Tomo wiped the sweat from her brow as she raised her vibrosword once more to the ready position. Her hands ached, she had been fighting steadily for the last four hours, no breaks, and her body was ready to fail. Her legs could barely keep her upright, and the blade in her hands felt like it weighed as much as a land speeder, but her opponent was as fresh as it was when she first began, and it would give her no quarter.
She leapt with what seemed to be the last reserves of her strength. The Warden had told her that only by pushing beyond the boundary of her physical limitation could she access the wellspring of vitality that is the Force, so she launched herself forward and opened herself to instinct. The droid moved to counter, but it was slow to her senses, and she was able to lunge past its guard. Her arms flashed forwards, unburdened by their weight and fatigue, striking the droid in its midsection and slipping around behind it to reverse the stroke and strike a second time in its back. Tomo landed on the other side, amazed at the ease with which she moved. As the droid recorded the blows as lethal and shut down, she released her hold on the Force and felt fatigue and exhaustion return.
Her musings were interrupted by the crackling of the Temple’s intercom, the voice of her friend and mentor, Hethan Romund filling the halls, “Good news, my friends. The Gatekeepers and I believe we have determined the location of the last holocron. Come join us in the Great Hall, and we’ll share our theory.”
Tomo wiped the last bit of sweat from off of her brow and moved to the exit. She moved from the open space of the gymnasium to the relative tightness of the hallways that populated the Dawn Temple. Cool blue baseboards flowed into white stone walls, greying in spots after decades of absent care. As she moved closer towards the Great Hall, the grime and dust of the ages became less, the walls became brighter and gleaming white. The “Curator” (as she now knew to call him) had the training droids doubling as a maintenance staff; cleaning the walls and repairing the damage from the Temple’s time in isolation. As she came to the entrance to the Great Hall, she heard the others, Hethan stood at the head of the group, and though V’brel had returned from the tasks that the Curator had assigned him, she noticed the absence of D’jrem. Before she could ponder it too long, however, the Curator appeared next to Hethan, his holographic form beaming proudly.
“Our senses are greatly weakened beyond this valley, and much of what the planet once was has changed with time. However, Romund has been informing us of the new state of Spintir, and with her information, we now understand what we have sensed. The thieves who stole the other holocron were part of a syndicate Romund informs us operates from the city of Reles. Tens of thousands live in the city, hiding the presence of the gatekeeper amidst the chaos of their lives and emotion, but it remains and can be restored if it is found.”
As the group processed the information, the stern image of the Warden manifested and assessed each of them with a level stare. “You must travel to the capital and find the last holocron in order for the temple to return to its proper state. The temple cannot be allowed to lie fallow any longer.”
Lil looked at the trio of Hethan, the Curator and the Warden dubiously, “Don’t suppose you can tell us anything about these thieves, can you?”
The Curator looked to her and sighed, “Your continued negativity does little good, Lil. While we know precious little about the miscreants who took our comrade, as the theft occurred after the security systems were crippled by the loss of the Warden, we have been able to piece together some information from the fractured recordings. They spoke of their affiliation with ‘Heavy Gan’s Movers,’ which Romund believes is a local smuggling ring. We have not yet restored any visual footage.”
“Whose holocron is the third one anyway?” Tam questioned.
“While we cannot access the information about his identity, we do know his duties were the most crucial to the temple of all of ours – and the most secret. Restoring is holocron is utterly essential, but we cannot say more.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Lil challenged.
The Curator again looked to what Tomo and the others had begun considering his nemesis, “They are not always exclusive, Lil, however in this case, it is entirely ‘cannot.’ We have no ability to access the information regarding the part of the temple functions that he was responsible for, and as such, cannot then access data about him either.”
“Well, that’s that then. Might as well get moving,” she conceded.
“Suggestion; Master, may I suggest that we take the Corusca Gem into the city. She has passed her reliability testing and the rodent meatbag has finished establishing her history and transponder with the Bureau of Ship’s and Services. I’ve already checked her legality and she is accepted for course registry. This would be a good opportunity for live testing of her handling.”
V’Brel balled his tiny fists at being called a ‘rodent meatbag.’ The giant clanking disaster would get his soon. Lil responded to HK before he could, however, “Sounds good, HK. Is there somewhere we can dock her while we’re there?”
“Statement; Indeed, master. The docking facilities in Reles city are class 1 – fully capable of refueling and restocking the holds. It might be a good idea as your miserable constitutions most likely will not handle the 30 year old status of the current rations aboard the Corusca Gem.”
Tam frowned, “That means credits, something we are currently in short supply.”
Lil turned to the gatekeepers, “How about the temple … any credit stores?”
The Curator frowned, “Unfortunately, the temple operation as an official extension of the Jedi Order on Coruscant, complete with credit dispensaries connected to the main account on Coruscant. While we can provide credit sticks, with the accounts of the Jedi frozen and dissolved, there will be no credits indebted on them.”
Rolling her eyes, Lil spun on her heels, “Figures, damn useless Jedi. Guess we’ll figure it out on the way.” The others fell in step behind her as they made their way towards the temple’s docking bay. It was the first the Tomo had ever seen of the space, as she had so far contained herself to her room, the training areas, the Great Hall and the temple’s commissary.
