My Fantasy Story! part two

Evening all!

Just wanted to share with you some very exciting news!

I’ve been trawling through my harddrive this afternoon trying to find a picture I took about eight years ago. I didn’t find it, but I did find something pretty amazing: a folder entitled “My fantasy-adventure book” with seven files in, which turn out to be the long-lost documents I wrote back in the day for my fantasy story! Amazing, huh?!

Continue reading “My Fantasy Story! part two”

My Fantasy Story! part one

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past hour. I’ve written precisely 732 words for my story, but have decided I’d best leave it for now as I feel another headache coming on. But still, I’m impressed!

I’ve already written some Star Wars short stories, of course (here, here and here), but this feels different, at least somewhat. For one thing, I’m now writing in my own world, and that has been so much more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m writing what I have been thinking of as “middle fantasy” – it’s not low fantasy, as far too much craziness happens as a matter of course, but it’s not high fantasy, because there are a lot of reasonable, earth-bound things that serve to (hopefully) ground it. Anyway, no matter what height of fantasy, the world needs rules, and it has taken me a couple of weeks of (almost) constant thinking about to decide what I’d like the place to be like.

That said, I’ve not even attempted to get into the whole definition of magic yet…

I’m not expecting this to be some sort of earth-shattering fantasy epic that will change the lives of billions forever – indeed, I constantly refer to it as “my fantasy story” because the thought that it might be a novel, let alone a novel series, terrifies me – but instead I actively hope that the procession of common tropes will make it accessible for many, and perhaps even enjoyable to a few.

I’m not sure if I’m happy with what I’ve written yet, so I won’t post it up here, but I will say that I’ve chosen to write a scene that is nowhere near the start of the story. Because that’s how I roll…

Anyway, I might make this a thing, so stay tuned for (possibly) more updates soon!

The Phantom Menace – my way

It’s a double feature! Well, I did find a lot of stuff on my harddrive! Years ago (2004, according to the properties tab), I wrote this synopsis of how I thought The Phantom Menace would have worked out as being much better. I think my intention at the time was to “re-write” all three of the prequels, but anyway. It’s kinda funny now, so I thought I’d post it up here for you all to enjoy, or whatever. Don’t forget, I do enjoy a comment or two!

E P I S O D E  I

THE PHANTOM MENACE

TF_Battleship

The Trade Federation has blockaded the world of Naboo in protest over the taxation of the former Free Trade Zones. Supreme Chancellor Valorum has dispatched the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn to Naboo to resolve the conflict. As he arrives with his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, Jinn is attacked by the Federation’s droid armies. The Jedi manage to survive the attack, and discover the Federation is amassing a landing party to invade the Naboo. They stow aboard the landing crafts to get to the surface of the planet.

The Viceroy of the Trade Federation, Nute Gunray, has entered into a pact with the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Sidious orders Gunray to destroy the Jedi, but the Federation has lost them. Sidious, in exasperation, sends his apprentice Darth Maul to track the Jedi. Maul, brought up by Sidious to be the ultimate weapon, leaves at once for Naboo.

dsc-04

On the planet’s surface, Jinn and Kenobi rendezvous with the Queen, Amidala, and her advisors. Amidala is worried for her people, but the Jedi manage to persuade her to come with them to Coruscant and resolve the dispute in the senate. Accompanying the party is the head of security, Captain Panaka, and the cynical Gungan Liasion, Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar is sceptical that the Jedi will be able to get them past the 2000-strong blockade fleet, but the Jedis’ piloting skills leave him grudgingly impressed.

qui_gon_jinn_jar_jar_binks

The Queen’s starship, which they have escaped the planet on, is in need of refuelling to make the six-day trip to Coruscant. They land at the nearest planet, Tatooine, to refuel. While doing so, they come across a surprising ten-year old slave, Anakin Skywalker, who Jinn discovers to have amazing Force power. Jinn uses the influence of the Force to get the boy freed, and they head off to Coruscant.

On the capitol world, Amidala finds out for herself that the senate is too corrupt to work properly. Naboo’s Senator, Palpatine, suggests she push for the election of a new Supreme Chancellor, and he is nominated along with Bail Organa from Alderaan and Orn Free Taa of Ryloth. Palpatine is duly elected but there is no answer to the Naboo problem forthcoming, so Amidala decides to head back to Naboo to resolve it herself.

Anakin Jedi Council

Qui-Gon brings Anakin in front of the Council, and the Jedi Masters there, including Yoda and Mace Windu, agree Anakin’s Force-potential is surprising. They are hesitant, however, to name him the Chosen One, who, it is forseen, will bring balance to the Force. Anakin, being past the normal age of training, is immediately given a Master, Qui-Gon’s former Master, Dooku. With the alarming chain of events surrounding the Naboo incident, both Qui-Gon and Dooku are dispatched to protect the Queen on her return home.

Maul, having landed on Naboo, is angered to find his quarry gone. He informs his Master of the situation, and Sidious is reproving but gives him a second chance. The Jedi are back on their way to Naboo, so Maul waits for them to return to the Mid Rim.

Darth Maul

Dooku and Qui-Gon arrive with the Queen on Naboo and are immediately called upon to lead the Security Force and a rag-tag assembly of local volunteers to fight the Trade Federation forces. Jar Jar is again sceptical of the Jedis’ abilities to do this, so Dooku gives him a demonstration of the power of the Force.

Having trained the locals as best they can, the Jedi lead their army on a march on Theed, the capital city. Intending to force a peaceful settlement, they are forced to open fire when the Viceroy orders them to be shot at. The Federation Droid Army then arrives, with Maul at its head. Anakin, too young to fight (he hasn’t even yet made a lightsaber), is forced to sit it out with an injured Kenobi. The two get to know each other a bit during the fighting.

The Queen assembles a small unit to infiltrate the Royal Palace and capture the Viceroy, hoping to bring about a speedy resolution. Halfway through their attack, they are themselves attacked by droidekas. Kenobi, sensing their trouble, goes off to help, despite  his injuries.

Dooku and Qui-Gon engage this mysterious warrior wielding a double bladed lightsaber. Dooku almost defeats him, but Maul manages to impale Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master gone, Dooku is both angered and saddened. He finds within him the power to defeat Maul, and the Naboo Army, with the help of Kenobi, successfully captures the Viceroy and forces him to call the Droids off.

Dooku is both intrigued and shamed by the power he used to defeat Maul – it was most certainly the Dark Side he used. Shortly after the Jedi Council arrives with the Supreme Chancellor, Dooku flees the planet to his homeworld of Serenno, to meditate upon what has happened. The loss of his former padawan has hit him hard, and he is unsure whether the Republic is worth fighting for anymore.

Review_PFCountDooku_still

With both their Jedi Masters gone, Kenobi is appointed a Jedi Knight for his actions in helping the Queen. He volunteers to train Anakin, and the Council agrees.

The Jedi are more worried about the mysterious Sith warrior, and the disappearance of one of their best Masters, Count Dooku. They receive a message from him later telling them he has had enough of the Republic, and does not intend to rejoin the Jedi Order. Ever.

The Queen is reinstalled at the Palace, and all ends happily enough.

Naboo_celebration

The Assassin

My latest short story! You can read Part 1: Chasing Shadows here, and Part 2: Different Paths here. Hope you enjoy it!


 

Alyeza Corfuna had been working for weeks on tracking her prey. A skilled assassin, patience was one of the many qualities that had made her what she was. As a Twi’lek, she frequently exploited the galactic prejudice towards females of her species, and had used her guile to get close to countless targets over the years. She had quite quickly gained a reputation for success in parts of the Outer Rim, and that reputation had put her under Vrandil’s spotlight eight months ago. Since working for the Koorivar, she had striven to make herself indispensible to his roster of criminal contractors in the hope that she might finally get steady work.

