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"Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins

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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 3:02 am   Post subject: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

The morbidly obese duro, Zelm Grosh, shuffled into the cramped office of twi'lek Borz Nehrana, mopping up stray trickles of sweat from the lingering evening heat of a Varnusian summer. Or maybe it was more than the heat. Perhaps it was something boiling inside the pasty-faced duro.
“Mr. Grosh,” Nehrana greeted his guest. “Please have a seat so that we can begin.” Borz, a struggling attorney and sometime criminal gestured to a hard wooden bench along one wall of his tiny office. His legitimate business had been improving of late. Still, his next task made his skin crawl.
The fat duro sat down, followed in turn by the lean twi'lek lawyer, who began nervously typing at a desktop data screen in front of him. The heat was of no concern compared with Ryloth, the twi'lek’s homeworld. Instead he felt cold.
“Mr. Grosh,” Nehrana began. “The estate in question is quite substantial. I believe that everything should be settled on this data recording.” Zelm Grosh fought the urge to fidget as Borz slowly rotated his desktop data screen and pressed a single button. Within an instant appeared a face Grosh had come to know all too well. The face was human, male, late-20’s maybe early 30’s. The man’s expression somber and reserved. He began to speak.
“If you’re watching this, then I suppose my efforts have failed. I’m dead. I hope that I died a hero’s death and pray that I did not die in vain. Now it only remains to dispose of my worldly possessions. This is my last will and testament.
“I, Icis Novitaar, being of stable cognition and sound health…”


Knightworks Presents:


“Upon My Death”
(The Last Will and Testament of Icis Novitaar)
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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 3:05 am   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

The Silent Raider
2030 hours

Captain Perth Graham eased back into his command chair aboard the bridge of the Marauder-Class Corvette Silent Raider. In his hand was a datapad containing crew reports from the various team supervisors in his employ. Many private captains didn't bother with proper bookkeeping, but Graham wasn't the typical captain. Although the Raider wasn't a commercial or military vessel, it's crew was relatively disciplined and its missions were of great importance. There were many ships larger and more prestigious, but Perth wouldn't trade his command of the Raider for the power of a Star Destroyer or comfort of a luxury liner. In the whole galaxy, there was only one Raider... and it was his ship.

A gentle swoosh turned Perth's attention from the truly uninteresting datapad and toward the open doors of the port lift. “Well, she's almost mine.” Captain Graham reflected as he eyed the tall man stepping out of the lift. The man was a friend, but it was impossible to claim the absence of resentment. Icis Novitaar had done Perth quite a favor when he financed the Raider's complete repair and overhaul following a not-so-pleasant battle. However, when the devil took his due he laid claim on the title to the ship. So technically it was Icis' ship, but only one man truly loved it.

“Captain Graham,” Icis addressed the man as he approached.

Perth was frequently one for formality, and simply replied, “Sir.”

Icis stopped roughly a meter from Perth's command chair, the Captain standing in deference and greeting. Novitaar had a fairly serious look and Graham braced himself for an uncomfortable question. “I visited the hangar deck to retrieve an item from my ship, and do you know what I found?”

“Uh-oh,” thought Perth, his fear confirmed. “No sir, what?”

“Actually, it's what I didn't find.” Icis paused, continuing the thought with a fierce stare. “Shuttlecraft Three is missing.”

Perth Graham cleared his throat to provide an extra moment of contemplation before admitting to the crime. “Well, yes. I suppose you might be wondering where a thing like that could have gotten off to.”

“I know where it's gotten off to. I spoke with Balfin.”

“Uggh.” Perth groaned silently. “I was going to tell you about that.”

“When exactly?” Questions, questions... and not easy ones. “Cassandra took the shuttle, as well as borrowing two key crew members, and left the ship without even notifying me.”

“Ah, well, yes.” Graham was a little taken aback. The man made it sound as if it was a bad thing when it was really, “A command decision. It, uh, was a command decision.”

Icis didn't respond. He just stared. Even though Perth knew that the other man no longer possessed any Force powers, he somehow felt as if Icis were burrowing into his mind.

“Gah, that's creepy,” he thought, then said, “Commander Esundro had an important lead on an AD spy that could be used to provide information on their movements. She had to act fast and needed both Kain and Shanlo if she had any chance to succeed. I made the call and let her go.” A pause. Icis wasn't satisfied. “I really didn't want to trouble you.”

“Captain Graham, when I'm away I trust that you'll make all the important decisions without having to look to me for guidance. However, when I'm aboard this ship I expect to be notified about things of this particular merit.” Icis was prickly, but it was nothing new. He'd been that way ever since his last visit with his “kind.”

Perth took all of that into account and did his best to avoid exacerbating the problem. He knew that Icis trusted him as much as he trusted anyone (and that wasn't saying much), but he didn't care for being pulled into line on his own bridge. In fact, Perth was just about to add that thought to his otherwise coolly planned reply when the communications officer interrupted.

“Sir,” Griisyr Ke'lab interjected with a tone of urgency in her voice.

Both the Traveler and the Captain turned at once and responded in unison, “Yes?” resulting in a moment of disorientation. The two men eyed each other as if to ask by what authority the other had answered, then quickly dismissed the incident and moved on.

As a Bothan, Griisyr was raised on interpersonal politics and frequently modeled a reserved demeanor. At the moment however, she seemed to have her hair standing on end as if she was certain it was something of great importance. “We're receiving an incoming transmission. It's heavily encrypted, but the leader tag indicates it to be addressed to Mr. Novitaar.” There was a brief pause as Griisyr pushed lightly at her ear-piece with a look of concentration. “It's marked 'eyes only.'”

Icis spoke up. “Put it through to the Captain's office.” Then, with a sweeping gesture, continued, “Captain. If you please...”

“Of course.” Perth nodded, stepping forward. It wasn't all that unusual to have eyes only transmissions aboard the Raider. In fact, with Icis on board, secrecy was the norm. The difference in this case was that the communication was not expected. Typically a heavily encrypted message was only sent in response to a request for data. In the event that the communication was unexpected, it would begin as a general greeting that subsequently requested a private venue. Thus, Perth knew that the message must be both urgent and important.

The two strode into the Captain's office, adjacent to the fore-port corner of the bridge, and let the door swoosh shut behind them. Perth's personal space was decorated in his typical style, a clutter of overly gaudy souvenirs around a thankfully neat desk and, not surprisingly, a corner sofa intended for something other than sitting. One full wall was lined with squared oval portals, providing an excellent view of space, while the back of the office concerned itself with the necessities – a mini-kitchen and the door to a single-unit refresher.

Icis Novitaar and Perth Graham stood around the desk in the center of the office. “Any thoughts?” Perth asked, tapping a few buttons and turning the display to be easily viewed by both men. He hesitated, but Icis made no answer. “Ohhh-kkaaayy...” the Captain sighed, activating the display unit.

Lines crossed the screen as the data was decrypted. This took only a few seconds, then, “Mr. Novitaar. Sir.” Graham jumped slightly, startled and hoping Icis hadn't noticed. The screen was filled with the face of a male rodian, his bulgy eyes strained with urgency and his voice sharp.

“My name is Krespo Boneida. I don't know how much time I have, so I have to talk fast. I've been investigating a possible leak within the organization. It seems that, not only do we have a traitor in our midst, but that he's planning a hostile takeover. Sir, I believe your life to be in grave danger. I'm...”

Icis broke in, talking over the agitated agent. “Who's the traitor?” Krespo, however, didn't even pause or acknowledge Icis question for a second. Seeming frustrated by this, Icis tried to get his attention, “Krespo...”

“Uh, I think it's a recording,” Captain Graham corrected, repressing a laugh.

Icis glanced up from the screen to meet Graham's amused gaze. The Traveler was not amused. “I knew that.”

Both men returned their attention to the recorded transmission. Krespo was no less agitated than before. “Sir, I'm attaching a set of documents that explain the work I've done until now. I think you'll agree with the severity of the problem. The question is: How many traitors have already switched sides? I don't have the answer. Obviously, there are a great many credits at stake. Credits talk. There could even be disloyal members of your inner circle. Trust no one.”

Krespo Boneida stopped momentarily, looking off screen. Then he resumed in a whisper. “Sir, I've just run out of time. My life is in danger as well. Immediately upon completing this transmission, I plan to go to ground until things blow over. I'm including a set of rendezvous coordinates in the event you need to meet with me. No further communication will be possible until the threat has ended.” Krespo looked off screen again and let out a rodian curse. Then the transmission stopped.

“Do we have that data package?” Icis asked urgently. By nature, Icis was far from trusting. Just the thought that there was a traitor in the organization inflamed his barely dormant fears.

“Hold on.” Perth tapped a few keys and frowned. “It's here it's just...” A deeper frown and a few more key taps. “... garbled. The data looks corrupt.”

Icis was frowning now too. “Corrupt?” This was obviously not the sort of news he wanted to hear.

Perth looked away from the screen, shaking his head in disgust. “At first I thought it was just an additional encryption layer, but it doesn't match any of our standards. Then I did a surface scan of the data and it looks like the transmission got snowed out.” But what could cause that? “Maybe a radiation surge or EMP?”

That sort of communications problem could happen but it was exceptionally rare. Suspicious. Too suspicious. Icis voiced the question on both mens' minds, “Why wasn't the rest of the transmission affected?”

“Exactly.” Perth looked down and tapped a few more keys. “Well, you'll be delighted to hear this. Although the main data package is shot, the rendezvous calendar is mostly intact.”

