Anything you recognise is either JK's or George/Disney's. Anything else is probably theirs too.
The little blue Twi'ilek's confirmation of my identity actually seemed to echo in the large, airy chamber. I raised a hand and pinched the bridge of my nose. I briefly considered denying her claim, but my plan to get paid twice over relied on me not doing so. "HK, I don't have the words for this, so do me a favour and ask them – in the most insulting manner you can personally devise – whether the words 'I'd like to remain anonymous' are anything more than a collection of unintelligible syllables to them, or they actually want me dead, or if they are all just sodding morons."
HK dutifully translated, and judging by the sudden variety of pinched, pissed and pink expressions around the room, he got the tone I was after just right. Oddly, the Queen seemed surprised at the question, rather than ashamed. I ignored the flood of objections in lieu of excuses, and thought deeply.
I had been invisible, silent and odourless; as undetectable as I could be on short notice as I freed the slaves. Yes, I'd woken each up and asked for their name and origin, but I'd done that as nothing more than a disembodied voice from their perspective. Even after transfiguring each back from a bead, I made sure they were still insensate. Even wizards would have been hard pressed to identify me. How the hell could the girl have done it?
Well, without Mad-Eye's eye, of course.
Or Dumbledore's spellwork, I mentally added.
I sighed. Not for the first time I wondered about an invisibility cloak reputedly able to hide the wearer from Death, a force classically considered impossible to evade. It had quite a few flaws. I mean, even Snape could detect my presence with Legilimency.
I snapped my head up. "You are Jedi," I spat at the young Twi'ilek.
The blue skin on her cheeks took on a faint, purplish hue. She glanced at the Queen for support.
The Queen seemed surprised by the accusation. "Yes Captain, this is Jedi Padawan Aayla Secura," she said with diplomatic aplomb. "Is that a problem?"
But before I could answer, another voice entered the conversation.
"Are you not a Jedi yourself, Captain?"
I glanced over at the speaker. A woman in her early middle years. She seemed familiar somehow, and that confused me. I hadn't exactly met many people in this time.
"Minister Schrieffer? Do you know the Captain?" the Queen asked.
The woman lifted her chin, and in that moment I knew exactly where I'd seen her – that is, her nostrils – before. Standing up to the nose-less bully with the bad fashion sense and the squad of pathetic, and easily disposed of, droids.
"We have not been formally introduced. I was on Coruscant during the occupation, where Senator Dodd took exception to my public claim that the Trade Federation had illegally invaded Naboo. The Captain used his Jedi abilities to destroy a squadron of Dodd's battle droids that he was using to threaten me."
All eyes in the room turned in my direction. I sighed deeply and turned to HK. "See? I told you that the universe hates me," I said in English.
"Observation: It does stretch credulity that of all the trillions of meatbags in the galaxy you would run into one your actions inadvertently benefited. I trust that you will also attract those who wish you harm."
I grunted. "You better believe it."
"Captain?" the Queen interrupted. "Is that true?"
That seemed to puzzle her. "That you came to the aid of my Cultural Minister on Coruscant."
I shrugged, trying to find the words to explain. "Some droids were making a fuss. The hotel Twi'ilek was too busy with the fuss to give me a room, because of droids. So I threw the droids out of the door. He gave me a nice room."
The woman called Minister Schrieffer's jaw dropped. "You… saved me… simply to get a room?"
I shrugged again, unsure if I'd understood her correctly. I figured it hardly mattered. "Sure. Why not? Now, can we move on? Before I get hunted?"
Panaka perked up at that. "Hunted?"
"Yes, hunted," I spat. "I tried hiding the slaves so no one find out it was me who took them. Now you shout out to everyone here that it was me. I just want my payment and to go."
The Queen's eyes narrowed. "Payment, Captain?"
"Yes," I insisted with a nod. "Your man Bibble sent me to do job. I was planning job when I found slaves. Some were Nabooan. So I thought you prefer me to bring them home."
Her expression did not change, though that may have just been because the heavy makeup had plastered her face into an immovable lump. "Your command of Basic has improved." She turned to Bibble, her eyes flashing. "A job, Councillor Bibble?"
"Perhaps this is not the place," the bearded bureaucrat began, eying the large number of people in the throne room.
"Oh, I see!" I said in an unnaturally loud voice. "Having my secrets in front of people is good, but not your secrets."
Anakin kicked my ankle. The Queen shot him a look of thanks.
She turned back to Bibble, her eyes threatening.
He swallowed, and chose to sanitize his story. "I received an anonymous tip regarding the location of our cultural artifacts and artwork stolen by the Trade Federation. Rather than waste our limited resources, I requested that the Captain determine the truth of the rumour." With a deprecating shrug, he continued, "I asked that if it were possible, that he return as much of our heritage as he was safely able."
I sort of followed that, and it didn't sound quite like the bargain I remembered making. Despite the tale's refinement, the Queen's voice was disapproving as she responded, so I figured I could ride the wave of her annoyance.
"I see. We shall discuss this at length in session. What exactly did you promise the Captain in return for his services?"
I interjected, pointing up. "The pirate ship attacked us."
The Queen actually frowned, almost cracking the plaster on her brow. "I don't understand."
Panaka cleared his throat. "The pirate's ship that attacked the Captain's ship was impounded, Your Highness. As the pirates are not Nabooan, the funds obtained from its sale would offset their legal costs. At Captain Harry's request, the ship was his fee."
"I see. Captain Panaka, please ensure the vessel in question is transferred into Captain Harry's name." She turned to me. "The safe return of thirty-six of our citizens is worth any ship and more. You have our sincere thanks."
