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Zeris Mons

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  1. "I've got them," I said, rushing past the jawa and the Bull. Part of me wanted to help take down the big guy, but it looked like the tusken had it...well not handled, but in hand for now. Besides, if we let these bulky beasts crowd us in a narrow passage, we were dead. The two spear-charging calves had pulled ahead of their drum wielding sibling, and were picking up speed as their legs rumbled out an accompaniment to the drumbeat. I skidded to a halt in the center of their path as each jostled with the other to gore me. Inhale. Exhale. The pair thundered and bellowed as they drew closer. Inhale. Exhale. I dropped into a low stance and delivered a solid kick to the side of the head of the calf that had won the right to impale me. Bracing my mechanical legs into a straight line, my entire lower half became one giant lever braced against the floor, and the nerf calf's own momentum turned him aside and crashing into the wall, spearheads snapping as he struggled to keep his footing. The other one whooshed past me, and I only barely managed to grasp its shaggy coat as it did. Pulled off my feet, I was dragged down the passage towards the jawa. Gritting my teeth, I used my superhuman arms to swing myself up and deliver a kick to the creature's neck. I couldn't work up enough momentum to really hurt it while being dragged along its side, but the cold metal tip of my toe digging into its side was enough to make it notice. As I hoped, it turned with the kick instinctively, no longer aimed at the jawa. Unfortunately, it also came to a stop far quicker than I would have thought possible. It slammed the side I was holding onto into the wall, and I was forced to let go and roll under it. I came up, and found myself between two very angry mutated nerf calves. Wonderful.
  2. Something...something about that totem unnerved me. Maybe it was that I couldn't identify the bones that had been used. Maybe it was the crude malice that the thing seemed to give off, as if the maker had imbued his very spirit into it. ...Or maybe it was because nerfs weren't supposed to have hands. I took a breath, willing myself calm. Simple meditation was practically like breathing to the echani, and while I'd never been the best at that part, I knew enough to take control of my thoughts when I had the mind to. Still, it took longer than it should have, and longer than I was comfortable with. But I wasn't stopping now. I'd come to help Geb, and by every demon, spirit, shade, and god in this galaxy, I was going to do it. I stepped into the tunnel. ______________________________________________________ I hadn't gone far before something felt off. Well, that's a bit misleading. I mean, felt more off. There didn't seem to be any reason for it at first. The tunnel looked the same as the last couple dozen feet. In fact, it might have looked better. Then it hit me. The tunnel was cleaner here. Something, likely unintentionally, had swept away the dirt, grime, and dust that had accumulated here. Not all of it, but just enough to make its passage noticeable. But...this tunnel went only one direction, there hadn't been any side-passages, so why was this spot- My answer came in the form of a rumble, right before the ceiling dropped in, cascading down in a lethal avalanche right where I would have been standing had I kept going. The large stone that had (I assumed) been holding up the makeshift trap before getting shoved aside dropped along with the downpour with a solid CRACK. Thump Something else dropped out of the ceiling. Something big...and hairy.
  3. Oh yeah, these people were crazy. Now I'm not discounting that there may be some mystical communing thing going on between these people and their freeze-dried master. I've seen enough strange things in the galaxy to know that science has barely scratched the surface of the weirdness the universe is capable of. No, what made me sure that these people were crazy were the way they looked at their master. That was cult fever there. That was the kind of devotion where you'd eat nails if your master asked you to, and then you'd call for seconds. Granted, maybe I was being a bit harsh with them. Considering where they lived, I'd be surprised if anyone on this world wasn't a bit crazy, and this version of it seemed mostly harmless. Still, I tensed up. Crazy people were unpredictable, and I hated unpredictable. Great. Of course that was where Geb was. Of course! The madman couldn't have just stayed out of trouble. If he could, he wouldn't be on this planet. I stood up, and looked at the others. Then I started walking "I'm going to get him. You coming?" I stopped next to Keeper Junia's body. "Can she hear me? Can you ask her if there's a way into that place that won't get us killed right away?" I really hoped she had a way, because otherwise my plan was to take the Crate and try firing at the building until I blasted a hole in something.
  4. As I sat down to eat (you never know when you'll get another chance) I thought about what he said. The good part was he hadn't outright said Geb was dead. The bad part was he wasn't saying much of anything else about him, and that was never an indication for 'everything's ok here, no problems at all'. "Coruscant's still a junk pile," I said between bites, surprised at the quality of their food. "Sith are still out there last I heard." I thought of Leena, beacon of light in the madness of Byss. "Jedi too." I let the silence linger for a few awkward moments while I chewed a particularly large piece of cheese. Deep down in my gut, I found a little knot loosening. These people had seen Geb. Heck, it looked like he'd worked on most of them. While that wasn't a shade on actually finding the dung-eating nerf herder, it was something. We were closing in. And then we could leave this miserable little world. Right after we... "OH KARKING #$%^@##$ #$@@#$% ON A #$$@%^! I LEFT THE KARKING SPEEDER AT THE KARKING BUILDING!"
