solar systems to their knees! Destroy the Rebellion—re-ignite the Empire—"
"Is your collar too tight?" I countered. "I hate to be the bearer of the obvious, but we aren't exactly in the position to build a new Empire."
"We have the blueprints!"
"And what should we do with those blueprints, Paiden? Build another Death Star? Do you know how much something like that would cost? The materials, the contractors—how about the crew to operate the thing? I can't even get my own ship to run right!"
I just shook my head at him. "Paiden, for the last fifteen years, all I've heard about are these goofy stories of Empire wannabes trying to take over the galaxy. There have been two Death Stars, a Sun Crusher, a Darksaber, and a couple other 'ultimate weapons' and the only thing they have in common is that they've all been taken out."
Paiden's frown didn't soften.
I sighed and continued, "Brother, we're not the right idiots for rebuilding an Empire. We're businessmen, so let's do business. We'll sell these blueprints to the first 'I declare myself the new Emperor' moron that gives us a good offer, and watch from a distance as the Jedi come in and purée him. The New Republic will destroy the blueprints, everyone will be just a little bit safer, and the galaxy will continue functioning as normal. Except that we'll be richer for the experience."
"What if you're wrong?" Paiden questioned. "What if you sell these to some crazed maniac, and they actually manage to build a new Death Star?"
I snorted. "Then, the New Republic will just blast it apart. From what I can tell, somebody sneezes down one of those thing's exhaust ports and it'll blow up. What's the big deal?"
Paiden crossed his arms like a six-year-old who wasn't given the new toy he wanted. Communications finally switched to active, and I opened a channel. On a small disk in front of me, blue static shimmered, and then the face of Fayla the Hutt filled—and I mean filled—the holoscreen.
"Your Excellency," I told the Hutt, bowing my head. "I'm honored by your presence. You look lovely as usual."
She knew Basic—I knew she knew Basic—she knew that I knew that she knew Basic—but just like most Hutts, she felt it was beneath her to speak Basic. So, a bucketful of Huttesse came dribbling off her tongue, and even though I wasn't the best at the language, I got the point.
"I understand you're upset," I replied. "And you have every right to be so. I know I still owe you some credits, and I'm working on that right now."
Another mouthful of Huttesse.
I understood that one without even trying. "I really don't want to shove anything up there," I replied with a grimace, "and, I think after you hear me out, you won't want that, either."
A pause, and then she waved a hand at me to continue.
With that, I displayed the datacard. I told her what it was—where it was found, and sure enough, when I was finished talking, there was far less of the 'I'm going to kill you myself' look in her eyes, and far more interest.
"Here's the deal," I told her. "The information I have is worth an entire galaxy on its own, but I'm willing to sell it to the highest—and most honorable—buyer. You're the first person I've contacted about this because I can't think of anyone else who better fits that description. So, if you're willing, put down a bid. I'll keep you in mind when all the other bids come in. If you're the winner, then subtract my debt from your cost, and I'll deliver this datacard to you myself. If not, I will pay you back every credit I owe you, and then some. What do you say?"
Fayla the Hutt remained motionless on the holo. It was difficult enough to read a Hutt's expression in person, but on a holo...I'd have an easier time figuring out a droid's. When she finally opened her mouth, the words that emerged were exactly what I was hoping for.
"You have a deal, Arvis," she said in Basic, and then the holo dissolved.
I released the breath I had been holding.
"What other bidders?" Paiden asked as he rotated back and forth in his chair.
I grinned at him. "Everyone. Anyone—anyone we've had contact with in our business for the last twenty years. Surely someone will give us a good offer."
"I know someone," another voice called from behind.
With a jump, I spun my gaze to the back of the cockpit. Leaning on the doorway's frame, the Twi'lek, Legs, crossed her ankles.
I frowned. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to know what you're trying to sell. Not long enough to know if you're actually legit."
"Oh, we're legit," Paiden replied, clearly insulted. "I found it. On my own."
"Good for you. You've become useful for once in your life."
Paiden flinched in his seat as if a swell of profanities was ready to explode out his lips. I raised a hand for him to cool it, and then turned back to Legs. "It's real," I told her. "Who's the potential buyer?"
"Someone who will give you a better price than anyone you're contacting," she replied.
"Do I know his name?"
"No. And it'd be kept that way."
"So, I'm supposed to trust you with this?"
"You don't trust me now?" On her purple face, a sarcastic grin curved.
"Forget it," I replied. "This information is too sensitive to broadcast to just anyone."
"Except Hutt crimelords, and old smuggler buddies, and con artists?"
I bit the inside of my cheek. Paiden shrugged.
With that, I waved a hand at the woman. "Finish up with the spices," I told her. "Leave the business dealings to the businessmen. Okay?"