The holovids always make life on the run so glamorous, she thought to herself with a sigh. While the stereotype for her species was as exotic dancers, Alyeza’s own lithe form owed more to malnutrition than regular workouts. Her pale lilac pigmentation had only now finally begun to take on a more smooth and homogenous appearance since she had been working for Vrandil. On the whole, she could think of the Koorivar as something almost approaching a saviour for her. She wasn’t entirely sure whether he had managed to cancel the bounty placed on her by a botched job from a year ago, where she had only crippled that Bothan shipping magnate rather than killing him outright, but the past few months had seen a lot more stability for her, and she was grateful. As she was for the purely professional relationship she had with the man.

When she had first met with Vrandil, she had the vague notion that he was going to turn out to be as perverse as most of her previous employers had been with her. Turned out, he’s more interested in the credits. And that was fine with Alyeza.

Her current assignment was to eliminate a Mirialan billionaire media mogul and minor gunrunner named Naroli Varsi, and for more than just crimes against art, it seems. Varsi had made a string of unremarkable works until he had bankrolled the production of the historical epic Cohl, a dramatization of the Mirialan national hero Arwen Cohl who had led his planet to victory in some local war way before the Clone Wars. Varsi followed that hit with an even bigger success three years later, another huge historical epic on the Stark Hyperspace Wars. Rumour had it that the Imperials had had a hand in financing the project, due to its not-too-subtle allegories on the current New Order. While Varsi still produced holos on a somewhat irregular basis, he had since turned his back on galaxy-spanning epics and instead invested heavily in the local media of his planet.

But it was for his under-the-table deals that Varsi had been marked for death. Reputed to be gunrunning through Kestic Station,  Anchoron and Cona, among others. Varsi’s operations had initially not been traced back to him by Imperial Intelligence, but he had recently sold a large shipment of laser cannons to a pirate group that had been effectively obliterated when those cannons malfunctioned, destroying their ships rather than the Imperial pickets that had been chasing them. The pirate chief, unable to exact vengeance with his forces crippled, had contracted Vrandil to do so on his behalf. And Vrandil had known exactly the person for the job.

Varsi had effectively disappeared from public life following this disaster, but Alyeza had picked up several clues that proved he was still alive. Her last lead had come from the Tion Cluster, where she had an erstwhile contact with Varsi’s possible location. So the Twi’lek assassin had come to Estaria to find the infochant of somewhat reputable fame to help her locate her quarry.

***

Estaria was the capitol world of Indrexu Sector, situated on the intersection of the Perlemian and the Tion Trade Route. It seemed to be a combination of its location and its ancient history with Xim the Despot that had given the planet a somewhat puffed-up sense of its own importance, in Alyeza’s view. However, the world was temperate, and provided no trouble was caused, the Estarian authorities largely gave you free rein – unlike the major hub of Desevro, the capitol of the entire Tion Hegemony and what could only be described as a police state these days. How long it would continue was impossible to say, but for now, Alyeza was glad to have some freedom.

The infochant was a human male who was only known as Q14, which had seemed strange when Vrandil had first put Alyeza in contact with him, but the more she had relied on his services, the more the moniker seemed appropriate. Q14 appeared to know everything that happened in The Slice, sometimes even before it happened, but aside from a passion for information, the man’s only other interest lay in seedy espionage holovids, and Alyeza was sure he got some weird kick out of all the cloak-and-blade midnight dealings he insisted upon.

As specified in the voice-modified comm message she had received from Q14, Alyeza had come to Estaria Port two hours before local midnight, and she found herself silently cursing him as she walked down the broad central street of one of the main residential areas through the pouring rain. The address she had been given for the rendezvous had been in a quiet and unassuming area south of the main port facilities, amid curious crimson-leafed trees and low buildings made from transparisteel and durasteel. The native dwellings had the curious look of starships partially-submerged into the ground, though the large expanses of transparisteel walls on many would no doubt make living within them more comfortable than the average space freighter.

Within no time she had arrived, and almost abruptly the rain shower stopped. No sooner had Alyeza checked her chrono than Q14 appeared from behind an ornamental display of the crimson trees, shrouded in a heavy russet cloak.

“My greetings to you, Lady Corfuna. So pleasant to see you again,” his pleasant baritone soothed across the moonlight-bathed square towards her.

Alyeza politely dipped her head towards him, but made no answer. As patient as she was, something about the man filled her with unease, and she wanted nothing more than to receive the information she had come for and leave.

“I have been speaking with our mutual friend Vrandil, and he has intimated you wish to know the whereabouts of a certain person, correct?” His arms folded across his body, hands invisible within the voluminous folds of his cloak. His face was still completely in shadow.

“I would indeed like to know the whereabouts of a certain someone,” she began, resigned to playing this game if it got her what she wanted.

“Certain people can always be found, for a certain price, of course,” Q14’s voice betrayed a slight note of amusement, as if he was enjoying this exchange out of all proportion.

“Naturally. The certain person I wish to find is of minor status, so I would hope you could assist for a modest price.” Let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Q14’s voice sounded as if he were grinning from ear to ear. “We shall have to see just how minor this person is, before deciding if the price ought to be modest.”

Alyeza’s lekku quivered slightly. “A minor celebrity from a backwater world, it shouldn’t be too much for someone with as vast a network as yours.”

“Ah, how sweet of you to say. But even minor celebrities can sometimes become major concerns. Would you happen to know the name of this minor celebrity?” Q14 was clearly enjoying every syllable of this exchange.

Alyeza silently puffed out her breath. “A Mirialan named Naroli Varsi. Perhaps you have heard of his work?” No matter how much she wanted to punch the information broker, Alyeza was determined to continue the charade.

Q14 made a disproving sound in his throat. “My dear Alyeza, it is almost a crime to dismiss the great Naroli Varsi as a ‘minor celebrity’ – his work is renowned throughout the Empire as among the best!” His words were reassuringly slathered in sarcasm.

Alyeza smiled, enhancing her exotic beauty. “I’m so glad you are aware of his work. Would I be correct to infer that you can indeed assist me with this matter?”

Q14 gestured expansively, his black-gloved hands held wide before him. “But of course – when one of the stature of Naroli Varsi attempts to disappear from the public eye, he is never successful for long. But…” he left the word hang in the air before them.

“I’m sure I could reward you for imparting this information,” Alyeza stifled another sigh as she spoke.

“I would be so very grateful if you could, thank you.” Q14 folded his arms again. “Two thousand.” His voice was suddenly much less melodious, and much more business-like.

“Five hundred.” Alyeza was glad the formal nonsense was over.

“Two thousand.”

“One?”

“One seven-fifty.”

“One and a half.”

“Done. Would you care to transfer the money?”

Alyeza pulled out her datapad and initiated the transfer. A soft chime from Q14’s belt signalled the transaction had completed.

“Marvellous. You can find Varsi on Mirial, actually. There is a complex of buildings around the frozen coastline of the main continent that belongs to the Luminar Mining Company. He keeps it quiet, but Varsi is the majority shareholder in the company, and years ago had a safe house built under the surface of the planet. From what my sources tell me, you’ll find him there.” Q14 became much less irritating when he was imparting information.

Alyeza thanked him with another dip of her head, and began to head back towards the port.

“Are you a fan?” Q14 called softly after her.

She smiled wryly over her shoulder at him. “Something like that.”

No sooner had she left Q14, it started to rain once again.

***

Mirial

Mirial was a wasteland of frigid desert mesas and small, icy seas. Located in I-Sector of the Outer Rim, it had somehow always wound up on the losing side in any war, most recently falling in with the Separatists during the Clone Wars because of strong ties to the Trade Federation. The Federation was mainly interested in exploiting the mineral wealth of Mirial, against which Captain Cohl had led his ill-fated rebellion at the height of his fame, leading to years of imprisonment. Most Mirialans now appeared to be content to live quietly out in the frozen deserts away from the mining complexes.

The Imperial presence on Mirial was largely driven by the curious religion the Mirialans practiced. Extremely similar to the Force in many aspects, the Emperor himself had been reputed to have taken a personal interest in the native population, and it was rumoured that an Imperial Inquisitor was in permanent residence at Siel Starport, ready to take possession of any Force-sensitive child.