The docking bay was large, able to handle multiple ships, and even a large craft up to the size of a corvette or other large transport. The Corusca Gem looked tiny in the massive space, taking up not even a quarter of the large area. Stone vaulted ceilings grew into the darkness of the temple above, Tomo barely able to make out the tops of the arched stonework. A single set of large double doors led from the staircase the connected the lower floor of the Dawn Temple to the hanger (which comprised the entire upper level of the temple). As she made her way up the gangplank of the weathered YT-1300 transport, she passed Lil and HK, once again bickering over what she was sure was a threat made or implied. She shook her head and went aboard.
“What do you mean there’s an Imperial Star Destroyer in orbit?!?!??” Lil snarled through clenched teeth. This was quite simply the last thing they needed right now.
“Suggestion; It might have some correlation to my bounty.” The droid regarded her with an even tone that somehow only made her more furious.
“No pudu, bolt-head,” came a small voice which moved to join them. V’brel regarded the duo with beady eyes, “Laser-brain here used an unsecured login to access the holonet. He basically told the Empire right where he was when he went fishing in the BoSS main files for docking bay fee rates.”
Lil turned to HK, who was fixedly staring at the Chadra-fan. “Request; May I please exterminate this meat-bag, master? My sensors indicate his presence caused an alarming spike in your blood pressure. It’s possible that he is trying to kill you.”
Lil put balled her fists and put the heels of her hands against her forehead, “If anyone is trying to kill me here it’s you, HK. What the hell possessed you to use an unsecured login to go rooting around in the Imperial database?”
The droid fixed its orange photo receptors on the small woman, “Response; They are only meat bags, master. I calculated only a 1.153% chance they would even look at the access. They obviously have an automated watcher program identifying actions warranting a further review. I must admit, I envy the efficiency this automated program shows.”
Lil stood in mute horror for a moment, wondering if HK were a genius or an idiot, then it struck her, “You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You want the Empire to find you so you can shoot things, don’t you?”
HK tilted his head to the side, considering his organic master, “Statement; Master, that is why I am so happy to be your droid, you have the most wonderful outlook on things. The idea had not occurred to me previously, but it is a brilliant tactic. I am glad I did it!”
With a frustrated tear forming in her eye, Lil turned to V’brel, “V’brel – can you please delete HK’s username and password, and give him a new, secure one?”
With a curt salute and the flick of his wrist, the Chadra’fan produced a hydrospanner, “Can do, boss!”
Lil didn’t wait for the protest, “You’ll let him do it too, HK. That’s an order.” She then stormed off before she lost her last nerve.
The flight to Reles only took half of an hour. The bright spot about HK’s mistake was they had checked their funds and discovered they would have enough to cover docking fees for at least a few days. Granted, if they got caught by the Empire the docking fees would be the last of their worries, but Lil was trying to remain positive. The Corusca Gem settled into a level approach as they neared the spaceport, and the crackle of the comms alerted her to their being hailed.
“Corusca Gem this is Reles Tower. We have you coming in on vector 2113, continue to docking bay 34,” the disembodied voice alerted.
“Certainly, Reles Tower. Adjusting course now.” Lil looked to HK, who was already pulling the controls.
“Corusca Gem, I’m showing your last port of call is here on Spintir? That seems awfully odd.”
Pudu. Lil hadn’t realized that when V’brel switched over the documentation the assumption would be that they would be going to another planet before they tried to use a spaceport. “Yea, we had headed out to the moons and intended to leap out after – unfortunately we got some weird readings from the hyperdrive and decided that discretion was the better part of valor, so we headed back to check it out.”
The moments passed like miniature eternities, in the back of her mind, doubts were screaming, calculating how long it would take for the tower to contact the Star Destroyer above to blast them out of the sky. Just as she was about to tell HK to get them out of the system, the comm crackled to life, “Corusca Gem, I’ve spoken with the maintenance crews and prepped them at your disposal. We’ll make sure you ship shape in no time! Since you’re already logged as the last port of call being Reles, we’ll go ahead and waive the Bureau registration fees, I’ve just adjusted the departure date on our side to reflect the new data. Welcome back to Reles City!”
“Huh. That was unexpected,” Lil murmured, her surprise genuine.
As the freighter pulled into the dock, everyone gathered their gear and they headed down the ramp as a single group. The crisp blue paint and sharp livery of the Reles Spaceport Authority labelling all the surfaces of the docking area. Being a private dock, there were no other ships to be seen, but there was a maintenance speeder that carried the various tools and equipment needed by the repair crew. Lil asked them to give it a diagnostic just to be sure there are no issues, and took a map of the city along with a listing of various attractions and eateries from the protocol droid that accompanied them before leaving.
