Anything you recognise is either JK's or George's/Disney's. Anything else probably belongs to them too.
The Gryphon's impossibly swift maneuver caused a delay in the second salvo from the attacking ship. Time enough for the holographic Jedi to start babbling. I ignored them; I wasn't about to spare the mental capacity to translate as well as fly.
I relaxed my iron grip on the controls to give me a more delicate touch. I swung the ship around, angling so that we were flying broadside towards our attackers. Crimson pulses of light lanced out towards us, but I was easily up to the task of weaving through them.
"Anakin, turn that comm off," I ordered.
"Anakin! Belay that-" the older Jedi shouted before disappearing in a brief burst of static.
I nodded. "Good man. Now, take the controls and keep us away from their weapon fire."
He gaped at me. "Really?"
"Yep. Remember, the engines are poor for a ship this mass, but very very good for a ship lots less mass. Treat her like that little ship you flew in the battle of Naboo," I said, fumbling a bit over the words.
He latched onto his set of controls. "What are you going to do?"
I grinned. "See if magic works in space." We could outrun them if I wanted to. Easily even. But I want to control any witnesses to our impossible maneuvers." Well, for certain definitions of 'control'.
I kept my laughter in check as the lad faced forward and stuck his tongue out in concentration. Just like Hermione. "Right, come on HK, if this doesn't work, I'm going to need to upgrade your gun.
"Complaint: Master, that statement suggests that my weapon is not currently fully upgraded. I find this state of affairs profoundly unsatisfactory."
I bolted through the Gryphon towards the main starboard hanger bay, a complaining HK on my heels. I couldn't wait to fill the bay with all sorts of shiny things, but for now it was a necessary platform for me to use magic. It was the place with the widest field of vision that I could stand in and cast spells out into the void.
Our footsteps echoed as we ran across the empty space. As soon as I reached the far side, I slapped the override button, and the enormous blast-doors retracted into the ship, leaving nothing but a translucent magnetic containment field behind. That field, Anakin's droid C-3PO had assured me, kept all the necessities on my side, while keeping the hard vacuum of space on the other. It didn't keep the heat in, I noted. My breath started fogging almost immediately.
I grabbed hold of the side of the door for stability and readied my wand. The attacking ship flashed briefly into view. It was far smaller than the Gryphon, but it out-gunned her by a considerable amount – for the moment.
I weaved the Elder wand and threw an overpowered blasting curse through the containment field. The pulse of magic fairly drifted through the inky blackness of deep space, completely missing everything. Without a frame of reference, I had no real chance of hitting a ship an unknown distance away, while we were rotating at an unknown rate.
"Damn it, enough with the spinning, Anakin!" I said to myself. "It's not a good trick after the first ten times. Give me a decent shot."
HK readied his cannon, creating that delightful ominous hum. "Statement: I believe it is time to upgrade my weapon, Master. I stand a far greater probability of striking the vessel in question."
A series of disgusted bleeps drew my attention. I turned and frowned. "What are you doing here?"
Artoo tracked across the hanger-bay over to me, for all the world sounding like he was scolding me for missing a relatively enormous target.
"Hey! This is the first time I've done this!" I shouted at him in Basic. "And why am I justifying myself to a tin can?" I continued, in exactly the same tone.
The blue and silver dome spun, aligning his holoprojector forward. With a sarcastic tweet, he projected an image of the attacking ship between me and the magnetic containment field. A bright blue reticule jumped and bounced around in front of my face. It tracked some distance from the ship, shifting and moving, closer and further, as the Gryphon pitched and rolled.
It took me a second to realise what I was seeing. "Is that… Do I aim for that thing?" I asked the droid, pointing at the holographic target.
With another disgusted blart, several blinking arrows appeared around the holographic reticule. Clearly the droid thought little of my understanding.
"Fine, I get it. All right," I said ungraciously. I readied my wand and thought for a second. "Can you help me target the, er, front window of the ship?" I tried, desperately searching for the right word in Basic.
"Interjection: If your interference costs me a weapon upgrade, I shall-"
"Enough, HK. I'll pimp your cannon later. Artoo, can you make that target hit the front window or not?"
Judging from the sounds Artoo made, it was probably as easy for him as single digit arithmetic was for me. The reticule shifted slightly, still moving smoothly around as the Gryphon responded to Anakin's whims. It disappeared when the front of the attacking ship rotated away from us, reappearing when the front once more faced us. I waited until the reticule stabilised. It flashed blue. Artoo gave a squeal, so I jammed the tip of the Elder wand directly onto the floating target and cast a vanishing charm.