  5. I rolled to my feet, fists up and ready to fight. It wasn't really a conscious decision. After catapult wielding bandits, mutant rancors, zombies, floodwaters, and whatever the heck that zabrak thing was, I was a little on edge. I genuinely think I was being rather well composed to have not killed anyone when Rru tackled me into a hidden door that I sincerely hoped was waterproof. It quickly became apparent though that a fight was out of the question. The figures around us were armed with guns, it was a tight corridor, and they were all on one side. This was a shooting gallery, and no amount of training or reflexes was going to stop us from being perforated if they decided to fire. Maybe if one of us were a legendary Jedi, but wishes are like co-pilots in my experience. Great at telling you how things should be, but never helpful. I slowly dropped out of my stance, deliberately taking up a posture more reminiscent of an academy slacker than a trained fighter. Communication through posture was one of the first things you learned from echani fighters, and knowing how to silently tell someone "I'm not a threat, don't shoot me" had saved me more than once. "We're not infected," I said, hoping it would help. To be honest, I wasn't entirely, absolutely, 100% sure that was true. I'd lost sight of the other two a couple times. But that fact didn't sound like something that would keep us from getting shot, so I kept it to myself. Given what we'd seen, I wouldn't have blamed these guys if they shot first and asked questions never. At the very least they didn't seem to be bandits. Then a thought occurred to me, a long shot but better than nothing. "Is Oka Geb here?"
  6. As if getting clotheslined by a rope attached to two speeder bikes, the explosion from the corpse sent me flying. Endless hours of training turned my tumble into a roll, and by some miraculous happenstance I'd been facing away from the corpse when the explosion hit. The vaporized gore blew my coat flat against my body, but didn't touch my skin. I tumbled across the ground before flowing back up to my feet in a single, smooth, practiced motion. Come on monster, I thought, heart pounding in my ears. Give me more. I growled, like actually growled a little, deep in my throat. I doubted the tusken heard it, which was fortunate. He already gave me enough strange looks without adding more reasons. It sounded like the little jawa had found us an escape route, and if Rru was leaving, then so should I. But my blood was up. These things hadn't given me what I was looking for, but by hell they were going to. Instead of running, I pressed forward. It was stupid. I know it was stupid. I knew it when I did it that it was stupid. But I'm kind of stupid. I drove my fist into another body, then another, and another. Crunches, pops, and wet tearing sounds were my rewards, but nothing else. These things weren't afraid of me. I wasn't even sure if there was much in there to begin with. I wasn't driving them back. I wasn't defeating them. I wasn't killing them. There wasn't anything to kill! Just bodies. Horrible, twisted bodies hovering somewhere between alive and dead. I shouted in frustration, and turned to the leader. Its face was pulled into twisted smile. There was something in that one, I was sure. There was a mind in there, and a malice. It wanted us, and I knew I could get my kicks by taking that away from it. I imagined myself, weaving through fire, driving my fists home into its gut, its legs, its chest, and finally its head. It'd be kriffing glorious. I took a step forward. Then, for no reason I could rightly figure beyond my subconscious finally wrestling the controls of my mind away from my bloodthirsty brainstem for a second, I suddenly could smell something awful. It had been there the whole time, and I'd been dimly aware of it, but only now did it come into full focus. It smelled foul, like an animal that had been dying for days mixed with a chemical spill. It made me want to retch, and deep in my mind that stench finally got across what I'd been ignoring this whole time. These things were sick. And they could get me sick. I gritted my teeth, screamed in frustration, then turned and ran away. My durasteel legs ate up the distance, flinging me across the wastes like a charging varactyl. I caught up to the tusken just as he fired his cycler. "Let's go!"
  7. I had the biggest, dumbest, craziest grin plastered over my face. Not because of the fight. No, fighting things like this that didn't know when to die was always somewhere between the experience of spending hours scouring particulate buildup with an old rag and the experience of carrying around a thermal detonator with a faulty trigger. You never knew for sure when one of these monsters was down for good, and you never knew just when one was going to lurch your way for one last surprise. Not knowing if you killed the thing you just turned your back to was stressful as heck. The fire probably wasn't helping either. And while I hadn't spotted Oka Geb among them, that didn't necessarily mean he wasn't here, given how warped they all were. No, I was smiling because of the tusken. The tusken...Rru...was special. I didn't know what it was in particular. Maybe he was a prodigy. Maybe he wasn't your typical humanoid-adjacent species under those robes. Maybe he was enhanced. Heck, maybe he was one of those Force users! But watching him fight, it was clear there was something more than mortal about him. Call it speed, precision, grace, whatever. So many beings out there had the spirit to fight, but couldn't wield their clumsy bodies to match. This, however...this was that savage instinct fully realized. Body and spirit in sync. It was like watching a sunrise through a stained glass window, and I enjoyed every second of it. Then I was among the monsters, and my attention shifted to my own work. This was work, for me at least. I didn't fight with ferocity. I didn't fight with passion. My strength was in skill, in the literal millions of drills I'd performed over my life. It was in an understanding of combat so meticulous that I'd have rivaled any scientist on knowing the minutia of my chosen subject. I'd fought so many, and so many of those fights hadn't even begun to tap into the true potential I'd worked and sacrificed so much to achieve. And these creatures...they weren't worthy of me either. They were dangerous, but not in the way I craved. They were a screaming mob, an unnatural disaster given legs and hands to tear you apart. Killing them was a job of endurance and keeping a calm head for me. But Rru...now that would be a fight. My grin almost split my face as my fists did their jobs. Like jackhammers, they drove into body after body, shattering spines, splattering heads, and pulverizing joints. Each blow was a statement as unyielding as the rotation of the planet. Alright, bad example. Then I saw her. The Zabrak, the one hanging back. She was something special too. Even monsters had queens. "Tusken!" I called, pointing to the Zabrak. "The woman is the leader!"