Spintir’s capital city, Reles, is also the planet’s only city, other habitation being limited to small concentrations of a few hundred beings at most. However, the city’s inhabitants pride themselves in making up for the lack of sophistication elsewhere on the planet. Money earned in logging the planet’s forests or exporting local animal specimens to zoos and universities was almost invariably funneled into maintaining a lifestyle better suited to the Core Worlds than a minor Outer Rim outpost, the most obvious of these being the city’s central bazaar. An open-air market that stretched for hundreds of meters, it was filled with stalls and carts offering everything from produce to wild game to expensive furs and off-world luxuries. The buildings lining it shops owned by the most successful merchants, who were granted fixed permanent locations as a reward for their success. The majority of the business, however, was done via the more temporary merchant stalls, where some vendors even sent their staff to hawk goods on foot about the bazaar, wandering the market with a basket or bag full of savory food or their cheaper trinkets.
“Query; Master, this looks as though it might be a good place to upgrade my systems. If I might procure from our compatriots a modest sum of credits, I might be able to improve my combat capability by up to 17.54%. This would come in most handy when we encounter Heavy Gan and his thieves.” HK looked to Lil and the others as he stopped outside of a repair shop. There really was a good deal of sense to it, the droid was hopelessly outdated, being a model that as near as Lil could ascertain was at least a thousand years old.
“Okay, you and Tam go and get your upgrades, I’ll take the others and see if we can’t figure out exactly where this ‘Heavy Gan’ dork is. We meet back at the ship in two hours.” Decided, the group wandered off to their individual tasks.
“Exclamation; This general purpose scanner is perfect!” HK turned the device over in his hand. The CUE GenScan model he held was a pinnacle of scanner technology; capable of performing life-form tracking, motion sensing, metal detection, and radiation detection up to a kilometer and a half. Its underlying systems could even function as a comlink interceptor with a range far longer. “I believe this is now my second most favored possession, meatbag. Please be careful with its installation or I will be forced to reduce you to your component molecules.”
Tam looked from the top tier tech to the incredible ancient droid, dubious. “Okay, HK, I’ll take a look. I’ll need you to switch off while I install the scanner.”
“Dubious Statement; I will do so for the potential to eliminate targets more efficiently, meatbag, but do not presume that this is an act of greater trust – it is merely a temporary alignment of purpose.” With a final warning, HK’s forearm came up, the hidden panel concealing his blaster opening as he leveled it at Tam. Finally, his luminescent eyes went dark.
Tam shook his head and moved the arm away, wondering if HK even realized that it was a useless threat. He moved around behind the droid and opened its primary sensor compartment. As old as he was, Tam had never even seen tech this ancient. It was as if he were staring at something completely alien. He looked hopelessly to the CUE GenScan and then back to the jacks and interfaces of the ancient assassin droid. Sighing, he broke open the cover of the GenScan unit to try and hard wire the device in place, grimacing as he did so.
Lil and the others moved through the bazaar, awed by the variety of goods and people that had swarmed into the market. Aliens of every shape and form hustled about the bazaar, buying goods and haggling prices. Humans dressed in every form of garb from Imperial to noble, to humble farmer was represented, going about their business oblivious to each other.
Lil had been asking around about Heavy Gan and his gang, “the Mover’s,” for the better part of an hour before she found anyone willing to talk, and even then, it had taken 50 credits to get anything of use from them, but now she found herself and the others in a shadowy alley that promised to hold one of Heavy Gan’s contacts. She searched the alley way for signs of whomever might be this “Heavy Gan.”
Before she could make a full sweep of the area, however, she was approached by a slender man with blond hair and a long moustache. He flowed through the alley with a supple grace, sliding by pedestrians without so much as brushing them. His cobalt eyes were locked on Lil, and she knew instinctively he was moving towards her group with purpose. She momentarily considered retreating back out into the street, her hackles raised, but she realized this was her only chance at meeting Heavy Gan, and that meant dealing with whatever this was.
“I’ve heard you are looking for the Movers,” the man said as he approached, “I’m Pinder Ukka, I can set up a meeting with our boss if that really is what you want.”
“We’re looking for something, and word has it Heavy Gan is the person to go to in order to find it, so I guess we do.” Lil wasn’t sure she liked this, but it was the best option she had.
Pinder looked over her shoulder, sizing up Tomo and V’brel. Finally, he nodded, “Okay, meet us at the warehouse at this address in three hours. Heavy Gan and the rest of the Movers will be there.” Handing Lil a piece of paper, he withdrew into the alley.
Returning to the HK and Tam, Lil and the others were surprised to see the droid sporting a new antennae on the side of his head. HK’s optics were glowing a brilliant red, and he seemed intent on staying away from Tam.
“I’m almost afraid to ask what’s going on here,” Lil ventured.
“Statement; Master, this meatbag has wasted our credits with his incompetence.” HK motioned to the antennae on the side of his head, to which Tam shook his head and looked to Lil.
“Your droid is over a millennia out of date – that scanner was cutting edge. He just didn’t have a port I could slot the interface into, so I had to make some modifications and patch it externally. Apparently, that didn’t meet with HK’s approval.”
Lil looked over the antennae – it appeared to be in working order, the scanner responded to the droid as HK moved. “So, HK, does it work?”