Alyeza arrived at Siel one Standard day following her meeting with Q14. At first unable to believe that Varsi would hide on his homeworld, it was perhaps best to hide in the least likely of places. Donning her armoured thermal survival gear, taking care to sleeve her sensitive lekku with dermal patches that would keep them from being affected by the extreme cold, she left her ship and headed into the Starport, slightly buoyant in the low gravity.

Mirial was dark. The star charts said the planet had a 44-hour day, but the distance from its sun meant that only a short portion of any day would see significant light. Getting her bearings, Alyeza checked her chrono and saw that it was getting late in the local day, anyway. Thinking it might be a good idea to check out the mining company at full dark, she headed for a nearby tapcafe for a feel of the locals.

***

Turned out the locals were more interested in getting a feel of her. No matter where she went, humanoid males invariably fell over themselves in the hope of getting her into bed. Or up against a wall. Or under a table in a dingy cantina. Alyeza rolled her eyes in exasperation. But at least sometimes it pays off, she thought. Two “gentlemen” had independently verified that the Luminar mining facility had been abandoned two weeks ago, all personnel transferring to another company close by. Seems handy, she thought. Having been given this information, Alyeza had gently tapped her companions at the base of the skull, letting them fall into unconsciousness and allowing her to leave.

The Luminar Mining Company was based about eighteen miles away from the Starport. With no time like the present, Alyeza returned to her ship and broke out her speeder bike, an Aratech 74-M that was outfitted with most of the tools of her trade. She set off into the night, leaving faint wisps of frozen white sand in her wake.

***

The Luminar mining facility loomed before her in stark darkness. Unlike the sand-sculpted dwellings of the majority of Siel Spaceport, the mining buildings were made from duralloy imported here when the Federation were keen to start the business of mining the precious minerals from the planet. The edifice that stood before Alyeza now was slightly forbidding, a uniform dark grey in colour, with the moonlight adding almost blue highlights. Some of the frigid white sand had blown up against the portals, but neither that nor the locks were enough to keep her out. Securing her speeder bike, she set off into the complex, and hopefully to the completion of her mission.

The building remained almost eerie in its silence, Alyeza’s footsteps echoing down the long central corridor of the building. Brushing any imagined fears from her mind, she located a working computer terminal at an abandoned guard station and set to work finding a schematic of the complex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no mention of any underground bunker in the registry, and no obvious routes to one that she could find. However, a restricted file marked ‘LU9/112’ piqued her interest, and while she wasn’t the best slicer in the galaxy, she was neither without skills in that area, and it was a matter of a half-hour before she had managed to gain access to it.

It turned out that Q14 had been correct in his information of a shielded bunker beneath the surface. The main access was gained through a disguised wall in one of the other buildings in the complex, but the safe house ran under most of the mining facility, and there was a hatchway in one of the offices at the far end of Alyeza’s current building. Removing the data breaker she had spliced into the network and shutting the terminal down, Alyeza set off down the corridor.

It was a slightly unnerving experience. Half-expecting someone to leap out of the shadows, she hadn’t realised she’d held her breath until she reached her destination door. Keying the release, she braced herself as the door slid smoothly into the wall to reveal an ordinary-looking office, with desks and terminals arrayed around the walls. She jerked back suddenly as she caught something in the corner of her eye, but it turned out to be a deactivated secretarial droid. Mentally shaking herself, she moved into the centre of the room and pushed away the console desk that stood there, revealing a beautifully inscribed seal made from some grey-blue metal flush in the floor. Attaching a magnetic hoist to the seal was a matter of minutes, and soon Alyeza had the cover off, revealing a shaft even darker than the gloom permeating the mining building. Her hand-held sensor showed no life anywhere within the nearest twenty-five meters, so she eased herself into the hole and begun to climb down the ladder affixed to the side of the shaft.

Here goes nothing…

***

Naroli Varsi considered himself a cultured man. A celebrated holovid director and producer, billionaire and philanthropist, he had always ensured his personal living arrangements were immaculate and palatial. When his side dealings in the arms business went sour, he had heard that his life was in danger and had immediately sought to create a refuge where he might wait out this current crisis. Years ago he had made arrangements for a personal safe house at the Luminar Mining Company following a period where he had been stalked by an obsessive fan, but now he found himself more than ever in need of the refuge. Fortunately, it had only taken two days for his cleaning staff to make the reinforced bunker more like the reception rooms in the palace of a sector governor.

He had refused to do without his habitual luxuries, even while forced to live underground. The main living area had been decorated to his impeccable taste, a cool blue on the walls with hints of darker greys and black in the furnishing. The lighting was soft, as was the furniture itself. Decoration was minimal, as he had unfortunately left much of his artworks at his home on the surface, but a few pieces were secreted tastefully in corners or on the walls. His prized possession was a holo of the famed Jedi Luminara Unduli, to whom he believed himself related. His first major holovid was a dramatization of an episode from the Clone Wars that had been re-told to him years ago, but the vid had almost immediately been censored by the Imperial Security Bureau. This censorship had only served to make the holovid even more popular, quickly making Naroli’s name in the Outer Rim.

He had been relaxing to the calming Haroola Sonata, one of the later works of the immensely talented Bann Shoosha, sipping at a cup of warm and soothing paricha, and generally contemplating the cosmos, when a proximity alarm had rudely interrupted his reverie. The entire mining complex had been fitted with alarm systems when Naroli had first taken over the complex and moved people away, the better to alert him should anyone come calling. Mentally crossing his fingers that the alarm would turn out to have been triggered by nothing more worrying than a Rentish, Naroli strode to the command centre that had been set up in the next room.

His cup of paricha smashed on the floor as he watched in numbed shock as a female Twi’lek was slicing through the computer system in the main building above him. Terrified that the end was near, he scrambled into a nearby locker and activated the K4 security droid within. While the droid powered up, Naroli quickly ran throughout the bunker complex and ensured all entry hatches were secured, then returned to the command room and saw that the Twi’lek was now in the office above, about to make her way in. How did she get through the files so quickly? he thought in wild panic.

The security droid was fully alert now, and ready for orders. “Droid, I’d like you to stand in front of the south hatchway and destroy anyone who tries to enter this compound that way, is that alright?”

“Affirmative, sir,” came the mechanical response. The droid immediately set off to take up position in front of the door, while Varsi returned to the monitors. The Twi’lek had disappeared, but the exit seal had been removed, so she was most likely on her way down. A cold sweat had broken out on his olive-skinned brow, and he hastily dabbed at his face with a pocket square. I thought this base was supposed to be secure! he thought wildly. But with the security droid in place, and the fact that there was indeed only one person coming down the shaft towards him, his pulse managed to return to a steadier beat. With increasing calm came the odd thought that nobody was supposed to know he was down here anyway, so Naroli tried to think that maybe this Twi’lek didn’t know what she was doing after all. She might not be looking for me, she might just be a thief, out to see whether anything has been left here, he thought desperately. But somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that was unlikely to be true.

***

Alyeza reached the bottom of the shaft in short order, where she came across another hatchway portal. Taking out her portable scanner once again, she detected a ray shield of some sort on the other side of the hatch, as well as a complex electromagnetic locking system. For a moment she sat back on her haunches and thought what could be done. A frontal assault might work, but she didn’t really know what she’d be getting into on the other side, as the ray shielding was fouling up her sensors. Using her field disruptor was the going to be the best route, she decided, so got to work on slicing the lock.

***

Naroli stood anxiously behind his plush conform lounger as he waited for the intruder to do something. The security droid, in comparison, stood placidly three feet away from the hatchway with its blaster rifle pointed directly at the door.

Suddenly, the something happened, as the ray shielding flickered and died with a subdued whump. Naroli felt as though he was about to be sick, and clutched tightly to the soft cushion of the lounger. Here it comes!

