Episode 6: Search for the Jedi (part 2)

PLAYER CHARACTERS (and what we know about them so far).

Asti : Woman with good knowledge of droids. Quiet, cool-headed and sensible.
Stoge : Brash Pilot. Loves wine, women, song, and blasting Imperial fighters to dust.
Straun Solarwind: Polearm-wielding farmboy. Searching for his father's fate.
Dar : Muscled black native. Prefers the ways of his people to technology. Uses an ornate sword with his great strength.
Karlos Trialeki : Eight-gun slinger. Deadly with firearms. Running from his past.
Surge : Knowledgeable man, good shot with a blaster.
Menarggrah : Strong, intelligent Wookiee.

Yabud : Curious Jawa.

"Let's try it again...seven,eight.. ok, here's your hand. Now, look at them and.. Hey Trialeki, can you hold the cards for this guy? Now, do you think you can bluff your way through with the cards you've got?"
"I see. Ok, I'm going to toss in this nine of Krayt Dragons and draw again. Are you going to throw down any cards here? remember the basic idea of a bluff."
"Stoge," said Karlos slowly. "Give up."
"But he's just getting it!" Stoge objected.
"Stoge, he's a POWER DROID. He can't grab the cards, he can't distinguish between them, he can't do anything except go 'gonk' and work on perfecting the dolly-stepping plod."
"So what? at least he doesn't just grab the cards and start building little houses like that stupid Jawa." Stoge stood up in disgust and went back into the cockpit. "We there yet, Solarwind?"
"Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Straun mocked from the pilot's chair. "Be a good little boy and daddy will give you a seat next to the window."
"Hraag Hraaag Hraag," Menarggrah chortled.
"Hey," Stoge turned to him, "Shut up and pick your fleas, shaggy."
"Hrrrmmp!" the Wookiee stood up angrily.
"Just calm down, everybody," Asti's voice broke the tension. "It's a long hyperspace trip and we're all getting irritated, but letting it out on each other is the easy way out that gets us nowhere. We're a TEAM."
There was a tense, silent moment, then Menarggrah sat back down and Stoge went aft again, ignoring Straun's apology. Karlos was slumped across a few acceleration chairs on his back, his hat over his eyes. Surge was in the ship's only other room, absorbed in a holotext. Yabud was back somewhere inspecting the engine setup, and Dar was keeping him out of trouble.
To Stoge's surprise, the power droid nudged the cards again.
"Gonk," he said.


Bindibar II hung in space before them, seeming from orbit to be a lush planet of hills, forests and mountains, broken by a few small oceans. Sensors picked up two small settlements on almost opposite sides of the planet.
"This is the SLAVE II," Stoge tried the most common civilian band. "Anybody reading me down there?"
"Yeeeuuup," came the reply after a moment, somewhat weak and broken periodically by bursts of static. "Welcome, stranger. What say you come on down and we put back a bottle or two of some fine Muckleberry Juice?"
Stoge's eyes lit up.
"You're on, mate. Approach co-ordinates?"
"On their way," replied the voice.
"By the way," Stoge added. "Who is this?"
"This is Muckle," replied the voice.
"Sounds like a small place," commented Surge.
The SLAVE II dropped smoothly out of the atmosphere, and as it approached the small settlement the Rebels could see it was extremely small, numbering perhaps forty buildings. There was no spaceport, so Stoge brought the ship down on a clear, flat area next to some old sheds.
As they walked down the ramp they first thing they noted was the fresh, clean air. Bindibar II was a lush, unspoiled planet.
A curious crowd of locals were watching from what appeared to be the local cantina. Surge appraised the town and its inhabitants and guessed that it was a mining town. A dusty, bearded man in a floppy hat approached them and, greeting them warmly, introduced himself as Muckle.
"Come in," he said. "Come inta th' pub and we'll bend the elbow a bit."
They were led into the small, primitive cantina and soon were caught up in friendly conversation with a number of the locals, talking about the settlement's fifteen-year history and their subterranean search for a lost trilithium vein. Muckle produced several large earthenware jugs full of the local Muckleberry juice, a potent beverage that all the Rebels declined except Stoge, who saw it his civic duty to participate in local custom for the sake of diplomacy.
"Old Republic base?" Muckle repeated loudly (once his tongue had been loosened). "Lotsa folks've come an' looked around for it, but it ain't here. S'pose you could go an' ask the hermit up the mountain, he's been here longer'n me."
"Would you take us to him?" Surge asked midly.
"Sure!" Muckle blurted. "Just give me a bit to get the grubs ready."
Time passed. Stoge drank muckleberry juice with the locals until he fell over.
"Schuse me," he said, making his way tentatively to the doorway. He rounded the side of the building and just made it out of sight of the main road before he vomited violently, which was accompanied by a burst of applause from inside the building.
"That stufff fs sgreat!" he declared upon his reentry, and purchased a small keg before Muckle led them down to the snubgrub pen.

Bindibar II's beasts of burden were approximately forty meters long, giant pinkish-purple maggots that slowly squirmed in the pen as they waited impatiently for the gate to be opened. Muckle passed around some long poles with a unknown solid on the end, and easily scaled the side of a snubgrub.
Menarggrah sniffed at the pole curiously. {What..this?}
"It's a scentstick," Muckle explained. "Fools them grubs good. Y' steer 'em with it." He waved his stick in front of his grub to demonstrate, and the beast squirmed in the stick's direction with astounding speed for its size. "C'mon up, they don't roll over on ya."
Once they were all aboard (it took only two grubs to carry them all), Muckle set a course up into the mountains. A slight breeze renewed the feeling of freshness that the air had earlier given them, and the scenery was quite beautiful. Stoge wished sincerely that the grubs' rocking motion would stop.
He reached for his blaster to fire an enthusiastic shot in the air only to find that the holster was empty. Muckle eventually tied him to the grub to stop him falling off. Menarggrah, holding Stoge's blaster, knew he had done the right thing, and ignored the pilot's cursing at him for stealing his weapon.
They covered thirty-eight of the fifty kilometer journey before the sun peaked in the clear sky. The snubgrubs squirmed their way down toward a small, grassed gulley and stopped when a heavy bolt of energy sizzled down from a nearby hill and blasted a small tussock to oblivion.
In seconds the Rebels poured from the grubs and sought cover. Muckle was a little slower, jumping for the ground and realising too late that Stoge was still strapped to the lead snubgrub and exposed to fire. The pilot cast his still-glazed eyes over the scene with interest, then reached for his blaster. It still wasn't there.
Another shot came toward them, narrowly missing Karlos' dodging form and striking one of the grubs, who appeared not to have felt the blast.
Muckle reached up and untied the strapping holding Stoge to it, and he fell roughly to the ground.
"Let'zz geddem!" he said, and promptly tripped over his own feet. Rolling into the gulley, he landed in the creek below.
Menarggrah and Dar decided to advance on whatever was firing at them, and while the others gave them rough cover fire they crept up the gulley, doing their best to keep out of sight.
Dar was immediately impressed with the perception of their unseen assailant(s). Though the native thought himself quite adept in hiding from foes and creeping up to them, the heavy blaster fire followed the native and the Wookie however they tried to avoid it. Menarggrah eventually tired of being held at such a disadvantage and charged up the grassy hill where the fire was coming from, blaster rifle in hand. Dar followed him without pause, and the two vanished out of sight of those attending the snubgrubs.
Menarggrah's wild rush was, to some extent, built on confidence. There seemed to be only one source of firing, and even if was an elite stormtrooper it would easily fall before a blaster rifle shot or even a quick demonstration of Wookiee martial arts. So thinking, he crested the hill.
His first impression was that a bulbous creature was sitting on the ground, covered in grass and shooting at him. This lasted only for a second, though, as the thing seemed to explode out of the ground into a huge, many-legged mechanical monstrosity that towered over the two Rebels and fired again, hitting Menarggrah a glancing blow. The Wookiee raised his blaster rifle as Dar crested the hill behind him. The warrior saw immediately that by the time the metal beast was within sword range it could have fired upon them a number of times, so for one of the first times in his life he drew his blaster as Menarggrah fired. His shot hit the huge droid in its body, blowing away a sizeable chunk and making it miss Dar with it's next shot. The black native fired in unison with Menarggrah's second shot.