Icis' eyes held a steely gaze. His teeth grit. “Trap?”

“Trap.” Captain Graham confirmed.

“Do you think Protea can manage to sift through the damage to the main data package and perhaps grant us a little insight?” Icis asked, expression unchanged.

Checking himself, Perth responded readily, “If she can't do it, there's no one in the 'verse who can.”

“Good.” Icis began to turn away. “Have her take a look at the data immediately. Meanwhile, pick the first rendezvous we can make and set a course.”

Graham was slightly taken aback. “Set a course, sir? Didn't we just agree that it's a trap?”

Icis paused, not turning back to face the questioning Captain. “Someone's playing a game with me. Supposing he or she is not an idiot, it will be assumed that I'll know it's a trap. It will also be assumed that I'll come anyway.” Suddenly silent, Icis turned his head and caught Perth's expression. “I would hate to disappoint.”

Captain Graham watched wordlessly as the Traveler turned and walked out. “I would hate to disappoint.” He repeated in a mocking tone. “I would absolutely die if I used any bloody common sense! Gah!”
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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 11:55 pm   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

The Silent Raider
0800 hours

Master Chief Thomyn Baynes strode down the empty corridor aboard the Raider, walking as loosely as his aching joints and tendons would allow. Growing old wasn't easy. Especially for a man who had lived Baynes' harsh life. Some people considered the old war dog lucky. Maybe he was. He had been in active combat service of one form or another for twenty-nine years – and he was still alive. On the other hand, his forty-eight-year-old frame often felt as if it were sixty-eight or seventy-eight. Hard living. There was only one thing that made him feel young again.

“Hi, Thom!” The voice was young and beautiful, but the blue-skinned face of the speaker was even more so. Drenes'ylle'afronedo didn't know it, couldn't know it, but she was the light of Thom Baynes life. She kept him moving when he would have otherwise thrown in the towel.

“Miss Syllea,” Baynes replied, glancing nonchalantly at the young woman that had just come alongside him. “How are you doing this morning?”

Syllea smiled, teeth brilliant white and eyes sparkling red. “Another day in paradise.” This resulted in a snort from Baynes as it was usually his 'catchphrase'. It was obvious that Syllea regarded the older man highly, but something more like a father than a...

“I've been reviewing some of the new recruits, sorting out who might be ready for their first mission.” Baynes began. Small talk was one of the few social skills he really had a handle on.

Syllea deftly snagged the datapad out of Baynes' hand and started sifting over the roster. “Hmm. Any stand-outs?”

Baynes had enough combat experience to have developed a good eye for body mechanics. He assured himself that it was his ingrained awareness and nothing else that caused him to notice how gracefully the lithe woman glided with each step. A sudden awareness that the flow of conversation had stopped snapped the Master Chief back to attention. “Uh, yeah. Actually... no.”

Syllea gave Baynes a sideways glance.

“Well, there are a number of problems still to be addressed, but there is no better teacher than experience.” In another life Baynes had spent several years training soldiers for the New Republic. Occasionally time would escape him and the veteran trainer would lapse back into one of his lectures. “There is no 'good' time for a first engagement. Many men could train for years and still fall apart under the pressure. Others may hardly know how to hold a blaster but will be hardened in the forge of battle. If you hold the men back for the perfect moment, you'll waste them. Both courage and faith are required too...”

The Master Chief had trailed off because he noticed that Syllea was staring at him. Being long-winded was always a curse and never a blessing. Beside which, she wasn't a recruit. A second try was in order.

“Sorry,” Baynes said sheepishly, reminding himself that they were in small talk mode, not lecture. This was supposed to be his best social skill. “In fact, there is one stand out, but I don't know what to make of him.”

“Who is it?” Syllea had a nearly eidetic memory and made a point of keeping up with everyone on board. Between her own observations and her Bothan best friend, there was little that went on of which Syllea was not aware.

Baynes assured himself that it wasn't just some sort of gossip addiction but instead a reasonable decision to be in-touch with the crew. Good leaders were like that after all. “It's one of the new transfers from Proclivity. He came to us highly recommended and it would seem that he lives up to his reputation. Skilled in hacking through security systems and decoding transmissions. Competent with a blaster. An adequate pilot. One of the best con-men I've seen in a while. The only thing is...”

Syllea was possessed of an inquisitive mind and had to know the promising young transfer's great drawback. “The only thing is...” she repeated.

Baynes sighed. It was the sound of age in direct contact with frustrated failure. To Syllea it was obvious that Baynes found the problem singularly annoying and likely impossible to correct. “The only thing is... our young hero is accident prone.” The Master Chief grew silent again, ignoring the surprised look crossing the young woman's blue face.

“He's...” Syllea paused, incredulously, “... accident prone?” This was making no sense.

“Yes,” Thom began to elaborate. “I can't understand it myself, but the man was born under a bad star. There's nothing obviously wrong with his performance, but no matter how careful he is there is always some way for him to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

“Why, just the other day we were going through an exercise in which he and another trainee were supposed to bypass a door mechanism to access a secured corridor and that boy cut through the safeguards like he was lacing his boots. His partner went through, but when it came to our young hero, he stood up, took one step, and skidded on the lock cover panel he had just removed.”

Syllea arched her eyebrows as Baynes continued.

“Before I knew it, he was on his back. His partner returned to see if he was okay, which was the exact moment that he decided to pull himself up using a tool jammed into the door lock. The door slammed into the young man's partner and knocked him out cold.”

The astonished chiss stared at the Master Chief in amazement.

“So, what does our hero do next? Well he pushes the tool back into the door to release the lock, tries to dash through to see after his partner... and hits the panel on the floor again. Down he went. Actually gave himself a concussion.” Thomyn Baynes shook his head and gave a deep sigh.

Looking as if she had been told that Wookies were singing opera, Drenes'ylle'afronedo asked the obvious question, “Who is this again?”

The aging soldier suddenly looked a little more tired than usual. “Our new hero is one Mr. Ralee Solstar.”
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PostPosted: Sat May 24, 2008 2:51 am   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Rooftop of the Keiser-Grieson Illuminates Processing Plant
Date: 13.084 (1730 hours)


“Solstar?” An ebony skinned human with a face that was etched from stone addressed the youthful and somewhat awkward specialist.

“Yes, sir,” Solstar answered quickly. He didn't want the sergeant to think he was a slacker. Sarge was a hard man and expected the same from everyone else. There was a story going around about how he used to eat durasteel assembler connections every morning at breakfast. Solstar didn't believe it, but knew that Sarge could chew up just about anything or anyone else.

“Look sharp. We've got no time for standin' 'round.” Sergeant Ivas Heks always seemed impatient, marching around and chewing on a stick of dry rolled rysik leaves. The wisps of smoke trailing through the air smelled both sweet and bitter. “We got action comin' up any minute now. I can feel it in my bones.”

“Yes, sir.” It seemed to Solstar that all he ever did anymore was salute, yessir, and wait for orders. That was really frustrating because he didn't transfer to the Raider to become a soldier. Ralee Solstar (a family name), had been one of the up-and-coming intelligence agents stationed aboard the Enigmatic Proclivity, gathering data on the new alien threat sweeping across their corner of the galaxy. As with all highly skilled young men (and women and... things...), he was recommended for a stint on the shadow organization's “flagship.” He accepted the transfer eagerly, knowing that it was a “one way trip to the top.” Turns out it was something more like boot camp.

Beside Solstar, an impatient growl rumbled from the throat of Chaaldar, a wookie and the third member of the little warrior band. He wasn't at all happy with the situation and Solstar preferred his wookiees happy. Chaaldar was only a little taller than average for a wookiee at around 2.2 meters, but he was much stockier than most of his kind. A powerful warrior, he was known for being a bit brash, but then again, he was only 82 years old. He still had plenty of time to mature.

Sergeant Heks jerked the smoldering rysik stick from his mouth with a single curled finger. “Wha'd the furball say?”

Another complaint. Solstar had a natural talent for language and had learned Shyriiwook quite readily, only to find himself pressed into service as a translator for Heks, who barely spoke basic. It all just seemed like a colossal waste of talent to the young prodigy. “He says that this is stupid,” Solstar paused, then continued, “More specifically, he says that waiting out here is stupid. If, or let's face it when, something goes wrong there'll be no way to reach Mr. Novitaar in time.”

The sergeant narrowed his gaze. His dark eyes seemed to burn with barely restrained fury. “Kid, you gotta lotta' learn.” Heks took a long drag on his rysik stick, held it, then exhaled, “I don't like the situation any more than you do, but I'm not gonna whine about it.”

“Sir,” Solstar interrupted. “Actually, Chaaldar was the one who...”

Heks ignored the interruption. “When the scrape starts up, you're gonna find that things go from bad to worse quick. That's when you'll want to run cryin' back to yo' mama. That's when the men get split from the boys.”

Chaaldar attempted to correct the sergeant with a somber bellow. Heks didn't notice.

“It's all 'bout wantin' it more than the other guy,” the sergeant continued, speaking around the fat stick being ground by his perpetually clinched teeth. “If you run outta ammo, you gotta learn ta spit blaster bolts and glare lasers. You undastand?”

Solstar worked his mouth, but couldn't find any words.

“Ri-ight,” Heks commented. “I guess you're a little slow. That's okay. Just stick tight with me and you'll figure it out.”