I nodded, fighting back a grin. That went better than I expected. I didn't normally expect idealism in someone at the head of a government. That was normally burned out of them long before reaching that level. I tossed her a lazy salute. "Thanks. Have to go now. Start flying away from Hutts."
The Queen squared her shoulders, an amusing attempt to show strength on someone so slender. "Your secret is safe with us."
"So it take hours, not minutes, for Hutts to find out," I said wryly with a shake of my head.
"Everyone in this room has my full confidence."
"My teacher was killed by man he had full confidence."
That shocked her. "I assure you-"
I interrupted her, much to the assembled crowd's indignation. "She is Jedi," I spat, pointing at the blue Twi'ilek girl. "She will tell other Jedi. They will not keep secret," I said. Several people objected to my manner and were vocal in their disapproval. "When two people know secret, it is not secret."
The gathering broke up soon after that. Everyone involved had better things to do than to attempt to assuage my indignation. Anakin and Shmi were bundled away by enthusiastic admirers, while I was chased down and thanked profusely by the other slave in the room. It took imagining her with a layer of sandy dirt on her face to recognise her as the nursing mother singing the lullaby that attracted Anakin's attention.
Panaka gave a group of his guards some curt orders, and HK and I were taken to a room with some bureaucrat-droids where we were instructed to fill out some paperwork. Well, computer work, I'd not actually seen a sheet of paper anywhere in this time.
A lot of it confused the droids, especially when I told them I didn't know what planet I was from. I gave them what information I deemed innocuous, but in a galaxy of over a hundred billion stars, there were thousands of cataloged yellow stars with four rocky inner planets, four gas giants and only the third planet inhabitable. Even when you added that the nearest star was in a triple star system, it didn't narrow the field down far enough to be useful.
Who'd have thought that my Astronomy classes at Hogwarts would come in so useful?
I guessed that given the innumerable species in the galaxy, there had to be protocols for dealing with unknowns. I was right. Unable to confirm my identity, the droids eventually relented and transferred ownership of my new toy, though it took quite some time.
My droid and I were led to a speeder and taken out of the city to what appeared to be a hastily constructed staging area for ships. A few queries to the speeder driver revealed that Naboo's current need for construction materials and supplies had drawn pirates and other undesirables to the sector. However, with the reconstruction a visible symbol of Senate power, they weren't going to allow anything to delay the efforts. Several task forces had been dispatched, resulting in the capture of other pirate ships.
My face split into a smile as we drew closer. I could see my new ship sitting proud to one side of the collection. It was larger by far than the others, over a hundred metres long. On the ground from head on it looked like a gigantic raptor with its wings spread, mantling the prey it was gorging on. As we drew alongside, the profile looked like a coiled lion ready to spring.
The temporary scaffolding on her hull detracted from the look somewhat.
I jumped off the speeder as it came to a halt and strode ahead of my escort, eager to touch her again. We were met at the main airlock by another group of guards.
Anyone would think that Panaka didn't trust me.
Despite the bloodstains and burn marks that clearly mapped HK's path from the airlock to the bridge, the ship's interior was fantastic; all chrome, silver and white. Exactly like what I imagined a space ship should be. I could hear my footsteps echo through the metal deck in the otherwise silent space.
Panaka was waiting for me on the bridge, a squad of soldiers with him. He held up a small disc, above which hovered a translucent blue Sio Bibble. "Here is your prize, Captain. I hope you enjoy her," the hologram said, almost sincere.
I nodded, fighting back a grin. "Thank you. What happened to pirates who owned before?"
Panaka answered. "Their fate is not your concern. You have your ship. She has been transferred to you. You simply need to name her before you leave the system."
I smiled, knowing exactly what to call her. "Her name is Gryphon." Half eagle, half lion, and all very significant to me.
Panaka's stance suddenly turned predatory. "I would suggest that you outfit the Gryphon with weapons as soon as you are able. And upgrade the engines and shields."
I sighed. And there was the double-dealing. It's so very often the same with new clients. No matter how often I hope otherwise, unless I personally know the individuals, they often try to rip me off the first time we do business. "She has weapons. She fired weapons at us before."
"Ah yes. That was true. However, the original weapons and propulsion were stolen, re-purposed military-grade hardware, and as such, not permitted on a civilian-registered vessel."
I turned to HK. "I'm not sure I got that. Did he just say he'd taken the engines and guns off because we weren't allowed to have them?" I asked in English.
"Translation: Yes Master. It appears that the ability to deliver above a specific level of destruction officially requires some sort of bureaucratic oversight. Barbaric."
I grinned nastily. "Well then, I guess we'll go with plan two," I said in Basic.
Panaka lost his smile. "What?"
"You are in default," I informed him.
Bibble's image glanced between HK and me. "Explain."
I rubbed my hands together. "I have your art. All of it."
Bibble and Panaka both blurted, "What?" at the same time.
I raised my own holorecorder and pressed the button that produced a floating image of the pile of art and artifacts, with me standing in front of it holding a couple of the smaller pieces. It caused quite a satisfactory stir among my audience. "I took all your stuff from Gardulla. I took slaves to cover the theft. But you don't have my payment for the art. So you are in default."
Bibble almost shouted at me. "You did not mention this!"
"Sorry," I lied. "My Basic is still very bad." I had no doubt that my smirk would drive him into further indignation.
Panaka cleared his throat. "You have your ship. Where have you stored our heritage?"
I shook my head. "I have art. You don't have the Gryphon to pay me with. You are in default," I repeated.
I could easily imagine the colour of Bibble's face, even behind the hologram. "But, we gave you your ship!"