“Statement; It does, Master, though it is no longer omnidirectional, as the receptor has been fixed forward.”
Lil shrugged and put a hand on HK’s shoulder, “Then it works, how about we look at updating your systems so this doesn’t happen again in the future.”
HK slouched slightly, “Acquiescence; I suppose, Master. Though I would personally prefer to exterminate the meatbag as punishment for substandard work.” As if to punctuate the sentiment, he adjusted the antennae slightly.
Lil laughed and looked to Tam, “We have a sit down with Heavy Gan in a little over an hour, and so we’d better get ready and then get moving.” Nodding, Tam and the others began prepping for a potential showdown.
Lil and the others arrived outside the seemingly abandoned warehouse just as the sun on Spintir was setting below the city skyline. Orange light played across the glass of the warehouse’s windows, blotting out any image of what was inside them. As they moved to the large open doors, the smell of spice and rotgut hit them.
The warehouse itself was a small, cramped building full of unmarked crates, but somehow it managed to feel cozy despite it. The lighting was warm, and a few tables had been set up between stacks of boxes, at which smugglers were playing sabaac and chatting over drinks. It seemed that this must be a local headquarters for the group. The homey atmosphere was promptly dispelled the minute that Lil noticed the huge Twi’lek sitting at one of the corner tables next to Pinder Ukka.
Blue as the morning sky, his bulk was made up of equal parts muscle and fat. His two head tails (Lil seemed to remember them being called lekku) were stumpy with cellulite, and hung straight over his shoulders onto his chest, framing his face, with piercings stretching their length. Matching piercings sat over his right eye, five in all, which made his gaze even more intimidating than the “all business” glare he wore would have been normally. Upon seeing the newcomers, his immense girth began moving, absurdly large muscles bulging in his arms and legs as it did so. Standing nearly two meters tall, he moved towards the group, his brown trench coat falling over the heavy blaster pistol slung at his side. As he neared them, he let loose his deep baritone voice.
“My name is Gan. Heavy Gan, they call me. I hear you have some business for my crew.” He crossed his huge arms over his equally large chest and stared down at the Lil, who barely reached above his navel. Despite this, she put her jaw forward and stood to her full height, which was comically diminutive compared to the gangster, but she was determined to stand her ground.
“We’re looking for something you mooks stole from us.” The din of the warehouse suddenly went quiet, and more than a few snaps could be heard as the clasps on holsters were opened in anticipation of a fight. Tomo’s face lit up behind her along with HK’s as simultaneously Tam turned a little green. All eyes turned to Heavy Gan, who for his part was trying to stifle a laugh at seeing the little girl puff her feathers, a fight he finally lost, erupting into a loud guffaw.
“That’s entirely possible, we steal from a lot of folks, so you’ll have to be more specific. Here, sit and let’s see what we can figure out.” With that, he motioned towards the table in the corner and smiled. Moving to the table, Lil sat and looked to the others, who slowly moved to do the same. Finally, Gan sat across from her and leaned back.
“It’s a holocron, a Jedi artifact. It would look like a small cube or puzzlebox.” Lil began. A cool look came over Heavy Gan, as if a chill that reached into his spine had overcome him. He threw a quick glance to Pinder, who returned it with a haunted, if guarded nod of his head.
“I know what you’re talking about, unfortunately, we’ve already moved the product.” Heavy Gan leaned forward, his bulk casting an oppressive shadow behind him. “What’s it worth to you to get it back?”
The sound of a metallic flap opening told Lil immediately that HK was getting excited. “Worth? Not much, I’m afraid. Near as I can tell, the list of people willing to risk ownership of artifacts classed Restricted by Imperial Law is pretty short, and the list of people willing to it with the kind of credits you’d be asking for it? Even shorter. It won’t take much time to track down who has it.” Lil hoped her bluff worked – it was a risk, but better than being stuck for credits they didn’t have, and a great improvement to letting HK release his murderous tendencies – even if they did deserve it.
Gan sat back and regarded her for a moment, before sighing, “You’re right. It won’t take you long to get the name, but that won’t do you much good. It’s locked up, and you aren’t getting in there without help.” He leaned forward and smiled, a sickening display of greed and hunger that struck Lil as more ominous than any of his intimidation tactics had up to this point, “and that help will cost you.”
Before Lil could react, V’brel shouted a warning over the sub-vocals. “Lil, Imperial traffic is off the charts! They’re moving on this warehouse … they’ll be here in moments. They got tipped off by the merchant that HK used to get his scanner!”
“That’s all well and good, Gan, but we don’t have time to work the details. The Imperials are on their way, they’re going to raid this warehouse and we’ve both got to get the hell out of here!” The look on Gan’s face was a mix of rage and surprise.
“You led the Imperials here? Damn you! Bunch of amateurs – the price just went up … considerably. Pinder will give you the location of a backup bolt hole. Get clear, fix your tail, and then meet us there to continue this discussion.” He whistled to his crew, and they began moving out.
Lil took no time in getting the others and getting moving. They raced from the warehouse moments ahead of the first transports that came in, and she watched from an alley a few blocks away, she heard the sounds of the Imperials “arresting” any members of Heavy Gan’s Movers that weren’t as fast as the others.