Back down with the grubs, Yabud gasped suddenly as, over the small hill in the distance, a loud explosion echoed in the empty stillness of the valley. A black cloud arose in the distance as the explosion's physical body,as if rearing in triumph.
Surge was already moving. "Come on!" he cried, and they all ran recklessly toward the hill.
When they topped the rise a scene of devastation greeted them. A charred crater was encircled by soot, blasted dirt, small bits of metal and the prone bodies of Menarggrah and Dar. The Wookiee stirred painfully as they approached.
Karlos checked the immediate area with Muckle as Surge saw to the wounds of Dar and Menarggrah. It took some time for him to dig out all the minute shrapnel and treat the burns, and when he was finished Menarggrah limped back down to the snubgrubs to see what had become of Stoge while Dar remained in a temporary coma. Asti and Yabud were studying the wreckage and conferring with each other, hampered somewhat by the language barrier.
"What WAS that thing?" Karlos asked as he returned with Muckle.
Asti stood up and nudged a small length of antenna with her foot. "An Imperial probe droid. If we're going to find this Old Republic base, we'd better do it fast."

They resumed the journey sometime later, and it was still early afternoon when they climbed into the jagged mountains and reached a small hut built on a smaller flat area. The height they had now reached gave a breathtaking view back the way they had come, and they could even just make out a hint of the settlement, some fifty kilometres away. Above them, further up the mountain, two peaks almost met in a vertical gap formation that added further character to the scene.
The group dismounted and approached the hut. Muckle strode to the door and knocked somewhat timidly.
The simple wooden door squeaked open to reveal a man in his mid-forties who screamed and slammed the door.
Everyone was somewhat taken aback by this.
The door opened again, and this time the man's face seemed almost white. The man seemed to have composed himself.
"Miguel! no, no, it couldn't be. You must be his young one, Strain."
"Straun," Straun corrected. "We need to talk."


Passing the Desecrator's communication banks, the junior officer paused below the command platform and bowed before his two masters. Though the usual fear was in his voice, he could not keep a hint of pride and self-importance from creeping into his tone.
"My lords, I have located a group of known Rebels on the second planet in the Bindibar system."
The Captain's eyes flashed. "Do not press for compliments, lieutenant. You merely recieved a report from one of the probe droids." He dismissed the subordinate with a wave of his hand, then turned to the man beside him, cloaked in dark grey robes. "Our best indication yet."
The other seemed troubled. "I cannot sense that this is where our quest will be fulfilled, my friend. Something..." he let the sentence die off.
"Nevertheless," the captain replied "It is worth detailing a small assault team. Three fully-equipped stormtrooper dropships should be more than adequate." He turned to one of the officers below them, of the ground forces division. "Detail the one hundred and fifty stormtroopers, and set your course for the Bindibar system."


Surge glanced over to where Straun and the hermit (who had introduced himself as Tiacc) stood talking in low tones. Straun suddenly bowed his head in sorrow and grief. Since they had explained their situation with the hermit he had endeavoured to talk to Straun at length, and had not given them any answers as yet. Surge inwardly fought for patience.
Stoge approached him. "I'm going back with Muckle," he stated. "I'll fire up the sensors on the Slave II and keep a look out."
"If need be," said Tiacc, turning suddenly toward them, "You could bring your ship up through the gap," -he pointed to the thin space between the two mountains above- "To the old base's concealed landing pad."
"The base is here?" Asti cut in suddenly.
"Why, yes," Tiacc confirmed. "And from what I hear of your journey here, I'd better take you to it right away." He hurried into the hut to collect a few things.
"Later," said Stoge. He climbed astride the second grub, and as Muckle bid them good-day, they wriggled downhill and out of sight on the snubgrubs.
"You realise, of course," said Surge "That he'll just go back and get into the Muckleberry juice again. He won't even be able to operate his OWN senses."
"He has one of our two comlinks," put in Karlos. "Tell him to bring the ship up as soon as he gets down there."
Asti produced the other comlink from a pocket. "Hello?" she said.

Further down the hill, Stoge was feeling somewhat more sober than the trip up. He checked that he still had everything. Blaster, credits, comlink..
The pilot scowled and swore under his breath. "Back in a minute," he shouted to Muckle, wheeling the snubgrub around.

"Hello?" said Asti's voice, from somewhere in Yabud's pouches.
"Huh?" said Asti.
"Huh?" said Asti's voice from a small object that Yabud pulled out sheepishly.
Realization dawned.
"The little runt picked his pocket!" Karlos exclaimed.
Yabud held out the comlink with an air of innocence and Asti snatched it irritably. Stoge arrived on the grub and dismounted. Appraising the situation, he approached the Jawa with a mean look on his face.
Yabud backed away, gesturing open-handed and babbling incoherently.
Stoge had had enough of having his equipment stolen. He threw a punch at Yabud that was sympathised with by some of the others present. Yabud, menawhile, had merely acted out of curiosity and had no idea what the fuss was about. Nevertheless, Stoge's punch spoke all languages and was dodged by the desert scavenger, who threw an ineffective punch of his own.
Yabud was doing an excellent act of dodging the pilot's angry swings until the foot of a Wookiee caught him in the stomach and sent him flying.
The Jawa chittered angrily and drew his blaster despite Asti's cries that they should all calm down. He trained it on Menarggrah.
"You're going to shoot the WOOKIEE?" Straun raised an eyebrow.
Yabud thought this was a good argument, and turned the gun on Stoge instead.
Before the Jawa could pull the trigger, Karlos' hand had flashed to his holster, drawn his eight-gun and shot the blaster out of Yabud's hand.
Straun went to tackle the Jawa, but Yabud ducked and the young Agostian went sailing over his head. Then Asti, who was behind Yabud, dropped her rope over him and held him fast, keeping him both from being harmed and harming anyone else.