Specialist Solstar grit his teeth in frustration and began to shuffle his feet, trying to drain out some of the nervous energy that was building up inside. He just wished that something would happen. Anything! It couldn't be worse than the anticipation. Besides, it would draw the sergeant's attention away for a while. Solstar had been assured that the man was reliable, but it was impossible to escape the feeling that he liked being in combat. Warfare was the man's lover and his sweet infant child. That made Ralee's skin crawl worse than anything.

“Frack,” Sergeant Heks cursed, peering through a pair of macrobinoculars from the group's position, atop the roof of a small illuminates processing building, down to an alley running parallel to the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower.

Chaaldar growled out a question.

Maybe Heks understood for a change. “Looks like we got company.”

=========================================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Craggy bluff at the edge of Junk City.
Date: 13.084 (1732 hours)


Captain Perth Graham stood at the top of a rocky bluff at the very border of Junk City. Only thirty meters west a wide trail of bumpy tread-tracks began. In better times an army of heavy cargo crawlers would be transporting raw materials from the city's spaceport to a smelting plant outside of town. They would come back with containers full of processed ores to be delivered to the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower. From there, they would carry a load of finished machine parts back to the spaceport for off-world shipping. For decades, Kr'v-M'gs Industrial had been a powerful heart pumping a circulating stream of machines and credits through the city. Now it stood empty, just another victim of the collapsing economy brought about by the Altarin'Dakor invasion. Any company not producing war goods was getting out fast and casualties could be taken along either path.

Master Chief Siv Jovan approached, his motions as crisp as his uniform. “My men are in position and waiting for your orders,” he paused, the arrogance palpable. “Sir.”

Perth nodded in approval. “Very good Mr. Jovan. I'm sure they've been careful to keep out of sight?”

“Absolutely, sir. I selected their positions myself.” There was a bit of a miffed tone to Jovan's words. He was a perfectionist and Perth would have been surprised had he not micro-managed his soldiers, but he still felt compelled to inquire. It wasn't that he wanted to know but rather that he wanted to irritate the arrogant young man. It was something of a hobby for him.

Siv Jovan had been among the best and the brightest young men the Galactic Empire had to offer. He was a trained intelligence operative with experience in civil order (ie suppression of dissenting views). The man's record was studded with acts of heroism and blemished by assassinations of dissenting leaders. He was a top-level marksman and a capable pilot, but Jovan's arrogance and demanding attitude sometimes made him a nightmare to work with. Siv especially clashed with the older security team leader and former rebel Thomyn Baynes.

Baynes had been standing a few steps away, speaking into his comm link for perhaps thirty seconds, but suddenly became animated and spun on his heel to face Captain Graham. “Sir,” the old warrior addressed his commanding officer respectfully yet urgently, “A group of my men have spotted suspicious contacts near the tower. They appear to be members of a swoop gang, but they may be hired muscle.”

Captain Graham paused to consider the situation. Operations such as this could be highly volatile. In theory, it was simple. Icis needed to show up alone so that the trap would be sprung. That meant that everyone had to keep their heads down. However, if they kept too low of a profile, they wouldn't be able to intervene when the action started and pull the Traveler's tail out of the fire.

Three operational groups had been fielded. One, consisting of six men under the command of Siv Jovan, had taken sniping positions to pick off threats without raising prior suspicions. A second, consisting of three three-man groups, were responsible for getting close on foot without attracting notice. They were under the direction of Thomyn Baynes and would be able to stage a coordinated strike and penetration into the tower whenever they were needed. An additional squad of four men under the command of Master Chief Darfel Broggar had been inserted to infiltrate the presumably abandoned industrial tower and set up in position to render immediate assistance to Icis Novitaar in the event that things went bad more quickly than anticipated.

Now the problem becomes obvious. If the ground team moves in and tries to take out the “swoop gang,” or whoever else they may really be, then they give themselves away and everything falls apart. The same for trying to use the snipers. However, if the swoopers reinforced an enemy group already inside the tower they could seriously impede any attempt to render aid to Icis.

Perth cleared his throat. “How many swoopers are we talking about?”

Baynes grimaced. “My men have been able to spot four of them clustered together, but I doubt that they're foolish enough to station all of their forces in the same place. The odds favor a distribution across several alleys adjoining the tower.”

“Armaments?”

“Blaster pistols,” the Master Chief paused. “A few rifles, but I doubt that we're dealing with expert marksmen.”

Captain Graham agreed, “Right. Probably just some local thugs out to make a few credits. Numbers could still be an issue. Beside which I doubt that any men inside the tower will be as poorly chosen as the swoopers on the outside.”

As the exchange was taking place, Siv Jovan became increasingly restless. He was not one to stand around and wait for the decisions to be made, but rather, Jovan believed in making them himself. “Sir,” Siv completely ignored Baynes, “I suggest that we reposition two of my snipers to cover this band of rabble. As soon as the action begins, they can dispatch them and be on about their business.”

Perth Graham's furrowed brow failed to convey the actual depth of his concern. Repositioning the snipers would create holes in their protective screen. However, ignoring the swoopers could be disastrous. “We'll leave the snipers where they are,” Perth decided, causing an immediate tensing in every muscle of Jovan's body. “Baynes, I want you to advance your team as close as they can safely position themselves. At the first sign of trouble, I'm counting on them to engage with the swoopers. Ideally, the enemy's attention will be focused elsewhere and our boys will have a shot at their flank.”

“Yes, sir,” Thom Baynes saluted quickly before stepping to the side and activating his comm link. He seemed neither happy or honored that his men were chosen to complete the task. It was merely an assignment.



The same could not be said for Siv Jovan. “Yes, sir,” the former imperial nearly hissed between his clenched teeth. It seemed to the young Master Chief that the reserved Baynes and laissez-faire Broggar dominated any planning session. Siv considered himself to be a noticeably superior commander compared to either of his rivals and it grated on him to once again have his tactical suggestion ignored. He stepped away, trying to appear nonchalant as he removed his comm from his pocket and dialed one of his snipers. It wasn't a violation of orders, he told himself, but simply “plan-B.”

=========================================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Outside of the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1736 hours)


Icis Novitaar attempted to portray a confidence he wasn't sure that he possessed. The sun was beginning to set in the horizon, stretching his shadow long upon the smooth duracrete in front of him. Icis's life had been spent in what felt like one crisis situation after another, but the last few months had been dramatically different. For the first time in over 5,000 years, he did not have the Force as his ally. Not to mention the minor detail that he was no longer immortal. Every risk now seemed one risk too many.

Icis's boots sounded softly against the hard pavement beneath him, each step drawing him closer to his potential demise. Of course he had taken many precautions. He was wearing a fairly substantial amount of body armor (not enough to stop a direct hit from a blaster, but it could shrug off most lesser threats) and he was packing a heavy blaster pistol. He had a support team in place to bail him out if things went wrong and had his comm link locked open. He had already reviewed schematics for the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower and had multiple escape routes prepared. All in all, he should be as ready as anyone could hope for.

Turning down a small alley beside the tower, Icis proceeded toward what used to be a service entrance. Nearly 50 meters away, behind a row of stacked crates, was a solid durasteel door. The door would, of course, be locked... not that it would pose a problem. “Over five thousand years...” Icis reflected silently, “Easily seven lifetimes and nothing has changed. I'm still making my way by picking locks and ignoring the laws that most other people live by. The only difference in fifty centuries is that I'm better at it.”

Laying a gloved hand on the butt of his blaster pistol, Icis eased around the cheap metal crates and approached the door. It was hard to get used to being blind to the Force. Relying on his own physical senses made the traveler feel wary in situations such as this. It was simply too easy for someone to sneak around behind him or for a sniper to watch him from some ideal location, patiently waiting to take the shot. The urge to look over his shoulder and constantly pause to listen for any telltale sound of approach and potential danger was overwhelming at times, but Icis was disciplined. The man knew the value of psychological warfare. So long as he appeared confident, those who might otherwise threaten him would hesitate in a half-second of doubt. A single half-second would be all the time Icis would have to keep himself alive.

The door was locked with a remarkably simple mechanism. One could count it a wonder that the service entrance had not been broken into scores of times in the past year. The exterior of the device was a simple five-by-five keypad on a raised panel emplacement. As it was installed when the tower was in continual operation with shifts at all hours of night and day, it really wasn't intended to stop resourceful intruders. “Locks are only effective against the honest,” Icis thought, digging into one of the pouches on his belt. Perhaps he had become jaded with the rough course of his life, but Icis hadn't considered himself “honest” in ages.

The typical way a would-be thief would override the locking mechanism would be for him to wedge a vibroblade into the seam between the panel and the wall and torque the handle until the panel popped off (this wasn't a hard weld so the typical determined human could likely manage this without help). A simple connection inside would be pressed together and the door would slide open. However quaint this method might be, Icis preferred a slightly more sophisticated approach.

Producing a small electronic device from his belt, the traveler flicked his wrist and released a hinge within the device that caused it to open into a half-circle about the thickness of a human thumb. At the tip of each end of the half-circle were tiny connector pads while the middle was a single row of sensors. Icis placed the device against the keypad and paused for it to scan the internal configuration of the mechanism. As soon as the scan was complete, the connector pads created an energy field within the lock itself that caused the door to slide open with a gentle whoosh. No muss, no fuss.