“They were sacrificed,” a voice spoke behind her, causing Lil to jump out of her skin even as the others were pulling weapons on the voice’s owner. Pinder Ukka stepped from a shadow and lit a stick of spice. “We get raided every once in a while, and the newest members, we call them Prospects, get left behind to be arrested. The authorities expect to see a gang, and if they didn’t, they’d sweep the area and catch up, so we leave some behind to take the heat while the rest of us run.”
“That’s barbaric. You know the Imperials are going to torture or kill those men,” Tam replied.
“That’s business. They weren’t joining the Core Scouts, old man. They knew the risks, and knew their role in the organization. It’s an awful business, but they’re criminals.” He shrugged and looked to the group. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you couldn’t make a deal with the Movers. Better luck next time.” He dropped his voice lower, “Of course, if you’d prefer to make your arrangements with someone more trustworthy than a bunch of thieves and smugglers, I know some people who might be willing to help you cause trouble for the governor.”
Lil knew who he was talking about without needed another word. Rebels. The thought made her blood run cold. She had been running spice for the foster family that had raised her for years, and even before that, she’d been going on the delivery runs with her foster brother and father for almost a decade longer. She had seen all manner of scum and villany, and she was used to that – but to get mixed up with the Rebellion against the Empire, that was something that always led to death warrants and entanglements. She couldn’t relate this to the others – not with Pinder here, and she wasn’t even sure what she would say, but it didn’t sit well with her. She hated the self-righteous.
Tam made the though moot, “Who exactly?”
Pinder smiled, “Concerned citizens of the galaxy. The warehouse behind us, you might want to go there in three hours if you’re interested. Of course, if you want to be extorted and mixed up with Heavy Gan, then you can always go to the bolt hole at this address instead.” He shrugged his shoulders and blew of cloud of smoke from his spice stick, “If it were me, I wouldn’t trust Gan not to expect compensation for the Prospects, so I’d bring lots of credits and a good escape plan if I were you.” With that, he withdrew into the shadows, and left them to their decision.
Lil had lost the argument, and now here she was, three hours later, standing in an abandoned warehouse. It wasn’t like she had a great bargaining platform to begin with; they were pretty much broke, they couldn’t pay Heavy Gan to help them get into the governor’s museum to begin with, much less afford to compensate him for the loss of his men from the Imperials they led there. Tam had made the argument she knew she was up against, but she really had no counter. As expected, the group chose to hear what Pinder’s friends had to say, though Lil had the sneaking suspicion it was going to be a very one sided conversation.
So they had made their way around the city, avoiding patrols and making sure they weren’t actively being tracked before doubling back and entering the warehouse. Now, they sat in the dank, dark, abandoned building hoping they weren’t being set up, the light from a glow rod the only illumination they had. After a few minutes, Lil was beginning to suspect it was all a joke, and was about to suggest they just leave, when a human shape detached itself from the darkness and strode into the light.
The figure lit up a spice stick, adding its small light to the glow rod that HK held, the action itself doing far more to reveal the figure as Pinder Ukka than the light itself did. A warm smile crossed his face as he regarded the group before him, “Glad you could make it. If you’re serious about trying to make a difference on this world, and you’re looking for friends who can help, you’ve just taken the first step.”
Lil’s frustration grew, she knew they were risking getting in too deep, “Whoa, hold on there. We just want our holocron back. We’re not interested in being galactic ne’er-do-wells.”
Pinder smiled, “Fair enough. But you came here and faced the single toughest gang on the planet to right a wrong. That means you’re only lying to yourself about wanting to make a difference.”
“Just get to the point, Pinder.” Lil was really not in the mood to be talk down to by Dadonna Do-Right here.
Holding up his hands Pinder smiled, “All right, all right, I apologize, you’re right, of course. Not everyone is cut out for what my friends and I do, but every little bit helps. However, if you are serious about helping us, and letting us help you, you’ll need to do something more to prove yourselves though.”
Lil rolled her eyes as Tam stepped forward, “What exactly are you talking about here?”
Pinder reached into his pocket, an action that heard the ring of metal as Tomo unsheathed her vibro-sword. Adopting a neutral stance and moving very slowly, Pinder produced three envelopes from his pocket. “These items I need delivered to dead drops across the city. They’re delicate in nature, and everything you need to identify the correct drop locations is included in the envelopes. Just drop off the contents without the Imperials seeing or catching on, and without any tampering to the packages themselves, and meet me at the empty lot three blocks south of here.”
Lil was immediately suspicious. “Wait a minute, what’s in them?”
Pinder smiled, “This is an exercise in trust, I don’t even know your names, but my associates and I are giving you this chance.”
Lil sighed, “Don’t be cute. I want assurances that I’m not walking bombs into public locations. I’m in this to get a holocron back, not kill people.
Pinder’s smile faded. A look of solemn acquiescence came over him and he nodded, “That’s fair. I’m glad you’re concerned enough to ask, I really am. No, there’s no explosives or anything volatile or physically dangerous inside the packages. It speaks to your worth that you would even ask.”