As tempers began to cool Tiacc emerged from his hut again and confessed that his first impression of the Rebel Alliance was contrary to the virtuous rumours he had heard. Straun apologised on behalf of them all and the rebels became quiet from embarassment.
"Let's go," suggested Dar.
They did. Stoge reclaimed his comlink, mounted the grub and left. The others followed Tiacc, who began to lead them up a long, rocky trail that wound its way up the mountain.
The hermit began to tell them of the old days, the peak period of the Old Republic, the slow corruption of the Senate, even what he knew of the Clone Wars. Surge at first found it extremely interesting, but as they went on he began to tire not only of Tiacc's narrative but also of their journey. They had travelled all this way on rumour. On hearsay! The only one that actually claimed that they KNEW where this base was was Tiacc, and who was he? a bumbling recluse that didn't know when to shut up. His subconscious told him in a tingling way that this line of thought was very uncharacteristic of him, but he refused to listen. All he felt like doing was going back to the ship and having a sleep.
He was not alone. The further the eight of them travelled up the mountain, the more an irritating weight pressed on all but three of them. It was almost a voice, but a voice from inside them that used not words but feelings.
The voice was silent to three of them.
The feelings were of fatigue, of frustration, of a nervous shade of fear. The valley below, so green and cool, beckoned for them with a compelling, subtle seduction, never blatant enough to show itself for what it was.
Three of them were immune.
For what it was was produced by an unseen relic of days long gone, by a power that had seemingly fled from the present galaxy when the suffering of its systems cried out for it like never before. By an energy field and something more..
They reached a point where they couldn't go on. All but three threw themselves in disgust to the rocky trail. Menarggrah was hot and itchy under his fur. Yabud was sick of walking up the rocky slope and tripping over his robe. Voices raised the opinion of giving up the search for the base.
Three figures still stood, unaffected. Tiacc looked over Asti and Straun with an appraising eye, feeling through the Force the raw talent within them. He had long known of the coming of the son of Solarwind, but Asti had surprised him. He noted that she even had a Force Lash, and marvelled at how the Force provided for its own.
"Wait here," he walked further up the trail to where a rock wall lay inconspicuously against the side of the mountain. Moving aside a certain stone, he reached in and, grasping the crystal firmly, shut off the force field.
Immediately the feelings of fatigue were gone from the group, replaced by wonder and more than a trace of awe. Tiacc now seemed taller to them somehow, and a commanding presence radiated from him as he addressed them.
"Your commander was wise to hide the true nature of this place from you, for if you had revealed in your search that you sought an Old Republic base of the Jedi, Palpatine would have moved to stop you at all costs.
Know, then, that this was base 1138, planetary refuge for the group of Jedi that were responsible for the protection and order of this sector."
As he spoke, he seemed to drift into another time. His audience was captivated.
"We had been trying to locate a group of slavers that were operating in the neighboring systems. Our infiltration droid leaked word to us that they were going to raid a certain planet and take the uncivilised natives for black market distribution. Unsure of the exact time, Miguel Solarwind was left in wait for them with one of my fellow apprentices.
He never returned. We knew of his death some days later when we felt a disturbance in the Force, and were about to investigate when a priority summons came through from Chancelloror Palpatine. It was not to be ignored.
I was left behind, recovering from a wound, and our Dreadnaught, with my friends and master, did not return either. That day I felt the greatest disturbance in the Force that has ever been felt before or since, and passed out from the sheer agony.
When I awoke, perhaps days later, my grief was such that I longed to die, for what hope had the galaxy without the Jedi? yet I farsaw that what little I knew of the ways of the Force, and this place, would one day be needed, so I collapsed the main entrance, activated the security devices, and waited."
Everyone was silent, not knowing what to say. The scope of his tale was breathtaking.
Karlos was sudenly aware that Yabud was next to him and curiously trying to take his eight-gun from his holster. The gunfighter immediately became volatile, slapping the hand of the Jawa away and threatening to flatten the desert scavenger. Yabud, on the other hand, was getting sick and tired of everyone objecting so violently to his harmless curiousity. He stood his ground as tension began to ignite into anger.
Tiacc suddenly stepped between them. "Maybe you should sit over there," he suggested to Yabud.
[Maybe I should sit over there] Yabud declared, waddling over to a small rock and sitting down.
"He's just curious," Tiacc explained to Karlos.
Karlos shrugged and settled down. Yabud was, after all, just curious.
Tiacc addressed them all again. "The droid you seek is our infiltration unit, last seen with the slavers. The database inside the mountain should still be in relative working order and will tell you where it was assigned. The perpetual-lighting system should still work as well, but I cannot guarantee that the other systems do. Be wary of the two enforcement droids, the old 209 models. Without maintenance they may be just rusted hulks by now, but if they are active there's no telling what twenty standard years in dark isolation will do to a droid's behavioural structure. Also do not enter the non-weapon zone with non-Jedi weapons, and you'll need this." He drew an identification disk out of his tunic and handed it to Asti, along with a simple map.

"We are at the secondary entrance," Tiacc explained. "You'll have to turn on the perpetual lighting-system at the secondary system control, halfway along the corridor. Forget the living quarters, all that remain there are a few personal effects." He explained to a disappointed Yabud that no, there were NOT approximately two hundred lightsabers in there sitting in lockers. The Jedi had taken them all with them in their last flight into history.
"You're not coming with us?" said Surge.
"No," replied the Jedi apprentice. "I have seen this day for many years, and my destiny lies elsewhere." He reached his hand into the concealed space in the solid rock, and with barely a whisper a door slid open in the barren face.
Straun set his jaw. "Let's do it," he said.


Stoge wearily made his way over to the Slave II. When Muckle had invited him in for a great time of potent fluids and rowdy miner's drinking songs, it had taken all his strength to resist. Yet resist it he had, an act by which he had surprised himself with his inner strength. He tried to block out the cheerful noises floating back from the cantina, and sadly thumbed the ramp down, painfully accepting his silent victory.
He clomped up the ramp to be greeted by a warm "Gonk," which didn't help his mood at all. Wearily he entered the cockpit, threw himself into the pilot's chair, gave the sensors a scan and picked up the three stormtrooper dropships approaching the gravity well of Bindibar II.


The rebels' footsteps gave hollow echoes as they slowly made their way down the dark corridor. By the flickering light they had brought with them, Asti (who was in the lead) could just make out a control panel on the left wall. She glanced around uneasily as Surge investigated it. After studying the dials and buttons for a moment he threw a large switch marked MAIN and, with an empty metallic ring, the perpetual lights came on.
The corridor seemed in surprisingly good condition, merely coated with a thick layer of dust that made Surge sneeze and Menarggrah flare his nostrils in irritation of the musty smell. At the far end of the corridor, where it turned to their left, a security gun jutted downward from the roof. As the lights came on it slowly turned, dust and rust sprinkling away, and pointed at Asti. A small red light grew in intensity.
Warily, Asti raised Tiacc's ID disc.
The security device considered this for a moment, and the red light went out. It swung upward slightly to point at Surge, and the red light came on again.
Surge gulped.
The red light flared, the gun shuddered slightly, then the whole thing blew up with a small explosion. Exposed wiring crackled angrily before melting into bubbling silence. A scraping, heavy metallic sound came from just around the corner.
Upon investigation they found that a heavy blast door had come down upon detection of their presence but had ground to a halt two-thirds of the way down. They attempted to prop it up with a few things (Menarggrah suggested using Yabud), but eventually just scrambled under and found themselves in the main hall.
Even in the musty desolence it was beautiful, featuring ornate carvings on the pillars that stretched to the roof far above, and many tapestries lining the walls that were emblazoned with symbols from many systems. Dar noted the accuracy of Tiacc's map, observing the doors on the left and right (that led to the living quarters and administration, respectively) and the door at the far end that opened to the conference room and the passageway to the landing pad. Straun immediately recognised the main hall from some of his father's old holos, and was struck with a sense of destiny.
Yabud ran over to the door on the right, which was open. The lights had failed down the corridor beyond, but silhouetted against the lights from the intersection at its far end was a large, hulking shape. Yabud initially took the shape to be a pile of junk, or perhaps a stack of furniture that reached almost to the roof. Maybe a personal vehicle...
There was a red flicker as a small light came on from the metallic hulk, then an ear-piercing screech as joints that had remained silent for twenty years were finally used again. As Yabud backed hurriedly away from the door he heard the first of the deep thudding footsteps as it clanked mechanically up the corridor and into the room.
Straun made the instant comparison to an AT-ST walker. It seemed to walk on the same principle, but was much smaller (a predecessor?). Its domed head-body seemed too small to fit any human-sized sentient inside, however. Jutting from its sides were two appendages that supported huge chain-fed slugthrower cannons.

That, thought Surge, is one BIG security droid.
It turned to face the group, red light flaring as a deep, tinny voice boomed: "YOU DO NOT BEAR REPUBLICAN IDENTIFICATION."
Everyone was meekly silent. Asti stepped forward and casually held up Tiacc's ID disc. It moved to address her.
Her eyes widened. Yabud babbled an idea to Menarggrah, who, by a great feat of language comprehension, understood him.
The droid took a clanking step and trained its guns on Asti.
"I AM NOW AUTHORISED TO FIRE." The barrels on the slugthrower cannons began to spin with an ominous whine.
The young Jedi threw herself desperately to one side as the guns opened up, the heavy slugs cutting a trail in the rock that followed her dodging form and blasted a chunk from a pillar as she disappeared behind it.
Straun ripped his blaster from its holster, sacrificed a steady aim in favour of speed, and sqeezed off a shot. It hit the droid directly in one of the slugthrower cannons, severing it from the body in a spray of energy and sending a heavy jolt through the metallic hulk. Surge lightly damaged its body with a quick successive shot.
Then suddenly Menarggrah was running forward, holding Yabud high. The Jawa, babbling defiantly, was holding a restraining bolt in one hand and the fusion welder in the other. Blocking out the sound of hammering slugs, the Jawa cooly calculated the position to weld the bolt. Atop the dome seemed the correct place, mechanically speaking, but if the droid was too old a restraining bolt may not work..
Then from behind him he heard the savage bark of the eight-gun. The explosive bullet blew one of the droid's legs out from under it with a concussive blast, and the thing toppled to the stone, still firing. Another shot from the smoking gun of Karlos Trialeki ended its prone thrashing.