The silvery spell shot out into deep space. I watched as the other ship gracefully rolled directly into its path.
"Bullseye!" I shouted as about half a dozen thrashing figures were sucked out of the hole that had previously contained a moderately important component of a ship; at least, any ship whose crew required an atmosphere. Innumerable tiny objects that had not been stuck down in the bridge joined the figures undergoing explosive decompression. The detritus shot away into the hard vacuum of deep space.
Immediately, the shooting stopped and the ship started a slow, steady spiral. The pilot probably wrenched the controls when he was forcibly ejected. "Well done that droid!" I congratulated.
Artoo beeped, sounding pleased.
I couldn't help but smile at the relatively simple success. There was a certain safety lesson to learn however. "Note to self, install seat belts on the Gryphon. Right, how do we capture that ship?"
Artoo beeped questioningly.
"Because I want it," I explained, deciding that was what the droid wanted to know.
"Translation: The astromech queried your desire to salvage the ship before rescuing the meatbags who piloted it."
Reverting to English, I asked HK, "Is there some sort of deep space protocol about rescuing space-bound corpses before salvage?"
"Answer: The legal requirements differ by jurisdiction. However, my examination of recent events indicates that while it is standard practice to rescue extra-vehicular meatbags, the technology that produces magnetic containment fields has advanced somewhat since the last time I was operational. It appears capable of being scaled down to cover a single meatbag in the event of sudden decompression. If one of the meatbags was wearing such a device, they could survive the rigors of hard vacuum for an extended period of time. However, even if such devices are not employed, there are sentient, spacefaring species capable of surviving similar extended periods in hard vacuum. There are even reports of humans surviving unprotected in space for minutes at a time; though they suffered injuries quite-"
I frowned and held up a hand to interrupt him. "Are you just answering in such a long-winded, bombastic way just to make the question of rescue moot?"
"Prevarication: Master, your accusation troubles my circuits to-"
"Oh shut it. I just want to know if they are pirates, and whether or not the bounty for their capture would be more if they were alive."
Artoo gave a disgusted snort, but HK brightened. "Apology: I should never have doubted you, Master."
"Right," I drawled at him. "Artoo, can you contact Anakin and tell him to rotate the ship so that this hanger is facing the pirates?"
A second or so after a 'woo' from the droid, the Gryphon pitched and rolled in a deliberate manner. I lazily waved my wand out towards the inky black of space and cast a summoning charm.
Seven pitiful figures arrived shortly afterwards. One scaly fellow barely looked worse for wear; I stunned him. Four were shivering and oozing various bodily fluids, they looked to be in very poor shape. Two were categorically dead. Either space wasn't empty or they hit their head on exiting their ship.
"Right, HK, find out if one of these buggers knows what you need to take control of that ship."
HK looked at our motley collection of captives, reached down and picked up one up, holding her aloft. The selected victim looked humanoid and female, though her head looked like a squid. He barked a question in what was presumably the species' native tongue.
The interrogatee spat in her interrogator's metallic face.
HK quickly determined that his request for information had been denied. Rather than deliver increasingly unlikely threats, he simply turned and thrust her through the magnetic containment field. I felt my hair stand on end at the sheer brutality. She struggled mightily, clawing at HK's face and shoulders in a desperate attempt to pull herself back behind the crimson barrier.
I swallowed. In a world of veritaserum, such distasteful actions were hardly necessary. But the single irreplaceable vial I possessed was too valuable to waste experimenting on different species to determine its effectiveness on non-humans.
Watching the panicked reaction of the squid-woman, I debated intervening. HK pulled her back through the humming barrier as dark purple bruising visibly spread up her head tentacles. He barked the same question. His action had removed any fight from her as though he'd excised it with a scalpel. Between laboured, blood-spattering gasps, she answered him.
"Success: I have the necessary codes to assume control of the target ship, assuming I can gain physical access to the bridge."
"Good," I stated. I stunned and bound the captives, both living and dead. Until I was sure of the capabilities of different species, I wasn't taking any chances. Next problem was getting HK to the ship. As Anakin's maneuver had moved it out of our direct line of sight, I had to lean a bit to see it. It was still performing that slow, stately spiral. "Uh, I can't send you there with magic safely. You'd probably end up fused with a wall. Can you calculate a way to jump to it from here?"
HK paused for a moment, his crimson eyes staring out into the void. "Calculation: Yes Master. Your pilot will need to hold this position for several seconds."
Artoo wooed for a moment.
"Skepticism: Prove it."