Detaching the electronic lock-pick, Icis strode through the door just a step ahead of its closing. The interior of the abandoned tower was dark and musty. Once again, the Traveler felt the overwhelming claustrophobia of sensory deprivation. He couldn't see a thing and felt almost as if he wanted to lash out at the darkness, clawing his way into the light, but Icis forced himself to remain calm. Gripping an object snugged into the upper portion of his left sleeve, Icis pulled free a set of nightvision goggles. The goggles very much resembled a dark mask which might have been worn to conceal one's identity. This stray thought caused an involuntary smirk to creep across the man's normally expressionless face. “Now I really DO look like a burglar,” he thought, scanning the amber hued expanse of the abandoned worker reception room.

This visual information rendered by the goggles was less than impressive, but they did the job. Icis could see an empty table and a few chairs pushed up against the dark metal wall to his right, and an abandoned registration booth built into the wall to his left. Directly ahead was a heavy door that led into the tower proper. Kr'v-M'gs had closed this location less than a year ago and there was already a fine layer of dust on every visible surface. It really didn't take long at all for all traces of sentient life to vanish.

Icis moved quickly over to the registration booth and vaulted the desktop to land inside. Under normal circumstances, the employee manning the booth would be required to press a button located under the booth's desk surface in order to temporarily unlock the durasteel door in the center of the room. Unfortunately, that required power and the only systems that remained active were primary security and ventilation. So, when one door closes...

Icis opened the wooden door that connected the registration booth to the interior of the building. It wasn't locked and didn't require any special tools or infiltration skills. The lesson all good thieves learned was that people only protect the things they think are in jeopardy. Most “back doors” weren't as blatant, but there was always one there.

Beyond the door was a cavernous expanse that once provided enough room for even the heaviest of cargo hauling craft to move about easily. Along the entire length of the wall to the right were a series of bay doors that could be opened to allow traffic to flow from the tower to the major roadway just outside. A number of lifting arms hung lifeless from the network of tracks which criss-crossed the room's high ceiling. The floor was grooved deeply in places to allow for track-based vehicles to move through the room. None of that now, just a dark void rendered amber by Icis's goggles.

Stepping briskly, Icis made his way for the emergency stairs. When the tower was operational, the stairs would rarely be used outside of a genuine crisis. However, lacking power to most systems, they were now the preferred mode of travel. The stairwell was secured by heat resistant metal door with a simple locking mechanism. Icis reached out for the handle, hoping his luck would be good. It wasn't. “Frack,” the man swore under his breath. He had hoped that whoever had closed up shop would have forgotten about locking the stairwell, but there was no such luck.

Not wasting any more time worrying about it, Icis reached into a pouch on his belt and produced a set of simple metal lockpicks. Doors such as this were not intended for serious security, just for keeping out the rabble. It wouldn't take more than five seconds to pick the lock and be on his way.

A feeling. A pause. Thinking. “No,” Icis muttered, shaking his head. But then there was that feeling. Intuition? It made goosebumps pop up all over. Pausing to debate the issue, Icis was sure that he was just second guessing his planned approach. There couldn't be anything to it. Yet the next thing he knew, the Traveler was making his way to the nearest turbolift.

He paused again. Having come so close now, there was some part of him that still didn't want to waste his time doing anything other than following his plan of infiltration. Still... Icis reached out a single gloved finger and pressed the call button on the turbolift. Behind the closed doors a muffled swoosh could be heard like a strong wind in the distance. Then, mere seconds later, the doors parted revealing a fully lit and operational lift.

It seemed that there were more systems active than ventilation and security. Icis was troubled by what would have seemed to anyone else a welcome turn of events. His contact, Krespo, was an experienced agent and knew better than to active the building's systems. Either the rodian was getting sloppy, or they were not alone. Of course, Icis hadn't expected them to be alone, but he still didn't like being faced with the evidence.

Stepping into the lift, the Traveler questioned his intuition. Was it just a good guess based on the fact that he was already expecting company? It couldn't possibly be the Force. Could it? Icis didn't know and at the moment he didn't care. Even if it was some trickle of residual Force awareness, it wouldn't be enough to help him if things got tense. He had given up on trusting the Force and now he only trusted his blaster.

The turbolift doors swooshed shut.
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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 11:25 pm   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Rooftop of the Keiser-Grieson Illuminates Processing Plant
Date: 13.084 (1738 hours)

“Ri-ight,” Sargent Ivas Heks' gravelly voice spoke into his comm. He clicked a switch on the side of the cylindrical tube then shoved the comm back into his belt. “Switch ya' comms off. We're goin' in.”

“Sir?” Ralee Solstar's questioning voice sounded more whiny than he had intended. Frankly, he had always thought of himself as a thinker more than a fighter and was a little intimidated by the concept of 'going in.'

“You heard me,” the Sarge grunted, ducking low and hauling tail to an escape ladder at the edge of the roof. “Orders are to move in close and be ready to engage the enemy. Now grab ya' gear and move.”

Solstar heard a faint rumble from Chaaldar, but couldn't quite make out what had been said. The wookiee deftly maneuvered himself over the railing and began a quick descent to the duracrete alley below. “It must be nice to be that adept at climbing,” Ralee thought, trudging to the edge of the building. He was mildly afraid of heights and forced himself not to look down as he swung a leg over the side and transferred his weight from the safety of the rooftop to the perilous unknown of the escape ladder.

By the time he reached the ground, Solstar was already lagging behind his more eager allies. Both Heks and Chaaldar were crouched at the corner of a building easily one-hundred meters away. The wookiee was gazing intently around the corner while Heks' laser-like glare was focused on the lagging Solstar. It was obvious that a little more “hustle” was called for.

Arriving at the huddle, Solstar tried an explanation between gasping breaths. “Sorry, I <gasp> uh, was just, uh, <cough> worried that the gear would put me off balance on the <gasp> on the ladder...”

“I don't got time for yo' games, boy.” Ivas Heks wasn't shy about muscling into the conversation. The sergeant spoke quickly, puffs of rysik smoke billowing out with each word. “We gotta move. Now keep it low an' hustle.”

The group moved quickly in a slight crouch, staying tight for once as they made their way down yet another abandoned side-alley. Heks slid up to the corner of the building with his back against the wall. Producing a device from his pocket, he slid just the tip of it beyond the edge and watched as a tiny holographic projector created a model of the alleyway beyond. Solstar could see a group of four swoop jockeys standing around their machines. Just beyond them was a sealed durasteel door to the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower.

Chaaldar growled under his breath, resulting in a quizzical look from Sgt. Heks. “Wha'd he say?”

“The literal translation,” Ralee began, “has to do with the offal remains of a giant slug from Kashyyyk.” He paused. “But I'm sure you get the point.”

“Frack me...” Heks cursed quietly as his eyes caught sight of the same thing that had upset the wookie. There was an excellent vantage point behind a low row of crates but it would be risky to maneuver out to them. If they gave their position away... “Okay, I can make it out there...”

Chaaldar rumbled out a reply the he could make it to the boxes as well. Heks nodded his head as if he understood, then both the man and the wookiee turned to look directly at Ralee Solstar. “What?” the young man questioned, feeling a little miffed. “I can make it!”

“Ri-ight,” Sgt. Heks took a long drag on his rysik stick, then nodded his head. “I guess we take the risk. Get ready to move furball.” Heks eyed the holographic projection of the alley with fervent intensity while Chaaldar moved into a ready crouch. “Alright. Go!”

Ralee Solstar stood transfixed by the scene playing out on the pocket holoprojector. Considering the wookie's exceptional size, he moved with the agility and grace of a dancer. Never pausing, never raising up to full height, not making a sound as his padded feet struck the duracrete, Chaaldar advanced as a silent ghost across the hologram. Then he was done, safely tucked in behind the crates a mere 15 meters from the swooper pilots.

“Alright kid,” the Sarge started. “Get ready.”

Solstar's knees felt a little wobbly and his breath was growing short once again. A wave of cold sweat spread all over the young man's body as he prepared himself for his advance. It occurred to him that if he were spotted about halfway, not only would their cover be blown, but he would likely be shot by the swoopers before anyone could help him. “This is insane!”

“Go!”

Without waiting for his brain to catch up or his heart to slide back down his throat to its proper place in his chest, Ralee Solstar set off. Trying to stay low he leaned forward staring at his own boots as each step fell with soft thuds on the hard duracrete. His own heavy breathing filled his ears, heart pounding, but still his footfalls seemed like loud clomps. Ralee was certain of being detected at any moment, and yet he plowed ahead. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.

Suddenly it was over. He'd made it. Ralee's heart was pounding relentlessly and he still worried that he had been seen or heard, yet there were no shouts of alarm or deadly blaster fire. Chaaldar patted him on the shoulder as if to say, “Good job!” However, all that Ralee Solstar could think of was the simple sentence, “I'm not cut out for this!”

Just on the other side of the crates, the swoopers were talking and occasionally laughing with each other. One got the distinct impression that they had prepared for their task with a solid round of alcohol, but that made them seem more menacing, not less. Ralee gripped the handle of his blaster rifle but didn't dare do more. He just wanted to be ready when the moment came.

Back at the corner of the building, Sergeant Ivas Heks could be seen half walking, half gliding toward their position. Heks wasn't nearly as graceful as Chaaldar had been, but he was absolutely efficient and determined in his movement. Although the sergeant's advance wasn't as nerve wracking has his own had been, Ralee still found himself holding his breath.

“Alright,” the Sarge whispered as he arrived at the huddle. “Easy as shootin' Hutts. Now we just sit tight 'till the action starts.”