Yabud and Menarggrah mumbled disappointment to each other at not being able to control the thing. The Jawa inspected the droid curiously and found that any attempt to apply a restraining bolt would have been in vain; the droid was built before restraining bolts came into circulation (during the time of the assasin droid massacres) and hence the bolt could not have controlled it.
Dar passed the droid and cautiously crept down the corridor from whence it came, sword at the ready. The T-intersection at its end was now bathed in a flickering red glow that came from the intersection's south passage. Along the walls (toward where the map indicated the administration/control section) were regularly-spaced lights that blinked in warning. Dar resumed his cautious advance until stopped by Surge.
"Don't," The medic warned. "It's a no-weapon zone." Used since the time of Xim the Despot, any being that entered such a zone armed would instantly be turned to ash. At Dar's sceptical replies, Surge invited him to throw a knife up the corridor.
Without hesitation the burly warrior whipped a small throwing knife from his loincloth and cast it forward with all the force his great strength could muster. Though the missile was travelling at incredible speed it could not outrace light itself, and as it entered the zone it was encompassed with a sizzling sheet of energy. The knife hit the floor as a glob of slag.
Straun placed his blaster on the floor. Menarggrah, grumbling at leaving his weapons, followed suit with his blaster rifle. Dar and Karlos opted to stay rather than leave their sword and eight-gun behind, but all others followed suit in a cascade of weaponry. Asti, testing what Tiacc had said to them, ignited the Force Lash and touched the point through into the zone. Nothing happened. Deactivating it, she clipped it to her belt.

Gingerly, Asti stepped into the no-weapon zone and hoped that Tiacc was right, or she hadn't forgotten a non-Jedi weapon, or that the old mechanisms wouldn't make a mistake and incinerate her anyway. Reflexively holding her breath, she passed safely through with the others.
Once they were past the flashing area and the empty, non-threatening corridor stretched before them, they all relaxed visibly. When they resumed walking at a normal pace, Straun turned to Asti.
"How did you learn of the Force?" he asked awkwardly.
She gave him a pained look, and Straun immediately knew that he had touched something painful within her past. It surprised him that he felt it rather than guessed from her reaction. She spoke.
"When I was a slave on Axat there was a man there, a fellow slave named Ledean. I think he was an apprentice like Tiacc who had survived the slaughter of the Jedi because he had not been fully trained. We were under strict security but he found ways to avoid these and teach me what he knew."
She winced. "I don't remember much of the escape, just the face of the rebel agent that helped us out, but they told me later that Ledean and my father had been recaptured.. and you?" she avioded the painful subject by turning it back on Straun.
He did not answer right away. Without consciously trying, Asti reached to him through the Force and knew that he was in turmoil, trying to deal with what he knew of his earlier years in light of the recent news of his father, and of all there was yet to know.
"When I was three," he explained, "we received a message that my father had disappeared. Before my mother, Samanti, could reply or act, the extermination of the Jedi began, a time she won't discuss and I don't remember. We left Alderaan with my father's apprentice, who was staying with us at the time, and fled as far as we could into the outer regions, to Agost.
"In spite of my mother's disagreement the apprentice trained me asmuch as he was able, and when he died in a groundcar accident five years ago I kept my knowledge and my desire to learn more. I found some of my father's old holos and practised as much as I could. When I came of age I decided to try to find out what had happened to him, and joined the Alliance.." He broke off as they realised that they were alone in their casual walk up the corridor.
Turning around, they beheld a strange sight. Yabud lay face down on the floor, wriggling angrily. Surge was walking slowly and very stooped, as if burdened by an unseen weight, and even Menarggrah felt very heavy.
Surge fell to the floor. "It's another force field of some kind," he shouted, turning around wearily. He found that the weight lessened if he went back the way he came.
Yabud stood stiffly up against the weight, took a step and thumped to the floor again. Menarggrah howled in frustration and ran at Asti and Straun, making it a full five of his large strides past Surge before crashing heavily to the metal plating. Grumbling, he started painfully back.
The two young Jedi looked for a switch, but there was none.
"Go on," shouted Surge. Reluctantly, they complied.


The Slave II screamed over Tiacc's hut and up the mountain toward the twin spires that marked the landing pad. Stoge stayed low to the ground to fool Imperial sensors, zigging and zagging over the terrain.
"Now we're SERIOUSLY in the foo," he remarked.
"Gonk," was the agreement.
Further down in the valley, the three stormtrooper dropships dropped to hover over the town. Two settled where the Slave II had been minutes before, the third turned in the direction they had seen the fleeing ship and began looking for signs of life.
The residents of the mining town received few visitors, and none welcomed them in the way that the one hundred veteran stormtroopers did when they streamed from their dropships with blasters firing. Mechanically, systematically, they began to slaughter the civilians.


The man sat alone in the room, kneeling on the floor. His eyes closed, he sensed the approach of the third dropship before his feeble human hearing picked up the scream of approaching repulsors. Reaching forward, he reverently opened the small wooden box that had remained untouched for twenty years. He gently brushed aside the felt and picked up the object.
With a cracking <kssssh> sound that filled the room with a defiant hum, Tiacc activated the lightsaber.


As wary and as perceptive as the two were, they noticed the small open hatch in the wall long before they reached it. Straun studied it and the adjoining keypad but was unable to determine its function.
At least until a metallic orb as big as his head floated out of it and raised itself into the air emitting an angry buzz.
They stepped back in alarm, many thoughts flashing through Straun's mind within a second. An attack droid of some kind? Tiacc had mentioned that there were TWO security droids. Maybe it had been released because they hadn't keyed in a security code. Then again, it seemed to fit descriptions of training drones he had heard of..
There was a green flash as it shot a heavy bolt of energy into Straun's chest and sent him to the floor. As he lay there grunting at the pain he heard the <ksssh> of Asti's force lash as she stepped between them quickly. The droid spun its photoreceptor toward her in time to meet the flashing orange arc as she cut it cleanly in half.
"Wow." Straun commented as he drew himself painfully to his feet. The strike was a mix of skill and luck, and Straun pondered that the force lash seemed an easier weapon to use than the lightsaber, famous for its difficulty.
She covered the hatch with the force lash in case of another drone, but its silent submission prompted them to go on.
The corridor ahead ended in a door marked AD_INI_T_ATION in faded lettering. To the right of the door were two small slots, and on either side of the corridor was a small alcove. Looking in, they saw that a crystalline card sat at the back of each.
"The cards obviously go in the slots and open the door," Asti noted.
Straun's eyes narrowed. "Careful. There are a lot of small protrusions ringing the entrances."
Asti tore a small section of cloth from her leg. Straun instantly envisioned Stoge commenting "We'll need a MUCH bigger piece than that!" and smiled to himself. Asti thrust the end of the cloth into one of the alcoves and it was instantly incinerated by a sheet of energy.
"Perhaps it doesn't work on living tissue?" suggested Straun, then added, "though I wouldn't like to try."
Asti straightened. "This is a Jedi base." She raised her hand and concentrated, blocking out the surrounding distractions, feeling through the force the crystalline card..
..and the crystalline card moving.
It floated gently, safely past the deadly protrusions and into her grasp. She turned to get the other one only to see it flash into Straun's hand. He turned to her and they both grinned.
Thrusting the cards into the slots simultaneously, they watched with a sense of anticipation as the door grated open.
The database of Jedi facility 1138 lay before them.