Lil looked to the others, who (aside from HK) seemed ready to accept. “Fine, we’ll do it.”
“I feel a little ridiculous,” Tam whispered through the sub-vocal. He had wrapped his robes about him haphazardly, allowing those parts that had become thread-bare through the years to be more visible. To this, he had added mud, grime and things he was considerably less sure of, to give the appearance of many nights on the street. His face was covered with dirt and grim, as was his hair. All of this was, of course, to give him the appearance of being someone so wrapped in poverty that they could travel beneath the notice of the average person (and, hopefully, Stormtroopers).
“If it fools those bucket-heads I don’t care how you feel.” Lil and HK watched him advance on the empty cart that was identified in the packet. The first drop had gone smoothly, no problems at all, and there was hardly an Imperial presence. This one looked to be a little trickier. Being in a more populated part of town, the Stormtroopers were on active patrol to “provide a feeling of security.” In reality, they were probably searching for HK, occupying the busier parts of the city to increase the chances of spotting him. It was the reason they were watching Tam through macrobinoculars now, having taken to a rooftop within line of sight from the drop point but far enough outside of Imperial scrutiny that HK wouldn’t be a problem. Tomo and V’brel were placed within sight of the cart that was identified in the packet as the drop off point, in case Tam needed back up. For his part, Tam was graciously willing to be the bait – dressing as a simple beggar to approach the cart.
Each step closer caused Tam to feel a heightened sense of alertness. He closed his eyes and wrapped himself in the Force, walking through the exercises he learned as a child to calm his mind and heart. He affected a wobbly gait, as if he was full on rotgut, and approached the cart slowly but steadily. As he reached it, he dropped the brown package into the cart. The first of the two troopers turned his head towards Tam, causing him to jump. “Hey, you!” the crackle of the troopers speaker resounded off the stone of the building, “get out of here. This isn’t the place for beggars. Go! Shoo!” With a wave of his hand he dismissed Tam outright.
Dropping his head low and raising his hands as if to defend himself from the inevitable beating, Tam backed away, bowing and scraping and retreated from the cart. “That was easier than I thought it would be, what’s my route to the next site?” They had established a process before heading out, setting up an approach that would leave them on the route to the next drop, and also an evacuation route that would put them on an alternative approach to the next route. After the first drop, the distant observers (Lil and HK) would communicate the directions to the next area, while the close support group would clear the escape route on the way in.
V’brel had prepped all the routes before they headed out, and this course was set to allow Tam to approach the mailbox on the same side of the street. Lil relayed all the coordinates to Tam through their sub-vocal comlink, “Two streets down and on the left, take that for three blocks and then head north on Calias Avenue. The target is a mailbox in front of a dormitory for the local college.”
The route was clear, and before long HK and Lil we in their observation post watching the street. As she looked down the avenue, she was oriented so that Tam would be moving towards her, giving her and HK the ability to cover him from a distance. She swept her gaze from the dormitory to the other side of the street, when a lump formed in her chest. There, directly across from the dormitory stood a squad of Stormtroopers outside of the local constabulary! “Tam, stop! There’s a squad of troopers right across from the mail drop. V’Brel, didn’t you realize that the freaking Constable was right across the street!”
“Well it isn’t like I could move it, Lil!” the Chadra-fan replied. “This was the best route to get him in and out based on the layout. To be sure though, I’ve hacked the students rooms, I’ve been whipping them up with anti-Imperial propaganda this whole time so I can set them off as a distraction if we need it.”
“That could get a whole lot of kids killed, I’ll be okay,” came Tam’s reply. “I can do this, just need to get some clean clothes.” Lil zoomed her macrobinoculars and found Tam reaching for his satchel and sliding into an alley. A few moments later, he emerged, having abandoned the dirty robes in favor of casual clothing. He looked remarkably non-descript as he resumed his course towards the mailbox.
He calmly made his way towards the mail drop and even as the Stormtroopers crossed the street he held his pace. Lil spotted Tomo and V’brel in an alley opposite; Tomo drew her sword expecting trouble, though V’brel remained transfixed on his datapad. As the lead Stormtrooper put out a hand to stop him, Tomo readied into a crouch. “Give him a moment, Tomo,” Lil pleaded.
“You there, stop!” The crackle of the Stormtroopers microphone was becoming a common sound to Tam, and he wasn’t sure if he was all together comfortable with it. He did his best to smile graciously and wave at the Imperial.
“Greetings, officer, how may I help you?” He hoped he didn’t sound as nervous as he was.
“What business do you have here? We’ve set up a curfew for the university, there have been altercations today.” The trooper looked him over, but didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.
“Oh, I’m just dropping off a care package for my daughter. She’s a student here. I called her room but she wasn’t there so I figured that I would just put it into her mail drop for when she got home!” He smiled in what he had hoped was an ‘unassuming doddering old fool’ manner.