I blinked. "Prove wha- oh."
Artoo's 'legs' had sprouted small jets, and the little astromech hovered a foot or so off the metallic deck.
I grinned. "He's offering you a lift? If you two can keep from killing each other, you'd make a great team."
I listened to both droids object extensively to my declaration before ordering them off into the black, HK holding onto Artoo's frame. For all their differences, they certainly had similar attitudes towards each other.
I transfigured the captives into beads and shoved them in my pocket. Levitating seven oozing bodies along the corridors of the Gryphon would probably cause some comment.
It was a good thing, too. On my way back through the ship I spotted some of the ex-slaves exploring. I grimaced, but left them to it. I did note however that their calm demeanor indicated that they were ignorant of the fact that we had just been under attack.
I selected one of the crew quarters at random. I entered and sealed the door behind me. I then cancelled the transfiguration on my captives. I searched them thoroughly, divesting them of all sorts of items; hold out blasters, a handful of credchips, knives with a vibrating edge, half-eaten food bars and the like. I laid out the dead human male on the floor and attached the rest to the walls.
I picked the living human and enervated him, figuring that he was the most likely of the wretches to speak Basic. I waited patiently while he coughed, wheezed and spat blood, as it probably took a while to become accustomed to the after effects of exposure to hard vacuum. The whites of his eyes were almost entirely red while the skin around them was almost entirely purple. He struggled weakly against the charm holding him fast.
"What is your name?" I asked in a slow, low tone.
He snarled and said something I didn't understand, but the tone was definitely insulting.
I shrugged. "Fine. What is his name?" I asked, pointing to the corpse. I let my tone soften. "And how does he want to, er, rest?" I finished, unsure of the words for organising a funeral.
My captive frowned at my question, but swallowed as he looked down at the body. "That's Maren Krollen. He's Corellian," he said, as though I should know the burial customs of the planet.
It was enough for what I had in mind. I stunned the captive and turned back to the corpse.
"I hope this works," I said to myself as I pulled out the Resurrection Stone. Without a body, you needed to be very precise in summoning a shade; like the way I summoned Dumbledore by using his entire name and house. But when next to a corpse, the name was generally sufficient. "Maren Krollen of Corellia, I summon you."
My heart leapt at the sight of a familiar swirling. The stone still worked!
Maren's shade was quite forthcoming. The dead usually were. Regret was one of the view things that tormented both the living and the souls of the dead. The chance to pass a message on to a loved one or to confess some crime usually made the shades I summoned willing to cooperate. Shades could not directly lie to questions put to them by the Master of Death, but they could withhold information.
I pondered the information I'd gleaned as I made my way back to the bridge. I wasn't sure I fully grasped the meaning of everything I'd been told without HK's clarifications.
Anakin and Shmi were sitting together on the co-pilot's chair; the lad on his mother's lap. I couldn't help but smile wistfully at the sight. My smile disappeared when I noticed that the holo was operational. Damn it. Well, the damage was already done.
"Good flying back there, Anakin," I said to catch his attention. "Well done."
He spun around and jumped off Shmi's lap. "Harry! Master Qui-Gon would like to talk to you."
"No doubt," I muttered. I plonked myself down gracelessly into the pilot's chair. "What do you want?" I demanded.
The man with the leonine features appeared surprised at my attitude, but did not let it affect his tone. "Captain, I wish to apologise for my words before your ship was attacked. They were uttered in haste and coloured by my anxiety for Anakin's welfare."
I blinked, and leaned towards Anakin. "Did he just say he's sorry because he was worried about you?" I asked in English.
I nodded back. "Apology accepted."
The Jedi's expression did not change, but his method of speaking did. He began using shorter sentences and simpler words. "I have spoken with Anakin. He told me you treat him well. And fairly. Few people pay a child an adult's wage."
"He is a talented person. He deserved every credit. As does his mother." In the reflection of the front window, I could see Anakin's mother blush with pride.
The Jedi nodded. "But he told me you have imprisoned Aayla Secura."
"How?" the hologram pressed.
Interesting, I thought. The first question was how, not why. "I put her in a room and told her not to leave."
The Jedi paused for a moment, and I could see him breathing deeply. "Anakin told me she was changed. Aged."
Ah. Well, it was hardly unexpected. I turned to look at Anakin. "How old did she look?"
Anakin bit his lip. "Old. Really old. Older than Jira."
I raised an eyebrow. "Who is Jira?"
"Oh. She sells pallies in Mos Espa. She's the oldest human I know."
"I see. Aayla probably tried stepping over my Age Line more than once then," I mused in English.
