Chapter Two

Soraa and Rann made their way down to the southern part of Olu-Krav toward the arid region. The deserts were detailed with ravines and rocky hills and ridges but otherwise very flat. There were countless options for a fugitive to hide, but also vantage points to spy from. The duo would need to keep their keen eyes open in case their hand-held scanners were ineffective in locating the droid.

Being as proficient with blasters as they were, Rann and Soraa were excited that they might get a chance to really work their skills. The two actually had a friendly rivalry going with their shooting skills, but they didn't get very many chances to compete since they rarely engaged in full-on open combat. Most of the time, they tested their mettle in the small shooting range on board the Queen Valkyrie. Their abilities complemented each other very well since Soraa specialized in closer-quarters firefights, whereas Rann's skills were strongest with long-range sharpshooting.

They arrived at the edge of the city and stopped their bike. The settlement was surrounded by a wall of about five meters in height and a meter thick with the desert just beyond. It aided in containing the temperate environment while keeping the aridness out. All of the cities on Olu-Dra III were like this. If it wasn't for the localized springs that the cities were built upon, the planet would be about as habitable as Tatooine.

"So where do we go from here?" Soraa asked.

Rann looked around for a moment, "We just keep heading due south, I suppose. Activate the scanner and set it to detect droids. That blasted thing should stand out fairly well among the rock formations."

Soraa pulled the hand-held scanner out of her jacket pocket and activated it. Immediately it sounded alerts in front of them ringing from multiple sources. A group of rocky hills stretched out in front of them, from which the readings were originating.

Rann exchanged worried looks with Soraa as the latter swept the scanner from side to side. As it pointed away from the hills, the alarms subsided. Pointing it back, it rang out once more, indicating numerous blips.

Soraa muttered, "Blast it! There must be metal ore deposits in the hills. It's causing too much interference." She switched the device off and returned it to her jacket pocket.

"I guess we'll just have to look for it the old-fashioned way," Rann said matter-of-factly, pointing to her eyes.

Rann fired up the speeder bike's engine and they started for the hills, which were several kilometers away. The terrain before the hills was mostly flat and featureless. Despite the area being arid, it did not get excessively hot during the day. It was just that there was a lack of sources of water.

Olu-Krav, like every city on Olu-Dra III, was built on a densely-vegetated area fed by several springs. These wild areas were populated with a wide variety of flora and fauna, and the majority of the natural habitat was kept preserved. Without it, the city would not be able to exist for long. The natural resources would not be able to handle sustained use by the local denizens and the area would become arid like the majority of the planet. So the city was built into distinct pockets contained within a single wild area and used its resources responsibly. This made the cities self-sufficient, which was advantageous since hundreds of kilometers of barren land spanned between them, making interaction an uncommon occurrence.

Ja'Ina, Kurloh and Fitty made their way into Olu-Krav's wild area along an established path and almost immediately felt at peace. Twenty paces in, it was hard to tell that civilization was right nearby. The space within the forest was completely shielded from the sights, sounds and scents of the city, which were replaced by the sights, sounds and scents of the natural environment. The two Force-sensitives stopped and took in all of the pure life energy surrounding them, which filled their very being with peace.

Kurloh was the first to speak. "Whaddya think, Ina? Isn't this great?"

"Yeah Ku, this is one of the richest places I've ever been in. It easily rivals the forests back home. I'm impressed that the locals actually keep all of this intact while maintaining the city."

"This place is perfect for people like us since the living Force is strong in unspoiled places like this. If our quarry is here, it'll stand out to us like a dark specter in amongst pure light."

Ja'Ina changed the topic. "What about that guy back at the tavern?"

"Yeah, I felt it too. It's strange; almost as if he wanted us to sense something with him. Like he knew we'd be able to."

"If he is indeed another bounty hunter looking for this droid, we'll likely see him again… No, with what I felt, I expect we will."

"Your insight serves you well, Ina. I'm impressed with your progress."

Ja'Ina smiled back. "You've been a great mentor, Ku."

The Togruta insistently looked straight into the young woman's eyes. "Yeah, well just remember we're not Jedi. I'm not your master, nor you my Padawan. We definitely don't want anyone to know about our connection to the Force or we could be in serious danger."

Ja'Ina said nothing in reply, but thought about what she learned about the destruction of the Jedi Order in the Great Purge nearly twenty years ago. Ever since Kurloh pointed out that the Force was with her, Ja'Ina had thoughts about the timing of her birth and being orphaned around the same time as the Purge.

Occasionally she would consider that there may in some way be some kind of connection between her and the Jedi Purge, as if she had been spared from it for some reason. It seemed really far-fetched to her so she never dwelt on it for any significant length of time. She also never shared these thoughts with Kurloh either, since she felt they were ridiculous. Ja'Ina once again refocused on where she was and what she was doing.

The two women walked through the forested area for quite some time. Fitty followed closely behind with his small scanner antenna protruding from his domed head. Given the heightened senses Ja'Ina's and Kurloh's abilities with the Force afforded them, they were able to search for the assassin droid as well as enjoy the environment that surrounded them. They found one of the numerous springs and stopped for a refreshing drink. As the women sat down next to the spring-fed pool for a short rest, Fitty continued his scans.

