Charlene Newcomb & Rich Handley
Sweat beaded on Kaj Nedmak’s brow. This section of Angjon was not
on any tourist maps, and for good reason. The smuggler eyed the dimly lit
alley warily. Windows within reach appeared to be locked tightly against
unwanted intruders, and doors were undoubtedly bolted.
slowly into the deepening shadows, Kaj swiped a gloved hand across his
forehead. He told himself again that running guns for the Rebel
Alliance made perfect sense. But as the alley seemed to swallow him, he
began to wonder if the information he’d won in a sabacc game—in lieu of
credits—would actually pay off.
partner Crimson had been right. They’d had no luck attempting to contact
the Alliance. Every lead had turned into a dead end. Why would this time
be any different?
at the far end of the alley caught Kaj's eye. Three silent figures moved
with a purpose that could only mean trouble. Knots clenched Kaj’s gut.
Lights flicked on in a second-story window—just enough light to glint off
white armor. Stormtroopers!
Kaj cursed to himself. "A set-up."
himself in the shadows. Something brushed against his boot. Glancing down,
he spotted a jaykah scurrying toward a pile of trash heaped against the
wall a few meters away. The clicking of the small furry creature’s claws
against the old stone pavement made Kaj wince. He wasn’t surprised when
the stormtroopers turned toward the noise and opened fire.
A burst of
blaster fire raked the trash heap. The jaykah shrieked out in pain. Teeth
bared, it leaped from its hiding place and charged its attackers. Standing
their ground, the Imperials blasted the poor creature to pulp.
flicked on in a handful of windows and illuminated the scene in a
yellowish glow as the stormtroopers advanced. Kaj ducked into a doorway,
his breathing jagged and fierce. He glanced back the way he’d come. Too
far. The chance of his reaching the corner before the troopers found
their mark would be like drawing a pure sabacc in the first round.
one option. Kaj eyed his adversaries. He hoped to get off a blast before
they noticed him, but a shot pinging off the wall centimeters above his
head told him his luck had run out.
fire, his first volley right on target. One Imperial down. The other
stormtroopers answered Kaj’s blast with a barrage of gunfire. The noise
reverberated through the alley and mingled with another familiar sound—the
rev of an engine. The stormtroopers heard it, too. Kaj peered past them
just as the XP-38 roared up the alley. With a blaster resting atop the
landspeeder’s windshield, the maniacal driver opened fire. One of the
troopers fell as a torrent of gunfire thundered through the narrow street.
suddenly erupted behind Kaj and a blast whipped past his head. He jerked
around and spotted two more stormtroopers hugging the alley wall and
moving rapidly in his direction. Kaj winged one in the shoulder. His
second shot sent the trooper careening head-first into the pavement. The
man’s companion slipped into a narrow doorway and fired several more
exchange of blaster fire at Kaj’s back swelled, then just as suddenly
ceased. Hoping that the XP-38's driver had won that round, Kaj rolled into
the alley to get off one clear shot. His firelight lit the shadows, and a
moment later his final opponent slumped to the ground.
a familiar voice shouted from the landspeeder.
off the ground, Kaj ran toward the speeder, hurdled the prone bodies of
the stormtroopers, and leapt into the vehicle.
Kaj nodded as the driver hit the accelerator and barreled out of the
alley. He glanced sidelong at the slight figure next to him and grinned. A
few strands of red hair peeked out beneath the hat that covered his
rescuer’s head. The collar of her dark blue flight jacket was turned up.
always manages to follow you, Kaj,” Celia “Crimson” Durasha told her
partner. Whipping the speeder onto the main street, the young woman weaved
in and out of traffic through Angjon’s business district. She flicked
those emerald eyes at him and a smile washed across her face. “Lucky for
you, so do I.”
Crimson,” he said. “Could’ve been the end of me back there.”
chuckled softly to himself. “You don’t learn, do you?”
it was just dumb luck that I showed up, Kaj. I was at the CardSafe, trying
to scrounge up information about this Rebel contact of yours. I never
imagined that smugglers and thieves were such a suspicious bunch.” She
smirked. “Can you explain to me again why we’re doing this? There
must be an easier way to earn the credits we need to pay off Bwahl the
Hutt and Rass M’Guy.”
her question. “How’d you end up in the alley?” he asked.
barkeeper gave me the name Raider, the same one you had. Considering we
got it from two different sources, I was beginning to think we finally
might track down one of these Rebels.”
on your side... again. I overheard a couple of Rodians at the pub bragging
about a Rebel operative they turned over to the authorities.”