  8. I smiled as I heard the tusken roar, an echo of the roar of the explosion he'd just created. Someone was having a good time. I had to wonder if he knew he'd just launched an ion torpedo, something designed to disable, not destroy. Of course, that was for starships. As I stared at the crackling light where the brute had been standing a moment ago, I supposed that to flesh and blood the distinction didn't matter. Then I saw the brute lumber out of the smoke and dust. Its skin was blackened ash, its limbs curled and locked in place like an arthritic old man, and its face was twisted into a permanent rictus scream. A wheezing sound that might have been cries of pain or laughter rasped out of its throat, and the sizzling of fat could be faintly heard. Where its eyes had been, traces of blue lightning played across congealing, sizzling jelly. It should have been dead. I hate this place. I sprinted forward. Somehow, the thing could tell I was coming, even though its face looked like some narcotic-saturated art student's postmodern thesis. It twisted towards me, its warped body moving slower than before, skin flaking away like a morbid snowfall with each movement. The thing was dying, it was just being stubborn about admitting it. Give it a minute or two, and this monster would fall to pieces. Problem was that it would reach the building before that, and there was no sense making the tusken waste another round...assuming there was another round to waste. I didn't waste words on the creature. I'm honestly not sure if it could hear anyway. But it definitely knew where I was, as it lumbered towards me with its shoulder lowered in a parody of a tackle. My guess was its arms didn't exactly work anymore after having every nerve fried and the muscles tightened to the tensile consistency of steel cords. I dropped to the ground and rolled to the side, letting the massive thing run past. It turned on its heel more nimbly than should have been physically possible, and brought its foot down towards my back. Only my enhancements saved me, as caught the descending foot with my hands and feet, bracing my body against the ground. Grunting as my ribcage felt like it was flattening out, I shifted the monster's kick to the side, where it cratered into the ground. I brought my arm up, and drove my clenched fist into his knee. With a sickening crunch, the warped, thickened bone shattered. The next few moments couldn't be called a fight. I took the thing apart, bit by bit, blow by blow, until the crumpled and broken body was twitching on the ground, somehow still alive. "Alright...one down." Maybe this hadn't been the best idea.
  9. I took the stairs two at a time, reaching the edge of the roof a second after the tusken. I had no idea what this building had originally been intended for, but it looked like it had been stripped long ago. Or at least, that's what I assumed before Rru found the grenade launcher. I imagined whoever had tried to defend this little island of civilization in a wasteland sea of madness, dying to some beast or abomination, never even getting the chance to fire his weapon. Well, no sense dwelling on hypothetical irony. I dropped to the front of the building, dropping into a crouch as I watched the monstrosity grow larger as it closed the distance. I wasn't going to tangle with that thing up close, not until I saw what it could do. But I could dodge, and keep it distracted long enough for the tusken to line up a shot and work that launcher. Granted, there would be an explosion, but that was a problem to consider later. Alright you ugly hutt spawn, your big. But how nimble are you?
  10. I didn't wait to ask questions. That was how you died in a place like this. If the tusken said they had to go, I had every reason in the galaxy to believe he meant it. I also didn't wait for permission from the jawa. I scooped him up with my left arm, effortlessly hoisting him up onto my shoulder. I grabbed the handlebars of the speeder with my other hand, and I began sprinting after the tusken raider. The cold hit my face first, like dozens of little glass bits digging into my cheeks and ears. The biting chill crawled outward from there, spreading over my skin and burrowing down to my bones. This wasn't sustainable, for several reasons. Obviously, if we kept going this way we'd freeze. But the real problem is we must be getting close to the stormline, the region where the bitter cold and the tenuous warmth met hundreds of feet up in the air. Normally stable, all it took was a slight deviation, a momentary gust to draw that warm air into the cold side, to trigger a storm. I'd never experienced one myself, but I'd seen one from a distance on Troiken when I'd been hunting a particularly slippery Xexto. Granted, a storm like that was normally rare, but with the volcanic activity nearby, and just how much this planet seemed to want anything that wasn't a monster dead, I wasn't willing to bet on our chances. Plus, it might have just been my imagination, but it felt like the wind was picking up... Coming into focus out of the gloom, I spotted the silhouette of a small, blocky building. A simple two-story box, it jutted out of the desolate landscape completely alone. No road led to it, no ruins of other buildings surrounded it. But it looked sturdy, and it was intact. It would have to do. "There!" I shouted, pointing at the building. "We can make a stand! Unless one of you has a better idea!"