Bringing the Slave II between the twin spires of the mountain range, Stoge spotted the small landing pad and eased the ship down. Thumbing the ramp open, he ran down it with desperate speed.
There was no entrance to the complex.
Stoge scratched his chin and looked around. It was old, certainly, but now that he was here he could see that it was definately a landing pad. He studied the sheer walls carefully, saw a too-convenient spike of rock projecting from the cliff wall. He pushed it, pulled it and finally twisted it, exposing a passageway leading into the mountain.
Drawing his blaster, he ran in.


Straun and Asti studied the dusty banks of computers for over a minute. Apparently it had initialised when the main power was turned on, and now a simple menu hovered over the main terminal in wire-frame basic hologram lettering topped by one of the symbols they had seen in the main hall.

8274-151271-1138 ## AUDCOM ^^21

Straun sat in the chair before it, heedless of the dust. He puzzled over the method of input, then addressed the receiver at the top of the console.
"Query: equipment records."
The holo winked out obediently to be replaced by another list.


Straun curiously spoke "Query: Pure Defender."
The holoprojector flared with the needed intensity and projected a large image of a ship that loomed over them in graphic green detail. The Pure Defender, a fast, heavily armed Dreadnaught, rotated slowly, and the image flickered slightly with the aging projector. Asti wondered what had happened to it.
"New query," said Straun, and was presented with the main menu. This time he chose EQUIPMENT RECORDS followed by DROIDS.


"Query: Infiltration."

LAST ASSIGNED (SUMMARY): Arranged for capture by pirates raiding
relative sector 240869.
LAST REPORT (SUMMARY): Imminent raid by assigned pirates at Bermil.
Exact standard date unknown.

They investigated the details. At the time of the report, Bermil was a single-system planet listed as off limits to settlement because it would destroy the fragile ecological and cultural systems of its inhabitants, an unnamed race of near-human beings that were very primitive. The pirates apparently intended to capture many for sale as slaves, and Miguel Solarwind had been left on Bermil (with an apprentice) to intercept. Straun queried about his father but was unable to find anything new.


Running through some sort of conference room and a large set of double doors, Stoge found himself in a magnificent hall adorned by banners, pillars and the smoking hulk of a huge security droid.
"Thataway," he muttered to himself.
Entering the corridor past the droid he immediately saw Karlos reholstering his gun in a relieved manner and felt a vague sense of belated danger. Dar stepped from the shadows.
"The troopers are coming, guys. We gotta clear this place NOW."


"We've got the system name, let's go," Asti started for the door.
Straun motioned for her to stop. "Wait. Isn't the Empire after this too?"
Asti thought that was a good argument. They surveyed the banks of switches again and she spotted a large button covered by a transparisteel protector. Written below it was E___G_N_Y W_PE. She tried in vain to lift the cover, scrabbling at it with her fingers until Straun indicated the slot below it. They pondered this for a moment, then Straun snatched Tiacc's ID disc from Asti and slid it into the slot. The cover popped open and he pressed the button with an air of finality.
"That's it, then."
"Best to make sure," Asti ignited her Force Lash and proceeded to cut deeply into the computers, hearing for the first time the shouts of Surge for them to hurry up. Satisfied, they turned and sprinted back down the corridor.


Waiting near the wrecked security droid with Dar, Karlos and Surge, Menarggrah lifted his head in alarm at the sound of noise coming from across the great hall. As Yabud joined them an Imperial stormtrooper scrambled under the half-lowered blast door on the other side of the door. Menarggrah immediately snapped the blaster rifle to his shoulder and sqeezed off a shot, killing the luckless trooper.
"Asti and Straun are coming," reported Surge from behind them. Another trooper came under the door and was instantly taken out by Karlos. Yabud started blazing away with enthusiasm.
"We can hold them here for a while," said Stoge as a small metallic object skittered under the blast door and rolled to a stop some twenty metres away from them.
"Say, that looks like.." began Surge as Karlos shouted "COVER YOUR EYES!!" All immediately complied, and so nobody saw the smoke charge go off, filling the area with a thick black pall that covered the blast door.
Menarggrah and Yabud started firing into the smoke. Karlos waited, intending to pick his targets.
"I'll prep the ship," informed Stoge, firing as he ran for the double doors of the conference room and beyond that, the passage to the landing pad.
As Stran and Asti finally ran through the no-weapon zone, turned up the corridor and entered the great hall, many stormtroopers began to emerge from the smoke, heedless of their own safety and firing en masse.
{GO!!} snarled Menarggrah. Dar, Surge and the two young Jedi ran after Stoge. Karlos stayed with the Wookiee only a moment longer, the two taking down four more stormtroopers between them, then the two made a fighting retreat, covered by Surge and Straun from the conference room door.
More and more stormtroopers were pouring into the great hall and advancing rapidly after the fleeing Rebels. As the last of the group made it to the conference room, Straun surveyed the mass of white armour grimly.
When the leading stormtroopers passed the automatic doors leading to the living quarters, they squeaked open quickly and a deep, metallic voice intoned:
As he stabbed at the conference room door button, Yabud heard the chattering of heavy slugs and saw the first three stormtroopers fall like rag dolls. The stormtroopers returned fire, and the Jawa knew with a twinge of sadness that the droid would soon be overrun by the elite, white armoured soldiers. Then the door hissed shut, and Yabud placed the muzzle of his Jawa blaster to the door controls. With a surge of electricity and an electronic squeal, the door was fused shut. Hearing the furious exchange of slugs and energy, then blaster fire hitting the door, he turned away.
They ran. Up the twisting, turning passageway, out onto the pad and into the Slave II in what was almost a barely controlled panic. Stoge had the ship warmed up and as soon as the ship was closed it leaped from the pad, soaring upward with as much speed as he could coax out of the engine.
Momentarily, Stoge was grateful he hadn't stopped off for a few drinks with Muckle.
Some of them were even optimistic enough to think that their troubles were over until they cleared the mountains and saw the third dropship below them. Having just deposited its full complement of troops at the Jedi base's secondary entrance, it was taking off and seizing its target of opportunity.
The two ships rocketed skyward, the state-of-the-art dropship gaining on the sluggish Slave II. Bindibar 2 dropped beneath them rapidly as the Rebels raced for the limits of the planet's gravity well. Menarggrah, frowning in concentration over the charts, began to plot their course to Bermil. Stoge was reminded of their escape from Perodeen, in which he had been flying an academic database with an engine, and swore to himself. Would he never get a decent ship?
Menarggrah started entering the numbers into the astronav computer as the Slave II came within range of the dropship cannons. The Imperial craft fired, and in a bright volley of fire hit the Slave II amidships. The ship lurched and the Rebels were thrown around violently. Straun moaned as his ship's new energy shielding was blown away with the hammering pass.
Stoge threw the ship desperately around in the sky, making the dropship miss with its next pass as Menarggrah finished entering the numbers and the nav computer began thinking astronavigational thoughts.
Surge mopped his brow and glanced at their altitude. They were a long way up, perhaps the ionosphere. It was going to be close.
"HURRY UP!" he shouted at the calculating nav computer.
With a concussive lurch the Slave II was hit directly in the right side of it's engine. Stoge felt a shock of horror as the controls went totally slack in his hands. There was a sickening roller-coaster feeling as the ship hit the top of its engineless arc, then it began its long fall toward the surface of Bindibar 2.

The stormtrooper dropship's guns fell silent. It turned away, its job completed. The Slave II had no engine use and no control, and it was at the upper limits of Bindibar 2's gravity well. It dropped away from the Imperial craft and in seconds was a speck against the planet.

