AFTER TWO days in hyperspace, I was getting restless. There was no respite on the horizon, either. Corellia was still two days away, if that was even Rendar’s intended destination. I had tried to keep myself occupied by sparring with Muehlenkha, tinkering with the Titan, and studying the datapad Jabba had provided which was loaded with information about Dash Rendar. I would periodically head to the cockpit to see if the Outrider was still in hyperspace, and to my dismay, it always was. Patience was regrettably not a virtue that I possessed.
I also tried to get Staphon to talk about his friendship with Greedo, but he would not discuss it. Staphon doesn’t like to talk about his past, and I was never quite sure why.
Neither of my companions were being especially good company on this trip, so I found myself lying on my bed reflecting on how I had gotten to this point in my life. Orphaned at an age so young I did not remember it, I was surprised at times that I still lived. As a child I was moved from foster home to foster home, a product of a dysfunctional social services system on Corellia. Perhaps that system was a product of the Empire, or even the Diktat, but I didn’t care. The system stank and at 13 years of age I ran away from my foster home and never returned. I had gotten tired of being passed around like an illness nobody wanted. I lived on the streets for the next five years, finding acceptance in a street gang. It wasn’t ideal, but I was at least surrounded by people who I cared for and cared for me in return. I learned much during those years, and became quite adept at picking pockets. I’d learned how to pilot swoops and how to handle a blaster pistol. I realized that most people would scoff at an upbringing such as I had, but I looked back fondly on those years. Without them I wouldn’t be who I am today.
By the time my 18th birthday rolled around, I aspired to be more than a lousy thief. I wanted to have my own ship; to be my own boss; to travel the galaxy. Being a smuggler encompassed all these things. So I used all of my money to purchase a one way ticket to Nar Shaddaa. I figured if there was a place to become a smuggler, there was no better place than the appropriately dubbed Smuggler’s Moon.
A knock at my door wrenched me back to reality. “Come in.”
The door retreated somewhere into the wall, and Muehlenkha sauntered into my quarters. “Afcuyo Fraden, I have been monitoring the signal from the homing beacon, and it appears to have stopped traveling.”
Excitement coursed through my veins like potent alcohol. “It’s about time!” I exclaimed. “Where is he?”
“What?” I cried. “How did he get there so fast? Nobody has a hyperdrive that fast.”
“Apparently, Dash Rendar does. He stopped there roughly an hour ago. I waited to tell you to ensure that he wasn’t stopping to change his course. The homing beacon is still reporting that he is there.”
“Is it possible that he found the beacon?”
“Possible? Yes,” the Noghri conceded. “It is, however, unlikely. I placed the beacon in the well above his landing gear. He would have to be outside of his ship to locate it. A routine scan would not detect it.”
“Well, then, it looks like we’re heading to Imperial Center,” I declared. I rose from my bed and headed for the cockpit. I fetched Staphon on the way so I could fill him in.
Staphon looked at me as if I had just said I could walk on water. “Um, you can’t just waltz into Imperial Center, young man. The entire planet is shielded so that morons like you can’t just fly in there.”
“Oh,” I said idiotically, realizing yet again that I still had much to learn about the galaxy. “Um…well, what do you suggest?”
Staphon collected his thoughts before answering. It frightened me when Staphon ruminated for any amount of time. “Well, we could wait for him to leave and try to intercept him, but according to that datapad his ship is much better armed than yours and he’s a much better pilot than any of us. I say we wait for him to leave again and try to get him on land somewhere.”
Staphon’s suggestion made sense. It actually made a great deal of sense. I suddenly felt extremely dense in light of the fact that Staphon was thinking more clearly than I was at the moment. How embarrassing. Staphon is not normally this clever. Or so I liked to think.
“I agree with Staphon’s assessment, Afcuyo Fraden,” Muehlenkha added. “Dash Rendar has elite piloting skills which we do not possess. If we are able to get him outside of his ship the three of us can overwhelm him.”
I despised waiting, but I realized that my comrades were correct. “Yeah, I guess that’s the best course of action.” Then, to Staphon, I said, “Plot a jump to Imperial Center. I’ll pull us out of hyperspace so that we can alter our course.”