  11. I hate hikes. It's the only time I miss my real legs. That probably sounds strange, since most would take mechanical legs to be an improvement in that situation. They don't get tired, they don't get sore, the muscles don't burn with the day's exhaustion... But that's the problem though. I miss that sensation. I get a taste of it when I exercise my core, but nothing quite like the warm ache that comes from hard work. That feeling had been with me my whole life. As a child in the diamond mines, it signified me earning my keep and helping my family. On the cargo ship that became my temporary home, where the jobs that meant our livelihood were scattered, it meant steady work and a cheered crew to go with it. Then in the Echani colony, it had meant training, and a girl finally taking real control over her life for the first time. I'm not one to hide from my own thoughts, and that includes regrets. In my head, I know my choice to take Oka Geb up on his offer was the right one. In my head, I know I'm happier with my enhancements than I ever could have been living in that colony, or on that ship, and definitely happier than in those mines. But still, with no fatigue to distract me, and endless, dragging hours on the road, I had nothing but time to remember what I'd given up. I couldn't help but feel a pang of loss with each mechanical step. I hate hikes. So I was glad when we finally stopped in what looked like a parking lot. I paused, thinking before I answered. "This is a dying world that never dies," I finally said. "There's a disease here. They call it the Howling. It's what turned that beast we saw into a monster. It's spread by physical contact, but since you two seem to favor full body coverings and I rarely touch anything with my bare skin anymore, I'd say were safe for the time being." I took a bite out of the ration bar, chewing without passion. After I'd swallowed, I continued. "As for Oka...you gotta understand he's not exactly normal, even for a profession that involves cutting body parts off and welding metal in their place. He doesn't do it to learn, or to help, or to advance science or medicine or anything like that. He does it because he actually enjoys it." I held up my arm. "When he volunteered to do this to me, he was excited. And when he was done, he was...proud. Since then his tastes have only gotten more exotic." I gestured to the devastated landscape around us. "He volunteered to come to this hellscape, and he didn't do it out of compassion for the locals. He wanted to see what he could make with monsters as his canvas. The Howling creates unique biology in those it infects. Endless novelty for him to tinker with. Last I heard he was uninfected and traveling with a caravan, bartering medical services for supplies and protection. He's stuck in a pressure suit as his species always is in this kind of atmosphere, so he may still be uncontaminated, but who knows? I'm here to pay him back for what he did for me. Even if he doesn't think I owe him, I do, and I don't like being in debt." I paused, thinking back to that last, static-filled message he'd sent. "He mentioned he was working on making bio-transplants, using the infected beasts here for raw materials. That should tell you all you need to know about him." I watched the tusken leave. I didn't know much about his culture, but his stance made it clear he wished to be left alone. So long as he was careful and didn't stray too far, it was fine I supposed. Honestly he seemed the best equipped to survive out here out of all of us.
  12. I didn't look at the jawa as I examined the outside of The Crate. All things considered, it wasn't that bad. Although, I suppose for this situation, anything short of being totaled wouldn't be considered "that bad." Still, the antique had gotten off easy. The starboard stabilizer had just slipped a few teeth in the gear assemblage, which was leagues easier to fix than if it had bent cracked. The paint job was gouged to heck and back, and the front of the ship had acquired a blackened, sooty tinge where the beast's fire had roiled over it. I could probably take off and land with just the instruments, but if we had time I'd prefer to at least get the viewport cleaned off. "Oka Geb is a mechanic," I said, opening up a panel on the rear underside of the ship to check one of the fuel lines. Intact, good. I help up one of my arms and spun it at the elbow. "He put these on me. Didn't ask for pay, so I owe him." I paused, then added, "...also, yes. This place is best left alone." I have to admit, I wasn't ecstatic at the idea of leaving The Crate behind. That ship wasn't just my home, it was my lifeline. Whenever things got bad, it got me out. You could just take off and leave whatever problem that had latched onto you behind. A part of me was tempted to just get onboard now. But Oka Geb was my friend. I didn't have a lot of those. And I did owe him. "Alright, just a second." I jogged back into The Crate, and stuffed a pack with emergency rations, tarps and ropes for a portable shelter, and a water tank. We probably wouldn't be out there that long but... Yeah, I'd be surprised if this place didn't try to kill us twice in one day. I tied the pack to the top of the speeder bike, and pulled it out of the ship with me, the bike's repulsorlifts letting it act as a sort of hovering sledge. I could just walk beside it and pull it along. "Enough for five days," I said, "if we're careful." I turned back to Kiv's droid, Meepo. "If something comes, you can lock the ship from the inside. If it won't leave you alone, push the button wired under the dash and hold it for three seconds. Should scare it off. Don't push it unless you need to." The button was actually wired to a faulty sub-alternator. It was an original part of the ship from back in the Clone Wars, but with the way the Republic had built their military ships to take a beating, the entire component had been built directly into The Crate's frame. Taking it out would have basically involved cutting up the entire ship, so I'd cobbled together a replacement from newer, more efficient parts and just built around it. So the original was still there, just deadweight helping to hold the old hunk of junk together. Activating it with the button would cause the whole ship to shake like there was a moonquake outside, the lights would flare from the slight power surge, and an unholy grinding sound would rumble out of the chassis. I'd had to use it before, and the best way I could describe the sound was to imagine if half a dozen banthas with operatic training all had gastrointestinal distress simultaneously. "Lead on."
  13. I hate this planet. That was the thought running through my head as I extracted myself from the pile of emergency rations, cybernetic parts, assorted junk, and an empty turbine lubricant canister that I was coming to find hadn't been entirely empty after all. I groaned. My head felt like stirred soup, everything blending into everything else, big chunks spinning round and round and round and... Sighing, I dropped to the...wall. I groaned again, this time in frustration. Of course The Crate was on its side. Probably knocked the starboard stabilizers out of alignment when it happened. I had no proof of that, it just felt like one of those days. "It's dead?" I asked, my voice slurring a little. That probably wasn't good. I might have a concussion, but I couldn't seem to find it in myself to care. That also probably wasn't good. Instead, I gave the little jawa a thumbs up, and lurched to the controls. The lights were flickering, and half a dozen warnings were competing for attention, but a quick glance over told me none of them were anything that would ground us. I had been right about the starboard stabilizer, but I could compensate until I got The Crate somewhere I could work on it. First thing's first. I tapped the controls, and the ship's repulsorlifts hummed to life. There was a screech of scraping metal, and then a sudden lurch as the ship righted itself. With another tap on the controls, the ship gently dropped back to the ground. I stepped out of the ship, and saw the tusken heading for the beast. "Hey! When you're done there, think you'd be up for some tracking?" I hadn't given up on Oka Geb. If he was still alive, then I was going to find him.