***

The sensor indicated that the shield had gone down, and immediately told her that there was a single life form behind the hatchway. Varsi, presumably. More alarming, however, it also told her that there was a powered-up energy source comparable to a small blaster cannon also on the other side. Shrugging aside the mental picture of a holo director manning some sort of land artillery, Alyeza decided it must be some sort of security droid he had guarding the place. Time for some tricks, then.

***

As Naroli was anxiously awaiting the worst, perhaps the last thing he was expecting happened. The K4 security droid slumped forward, deactivated. What in the name of…? Naroli was completely confused, and during this momentary stupor, his world began to collapse. The hatchway door swung open, and the female Twi’lek that he had first seen on the security cam stepped out. Dressed entirely in black, with black sleeving over her lekku, her pale lilac face was even more striking.

Naroli gulped audibly before finding his voice. “I take it you’ve come to take me to the pirates?” He was pleased to have kept his voice fairly steady.

The Twi’lek frowned slightly. “No.”

Naroli’s mind whirled in confusion. “Then…why are you here..?”

The Twi’lek woman reached into a thigh pouch for something as she answered him. “To kill you.”

***

Alyeza had never seen a Mirialan in person before, and despite the situation in which she had met her first one, she found them an attractive species. Humanoid, with olive-green skin, Naroli Varsi had a pattern of small blue triangles tattooed down the bridge of his nose. It intrigued Alyeza, who had never seen another species quite like him before. Professionalism was a hallmark of her trade, but she regretted not being able to try her seductress act on this particular mission. If things had been different, I would probably see it through before finishing the mission.

His first question to her had mildly offended her, however. Implying she was a mere bounty hunter? When she told him she was here to kill him, his skin seemed to lose some of its colouring, leaving him looking more sickly than attractive.

She reached into a pocket on her left thigh and was about to withdraw the small stingbeam blaster kept there when something impacted with her right ankle. She barely looked around to see the security droid’s finger pressed into her foot when darkness took her.

***

When she regained consciousness, Alyeza was bound with a pair of stun cuffs on the floor of the bunker, looking up at a much calmer Naroli Varsi, who had taken up a casual seat opposite her and looked down with a vague smile.

“Ah, welcome back,” he brought his hands together as if delighted at the turn of events. “Let’s start again, shall we. Why are you here?”

His mocking tone infuriated her. She took a brief assessment of her situation. Bound on the floor, all her weapons arrayed on the table next to Varsi, and the security droid next to them. All in all, it could be better. “As I said, to kill you,” she grated out. There would be a way out of this, there had to be.

“And, uh, how do you propose you’re going to do that, exactly?” he crossed his legs, resting his hands on his knee, and favoured her with a look of intense mock-interest.

She didn’t answer. She tested the bounds of the stun cuffs and discovered her way out: the cuffs weren’t properly locked. Rolling casually over as if she were trying to get into a comfortable position to talk to him, she managed to slip one wrist free without difficulty. Careful not to show either Varsi or the droid what had happened, she now sat on the floor across from the two of them with her arms behind her and her knees pulled up in front as if in defeat.

“Face it, my dear, you’re hardly in a position to make good on anything anymore.” His astonishingly green eyes bored into her. “Was it the pirate gang who sent you, then?”

“I suppose it doesn’t matter now,” she mumbled, still playing along with the defeatist routine while she planned her escape. “Yes, they sent me.” Confident she could overpower Varsi, she didn’t know what she was going to do about the droid.

Varsi had a grimly satisfied smile on his face. “I thought as much. Perhaps your mutilated body sent back to them might serve to get them off my back, however…”

It was, Alyeza thought, like she were in some appalling espionage holovid, the sort Q14 would probably have lapped up. Varsi was doing an impeccable job of being a hammy villain-type, perhaps a relic of his long history with the media.

A thought then occurred to her, while Varsi was busy steepling his fingers and doing his villain routine. If the droid had secured her, and it hadn’t secured the cuffs properly, perhaps that wide-spectrum disruptor blast she’d triggered before opening the hatch was having some residual effect on it. It was a long shot, definitely, but if she was fast enough, she might be able to take it out before it could react – Varsi, she was fairly sure, would revert to being terrified behind the couch again.

“Well, you know…there are other things you could do with my body…” she breathed haltingly, trying to put him off-balance enough before she struck.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work. “Whatever could you mean?” he asked, beetling his thin brows together and causing his facial tattoo to crinkle slightly.

“I’m here, entirely at your mercy…you could do whatever you wanted to me…” she couldn’t quite believe she had to spell this out for him. But then he made it clear why.

“My dear, you really aren’t my type.” He lounged back, putting his hands behind his head. “You Twi’lek women, always assuming that men of every species can’t wait to ravish you.” He shook his head with theatrical disbelief. “It never occurs to you that there are some men who prefer to stick with what they know best, if you take my meaning?” He raised an eyebrow as he looked down on her, before throwing his head back again with a chuckle.

At that moment, Alyeza struck. She leapt across the room at the security droid, using the force of her body to push it against the wall. The light armoured weave of her thermal suit was enough to cushion the blow, and the droid was caught completely off-guard. She had no problem flicking the activator switch at the base of its cranial casing, and the droid slumped, again deactivated.

She turned quickly to Varsi, who had reverted to type immediately and crouched at the end of the couch, eyes wide in fear. She reached over to the low table where her weapons had been arrayed, and picked up the stingbeam blaster she was going to use earlier.

“To answer your earlier question, I propose to kill you with this.” She shot him at point-blank range, right above his nasal tattoo. His body slumped backwards, dead.

***

Two days later, Alyeza received confirmation that Vrandil had deposited the rest of her fee for the completion of the Varsi job. Maybe I’ll head to Euceron, she thought vaguely. Should be able to pick up something there to keep me going. And The Wheel isn’t too far from there, should be enough to keep going…

Different Paths

It’s another Star Wars short story! Read Part 1: Chasing Shadows here!


The citadel loomed large in the viewport as Rando brought his ship into the compound. Every time he made this run, he found himself vaguely uneasy, but the credits were just too good to pass up. Maybe soon, he’d score enough to make a living elsewhere in the galaxy… maybe the next time…

There’s always a next time, he thought wryly, as he eased in the repulsorlifts to settle his ship down on the landing pad.

Rando was one of those rare breeds of criminals who didn’t really have an opinion on the course he had plotted for his life. An explosives and demolitions expert, he had drifted through the galactic fringe for years now, selling his skills for the simple pleasure he got from blowing things up. He didn’t think of the destruction and pain he caused as right or wrong – all he knew was that he liked doing it. If people would pay him to do it, then all the better.

And Vrandil paid well, that was for sure.

The landing cycle complete, Rando powered down the engines and eased himself out of the pilot seat. His ship, a trusty Starmite-class freighter he had named Big Blue in a wonderfully uninspired moment after the hull colouring – faded now, of course – creaked slightly as the engines cooled. Locking his blaster in the small safe just behind the pilot seat, he headed for the hatch and Vrandil.

***

Vrandil was a patient man. A Koorivar, his greatest life ambition was the collection of power through money. During the Clone Wars, his ambitions had been frustrated when Passel Argente had sent the species into disrepute through his ties to the Confederacy, and following the establishment of the Empire, virtually all Koorivar had fled the galaxy for the Corporate Sector. His legitimate business in ruins, and his ambitions crumbled, Vrandil had fallen back on some less savoury contacts to begin anew, albeit in the shadows. He now headed a modest network of saboteurs and assassins, allowing himself some vengeance against the Empire that had brought him so low. While he didn’t consider himself a rebel, he nevertheless accepted any contract against the Empire, though usually confined his erasure activities to the corporate world. Thanks to lucrative contracts with Corellian Engineering and Cybot Galactica, Vrandil had regained some of his former prestige.

Vengeance was frowned upon in Koorivar society as ‘unprofitable’, but that didn’t matter to Vrandil. Where was Koorivar society now, anyway? Trampled into the gutters, thanks to the Empire.