Stoge waggled the control column uselessly. It was totally dead.
"I might as well be playing with my.." he snarled until cut off by Yabud.
[Maybe something can be done] he said, heading back inside the ship.
The rear of the ship was full of smoke, as a small fire had broken out behind some of the panelling. Snatching up a fire extinguisher, the Jawa jetted the flames with synthfoam, then ripped off the panelling.
The Slave II was now flying like an eighteen-meter brick. It plummeted downward leaving a thick black plume across the heavens.
Menarggrah joined Yabud as they inspected the internal damage. The control lines were melted and most of the engine power shunt had blown into metallic mush. It didn't look good. They shifted their feet constantly to try to regain balance at the faulting ship's gravity system.
Yabud set to work on the control lines at a panicked speed, joining things where it looked right and ripping bits off where it didn't. Menarggrah cleared away the mess around the power shunt and found that the main power fuse had not just blown but exploded, taking the housing with it. He picked up what was left of the fuse and motioned to Yabud.
{We need something to use as a fuse} he shouted desperately.
[Huh?] Yabud totally failed to understand him, and resumed furiously splicing wires.
Menarggrah pointed to the fuse parts and howled.
"Gonk," said a voice behind them.
Even in that desperate moment both of them turned to face the power droid as he painstakingly plodded to them. His photoreceptor narrowed in concentration and then went out as something was ejected onto the floor.
It was the droid's primary fuse.
Marvelling at such simple bravery, the Wookiee scooped it from the floor and measured it against the engine shunt. It might work, but it was going to take a jury-rigging miracle. He disconnected the power from where he was working and, snatching tools from Yabud's kit, began roughly sizing the connection.
By now the Slave II had reached terminal velocity, screaming planetward in an uncontrolled spin. Stoge, through pilot's instinct, still sat doggedly at the useless controls, and had resigned himself to entering 'final hyperspace' when the control column regained life in his hands. As Yabud chittered triumphantly in the rear of the ship, Stoge realised that he now at least had use of maneuvering thrusters.
But they were backwards.
Putting a stream of profanity between him and death, he fought to bring the ship out of the spin, and had almost succeeded when the right side of the main engine kicked in with a cough. Once the pilot compensated for the additional thrust he used it and, with an heroic effort of piloting, brought the Slave II out of the spin.
Menarggrah and Yabud re-entered the cockpit as Asti told everyone to strap themselves in. Everyone did so, some going into the lounge and using the acceleraton chairs there. Yabud also stacked a pile of cushions on himself (as if it would help), knowing he had done his part.
It was now up to Stoge.
Sweat beaded on his forehead as he glanced out the main viewport.
Though they had a little use of the main drive and the maneuvering thrusters, there was not enough to stop their fall, let alone get altitude. The hasty repairs may lessen the impact, but that was all. They were going in, and Bindibar 2 was coming up awfully fast. The chances were, quite realistically, that they were all going to die.
"The damage we all take depends totally on you," Straun realised, totally failing to help Stoge in his concentration.
"Don't feel pressured, dear." Asti added.
They could easily make out detail now. They were coming down almost half the planet away from where they had taken off. Forest stretched as far as they could see from the low altitude. Stoge fought for a shallow angle.
Fear tingled in him and then detonated. This was it. He fought with the reversed controls.
The screaming, smoking ship crashed through the thick canopy of the treetops with a violent jolt. For a split second they could see the forward sensor dish being torn from the ship, hitting the viewport and disappearing over them, then there was only the tempest of leaves followed by the final, terrible crash. They were thrown forward sharply. Acceleration straps bit deep.
Then there was only the eerie, deafening silence.
<ping!> went the nav computer.

They started to move. Straun, who was already wounded from the drone in the Jedi base, had been knocked out, Asti had a nasty arm wound, and Karlos was stunned for a few moments.
Other than that, everyone was ok.
They erupted into cheering, reckless, uncontrolled happiness at being alive and escaping what had seemed certain death. Acceleration straps were released, and Stoge received a sound pummeling of back-slapping.


The technician kicked a section of panelling in disgust. "Useless. Utterly useless. They wiped it all and cut it up to make sure." He turned to the stormtrooper sergerant standing in the huge hole in the wall, which had been the only way the Imperials had been able to circumnavigate the weight-inducing force field.
"We can do nothing here."
The armoured figure acknowledged him with a nod, then turned to one of his subordinates.
"Begin a ground search for the Rebel scum. Conduct deployment along last known vector, and inform the Lieutenant."


The junior officer strode nervously onto the bridge of the Victory Class Star Destroyer Desecrator and crashed to attention. He tried hard to sound triumphant.
"Sirs, we have located Jedi base 1138 and penetrated to its database!"
The officer turned to face him and spoke with a twinge of sarcasm. "Most impressive. So where is the droid?"
"We..er, the Rebel slime were able to erase the database before we arrived.." He brightened "But we were, however, able to shoot them down before they escaped, so.."
"SHOT THEM DOWN??" the man in hooded, dark grey robes grated. "They now have the only link to phase one of the Emperor's project, Lieutenant."
"We ARE searching for them. They will not escape us."
The robed man raised his arms, and sizzling arcs of energy erupted from his outstretched hands. The Lieutenant lurched and screamed in agony, flailing helpless before the onslaught. Below them, the crew coordinators of the Desecrator suddenly became very involved in their work.
The grey robed man ceased his attack and the officer dropped to his knees, wheezing and gasping. The robed man adressed him in warning.
"I tire of your bumbling incompetance, Lieutenant. You will not fail us again."
"Indeed," added the officer beside him. Drawing his blaster, he shot the Lieutenant cleanly through the head.


The Slave II lay on its right side in a deep depression in the black earth and humus of the forest floor. The smoke had ceased with the ship's plunge and now it had settled into a thin haze around the craft.
Inside, Menarggrah stood on tiptoe and held the Jawa high. Yabud grasped the ramp lever and it hissed..up and open. Hoisting himself up, he stood "atop" the ship, on it's left wall.
He started to move forward and stopped when he felt the ship's rocking motion. Looking back inside, he jabbered until they understood that the ship was very unstable and might crash down on either side, then gingerly crawled forward with the other end of his rope. He scrambled to earth over the cockpit, noting as he did so that the viewport was cracked, and tethered his rope to a tree. Menarggrah made it fast on his end, and the ship was rendered slightly more stable. With much caution, everyone left the ship (including Straun, who had been expertly healed by Surge).
For the moment they left the ship where it was and examined the area. Karlos spotted something glinting some way off and, investigating, found the sensor dish that had been ripped off. He and Dar carried it back to the ship, Karlos dropping it once and complaining about the weight. Dar then vanished into the trees and proceeded to scout the area.
Straun spotted a metallic object high above, in the spectacular hole they had punched through the forest canopy. Though it was extremely high up and on thin branches the problem of retrieving it was solved by Menarggrah who used his Wookiee's climbing claws to expertly climb the tree, in his element. Some vigorous branch shaking and the part was found to be a section of engine casing with some connections wired to it.
The next problem was how to get the ship righted without damaging it. Karlos went off to find Dar and Surge located a sizeable log that could be used to their advantage. Asti's Force Lash made short work of it, and Surge, Stoge, Asti, Straun, Menarggrah and Yabud (who complained that he had most of the weight) struggled with it back to the ship.
Once the Slave II was securely roped to stop it toppling on them as they worked, they dug a shallow hole at the bottom side of the ship and manually lowered the right rear landing skid. The rest of the landing gear followed, allowing the hydraulics to cushion the impact of the fall when they dropped the ship. The ropes were removed and the log was leaned agianst the top side of the Slave II, and with a heavy thud it dropped onto its landing gear, upright.
The engine was immediately seen to by Yabud, Menarggrah and Surge (who, while no engineer, nevertheless had great ability with technical matters). Leaves and dirt were brushed away to find that the inductor coolant fan was missing and the modulation housing was totally blown away. They set to work, doing what they could, borrowing small bits from elsewhere and leaving out non-essential parts.

