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Zeris Mons

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  1. 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!"
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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!"
  5. 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.
  6. 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."
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. "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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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)
  13. 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]
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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."
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Squib. Of course it had to be a squib. "No," I said, flatly. "You're collateral. You come with me. If your friend wants to come, that's his decision." I crossed my arms, and they scraped unpleasantly as I did. Anything I got for free, even information, was worthless without guarantee, especially from this little jawa, considering it looked like I just helped rescue him from a previous business partner. I wasn't about to hand bad equipment to Oka, so making sure this little info broker was being straight with me was a personal matter. Plus, if this turned out to be bad info, I could punt the jawa a lot farther than his friend. "Now come on," I said, moving to lead the jawa back to The Crate.
  21. I'll admit I panicked more than a little when that power box turned weapon managed to right itself. It got worse when I realized it was powering up to blow. So when it dropped, stunned by the jawa's ionization blaster, it took me a moment to get my bearings. Not a lot throws me for a loop, but after headless plant monsters, evil trees, Imperial Knights, Jedi, and now random infobrokers, Saber-cats, a hutt crime lord, and a tricked out gonk droid, I think I can say I was thoroughly off balance. After a moment, I realized the fighting was over. The remaining Saber-cats were contenting themselves with their new meals, the hutt's cronies either were those meals or long gone, and the hutt himself was...not a concern. I slid over to lean against the wall, and breathed. My heart was pounding in my ears, and as the adrenaline slowly faded my skin was left tingling. I took long, deep breaths, savoring the sensation. The local was crying out, the mandalorian in his arms, and I could feel the emotion he felt, even as a stranger. And yet, the only emotion I could dredge up was...satisfaction. And anticipation. I was an addict. There really wasn't any point in denying it. And I've never been able to muster up enough of a reason to not feed that addiction. I know that sounds bad, and I guess it is, in a way. In my line of work, and in the circles I fly in, life expectancy over middle-age is a luxury, not a guarantee. I'd always assumed I'd die doing something stupid, a smile on my face and my heart pounding in my ears. Then I'd be one more corpse in a galaxy full of them, and that'd be it. But at that moment, listening to the howl of the tusken over his fallen companion, I began to wonder if maybe I was missing something. And if I was...was it worth giving up what I had to get it? As I sat there, my mind roaming over the connections I'd made and left behind in my life, I alighted onto one in particular. You see, I hadn't actually had a plan for when I found this "magnificent" Kiv. I'd jumped into the situation for another chance at excitement, and maybe a chance at some info on some new bounties. But now that I was feeling all reminiscent, a square metal face popped into my head, pulled up out of memory. A face I owed, big time. Oka Geb, the skakoan cybernetics engineer who'd taught me everything I knew about the subject, and who'd installed my own for demonstration. I didn't know anyone else in the galaxy who'd cut off a 16 year old girl's perfectly healthy arms and replace them with mechanical replicas, or who'd do it pro bono. I owed that man, and when I'd last seen him he hadn't been in the best of situations. He'd been stuck on a nightmare planet, condemned to stay there for the rest of his life, and perpetually running low on everything he'd need to survive. I looked over at the jawa. "Hey Kiv!" I called out. "Your droid promised your services. Where can I get good quality survival gear? In bulk?" I thought for a second, before adding, "...cheap?"
  22. Wait, did he just call that droid BoomBox? That was the only thought I had time for before the sound of clanking metal accompanied me flying through the air to smash against the rear wall. As it turns out, the combat predictive algorithms of ocular cybernetics are a bit stumped when it comes to FREAKING GONK DROIDS laying out a surprise arsenal. Go figure. While the repulsors kept me pinned against the wall, a past job surprisingly popped into my head. It had been a simple job to arrest a devaronian weasel who'd managed to con over 500 people out of their life savings with a ridiculous cruise opportunity, and had had the misfortune of his latest victim being the son of a muun banking administrator. It should have been a simple grab and go, but the little imp had somehow gotten his hands on two actual B2 super battle droids. Me, unaware of this fact, had found myself pinned down by automatic blaster fire on a hotel balcony while my payday scurried towards the turbolift. This gonk droid thing's boxy waddle and overkill arsenal reminded my so much of that sticky situation, that an idea immediately occurred to me. You see, big and nasty droids like this often have the same weakness. A blind spot if you will. Using the force of the repulsor and my strong, cybernetic limbs, I crabwalked up the wall and leapt away as soon as I was out of the repulsor field's area of effect, landing feet first on top of this "BoomBox". You see, overbuilt, boxy droids like these often have a very hard time looking up. Guess there are some disadvantages to not having a neck. I almost...almost...punched through the things metal plated top, but thought twice about it when I remembered I was literally standing on a power generator. Well, this thing didn't have arms, so... I jumped off, kicking with my feet to knock the thing off balance and onto its side. As I landed, I turned and looked at the jawa. "YOU!" I shouted, both in frustration and exhilaration. "I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!"