He still maintained his citadel on Murkhana in Auril Sector, far enough away from the prying eyes of Coruscant, but close enough to the Perlemian. It made sense to stay. The planet wasn’t what it used to be, of course. The thriving centre of commerce, a powerhouse of Republic fiscal might, it was now a shell of its former self. Nobody would bother him, thinking all the Koorivar had left. Vrandil’s own citadel was largely mothballed, one or two rooms being kept in use while the echoing corridors were left to gather dust. But Vrandil liked it that way, it kept business associates off-balance. Even those rooms he did use were kept in a dim gloom. The whole place had the feel of a house that had been carefully abandoned, which was in some ways a metaphor for Vrandil’s own life.

Right now, the echoing steps coming from the central corridor could only mean one thing: Rando has come for his money. Without staff as such, Vrandil ran his organisation by hiring freelancers when the job needed doing, and while some people were marginally passable, some were downright nauseating. Rando was a middling sort. He was just odd, a bit of a loner from what he knew of him. No denying that he got the job done, but there was something vaguely unsettling to Vrandil, whose years of dealing with a wide variety of species had given him some insight into behaviour. He had subcontracted demolitions experts since starting his new life who had a certain insanity to them, and some who were cooly professional. Rando was just dispassionate, almost disinterested in his chosen line of work. Vrandil found it disturbing, as it made dealing with him difficult. For a species accustomed to reading body language to gain leverage in any situation, the Koorivar found himself floundering whenever he used Rando. But there was no denying his skill.

Presently, the slightly dishevelled, slightly unkempt human came into the gloom of what could be called Vrandil’s audience chamber, and snapped the Koorivar out of his meditations.

“Rando, welcome back”, he got up from his couch in a smooth, fluid movement, preferring to look at his employees on the level. “I hear great things following your work on Felucia.” He smiled at the other man, his thick, greenish-purple, rubbery lips parting to reveal his black, pointed teeth.

Rando looked unfazed. “Thank you, Mr V. Have you got my money?”

“It is in the case to your left”, he gestured to the metal box that sat in a thin beam of light coming through the shades over the windows. “As we agreed, eight thousand in hard currency.” Vrandil thought he would never get used to having to deal in real, physical money after his years spent with credit transfers.

Rando punched the release on the polished cubirian case and cast his eyes over the credits inside. “I thought we’d agreed on twenty thousand for this job?” he asked, not looking at Vrandil.

The Koorivar wondered how far he could push the other. “Eighteen, Rando, you remember that I’m sure? Ten in advance, and eight with the successful completion.” He stroked his hands carefully, eyeing the demolitions expert as if he were about to himself explode.

Apparently, he wasn’t. “Oh, okay then.” Rando closed the case, apparently satisfied. “Can I keep the case?” he asked as he picked it up.

“Of course, I can always get another.”

Rando nodded shortly, almost as if to himself. “Let me know if you have any other jobs, won’t you?”

“You’ll be my first contact, Rando, don’t worry about that.” That smile again.

Rando nodded once again. “Right then, I’ll see you, then.” He turned and left. Vrandil watched him leave on the security monitor, unable to quite believe he’d managed to short the explosives expert on yet another job.

***

Former Senator Giddean Danu sat back at his desk with grim satisfaction. The Koorivar had kept his word, and the Imperials had been ambushed on Felucia. While official figures were difficult to discern, the official news networks had at least reported this act of sabotage, which Danu hoped meant it had hurt them badly. They’ve obviously bought the reports of Gossam rebels, and this will only help to back that up, he thought. He steepled his fingers under his chin in reflection. Of course, having actual Gossam allies would be a great boon. It might be worthwhile investigating. He knew that overtures had been made to the Neimoidians, though he did not know the outcome yet.

Giddean Danu was fundamentally opposed to violent action. Having been the senator for Kuat since before the Clone Wars, he had always striven to find a diplomatic solution, no matter how frustrating things had gotten during the war. But then Palpatine had declared himself Emperor, and everything had changed. Danu had been a signatory on the Petition of Two-Thousand, whose aim had been to force the Chancellor to rescind his emergency powers – for all the good that did. He had initially feared for his life in the wake of the New Order, as many of his colleagues who had also signed it were killed in mysterious circumstances. However, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma seemed to have made it through unscathed. Indeed, Mon Mothma seemed to have become emboldened by that, and had developed into something of a firebrand within the senate.

As for Danu, the pressure had been too much. The appointment of Thichis Kuras as Moff for the Kuati Sector had been the final straw. It wasn’t enough that Kuras was a member of a lesser family than Danu, but the entire position of Moff had undermined any authority Danu had as senator. In complete exasperation, Danu had resigned his office and retired to his family’s holdings, where he had eventually resolved to fight against a political system that he felt was laughing at him. He kept up with political news from the re-named Imperial Center, and from his contacts with fellow senators Organa and Bana Breemu he learnt of the growing resistance to the Imperial yoke. It hadn’t taken much to find someone in his family’s starship manufacturing company with the contacts that led him to Vrandil.

Danu puffed out his breath in a resigned sigh. Gone were the days of his political conservatism. Palpatine had made him a radical – a lawbreaker. Like billions of beings across the galaxy, the Emperor had turned Danu’s life upside-down, and in the process, he had changed as a person. Time to get on with it, he thought to himself.

There’s something lurking…

It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s game day here at spalanz! Today I’m going to do a small blog on a game expansion, largely because I have an exam tomorrow and need to keep the little grey cells ticking over on that. So following on from Arkham Horror last week, I’m going to take a look at ome of the smaller expansions, The Lurker at the Threshold!

The Lurker at the Threshold

Chronologically  the penultimate expansion for the game (not counting revised editions), the Lurker was the final small box released. Each of those expansions is closely associated with a particular Ancient One from the base game, and Lurker is aligned with Yog Sothoth, a being who transcends time and space. Within the mythos, the Lurker at the Threshold is an avatar of the Ancient One, and the “collaboration” between Lovecraft and August Derleth explores this.

…great globes of light massing toward the opening, and not alone these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was as a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!

Anyway.

The expansion includes all-new cards for the base game. In addition to new spells and items, there are also several new decks. Firstly, there is a Relationship deck, which provides a relationship between you and the player to your left. These often provide bonuses or other special effects to emphasize the cooperative nature of the game. The other decks all interact with The Lurker himself, a new Herald that follows on from those first introduced in Dunwich Horror.

The Lurker at the Threshold

The Lurker appears to be something of a benevolent force, providing help to the investigators almost as if he were a Guardian. However, it is help that comes at a price. If the investigator accepts the aid of the Lurker, he must then take a Dark Pact card (seen below the Ancient One sheet in the above picture); of themselves, these Pacts also seem to be quite helpful, offering you the alternative of accepting power tokens over losses to sanity, or indeed to spend in the place of clue tokens. Unfortunately, the other deck associated with the Lurker is not so welcome. The Reckoning deck (the cards to the right of the Ancient One sheet above) comes into play whenever a gate opens. Reckoning cards function with varying degrees of hindrance to the investigators – from causing you to move to an Other World, to forcing the discard of clue tokens or the loss of sanity or stamina, based on how much power you have amassed.

Another new component in this expansion is the new gate stack. Unlike in the base game, where the gates open to a single Other World on a specific location, the gates in Lurker at the Threshold have been “modified” so that all sorts of craziness goes on, from gates to multiple Other Worlds:

The Lurker at the Threshold

to gates that actually move around the board:

The Lurker at the Threshold

It’s very fitting, and ties nicely into the special abilities of Yog Sothoth from the base game, with whom I would only ever play this expansion.

I would say that this is my joint-second favourite of all the Arkham expansions, alongside The Black Goat of the Woods and second only to The Dunwich Horror. Playing with the Herald (and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t) adds in so much variety, the gamble of accepting the Lurker’s help can make for some really awesome role-playing-esque moments! Indeed, it was during a game with this expansion that I first tried my hand at writing some weird fiction! For your general amusement, I present: There was something lurking on the threshold…

Harvey Walters knew there was something lurking on the threshold of time and space, though his research at Miskatonic University had failed to uncover any real clues. How could he know it was Yog-Sothoth, waiting to devour the town of Arkham? Making a deal with renowned gangster, Michael McGlen, he determined to conquer the other worlds and find the clues necessary to piece together some form of defense for this town.