I nodded. "You did. For freeing slaves. But now I need payment for art. You promised me the Gryphon for the art. But she is not yours to give now." I clapped my hands together and rubbed them animatedly. "So, let's talk about new terms. Me having big weapons to put on my ship will be a good start point. That might get you, oh, say three art pieces back…"
HK was invaluable in the discussions. Not only was he fluent in the relevant terminology, he had a mercenary streak that rivaled mine. Having a lightning fast memory aided too, when debating the relative value of each artwork being returned.
Panaka turned all sorts of interesting shades in the first five minutes.
Apparently, the Gryphon's scavenged weapons and components had already been cannibalized for parts; not surprising given the ravenous appetite for rebuilding Naboo. The best we could extract was an official government-backed chit for the highest civilian-grade weapon and propulsion system installations on the shipyards of Corellia. Wherever that was, it was going to be our next destination.
I left them to it, and explored my new prize. I mapped out and placed an identical ward scheme to my old ship, so that Anakin could be aboard without cringing anytime I used magic. Lightening wards carved into the bulkheads in certain places would make her nimble and fast, even with non-military grade engines. Magic was so damned useful.
I returned as HK wrapped up by haggling for the purchase of a number of astromech droids from Artoo's model line. A few of them would be worth an army of mechanics. Bibble's hologram had vanished on some errand.
It turned out that he went and complained to his mother or something. I got a call from Anakin as the final agreement was reached.
"Harry, why aren't you giving the Nabooan's back their stuff?"
I sighed at his naivety as I jauntily waved goodbye to a fuming Panaka. "Is that what the Queen told you?"
He nodded with a frown. "She said that you were holding their art hostage for upgrades to your ship!"
I weighed that statement. "I suppose that's true, as far as it goes. Did she tell you that she had the ship stripped of guns, engines and shields before giving it to me?"
"She wouldn't do that!" he objected. He gave it a second's thought. "She couldn't have! She didn't even know about the ship until you told her!"
"Her people did. They took all the weapons off and most of the engines before we got back. So tell the Queen that I always deal with clients the way they deal with me. Honesty for honesty. Dealing in bad faith just gets them burned."
Surprise blossomed on his cherubic face, but he kept his voice clear. "If they give you back all the ship's components, will you give them all the artwork back?"
I shook my head. "No. They're paying for the inconvenience now."
"If they hadn't removed anything from the ship, would you have given them all the art?" he demanded, sounding very disapproving.
I shrugged. "I dare say so. But we'll never know, will we?"
Normally, I resisted working again for groups who tried to screw me over. It took a monumental multiplier to my usual retainer for me to even entertain the notion. However, individuals belonging to such a group could earn my trust.
The French, for example. Despite those in positions of power being pleased with my initial good work, they treated me very shoddily after I spent some quality, unchaperoned time with Auror Chief Devereaux's wife. However, Jean-Sebastian Delacour continued to treat me with respect. He was more than happy pay my fees on time and without question. He wasn't naïve enough to let me alone with Gabrielle, or Apolline for that matter, but he was the only reason I did any more work for the French Magical Ministry at all.
Bibble and Panaka had pretty much poisoned my well of good will towards Naboo. But once the negotiations were wrapped up, I got a call from the Cultural Minister with the impressive nostrils. She wanted a charter to Coruscant for herself and a large retinue. I got the impression she was unused to the austerity measures in place and preferred to travel in luxurious comfort on a ship not packed full of equipment and supplies destined for a building site.
I informed her that the Gryphon was heading to Corellia next for some much needed upgrades. She paused, but deemed the destination acceptable and asked for a quote. I queried her seemingly flexible destination requirements, but she assured me that chartering a suitable civilian transport ship to Coruscant was far easier from Corellia than Naboo. I shrugged and gave named a figure per passenger head. Surprisingly, she accepted it without haggling. She was probably spending other peoples' money.
The previous owner of the Gryphon was something of a voluptuary. The Togruta had kitted out his quarters in all sorts of colourful things that appeared opulent and comfortable; and not entirely unlike a brothel I once visited that was trying too hard to appear high-class.
My upbringing had left me uncomfortable with that sort of hedonistic lifestyle. I was far more like the pirate crew's first mate. Like the Trandoshan owner of my first ship, his cabin walls were decorated with scores of trophies, bones and scorch-marked armour; clearly items of personal interest and accomplishment. I moved into that one due solely to its proximity to the bridge. It could have been a broom closet for all I cared, given I could literally make my own space; room dimensions being a matter of personal taste to a proficient wizard, after all.
So, I was happy enough to accept the Nabooan Minister's money in return for the previous captain's bunk. I did blink a bit when she turned up at the head of a convoy of floating trucks containing nearly eighty people, lots of crates of supplies, plus a couple of dozen droids. While she was snobbish to the Nabooan guards Panaka had posted outside my ship, she turned on the charm to greet me.
I couldn't help but wonder at the security risk as the droids unloaded the cargo. I objected briefly, unwilling to carry unknown equipment. The droid in charge helpfully opened the crates and unloaded dozens of collapsible bunk beds. At my direction, the beds were sent to a cargo bay to be set up, and the mob marched towards the Gryphon. Only a handful of individuals were dressed as opulently as Schrieffer. The rest were…
Dozens of former slaves trudged up the Gryphon's ramp. They each carried an identical kit bag, presumably containing a couple of sets of clothes and other basic items.