Kaj said matter-of-factly. “Poor guy must’ve spilled his guts to the
Imperials. That explains why our stormtrooper buddies showed up.”
the resourceful person that I am, I followed them.” Crimson guided the
landspeeder down a side street and out of the flow of traffic. Office
buildings gave way to dilapidated warehouses, and the air was thick with
the smells of the nearby seaport. A heavy mist enshrouded the area.
showed up just in time, Red.” He placed his hand on her shoulder. “So, do
we know where they’re holding him?”
glanced at her partner. She knew what was coming. And she knew she wasn’t
going to like it.
be serious,” she sighed.
to break a Rebel spy out of an Imperial garrison?”
does one office—occupied by four officers on the first floor of the
Jardansen building—constitute a garrison? It’s just a little ol’
maybe there’s a few dozen stormtroopers there, too,” Kaj conceded. “C’mon,
how hard could it be to get this guy out? The Empire isn’t set up in
Angjon the way—”
already in deep poodoo with Bwahl and Rass,” she pointed out. “Let’s
rethink this debt-reducing plan you’ve implanted in your brain. Maybe we
should just head to the opposite side of the Rim and bury ourselves in
said, running his finger gently across her cheek, “we get this Reb out and
we secure ourselves a steady job running guns or supplies—”
his hand away. “We don’t even know if they can pay.”
we won’t have to worry where our next meal comes from. And I hear those
Alliance bases have the tools we’ll need to keep the Starlight Red
in tip-top condition.”
“Ha! I hear
they have so few supplies they’re begging for help wherever they can get
Red, that’s just Imperial propaganda coming down the newsnets.”
what about Bwahl and Rass?” They had barely escaped from the last bounty
hunter hired by those two businessmen. “They’ll come after us
again—you know they will. We need to stay as far from them as we can get.”
knowing how the Rebels operate, we probably will be as far from
them as we can get.”
pulled the landspeeder off to the side of the road. She stared at lights
from Angjon’s spaceport glowing eerily through the mists. “I don’t know.”
Crimson’s wrist, a little more tightly than usual. If it caused her any
discomfort, she chose not to show it. “Stang, what’s your problem? I know
it ain’t just fear talking here. You and me have been through worse
trouble than this to get work before. If this were any other job, you’d go
along with it. Why are you so hung up about this Rebel thing, huh? What
did they ever do to you, to make you so angry?” Kaj gently brushed his
fingers against Crimson’s hand. She pointedly ignored him. The sting left
his voice as he turned her face in his hands and looked her straight in
the eyes. “Look, I’m sorry. I just care too much about you to see you like
this, and I want to help.”
tremble betrayed the stoic posture Crimson was trying so hard to maintain.
She met Kaj’s gaze, bit her lip, and looked away. Finally, she simply
said, “The Rebels killed my brother.”
his head cocked in confusion. “You mean a member of the Rebellion murdered
him? Well, frag, Crimson, that’s awful, but it’s still no reason to blame
her hand from his. “Yes, it is, Kaj.” The sharpness of her response
silenced him. “Raine’s unit was ambushed by the Rebels.”
clenched and unclenched her jaw. “Raine was assigned to Ralltiir. He was
slaughtered where he stood before he had any chance to defend himself.”
She punched the throttle. “The Rebels are so quick to point out the
atrocities committed by the Empire. So quick to scream in outrage at the
slaughter of innocent victims, to show that they represent the good and
the just. And maybe they do.” Her jaw stiffened. “But my brother never
committed any atrocities. He never slaughtered any innocents.”
wondered how she could be sure of this, but remained silent.
a good man,” Crimson said, “an honest man, who just wanted to serve in the
only way he knew how. The day he was killed, it wasn’t the Empire who
committed the atrocity. It was the Rebels. I’ll never forgive them for
smugglers sat in silence for a moment, the only noise coming from the
XP-38’s engine. “I’m sorry, Crimson.” Kaj shook his head as his partner’s
reluctance to take sides became clear. “I can see why you don’t trust the
Rebels. If they killed my brother, I’d have a hard time trusting them,
too. But you told me yourself that your best friend was murdered by the
Empire. So my point is this: if you can’t trust either side, you might as
well go with the one that puts you in the least danger. And last I heard,
the Rebels don’t have a bounty on your head.”
