Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chapter Eight

Been Urfalla ran down the gleaming white corridor as fast as his little legs could manage, wrapped as they were in his permanently worn, thermal suit. A staggered row of tiny windows, dispersed at twenty-meter intervals above his head height, did nothing to illuminate his path. Instead, his route was highlighted by a string of hastily welded luma-cables, which threw a green glow into the corridor, giving it the appearance of a sickly artery. He paused as he passed a tiny escape hatch, peering through three layers of plexi-glass at the miserable landscape outside. The planet was dead. The barren ground was studded with tiny humps like the protruding seeds of a klef root, and he could just make out the blue glow of the major’s excavation team, flickering from behind one of the larger mounds. Been wished he could be out there, joining the group in their discoveries, but he had more pressing tasks.

Been skidded to a stop at the end of the hallway and jumped slightly to reach the door mechanism, hanging onto it as it slowly lowered, and the door slid open with a shudder. He stepped into the sparse quarters and the door closed behind him.
Been waited for his mother’s reply, but when it was not forthcoming he made his way to the back of the room and passed through a foil curtain. Rudimentary bunks were bolted to three of the small room’s walls, all deserted bar one, and it was here that Been’s mother slumbered, deeply.
“Mum!” he repeated, a little more loudly.
Jula Urfalla stirred, then coughed, and then threw back her thick blanket to reveal her own thermal suit. She stared at the bulkhead ceiling for a moment, and then spoke quietly, without averting her eyes from the white metal and rivets two meters from her face.
“Been, I’m tired, this had better be…”
“It’s waking up!”
Jula turned her head to look at her agitated child.
“What do you mean, ‘It’s waking up’?”
Been hopped back and forth on each foot, his movements equal measures of excitement and cold.
“The thing Major Braxan found,” Been spluttered, “it’s moving! Dr. Solamonn said I should fetch you.”

Dr. Jula Urfalla swung around and dropped from the bunk. She reached onto the lower bed and pulled out her data pad, switching it on, and nearly dropping it when an alarm signal blasted out from its tiny speakers. She stroked a gloved finger over the screen and an endless stream of words written in the graceful, circular text of the Naboo, chattered horizontally across its face, supported by graphs and life-sign readings. She frowned and pocketed the pad, swigged from a cup of dusty liquid that had been sitting on one of the two storage lockers, and then stood open-mouthed in front of her wall mounted travel refresher as it sprayed a cleansing mist over her face and into her mouth, before blasting her dry with a shot of air.
“Come on,” she said to Been, pushing aside the curtain and grabbing her kit belt as they made their way to the cabin door, “tell me the rest of the news on the way. Have you heard from your father yet?”
“Nope, nothing,” murmured Been as he jogged to keep up with his mother who was striding to the other end of The Good Intention at a rate far faster than any eight-year-old boy could maintain.

Several hours had passed and The Sulking Rancor continued to shudder and hum under the strain of sustained hyperspeed. Lig squeezed her eyes tightly, trying to block out the grating rattle of bulkhead plates and ill-fitting bolts all around her, but it was useless, and she opened her eyes as she stretched her arms above her head, yawning away the last remnants of an unsatisfactory meditation.
“Stay seated, padawan,” said a soft voice behind her, “we need to talk.”
Lig craned her neck around to see Pel kneeling, eyes closed, his chest rising and falling slowly.
To her left, Master Scarp was in the same position, and before her Soolad and Janst’orr were attempting to meditate, with the same degree of success as she. The room that their group had chosen for their meditation chamber was the engineer’s office, deep in the belly of the ship, and right next door to the engine housing. Lig suspected the brothers had chosen this location for its remoteness from the front cabins, and the sound from the machinery all around them that would mask their discussions. Lig felt uneasy about this subterfuge. Sergeant Calz and his men were with them now, even the Twi’lek captain and her Tusken first mate seemed to have accepted them, and yet there was still a thin veil of tension onboard.

Lig waited patiently as, one by one, the others drew themselves from their meditative slumbers and stretched themselves awake. Scarp passed around a canteen of a sweet, fresh liquid, and they each drank from it, welcoming the refreshing blast in their mouths, dispelling what Master Pel jokingly referred to as ‘meditation breath’. Janst’orr unclipped her training saber and swung it around her head, limbering up with some basic training moves, the blade still housed in its casing. Soolad wandered the office, pushing small boxes and tools around the floor with a flick from his outstretched fingers. Lig watched them both for a moment, and then settled back on her haunches as the brothers rose to gather some crates and lockers to use for seating. Pel pulled a bag of dried fruit from his belt and placed it on a central crate, then looked at the younglings.
“Padawans, come join us.”
The young force users needed no second encouragement, and soon all five were seated in a tight ring with the bag of food between them. Soolad tore into a strip of Kashyyyki melon as Scarp began to speak.