"Age Line?" Anakin asked.
I nodded. "It stops people younger than a certain age from crossing it. First time I ever saw one some good friends of mine sprouted long white beards when they tried to trick it." I grinned at the memory. "Good times."
"It's not permanent then?"
"Of course not!" I blurted. "She only needs a couple of drops of... oh."
Oh bugger, I mentally finished. It was a simple enough to brew an anti-ageing potion to reverse the effects – back in my time. The ingredients barely cost a handful of sickles at even a premium apothecary. But I didn't have such a potion on me, and no way of getting the ingredients.
Still, I needed to answer. "Oh, I don't know what to call it in Basic," I explained lamely.
"So, she's not actually old?"
I shook my head. "No, she just looks old." And would for a while, until the effect wore off. Bugger.
Anakin turned back to the holographic Jedi, who was waiting patiently. "Sorry Master Qui-Gon," he said in Basic. "Aayla just looks old. Harry put what he calls an Age Line around her room that stops someone too young from crossing."
The Jedi turned to me. "You can stop someone of a certain age from crossing a line?" he queried, his astonishment clear.
"You can't?" I retorted.
He actually gave me a small, wry smile. "No, that is beyond me. Does any attempt to cross the line make you appear old?"
I shook my head. "It does not have to," I admitted. "But it is sort of traditional."
"An intriguing – and impressive – skill. The applications would be limitless."
I didn't disagree. If only the wizarding world thought the same. You could set a line around a convicted criminal keyed to their age and sentence, and you wouldn't need to guard them afterwards. And one line across the third floor corridor would have been 100% more effective than telling kids to stay away or risk death. Of course, if your true objective in that instance was to have certain specific first year Gryffindor students risk the dangers...
Dumbledore's shade had always refused to answer any questions about that incident. Out of embarrassment or a desire to avoid self-incrimination, I could never tell.
"However, perhaps you should inform Aayla that she has not in fact aged. Anakin reports that she is quite distressed."
"I'll think about it," I said, ending that line of conversation. "Why are you calling?" I asked directly.
"Anakin is a ward of the Jedi. I seek his return."
I shrugged. "I have no claim on him. He is free to go where he wishes. If he wants to go with you, he will. Of course, if you are just going to dump him on Telos again, he probably won't want to go."
The Jedi visibly relaxed. Even under his impressive poker face I saw relief that I wasn't going to hold Anakin prisoner. "I understand. I give you my word that will not occur. You are traveling to Corellia. I shall meet you there. Aayla's Master and my Padawan will be with me." He turned to the Skywalkers. "Anakin, Shmi, I shall see you soon. And I am sorry for how you both have been treated."
Shmi smiled and spoke up. "Thank you, Master Jedi."
"Bye Master Qui-Gon!"
The hologram flickered out of existence. I leaned back in the chair and put my feet up on the console, taking care not to kick any buttons. "Well that was interesting. Please do not make any more calls until we reach Corellia."
A panel lit up and a series of familiar beeps sounded. Text scrolled across a screen in front of Anakin.
"Is that Artoo?"
"Yes, he says they have entered hyperspace and will be here soon."
Hyperspace? Here? I looked down at the bewildering array of screens and noted that the one that originally showed lots of space traffic around the hyperspace waypoint now showed nothing. It occurred to me that the scene out the front window was not the one I'd last seen. It was the inky black of dark space. There was no relatively bright star as a backdrop to the hyperspace stopping point. "Anakin, where are we?"
Anakin raised his chin. "I plotted a few short jumps to get us away from the waypoint. If we were attacked once, we could be attacked again."
I nodded. "Good thinking. But we can't stay here long. Did the droids get worried when we left the system?"
"Sort of. HK in particular was quite put out with me. I explained why we left and sent them coordinates. They'll be here soon. Are we getting another ship?"
I could barely keep a smile from forming. I decided then and there that collecting starships would be my new hobby. "Yep. And as far as I know, all this one needs is a replacement front window."
A minute or so later, a new spot appeared on the screen that tracked nearby ships. The silvery ship with the convertible-style bridge appeared off our port bow. I took the opportunity to examine it in detail. Barely a quarter the size of the Gryphon, it still looked intimidating. It resembled a truncated, four pointed star, with one flattened 'point' housing two large engines. The front was dominated by a large, curved hole in the hull and two large turrets were fixed pointing forward. There were at least four other turrets on the raised central section that looked as if they could track in any direction. And I was sure I recalled seeing a couple more of those on the underside.