exhaled loudly but said nothing as she kicked the speeder back in gear. A
few moments later they pulled up to the Dyjillan Landing Strip, where
they’d berthed their ship, the Starlight Red. The battered YT-1300
freighter, once called the Faceted, was heavily modified, complete
with a wide variety of non-sanctioned weapons and sensor attachments. It
would be an asset to the Alliance—if the two smugglers could locate
powered down the speeder and turned in her seat to face her partner. She
sighed. “All right. Just answer me this, Kaj. Say we go through with this
and manage to get this guy Raider out of that prison. Say that, out of
gratitude, he lets us work for the Alliance, and that by some miracle we
don’t get killed running guns. What then? How do we convince Bwahl and
Rass not to use us for kindling? How do we get rid of the Imperial bounty
on my head? What are our long-range plans? Do we even have any long-range
plans? We can’t keep running forever, you know. Where is this leading us?”
“To a way
now, that’s all I can promise you.” Kaj gently took her hand. “Look, I
don’t know where the future will bring us, anymore than you do. But
whatever we have to face, we can get through it together. Trust me on
this, Red.” He pecked her lightly on the cheek. “After a good night’s
sleep, you’ll see I’m right.”
Jardansen building was not the norm for Imperial prison complexes. The
modest-sized plastone structure, with three floors and an inordinate
number of windows, had once been a factory for the production of sabacc
decks and other card games. The Empire had never taken much notice of
Angjon, but an increase in Rebel activities was motive enough for posting
small detachments on this world and others known to harbor smugglers who,
oftentimes, didn’t care who paid their wages. Rather than wasting credits
on unnecessary construction, the Imperials had simply annexed existing
buildings for their own purposes and moved right in. The Jardansen
Corporation had been among the first to go.
going to be easier than spotting a Hutt in a den of sand-lice,” Kaj said
to Crimson from their perch atop a building across from the prison.
“Typical Imperial arrogance—they think no one would ever dare break a
prisoner out, so they don’t make it too difficult to try.”
peered across the street, then bent low to get out of view. Shuffling
closer to Kaj, she removed her uncomfortable helmet. “Call me crazy, but
my guess is they probably think the thirty-plus stormtroopers they have
inside just might make people think twice about it.”
scowled but the ire from last night’s conversation had left her voice. She
glanced at the two unconscious men they’d tucked against a large power
generator on the far side of the roof. “Those guards will be missed any
minute now. The uniforms may get us in the front door, but then what?” She
tapped the white plastoid armor covering her chest. “We don’t even have a
plan for getting Raider out yet. What are we going to do, just walk right
in and say, ‘Hi, we’re here to free one of your prisoners’?”
chuckled nervously and pulled out a pair of macrobinoculars to scan the
windows of the prison. They had been slightly darkened and had thick metal
bars mounted on both sides of the glass, but he could still make out the
shapes of moving figures. “All right, we have two guys standing guard
outside the building. Inside and to the left, I see the main guard post.
Two officers and four stormtroopers there. Then there’s another dozen or
so stormies guarding the cells, stationed at various points down the
corridor. Can’t tell where the rest of the troops are.”
scoffed. The more she thought about this idea, the less she liked it.
only the first floor is being used. From here, I’d guess at least fifty
prisoners in individual cells. No idea which one of them is Raider,
though,” he added.
problem,” Crimson said, rolling her eyes. “We can just free them all.”
down and removed his helmet. His face beamed. “My thought, exactly.” He
leaned over and kissed her full on the lips.
stammered as Kaj hurried down the ladder. Recovering from her surprise,
Crimson put on her helmet and scampered after him.
‘Stormtroopers’ Kaj and Crimson crossed the street to the Jardansen
building. Shoulders squared, Kaj nodded confidently to the guards at the
front door, then hurriedly approached the main guard post with Crimson one
step behind. The officer in charge, a middle-aged captain, looked up in
irritation and studied Kaj’s hidden face. “What are you doing in—”
prisoners are escaping, sir,” Kaj reported.
officer half-shouted as he jumped to his feet.
Two of the
guards turned immediately to scanners on the main control panel to verify
the escape. “I detect no anomalies, Captain,” one guard reported. “No
signs of any unrest in the prison block.”
because it hasn’t started yet,” Kaj said as he pulled his blaster rifle
and burned a hole into the stormtrooper’s armor.
other Imperials could react, Crimson swung her rifle up. She loosed a
barrage of gunfire, catching the captain and two of his guards with blasts
that sent them careening backward into the wall.
hammered the second officer and the other guard, then jumped for the
control panel. Taking a moment to rip his helmet off and draw in a deep
breath of unrecycled air, he found the controls for the detention block
and released all the cell doors. “Come on!” he shouted.