Karlos, meanwhile, had found Dar stalking a small, hapless and possibly edible furry animal of some kind. The native, after expressing anger at Karlos scaring it away, decided to search for water in the event of their stay being longer than expected. Karlos followed him downhill through the trees.
In a deeply shaded gulley a small stream wended its pool-and-riffle way under the trees. Dar knelt, sniffed at the water, then cupped handfuls to his mouth. The peaceful scene was interrupted when Karlos blurted:
"Hey! what's that?"
They peered downstream to where a graceful, willowlike tree bowed gracefully over the water. At the base of the tree something white was gleaming indistinctly among some wispy grass.
They strode silently to see what it was. Dar was still getting used to seeing other worlds, and their variety amazed him. White stones, perhaps? maybe a jelly-like life form...
They drew near and had just noticed that the white gleaming things were in fact bones when one of the tree's tendrils wrapped around Dar, pinning his arms to his sides, and lifted him bodily from the ground.
"Shoot it! Kill it!" Dar cried, but Karlos was already moving. Seeing his chance to execute an excellent shot, Karlos sighted at the tendril and, pulling the trigger hard, missed with style.
Dar was getting short of breath. He flexed his massive muscles and tried to reach his sword or vibroblade but the tendril was like a living wire around him.
Karlos fired at the tendril again, and once more he missed. The gunfighter frowned to himself. He must be getting rusty.
Dar thrashed furiously but was starting to feel an intense pressure in his head as his circulation slowed. He lost feeling in his legs.
"Oh well," Karlos trained the gun on the trunk of the tree instead. His aim true, the explosive bullet blasted a large hole in the plant that started to ooze a thick white sap. Dar dropped to the ground and started rubbing his legs to restore the circulation, muttering something about the cost he paid for the professional pride of Karlos Trialeki. They started back to the Slave II.

When they arrived Menarggrah was reattaching the sensor dish to the front of the ship. The crack in the viewport would normally have meant explosive decompression if they tried to go into space with it, but this was remedied by Karlos' use of the transparisteel spray can that he obtained from the Sacred Bag of Treasure on Gaarla. Once the viewport was mended they were ready to run diagnostics.
Stoge fired up the system. Engine at slightly over two-thirds power, but they could limp out of here with it. Life support ok, Grav ok, comm a bit damaged but useable, FORGET the shields, sensors...
"Uh, guys?" he called out as they heard whining engines approaching from the east.
The group scattered into the forest, not wanting to give a clear signal to any craft that may have had life form indicators. The thick canopy was a very obscuring visible barrier but they could still make out the shape of a stormtrooper dropship coasting low over the forest. It hovered for a long moment over the hole in the canopy, then turned away to the south.
"They missed us?" Surge wondered as they came back to the Slave II.
Stoge raised an eyebrow. "I doubt it. It's more likely they're looking for a place to set down." He started prepping the ship, thinking unpleasant thoughts about Imperial speeder bikes racing through the forest.
There was some general disagreement about whether or not to take off and risk getting shot down again, but to remain was certain capture. The Slave II lifted gently from the forest floor, and with some careful maneuvering Stoge flew the ship out through the hole they had made on the way in.
Bursting for the trees, the ship clawed for height. Straun scanned the area with the sensors and easily located the dropship a few kilometres away. It was on the ground and remained unmoving as they shot skyward.


No matter how much the pilot wanted them to, heavy scanning equipment, speeder bikes and many personnel were NOT put on and off a dropship in mere seconds, and though there was much rushing, cursing and the occasional demotion, the dropship was terribly delayed and the crew could only watch the scanners helplessly as their quarry flew away from them.


Menarggrah charted the course on the nav computer.
"Trouble," Straun reported. "Something's in orbit."
The other ship, whatever it was, turned on an intercept course to cut them off. "Too slow for a fighter," Stoge commented. "Do a focus."
The young Jedi complied with Menarggrah's help, and they identified it as a Lambda class shuttle. As they (once again) reached the upper atmosphere of the planet, it proceeded to close on them.
"Some of those shuttles are armed," informed Surge.
Stoge replied doubtfully. "It's well within range of any weapons it might have.."
The gap closed.
Menarggrah {Rrrff}ed worriedly.
"It seems to be betting that its hull is better than ours," Asti implied the collision with a trace of alarm creeping into her tone.
"It probably is," conceded Stoge. "I'll try and dodge it, but brace for a ram."
They all went for the acceleration couches again. Menarggrah watched in shock as the respective blips merged into one despite Stoge's dodging, then with a muffled <CLANG!> the ship lurched and they saw every rivet of a wing as the shuttle swept in front of them at an awkward angle.
{Passing again} Menarggrah reported.
Stoge successfully dodged this time, then they were free of the gravity well of Bindibar 2 and open space lay before them.
<ping!> went the nav computer, and with the pull of a lever they vanished into a kaleidoscope of flashing distance.


Hours later..
The Slave II dropped out of hyperspace in the Bermil system. Stoge took in the grand view of the grey-green planet before them and wondered what to do.
"A planet's a pretty big place to look, guys. Was the database info a LITTLE more specific?"
Asti shook her head as Straun spoke mechanically.
"I've got something on the sensors, in stable orbit around the planet."
"The slavers' ship," Asti stated with conviction.
Stoge turned toward it and they limped in its direction at a sluggish pace. When they got closer the ship came into view.
It was approximately seventy meters long, step-tapered from the two cylindrical engines at the bottom rear to the bulbous, glassy cockpit at the front. Two small blaster cannon turrets were located amidships (at top and bottom), and as they drew close they could see the faded name Fell Infidel painted on the side. It seemed to be heavily modified, patched and jury-rigged. Blaster cannon damage was apparent in several places, and those watching were amazed at the accuracy of how some of the maneuvering thrusters and hyperdrive had been surgically blasted away.
"Looks like they made one AWESOME pilot mad," Stoge commented.
The real surprise, however, came into view when the Slave II coasted gently to the rear of the silent ship. It had a tiny docking bay that was big enough to house two starfighter-sized ships, and even this was unusual in that it could be covered by a heavy door that slid upward when putting out/taking in ships.
{Unbelievable!} gasped Menarggrah. {No ship that small has a docking bay!} He considered the amount of power needed to drive the essential atmosphield generator.
Straun looked puzzled. "What sort of ship IS this, anyway?" Stoge didn't know, nor did Menarggrah.
"It's an Antrola medium transport," Surge stated simply.
They all looked at him.
The docking bay was open, and jutting out of it was the twisted wreckage of a Z-95 headhunter. Tethered inside the Infidel, however, was a sleek, gleaming white starfighter.
Stoge's eyes lit up.
It was obvious that the fighter was also something in the Z-series, evidenced by the style of the nose and cockpit (which were similar to a headhunter or X-Wing), but the ship had five wings. A small dorsal wing projected straight up from behind the cockpit, Two wings jutted out from the fuselage similar to the headhunter, and there were two smaller ones below them, indicating greater atmospheric maneuvering capability. The latter four wings were now folded up to the dorsal one, and they could just make out the four triple blasters; two on the main wings and another two on the nose.
"It's beautiful," Stoge sighed, clearly in love.
"Let's get inside that thing," Straun said sensibly, "and see if the old droid's in there.." he fell silent as a clanging sound was heard above them.
A large, black, metallic cylinder detached itself from the top of the Slave II and jetted toward the Fell Infidel with small thrusters. When it reached the docking bay it split into three; the right section producing arms and vanishing into the darkness of the ship, the middle section hovering in space while pulsing a flashing red beacon and the left section producing an internal blaster and waiting.
"An Imperial troid," Asti said knowingly.
"What the.. how did.." babbled Karlos.
{The shuttle} explained Menarggrah angrily, hopelessly.
"It didn't ram us at all," said Surge bitterly.
Straun started back toward the suits at the rear of the Slave II.
"Come on, let's get in there."
There was momentary indecision over who would use the other suit. Karlos refused to try his eight-gun in space, and Stoge pointed out that he could use the suit's jetpack better. He suited up with Straun, and they entered the lock.
Menarggrah turned the ship so that the lock was facing away from the blaster-wielding third of the droid, and the two Rebels left the ship. Straun jetted down underneath the Slave II as Stoge came over the top, and they attacked from the two fronts.
Those watching from the Slave II felt a moment of helpless fear as they attacked, knowing what would happen if Stoge's or Straun's suits were hit by blaster fire, but there were only two shots that narrowly missed Straun before they blew it into scrap. Stoge shot at the "beacon" third, but it merely dodged and fled out into space. Wasting no time, they entered the Fell Infidel.