The trooper looked him over again and regarded the package. Moments passed that seemed to last forever, Tomo looked ready to rush into action, and V’brel was asking if he needed to set off the students. Lil found her gut twisting, she didn’t want to give V’brel the go-ahead and have innocents get hurt, but she knew Tam was in a precarious position. Just as her nerves were set to get the best of her, the trooper looked to the others and then waved Tam on.
The trip to the empty lot was brutal, as each of the group (with the possible exceptions of Tomo and HK) felt sick to their stomach as the stress of the operation left them. Knowing how close they were to the Empire’s grasp, and the penalties they would have faced as Force users brought Lil near to tears. Still, they had triumphed as a group, something that was no small feat in itself. As they reached the location where they were to meet their new “friends,” Lil was surprised to see the lot empty. “HK, is anyone inbound? They were supposed to meet us here.”
“Statement; I am detecting no movement inbound, Master.” Even as HK finished speaking, dark shapes grew from out of the shadows around them, the black of darkness hanging off of them like tar. Eight in total, masks covering their faces, they stood for a moment before three of them moved forward and revealed their faces.
The first was Pinder himself, flanked to either side by serious looking individuals. The one to the left a tall, lean man with dark curly hair and a long (if slightly goofy) face. The other was frightening; a metallic plate gleamed in the low illumination covering his right cheek and eye, which was nothing more than a red lens. They all wore black stealth suits, but this did little to cover the fact that his right arm and leg were both cybernetic. Pinder himself was all smiles as he approached. “It looks like you can manage efficiency and discretion – not that I ever doubted you.”
“Ass.” Lil crossed her arms and glowered, an action that only evoked a laugh from Pinder.
“You’re looking for a rare artifact, and there’s no one in this city with a bigger collection than Caria Haal, the Imperial Governor of Spintir, especially if it’s artifacts of the Jedi kind. We can help you get into the collection, and if you cause trouble for Governor Haal, that helps us cause trouble elsewhere.” Pinder looked to each of them in turn, a look that was surprisingly sincere.
Tam was the first to respond, “What if she’s sold it to someone else, or surrendered it to the Imperials?”
Pinder shook his head, “It’s not her style, but even if she did, she has records on every other collection in town and keeps tabs on everything she considers important, being the greedy, snoopy sort that she is. If you can’t find the holocron in the Museum, you can find out who has it.”
Lil sighed, “So now we know where it is, explain why we need you?”
Pinder shrugged, “Like we said, this is a situation of mutual benefit. The governor’s collection is going to be tough to crack, and even with the credentials we can forge through our connections, you’ll still probably draw some heat. That makes it easier for us to cause the Empire problems elsewhere in the city. Of course, once we start our operation, it should confused them enough to help you make your getaway. It’s a win for both of us.”
“What exactly are is this ‘operation’ you keep talking about?” Lil didn’t like it, this was getting too deep.
The tough to Pinder’s right, his mechanical eye glaring red, looked to Pinder with a warning, but Pinder merely shook his head, “We have some ideas involving the Imperial munitions the Star Destroyer in orbit has brought planetside. Let’s just say there are some arms hitting the planet that are better than the thugs here deserve. Putting them to use elsewhere sounds like a noble cause to me.”
“So you’re with the Rebellion, then.” Lil countered.
Pinder flashed a smile, “We know a lot of people, and what we hear around the galaxy is that the Empire isn’t too popular. There are all sorts of people who would prefer a fair shake to what the Empire offers. We want to give them that fair shake, help offer the little guy a leg up. That’s all I’ll say for now.”
Lil sighed, “So how exactly are you going to know when we start our part of this?”
Pinder grinned and looked to his right, “Because my friend Valen here will be going with you.”
The plan was simple. The identification cards they had set them up as a news crew that was going to be doing a report on the collection at the museum. While the tags would only allow them free access to the front rooms up to the skybridge (where the access to the secure vault was) it would allow them to get “behind the scenes” and access to the security room.
Once in the security room, V’brel would hack the closed system and set up camera loops and disable the security. Meanwhile, HK, Tomo and Valen would handle any guards that would attempt to stop them while Lil recovered the holcron. Tam would take his turn this time on remote observation, watching outside in case of Imperial response.
V’brel, Lil and the others went inside and were approached by a guard, who checked their credentials. After moment, their credentials verified, the guard asked them to stay where they were as he went to get a guide for them. When he returned, he did so with a restraining bolt, and thus, the plan was ruined.
“The droid doesn’t need a restraining bolt, sir, he’s been perfectly fine since we got him!” Lil looked about panicking. HK’s defensive protocols were set to send him into a berserk mode should a restraining bolt be attached – it was what had initially caused him to wipe out the research facility that found him.
“Sorry ma’am, museum policy, and I might add, Imperial law.” The guard moved a set closer to HK when Lil looked to HK and V’brel.
Under sub-vocal, she alerted the team, “Plan B. HK, stun V’brel and take out this guard – you’re the new distraction, V’brel – play along. The rest of you get ready.”