  14. I grinned fiercely and jabbed my spear into the air as I saw the rest of the skiffs peeling away, the heatwave of a nearby explosion warming my face. We'd run them off! Now I just had to clear that kriffing dust off the ship, run a diagnostics, and we should be good to go. If I was going to search for Oka Geb (and hopefully he was still alive), I'd rather do it from the air. Then I noticed that the heat from the explosion hadn't faded. As I turned, banking the speeder, I didn't comprehend what I was looking at. The thing was massive. It was shaped like a rancor, but karking heck it was bigger than any rancor I'd ever seen! I was reminded why I'd avoided this planet. I saw where it was headed. "NO YOU DON'T!!!" I screamed. It was obvious what it was after. It wanted The Crate, my ship, and I'd be torn to bloody pieces before I let that thing have it! Granted I didn't know how to stop it, but I'd think of something. Or I'd die. So that was the start of a plan. I rocketed back towards the ship, the heat growing more intense with every second. Sweat poured down my face, but as I blinked a salty from my eyes, I saw the tusken laying mines down. That wouldn't do anything other than make it... ...Angry. I laughed. A quiet, nervous laugh. Maybe it was the heat baking my brain. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Or maybe the planet itself was just making me crazy. But I had another idea. Another really bad idea. Now I had a plan. I sped along the ground and shouted at the tusken as I did. "Make it mad!!!" I shouted. There wasn't time to elaborate further. I rode my speeder bike so fast into the cargo hold that I almost wrecked, braking just before I hit the opposite wall. I dug through one of the emergency supply stashes I kept under the seats, and pulled out three long, thin cylinders colored bright orange. Signal flares. I ran back outside, twisted the ends of each, and held them up in one hand. Brilliant white light poured from them, enough of a piercing glare to be seen from miles up if needed. And the beast certainly noticed. I lumbered forward faster, and I ducked back inside, step one accomplished. I needed its attention, for it to see me as a living thing and not just some tin can to crack open. Now I just needed it spitting mad. A muffled boom from outside told me that the tusken had started accomplishing part two of the plan, whether he knew it or not. I don't know if he got out of the way, and at the moment I wouldn't be much help to him if he hadn't. A second muffled boom signaled the titanic rancor had stepped on another mine, and a rumbling growl that drown out the echoing explosion was all I needed to hear to know that the creature was pissed. Come on. Come on! Do it you lizard from hell! A third boom, and then a fourth in quick succession was the only warning I had that the thing had picked up speed. It had seen me, and then it had hurt itself, and I suspected it was putting two and two together to blame me for that series of events. I braced myself. If I'd gotten this wrong, I was going to be one very dead arkanian. The Crate shuddered, grinding against the stone as something made it shift. Then, it began to tilt. I was only confused for a moment, as the rancor's face came into view in front of the cockpit. Even though The Crate was as long as this thing was tall, it was still managing to lift the front of the ship up in its massive arms and peer inside. And it saw me. And apparently the tusken had done his job exceptionally. The creature roared, a sound that seemed to shatter the world and left my ears ringing. Then it belched fire. A heatwave passed through the ship as the outside of the cockpit was enveloped in a firestorm. The Crate wasn't some cheap civilian transport, it was a military ship designed to handle reentry without shields in a pinch. But even so, the heat was turning the inside into an oven. Pleaseworkpleaseworkpleaseworkpleasework I repeated the mantra in my head as I struggled to keep my eyes on the control panel while not looking directly at the conflagration outside. Because I knew something the monster didn't. The dust that disabled my ship was magnetically clinging to the hull. And magnets stopped working when they got hot. With a fitful start, the control panel lit up. Maybe the creature sensed the change, or maybe it was pure coincidence, but it stopped disgorging its inferno at the same time, peering into the ship to see if it had killed the irritant. I stared back at it, grinning like mad. "Hi." I fired the guns.