The two men split up early in their quest, Harvey heading downtown while Michael focused his search on the Uptown area. By a strange twist of the mythos surrounding Arkham, both men found themselves switching places, and gates to other dimensions and worlds began to blossom like the petals of a rose. The hunt was on!

Michael, perhaps less accustomed to the perils he was facing than his more academic partner, began to show the signs of strain at first. After an encounter with an Elder Thing, he began to suffer from Panic, but strove on in his quest, despite Hearing Voices at almost every turn. He roamed through Southside, meeting Professor Armitage at the Historical Society who offered to accompany him. Perhaps it was the companionship of another of these academic types that bolstered his spirits enough to investigate Rivertown. After a near-disastrous adventure through The City of the Great Race, he decided to remain where he was, shielded by the “safety” of the Black Cave he had found. Oh, how wrong he was. While roaming the twisting, winding passageways, he found a friend in the hulking figure of Tom “Mountain” Murphy, but the trio were soon to know peril like no other…

Harvey Walters, disturbed by the rising level of terror in the town, was furiously gathering clues from every corner, and using his eldritch wisdom to seal gates once he had explored them. His years at the University had taught him a thing or two about spell-casting, and his facility with the Sigil of Hermes Trismegistus gave him an edge in his battle with the occult powers swirling through the town. His exploits had earned him enough renown that, stopping through Ma’s Boarding House, he earned the help of his fellow academic Oliver Grayson, who offered to lend his own knowledge of the occult in the quest against the Great Old One. 

Alas, terrible news soon reached the pair of professors. 

Michael, while remaining with his allies at the Black Cave, had twice been sucked through portals to other dimensions, and yet both times had managed to see himself returned safely to Arkham. However, it was on his way back from the Plateau of Leng that catastrophe struck. By a cruel twist of fate, his luck ran dry and the gangster was lost in time and space – the very realm of Yog-Sothoth. The worst was presumed, Michael had perished in his attempt to return one final time to this world, and it can only be assumed that his companions also perished in the void. 

Harvey and Oliver were on their own.

It was now that Harvey began to give in to temptation. His eldritch knowledge had made him aware of a presence, a Lurker on the Threshold of time and space, that could perhaps help him as he made a final push to liberate the town of Arkham from the pall of the Great Old One. With a copy of the King James Bible for some measure of comfort, if not protection, Harvey entered into a Soul Pact with the Lurker. After a fight with a dreaded Cultist, during which he contracted a Blood Disease, Harvey further gave in to the Lurker’s promise of power by making a Blood Pact with the fiend. Whether he shared this with Professor Grayson or not is unclear. 

The two professors now made a last-ditch attempt to seal the gate to the Plateau of Leng, perhaps doing so in memory of their fallen comrades. Harvey immediately used his arcane gifts to Find the Gate back to Arkham, and with all of his knowledge combined from the clues he had amassed against the coming of Yog-Sothoth, managed to seal the sixth gate through to the other world. 

Nobody rejoiced in Arkham that night. Nobody would ever know that they had come within terrifying moments of being plunged into the horrifying abyss. 

When Harvey Walters eventually regained his consciousness the following morning, he was still clutching to his battered copy of the King James Bible…

goo

The Lurker at the Threshold

Buy it from amazon:
The Lurker at the Threshold

Chasing Shadows

Okay, so I lied a bit yesterday when I said my short story wasn’t ready yet. Well, technically it wasn’t, as I only completed it this morning, but anyway. This is my first draft, but as I’m not in the habit of re-writing things, I’m going to post it up here anyway. Please tell me what you think, comments are always more than welcome!


 

Felucia

The landing craft lurched unsteadily as it touched down on the surface of Felucia, the landing gear settling uneasily into the loamy soil. Rather than head for the capital city of Kway Teow, Captain Faise had decided to land nearer the water stations of Jianzi, where the point squad should already be assembled, and where Intelligence sources had determined he ought to start his search. They had better be right, he thought moodily.

Faise disliked his current posting. The High Command no doubt had their reasons, but he felt he was significantly wasted out here in the Outer Rim, chasing pirates and smugglers when the galaxy was beginning to tear itself apart. Of course, official reports from Imperial Center would have the galactic population believe that law and order had never been stronger, but Faise had seen a significantly different picture a year ago, when terrorists had led an insurrection against the Emperor’s rule in Imperial City itself. The situation had not improved since then, with more and more reports of rebellion filtering throughout the Imperial Navy’s gossip channels.

I should be back in the thick of it, he grumbled to himself, as the landing craft gave another wobble when the hatch opened for the troops to disembark. These rebels can’t be allowed to get away with what they did…

The stormtrooper squad marched down the ramp and onto the planet’s surface, and the captain followed them into the warm, wet blanket of the planet’s atmosphere. Felucia was a jungle world like no other Faise had seen in his career. Huge fungus plants grew in all manner of shapes and colours, enormous pitchers opened up to the golden sky of the late afternoon, vast fronds of browns and silver-stemmed fern-like plants swayed in the gentle breeze, which carried the sweetly fetid scents of mould and decay. A clear path wove through this tropical forest, with steaming bogs to either side, shaded by yet more bizarre mushroom-like trees of deep purple and vivid lilac.

Faise’s current assignment was to root out a nest of pirates that had been reported throughout the Thanium Worlds and Indrexu Sector. Personally, he felt that the Tion Hegemony should shoulder some of the responsibility for policing the area, which lay along its borders, but the Emperor no doubt had his reasons for leaving the Hegemony alone.

Catching up with his troops, Faise put such thoughts away. Time to focus on the mission at hand.

***

Jianzi water station was the site of a skirmish in the final days of the Clone Wars, where the Commerce Guild, seeing the end was drawing near for the Separatist cause, sought to poison the water supply of the planet. The Empire had since brought peace to the planet, with a water treatment successfully implemented. Several outposts had been established throughout the galaxy since the end of the Wars, aimed at better governance for the galaxy at large, but the alarming number of revolts and insurrections that had been unofficially reported throughout the last few years pointed to a stronger hand needed. Full-scale planetary occupations had begun throughout the Inner and Mid Rims, but the wilder Outer Rim Territories were proving difficult to control.

Despite official denials, the increased rebel activity was causing Imperial Intelligence to jump at shadows, and the slightest report of dissent was seeing a swift response from the Navy. Captain Faise’s current posting on the Dauntless, an aging Bayonet-class light cruiser, had seen two such responses so far, with Felucia marking their third. Intelligence had gathered that a group of unidentified pirates were attacking key Imperial installations throughout the sector, but so far nothing had come to light that linked these attacks to any other insurrection. Every Imperial Governor’s nightmare – perhaps, even, that of the Emperor himself – is the thought of a unified rebellion against Imperial rule.

Captain Faise and his stormtrooper contingent arrived at the water station without incident, and met up with General Nolarin, who had been sent ahead of the captain to scout the area.

“General”, Faise saluted smartly at his old friend and colleague, “have you anything to report?”

“Nothing here, Oskar, I’m afraid”, the general said with a sigh. “If there were pirates here, they haven’t left any discernible trail for us to follow.”

“It’ll be hard to pick anything up in this mulch, anyway”, Faise glanced around at the station wearily. “Is there anyone home?”

“Scanners have been mashed by the sheer amount of life on this planet, but our initial recon hasn’t shown any signs of habitation, human or otherwise…” The General beckoned over to one of his men. “Lieutenant, have you heard back from Team Besh yet?”

“Team Besh reports all-clear to the east, sir” the lieutenant reported crisply. “It seems this entire station has been abandoned, sir.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.” Nolarin turned back to Faise. “Oskar, I think we’ve been sent on a wild bantha chase by the folks in Intelligence.”