Two figures broke away from the rest and came over to me, their smiles lighting up the day. Shmi looked ten years younger after access to Nabooan medical technology. Her skin looked smooth and healthy, with the numerous small sun-damaged spots removed. Her hair was shiny and clean, let loose to flow down her back instead of tied tight. On a desert world like Tatooine, water for washing was a luxury few could afford. And sonic showers only did so much.
She and Anakin were clothed somewhat more elegantly than the rest of the freed slaves, in the latest Nabooan fashion. It was disconcerting seeing them in colourful clothing.
"Harry, my mother and I have been asked to go to Coruscant," Anakin said.
I raised an eyebrow. "You don't want to stay here? I'm sure the Queen would love to have you around. She seems to like smiling at you."
Anakin blushed, and I tried hard to hide a smirk. It was fun to tease young lads with crushes, doubly so while in front of their mother. "It would be nice, but the Chancellor has asked that we tell the Senate about the extent of the slave trade in the outer rim."
I looked at the mass of nervous souls boarding my ship. "Are all of you doing that?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so. Most are going to Coruscant to petition their embassies for passage home. A few are from planets with diplomatic ties to Naboo, and they're being sent home directly."
I looked over at Shmi. "What will you do after that?" I asked in Basic. "Where is home for you?"
She smiled, blushing with pride. "I have no home. I have been a slave since I was a child. The Chancellor has offered me a position on his staff. Anakin will go to school before the Jedi begin his training."
I nodded. "Excellent. Shall we settle up now?" I asked.
"Settle up?" Anakin responded.
"Your wages," I clarified. "Both of you."
Both blushed, uncomfortable with the concept of remuneration. "That won't be necessary," Shmi started.
I held up a hand to stop her. "No, if you work for me, you get paid. End of story. Come on."
I led the pair to my new quarters where I'd hidden most of the credits and portable valuables.
"Shmi, I had HK check what the rates for a ship's cook was," I said, pulling out a line of credits I'd assembled earlier. "This is for a week while grounded on Tatooine and the trip to Naboo." I pulled out another line about half the size. "And this is the pay for a cleaner for the same time."
Shmi's mouth dropped open. "I can't accept that."
"That's what you're owed. It is your money now. Now, Anakin…" I grunted as I pulled out a heavy container and plonked it down on the desk with a resounding thud. I opened the lid and started pulling out credits.
"Right, for fixing and assembling HK, I used a Master Mechanic pay table I found in the ship's log. You also get pay for Ship's Navigator for Telos to Naboo, and then Naboo to Tatooine and back. Co-pilot rates for the same period. Since we got shot, I've added a combat multiplier for our first run to Naboo. I added leasing an astromech droid for the round trip to Tatooine, Artoo was very useful."
Anakin blinked at me, then down and the small mountain of credits that dwarfed his mother's own pile. "But… you paid to free my mother."
I nodded, tapping the side of the container. "I took that out of your dividend."
He looked unsure. "What's a dividend?"
I grinned and tilted the box to show him the rest. It contained a few dozen of the smaller trade bars from Gardulla's treasury. "A share of the profits from a contract job."
One percent did not sound like a lot of money, but that appeared to be standard for an officer crew member, according to the pirate ship's log. Grunts got a quarter-percent. Still, with how much I'd taken from Gardulla, Anakin would barely be able to physically carry his pay.
Shmi looked on the verge of hyperventilating. "What is this?" she breathed.
I shrugged. "The last job was very profitable," I replied in Basic. "Now, if you are interested, I would like to hire you both for the trip to Coruscant. Shmi, I need a good cook for all the new mouths to feed. You can hire helpers if you need them. Anakin, I want to hire you as co-pilot and navigator."
I smiled at the looks on their faces. The idea of being self sufficient and independent was all well and good, but that ability led directly to self-respect.
Pride and dignity were priceless to those who had never possessed them.
Admittedly, I had ulterior motives for offering them continued employment. I trusted Anakin as much as I'd trusted anyone I hadn't grown up with. He had an earnest honesty that was painfully familiar. And Shmi, while not possessing skills beyond menial, had been nothing but forthright with me. Finding trustworthy crew to run my ship would be difficult, and I wanted to keep them as long as possible.
It occurred to me that the slaves who'd taken the Senate's offer of passage back to Coruscant may also be interested in gainful employment. I'd need to let them know I was responsible for their rescue, but since the cat was out of the bag already, it probably wasn't to my benefit to still keep quiet.
The Gryphon would need far more people to crew her than I had. Technically, just like a luxury yacht back on Earth, I could pilot her alone – albeit, with help from HK. So long as I picked a random direction. And wasn't attacked. Or didn't resupply.
But crewing her would enable me to both get the best out of her and leave me with time to enjoy her. The pirates had a crew of twenty-six manning her, though twelve of them were purely combat mercenaries. I wouldn't need to hire quite that many. Once I took delivery of all the droids I'd bought it would be easier. Artoo was capable of maintaining my old ship by himself.
Time was at a premium. The sheer number of tiny little things I needed to be aware of on a ship this size was mind-boggling. Surprisingly, it was the talkative droid Anakin built that helped the most. C-3PO, despite his undressed appearance giving off a sense of being incomplete, was fully capable of keeping track of the most intricate logistics. It was almost worth putting up with his constant need for validation. I'm sure the Skywalkers would be pleased with yet another fee for renting their other droid.
My temper started to fray when I learned that the minister had left the ship on some personal errand. Anakin stopped me from calling her and saying something undiplomatic.
"Harry? There is someone who wants to see you."
I frowned and looked up from the computer. "Odd. I can't imagine that I've made so many friends here that some would want to say goodbye."