Crimson sprinted for the adjoining corridor, jumping over the bodies of
two stormtroopers, their white armor streaked with blackened blasts. They
dashed into the cellblock amidst utter mayhem. Freed prisoners pounced on
startled guards and wrestled them for weapons. Kaj let out a war cry and
headed toward the nearest guard, his blaster rifle poised to strike.
Crimson quickly scanned the second level walkway. No sign of other
guards... yet. Grasping her weapon tightly, she sprinted to catch up with
through a prisoner’s grasp, one stormtrooper sounded a general alarm and
headed toward the stairs. A half-dozen prisoners bolted after him. He was
caught halfway up the stairs and ungracefully tossed over the side to the
ferrocrete below. Surprise, enthusiasm, and sheer numbers were on the side
of the prisoners, and within moments, most of the guards were subdued.
darted toward the exit, grabbing the fallen troopers’ weapons. Kaj was
about to speak when a blast struck the wall right above his head. He
whipped back in the direction of the shot. Three of the prisoners were
shooting at him!
wait,” Kaj yelled. “I’m not the Empire! I just freed you, you ungrateful—”
shot scorched the ferrocrete directly behind Crimson, and the smugglers
began to raise their weapons in defense. Suddenly, a barrage of blaster
shots rained down on the confusion from the second level walkway. Two of
the prisoners with weapons collapsed a few meters from Kaj, barely a
heartbeat away from killing him themselves.
hammered away at the sea of white armor above them. A shot fired from
somewhere in the room singed the faceplate of her helmet. She pulled it
off, tossed it aside, and blasted another guard.
Kaj yelled, firing randomly at the stormtroopers on the second level.
think we know where all the other guards are now!” Crimson shouted.
piled up as the firefight mounted. One prisoner turned and ran toward Kaj
and Crimson. He wore a dark hood, and his body was tall and lithe. Kaj
turned his blaster on the man but a second before he fired Crimson caught
his arm. “Kaj, no! He’s not armed.”
his fire, but a well-aimed shot from above caught him in the shoulder.
Cursing, he fell back against the wall, hitting it with a thud.
prisoner stooped down by Kaj, offered him his hand, and yelled over the
chaos, “Can you run?”
okay.” Kaj gave Crimson a thumb’s up, and then turned to the prisoner.
“Who are you?”
won’t believe this, but—”
for that now,” Raider said. He locked eyes with Crimson from beneath the
hood. There was a familiar gentleness there that unnerved her. He took her
arm. “Let’s go. It won’t be long before reinforcements arrive.”
saying nothing, Crimson let Raider lead the way. They raced back through
the guard post, hurdling fallen bodies. She looked back to see if they
were being followed, but the occupied troops hadn’t noticed their retreat.
Outside the building, they weaved through a group of alarmed passersby.
Kaj sprinted past their companion, skirted through a nearby alleyway, and
turned into a darkened garage, where their landspeeder was parked.
waiting to be invited, Raider jumped into the driver’s seat. Kaj shrugged,
climbed into the passenger’s side, and offered a hand to Crimson. She
barely made it aboard the speeder as it accelerated too quickly for the
compensators to adapt. Kaj let out an uncharacteristic gasp as she fell
awkwardly into his lap, slamming into his injured shoulder.
glared at their companion as he gunned the engine. “Hey,” she complained,
“just what in the worlds do you think—”
turned to her and removed his hood. His long, fiery hair was matted and
coarse, the hair on his face the same shade of red. She knew that face and
hair well, as though they were her very own.
Kaj repeated, staring at a masculine version of his partner. “Good skies!”
alive,” Crimson exclaimed, throwing her arms around her brother’s neck.
“By the stars, Raine, you’re alive!”
sudden movement caused Raine to jerk the controls, swerving the speeder
into oncoming traffic. “Whoa,” he shouted, pulling hard to the right.
“Hold on, Celi. Calm down before you get us all killed.”
released her near-stranglehold. “You’re alive,” she repeated, tears
streaming down her cheeks. Her hands trembled as she reached over to touch
the red stubble on Raine’s face. Shaking her head in disbelief, she
brushed her hand along his shoulder and held onto his arm, afraid to let
go. “I don’t understand...how did you get here?” she asked. “The reports
said you’d been killed in a Rebel ambush on Ralltiir.”
look dead to me,” Kaj offered.
grimaced, then looked at his sister. “That’s a very long story, sis. Maybe
we should get out of Angjon, then find a minute to lay back on a hill
somewhere and stare at the stars, like we did when we were kids—”
about hopes and dreams,” Crimson finished his sentence. She paused and
threw him a wink. “And dying as Imperial soldiers, coming back to life as
to hear that story,” Kaj said, “but if you want to get out of Angjon,
you’re headed in the opposite direction from the spaceport.”
nodded and turned northward, guiding the landspeeder out of town.
