Star Wars: Treasure of the Force – Ch 16

Ayli watched Nix’s eyes finally flicker open and a vise that happen been cranked around her heart finally let go.

Then she noticed the startled look in Nix’s eyes.

Which was followed immediately by a scowl.

Nix was angry?

“Ravas,” Nix said. “You will get your hand off my wife, or I will find a way to feed you to a hyperdrive, ghost or no.”

It wasn’t the most confusing thing Nix could have said after waking from the bizarre coma she’d been in, but it was in the running for the Top Three.

“Nix are you…” Ayli started to ask as Nix propped herself up on her right around and extended her left arm towards Ayli.

Or, not exactly towards Ayli. Just a little to the side of Ayli.

“Like this,” Ayli said, as though she was replying to a conversation Ayli wasn’t a part of.

There was a crash from behind Ayli and, whirling to see what had happened, Ayli saw the metal wall had gained a new dent in it. The dent was an inch or so deep and in the rough outline of a humanoid form.

“Uh, what just…?” Ayli started to ask before Nix cut her own by wrapping her in a fierce hug.

“You’re okay!” Nix said.

Again, strange.

“I don’t think you get to be the one to say that,” Ayli said with a laugh. The world had gone mad, but for the first time in days that wasn’t pissing her off.

It was probably the hug.

Nix gave really nice hugs.

The door to Nix’s recovery room slid open to admit the understandably concerned pair of Sali and Zindiana.

“The assassins get here already?” Sali asked, looking for either a foe or the body of one.

“Assassins?” Nix asked.

“You don’t need to worry about that,” Ayli can, reluctantly parting from Nix who had pulled back to see who was coming into the room.

“Not too sure about that,” Zindiana said. “They’ve got pretty good scans of each of us up now.”

“I feel like I missed something,” Nix said.

“That’s what happens when you let someone stab you in the vital organs,” Sali said.

“This is not her fault,” Ayli said, a bit of the familiar rage creeping back in.

“No, it’s not,” Zindiana said with a reproving look cast towards Sali, “but it is going to be her problem, just like it’s ours. Oh and welcome back to the land of the living there sleepy head? Feeling better?”

Ayli watched Nix pat herself down. A tiny wince passed over Nix’s face when she poked the spots where the puncture wounds had been. Ayli knew what the wounds looked like now. After three days spent floating in a full immersion Bacta tank, the wounds had closed up completely and most of the damage done had been repaired. That Nix had spent another full day in a coma had perplexed the medical droids, but the droids had assured Ayli that Nix would make a full recovery, and Ayli had held tight to that belief.

No one else needed to die for her. Not ever.

“I feel like I’ve been drinking Bacta packets for days. I think I could do with some real food.”

“Good. We’ve got meal packets on the ship. Let’s get her out of here!” Sali said.

“She needs more than meal packets,” Ayli said, understanding why Sali was so eager to leave, but terrified at the thought of taking Nix away from medical care before she was really ready to go.

“There’s also the question of whether she’d ready to go yet or not,” Zindiana said, gesturing to the fact that Nix was still laying down on the recovery room’s bed.

“I feel fine,” Nix said. “A lot better than I expected to in fact. Probably because I’m in a hospital? Where did you bring me?”

“Galvus Station,” Sali said. “I have some friends here who are good at patching people up.”

“And a lot of enemies who are good at making people dead,” Ayli said, thinking of the three assassin’s they’d dealt with already.

“Not that good,” Zindiana said.

“Good enough that we don’t want to stay here longer than we need to,” Sali said. “Especially not you two.”

“Why?” Nix asked. “What did we do?”

“We killed Ulno Klex,” Ayli said. “Blew up his whole shuttle. I think we took out a few of the other Klex’s too but nobody cares about them. The bounty is for killing Ulno.”

“Was I sleep assassinating people again?” Nix asked, clearly trying to inject some humor into the moment despite being perplexed.

“It wasn’t you,” Sali said. “You might remember that I did hire a few gals to get the job done though? Turns out they were worth the money I paid them. Ulno Klex is a note in history now, the galaxy is a better place, and my criminal empire can now expand easily.”

“That would be the criminal empire you’ve left behind and have no interest in returning to?” Zindiana wasn’t exactly asking, more reminding and teasing Sali for the foolishness of the situation. Ayli could appreciate the stupidity of it as well, but was less pleased that she and Nix had been caught in the backwash of it all.

“Those were the assassins you paid to pretend to be us?” Nix asked. “Because that would distance you from the plot? Because everyone would know you have nothing to do with us? Us who you’re now traveling with.”