“Excited Proclamation; Master, I couldn’t be prouder of you!” HK responded with glee. Retracting the panel on his forearm, his blaster raised and locked into position. The first blast came out in crimson bolts, at this range, the guard was helpless, and dropped in an instant. “Menacing Proclamation; Chadra-fan meatbag, I have been hired to assassinate you under contract 74-314. You are terminated.” With that, blue bolts flew into V’brel, sending him sprawling. Lil screamed for help, rushing to V’brel’s side and throwing herself on her fallen ‘producer.’
“Assassin! Help us, help!” Lil screeched in her best imitation of a damsel in distress as Valen and Tomo readied their weapons, Valen firing a shot at the fleeing HK droid. For his part, HK played the part admirably, rushing from the museum, his ‘assassination’ complete and stealing the first available speeder outside. The doors to the security office flew open as three guards rushed out, headed by a woman whose identitags marked her as the Chief of security.
“He went this way, follow us,” Tomo said to her, beginning to move after HK with her sword at the ready. Valen waved to the guards and moved after her. The Security Chief nodded and turned to the guards.
“Attend to the wounded, I’ll take care of the assassin with the security detail,” she ordered as she charged off.
“Yes, Chief Forrel,” the guard saluted before bending to look at V’brel. The other guard had begun to erect a stretcher and as Forrel and the others rushed out the front of the museum in chase, the two guards lifted V’brel onto it.
“What are you doing?” Lil cried, sounding panicked, even while fighting to suppress the glee that things were going according to plan for a change.
“We need to get him into the secure security wing in case the assassin returns – we have medical care there,” the guard replied.
As the guards lifted the stretcher, Lil did her best to look lost and confused as she followed them through the security doors. She did her best to ask inane questions to keep their attention of off V’brel, who had woken and was ‘playing dead’ while drawing his hold-out blaster. When he had it cradled against his leg, and aimed directly at the guard holding the foot of his stretcher, he looked to Lil and nodded.
She drew and they both started firing before the guards even knew that they’d been duped.
As they raced along the outside of the museum, Tomo leading the way, the Chief took a moment to introduce herself, “Kiana Forrel, Chief of Security here, you’re a security detail for the holoservice?”
Tomo merely nodded an affirmative as she ran, but Valen spoke up, “Valen, freelance mercenary, actually, but currently on the payroll at the holoservice, yea.” Forrel nodded, but as Tomo led her around to the back of the building towards a blind alley, she slowed to a stop.
“The droid didn’t go this way. I heard a speeder fire up.” She leveled her gun at Valen and narrowed her eyes. Valen looked to Tomo, who merely shrugged and leapt. The force of the leap was incredible, launching the sword wielding warrior into the air, her hair trailing splaying out behind her like a cape. She looked more avenging angel than human woman, her Force leap having launched her so far into the air that she was more hurtling towards the earth below than jumping.
For all her experience, Kiana Forrel had never been on the receiving end of such an attack. She’d only entered into service with the Republic in the final years of the Clone Wars, and by that time the Jedi were fewer in number than ever before. She had seen them fight, though, however when she saw the Jedi fight she was behind them not in front of them. The difference was terrifying – so much so that she failed to fire her blaster. In the end, she supposed, it wouldn’t have mattered, it was aimed ahead, not above, but at least she would have done something instead of accepting her fate.
Tomo brought her blade down squarely on the security chief’s shoulder – cleaving the arm holding her blaster from her body with a single stroke. Before Forrel could even register the blow, however, Valen had already fired a blast from his pistol, the blue energy of the weapon’s stun setting hitting her full in the chest, dropping her unconscious. Lifting her body, the two moved her to a nearby dumpster, dropping her in and securing the lid of it shut with the binders that they found on Forrel’s belt.
Lil watched as Tam fiddled with the holocron for a few moments as he tried desperately to repair the damage done to the interfaces when they thieves originally stole it. Tomo stood in the corner, admiring a blade of ancient design they had found in the Museum of Spintir’s private collection alongside the holocron. Bearing ancient symbols that identified it as coming from the age of the Mandalorian Wars, it was lower tech than her vibrosword, but she seemed to be taken with it for some reason that escaped Lil. The snap of the holocron clicking into place drew Lil’s attention back to Tam, and heralded the sound of new systems deep within the temple whirring to life, just as with the previous artifact.
The Curator and the Warden appeared, their holographic forms bearing please expressions. The blue of the Curator and gold light of the Warden were joined shortly afterward by a hologram formed of pure white light – the final Gatekeeper. The figure was of average height, with the strange features of a Kel-Dor, complete with breathing mask over its holographic mouth and eyes. The figure was dressed in the simple robes of a Jedi, just like the others. His head bowed slightly and at last, he spoke, the sound mechanical as if it really did pass through the breathing apparatus.
“Greetings young aspirants. I am called the Jailor, custodian of the Dawn Temple. It is my duty and my burden to oversee the care of those who have fallen to the lure of the dark side of the Force, and the return of their wounded spirits to the light. I understand from my compatriots that you are to thank for restoring me to my place in the temple, and for bringing new hope into these dark times. If you will forgive me, I must begin a diagnostic of the dormant systems and ensure nothing has gone amiss in my absence – but when I am done, I will be glad to assist you in any way that I am able.”