Anakin rolled his eyes. "No kidding. It's one of the slaves you freed. She's in the second cargo hold." He said in an accent as pure as if he'd been raised in Surrey with me. He gave me an odd look. "It's the Twi'ilek dancer."
I didn't respond for a second. "Any reason she hasn't come looking for me herself?"
He gave me a blank look. "She has always needed permission to do anything."
I felt a renewed rush of anger at the Hutt. "Huh. Okay, I'll go see what she wants. Are you and your mother all settled in?"
"Yes. We didn't have much to move from the other ship."
I nodded. I'd already moved all my stuff by apparating between the ships. It had taken a while, but now the other ship was little more than a empty crate, albeit an impossibly light one. I'd paid a homesteader to keep it on his property until I returned to retrieve it. I had no particular attachment to it, but it was an asset I may be able to use in the future.
The artwork and stuff was on board the Gryphon and would be transferred to a Nabooan freighter at Corellia. It was a convoluted plan, but necessary to make the Nabooans believe their artwork wasn't sitting under their noses. "What about our other passengers?"
He shrugged. "Most of Minister Schieffer's staff are in their quarters, but we are still waiting for her and a few others to get back. All the ex-slaves that are going to Coruscant or Corellia are on board."
I started towards the bridge's exit. "Good. If our employer deigns to grace us with her presence before I get back, feel free to take the helm and lift us off." I wouldn't' put it past Bibble to dream up a new docking fee just for me.
His eyes glittered with a spike of excitement. "Really? You'd let me pilot the Gryphon?"
"Sure. You showed me that you can fly. Once we're in orbit, calculate the hyperspace routes and get us on our way."
He nodded and almost hurled himself into the pilot's chair, radiating anticipation. "I can do that from here!" he burbled.
I shook my head, turned and headed in the other direction. It took me over a minute to make the trip to the cargo bay.
Several of the hold's occupants rose almost to attention as I entered. I nodded to them before spotting the woman in question. She was dressed far more demurely than she had been every other time I'd seen her. Despite the lack of flawless skin on display, her form was perfectly evident under her new Nabooan clothes. She paced nervously across the hold
I stepped closer to her. "Hello," I offered in Basic.
Despite her evident nervousness, as soon as she noticed me she assumed a submissive stance; feet close together, hands clasped in front of her, head slightly lowered. Her eyes were slightly larger than a human, but that made her beauty even more exotic. She spoke a few words, but I recognised only that they were in Huttese.
"Bugger. This isn't going to work. Come on, let's go get a translator." I gestured for her to follow.
She nodded with a smile, and followed me out of the hold. We were halfway back to the bridge before she said, "Thank you."
I stopped. "Do you speak Basic, or just some words?"
She swallowed, but replied haltingly. "I… I understand Basic. But I was not… permitted to speak in any language but Huttese. It is a… habit."
I felt a sudden urge to go back and see if I needed to humiliate that damned Hutt some more. "I'm Harry. What is your name?"
She bit her lip. "Gardulla called me Kalumi Nari."
That was an odd way of answering, but that could just be due to her inexperience with the language. I reached out with a tendril of Legilimency. "But that is not your name," I stated.
I felt a sense of great loss. "My mother named me Kalu'minari."
It sounded like the same name to me, but run together and with different inflection. "Sorry, I don't understand."
"It has much different meanings on Ryloth."
I paused. "What is Ryloth?"
She looked at me with a serene expression, but I sensed her confusion at my ignorance. "My home-world."
Ah, so not every species followed the convention of naming themselves after their planet. That might make things more complicated. "Sorry, I know little about the galaxy. But you are free. What name do you want to use?"
She took a deep breath. "Kalu'minari. And I am free thanks to you."
I hesitated. Exactly how did she know that? "You are welcome," I offered tentatively.
She took another deep breath, apparently readying herself. "I am free to thank you."
She drifted closer. "I want to reward you," she clarified, her eyes wide and inviting.
Oh. Right then.
My entry into the world of seduction and romance emulated my magical education quite well. I started with much ignorance, trepidation and failure, but excelled once I threw off the shackles of convention and taught myself, using every advantage I had. The Deathly Hallows were to magic and power as fame and wealth were to seduction. Once I dove headlong into experiencing it, I found no end of willing partners.
It helped that I learned to passively use Legilimency during physical intimacy; the ability to tell when you're doing something wrong was priceless during first encounters. Though there were limitations. I found it too confusing to use when entertaining more than one woman at a time, for example.
But it also broke my habit of automatically putting women on a pedestal. Very few I met had the morals of someone like Hermione. Most were far more interested in the status I'd bring them than me personally. Though I suspect that was probably due more to the kind of women I habitually associated during my work than anything.
Kalu'minari was no stranger to eroticism – that was clear. A slave with her beauty and grace would no doubt be used by her owner in all sorts of degenerate ways. But our passion was very one-sided to start with. Where she was anxious, even desperate, to please and pleasure me, she was almost puritan when I reciprocated. I concluded that she'd been trained not to respond to her own pleasure.
I explored her glorious body slowly and gently, using my magical sense to determine what she liked more than her physical reactions. Massaging her twin tentacles produced one of the most intense responses I'd ever witnessed. The look of surprise on her face as she shuddered and gasped through an intense climax was extraordinarily satisfying.
She was energetic, lithe, limber and acrobatic. And her tongue… Oh my.
Having spent the last few weeks celibate, my first release was as intense as I'd ever experienced. My second was easily in the top ten. I lost count of the times Kalu'minari lost control; after her first climax the figurative floodgates opened.