The darkness inside the docking bay was partially driven back by their suit lights as they approached. Stoge immediately went to the starfighter and looked it over carefully. Being in space it could not, of course, rust, and when the last sentient (Miguel Solarwind?) had climbed out of the cockpit it had been virtually new. Up close Stoge could tell that it had the thick hull and shielding of the Z-95 (which was famous for its ability to soak up damage in combat), but he could see no sign of a hyperdrive motivator.
Straun passed it without pause, all purpose now that his goal was in sight. An exit at the far left end of the docking bay took him into a corridor that turned right and to the left were both an escape pod and a cargo elevator.
To the right two corpses floated placidly in space, garbed in casual clothes in an old style. They had been killed by blaster fire. One of them had something attached to his face, clamped on with many thin appendages with a tail that wound around his neck, then Straun saw that the "tail" continued to an oxygen bottle on the man's belt and realised that it was an old breathing mask.
Beyond the corpses where heavy power feeder cables on the roof joined together was a large leathery object of some kind, an intricate mass of it. As Stoge entered the corridor behind him the mass began to move and exploded in a cloud of batlike creatures that clouded the corridor in panic at his lights.
Stoge and Straun fired at the mynocks, easily taking them out (especially at such short range) and trying not to hit anything in the ship. Straun panicked when one came right at him and clamp it's sucker-like mouth directly on the faceplate of his suit, eyestalks waggling. The young jedi reflexively brought his blaster up to shoot the thing before Stoge slapped his arm away (preventing Straun from blowing his own head off) and carefully shot it from him.
When they had cleared all the mynocks away from the power cables they found that the cables were only lightly damaged and serviceable. Stoge investigated the elevator and found that it had a manual crank in case of power failure, so he went down into the hold as Straun passed the power cables to find the main external airlock of the Infidel, another escape pod, and a branching corridor passing through the middle of the ship. This he took, passing a storage room and two rooms that were obviously crew quarters.
The corridor ended in a well-furnished lounge with a holoprojector in the middle, biofeedback exercisers to his right, a small kitchenette to his left, and another door in front of him. There were many more bodies drifting through the room, one in a Jedi uniform. The corpse was quite short, and Straun guessed that it may have been the apprentice that his father had taken with him. Many of the dead bodies had been cut in half by something.

Stoge was shocked to find the carnage in the hold. It was full of bodies, all killed by explosive decompression, all shackled together. The silence unnerved him. Three more mynocks presented themselves only to be easily killed by the pilot's blaster. There was no sign of a droid, old and valuable or new and Imperial.

The corridor on the far side of the lounge opened to a corridor (filled with bodies) that passed two more crew quarter rooms and the ladder leading to the gun wells, and finally entered the bridge. Through the tinted sheet of the suit helmet and with a tingling at the base of his spine, Straun first beheld the final resting place of Miguel Solarwind, his father.
The bridge was spacious and provided excellent all-round visibility to the pilot, as the pilot's chair was in a bubble that projected forward from the bridge and was accessed via a short catwalk. To his right were the stations for the sensors/shields officer and the astronavigation/comm officer. Next to the pilot was a manual emergency lock, which was open to space. In front of it was a body in a suit that had a blaster burn in the chest, and in front of that the robes of a Jedi floated in space.
Straun had heard the stories of what happened to some Jedi at their death, but a small part of him still expected to see his father's body. He was inwardly glad that he had been spared the sight, and in a second took in two more facts: hanging from the drifting belt before him was his father's lightsaber, and to his left was Intelligence/Infiltration unit DP4.
The droid had obviously shut itself down long ago, seemingly an old, tired manual labour droid (as it had been designed to appear), roughly human shaped and polygonal in structure. Clamped to the back of its head was the third section of the Imperial troid, boring into its head with an unknown implement. It paused as if feeding.
When Straun moved his blaster to fire, the thing disengaged and it jetted toward the open emergency lock on its maneuvering thrusters. Straun fired but missed and it soared out of the Fell Infidel into open space.
After cursing his luck, Straun closed the emergency lock and inspected the ship's controls. Stoge had joined him by this time, and after hearing the news, went back to the docking bay. He slowly cleared the wrecked Z-95 from under the docking bay door and Menarggrah gently eased the tiny SLAVE II inside.
When the power was activated the door closed at once. It took several minutes for life support to charge the reserve tanks and filters and filled the ship with breathable atmosphere. They all set to work, removing bodies, repairing systems. Straun was carrying some tools to the hold when the vision struck without warning.

~Bodies fell in droves as he struck. Some fired blasters at him, of course, but guided by the Force it was a simple matter to deflect most of the bolts back or dodge them. Smirr was fighting furiously behind him. They were almost at the bridge.
Behind most of the frenzied combatants he could see one of the slavers climbing into a space suit. He guessed that the man was desperate enough to kill all of his comrades rather than die himself and was preparing to decompress the ship and kill them all. As he watched, the man shut down the main power and gravity left them.
He may have thought it would slow him down, but it actually helped Miguel. The slavers may have been disoriented, but loss of gravity was no obstacle to a Jedi. He drew his blaster with his free hand and shot the suited man in the chest.
The slaver grasped the wound in agony and spat blood into his helmet, then looked at the Jedi cutting a swathe of destruction through his men. He looked back at the lever. It shouldn't have turned out this way, he didn't WANT to die. Curse the Jedi! curse them! he wrenched the lever..

"Straun? you okay?"
Straun looked at Asti leaning over him and wondered what he was doing on the floor. She'd felt.. something powerful happening to him from the other side of the ship and came at once. He lay there for a while, exhausted, then climbed shakily to his feet.
After two hours they had regained the hyperdrive and some use of the maneuvering thrusters. Not wanting to stay around when an Imperial homing beacon was nearby, they resumed work with vigour.
Those in the bridge saw a gigantic blur as something flashed over the ship and disappeared behind the planet. Asti gasped.
It had been the shape of an arrowhead.
"To Kessel with the rest of the thrusters," said Stoge. "Let's get out of here!!"
They exploded into action. Karlos ran to the top turret and Surge took the lower one. Stoge was all for testing the starfighter but its power plant was dead. They fired the main drive as the huge shape crested the planetary horizon and the comm came on.
"Fell Infidel, this is the Imperial Victory Class Star Destroyer Desecrator. You are requested to lower your shields and hold position."
Stoge perormed a simple gesture through the cockpit that he liked to call "popping the birdie".
Straun dumped the coordinates to the Usurper from the Slave II and uploaded it to the Fell Infidel's nav computer.
"It's launching fighters!" Asti reported from the sensors as Stoge headed them away from the planet. Twelve fighters and six bombers raced at them in groups of three.
"I think they want us pretty bad," said Surge as they maneuvered for the hyperspace jump, pointing slightly above the Desecrator.
"Missiles running!" said Asti.
{At this range?} said Menarggrah. Then Stoge wrenched the hyperspace lever and they blurred over the Imperial giant. Everyone cheered as the familiar tunnel of hyperspace came into view.
"We made it!" Dar yelled in a rare display of emotion.
Sweat trickled down Stoge's forehead. He was breathing heavily.
"What is it?" said Straun.
"It was the Star Destroyer that fired the missiles," he said. "Whoever runs that ship knows their stuff, that thing is covered in tube
launchers. It saw that our hyperspace vector was going directly over them and sent up a torpedo cloud. Even if one capital-class missile didn't wipe us out, if one came even close the hyperspace shadow would have dumped us in realspace right over the top of it."
Everyone went silent.


As the two tiny specks of the remaining parts of the Imperial troid entered the docking bay of the Desecrator, the man in dark grey robes turned jubilantly to the man beside him.
"It has the information, my friend. Phase one is as good as ours!"

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