“Speaking of stories, Celi, how did a cruise ship navigator end up serving
as a backup on this mission? I’ll have to thank my friends for sending you
to watch over me.” He chuckled. “Do you two enjoy dressing up as
stormtroopers and breaking into Imperial detention centers?”
Galaxy Tours and hooked up with Kaj a couple of years ago,” Crimson told
nodded. “About the same time the Empire destroyed Alderaan.”
cast her eyes downward and chewed on her lip. “I didn’t leave my job
sent by the Alliance to watch your back, Raine,” Kaj interrupted.
dead. I go by Raider now,” he said flatly. He glanced at Crimson. “Sorry,
I don’t mean to be so blunt.” He frowned. “Wait, you don’t work for the
Alliance? Maybe you’d better start explaining.”
the guy you were planning to meet in an alley last night? Well, that’s me.
The name’s Kaj Nedmak. Crimson and I are free-traders, looking for steady
work. Thought we could help you move the shipment you were here to check
Raider tilted his sister’s chin up, glancing sidelong at her face and hair
and the fire in her eyes. “Nice name—it suits you.”
persisted. “What do you think, Raider? Can you put us to work?”
me out of an Imperial prison just to get a job?”
we’ve been trying to make contact with the Alliance.”
the work,” Crimson said.
trying to keep a few steps ahead of a couple of lowlifes who would like to
dump Kaj into a rancor’s den.”
with the Empire?” Raider asked as he turned down the dimly lit road toward
Kaj replied. “But Crimson has an Imp bounty—”
placed her hand over Kaj’s mouth. “It’s a long story.”
story, eh?” Raider smiled. “Guess that one will have to wait, too.”
“How do I
glanced up as her clean-shaven brother strolled into the Starlight
Red’s crew lounge. “That’s the man I remember.” She winked.
his mug down on the system’s console, winced at a spike of shoulder pain
from his bandaged wound, and sized up Raider’s appearance. “Quite a change
from before, but the red hair could mark you, my friend. I’ll have Uthre
dig out some—”
okay. My cap will cover up the red.” Raider smiled and sat down beside his
sister. “Now let’s get down to business. You said you wanted to work for
the Alliance. A week or so ago—”
care for some cold raava, Master Durasha?”
turned to the tray-carrying protocol droid. Similar to the standard 3PO
model, it had enough differences from that design—particularly its
greenish tint—to mark it as being from the THR series. The voice, however,
pleasant and yet possessing a rather aristocratic air, confirmed that the
two series were related.
U-THR. Maybe later. I’ll need my head clear for the job ahead. We all
will.” He looked pointedly at Kaj, who had lifted his mug back up to his
lips. Kaj stopped in mid-swig, then pretended not to have heard the
comment as he downed the remainder of his mug and signaled for the droid
to give him a refill.
snorted. “Anyway, as I was saying, a week or so ago, my cargo pilot got
nabbed in a barroom brawl.”
dreadful!” the droid said.
“Trey was a
good friend and one helluva pilot. They must’ve killed him. His death is a
loss for the Rebellion.” Raider’s tone became more earnest. “If I can
locate his stash, I’ll need transportation to get it out of here. We can
use small ships like yours, good pilots, skilled infiltrators... but the
pay isn’t great. Credits are hard to come by in this line of work.”
is a factor, of course,” Kaj indicated, “but there are other things like
food, shelter, parts to keep our ship up to spec—”
Raider fixed his gaze on Crimson.
her brother had always been close—enough so that reading verbal cues, body
language, and each other’s mind was almost second nature. She knew what he
was getting at, and she didn’t like it. “Skip the ideology lessons and
keep your politics to yourself.” She groaned, her face flushing bright
red. “My best friend was gunned down by the Empire. You were killed
by the Rebels. But here you are, and now you’re working for them!”