Captain Faise exhaled noisily, planted his hands on his hips, and looked up into the golden sky. “Do you think these pirates even exist, Rufus?”

“Oh, I’m sure there have been pirate raids, Oskar, but Intel is probably outdated or just -“

An explosion cut him off.

“What the frink..?” Faise pulled out his blaster pistol and dropped into a combat crouch, eyes scanning to the east where the explosion came from. “I thought Team Besh had reported it all-clear?” he called to Nolarin.

The general growled with anger and pulled out his comlink. “Team Besh, report!” Silence. “Team Besh, do you read me?” Silence.

“General Nolarin, sir? I’m no longer receiving Team Besh’s tracking signal,” the lieutenant reported from behind a colossal pitcher fungus of pale orange. He frowned at the scanner he held. “I am picking up a group of life signals coming around from that general direction, but they weren’t there a few minutes ago.”

“Terrorists,” Nolarin spat. “They’ve killed six good troopers – we’ll get them in kind.”

***

General Nolarin used Captain Faise’s stormtroopers to augment his now-depleted force into three units. Team Cresh headed directly to the last known position of Team Besh, on the water section’s east side, while Team Dorn went around the north of the facility in the hope of catching the pirates in a crossfire. If necessary, Team Cresh was to strategically fall back, in the hope of drawing the pirates towards Team Esk, which was kept in reserve. Nolarin intended to then smash them between and Team Dorn. Simple, standard Academy tactics, but brutally effective when the numbers were in the Empire’s favour.

***

The group of four Felucians looked on in surprise when the explosion happened, the brilliant flash startling them into the shade of a giant mushroom. The leader was the first to emerge, stroking his facial tendrils thoughtfully. He assumed that the explosion was caused by the strange outlanders who had been here six moons ago, as no plant would make such a noise. Another of the group joined him, and barked a question. She, too, had made the connection between the outlanders and the explosion. We must meditate, he decided. We might learn our proper course of action as a result. The four Felucians returned to the spoor-plant grove and settled down on the soft moss to meditate, as The Teacher had taught them.

***

“I don’t understand it,” Nolarin fumed. “You said they were right there, on the station’s east side? Where could they have gone in so short a time?”

The lieutenant looked equally baffled at his scanner. “I don’t know, sir. The scanners are still having trouble penetrating the undergrowth. There’s so much life here, we can’t tell sentient life from the surrounding plants.”

“I thought our technology was a little more advanced than that,” Faise said sarcastically from across the site.

“Sorry, sir, what I mean is the plant life here reads as strongly as sentient life,” the lieutenant tried to explain. “It’s as if the jungle is just one massive organism, and anyone in there disappears.”

Nolarin puffed out his breath noisily. “Right. So we might me surrounded right now, and we wouldn’t know until the scum were on us? Or they could pick us off from the cover of these huge fungus things, and we’d not be able to do anything about it?”

“Unfortunately, yes, sir.”

Faise admired the lieutenant’s stoic assessment of the situation.

Nolarin pulled out his comlink. “Team Dorn, return to the landing site. Repeat, return to the landing site.” He sighed. “Looks like we should get under cover fast. It’ll be dark soon, and even our eyes will be no use then.”

***

Night had fallen by the time the Felucians had completed their meditation. We must inform The Teacher of this, was their unanimous decision. She is bound to the fates of these outlanders, she will know what to do.

***

“I don’t like this,” General Nolarin rumbled. “Something is going on, and I don’t like it.”

“What does the report say?” Captain Faise asked, walking over to stand next to the general.

“Intelligence has apparently given us a secondary objective,” Nolarin scanned his datapad. “’Gossam rebels are believed to be hiding on the jungle planet, and must be eliminated at once’” he read. “Gossam rebels? Hardly seems a threat enough to warrant our entire task force, but Imperial Center clearly knows best.”

Faise frowned at the orders. Gossam rebels? “I seem to remember the Gossam were big Separatists during the War. You don’t think there’s a link?”

“You were always the historian, Oskar, I wouldn’t know much about this.” He stroked his lip thoughtfully. “If there are Gossam rebels here, I’m surprised they’ve not been picked up before now. Commander Varghis keeps a tight control on the Gossam over at Kway Teow, I can’t imagine there would be any others out here…” He trailed off in thought. “Lieutenant, do you still have the sensor data from the explosion earlier?” he called down the passageway of his landing craft.

“Right here, sir” the lieutenant handed him his datapad with the data displayed. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“The life signs you picked up – the sentient life – do you have any further reading on that? Height, possible species? That sort of thing?”

“All the scanners were able to determine was bipedal life-forms, non-human,” the lieutenant frowned at the datapad. “Given the strength of the other lifeform readings, I’m surprised it managed to get even that much.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.” Nolarin watched him go for a second.

“He seems awfully keen,” Faise observed once the lieutenant had left.

“Lieutenant Arsen is one of the most competent field officers I’ve ever had in my command, Oskar.”

“You should definitely keep hold of him, then,” Faise moved back to the datapad with the orders they had received from Imperial Intelligence. “It doesn’t specify where these rebels are likely to be, and with our scanners useless, I’m not sure what we can accomplish here.”

Nolarin stared at nothing for a moment, again stroking his bottom lip in thought. “You’re right, of course,” he said at length. “It might not be impossible, though. We’re hunting Gossam, so what do we know about the species?”

Faise called up the databanks on the ship’s computer. “’Short, selfish and cunning’,” he read. “Hardly the most glowing of recommendations, but there we go. ‘Appearance is of great importance to Gossam society –‘”

“There we have it, then!” Nolarin grinned in triumph.

“There we have what, exactly?” Faise looked up from the computer.

“Cunning, but self-obsessed. They’re not going to be hiding out in the jungles then, that would ruin their fine clothes no doubt. They’re going to be in an urban environment. If Varghis hasn’t reported anything from the capital, where else could they be?”

Faise returned to the databank and brought up a map of the planet. “Har Gau was a Gossam settlement back in the day. No Imperial presence to speak of. Is it worth a look?”

Nolarin shrugged. “It’s the best lead we have, so why not?”

***

The Teacher had arrived on Felucia many cycles ago. She was an outlander, but she had quickly gained the trust of the native Felucians. She brought with her another outlander, slightly unruly in her behaviour, but this younger outlander was as much a pupil of the Teacher as the Felucians themselves. She had communicated with them, she had taught them many things, the greatest of which was the power of life every native of the planet could harness. She had called it The Force.

***

Har Gau was a small settlement, by any planet’s standards. Established as a resort for the Gossam who colonised Felucia thousands of years previously, it now had the slightly shabby air of a town nobody came to anymore. The fern jungle was steadily encroaching on the buildings, and as the Imperials came closer, Captain Faise could see one or two places where the plant life had utterly taken over. The perfect place for a rebel group to hide, he thought.

What was it that drove people to rebel against the Empire? The government had rooted out the corruption of the Republic, and brought peace and stability to the galaxy after the years of fighting during the Clone Wars. Now, these rebel groups were threatening that foundation with anarchy. Why couldn’t they see what they were doing to the galaxy? Faise shook his head bitterly as the first stormtroopers entered the town proper and began a defensive sweep.

“Scanners are picking up minimal life readings, sir”, Lieutenant Arsen intoned shortly. “I’m not sure, it could be sentient, but it’s too far out of range right now.”

“It?” General Nolarin repeated. “You mean there’s only one life form reading?”

“Yes sir. I can’t find any further readings within the scope of the town here. It seems Har Gau has been deserted.”

“That isn’t entirely surprising, I suppose” Captain Faise mused aloud. “During the War, the Separatists attempted to poison the water supply here. We’ve only just finished the cleaning process at the capital, so I can’t imagine anyone wanting to establish another colony this far out.”