Ralee breathed a sigh of relief. At least they could rest for a moment and let him catch his breath. Everything was going to be alright, he just needed to take it easy for a moment. Of course, as you might imagine, that was the same moment that Ralee Solstar had the striking realization that his commlink was still on.

<STATIC> “Report position.” <STATIC>

Solstar sat frozen in sheer terror as he heard the burst come over the comm. He couldn't move and couldn't think to reach for the comm before more damage could be done.

<STATIC> “Report position. Over." <STATIC>

Ralee scrambled to get the commlink out of his belt pouch and switch it off, but it was too late. On the other side of the crates the swoopers were suddenly alarmed. Voices called out in surprise, boots pounded the hard pavement, and then the unmistakable scorching ray of a blaster bolt.

Chaaldar howled out in frustration and anger, while Sgt. Heks glared lasers. “Solstar you idiot!” Heks gripped his blaster rifle so tightly that it seemed as if the metal might bend.

Rookie specialist Ralee Solstar had only one reply. “It's not my fault!”

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Inside the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower, Level 28
Date: 13.084 (1746 hours)


The lift doors parted to reveal a completely dark room, or so it seemed. There was in reality a very low level of ambient light that was just enough for a human to make out the vaguest of features. It would be plenty for a rodian however, and Icis knew that Krespo Boneida would be in his element here. The Traveler, meanwhile, would be keeping his nightvision goggles on.

Icis stepped out into the irregular rectangle of light produced by the open lift doors and scanned his surroundings. He knew that his team should already be in place, but had no way of knowing what they were up against. That's the problem when you walk into an obvious trap. Icis was certain that Captain Graham was having kittens about now, but he had a good reason to be alarmed.

From the moment that Icis had realized that Krespo's transmission had been interfered with, several other factors had become plain to the Traveler's experienced mind. First, there was a legitimate threat to his organization. Otherwise, Krespo wouldn't have sent the transmission and had to go to ground. Second, Krespo was not a part of this plot. If the rodian wanted to lure him into a trap he could have simply send an uninterrupted transmission to draw him in. Third, Boneida had no idea that he was being used as bait. The only way that Icis would be able to get the information he needed would be to find a way to not only spring the trap but walk away with the bait.

A shadowy form stepped out from behind a support column near the center of the room. It was unmistakably rodian. Both men paused for a second, and then began to approach each other. The pace was slow and methodical – almost painful in suspense. As they neared Krespo began to speak.

“Sir, we're both in grave danger. I...” The rodian trailed off as Icis placed a single outstretched finger against his lips in a shushing gesture.

Then, in a nearly inaudible whisper, Icis warned him, “We may have only seconds to live. This is a trap and you're the bait. On my mark, pull your blaster and sprint for the lift.” With that, Icis turned his hands palm up, revealing three small metal balls in each. “Ready?”

Something glinted in the rodian's multifaceted eyes. There was no time to react. No time to think. Krespo yelled and shoved Icis backward so hard the the man fell to the duracrete floor. In that instant a blaster bolt raced between them both in the exact spot that the Traveler had just stood. Centimeters and seconds between life and death.

Krespo jerked his blaster free of its holster, stepping back as Icis scrambled to his feet. Streams of blaster fire flowed among the rafters overhead, and screams of fright and anger howled down. The would be assassins were trading shots with Icis' men, but that was no guarantee that they wouldn't take a second to place a single bolt through the two men below.

“Run!” Icis yelled out, hurling three of the tiny balls to his right and three to his left. Krespo, who had recognized the devices as flash grenades from the moment he had first seen them, shut his eyes instinctively as they ran. In a split second the floor erupted all around them in blinding light and deafening sound. The disorientation made it difficult enough for the two men to continue toward the lift, that it should have been effective to stop the snipers from lining up a shot.

Should... but not.

Searing pain laced its way through Icis right arm just above the elbow. He stumbled, screaming with shock more than pain, but continued to run. For a moment, he thought he had lost his arm, but the pain reassured him that it was still in place. It had only been a glancing blow.

Another scream rose above the roaring in the Traveler's ears. Krespo! Icis spun around to see the rodian on the ground gripping his right leg. For a brief moment, their eyes met and Krespo shouted in words that Icis could read but not hear, “Go! Run!”

"Not before I get what I came for," Icis thought. "We're leaving together!"

In that moment, just as the Traveler began to dash back to his fallen ally, a second shot raced from ceiling to floor - a burning bolt of death. It wasn't like the others. It wasn't a wound. Starting at the very top of Krespo Boneida's green-skinned skull and searing its way clean through the man's brain, down into his mouth, and out through his jaw a single bolt of energy ended the rodian's life in less than a second of hopefully painless death.

Stunned, Icis Novitaar stood transfixed by the horror, but only for a second. He had seen a lot of death. Krespo was really no different, even if he did know the man. It didn't matter. Krespo was dead but Icis was still alive and he intended to keep it that way. Without another moment's contemplation, the Traveler turned on his heel and bolted for the lift. Only a handful of meters left...

Not willing to waste any time slowing down, Icis Novitaar sprinted through the doors of the lift and slammed into the back wall, bouncing back to punch the door control with his left fist. Right arm screaming from the sudden, jarring motion, he dropped back into a corner of the lift and tucked into a ball as the doors swooshed shut. Icis yelled, hugging his arm in close to his body. He missed using the Force to dampen his pain.

Now in motion, the lift whurred softly and the sound of battle fell away in the distance. The Traveler kicked the opposing wall of the lift in a sudden fit of anger. He'd failed. Failed himself. Failed Krespo. Failed his people who were probably dying now for nothing. It was not a good day for Icis Novitaar, and it wasn't going to get any better.

The lift slowed for a mere second before stopping between floors. The lights went out and the automatic safety clamps locked it's position in the shaft. Somebody had just killed the power. Icis banged his head against the wall in exhausted frustration. “Oh, bloody frack!”
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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 11, 2008 10:29 pm   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Rooftop near the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1750 hours)


The sniper eased into position and began to line up his shot. Down below, three men (well, two men and a wookie) were huddled behind a row of crates pinned down by a hail of blaster fire. It was fortunate for them that the sharp shooter had been reassigned just a few minutes ago to give them additional support. It didn't look like they were going to hold out for much longer. Not that it mattered. In mere moments the fight below would be over.

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Outside the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1750 hours)


“We're gonna die! We're gonna die! We're gonna die!” Ralee Solstar repeated in a grim mantra as he crouched behind what was obviously insufficient cover, clutching his blaster rifle. He was drawing stares from his two companions, but he didn't care. He was going to die.

A low rumbling growl sounded beside Ralee as Chaaldar spoke up. Short and sweet, the best translation of the wookie's words would likely be “shut up.” Ralee Solstar wasn't phased by this and continued his state of disabling panic. The wookie's calm was something completely foreign to Solstar in this moment.

A blaster bolt sizzled by Solstar's head, causing him to tuck into an even tighter ball and pray for deliverance. Drawing hard on his rysik stick, Sgt. Ivas Heks leaned around Chaaldar to confront the cowering Solstar. “Kid, ya' got a lot ta learn.”

Ralee Solstar looked over at Heks and noticed the man digging a small misshapen sphere from a pouch on his vest. A grenade?! The man let out a single long pillar of smoke into the air, and pulled the pin. Tossing the weapon over his shoulder with a casual demeanor that showed no hint the man was actually handling an explosive, the sergeant calmly ordered, “Get down.”

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Rooftop near the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1751 hours)


The sniper had just drawn a bead on the swooper who appeared to be in command when all four men were reduced to bloody pulp and body parts by a plasma grenade. The shockwave was visible even from the sniper's perch, dust and debris expanding outward in a ring around the point of origin.

Hesitating not one moment, a dark-skinned human from the friendly group leaped over the row of creates they had been using for protection, and began charging for a metal access door. Two thugs from the swooper gang rounded the corner of the building and started to line the man up, but the soldier shot the first man down cold at only about five paces. The second fell a moment later by a pinpoint accurate head-shot from the wookie.

“Frack,” the sniper swore under his breath. “All that moving around and nothing to shoot.” With that, he began to reposition himself again to see if he could get a line on a target.

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Inside the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower, Level 19
Date: 13.084 (1752 hours)


Icis Novitaar stared down the long dark shaft in vain hopes of seeing the bottom. His right arm still ached from the exertion of prying the lift doors open with one of the tools stored handily on his belt, and he was really starting to wish that it had been blown off.

Seconds after power had been cut to the lift, Icis was already on his feet and struggling to escape. In not much more than a minute, he was standing outside of the lift, staring at it as it stood halfway between two floors. He knew that his would-be killers would be racing down the stairs as fast as their legs could take them. In his weakened condition there was virtually zero chance of wining if there was a fight. To save his life, he had to stay one step ahead of them.

Icis snapped a thin metal cable into a small magnetic clamp and affixed the clamp to the inside of the shaft. The thought crossed his mind that he could end up inside the shaft when the power came back on, but Icis didn't think the assassins would have enough time to react. Clipping the other end of the cable into an automatic winch system on his belt, Icis stepped out into the shaft and began a rapid descent.

Level after level of the thirty-story industrial tower slid by the Traveler. As he neared the bottom of the shaft, Icis reached one hand down to the automatic winch to begin to slow his descent. Too late! Icis ran out of cable just as he was about to hit the switch, and found himself suddenly snapped back as the line went taunt. The jarring stop rattled his teeth as well as causing shooting pain in his right arm. “Stang it!”