After a long, sweaty session we lay together, limbs and tentacles entwined. I vaguely wondered if inter-species sexual relations were a social taboo. Not that it was unheard of in the magical world; Hagrid and Maxime were cases in point. Or even Fleur and Gabrielle for that matter. But times changed, and societal norms changed right along with them. Given how quickly she jumped my bones however, I figured it wasn't considered too wrong.
As my breathing returned to normal, I finally heard a hum that had been waiting for my attention. The hyperspace engines.
"Oh. We're on our way. Are you going to go back to, er, Ryloth?"
Kalu'minari lifted her head slightly to look at me. "I have no place. I will follow you if you allow it."
I did not need Legilimency to recognise the hero worship in her eyes. It looked so similar to a twelve-year-old Ginny's that my stomach almost cramped with homesickness. But I did feel a sudden flash of intense fear from her. She was terrified I'd abandon her. "You don't want to make your own path?" I asked.
She lowered her head back down to my shoulder. "I do not know. I have nowhere to go."
I caressed one of her glorious tentacles. "I am not wanting a, er, life-mate?" I suggested, not knowing the right words. "And I am not wanting a follower."
Though her demeanor did not change, I felt a sudden spike in dread through the fading link.
"I do need people to work for me," I clarified. "The Gryphon needs people to work her."
She swallowed. "I do not... I have no skills to work on a starship."
I suppressed a laugh. "Neither do I. We can learn together. But first, how did you recognise me? Did you remember me from Tatooine?"
Kalu ran her fingers over my chest, gently ruffling the fine hairs. "I didn't, no. I remember falling asleep and then waking on Naboo."
"Then, who told you that I freed you?"
"Aaylas'ecura told me."
I felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the cool cabin air. The name was similar enough... "Aaylas'ecura... do you mean the little blue Twi'ilek girl?" I demanded.
Kalu drew her head back in fright at my sudden vehemence. She swallowed and lowered her eyes submissively. "Yes Master."
I almost leapt upright. It was repellent to hear those words directed at me from a living being, but that revulsion was quickly overtaken by a rather urgent security concern. "I'm not your- argh! Is she on board?"
Her beautiful face showed fearful incomprehension. I realised I had shouted in English. I took a deep breath to keep my frustration in check. "I'm not angry with you. Aayla is a Jedi. I thought she was staying on Naboo."
Kalu looked skeptical. "A Jedi? She was bought a few days before you freed us." She suddenly looked ashamed. "I tried to keep her from being punished, but Gardulla was a harsh Mistress."
That's it. Next time I was on Tatooine, I was going to do the universe a favour.
I rolled out of the bed and dressed as quickly as I could. Kalu watched in apprehension, but did not interrupt. Once I had on pants and a shirt, I grabbed my wand and dashed from the cabin.
As I stomped down the corridors of the Gryphon, I also made a mental note to double-check any future passenger lists. I'd invited the crowd of ex-slaves on as a whole, meaning that the little Jedi apprentice could have come aboard without being subjected to the exclusion wards.
A single weapon discharge echoed through the ship, the sound tearing the silence. A pained, panicked scream took up the gauntlet.
I stopped mid-stride and wrapped myself in a shield. I was morbidly surprised that fate hadn't gone the endlessly entertaining coitus interruptus route.
The shot had come from the bridge. I heard Anakin's offended shouts. HK's dulcet tones provided a calm counterpoint, but I couldn't make out what he was saying over the sheer volume.
I apparated directly there. Nobody noticed my arrival.
HK stood serene as a mature oak tree amidst the carnage, his massive weapon held in one hand and pointing at a slumped Gungan on the floor. The Gungan's left leg was missing from mid-thigh; the burn-marks on his clothes clearly indicating it had been blown off. The rapid blood loss was a hint that the wound had been received quite recently.
HK's other hand was gripping the little blue Jedi's throat. He held her aloft in a grip tight enough to turn her face purple. She struggled feebly, scrabbling at his mechanical fingers with her hands and swinging her legs ineffectually at his body.
Anakin was kneeling next to the Gungan, trying to staunch the blood while simultaneously shouting at HK.
Artoo's dome spun wildly as he swayed from side to side and squealed. C-3PO flailed around in one corner, adding further unwanted decibels.
Minister Schrieffer stood in the entrance way to the bridge, one hand over her mouth, the other over her heart. Her scream of fright turned into a stream of denunciations at HK.
And just think. A few minutes ago I was having such a good time.
I lowered my wand. "What's going on?" I demanded.
Anakin snapped his head around, shock at my presence clear on his face. "Harry! HK shot Jar Jar!"
The Gungan in question hadn't stopped shrieking. He could have been wailing in that bastardized version of Basic or just generally wailing. I couldn't tell.
I raised my wand and cast a blanket silencing charm.
Immediately there was a blessed lack of sound. Angry and frightened expressions turned startled.
"Enough," I spat firmly. "Everyone shut up. HK, what is going on?" I asked my droid in English, figuring that he'd be the most unemotional of the participants. I released him from the charm.
"Answer: I apprehended this Jedi attempting a holocommunication with the Jedi Temple. The Nabooan meatbag objected to my actions and ordered the Gungan meatbag to force me to release the Jedi. I pacified him."
I looked at the pathetic figure on the floor as he shivered in shock. "You don't think that may have been overkill?" I asked, indicating the wound. I cast a crude field-healing charm that stemmed the flow of blood from an open wound.
"Negative: There is no such thing as overkill, Master. 'Open fire' and 'is it dead?' are the only sane options when threatened."
I rubbed my forehead wearily. "Of course. Anakin, could you-" I stopped, interrupted by Minister Schrieffer. She bore down on me in a panic, reaching out towards me with one hand while clutching at her throat with the other.