Nolarin stroked his lip thoughtfully for a moment. “I want two teams to sweep the entire town, manual search. Team Aurek, you’re with Captain Faise; Team Besh, you’ll be with me. We’ll meet back here when we’re done. If anyone finds anything, report it immediately to either Captain Faise or myself. Understood? Then let’s move out!”

The stormtroopers moved with the precision of well-drilled men to carry out the general’s orders. Working in a clockwise pattern, Captain Faise led his team through the town, inspecting each building they encountered. If the scanners didn’t pick up anything, I’m not sure what we’re expecting to find, he thought to himself. “Stay alert, men. I don’t want any explosions happening again…”

***

The Teacher arrived at noon the following day, and conversed with the four Felucians who had witnessed the explosion at the Jianzi water station. She was alarmed to discover that Imperials had arrived once again on the planet, as she had not expected to encounter any such force outside of the capital city. The explosion also intrigued her, but when she learnt of the other outlanders who had been at the station, she agreed it was likely they had laid a trap for the Imperials, whoever they had been.

One of the Felucians told the Teacher that these outlanders had also landed at Har Gau, but she had not seen them there herself. The Teacher decided to investigate the town to see if they had left any similar surprises.

***

General Nolarin frowned at the sight before him. Well, that’s that, then. He had received a call from one of his troopers who was investigating what looked like an administration building, and rushed over to see what had been discovered. In all, there were fourteen Gossam corpses hanging from the ceiling, the purple-black hue of their skin implying death several days earlier, at least. With a sigh, he dug out his comlink and keyed for Faise’s frequency. “Captain, come on over to the large building across the square. We found them.”

***

The Teacher crouched low in the undergrowth, using the shadows cast by the spore-plant to conceal herself as she spied on the Imperials roaming around Har Gau. She closed her eyes and concentrated her mind on the activity within the town, trying to discern their purpose here. They are searching for something…someone… Me? She concentrated harder. No, another. But who? She was thought dead, she knew; she had disappeared more effectively than she had thought possible, but the presence of Imperial troops here, now, alarmed her. She needed to find out who exactly the Imperials were searching for, and whether she could help them escape from the tyranny that otherwise awaited them.

As she was about to inch herself closer to the town, a massive explosion rocked the ground.

***

General Nolarin wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead. He had moved away from the doorway to allow two stormtroopers to sweep the room for any possible traps when suddenly the world turned upside-down, and he was thrown against the mulch-like wall of a nearby building.

He tried to open his eyes and was surprised when he saw the half-demolished building in front of him. That was nothing, though, when compared with his surprise as seeing the alien crouching over him.

“You are awake, that is good” the alien said. Her voice – for it was unmistakably female – was slightly husky, and heavily inflected. It also had the slightly strange, muffled quality as if he were hearing her speak underwater. “I am trying to make the pain ease for you. Be calm.”

‘Be calm’? Nolarin thought. I’ve nearly been killed, and I have an alien doing goodness knows what to me, and I’m supposed to be calm?! But the words were not forthcoming to his lips. Vaguely, he wondered if he were dreaming.

Whatever the alien was doing, he did indeed feel like the pain in his head and chest was easing. The alien removed her hands from his body and stood up. A Togruta? Here? Nolarin didn’t quite know what to make of this. There was no mistaking the species, however, with the terracotta skin and blue-and-white striped head-tails. Maybe I am dreaming, after all.

“I have done all that I can for you,” the voice still sounded like he was hearing it through water. “You should survive, for now.” And with that, she left.

Nolarin closed his eyes for a second before trying to stand, but the effort proved too much and he slumped back against the mulch wall.

***

Faise picked himself up off the ground and groggily looked around. What just happened here?

“Are you alright, sir?” came the filtered voice of one of the stormtroopers in his squad. Faise looked around and saw the trooper standing with his blaster carbine at the ready, his armour as filthy as he presumed he must also be.

“Yes, I think so” he said wearily, dusting himself down automatically as he tried to make sense of the situation. “What just happened?”

“Another bomb, sir. Looks like whoever hit the Jianzi station has been here, also.”

“General Nolarin?” Faise was almost afraid of the answer.

“The general is fine, from what I can tell. Two stormtroopers are dead, and another four are wounded. The general has sustained some concussive shock, but he otherwise appears unharmed.”

Faise nodded, and set off towards the building – or, at least, what was left of the building – that Nolarin had been expecting. Unlike most of the structures on Felucia, the structure was partly of some local stone, which appeared to have contained the blast. The organic matter that formed the domed roof had completely gone, scattering the open area in the centre of Har Gau. Several lumps of the roofing material still smouldered.

There was an unreal stillness to the scene as Faise arrived. The surviving stormtroopers were conversing in low voices when he arrived, and Faise commiserated with them. Long hours spent training together and serving together invariably formed strong bonds in stormtrooper units, despite the itinerant nature of their work. As the captain moved on, he saw General Nolarin resting uneasily against the organic wall of a nearby building.

“Rufus, thank goodness you’re all right,” Faise rushed over to him and clasped his hand.

Nolarin looked over at him blearily, then smiled slightly. “It’ll take more than a few bombs to kill me off, Oskar, you mark my words!” He returned his gaze to the distance, and as he moved his head, Faise noticed dried blood in his ear.

“Is your hearing alright, Rufus?” he asked, concerned.

“It’s coming back, thankfully, yes,” Nolarin continued to look whistfully into the distance for a long moment. “I’ve lost too many good troops on this foresaken mudhole of a planet, it’s time we left. Captain, gather your troops and return to the Dauntless. There’s nothing more we can learn here.”

***

Captain Faise stood, once again, on the bridge of the Bayonet-class light cruiser, watching the curve of Felucia and thinking about the failure of their mission. We were supposed to find these pirates, and bring them to justice. Instead, we’ve lost eight storm troopers, and have no idea where the terrorists have holed themselves up.

The crisp sound of boots marching up the deck behind him made him turn around. General Nolarin stood to attention before joining him at the viewport. They stood in silence for a moment.

“I’ve filed my report with Intelligence, Captain, we are to stay in the sector until further orders arrive. Those pirates won’t get away with what they have done.”

Faise remained silent for a moment. “Good. We can’t have the galaxy slide into anarchy around us. We need to bring these scum to justice.”

Nolarin looked sideways at him for a moment, then said in a low voice, “I heard what happened in Imperial City. I hadn’t had a chance to give you my condolences, Oskar.”

Faise continued to stare ahead. “Thank you, general. The time for grief will come, but it is not yet.” He swallowed. “Right now, it is the time for retribution, and for justice.”

***

The Teacher looked up into the golden sky of the Felucian evening, shading her eyes against the waning glare of the star, Felix. The Imperials had gathered their wounded and left, whatever they had been searching for had been forgotten. Dimly, she wondered whether she had been right to help the Imperial in that way. But the Force gave her responsibility to all living things, regardless of sides drawn arbitrarily on a map.

Wearily, she lowered her gaze, and set off with the four Felucians back to the Ancient Abyss. What will come, will come, she thought. And I will face it when it does.

***

The Intelligence operative looked deeply uncomfortable as he brought the report to Darth Vader. To his credit, however, it was with an unwavering voice that he said, “The report on Felucia, Lord Vader, as you requested.”

Vader took the proffered data card and slid it into the console before him. “You may go,” the deep reply rumbled. With a salute, the operative turned smartly on his heel and marched away, perhaps a little too quickly.

Vader took no notice, though. The report from the Dauntless regarding the terrorist activity on Felucia would not normally have concerned the Dark Lord, however an addendum to General Nolarin’s report had caught Intelligence’s eye, and for once, Director Isard had not hindered him.

Nolarin had added the addendum detailing what he freely admitted could have been a shock-induced hallucination, whereby a Togruta appeared to have healed him sufficiently for him to survive the concussive shock from the explosion. Nolarin’s reputation was impeccable, with a grounded determination to see any job through, and so Intelligence had not dismissed his report out of hand.

But Vader had long suspected the survival of a certain Togruta female, and Nolarin’s addendum was all he needed as proof. Shaak Ti lives!