The Imminent Titan dropped out of hyperspace, adjusted its course, and then reentered hyperspace. This time it was heading for Imperial Center, formerly known as Coruscant, the throne of the galaxy.
I suffered through two more days in the cramped confines of my ship. I would occasionally spar with Muehlenkha, but was bored otherwise. I decided that I needed to add some entertainment of some sort to his ship. The ship came equipped with a Dejarik board, as most Corellian Engineering Corporation ships do, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to play the game.
I suppose I should learn since it’s there.
I was sleeping in my quarters when an alert sounded. I groggily woke up and realized that it was the alarm to alert me that we had reached our destination. I never thought that horrid, shrieking sound would ever elicit any kind of joy from me, but it turns out I was mistaken. I was excited for something to be happening, although it was likely that I would just take the ship out of hyperspace only to hide it somewhere while we waited for Rendar to leave the planet.
Consequently, I was completely shocked to find a space battle raging in the skies of Imperial Center when I pulled the Titan from hyperspace. We had exited hyperspace closer to the planet than I had anticipated, so I was getting a nice close-up of the battle below. A quick check of the sensors told me that exactly a dozen X-wings and more TIE-fighters than I could count were doing battle with starships that neither I nor the ships sensors could identify. There were also a couple of light-freighters caught up in the skirmish. One was registered as the Millennium Falcon and the other was the Outrider.
Isn’t the Falcon Han Solo’s ship?
I heard the cockpit door “swoosh” open behind me. Then: “What the hell?” It was Staphon.
“I don’t know,” I confusedly answered. “It appears that the Outrider, the Millennium Falcon, a squadron of x-wings, and a horde of TIE-Fighters are battling, uh, whatever those fighters are.”
Staphon quickly sat down in the copilot’s seat and studied the sensor readout. “You better turn us around and get us as far away from this battle as fast as you can, young man. We definitely don’t want to get sucked into this. Whatever it is.”
Agreeing wholeheartedly, I complied swiftly. I took the control yoke into my capable hands and banked the Titan around so fast that Staphon almost flew out of his chair. It was at that point that Staphon remembered he had not strapped into his seat. He quickly buckled his safety harness.
He may be late to the party, I thought, but at least he came.
“Look,” Staphon said, “there’s a star destroyer coming around the planet. We need to get as far away from this as possible. We might even want to leave the system.”
“Relax, Staphon,” I said calmly. “Nobody is even aware that we’re out here. We’ll just watch from afar. They’re all occupied with each other.”
“Whatever you say, young man,” Staphon yielded. “I’d still feel better if we just left the system, though.”
“Duly noted.” I said sarcastically. Then: “Sissy.”
“You’ve never dealt with the Empire before. You have no idea what they’re capable of,” he shot back.
I stole a quick glance at my friend, and realized that Staphon was in no mood to be trifled with. I was aware that he’d had run-ins with Imperials in the past. It seemed that being in the vicinity of them now had rattled him. I wisely decided to drop the conversation.
Once I deemed that we were far enough from the battle, I stopped the ship and rotated it 180 degrees so that the cockpit was facing the battle. The star destroyer, which I could only assume was a Super-class based on just how enormous the vessel was, was bearing down on a skyhook while the battle between the starfighters raged below.
While I watched the battle unfold, Staphon had been monitoring local com channels for news. A gasp abruptly escaped from Staphon’s mouth. He then muttered, “Unbelievable.”
“What is it?” I queried.
“Xizor’s palace has been leveled. There was a huge explosion at the base of the building and the whole thing collapsed in on itself,” he elucidated.
“Who’s Xizor?” I asked.
Staphon, oblivious to my question, kept talking, “That skyhook the star destroyer is going after is Xizor’s. Man, he must have really made somebody mad.”
“Who’s Xizor?”I cried. I so hated to be ignored.
“What? Oh, he’s the head of Black Sun. You know? The biggest crime syndicate in the galaxy? Owner of XTS?” Staphon replied as if he were talking to a retard.
“Yeah, Xizor Transportation Systems. You’ve never heard of it?” he asked incredulously.
“Should I have? My life hasn’t exactly been filled with worldly experiences, you know,” I barked defensively.