“Younglings, these are dire times. You recall how Master Pel brought news from the miner’s city of something called Order 66? Since then I have spoken at length with Sergeant Calz and Captain Preela, and they have shed more light on this terrible event. According to the holonet, the Jedi Council attempted a coup of the Republic, and subsequently an order was given for our execution…”
“Why would the council want to take over the Republic?!” blurted out Soolad, showering Pel’s knees with melon seed.
“It didn’t,” replied Scarp gently, “the story is a fabrication, to justify the murder of the Jedi Order by Chancellor Palpatine.”
“But-” began Soolad.
“I know, padawan, there are so many questions, suffice to say the Republic has since been dissolved and reformed into a Galactic Empire, with Palpatine at its head.”
“No longer Supreme Chancellor,” Pel shook his head sadly, “now he is Emperor, another way to say dictator.”
“Why do they want to kill us?” Janst’orr looked at Scarp with her large, amphibious eyes, terror in her tiny voice.
“The Empire fears us, fears what we represent; everyone that we once fought alongside is now our enemy,” Scarp sighed as the younglings leaned in to listen, “our clone brothers who trained with us in the temple grounds, who fought next to my brother and I on Sullust, Rangtor IV and the Bith fields, are merely following the orders of their superiors. That is what they were bred to do, they are soldiers, and obey their commands. Sergeant Calz and his men thought a little differently. They could see what was wrong with the order, and deliberately disobeyed their commanders. Now they are fugitives, along with us. We are brothers once again.”
“I don’t think they all like us, Master Scarp,” said Lig, quietly.
“True, young one, it will take some time for them all to trust us, but for now, we are one group, and we will help these men find the man they seek.”
“Dr. Solamonn?”
“Yes, Lig. These brave soldiers have every right to a normal life, and if this mysterious doctor can grant them this chance, then I have vowed to help them achieve it.”
“As have I,” added Pel.
“But what about the green lady?” spluttered Soolad, swallowing the last of the dried melon flesh.
“Captain Preela has agreed to take us all as far as Maltor’s Drop, a fueling station on the outer rim, and then the Sergeant and his men will find a new vessel to, um, charter.”
“You mean steal,” smirked Janst’orr.
“A matter of semantics, Janst’orr,” replied Scarp, “they are our brothers now, and we will aid them in any way we can, although let me stress, we will not be abandoning the code. Continue with your training younglings, use Master Pel and myself to further your understanding of the Jedi way, the order must be rebuilt, and you are its future.”
Scarp gazed at the faces of his wards, and stopped when he saw a far away look in Lig’s eyes.
“You are troubled, Lig.”
“Yes, Master Scarp. It is the other one, the Tusken female, I think she is-“
“A force user,” interrupted Pel, “yes, Lig, that was very perceptive of you. You are honing your senses quite nicely.”
“A force user?” blathered Soolad, his eyes wide, “you know her?”
“No,” replied Scarp, “Master Pel and I both detected her when we first boarded, since then she has been careful to block her thoughts.”
“I sense none of the dark side in her though,” added Pel, “she has her own reasons for her anonymity. When she is ready, she will reveal herself to us, until that time, treat her with respect, and no probing.”
“Yes, Master.” chorused the three younglings, and the group settled down for the rest of the flight, comforted by the proximity of each other’s auras, and Pel’s dried fruit.

There once was a time, many moons ago, when Maltor’s Drop had been called GH-1571, a shining jewel in Incom Corp.’s crown; the first in a line of refueling stations commissioned by the Republic to sustain their ships on the ever-expanding trade routes between the core worlds and the outer rim. After many years of faithful service, the station, along with other obsolete machinations, had been unceremoniously tugged out towards the edge of known space, and abandoned to its fate, and there it floated in loose orbit around a slowly disintegrating moon, its rusting hull and stripped innards preserved forever in the vacuum of space. And there it would have remained, had not an enterprising band of Ugnaught salvage dealers, led by Maltor Glab and all of them ready for retirement, stumbled across it, repaired its neglected thrusters, and decided to turn it into their personal rest home.

It wasn’t long before spacers in the area discovered that there was a perfectly good refueling station in the area. Maltor and his boys realized they were lounging around in a nice little earner, and so it was that Maltor’s Drop sprang back to life three decades ago, and became the preferred resting station for deep spacers, runners and ne’er-do-wells. Slug-like miners from the third moon of Belkadan supplied the station with highly potent fuel in return for calcium, and though many investigations took place, no one was really able to explain how the Ugnaughts got their hands on such rich calcium deposits. Seeking alliances with no one, Maltor ran his station impartially, welcoming all on board, provided their pockets seemed adequately laden down.

Delnan Jja observed the light from Belkadan’s dying sun bouncing off the dorsal panels of the fueling station, sending waves of crimson to wash over pieces of moon rock that drifted close by and bounced off the station’s shields. He turned from the viewer and flicked on his sleeve comm.
“Camm, maintain this position. I wish to remain invisible.”
“As you wish, sir,” the small mic replied.
Jja sat back in his chair and watched the tiny moon between his ship and the station through the window in his cabin. Small puffs of moon dust denoted further fractures, and another lump, the size of his own vessel, broke away from the ailing satellite. Several ideas formed in his dark mind, each one more perverse than the first, and he itched to implement at least one of them.
“Come on, Calz,” he murmured to himself, “it’s time to play.”

1 comment:

RJ said...

I've been woefully behind on my SoS reading, but I'm getting back on track. As usual, well written and intriguing!