The holo once again pinged, and Anakin pressed a button. HK appeared above the console. He had some sort of wire connected to his throat.
"Statement: All hazardous meatbags on board this vessel have been neutralised, Master."
I raised an eyebrow. "I take it that means that you encountered some resistance?"
"Negative: The forces on board provided no resistance whatsoever."
Damn it but that robot could double-speak as well as Dumbledore. "How many did you kill?" I asked directly.
I breathed a sigh of relief. That was all of them. A second blue figure flickered into existence next to HK, and Artoo blarted a series of disgusted tones.
"Objection: The meatbags refused your demand to surrender!"
Another series of disagreeing beeps.
"Analysis: The meatbags were setting explosive charges that presented a danger to even my armoured chassis. Venting the atmosphere was the most efficient and thorough method of securing the ship."
"If you two are done arguing," I said wearily. A thought occurred. "You vented the atmosphere? Are you in hard vacuum at the moment?"
"Affirmative: Yes, Master."
"How are you speaking then?"
HK touched the cable connected to his throat. "Answer: I have connected my vocal processor directly to the communications console."
Right, I'll just give up questioning stuff like that. "Okay, Anakin will send you the next leg of our trip. Will that ship make it to Corellia?"
Artoo beeped happily. I found it mildly disturbing that I was beginning to understand his tweeting.
"Good. The Corellian who owned that ship was a smuggler, and his current cargo would be of great interest to Corellian Customs. I'll prepare a place to stow it on the Gryphon. We'll swap it over at the next waypoint and I'll hide it here."
Once we were back in hyperspace, I told Anakin I'd go and see to our guests before coming back to relieve him. I asked Shmi to inquire among the ex-slaves if there were any with skills pertaining to starships who were interested in employment. I headed to see my Jedi prisoner. It was going to be a difficult conversation without HK or Anakin to help translate. I decided that I should teach C-3PO how to speak English.
I stopped outside of the room and knocked. After a moment, the door slid open revealing Kalu'minari. She looked up at me with her glorious eyes.
"Is Aayla awake?" I asked her.
She nodded. "Yes my lord."
I sighed, but let it go. I entered the dimly-lit room. A slender figure lay on the bed curled up under a blanket that was pulled all the way up and over the figure's head.
The figure did not move for a moment, but an ancient-looking head slowly emerged from under the cover. "I am Jedi Padawan Aayla Secura," she said defiantly. "And if I had my lightsaber, I would cut you down."
I didn't blink. While I didn't catch her full meaning, her tone indicated she was trying to threaten me. I simply reached into a pocket and withdrew the lightsaber I'd claimed from the tattooed Zabrak. I ignited both ends, which startled the Twi'ileks. Aayla actually scooted away from me. "A Sith warrior tried to kill me. He is very, very dead," I replied in a toneless voice that I'd long found useful in intimidating those trying to intimidate me.
She swallowed, suddenly showing some caution. "What have you done to me?"
"To you? Nothing. You stepped over that line when told not to," I replied, deactivating and returning the saber to its pocket. "Don't worry, the effect will fade in time."
Her breath hitched. "The effect... Does that mean I'm not old?"
I shook my head. "You're still young, you just look old. But if you step over the Age Line again, it will take longer to go away."
"How long?" she breathed.
I shrugged. "I don't know. I've never used it on a Twi'ilek. "A week, a month, a year? I don't know."
"I don't know," I repeated, putting steel into my voice.
I held up my hand. "But nothing. Your Master will meet us at Corellia. You will be handed over to him there."
"Can I leave the room?"
I snorted. "That communication you made from the bridge? Some pirates traced it. They worked out our route. They knew we had no weapons and attacked us. If they had succeeded, every slave on the ship would be going back to Tatooine." I watched her expression morph into one of horror. "So no, you cannot leave the room."
"We were attacked?" Kalu blurted, shrinking back in fear.
I nodded, still staring at Aayla. "Yes. But they won't do it again."
Even behind the wizened visage, I could see the blue Twi'ilek pale. "But that was a secure transmission!"
"This used to be their ship. They were elsewhere when I captured it. Until I replace the systems, any call means they can find the ship. They worked out our path. They waited until we reached the waypoint before," I paused, trying to remember the word Maren used, "micro-jumping on top of us. They shot at us without warning."
Kalu shivered, but Aayla frowned. "We haven't been hit at all!"
I grinned at her. "Nope. I'm that good a pilot."
"I don't believe you."
I shrugged. "I don't care. But I have five captives and two dead people in a room down the hall. HK and Artoo have control of their ship. You can see it when we reach Corellia."