She looked away a moment, her anger giving way to confusion. “My friend
Kaileel told me to look deeply at the Empire, to see the evil there—”
“The way I
see it, there’s ugly on both sides,” she said. “I don’t want to make it
my battle. I can’t. And I’m sorry about that, but don’t you see? I
just want a job that puts food in my belly. If working for the Alliance
does that, then that’s okay with me.”
can’t be saying you’d work for the Empire—”
course not.” She shook her head and sighed. “It’s not that I think the
Rebels are right or wrong. It’s just that everything I’ve struggled
to deal with—”
commitments you’ve avoided,” Raider added bluntly.
voice tightened. “I was angry and hurt. I hated the Rebels because I
thought they’d killed you.”
across the table and took her hand. “It’s okay, Crimson,” he said softly.
you expect me to say now?” Crimson asked Raider, staring her brother in
the eye. “‘I love the Rebs?’ Give me a little while to adjust to this
This must be a bit of a shock,” Raider conceded.
“A bit of a
shock?” she replied, gripping Kaj’s hand tightly. “Think bigger, brother
exploding Death Star?”
tried to force a smile. “Yeah, that’s more like it.”
For a long
moment, no one said a word. Even Uthre seemed to be going out of his way
to avoid eye contact with the others. Finally, Kaj slapped a hand across
his knee. “So Raider—you think you might be able to put us to work?” he
a deep breath. “The Imps are probably scouring the city trying to find my
cargo and the three of us. Staying in Angjon can’t be a great
all the way here to find out what happened to your pilot and cargo,” Kaj
said. “Might as well finish what you started. This shipment must be pretty
important to the Alliance. Just what’s in it, anyway?”
our bases need—medical stuff, weapons, explosives, repulsor-coil heaters—”
rose at that last item. “Doing some modifications for cold weather?”
shrugged a “maybe,” refusing to divulge more information. “Even if we
locate the cargo, we still have to blast out of here without getting
inspected.” His eyes drifted from Crimson to Kaj then back again. A slight
grin curled the edges of his mouth. “But if you’re game, there is one more
place I’d like to have a look at.”
pause, Crimson nodded and tried to return his smile. Raider gave her a
reassuring hug, then slapped a comradely hand on Uthre’s metal shoulder.
“On second thought, Uthre, I think I could use that drink now.”
bartender at the CardSafe happily obliged the smugglers with the address
of Raider’s original cargo hauler. Two hundred credits poorer, Crimson,
her brother, and Kaj whipped down a residential street in their XP-38.
High-rise structures connected aboveground by covered walkways smothered
the district, suffocating it in gloomy shadows.
apartment was unpretentious and sparsely decorated, aside from a plastone
statue of Emperor Palpatine, a classic image of the shriveled monarch
benevolently bestowing his New Order upon the galaxy. Crimson raised an
eye at the statue, surprised to see such an item in the home of a Rebel.
sure what Raider was looking for, but the sharp focus of his eyes as they
scanned the room told her volumes about his expertise as a Rebel
operative. With a vigilance originally bred through service to the Empire,
he checked the entire apartment for clues as to the whereabouts of the
cargo, but the search proved fruitless.
loudly, hands opening and closing as though needing to stay active, Raider
picked up the statue of Palpatine and idly read the inscription at the
bottom: “From Chaos, Order. From Decadence, Control. From Corruption,
Purity.” He laughed coldly. “To think that our family—that I—bought into
this twisted rhetoric.” Turning, he hurled the statue to the floor, where
it cracked in half with a satisfying crash.
crept across Raider’s face. Following his gaze, Crimson and Kaj found
themselves smiling as well.
floor, amidst plastone dust and the jagged halves of the statue, a metal
object shined. A small key cylinder with a hexagonal base and smooth
rounded top. And scratched in crude lettering on the cylinder—an address.
Crimson tromped up to the only door she hadn’t tried to open at the
darkened warehouse. It was only a meter high, more suitable an entrance
for a Jawa than for a human. The cylinder’s hexagonal end slid smoothly
into the lock. Wouldn’t you know it? A slight smile washed across
her face when the lock clicked. Nodding inconspicuously to the skiff
parked a block away, she shoved open the door.
the wall just inside the warehouse, Crimson located the lights and an
adjacent control panel which opened a pair of huge double doors. Their
recent string of luck seemed uncanny. Somehow, things were falling into
place a bit too easily. A sudden chill wracked her body as the skiff
pulled in to the cavernous room. Her eyes drifted toward the ceiling.
Mounted security cameras!
Crimson slapped the controls to close the doors, grabbed her DL-44, and
blasted the nearest camera. Kaj saw the streak of light and its target.