Icis dangled from the cable, looking at the durasteel floor a mere six meters below. There was only one way down. The Traveler hissed in dread of what he was about to do. He swore, detaching the cable. Six meters felt like twelve or twenty when Icis slammed into the floor. Then there was the distinct cracking sound as two ribs gave way. Last of all, was the scream echoing up and down the shaft, being heard by no one but the screamer.

What else could go wrong?

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Approaching the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1754 hours)


Everything was going to the Hutts in a handbasket. Captain Perth Graham was running as fast as his burning legs could take him, but there was little hope of getting into the action in time. In retrospect, it would have been wise to have prepared a small fleet of speeders to counter threats like the swooper gang. They had brought a few rented landcraft, but they were already deployed and couldn't be spared to come back and pick up the field commander. Captain Graham would have cursed if he had any breath to spare.

First, it was the firefight between Baynes' three man unit and the swoopers. Then, Broggar's insertion force had engaged in open fire with an assassin group inside the tower. All of this equaled an enraged hornet's nest of hostiles, which is when Perth discovered that Jovan had repositioned the snipers against orders and there were now gaping holes in their zone of cover. What else could go wrong? Reinforcements.

Currently, a group of between twenty-five and thirty additional swoops were on their way and would arrive in roughly ninety seconds. Now they would be outnumbered and there was still no word on the Traveler's condition. Of course, there was also the fact that Perth had been monitoring the police comm frequencies and discovered that the local law enforcement had been dispatched. This mission was of an entirely private nature and his men would gain no special immunity from prosecution if they were arrested.

Nearing the tower, Perth spotted a patch of several dead swoopers and their abandoned craft. "Just what I need," he thought, sprinting directly for them. Captain Graham had some experience with swoops, but nothing extensive. Not that he planned on running an obstacle course...

In one smooth motion, the captain vaulted the rear of an abandoned swoop, landing softly on the cushioned seat. For a moment, he examined the controls, looking for the starter. “There you are,” Perth said out loud, hitting the starter and preparing to take off.

Nothing happened.

“Bloody...” Perth pumped the starter. “Come on!”

Nothing. The swoop was cold dead. Captain Graham swore again, pounding his fist into the chassis, then yelping at the sudden burst of pain. “Come on you pile of bantha fodder!” Perth slugged it one more time, then shoved his finger into the ignition again.

There was a sudden shake, a sputtering cough, then the swoop began to vibrate with violent tremors. The repulsors flared and, with a jolt, Captain Perth Graham found himself floating a meter above the ground. An uncontrollable grin breaking out, Perth coaxed a little more. “Come on, baby, come on...”

Another cough and vibrations became much worse. Then, CLUNK! The repulsors cut out and the swoop dropped a full meter, jarring the captain's teeth on impact. The swoop was dead as a doornail.

Perth swore, lept from the swoop, and began to charge headlong for the next abandoned craft. He had wasted too much precious time already. Also, he was beginning to think he'd cracked a tooth.
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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2008 1:39 pm   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Inside the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower, Level 1
Date: 13.084 (1756 hours)


The loading area at the base of the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower was just as vast and empty as ever. Icis Novitaar began to sprint toward the door to the registration center, although his sprinting now appeared to be an enthusiastic hobble. Everything hurt. If Icis could just retrace his steps a little farther...

A red-hot bolt of energy laced across the room from directly ahead, almost tagging the Traveler's shoulder. “Stang it!” Icis cursed, reaching across his body with his left arm to draw his blaster from its location on his right-thigh. He began to shuffle sideways on a ninety-degree angle to the shooter and returned fire. More bolts raced out from the doorway ahead, causing Icis to drop down low to present a more challenging profile.

“I'm not getting out that way,” Icis thought, scanning the room around him. The amber tented lenses revealed one possibility and Icis was willing to try it. Still firing at his attackers, trying hard to keep his right arm tucked against his body, Icis began to run in the opposite direction. There, just forty meters ahead, was a heavy hauler. The oversized cargo speeder wasn't anything fancy, but it would provide cover and a possible way out.

A single bolt of energy tagged the duracrete floor behind Icis, sending up a splash of molten slag and driving Icis on faster. Behind him, it was becoming obvious that his attackers were pursuing. Simple psychology. So long as their prey was running, they would be instinctively emboldened and the chase would begin. "I'm lucky these guys aren't crack shots," Icis thought, knowing that if they were he would already be dead.

Arriving at the hauler, Icis dove behind it for cover and began returning fire. For the first time he could see his enemies, and he wasn't impressed. There were three of them, all ragged-looking men with punk clothing and hairstyles. “Swoopers?” Icis wondered, “Just cheap hired muscle.” They weren't the same group that had been in the main ambush upstairs. The other group had been professionals, this rabble was just around for crowd control. It would appear that whoever laid the trap counted on Icis bringing backup.

A blaster bolt sizzled a little too close for comfort and Icis tucked in closer to the chassis of the hauler. The amber glow of his nightvision goggles revealed that the three swoopers were beginning to circle to get a clear shot. “Not quite the cowards I had thought,” Icis commented silently, still snapping off shots. “Must be hopped up on spice.”

The Traveler bullseyed one of the swoopers, knocking him to the ground dead with a single sizzling hole in his chest. For a moment Icis thought he would be able to kill all three due to their noted lack of cover, but then a sudden motion brought his attention to the doorway in the distance. Several more swoopers were pushing through, running to catch up with their comrades. It was becoming apparent that while they may not be skilled opponents, their numbers would eventually make up for it. Beside which, Icis was already wounded and feeling the first stages of shock. If something didn't change quickly, the man's 5,000 plus years would end within minutes.

One more shot from Icis' blaster struck a circling swooper direct to the kneecap, blowing his lower leg off of his body. The man screamed and dropped, but his allies didn't even seem to notice or care. “Animals! They don't care if a 'friend' dies because that means they get to take an extra share of the pay.”

Icis jumped into the cab of the heavy hauler and laid his blaster beside him. Taking great care to keep his head down and use the craft's thick frame as a shield, he made a quick search for any carelessly left keys before dedicating himself to hot-wiring the vehicle. It was really easy when you had the knack. In fact, Icis felt that he could probably take a high-end military fighter on a joyride with not much more difficulty. “You people should really look into some better anti-theft,” Icis thought, sparking two wires and hearing the reassuring hum of the repulsorlift engines coming online.

Icis sat up, shifted into forward, and...

“FRACK You, Mother Fracker!!” Time stood still. The last swooper that had been circling the lift was perched on the bench seat beside Icis, the muzzle of his blaster pistol digging into Icis' neck, just below the jaw. That's the thing about not being able to sense the Force, you can be blindsided easily because you can't feel the attack coming.

The swooper was obviously high and enraged, choosing to make the kill at point blank range rather than taking the sure option of simply pulling the trigger. His breath smelled of stale smoke, alcohol, and over-roasted caff, while the sweat dripping off of his skin carried the putrid scent of weeks without a bath. Icis really couldn't think, didn't have time, but somewhere inside he hoped that the spice the man was fueled by didn't have any pain-blocking effects. Decades of training in martial arts on the Traveler homeworld had ingrained the techniques so thoroughly that Icis could perform them in his sleep – or in a microsecond with no time to think.

Moving gracefully but with lightning speed, Icis' left hand released its grip on the steering control and raced to the other man's blaster. One fluid motion twisted the pistol in the man's hand, tilting it back and catching his finger in the trigger-guard. With a violent wrenching motion, Icis cranked the man's wrist into an unnatural position and began to pull him across Icis' body to the open window of the driver door. Screams of sudden agony erupted loud in the Traveler's ears as the swooper passed by and out the window, wrist likely broken and unusable. Icis floored the accelerator.

The remaining swoopers who had been moving in to reinforce the first three began to scatter as Icis turned the steering control to circle toward them on his way to the bay doors. His eyes scanned the dashboard of the hauler, but there was no obvious door control mechanism. “Here we go,” Icis said aloud, pressing himself back into his seat, braced for impact. In a single moment the heavy frame of the hauler had broken through the bay door and Icis was out on the street... and in the middle of a swarm of mounted swoops. If he had the time, he would have made some comment about frying pans and fires.
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Offline J.Akins

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 13, 2008 11:29 pm   Post subject: Re: "Upon My Death" - by Jeremy Akins   

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Inside the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower, Reception Room
Date: 13.084 (1757 hours)


Sergeant Ivas Heks burst into the darkened room and began firing indiscriminately. It was a good day. Below him and between the man and the reinforced doorframe, a single hairy hand released a brightly lit glowstick on a spiraling arc toward the sergeant's targets. A moment later, Chaaldar slid in beside Heks in a crouch, adding his blaster fire to the full-on assault. It was a very good day.

Now, with enough light to properly identify a target, Ivas Heks lined up one particularly fat man and plowed a bolt of energy directly into his bloated stomach, bringing him to the ground with a gurgling scream. Another, who was mere milliseconds from pulling the trigger on Heks, was instantly lobotomized by one of Chaaldar's shots as it blew his face into tiny molten chunks. A third fired off a shot that was only a few centimeters wide of the sergeant, and was rewarded with a series of three shots from the two attacker's rifles.