Minister Schrieffer was distressed to learn that we had been attacked; more so that it was by the very pirate crew who'd previously crewed the Gryphon; she understood what would have happened if the ex-slaves were captured again. She was very impressed to learn that between Anakin and I we had not only evaded the assault, but we'd captured the attacking ship. She gave certain signals that she found that sort of competency attractive; biting her lip, increased breathing rate and dilated pupils. Her expression showed that she suddenly found her group of attendees a little inconvenient.
I might well have been amenable in a merging of interests, as it were, had I not so very recently ended my dry spell. I'd not felt drawn to monogamy since leaving Hogwarts, preferring to take my entertainment as it came. But there were things that required my attention, and further carnal adventures could wait.
Transferring the illicit cargo at the next stop took some time. The two droids had to check that each of the crates were space-worthy before ejecting them. Anakin maneuvered the Gryphon to allow something called a tractor-beam to draw them all into a hold.
The simplest part of the process was shrinking and hiding the crates. The manifest indicated that the contents themselves were medical compounds and not illegal, but that the relevant duties had not been paid. They should be simple enough to sneak past customs and sell just about anywhere with a hospital.
Over the next few days, I met and interviewed several of the ex-slaves who were interested in my offer of employment. Most had no technical skills, but were happy to help out in the galley, working under Shmi's direction. A couple were trained mechanics. Several tried claiming they had advanced knowledge or skills like astronavigation, whatever that was. Anakin once again proved invaluable in weeding out the self-over-promoters. Unfortunately, it turned out to be most of them.
By the time we made our final leg to Corellia, I had twelve employees, including Anakin and Shmi. An inexperienced Sullustan navigator who had been captured on her maiden voyage, two human mechanics, a brutish-looking fellow who could drive the equipment to load and unload the cargo holds, and six kitchenhands of various species.
Having one kitchenhand for each other crew member was going to be overkill when we no longer had a hundred-odd mouths to feed, but for now the quality of the meals kept everyone's mood positive.
I might have to make a run back to Telos next to get the good quality stuff.
I sat in the pilot's seat as we dropped out of hyperspace a final time. Corellia looked like a futuristic Earth. Well, like how I expected Earth to look in the future. From orbit there were still areas of desert and green, but there were also significant cities sprawling across entire land-masses. Where Coruscant looked like a caricature of a city, Corellia still looked like a living planet from space.
In orbit around the equator were gigantic curved metallic objects that looked like segments of planetary rings. Rings that collared the planet. From a distance they appeared fragile, even delicate. But as we drew closer, the scale took my breath away.
I could see ships more than ten times the size of the Gryphon being built, repaired or restocked. What appeared to be filaments from a distance were in fact solid and chunky shipyards thousands of kilometers long.
I piloted the Gryphon along the vector supplied to us with ease. Flying a spaceship was an experience I'd never dreamed of, yet it fulfilled something deep within me. Anakin confidently managed the communication with the flight control on Corellia while Shmi looked on, her face full of pride. The lad enthusiastically related all about the trip he made from Tatooine to Coruscant, and how the Nabooan pilot explained to him the intricacies of flying and docking.
Once the Gryphon was attached to its designated dock, I grabbed C-3PO and made my way to the exit. We were met by a creature the naked droid identified as a Selonian. It was a two-metre-tall furry biped with a vaguely feline head. C-3PO spoke its language, which allowed matters to progress quickly.
The Nabooan government had a standing account with the shipyard, and my ship's requirements had been transmitted and received, needing only my final review and approval. Along with the best civilian-grade engines, hyperdrive and weapons, she was to receive a full upgrade of the internal systems, including navigation, communications and sensors. She would also get a full security sweep for all the inconvenient communications security back-doors, a new, fully kitted out medical bay, two dozen droids from Artoo's assembly line and a brand-new, top range powercore.
HK was one fantastic negotiator.
I was informed that the necessary work crew would be available in two local days to begin work. I agreed and promised to review the work list before the crew started. The Selonian seemed content with that, and wandered off, leaving an officious-looking woman to process my ship's arrival.
I probably would have been more polite to her had she not reminded me so much of Umbridge.
Calls were made, and representatives of the Corellian Senate met with Minister Schrieffer. Her chartered ship was ready for her, and it was with a sigh of relief that I watched the mass of souls disembark from the Gryphon. Schrieffer stopped to personally thank me and wish me good luck. She also gave my arm a lingering touch while delivering a husky offer to look her up the next time I was on Coruscant.