Legs didn't appear surprised by my statement. With the ease of a child hopping from a piece of furniture, she pushed off from the doorway, and walked out of sight.
Paiden and I watched her leave, and then, using the console, I closed the cockpit's door. No more interruptions. I had business to conduct.
I contacted the next person on my list—a balding old Wookiee who also happened to be one of the best mercenaries in the Outer Rim. As his image splashed blue on my holo, I smiled at him, and said, "Gripala, my old friend—you're looking great, as usual."
I explained what I possessed, and after I gave him a chance to absorb that information, I told him, "Here's the deal, Grippy. The information I have here is worth an entire galaxy on its own. But I'm willing to sell it to the highest—and most honorable—buyer. You're the first person I've contacted because I can't think of anyone else who better fits that description. So, if you're willing, put down a bid. I'll keep you in mind when all the other bids come in..."
Things were calm for another few hours. The crew finished unloading the spice; I had contacted everyone within my circle about the Death Star blueprints. It turned out to be a productive day.
As nighttime hours loomed, I sat at my desk, checking the last set of bids that had come in from the late afternoon and evening. I had over a dozen offers for the Death Star blueprints. The highest offer was ten thousand, but that was just a starting point. Still, I was a bit disappointed. Fayla the Hutt and several others hadn't bid a thing. Maybe they were waiting for the dust to settle before placing theirs. They were the big-timers, and I knew the real money would be with them.
I was almost ready to switch off my console, fetch my blankets and a pillow from a nearby closet and unfold my sofa into a bed when a message bleeped on my computer. An old Mon Calamari fighter craft was approaching the Tas'reen docking bays I was renting, and it was not requesting authorization to land.
That happened sometimes—stupid off-worlders thought they owned the place. With a roll of my eyes, I sent a message to the pilot. "This is Arvis Tasric; that is my Tas'reen docking bay you're trying to bum, my friend. Turn back around, and find your own landing platform somewhere else."
No reply. I waited about five seconds to see if the ship was planning to leave or brew trouble. When it didn't alter course, I contacted my crew, and then grabbed my blaster. That was one thing I wasn't frugal about. It was a DL-44 heavy blaster pistol; Han Solo had one just like it, although I never mentioned that fact to Paiden.
I hurried to the turbolift and ascended. By that point, the Mon Calamari ship would have entered the docking bay, arguing with Legs or another crewmember about no security passes required, and therefore, they had a right to park their ship there. Of course, in the Outer Rim, hardly any docking bays chipped in that extra security as they did in the Core Worlds, so it was a common problem.
That was what I expected. When the turbolift doors parted and I stepped out, what I assumed was happening in the Tas'reen docking bay was definitely not the case. Blaster bolts flashed across the bay; the Mon Calamari vessel—a typical hybrid of a ship made from various parts like mine—was already at work. Its turboblasters were sparking red. Most of my crew—Paiden, Legs, and two others—were underneath my ship's ramp, aimlessly blasting away with their weapons.
As I viewed the chaos before me, my heels whipped back around to the turbolift. The doors had already closed.
"There he is!" a voice shouted.
I didn't get a chance to spin back to the docking bay before blaster bolts hammered into the turbolift doors right by me. With a gasp, I dropped myself to the floor.
"Arvis!" Paiden screamed, barely above the entourage of firepower.
"Help!" I shouted, wiggling away from the turbolift.
The spice cargo was by the back wall. If I could just get behind the boxes—
"Arvis Tasric!" the same voice called out again—this time I was certain it came from the Mon Calamari ship. "We're ready to blow your ship, your crew, and you into bantha fodder unless you surrender yourself to us right now!"
Me? Why me? I hadn't done anything.
"Stop crawling and order your crew to cease fire!" the man ordered.
Two of my crew instantly dropped their blasters. Hands flew up in the air.
But that wasn't Legs' reaction.
"Forget it!" she screamed back, and from her blaster rifle, a wave of red splashed across the Mon Calamari's ship. The two surrendering crewmembers were shot down. Watching her, Paiden caught on, and from his E-11 stormtrooper blaster rifle, the docking bay flashed more crimson light.
It wasn't much help, but it was enough. As Legs waved a hand for me to hurry to them, I managed to get off my belly. Like a new-born dewback, I tottered on hands and knees to the underside of my ship's open ramp, and collapsed beside Paiden.
"Are you all right?" my brother asked.
With a gasp, I nodded.
As I un-holstered my own weapon, and set it to its max setting, I asked, "What do these guys want?"
Legs spared a glance at me. "What do you think?" she said as she kept firing. She had picked up one of the fallen crewmembers rifles—one for each hand now. "They want those blueprints you acquired earlier today!"