Sergeant Heks was about to step forward and begin truly pressing the attack, but he stopped, gripping his smoldering rysik stick more tightly between his teeth. Years of combat had trained his nervous system to such a high level of awareness that he appeared to have a Jedi's reflexes. In a split-second decision, Heks dropped to the floor spinning on his heel. No sooner had this maneuver begun than a shot rang out directly over his head. No thought just action. Hek realized that the room was symmetrical with service counters on either side and that the side behind him had been much more dangerous that the side before. Frozen in time, he saw a scruffy looking human holding a weapon somewhat resembling a fat blaster pistol lengthened to match a standard carbine, staring at him through bloodshot eyes. It was too late to dodge the next shot and there was no way that Heks was going to line the swooper up in time.
A quarter second drew out like a minute. Then a loud sizzling blast roared from Sgt. Heks’ blaster rifle, not even aimed at the enemy, and an equally deafening scream erupted from the sergeant himself. The swooper flinched, no… twitched perhaps, but it was all the motion that was necessary as the sergeant leapt directly into the nearby wall a single instant ahead of the scruffy man’s shot. A second bolt of energy raced from Ivas Heks’ weapon and completely disabled the swooper’s cooked-up long pistol. Then a third blast dropped the man where he stood.


Chaaldar growled from the doorway, concerned about his ally’s near death experience. The sergeant, however, could not have been happier. “Bunch of scrapped out frackin’ space scum!” The dark skinned man swore around his fat but dwindling rysik stick. Then, with a sudden burst of speed, Heks hurdled over the countertop and tackled a second man who had just appeared. There were sounds of a brief scuffle, more swearing, and then the sergeant became visible again, straitening his cap and brushing imaginary dust off of his shoulder.

Wookie culture favored mighty warriors and acts of great courage and heroism were heralded across the tree cites faster that a quick Wookie could run. However, there was no tolerance of foolish conflict and it was becoming increasingly obvious that this human was completely insane. Or simply a fool. No man could love battle as much as Heks. It was impossible and Chaaldar knew that it would one day cause the man’s death. Yet, in the moment, the formidable Wookie felt wonder and awe in watching the man work. For the moment, he would pretend that the sergeant wasn’t a fool.

“Hey,” Heks shouted. “They’re getting away!”

Both man and Wookie took up the chase, vaulting over the far counter and bursting through the small wooden door beyond. Heks managed to get in front, even though Chaaldar had a superior stride. Only one of them would be able to get through the small door at a time. When the Wookie finally made it into the lower level garage of the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower, hot on the sergeant’s heels, he saw a squad of swoopers dodging and diving for their lives as a heavy hauler cargo speeder turned a giant donut across the parking deck and began speeding toward the closed bay doors lining one side of the room.

“<It’s Mr. Novitaar.>” He howled, pointing his blaster at the hauler.

“Hey,” the Sarge piped in, “I think it’s Novitaar!”

“<I said that!!>” Chaaldar couldn’t stand it. Why couldn’t the man learn at least a little Shyriiwook? It hadn’t been that hard for the Wookie to learn Basic.

“Wha’d ya’ say?”

The metal-on-metal sound of the heavy hauler crashing through the bay doors snapped both the man and the Wookie to sudden attention. Mr. Novitaar had driven his way to freedom, but it was questionable if he was any better off for it.

With a start, it occurred to Chaaldar that with their primary target gone, the remaining handful of swoopers would likely turn on their outnumbered foes. Two versus six were generally considered to be bad odds.

“<Just never mind, we’ve got to take out the swoopers!>” The Wookie rumbled, griping his blaster tightly.

“No time for ya’ jibba-jabberin’ furball, we gotta take out these swoop jockeys!” Sergeant Heks ordered, opening fire.

For a single frustrated moment, Chaaldar wondered if Solstar had the better idea. While hiding behind a row of shipping crates and whimpering didn’t do much for the younger human’s honor, at least it kept him from having to put up with Heks.

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Street outside of the Kr'v-M'gs Industrial Tower
Date: 13.084 (1800 hours)

Things kept going from bad to worse. Icis Novitaar, 5,000 year old formerly immortal traveler of the universe, now found himself just another schmoe in a cargo truck heading down the highway… surrounded by some twenty-odd swoop bikers. Who were fracked off because he’d mowed down at least four of them when he’d blown through the garage doors of KM Industrial. Some of whom were pulling out blasters. Others were already firing. Icis just wanted to go home.

Options? There was no way that Icis was going to stop the truck and get out. Those men would eat him alive before his help could possibly arrive. For a few seconds he contemplated trying to run them back toward his support force and let his friends take a few shots at his pursuers, but on second thought, he really didn’t think the heavy hauler was designed with maneuverability in mind and a slow careful turn would equate to roughly 30 blaster bolts punching through his all to vulnerable body. Third option? Run.

Icis barreled down the highway at 120 km/h but that was a snails pace compared to the swoop bikes. They had maneuvered in front of him, behind him, and around both sides, forming a cloud of hostiles bent on taking the Traveler down. Blaster bolts hissed at sizzled as they struck the frame of the hauler, not causing serious damage, but not doing anything for the paint job. More concerning was the fact that several swoopers were pulling up on Icis’ left side and trying to line up shots. “Can’t have that…” Icis thought, scanning for his forgotten blaster.

He found it almost instantly on the bench seat beside him. “Great, now I can just…” Shooting pain nearly paralyzed him as the man tried to reach for his gun with his right hand. The wound was becoming more painful by the minute. “Stang it!” Frustration. Icis cut his eyes over at the desired weapon, then locked them on the road, gritting his teeth. Groaning with the effort, Icis, released the controls with this left hand, reached across his body to the waiting blaster pistol, snagged it, then brought it back around to the steering controls and resumed steering with a very awkward grip.

There was a crackle of static over his commlink, followed by a familiar voice. “Icis, uh, …where you goin’ buddy?” Perth sounded nervous. “You realize you’re driving away from us?”

“I am quite aware.” A shot raced through the cabin, singeing the Traveler’s hair and causing him to jerk involuntarily. “I’m also a little busy.” Releasing the steering control, Icis zinged a shot back at the swoop pilot, missing him but causing him to swerve.

“I understand that, but, uh, a little common sense here,” Perth spoke as if reasoning with a child. “Now, all of your friends with guns are behind you and all of your enemies with guns are going the same way you’re going, so why don’t you…”

“Captain Graham….” Another shot from the same swooper nearly took Icis’ head off. This was getting out of hand. The traveler tossed his blaster back into the seat beside him, then jerked the steering control to the left, slamming the cargo hauler into the neighboring swoop bike. It was an entirely one-side encounter. As the smoking remains of the swoop bounced, rolled, and skidded to a stop, Icis finished his sentence, “…I have the situation under control.”

“Bloody…” Perth swore over the commlink. “I’m trying to catch up to you, but I’m running a little behind. Is there anything you can do to hold them off until I can reach you?”

A smile creased the Travelers typically neutral face. He cut the heavy hauler hard to the right, slamming into another swoop. There was a brief shower of sparks, then a deep roar as the swoop’s engines over-rev’d, then finally an explosion that rocked the cab of the heavy hauler. “I’ll do my best.”

“Great,” the Captain seemed a little less concerned. “Just hang in there. I’ve got several men riding beside me and we’ll catch up to you in a few minutes.”

“No problem.” Icis cut left again, but the swoopers were ready for him and moved deftly away, getting in a few random shots in the process. “That didn’t work.” Scanning the control board, he noticed the control switch for the rear cargo hatch. There was no telling what, if anything, was in that hatch, but it was worth a try. Icis slapped the switch to open and braced as the hauler shuddered from the opening doors.

A maintenance table, mop and bucket, used oily rags, and an assortment of other odds and ends left over from the cleaning crew spilled out onto the roadway. On a lucky bounce, the mop and bucket struck the pavement, reflected at an angle, and struck one of the swoopers in the head, knocking him from the bike where he rolled to a stop in the road. Having taken out the trash, Icis Novitaar set his mind on his next move.

A small explosion rocked the back left repulsor pad of the cargo speeder and caused the entire vehicle to begin an uncontrolled sideways skid. Lucky shot. Icis grappled with the controls, wounded arm aching, trying desperately to bring the cargo speeder back under control. For a moment, the truck speeder began to return to a straight course, but then… over-correction!

The massive landspeeder veered to the right and ran completely off of the road, straight through a display stand advertising used speeder parts, and careened down a small alleyway between buildings. The heavy hauler began to grind against the building on the left side of the alley, generating a trail of sparks and scoring deeply into the structure’s rough siding.

The commlink crackled with static, then Perth’s voice came across. “What’s going on?”

“I’ve got it under control.”

“That didn’t sound under control!”

“I’m fine,” Icis brought the cargo speeder to a halt. With a slight grunt he swung his body sideways and slid out of the passenger side of the cab. The good news was that his little maneuver had given the swoopers the slip. The bad news is that they were already turning back and pouring into the alley, engines roaring. Icis took an involuntary step back, “…but you’d better hurry.”

The Traveler, Icis Novitaar, spun on his heel and began running at top speed. There had once been a time when he could sprint faster that any creature of nature and maintain an all out run for hours on end if needed. The Force had been his ally and powerfully so. In those days, the entire swarm of low-life scum could have been dispatched without a moment’s hesitation. These were not those days.

Icis ran. His breath came in increasingly short and intense bursts, his heart thudded in his chest, his legs began to ache, but still he ran. Directly in front of him was a heavy durasteel door leading into the used speeder parts store, directly behind him were at least seventeen swoop bikers already getting in their opening shots. It was a miracle that the man had not been tagged and killed already, but another miracle was needed. There would be no time to pick the lock on that door. If it wasn’t open…

A lifetime of hard living had taught Icis that he who hesitates is lost. He knew that the slightest pause, or a single moment of looking over his shoulder, could result in an untimely demise. Only one thing occupied his thoughts. The door…

Five steps… three… one… The handle offered no resistance and Icis quickly popped the door open and barreled through. Inside the cramped room were all sorts of tools and loose parts for working on landspeeders. There were several cabinets, two large trunks, and a single work desk. Wasting no time in leaping behind the desk for cover, Icis pulled his blaster pistol and crouched with a bead drawn on the door.