I grinned. Women love confident men, and there were few bigger signs of confidence than dealing with a life-threatening situation with aplomb. Sailors on Earth had a long tradition of 'a woman at every port'. The idea of having someone to hook up with on every planet seemed a logical step up.
"Captain Harry," C-3PO said, catching my attention. "There are law enforcement personnel approaching. I believe my report on our-"
I snapped my head around. "What report?"
The droid turned to face me. The whirling components in it's head were quite distracting. "I compiled a comprehensive description of the illegal assault on the Gryphon by unknown parties and their subsequent capture," it replied. "According to local ordinances, any such piracy events must be reported-"
"If you," I snapped, jabbing my finger into his ribcage, "do that again without asking and I'll let HK have you."
The droid squawked in alarm.
A tall, lean man in a uniform with military overtones strode over to us. "Captain Harry?" he queried. "You claim to have captured some pirates?"
"Who are you?" I asked.
He looked me up and down, clearly evaluating. "Rostek Horn. I'm with Corsec."
I glanced at C-3PO. "What does Corsec mean?"
Horn answered for my droid. "Corellian Security Force. I don't recognise your accent."
I shrugged. "I started learning Basic a month or so ago."
"I see. Well, if you would please come with me, we shall sort your pirate problem out."
I'd had enough experience with law enforcement types to be suspicious when they went out of their way to be helpful. "How long will this take? I need to get back to my ship."
He spread his hands. "That depends. Shall we?"
Noting that he did not even attempt to answer my question, I put a smile on my face and nodded. It wasn't as though I couldn't leave on a whim. I kept my senses on alert as C-3PO started the long process of introducing himself. Horn's eyes started glazing over after three sentences. "Shut up," I instructed Anakin's droid. "Go back to the ship and tell Shmi that I will be back soon."
The droid agreed and left in a hurry.
He walked me through the station. We passed dozens of different species, though humans and Selonians seemed to be the most common. Horn led me to what looked like a shop front in the same colour scheme as the logo on his uniform.
There were a couple of other humans in the same uniform bustling about behind some desks, though they did not have anywhere near the amount of coloured bars on their sleeves as Horn. They deferred to him like an officer too.
We were ushered into an interview room. It was as sparse as the ones I was used to back on Earth. "Please take a seat, my partner will join us shortly. Would you like something to drink? Water? Caf?"
I shook my head. "No thank you."
We sat. I waited for him to start the game.
Horn looked over a datapad. "Your ship is... the Gryphon? Interesting name. What is the significance?"
"I'm sorry, my Basic is still not so good. Are you asking why I named my ship her name?"
"Yes. I'm not familiar with the word."
"A Gryphon is a creature from my homeworld."
"I see," was the response. I suspected that the computer would soon be searching for planets with similar creature names. "You claim that you were attacked at Waypoint Delta-One-Three-F..."
I held up a hand. "I don't know the waypoint name. My protocol droid wrote the report."
He nodded. "Very well. You dropped out of hyperspace a few thousand klicks early. Why?"
"A hunch," I replied, curious to see how he responded. Every beat copper I'd ever interacted with listened to their gut. It always amused me they way they objected to other people doing the same.
"A hunch? You felt you were in danger?"
"And then you were attacked a few seconds later?"
I nodded again.
Horn leaned back in his chair. "Are you Force sensitive?"
There it was. "Not that I'm aware," I replied with my pre-prepared statement for that question.
The door opened and another man walked in. This one had a close-cropped dark beard and piercing eyes. "Sorry about that, Rostek."
Horn didn't look up from his datapad. "This is Nejaa Halcyon, my partner."
I nodded to the newcomer. "Hello."
The man smiled and nodded back, but I got the sense he did not want to be in my presence. "Captain Harry, I presume. You claim to have captured one Maren Krollen in the act of piracy? Interesting."
"Why is that interesting?"
"Maren is a smuggler, not a pirate. Attacking ships is not his style."
I gave a tight grin. "He was a smuggler. He's dead."
"Really?" Halcyon said. He waved a hand lazily in my direction. "Tell us what happened," he said gently.
An intense need to describe the events washed over me. It was not like an Imperious; there was no euphoric sensation accompanying the spell. It was more like an overpowered compulsion. Still, I couldn't be having that. "You know, that's a crime where I'm from."
Both men blinked. "What?"
"Forcing your will on someone," I clarified. "You go to prison for that."
The pair shared a look. "What are you talking about?" Horn asked.
I snorted, and spoke directly to Halcyon. "Are you a Jedi or a Sith?"