I caught my breath. "But," I replied, "I only contacted my circle of friends."
"Well, they aren't too friendly now," Legs said. "Are you gonna help or what?"
With a shake of my head, I aimed my blaster. Fired. It caught half a meter from one of the turbolasers, causing about as much damage to the hull as a pillow to a human.
As I continued firing, I studied the ship, trying to recall someone—anyone—I knew with its design. After another minute, I exclaimed, "I don't think I know these people!"
"They seem to know you!" Legs came back.
With a groan, she ducked underneath the boarding ramp, and snapped in a new power cell. She glared at me. "Do you have it on you?" she asked. She was referring to the datacard with the blueprints, of course.
Between blasting—half-aiming—and blasting again, I shrugged. "I left it in the ship—in the cockpit."
Legs' mouth dropped. "Are you serious? You just left it laying in there?"
"I didn't know this would happen!"
"All right—all right!" Legs shouted, and then flicked an eye towards the enemy ship. "This is what we do," she instructed me and Paiden. "On the count of three, we jump up and start shooting like crazy people at that ship. Just enough time to get up the boarding ramp."
"Our boarding ramp or theirs?" Paiden asked.
Legs set her jaw. "How about you go up theirs and we'll go up ours?"
"No!" I grabbed Paiden's arm. "She means our ramp. Ours, Paiden!"
"Ready?" Legs called as she began firing at the ship again. "On the count of three. One—two—three!"
We burst forth from the underside of the boarding ramp. Battle cries bellowed from our lips; our blasters heated the air as deadly red bolts erupted from the barrels. The stench of ozone invaded our nostrils. The Mon Calamari ship's turbolasers hesitated.
Up the ramp we darted. Into the ship's corridors. Barreling around a corner, I pressed the ramp's release. Halfway blasted apart by laser-fire, the ramp still managed to lift almost three-fourths up. The shields would have to do the rest.
"Come on!" I shouted to Legs and Paiden, and we bolted towards the cockpit.
The ship jittered from our enemy's blasts; the lights blackened and then started again. We reached the cockpit.
"We need to get out of here," I told them, plunging into the pilot's chair. In the copilot seat, Paiden dropped down and stashed his rifle under the chair.
"Where is it?" Legs called from behind us.
It wasn't so much her words as her tone that caught me. As red sparks splashed the cockpit's exterior, I reeled around to her.
Both blaster rifles were aimed at my face. I frowned.
"Only people you could trust, right?" Legs shook her head. "Well, Arvis, from the blasters aimed at you outside this ship and the ones inside it, you seem to be a very bad judge of character."
I looked her over and replied, "I guess so."
"Where's the datacard?" Legs asked again.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because my master wants it," she explained. "And I plan on delivering it to her."
I motioned my head towards the enemy ship. "So, you're with them, huh? I should have figured."
The woman groaned. "No, Arvis, I'm not," she snapped back. "They're probably from one of your friends, who most certainly put a bounty on your head, and someone's come to collect."
"I noticed your sarcasm when you said 'friend'—"
"You don't even know what you have in your possession, do you?"
"Something that makes people want to shoot at me?"
"My master will do far worse than any bounty hunter. She's on her way as we speak, but unfortunately, a New Republic fleet and a pile of Jedi have held her up."
My eyes widened. "A fleet?"
"Yes, a fleet. That's who I'm working for—someone who could actually do good with those blueprints, but, no...you had to broadcast your discovery to everyone in the Outer Rim! So now, I have to do this all on my own."
The ship swayed with blaster fire. Legs gestured to the ship's controls. "The datacard, Arvis. Which one is it?"
I followed her gesture. On the console rested our heap of junk, and I spotted the datacard Legs wanted. Another quake of enemy firepower; alarms sounded throughout the cockpit.
"Give me that card, Arvis, or we get to die together," Legs insisted.
Slowly, I rotated my chair back to her. "What happens after I give you the datacard?" I asked.
"I'll leave the ship," Legs replied. "I can manage escaping one enemy craft. You'll never see me again."
When she spoke, Legs' face had barely twitched. Barely. But I noticed it, and I knew what it meant. She was lying. She'd kill me and Paiden once she got what she wanted. It would be easier for her that way.
I had to stall. Skipping my gaze around the cockpit, I tried to conjure up something impressive. But as the blaster bolts outside picked apart my ship and Legs' blasters remained hooked on me like the woman was a statue, I licked my lips. "I forgot which one it is," I said.
Legs sucked in a breath as if I tried to slap her.
I lifted my hands in defense. "Look around! We're slobs—is it that hard to believe?"