There was a long pause. Icis was frozen, blaster in his off hand waiting for one last round of combat, heart still pounding, the sound of rushing blood in his ears. Outside the door Icis could hear the roar of the collective engines of the swooper gang. Voices began to rise the surface, indicating that they were dismounting and moving toward the durasteel door. In the distance the sound of police sirens could be heard. “Maybe, if I can hold them off for a minute or so, the police will arrive and the gang will break up.” Icis hoped, looking for any possible way to survive this encounter.

The door, still unlocked, was popped open and several swoopers stepped forward blasters firing indiscriminately. Icis Novitaar returned fire, wounding one man and causing the others to step backward. It was a small room and Icis had good cover. He was beginning to feel confident that he would be able to hold the thugs at bay until help arrived.

The commlink crackled with static as Perth came across the line. “Hey, hold on a few more seconds buddy. The police are swarming so the swoopers are either going to have to withdraw or get in a firefight with the locals. We’re only about a minute and thirty out, then we’ll be there too. Just sit tight buddy.”

“Great,” Icis responded firing off a few more shots to ward off the gangers. “I think I’ve got a handle on these second rate mercs, but you need to pull back if the authorities get the situation under control. Some of our guys aren’t going to pass inspection if the police starting making inquires. Just keep an eye out for…”

A single metallic sphere arced through the air and bounced across the hard duracrete floor with a distinctive deranged tinkle. It was a strangely beautiful yet ominous sound as it bounced and rolled to a stop roughly one meter away from Icis Novitaar. The Traveler’s eyes went wide with recognition. A grenade!

At least it wasn’t a thermal detonator, just conventional explosives, yet it would be enough to blow a human into tiny chunks of charred flesh and shrapnel. There was no way to know how long the detonation delay was, so it was impossible for Icis to know just how much longer he had to live.

For a moment he wondered… what would it be like to die? It was a question he had not seriously contemplated in five-thousand years. Would everything just stop? One moment you’re surrounded by people, things, and events, and then – nothing. You don’t even know that there’s nothing because there is no mind to realize it. Or, would he pass into some kind of afterlife, becoming one with the Force in some way. Would it be better or worse, or different, or… nothing? It occurred to Icis that it would have been better to have contemplated these sorts of things BEFORE he was about to die. Not that it mattered now.

===============================================================

Epsilon Eridani (Eridani System)
Downtown Junk City
Date: 13.084 (1805 hours)

Perth Graham, on some deeper level, was enjoying the wind whipping by him as he raced at full tilt to catch up to his headstrong leader. “Novitaar’s a bloody idiot!” he thought, squeezing the throttle just a little bit harder, even though the swoop bike was already maxed out. “He’s gonna get himself killed one of these days.”

Perth spoke into his commlink, “Hey, hold on a few more seconds buddy. The police are swarming so the swoopers are either going to have to withdraw or get in a firefight with the locals. We’re only about a minute and thirty out, then we’ll be there too. Just sit tight buddy.” Called him “buddy” twice. Didn’t mean to do that, just a little worried.

Captain Graham knew better than most that Icis Novitaar did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it and there was very little reasoning with him. There was no way that anyone else could be held responsible for the man’s lack of judgment, but it still irked him… Captain Graham was a man of authority who took responsibility for those under his care. Right now, Icis was supposed to be under his care. He only hoped that he could fulfill his duty and keep the man alive.

Ahead of him, a swarm of swoop gangers were clogging a narrow alleyway between two large buildings. Already, several police cruisers were pulling in with sirens blaring and it was a sure bet that backup was on the way. Now if Icis could just keep it together for one more minute…

“Great,” Icis’s voice, sounding a little ragged and out of breath, came across the commlink. “I think I’ve got a handle on these second rate mercs, but you need to pull back if the authorities get the situation under control. Some of our guys aren’t going to pass inspection if the police starting making inquires. Just keep an eye out for…” Silence. A long pause.

“Icis?” Perth called out, suddenly panicked. Had the man been shot mid-sentence? Why did he… Then it came. Perth Graham felt his stomach churn and threaten to erupt as he heard the deafening explosion and saw, up ahead, the flash of light and billow of smoke. A bomb or grenade of some sort had just gone off and the commlink was dead. Plumes of thick black smoke poured from a small door in the side of one of the buildings as the swoop gang mounted up and began to flee. The situation seemed obvious. In the last moment, knowing that the authorities were arriving, the swoopers had lobbed a grenade and…

Reaching the perimeter of the mass of police, fleeing swoopers and widespread destruction, Perth held up one fist to signal a stop to his men. His four companions, flanking him on either side, reigned in the throttle and the entire group slowed to a stop. Launching himself from the bike, Captain Graham barked out an order for his men to stay put, and then spoke into his commlink again, “Icis, you woolly nerf herder, you better not be playing with me.” A pause. “Answer the comm, stang it!”

No answer. Almost no hope. Already several officers were spraying flame suppressants into the smoldering hole that had been Icis’s last holdout. He noticed three of the swoopers being wrestled to the ground while the others fled the scene. Then he realized that, to the police, he was no different than the thugs they were trying to arrest. For all they knew he was a criminal as well. That could be a ….

“Hold it! Get your hands up!” A darfauxel police officer stood with a blaster pistol gripped tightly in his clawed hands, his furry snout pulled back into a snarl that barred his gleaming white fangs. “I said, get your hands UP!”

“It’s okay, officer?” Captain Graham raised his hands. “I’m an investigator with the New Imperium Intersystem Police Force.”

The darfauxel, now identified by his uniform as Captain Zolfaen Dregga, did not lower his weapon and seemed suspicious of the man’s claims. One of Captain Dregga’s underlings came up beside him, and Dregga issue the order, “Cover him.”

“If you would kindly check my back right pocket, I believe you would find everything to be in order.” Perth’s hands were now folded behind his head, and his posture was entirely nonchalant. Years of experience had taught him how to keep the emotion felt on the inside from rising to the surface and giving him away. As much as he felt like running to see the smoldering remains of his friend, hoping against hope that he would not find him, he still had to deal with the challenge of the moment.

Captain Zolfaen Dregga holstered his weapon once his junior officer had Perth covered, and the darfauxel began to approach cautiously. In Perth Graham’s back right pocket was an ID card, forged of course, that showed him to be a Captain in the NI Intersystem Police Force. In the event that anyone would check, the NI-IPF personnel database had been hacked and now showed Captain Graham as an investigator of distinction. As Zolfaen Dregga reviewed the ID card and called in to confirm its legitimacy, Perth waited with patient confidence.

“What exactly are you doing here?” The fox-like Captain Dregga asked, still suspicious but beginning to calm down. This was surely more action than his men were used to seeing and Dregga wanted answers.

“We’ve been watching this swoop-bike gang for some time. They’ve been involved with several black market information brokers who are believed to be a threat to NI security. One of our men set up a sting but they must have gotten wind of it. They ambushed him and trapped him in that room,” here Perth pointed to the charred metal door twenty-five meters away, “and set off an explosive device. I’m very concerned to see that room and discover the condition of my man.”

Suspicion was still close to the surface on the darfauxel’s face. The confirmation had just rolled back in that Captain Graham was an officer with the NI-IPF, but the story still stank. “So, Captain Graham, if I may ask… Why wasn’t our department informed of your activities? Do you realize how many civilians have been put in mortal danger?”

Graham took his ID card back from Dregga and slid it into his pocket again. “I’m well aware of the concern and I would like to formally apologize to you on behalf of my department. You see, we didn’t expect anything more than a few representatives of the swoop gang…”

“You mean the Blue Rancors or the Wild Kractas? Both gangs are represented here?”

“Yes, well, I mean both.” Perth wished that Captain Dregga were a little less informed. “Regardless, we were concerned about the potential of a leak if they had anyone inside the local department so we kept our information classified.”

Zolfaen Dregga looked offended. “Good,” Perth thought to himself. “Being offended is NOT being suspicious.”

“Captain Graham,” Dregga growled. “I can assure you that this department is not the puppet of thugs such as the Blue Rancors or the Wild Kractas!”

Perth held up a hand. “While I believe that now, at the time we had no way of knowing. We thought it would be a small operation; in and out and over. We were wrong.”

Dregga frowned.

“Captain Dregga, while I appreciate your time, I really must see about my operative.” The growing anxiety and feelings of dread regarding the fate of Icis Novitaar was beginning to make it difficult for Perth to keep up the charade.

Captain Dregga thought for only a moment before nodding his long, furry head. “Right this way.”

They were there in less than a minute. The room was a mess. The smell of burnt chemicals from the speeder maintenance supplies was overwhelming. Perth had to cover his nose with his sleeve, while Dregga’s sensitive snout prevented him from even entering the room. There was absolutely no sign of life… no way that anyone could have survived that. It wasn’t just the blast, it was the intense fire and toxic fumes.

“I’m sorry, Captain Graham,” Zolfaen Dregga lowered his head as Graham walked out of the room. “If your man was in there, he is most certainly dead. Again, I’m very sorry.”
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