Kurloh pulled the comlink from her belt. "This is Kurloh, calling Teams Two and Three. What's your status?"

Marka answered back first, "No sign of our target yet in the northern region. There's a lot of nothing out here."

"Roger that, Team Two."

Rann reported next. "We picked up some metallic readings from some nearby hills due south of the city. It's most likely that the hills are full of some kind of ore, but we're checking it out just in case. We're almost there."

"Very good, Team Three," Kurloh said. "Everyone be careful and keep this channel open."

Marka and Rann simultaneously replied, "Affirmative!"

Kurloh replaced the comlink and offered Ja'Ina her hand. "Come on, let's keep looking."

Ja'Ina nodded to the Togruta and stood up with her assistance.

The ground became more uneven as the hills loomed right in front of Soraa and Rann. Soraa brought the scanner back out and swept it for any new signs. She didn't like the situation one bit. The numerous signals picked up by the scanner frazzled her nerves. She'd rather there were absolutely no readings at all. Thoughts raced through her mind with the idea that there'd be a hundred assassin droids waiting for them in the hills. Soraa was shaken free from those thoughts when Rann brought the bike to a stop. The two then dismounted.

It was mid-morning and the sun continued to rise through the clear sky, warming the air, but not unpleasantly so. As the women walked up the increasing incline, Soraa continued to scan for the droid. Inattentive, she stumbled on a rock and nearly fell.

Rann reached a hand over to catch Soraa. "Hey, watch where you're walking!"

"Sorry, I guess I've been staring at the scanner for too long."

"Put that thing away. It's not doing us any good."

Soraa deactivated the scanner and replaced it in her armorweave jacket's pocket. She still felt nervous about the countless blips she had read from it but tried to keep a rational head about it. The last thing she needed was a case of anxiety getting in the way of her blaster skills, should she need them. Even worse, her nervousness was also infecting Rann.

Soraa picked up the pace a little bit; the anticipation of finding something in the hills was getting to be too much for her. Rann struggled to keep up. Her cybernetic leg worked well enough for regular walking and day-to-day actions, but quickly showed its limitations as she tried to go much faster up the hill.

"Wait up, Soraa!"

Rann's call went unanswered as Soraa started scrambling up the steadily increasing slope. Soraa reached the top of the ridge and stopped cold. She then dropped to the ground just below the ridgeline and drew her blaster. Rann worked hard to join up with her distressed comrade.

"What is it?" Rann asked breathlessly.

Soraa was breathing hard with her eyes wide. "I think we've found it…"

Rann kept low and carefully made her way to the top. She slowly peered over the edge down into the valley and spied the assassin droid with several Stormtroopers. She quickly ducked back down.

"Yeah, that's it alright. Did you notice the Imps down there?"

"Uh-huh," Soraa answered. "What the hell are they doing there with the droid?"

"I don't know, but we'd better report this to the others."

Kurloh, Ja'Ina and Fitty had just made it to the edge of the forested area when the comlink sounded. Kurloh removed it from her utility belt.

"Kurloh here, go ahead."

The hushed but excited voice of Rann came over the speaker. "This is Team Three. We've found our target! I repeat we've found it!"

"That's great!" Kurloh replied.

"Yeah, but there's a slight problem. It's accompanied by several Imperial troopers."

Ja'Ina shot a Kurloh a worried look.

"What's your status?"

"I don't think they know we're here. We're at the top of a ridge and they're about five-hundred meters away from us in a small valley hidden amongst the hills due south of Olu-Krav."

"Alright Rann. Just stay where you are and monitor them. Do not engage. Understand?"

Rann would have loved the opportunity to pick off the Stormtroopers one at a time right then and there. But she understood that it might not be the best idea right now. "Yeah, we'll stand by."

"Good! Team Two, did you copy that?"

"Yeah we did," Marka answered through the comlink. "We're already heading back towards the city top-speed. It'll take us a little while though."

Kurloh nodded. "Understood. Do your best."

The Togruta turned around to face Ja'Ina, who was no longer standing next to her. She had already started running down the road.

Kurloh ran after her. "Hey! Wait up!"

The duo came across an unattended speeder bike on the side of the road.

"Will this do?" Ja'Ina asked, gesturing to the vehicle with a big smile.

The Togruta returned the smile. "Yeah, it'll do just fine! I'm very impressed, Ina. You're becoming quite the pirate!"

"I'll drive," Ja'Ina said as she started to straddle the bike.

"Not this time, sweetie!"

Ja'Ina called back to Fitty, who had finally caught up with them. "You go back to the Lucky Star and stay there, okay?"

The astromech let out a loud squealing blat in protest.

Kurloh crouched in front of the distressed droid, looking him in his photoreceptor. "Look little fella, we'd take you along but there's no way to get you on this thing." She motioned to the speeder bike. "Besides we need you to back us up from the Lucky Star."

Fitty let out an electronic sound that was not unlike a disappointed sigh.

Kurloh deftly jumped up and strode the speeder bike's saddle. Ja'Ina got on behind her and they sped off out of the city towards the hills to the south, leaving the little droid behind.