It was a common enough reaction for a Muggle; a lot of people get that way when they're first introduced to a silencer. I stunned her, determined to stop the situation spiraling completely out of control. "Anakin, could you please get your friend to a bacta tank. Get C-3PO to help." I released the boy from his silencing and conjured a stretcher.
"But he's still choking..." Anakin started.
I held up a hand. "HK, let the Jedi go."
The Twi'ilek fell to the floor, landing on her knees. She clutched at her throat, coughing and sucking in deep, raspy breaths.
"Right, Anakin!" I snapped, getting his attention. "Go and get your friend medical attention now! We can sort out who did what and why after he's stable."
The lad gave me a curt nod, HK a dark glare, and C-3PO a summoning gesture. The droid moved over and helped Anakin lift the Gungan onto the stretcher. They left the bridge, heading for the medical bay.
I looked back at the Jedi child. It was somehow odd to wait for someone's colouring to return to blue after being choked. Once her breaths became less laboured, I stunned her too, and then dispelled the rest of the silencing charm.
A truncated scream from Artoo turned into a relieved bleeping.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "I should have stayed in bed with a nice, naked Twi'ilek."
"Observation: Events were escalating into violence quite satisfactorily before your arrival, Master."
"So I gathered," I grumbled. I looked around the bridge. Apart from the large scorch mark on the floor, a spreading pool of blood and the mangled remains of what presumably used to be a Gungan leg, it looked as I'd left it. "Did she manage to contact the Jedi Temple?"
Artoo beeped obligingly.
"Translation: The call was connected but no verbal data was exchanged before it was terminated."
I plonked myself down in the pilot's chair. "Okay, it's public record that we're heading to Corellia from Naboo. It's also not a secret that we don't have much in the way of defences. I'm assuming that by placing the call, the Jedi can tell where we are in our journey. How long until we get to the next waypoint? That would be the place for an ambush."
Artoo beeped wildly.
"Disagreement: With two young Force sensitive meatbags aboard, we are a prime target for both the Jedi and Sith, especially since each previous attempt to confront my Master ended in their humiliation or death."
I glared at the astromech. "How long until the next waypoint?" I repeated, not in the mood for verbal games.
Artoo beeped with a tone of revulsion.
"Calculation: One point two three standard hours, based on the designated heading and hyperspace velocity for a vessel of the class. Query: Should I chastise the droid for failing to answer your query?" HK asked, hefting his hand-cannon and pulling a lever, generating an ominous hum.
Artoo spat and blurted some disgusted tones.
"Interjection: Do not presume to threaten me!"
I glanced over at the recumbent forms as the droids bickered. I'd have to wake Schrieffer soon. She was paying the bills, after all. Perhaps I should change course and go direct to Coruscant. We could drop off everyone then and hire an escort to Corellia.
The Twi'ilek Jedi though... I'd have to neutralise her. I was tempted to turn her back into a bead until I could toss her through the Jedi Temple doors. Though if I did that, Kalu would want to know what happened to her.
"Enough you two. I'm going to take our sleepers back to their cabins. Stay here and don't dismantle each other." I thought a bit then asked HK in English, "Get Artoo to check to see if anyone has put something in the Gryphon's computer to track her."
"Redundant: I have already performed a full sweep of the systems. But I shall instruct the ambulatory tin can to audit and scan the ship's modules."
Figuring that was the best I was going to get, I nodded and then started tidying up. I vanished the detached limb, scourgified the blood and soot and repaired the floor. I then used a basic healing charm on both stunned females to take care of their respective bruising. HK's mechanical fingers left far more vivid damage around the Twi'ilek's throat than Schieffer's contact with the floor. A couple of Mobilicorpus charms later, I left the bridge with them floating along behind me.
I stopped at my cabin checked on Kalu. She hadn't moved from the bed. It seemed that it was going to take a bit of effort on my part to convince her that freedom meant something different to what she was used to. "Could you wear clothes and come with me?" I asked her.
She nodded and gracefully rose to her feet. Even speaking as someone comfortably experienced with the female form, it was a delight to watch her dress.
I led my odd group to a spare cabin. "I don't want to, um, keep Aayla," I said, struggling. "Not lock her up. She needs to stay here. Can you stay with her?"
Kalu nodded. "Yes Master."
I swallowed the nausea. "I am not your Master," I said flatly. "My name is Harry."
She looked uncertain, but nodded. "Yes my lord Harry."
I nodded. It would do for now. "Right. How many years are you?"
"Do you mean, how old I am?" she asked. At my nod, she said, "Nineteen standard years."
"I do not know. Perhaps fourteen. Definitely less than sixteen."
That would do. I levitated the Jedi over to the bed and began tracing a line around the edge of the room. It glittered as I charged it with magic. "Tell her not to step over this."
"As you wish."
I sighed, but let that go. I left the Twi'ilek pair and took Schrieffer back to her cabin. The members of her retinue were alarmed at her insensate form, but I assured them she was fine and I would wake her momentarily.
The expansive bed was quickly made available. I lowered her onto it and waved my wand, enervating her. Her eyelids flickered open.
She made the usual disoriented sounds. Her eyes locked onto mine and she blurted something before latching her arms around my neck in a manner not unlike Hermione.
The surprise and familiarity of it made me pause. But with fame came groupies, and I was used to sudden rushes of attraction from females. Schrieffer recovered, drawing back with an apology. "I am sorry, I don't know what came over me. Please forgive me," she offered.
I cleared my throat and decided that pretending that it never happened would be easiest. Ignoring the assorted smiles and snickers from the small audience, I asked, "Are you all well?"