Legs bolted forward. She pressed both blaster barrels against my nostrils, making me look like a Gamorrean. "Give me that datacard now!" Legs screamed.
This is where my brother makes up for his lack of brainpower. As Legs became enraged by me, Paiden wasn't listening to what she was saying. He was waiting for the moment when Legs forgot he was even there, and she was close enough for him to strike.
And strike he did. With both hands, my brother grabbed her blasters' barrels, and heaved them upwards. Red lit up the cockpit's ceiling, and more sirens blared. Legs yelled profanities, but even with his skinny frame, my brother was strong. He ripped one of the blasters away from Legs with the expertise of any old stormtrooper, and then whipped it around with the barrel pointed her direction as she tried to aim the blaster she still possessed.
My brother was faster.
A blaster bolt burned into Legs' chest. She toppled.
On the floor, she remained, the stench of burnt flesh suffocating the air.
Looking at her, I gasped. "Paiden," I said. "That was...that was amazing."
"We need to leave," Paiden replied, and returned to the copilot's seat. Sweeping all the mess from the console, his fingers danced on the controls. The ship hummed as the hyperdrive and engines switched online.
Leaning over, I brushed away the jumble of electronics until I found the datacard. Paiden's datacard.
Another spatter of red, and then a symbol blazed orange on the console.
"Hyperdrive!" Paiden shouted. "It's been hit!"
Gritting my teeth, I exclaimed, "Why is it always the hyperdrive!"
"Go, brother!" Paiden told me. "I'll hold them off here."
I furrowed my brow. "What do you mean—?"
"This ship might make it to space," Paiden replied. "If I can get them to follow me, you can escape into the Ryloth passageways. You don't need me for that!"
"No!" I came back. "I'm not letting you die for me!"
Paiden's gaze collided with mine. There wasn't intellect or wisdom in his eyes, but there was plenty of loyalty. And love.
With that, I lifted the datacard. "What about this?"
"Leave it," Paiden replied. "If they find you with it, they'll just kill you and take it. Without it, you can make something up. Tell them it was destroyed with me...which won't even be a lie."
Drooping in my chair, I just shook my head at my brother, not able to fully take in what he was saying to me.
Across the cockpit, another flare of scarlet beams. Another warning siren.
"Go, Arvis!" Paiden shouted. "I've got this!"
Standing, I rested a hand on Paiden's shoulder. "If you manage to survive, brother, go to our rendezvous point. You got that?"
"Go, Arvis! Go now!"
With one more look at my insanely heroic brother, I raced out of the cockpit. Down the corridor, all the way to the exit ramp—by the time I reached it, Paiden was blasting the crap out of the other ship. The noise of blaster bolts thundered throughout the docking bay like the walls themselves were screaming protests. I dove to my belly and then slithered down the open part of the ramp. The energy shield allowed me to pass and I tumbled into the docking bay. No blaster bolts soared my direction. My brother was keeping the other ship busy, and I rushed away, passed the boxes of spice, and then jammed my finger on the button to the turbolift. I dared one more look at my ship.
It was hovering now, as was the Mon Calamari vessel. Waiting each other out. Then, my ship blasted away from the docking bay, the enemy one pursuing. The turbolift's doors parted and I entered. I descended to my office, where I'd grab a few personals, an extra blaster, and then get out of there.
Inside the lift, the quiet was almost as bad as the noise from the battle just moments before. I reached my level and departed. The turbolift's doors hadn't even closed before I realized I wasn't alone.
Again, I had no chance to hop back into the lift. I couldn't un-holster my weapon. No, the three people in the room already had their blasters targeting me.
With a frown, I raised my hands to my head. "So," I said as one of the men approached and snatched my blaster from my belt. "You thought of everything, didn't you? The docking bay and my office. Very nice."
Sitting on my office desk, the husky Bothan male expressed a puzzled look. That's when I knew; they weren't with the others. This was an entirely new group. They had entered from somewhere else in the Ryloth passageways, and didn't even realize what had transpired in the docking bay above us.
"My name is Rowisk," the Bothan spoke. "There's a twenty thousand credit reward on your head—for you and a datacard. I was told you'd know what I'm referring to. I'm here to collect."
My mouth dropped. "Twenty thousand? I haven't even gotten a bid for more than ten!"
The Bothan shrugged a shoulder, strode from the desk to me, and then pointed his blaster at my chest. "Where's this datacard?" he asked.
"I don't have it anymore."
"That's bad news for you, my friend. Where is it now?"
"Not with me."
With that, the Bothan set his blaster to stun. "Then, you can tell that to Fayla the Hutt. In person."
There was a flash of blue. I'd never been stunned before, but believe me, that sucker stung. I fell unconscious to my office's floor before I could complain.
End of Section 1 of 4