“I just figured everybody knew who Xizor was. He’s only the third most powerful man in the galaxy.”
“Yeah, well…” was all that escaped my mouth before the skyhook unexpectedly exploded. “Whoa!” I yelled.
“Sithspit!”Staphon exclaimed. “Like I said, he must have made someone really angry. First his palace, now his skyhook? Young Xizor is a goner, baby.”
Ignoring Staphon’s idiocy, I noticed a shift in the starfighter battle. “Look, the X-wings are trying to escape through the skyhook debris.”
“I see it,” Staphon acknowledged.
Squinting, I noticed something else. “And look who’s leading the way. That’s the Outrider at the head of the charge!”
Staphon looked. “And that looks like the Millennium Falcon right behind it.”
I ignored him. I was watching the Outrider deftly maneuver through the field of debris. And I was astonished – and extremely envious – at the agility with which Rendar skillfully piloted the modified freighter through the harrowing debris field. A large piece of skyhook debris quickly changed direction and rapidly made its way directly into the Outrider’s path. Even Dash Rendar’s magical piloting skills couldn’t help him dodge this one. A large fireball erupted from the titanic chunk of debris. “Oh, man,” was all I could manage to say. Once the explosion had dissipated, there was no sign of the Outrider.
“Well, that was easy enough. He killed himself,” I said.
Staphon watched as the Falcon and the remaining X-wings cleared the debris field and jumped to hyperspace. Only then did he respond. “Have fun explaining that to Jabba, young man. He wanted him alive, remember?”
“Well, there’s not much I can do if my quarry flies straight into a huge piece of debris and dismembers himself, is there?” I argued.
“That’s not entirely accurate, Afcuyo Fraden,” came Muehlenkha’s voice from behind, startling me. Luckily, I was strapped in or I might have jumped out of my seat. As it was, I nearly soiled my trousers.
“Dammit, Muehlenkha,” I cried. “I’ve told you. Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“I apologize, Afcuyo Fraden, I did not mean to frighten you. However, to disprove your point, I am still receiving a signal from the homing beacon I placed on Dash Rendar’s ship.”
“How is that possible? I literally just watched his ship collide with a huge piece of debris and explode into its own tiny debris field. Little specks of the Outrider are floating in space right now.”
“I cannot answer that question, Afcuyo Fraden. I can only tell you that the homing beacon is no longer located in this star system and it is still sending data.”
Befuddled, I uttered, “Well, where is it now?”
“It is currently a parsec away. In its current trajectory, there are multiple destinations, such as Vortex, Ord Mantell, Ithor, and many other systems in the Outer Rim.”
I pondered silently in the pilot’s seat.
How could Rendar possibly have made it through that debris? If that wasn’t the Outrider that exploded, what exploded? If Rendar did survive, where is he going?
Staphon interrupted my thoughts. “Rendar obviously has a much faster hyperdrive than we do. Judging on how fast he got to Imperial Center from Rodia I’d guess the Outrider can do .5 past lightspeed while this ship can barely match the speed of light. He can get anywhere twice as fast as we can.”
I momentarily contemplated what Staphon had insightfully deduced before asking, “How do you guys think we should approach this then?”
Staphon responded first. “I say we find a place to lay low for a while until he stops moving. He’s got to stop sometime. Once he settles down we can swoop in and capture him.”
“I concur,” Muehlenkha chimed in.
I considered my friends’ recommendations. I didn’t like to wait. Conversely, I also saw no alternative. There was nothing I could do since I didn’t know where Rendar was heading. Once again my companions were correct with their assessment of our situation. I sighed before asking, “Where will we wait?” I finally asked.
Staphon ruminated momentarily. “How about Ord Mantell? Of all the places on his last known trajectory that’s where I’d go. Unless he stops and changes course.”
I quizzically looked at Muehlenkha with a raised eyebrow as if to ask, “What do you think?”
“I again concur with Staphon D’yar. There is no other likely destination for a smuggler along that route.”
“Well, I guess it’s settled then,” I declared. “We’re bound for Ord Mantell. Can’t wait to see what all the fuss is about that place.”
It was only a handful of minutes before Staphon had plotted our hyperspace jump to Ord Mantell. We were then once again wayfaring through hyperspace.