"Yes, thank you. What happened? This is my cabin. How did I get here?"
I smiled encouragingly. "I brought you back. I hope you can tell me what happened."
She returned my smile. "I wished to speak with you, to thank you for your actions on Coruscant; even if you had not done them specifically to assist me."
She spoke clearly, but quickly. I had trouble keeping up. "Please, be simple. My Basic is still not so good."
She nodded. "I went to the bridge to look for you. As I waited, Jedi Padawan Aayla arrived. She asked young Skywalker if she could make a holocall. He agreed, but your droid malfunctioned. He grabbed Aayla and began choking her." The Minister's voice began filling with emotion. "I begged Jar Jar to help the poor girl, but your droid crippled him."
I nodded. "Anakin took Jar Jar to the bacta tanks. He will live."
Relief flooded through her. "Thank the Force. You must decommission that droid of yours. It is a menace!"
"He is meant to be a menace," I pointed out. "I do dangerous things. He is very useful." I held up a hand to stall her objection. "I will talk to him. But I need to go to bridge now to make sure everything all right."
HK hadn't moved. I took the pilot's seat. "Can you call Anakin? I want to talk to him."
Without responding, he reached out and pressed a few buttons on a console. A few seconds later, a holo of Anakin appeared above the main communications console. "Harry?"
"How is your patient?"
Anakin turned to look at something off screen. "Stable. But we need to get him to a proper hospital."
I rubbed my chin. "Do you think it would be quicker to travel to Coruscant or Corellia from our first waypoint?"
"We have to pass Corellia to get to Coruscant," he said. "Both are core worlds, but Corellia is on the near side of the galactic core. Coruscant is on the far side."
"All right. Thanks. Come to the bridge before we get to the first waypoint. I'm going to drop us out of hyperspace a little early."
"Why?" he asked, surprised.
I grimaced. "Intuition. I don't want to suddenly appear in space where everyone expects us to be."
"Um, okay. I'll be there soon. I'll get my mother to look after Jar Jar."
"Good. Tell me, did you give Aayla permission to make that call?"
Confusion blossomed in his guileless eyes. "Yes. She just wanted to call the Temple to let them know she was safe."
I raised an eyebrow. "It didn't occur to you that she would have done that while back on Naboo?"
He opened his mouth, then shut it. "Oh."
I nodded. "Oh, indeed."
He frowned. "Why did she lie to me?"
"Maybe you should ask her yourself."
I grinned wryly. "Not to worry. You're still learning that everyone is only interested in what value you can give them. You provided value to her by giving her permission to make the call. She was probably sending our location to the Jedi. She didn't care that she was putting you and your mother in danger by doing that."
He looked at me quizzically. "Really? Are we in danger?"
I gave him a steady glare. "We're carrying a hold-full of stolen slaves in a ship that has little in the way of defences. Do you honestly think having our location public knowledge wouldn't be dangerous?"
He bit his lip. "Sorry, I didn't... I mean..."
I waved a hand dismissively. "Again, don't worry. That sort of thinking only comes from experience of having the world repeatedly take advantage of you. Better to learn that lesson from someone than for yourself."
"Thanks, Harry," he said, nodding. "I'll come to the bridge soon."
I nodded and disconnected the call.
"Query: Do you wish to exit hyperspace within sensor range of the waypoint? We could exit now and recalculate a route, though it will take far longer to make the precise calculations required without using the standard route tables."
I shook my head. "I'm not one to back away from a potential danger, but I'm damned if I'll just waltz in blind. I want to drop out early, but within, what did you call it? Sensor range?"
"Affirmative: Understood, Master. There is still approximately half a standard hour remaining on this leg."
"I'm used to waiting."
Anakin arrived on the bridge soon after, looking thoughtful. He'd spoken to Aayla en route, and hadn't liked what he'd heard. Of course, the little Twi'ilek was probably in a foul mood due to her forced time-out. I imagine it was annoying to be in a room with an open door and not able to leave due to your age. That probably coloured her answers.
I was ready for anything as the swirling azure vortex resolved into individual pinpricks of starlight. The Gryphon's sensors reported that we were a few thousand kilometres away from the bulk of the space traffic around the waypoint. We picked up a signal from something Anakin called a comm-relay.
"Go on," I told him.
He nodded and activated the comm. After a second, a holo appeared – three figures in identical robes. One appeared considerably older than the other two, with a short-cropped beard and long hair tied back. His leonine features showed relief on spotting my co-pilot."
"Anakin! You're safe!"
Anakin smiled. "Hello Master Qui-Gon. I'm fine."
One of the other Jedi interrupted. "Is Aayla with you?" he demanded.
I snorted. "She was naughty, so I sent her to her room without supper."
That confused them. The one called Qui-Gon flashed the younger Jedi a look of recrimination and then turned back to me. "Anakin and Aayla are wards of the Jedi. You will return them…"
A silvery ship flashed into existence off our port bow. It rolled to present a profile and began opening fire.
But I was ready. I snatched the ship's controls, flicked the Gryphon on her wing and dove. Her lightened frame meant I could perform manoeuvres far beyond those expected from her crippled engines."
"It's a trap!" I shouted, enjoying both the satisfaction of being right, and the rush of adrenaline.
But the enormous smile on my face was due solely to Anakin's whoop of excitement. He really was a lad after my own heart.
AN: Thank you all for your reviews and patience. My new job is taking up a lot of my time, but that should die down in the next few weeks once I'm up to speed.
SWTOR is still calling to me though. I'm on the Harbinger server if anyone is interested. Kalu'minari is my Inquisitor... :)