  23. Great. Animals. Like I haven't had enough of those by now. Then things got interesting. The sound of blaster fire echoed up through the vent, mixed with the loud fwump's of incendiary grenades. I picked out the sounds of a holdout blaster and what sounded like a rifle of some kind spraying their energized death through the room. The smart thing would have been to not jump into the middle of a firefight. Anyway, I cracked open the vent with sharp blow from my left elbow, and dropped onto the hutt's head. Rather than try to maintain my perch, I slid down his slimy back. I doubted I would get better cover than this mountain of blubber, and I had to hope the jawa was slippery enough to avoid getting mauled in the seconds it would take for me to evaluate the situation. Particle fields around the feeding pit. Pissed off hutt. Scummy lowlifes, no real fighters among them. Saber cats. And a mandalorian and...a local? The heck? Plus side, the odd pair seemed to be having a wonderful time killing the cats. Downside, I had no idea what they intended for my little target, and given my incredibly brief association with the rodent, I doubted he had a lot of friends willing to risk their lives for him. In the second or two it took to evaluate the situation by peeking out from around the bulk of the greasy crimelord, I also noticed the controls on his gonk droid. "Pardon," I said, moving past the hutt and reaching for the controls, dancing out of the criminal's reach as I fiddled with the controls, trying to find some way to lower the particle barrier.
  24. I eyed the vent. It was surprisingly clean, none of that rust or gunky buildup you usually see. Clean priests I guessed. "If I die in a vent... He had really better be worth it." Now, I did consider just taking the stairs. It'd be risky, but it wouldn't be the first time I'd gone the direct route. In fact it'd probably be the closest thing I had to a MO at this point. But...and this sounds silly...I'd never actually gone through a vent system before. I know it sounds ridiculous when I just put that out there, but it was true. I'd never had the opportunity to crawl through ductwork in a situation where it would actually be a viable strategy. I'd always thought it would come up at some point, and if I was being honest with myself I kind of wanted to do it. Sure, that was probably the end result of way too many holovids on long cargo runs with a bunch of rough Outer Rimmers, but the little girl in me really, really wanted to peel that grate off and wiggle through. Painting a look of resigned frustration on my face, I looked both ways, wrenched off the grating, and squirmed inside. The first thing to hit was the smell. It was so musty I had to concentrate not to choke and gag. After that, I started crawling through, feeling my way ahead until I found what I assumed was the dropoff that led to the next level. Alright, just do it gently...
  25. "...He makes you say that, doesn't he?" A brief pang of sympathy for the droid flickered through me. I'd dealt with puffed up bosses before, and unlike me this droid didnt have the hands to cave their face in when they stepped on that last nerve. Fine...I'd already "bought the hangar" so to speak, I might as well take the ship that went with it, as smelly as it might be. Besides, my last deal with a small, hairy, fast talking rodent had gone...reasonably well. "Alright. He better be worth it." I was already doubting he was. The droid hadn't even promised hard credits, just information and "services". Well, if this guy was some kind of info broker, he might be able to point me in the direction of some bounties on this dust choked oven of a planet. I couldnt be the only one who'd thought a remote little world like this would be a good place to hole up. Worst came to worse, I could dunk the little gremlin in a tank of soap water and leave, paid in full for my work with the good, warm feelings I'd get from that. Now I kinda hoped he didn't hold up his end. _________________________ After one quick scaling up the side of the monastery, and the droid leading me to the hole its master had presumably used (I swear I could still smell him), I was inside. And this...was not a monastery. This was a chop shop. Half disassembled speeder bikes hung from the ceiling in chains. Burly men and women of about a dozen different species sweated and grunted as they cut through metal and pulled out the guts of the vehicles I'm positive had not been acquired legally. A twinge of nostalgia welled up for a moment, happy times spent crawling over excavator engines and digging through scrap heaps semi covered in snow playing out in my head before I sent them packing to the back of my brain. Time to be going. "HEY!!!" A deep, phlegmy voice boomed over the racket of the work stations. "NEW GIRL! GET OVER HERE AND HOIST THIS THING!" I glanced towards the source of the noise to find a large chevin beckoning me over. Im pretty sure he was angry, although with that much face it was hard to read his expression. I complied, which might seem odd given I'd flattened the side of a guard's skull a few minutes ago for just stepping on me, but the difference was that now I was on the job. Professionalism was key, and I could use the practice. Plus it was easier than dealing with the racket he might make if I ignored him. "This," as it turned out was a modified swoop bike that looked like it had more thrusters bolted on than some starfighters. It was a miracle it was in one piece, and not spread over the course of a mile along with the galaxy's longest red stain. The chevin was trying to hoist it down onto a workbench, and struggling with the monstrosity's criminal lack of proper weight distribution. I took the other end, and after a moment's wrestling and a few choice, muttered words, we got it down. "Thanks," he said, wiping his brow with an oily cloth. "Yeah," I said, not sure what else to add. "So...boss, I gotta-" "Shove off it, i know you dont work for me." My expression must have been telling, because he chuckled and elaborated. "Lady, you're pale as bone and wearing a black overcoat on a planet with two suns. A short circuited gonk droid could tell you were an offworlder." "Then...why-" "I needed a hand." His gaze narrowed. "But I dont need trouble. So you came in the front door, agreed?" A smile crept onto my face at the cantankerous foreman's guff. I nodded. He thumbed towards the rear wall. "Stairs are over there." I nodded once more, and left him to his work. Alright...let's find that "magnificent" jawa.
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