Oddly, of the pair the question only seemed to offend Halcyon. "Sith? There hasn't been a Sith for a thousand years!"
I crossed my arms and leaned back. "I killed one on Coruscant a few weeks ago. So, what do the Jedi want with me?"
That caught Horn's attention. "You what?"
Halcyon held up a hand to stop his partner. "So, you are the one who appeared in the Jedi Temple," his inflection indicating that he was confirming a suspicion.
I didn't respond.
"The Jedi Council have many questions for you."
"The Jedi who?"
He frowned. "The Council. The Jedi who watch over the Order."
"Well good for them," I retorted with a shrug.
Halcyon leaned forward. "Who are you?"
I couldn't resist. "No one of consequence."
"Your appearance has had many consequences," the Jedi insisted.
I sighed, wondering if anyone would ever follow the proper script for that exchange. "Everything has consequences. Getting up in the morning has consequences."
Halcyon tapped Horn on the shoulder and tilted his head towards the door. As they rose I made a snap decision.
With a twist of my wrist, my wand dropped into my hand. I flicked it towards Horn, silently casting a spell, the let my wand slip back into its holster. Long practice had me capable of setting that particular spell in less than half a second.
The Jedi Halcyon reacted as though I'd spilled hot oil on him. He jerked, whipped around and had a lit lightsaber out and pointed at me. "What was that?" he demanded.
"Nejaa?" Horn blurted, reaching for his blaster.
"Just checking that you were actually a Jedi," I lied.
Halcyon's eyes darted around the room, searching for dangers. "What did you do?"
I leaned back in my chair nonchalantly, not bothering to answer.
Through a mask of distrust, the Jedi deactivated his weapon and backed through the door. Horn followed, his face blank but he was clearly confused.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, letting the spell wash over me. It was a charm that Hermione, Neville and I had developed, taking aspects of the taboo and the Trace and applying them to a standard tracking charm. For the next few days I'd be able to listen in to any conversation Horn had regarding me.
"What happened? What did he do?" Horn asked. After a second, he continued, "What are you doing? I'm fine!"
"I do not know what he did. It felt like he tore a hole in the Force. Whatever he did the taint still lingers around you. Do you feel different? Unwell? Compelled to trust him perhaps?"
"No, not in the least."
"This makes no sense."
"What makes no sense?"
"Only two Jedi have conversed with him, and only one in person. Death surrounds him, Rostek. He seems to draw strength from it. It is... uncomfortable to behold."
"What are you doing?" Horn asked after a moment of silence.
"We cannot detain him."
"Of course we can. He admitted to killing a Sith on Coruscant. We could hold him just for that while we investigated."
I grinned as I thought of the results of them trying to detain me.
"I'm sorry Rostek, I wasn't clear. We cannot hold him. He would escape."
My smile disappeared.
"The station holding cells here are secure enough. If you're that worried we could transfer him to a Corsec facility planetside."
"No. A friend of my old Master's contacted me before Captain Harry arrived in system to ask for help. Jedi Masters, including a Council member, witnessed him teleporting."
There was a pause, which I was thankful for, as it gave me extra time to think of all the Basic swear words I knew.
"Yes. I was sceptical myself. But telemetry from speeder sensors show him vanishing in mid air. That man has powers unheard of by any Jedi. I was informed that he can supposedly place a line on the ground that prevents people younger than a certain age from crossing."
Well, I think I could hazard a guess as to the identity of Nejaa's Master's friend...
"I agree. However, the Jedi want him under surveillance. And evaluated, if possible. Initial reports suggest he projects an amoral, mercenary demeanour, but while he was working for the Nabooans, he freed over a hundred slaves belonging to a Hutt."
I decided then and there to send the Queen of Naboo a howler.
"He's the one who broke Gardulla's organisation?"
"Apparently. He does not want that fact widely known."
"I'm not surprised. The bounty just for identifying him is huge. Still, it gives us a bit of leverage over him."
"No! Qui-Gon warned me that he does not respond well to force. He is too dangerous to try and manipulate without a more accurate profile. We will hire him using discretionary funds and evaluate his methods."
"What?" Horn exploded.
A grin spread over my face. Oh, the fun I was going have with this contract.
AN: A thousand thanks to everyone who reviewed.
And a thousand apologies for the delay in this chapter. I ruptured my achilles while working out and then had surgery to repair it. I then managed to strike the misfortune lottery and got some blood clots that lodged in my lungs.
Pulmonary embolisms really, really hurt.
So things have been a bit on the interesting side. I'm praying my life gets a little less interesting.