Spotting a second camera mounted in the opposite corner of the room, he
opened fire. “Company’s coming,” he shouted as Crimson anxiously scanned
the room for other security measures and other ways to escape. “Let’s move
Raider jumped from the vehicle and forced open one of the containers that
lined the wall. Carefully pushing aside the blankets and medkits, he
inspected its contents. He eyed some megonite charges, then hefted a brand
new BlasTech A280. Satisfied, he turned to his comrades. “Okay, this is
what we’re looking for. Kaj, can you—”
Floodlights filled the room with blinding luminescence.
“You there—hold it!”
Half-blinded by the floodlights, Kaj remained still as two stormtroopers
stepped toward him. Raider, partially obscured by the skiff, kept his
weapon out of sight.
“You’re coming with us,” one trooper ordered. “The administrator wants a
word with you.”
Raider sneered. “Yeah—and the word is... Drop!”
dove for cover as Raider swung the A280 around in one fluid movement, his
finger melding with the trigger. One stormtrooper pulled off a well-aimed
shot before Raider blew him away. Wincing, Raider ignored the burnt,
swollen patch on his arm and fired at the second guard. His shot went
wide. Another laser blast streaked across the room from the door.
Crimson’s blaster found its mark.
“You two all right?” Raider asked.
Crimson trotted toward her companions. She helped Kaj back to his feet.
“We’re fine, but those stormtroopers were waiting for us,” she said.
told you the Empire would be looking for this cargo,” Raider replied,
scrutinizing the room.
rubbed his shoulder, still sore from the blast he’d taken during the
prison breakout. “Looks like they found it.”
Despite the throbbing pain in his arm, Raider hefted an unmarked crate
onto the skiff. “We don’t have much time. Let’s haul these weapons onto
the skiff and get out of here.”
Crimson nodded. “I’ll have Uthre ready the Starlight Red so we can
lift off as soon as we get back.”
Faceted, this is Lieutenant Yma Smada at Dyjillan
Port Control. Our scanners show your ship powering up for liftoff. You do
not have authorization for departure. Please power down immediately, or
your docking privileges will be revoked. Repeat, this is Dyjillan Port
Control. Abort your departure. You do not have clearance. Acknowledge
the cockpit, Kaj Nedmak laughed and smacked the armrest of his captain’s
chair. “Ha! Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I never got around to
changing the ship’s ID registry with BoSS. We’re still broadcasting as the
start celebrating yet, Kaj,” Crimson retorted, pointing to starboard.
“Port Control isn’t the only one taking notice of us.”
Kaj shot a
look in the direction she was pointing and swore at the sight of a squad
of troops running toward their freighter.
screaming in from port,” Crimson added.
Kaj shouted. “Out of the Dune Sea, into the Sarlacc pit.” He toggled an
overhead switch. “Raider, we’ve got company. Better get to the lower
turret. Something tells me this liftoff is gonna make the Maw Cluster look
like a Rulaarian pleasure cruise.”
“Understood,” Raider’s voice transmitted back from the cargo hold.
activated switches on the nav panel. “Kaj, I don’t know if the Red’s
in any shape right now to stare down three eyeballs.”
think we have much choice.” His fingers played across the controls like a
Bith rocking out on a fanfar, and the YT-1300 lifted off so fast that the
smugglers were yanked back hard into their seats. “The only thing we can
do now is try to blind them.”
Crimson replied, unstrapping herself.
“Freighter Faceted, repeat, this is Dyjillan Port
Control,” Smada repeated, her voice becoming more vehement with each word.
“You do not have authorization for departure. The authorities have been
jumped from her chair, backhanded the comm panel to silence the voice, and
hit the deck running for the upper gun turret. Strapping herself in, she
waved to her brother below her. She smiled and turned her attention to her
targeting computer as the ship escaped Angjon’s atmosphere.
freighter rocked as the TIEs screeched deftly past, lasers blazing. Kaj
throttled the Starlight Red around, giving Crimson and Raider clear
shots at their attackers.
immediately erupted into flames, which were just as quickly extinguished
by the vacuum of space. “Got one!” Raider yelled, swiveling sixty degrees
to get a bead on its wingman. As his targeting computer signaled a lock,
the third TIE scored a hit on Raider’s turret, completely severing his
gun-mount and raining sparks down upon him. “Frag!”
turned abruptly at the explosion and Raider’s curse. Spying the blackened
transparisteel of the gun turret, she cried out, “Raine? You okay?”
replied, flexing his fingers to soothe the effects of the mild shock he’d
sustained. “But I’m not going to be much help to you from down here.”
in her gunner’s chair to strafe the attacking TIEs, Crimson tapped her
headset. “Kaj, the lower turret’s scragged. Raine’s okay, but I don’t know
how long any of us’ll stay that way with only one gun. You better do some
stressed voice filtered back from the cockpit. “Just stay on the last two
eyeballs, Red. I’ve got a plan.” He jerked the ship hastily in a zigzag
pattern, avoiding the fighters. “Raider, get back to the cargo bay. The
explosives in those crates of yours—they’d come in mighty handy about now.