  15. I hauled on the hand clutch, banking left as the skiff behind me opened fire. It looked as though I had gotten their attention. I'd never fought ganks personally, but a gungan enforcer for a tax collection agency on a big multi-asteroid mining complex had told me about them once. Coincidentally, we'd both been getting plastered on the local rotgut booze they served miners to make them forget troublesome ideas like "union" or "protest" or "standard safety protocol". As two fellow experts on how to hurt people without permanently ruining them for a client, we had gotten to talking. I dont know how a Naboo rural like him had gotten out to one of the armpits of the galaxy, and I hadn't thought to ask. He told me "Ganks are tricksy ones. Deysa always come in packs right? Yoosa hit one, it's like kickin over a buzzgrub nest. Dey all over yoosa, and when dey done with ya, dey bury yoosa where no one finds ya. But da real spooky part? Dont talk. Dey all *tink* at each other. Gives meesa da willies. So if yoosa club one of dose bombad killers, you better have enough clubs for all of dem." I distinctly remember he'd stopped talking at that moment to throw up. I dont know how he'd gotten fresh fish way out there, but after that I wasnt far behind in emptying my stomach on the bar floor. So these guys were telepaths or something huh? That could be trouble. A good vehicle crew was one that could coordinate wordlessly between gunner and driver, and it sounded like these guys had a leg up on the competition. So trying to dodge their fire over a chase was a bad idea. I could corner and try to get behind them but that might... I smiled as an idea came to me. It was a reckless, awful idea that would only work with talent and a lot of luck, and would be legendary if I pulled it off. My favorite kind. As I weaved back and forth through the skiff's potshots, we came up on a smooth expanse of ground, some kind of volcanic plain. I glanced back at the skiff. It was riding high, its repulsorlift probably cranked up to avoid rubble. I stopped weaving for a second, and the skiff lined up behind me, no doubt lining up a killing shot. I killed my engine. As I did, I learned back as hard as I could. With a crunchy clang, the bottom of my speeder skipped off the smooth plain, rapidly slowing. And then the skiff passed me over, bottom bare inches from my head. Grinning I cranked the motor. Nothing happened. Cursing, I pumped the clutch rapidly, my speeder skipping off the ground again, this time with a much louder grinding sound. My stomach coiled around my spine as my speeder refused to start. Then, mercifully, it roared to life and lifted back up off the ground. I whooped wildly as I accelerated towards the skiff now ahead of me. It was banking hard, likely trying to turn around and see what the kriff had just happened. For a moment it looked like I would die in a fireball by T-boning something six times the size of my own vehicle. At the last second I gave my own repulse control a quick flick, an old swoop gang trick to force a jump. My speeder leapt a few feet into the air as my repulsorlift cycled, and I rocketed up one side of the skiff on off the other. My spear lanced out as I did, taking the gunner in the armpit and sending him over the edge with his arm hanging by half a shoulder. I whooped even louder, nothing but adrenaline and glory in my brain.
  16. "Come on, come on!!!" I shouted. I tapped the controls futilely, but only received a weak flicker in response. Whatever magnetic, electro-pulse, magic metal ore they had hit The Crate with, it was still interfering with the system. My ship was dead in the water. "KARKING KRIFFING---" I let loose a string of curses that only someone who'd lived with transgalactic cargo haulers could have produced. I only vaguely noticed that the rest of my passengers weren't around to hear. Either dead or out fighting, if the sounds coming from outside the ship were to be of any gauge. I was mad. Really mad. Really, really karking mad. Not for being outwitted by a bunch of mouth-breathing, grime-slurping, dung-eating bandits. No, I'd been outwitted before. No bounty hunter who's actually done something with their career hasn't had that one unlucky shot take them down, or that one idiot mark just dumb enough to be clever. The sign of a quality bounty hunter was if you survived that shot, that idiot. No, I was mad for a different reason. I didn't have a lot that I held onto in this life. I'd let go of my homeworld a long time ago, emotionally anyway. The original crew that raised me? I loved 'em, but I hadn't talked to them in years. The echani colony? I wouldn't be welcome back there in my lifetime, and honestly I was ok with that. I had the whole galaxy to roam in. But The Crate? The Crate was *mine*. These scumbags had broken my ship. And I was going to kill them for it. I leapt out of my seat, and moved back towards the rear of the ship, and the cargo. _______________________________________________________________ The rear of the ship fell open with a slam. Not enough power to actually open it, so I'd been forced to crank the manual release and let the ramp freefall. I sat on the back of the (slightly used) Joben T-85 speeder bike. My left hand was clamped firmly on the bike's hand clutch. My right hand held the spear I'd picked up on Felucia, gripping it near the bottom so it jutted forward like a lance. These hooligans wanted to ride around whooping it up like kids on their first nerf ride? Fine. Let's whoop it up. With a roar (that probably meant I should check the fuel recycler), the bike rocketed out of The Crate's belly. A fierce smile broke over my face, the kind I had right before I socked some overconfident thug right in his smug gut. Piloting instincts kicked in, feeling out the speeder bike like it was a starship, and I banked towards one of the skiffs. From the looks of things, they were having a bad time of it. One skiff was already nose down in the rubble, a smoking wreck. And... Geez, were those guys on fire? How did they manage that? I didn't have any more time to think as I sidled up along one of the remaining skiffs, spear in hand. My guess was the pilot, if he had seen me, hadn't looked closely enough or taken the time to realize that not every fast moving vehicle on the field was a friendly. I accelerated, and swept the tip of the spear towards one of the crew of the skiff who was firing ineffectually with a rifle from the juddering vehicle. The spear tip cut straight through the boot and dug into his foot, and with a scream of shock and pain the man stumbled back...right over the railing. Now I had the pilot's attention. "COME ON!" I screamed, letting the thrill take me, and peeled away, goading the skiff into abandoning its attack on the ship to chase me.
  17. In the space above the tidally locked Glasignis, The Crate dropped out of hyperspace. I looked out of the viewport, down onto the hellscape below. One side was scorched clean, while the other deep frozen. A nightmarish place to live. Just right for a half-crazy cyberneticist. "All right Oka Geb...where are you?" I muttered to myself, dialing up his private comm recognition code. A light on the dash blinked, confirming that my signal was active. If Oka was still alive, his receiver would pick up my signal, and he could respond. A few minutes passed. Then... Bing! I frowned. No message, just a tracking signal. It was in the Twilight Ring, near the equator. A good distance away from the ruins of any major settlement, but closer to Emberpits than I would have liked. Could at least take a look. Nothing on this planet could damage The Crate. It wasn't that my ship was just that tough (though it was), it's that no tech capable of knocking it out of the sky survived down there. The old ship cut through the atmosphere, breaking through the cloud cover and descending over a wasteland. Dusty, windswept barrens dominated the landscape, with patches of strangely colored life dotted here and there. The dust itself had an ugly, unnatural ochre tinge to it. I curled my lip. I really hated this place. The signal came from just up ahead, and I began to get worried. I should be able to see the caravan by now. That's when I saw them. Marauders. Outlaws. Even from this distance, it was easy to distinguish them from actual caravaneers. One, this particular band seemed to have a real penchant for skulls. As in, every square inch of their two hover skiffs that wasn't needed for function had animal and humanoid skulls dangling from ropes. Two, they were whooping and waving rifles in the air, not the sort of behavior you'd see from your usually cautious Glasignis traveler. What are they even doing? It was clear to me what they had done. Somehow they'd gotten Oka Geb's communicator, saw my signal, and lured me down here with a fake response. My grip tightened on the controls, as I considered that Oka might be dead. Marauders sometimes kept skilled caravaneers alive to service them, but not always... Alright you little savages, let me show you what real weapons can do... Power level gauges on the control panel lit up as the four medium laser cannons charged. I fired. The result was immediate. Marauders scattered as red blaster fire lanced down into their ranks, their cocky attitude evaporating. Apparently their leader had better foresight, because the skiffs immediately started moving off and away, evidence that they'd been primed and ready to go. But then why be out in the open at all? My proximity indicator light alerted me to a new target. I spun the ship around. Another skiff? And this one had the leader, if that ridiculous nerf skull helmet was anything to go by. It also had... Was that a catapult? I barely had time to process what was happening when what was indeed a crude catapult fired its payload. I jerked on the controls, but I was too close. The projectile glanced off my port wing and dissolved into...dust? No, not dust...metal filings, that clung to the hull. Alarms blared as simultaneous power failures were suddenly detected. "Karking clever git!" I shouted in furious frustration. The nose of The Crate tipped down as it began to lose altitude. I didn't know what was in those metal filings, but it was playing havoc with the main power flow. "Hold on!" I shouted to the passengers. I managed to barely level us out as we came in for a crash landing. The last I saw of the skiff was it rocketing towards our soon-to-be crash site.
  18. I arched an eyebrow at the little jawa. Oddly enough, he'd come through. And not in a small way. "Yeah," I said. "We load up, and we're out." _______________________________________________ I sat in the cockpit, cords dangling from the ceiling and hooked into my cybernetics waving back and forth as my hands moved over the controls. I usually didn't like charging while I worked, but I wanted to make sure my power cells were absolutely topped off before we hit our destination. No telling what would be waiting for us there. Well, that wasn't exactly true. I knew it wouldn't be anything good. "Takeoff!" I called back to The Crate's passengers. With a roar of thrusters, the old, repurposed ship of the Republic fleet nosed up and off the planet's surface. Breaking through the clouds, the indicator blinked on that we were safely outside the gravity well. "Here we go," I muttered. The Crate disappeared into hyperspace. (Continued on Glasignis)
  19. I stumbled off of the dead dianoga, head pounding, waiting for the adrenaline spike to go down. This was a big one, it would take a minute. It didin't take long to realize that my companions had survived their encounter with the other beast, and I'll admit I was a little surprised. The tusken, sure, I fully expected him to survive. He was the kind of guy that would break a dragon's tooth, to borrow an arkanian saying. But the jawa? Well, maybe I was being a bit harsh. Rodents had their own ways of ensuring they didn't get stepped on. ___________________ I looked over the crates. With my finger, I started ticking off what I thought might be needed by a caravan on that hellscape of world. Portable shelters, certainly. Weapons? Better keep to the simple ones, none of that high tech nonsense. Slug throwers, basic blasters, and anything with an edge. Air and water filters definitely. Couldn't get enough of those things where we were going. My eyes landed on one large box, easily the size of a human body. Frowning, I scrubbed the grime off the label. My eyes widened. A smile crept across my face. I pointed down at the crate. "This. We'll need this." The label read [JOBEN T-85 SPEEDER BIKE]
  20. I only caught a glimpse of the second creature moving towards the jawa before the flailing of the tentacle that held me turned everything into a blur again. I honestly found myself hoping the little guy would be alright and somehow make it out. Not sure what came over me. Might just be all the blood rushing to my head. CRACK!!! The sound of the gunshot echoed wildly through the water-filled tunnel. I wasn't sure what the tusken had hit with his long rifle, but whatever it was it made the dianoga holding my recoil in pain. For just a brief moment, it held me still as it cringed. And that was enough. I bent at the waist and wrapped my metal fingers around the slimy, slippery tentacle. It was too wide for my hands to close around it completely, and so slick it would slide out of my grip the second the creature started moving. However, I knew one thing the creature didn't. Grip is friction, and friction is just slipperiness vs force. It had slipperiness, but I had force. My fingers tightened like vices, and the rubbery flesh indented, and then tore as my hands made their own holds in the creature's cartilaginous limb. As my metal digits embedded themselves in the tentacle, the dianoga gave something of a moan that clearly denoted pain, and its grip on my leg instinctively tightened. It began shaking me, aggressively this time, like a child waving their arm when they find a spider crawling up it. Even as my head swam, my hands did not let go. Instead, they began to twist. With a tearing noise, I twisted the tentacle in two, and dropped down. I only briefly registered the boom and accompanying flash of light of the tusken firing another shot as I dropped down onto my own dianoga. The tunnel wasn't deep, and it didn't realize yet that it needed to run. Fine by me. I landed on its head, and the killing instinct took me, the instinct that bypassed all thought when I was in a fight for my life, and separated everything into Need to Kill and Don't Need to Kill. With a brutality that didn't even slightly resemble my echani training, I extended my armblades as I landed feet first on the dianoga's bulk, and began driving them into the slimy meat again and again and again.