Pocket a few charges, grab yourself a vacuum suit, and head up to the top
suit?” Raider said. “What? I don’t—”
had no idea what Kaj was thinking but could almost see awareness dawning
on her brother’s face…
“Wait—” Raider said. “I think I know what you’re getting at. I’m on it.”
sprinted down a corridor toward the bay, the Starlight Red shook
hard. Explosions sounded from both sides of the ship. Sensors on Crimson’s
targeting equipment told her that the TIEs had taken flanking positions.
she thought. Shield generators gone. Even a minor hit now and we’re
fireworks. “Kaj, they’re coming in from port and starboard. Get
us out of here!”
suddenness that most sensible engineers would have deemed impossible for a
ship of its class, the Red spun and turned on its axis, coming
about 180 degrees with barely a decrease in speed. Klaxons wailed and
steam fittings burst from the strain, a deep moan emanating from bulkheads
never designed for such a maneuver. But the ship held together, thanks to
modifications made by its previous owner.
back nausea as stars whipped by at dizzying speed, Crimson found herself
facing both attacking ships. From the delay in their response, she
recognized the stunned confusion of the pilots as they tried to locate
their prey again.
TIE, the delay was fatal. Staccato bursts from the Red’s upper gun
turret reduced the fighter to space dust. The other ship stayed out of her
targeting cone, dancing around the freighter like a frenzied Wistie.
headset, Crimson heard Kaj’s voice. “Okay, Crimson, get ready—wait for my
right,” she answered non-confidently, hoping he knew what he was doing.
you ready back there, buddy?”
position, Kaj. Just give the word.”
moment, it seemed to Crimson as though nothing had happened, but suddenly
her sensors picked up the trail of an object off to port, apparently
coming from the Starlight Red itself. The freighter spun around,
placing the object between the two ships, then came to a full stop.
Crimson’s heart did the same. What in space are you doing, Kaj?
We’re dead mynocks, sitting here like this!
opening, the TIE turned to make a final strafing run at its elusive prey.
Red,” Kaj called. A couple of seconds went by, but it seemed like a
lifetime. “Stand by… wait…” then he shouted, “Fire at that object off to
better be right about this, Kaj. As the TIE bore down on them, Crimson
locked the slowly floating object in her sights, then opened fire. A
brilliant explosion filled space before her, forcing her to shield her
eyes with her hands. Looking back a moment later, she watched the TIE fly
directly into the explosion. The starfighter erupted in a secondary
detonation that was no match for the first, but was decidedly more
satisfying to the occupants of the Starlight Red.
“That was a most effective and inspired demonstration of intuitive
strategizing, Captain Nedmak. Quite impressive!”
Kaj grinned at the green-tinted protocol droid as it refilled his
companion’s mugs with raava. “Thanks, Uthre. It wasn’t bad at that, if I
do say so myself.”
“Having Master Raider expel that megonite charge out the top hatch airlock
for Mistress Crimson to detonate was certainly an unorthodox maneuver.
However did you devise such an unusual offensive with such little
“Well, you said it yourself, Uthre: I’m inspired, intuitive, and
impressive —guess you could say the ‘i’s have it!”
Crimson laughed, the first real laughter she’d enjoyed in weeks, due
largely, she knew, to the relief of surviving the past few days.
Raider groaned and tipped back his mug, downing the contents in one long,
smooth draught. “You know, Kaj, somehow your sense of humor seems so much
better to me after I’ve doused myself in raava. Now, I wonder why
that would be?” He winked at the smuggler, then signaled to U-THR for
Warm and giddy from her drink, Crimson slipped one arm around her brother,
the other around Kaj. “Well, boys, here we are. We’ve made contact with
the Rebel Alliance. I’ve found my long-lost brother. We’ve managed to
track down—and escape with—some important cargo. The shields are fixed and
we’re traveling safely in circles on automatic. So what happens now?”
Raider grinned. “Now, dear sister, we make a delivery that is long
overdue.” Lifting the mug to his mouth, Raider took another long swallow.
His green eyes sparkled mischievously as they drifted from Crimson to Kaj.
“How do you two feel about snow?”