  21. Gross...gross...gross... The word ran through my head in a silent mantra. The squelching, the slime, and the stink, all conspired to tickle my gag reflex. I focused as hard as I could on just not throwing up, if for no other reason than to not embarass myself in front of my new partners. That's why I didn't notice what was swimming behind us. I saw the tusken climb up onto a pathway that I had completely missed in the gloom. That tusken had sharp eyes or something, because even seeing him clamber up onto it, I still could barely make it out. I reached out for the path, but jerked to a stop a few inches from it, my foot caught in a particularly sucky spot. I yanked my foot up, but whatever I was stuck in didn't come loose. I jerked again, and kicking, but still the weight that had settled on my foot remained. I turned to pull my foot out from whatever had snagged me by hand, when I saw the shadows swirling through the water. At that point, I came to a sudden realization. I wasn't stuck. I was grabbed. No sooner had I realized this fact then the creature decided to play with its new toy. I found myself suddenly lifted straight up out of the muck and dangling by my foot in the air, being waved back and forth like a toddler with a new doll. I made several grabs for the tentacle, but the rapid shaking threw me off just enough to keep me from getting a grip. "HEY!" I called out, not sure what they'd do but hopeful they could do something.
  22. The downside of brawls when you're actually good at fighting is that they don't last long. Sure, it's fun to punch big, tough, thugs in the ego, but once people understand that you are actually dangerous they tend to back off. Or double down with blasters. Either way, the fun is over pretty quick. I suppose that's why bar brawls are the best. Nothing suppresses a creature's survival instinct like alcohol, and if you get them good and mad they'll just keep coming. I grimaced. I hated sewers. With a passion. With a raw, unbridled passion. It wasn't the smell necessarily. It was the work afterwards. The long tedious work. As it turns out, you can't just power wash cybernetics the same way you take a shower. No matter how careful you are, that stink and filth gets in every little crack and crevice and joint and sits there for weeks. You had to take apart every single piece and clean it separately just to get rid of that stench. But...getting into a firefight with law enforcement really didn't sound like a good idea either. A bounty hunting license would probably get me in more trouble than not here. No legitimate bounty to track, so I'd be seen as a violent thug who let loose for the fun of it. Which, to be fair... I stopped next to a sewer grate, and wrenched it off. "Alright...let's go."
  23. As I followed the jawa Kiv through the city, I began to consider his companion. I made it my business to read people. Well, not their likes of dislikes and stuff. Or their temperments. Or really their personalities in general. What I meant was I knew how to read how dangerous a person was. And this tusken was dangerous. He walked with the kind of energy and stance that said Hi, if you cross me I'll skin you, fold your skin into a hat, and look dang proud of myself wearing it. Not a bad person to have around, so long as they stayed on task, and a heap of trouble if they went off book. I'm mixing my metaphors, and maybe I was just being a little paranoid, but having two of those kinds of people hanging around together seemed like a recipe for trouble, and the jawa probably wouldn't help matters. I'll admit it, I felt a little nauseous at the sight of that blue, furry face. I don't like squibs. Shoot me for it. "Alright," I said. "I'm looking for food packs, air purifiers, and water purifiers. As many as you can, don't care if they're used." I thought for a second. "Except for the food packs. Those need to be unused," I added. What in the- Did someone actually start a barfight? Deep down, I knew what had happened before I even saw the two bouncers standing in front of that brown bedecked murder man. Great, I thought, and I honestly couldn't tell if I was exasperated or excited. It was a very odd feeling. I turned to look back at the squib. "Don't make me track you down," I said, wagging a metal finger like a disapproving mother. I walked towards the two Abyssians, while the tusken swung that club of his while shuffling through the puddles of blood and teeth on the floor. Quickest (and most fun) way to end this I figured was to put down the biggest guys in the bar and clear a path for me, the tusken, the jawa, and our contact to leave. That those guys happened to be the bouncers was pure happenstance. It also occurred to me as I walked over that I could have just left the tusken alone. I didn't need to get involved. I could have just covered the squib and finished our business. Ah, screw it. How often did you get the chance to fight Abyssians? No one could take a punch and keep on swinging like those cyclopes? "Hey," I said, coming up behind the bouncer holding the rifle of the drunk. Then, with a quick chop, I cut down with my hand into the gun, knocking it to the ground, and with two swift punches I down the drunk and got the bouncer good and mad. I grinned.
  24. In the skies above Bothawui, The Crate dropped out of hyperspace. In the cockpit, a single alarm blared. I grumbled to myself, fumbling under the control panel until my metal fingers closed on what I was looking for. With a yank, I pulled out a metal cylinder. The alarm died away. Last time I buy a pressure reader from a swap meet. "We're here!" I called out.
  25. I mostly ignored the little jawa's chatter as I booted the ship up. Flip the switches for the thruster primers, cycle on the gravity generator, flip the switches again because there's always one primer that doesn't catch the first time. When Kiv brought up price, I nodded while I booted up the nav computer. "I've got some good pay from my last few jobs. Plus some salvage to make up the difference," I said while absentmindedly waving my hand towards the clutter near the rear of the ship. "If either of you are hungry, there's a footlocker with rations under the seats on the port side." As I did, I hit the ignition, and The Crate hummed to full power. "Strap in. And say goodbye." The Crate lifted off and ascended into the sky.
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