“Yes. Exactly that,” Sali said.

“And you all have been stuck here at a hospital, while I recovered from…I did get stabbed didn’t I?”

“Yeah. Three times, all at once,” Ayli said. “Don’t do that again.”

“No problem,” Nix said. “I will not get stabbed three times all at once again, for sure.”

“That was an overly specific promise,” Zindiana observed.

“I like ones I’m more likely to be able to live up to,” Nix said.

A dull thump of sound passed through the room a split second before the lights failed.

“I think we’re checking out now whether we like it or not,” Sali said.

She had a blaster in her hand. Ayli didn’t need light to know that. It’s what she would have done too. Except she had a different option now.

With the flick of a switch, the crimson blade of her lightsaber sprang to life, matching the emergency lighting which kicked in a moment later.

“Yo don’t need that,” Nix said, eyes locked on the lightsaber.

“It’s handier than you might think,” Ayli said and got up to peer out the door.

No assassins were in sight yet, but with the bounty the Klex Cartel had put on their heads there was no doubt that there were some in the building, and likely more waiting at all the obvious exits.

“Where’s my stuff?” Nix asked, on her feet and scanning the small room for its meager contents.

“All back on the ship,” Ayli said.

“Let’s get there then,” Nix said, exiting the room and marching deeper into the medical complex.

“The doors are that direction,” Sali said, pointing towards the opposite end of the hallway.

“So are the assassins,” Nix said. “We don’t want to run into them if we don’t have to.”

Ayli reflected that, based on their recent history, it would be substantially worse for the assassins if there was a run in, but then Nix was the one unarmed member of their little crew.

Probably.

Ayli wasn’t sure what had happened with the dented metal wall in their room, but she did remember the gaping hole in the spire’s wall on Lednon Three all too clearly. Thinking back on it, her memories tumbled together into a picture she’d been missing.

Nix had done that.

It hadn’t been the result of the fight they were. The Smoke Wraiths hadn’t been responsible. 

It had been Nix.

Who’d been trying to protect her.

Like a Jedi would.

Ayli wasn’t sure where that last thought came from, but it filled her with a simmering anger.

She shook her head.

Why would she be angry about that?

She wasn’t.

She was surprised. Delighted to think Nix could defend herself. Sorta gooey inside at the thought of Nix erupting like that on her account.

But angry?

No. Why?

Betrayal.

Abandonment.

That was what the Jedi did. That was what their code required.

The presence Ayli had felt since Lednon Three was whispering in her ear. 

But it wasn’t lying to her.

It couldn’t. Not without Ayli sensing it. They were too close. Joined too tightly for deceptions to last between them.

But Nix wasn’t a Jedi.

And Nix was not going to betray her.

Ayli knew that. She didn’t even think she knew Nix well at all yet, but she knew that about her already. Nix didn’t use deception, not like Ayli knew how to.

And yet, consider the pirate queen’s fate.

Which was true. Nix had tricked Sali. Not through clever lies, or through playing an unexpected role. She’d done it just by being herself. Just like she was with Ayli.

Ayli shoved the thought aside.

She remembered the Rebellion. She remembered not being able to trust anyone. She remembered the cost of betrayal and how even with all that, you still had to be able to work with people or everything would come falling down.

She felt the presence that had been lingering in the background draw in close and wrap itself around her. It was cold, but it still burned.

Ayli stuttered just one step and Nix spun around, her eyes glaring past Ayli and her arm rising.

And the presence was gone.

No more cold.

No more burning.

No more anger or doubt.

Ayli reeled at the change and Nix flashed her a smile. Sali then caught her and marched Ayli forward as Nix resumed leading them deeper into a building she had no possible means of knowing the layout of.

“Trying to talk to the Klex and tell them it wasn’t us would be a complete waste of time, wouldn’t it?” Nix asked.

“Yeah, even if we could convince them it was someone else, they kind of have to kill us to save face at this point,” Ayli said.

The piled into an elevator which opened just as they arrived. The droid that was exiting it had other tasks to perform and didn’t even pause to look at them.

“You all seem to have been busy, how long was I out for?” Nix asked.

“About a week,” Zindiana said.

“We took a few hits getting out of the Lednon system, which slowed us down a little,” Sali added.

“Oh no! Is Goldie ok?” Nix jammed the “Door Override” button and forced them out on a dimly lit sublevel of the medical complex.

“Hah! Told you that would be her first question,” Sali said.

“She asked a lot of questions before that,” Zindiana said.

“Goldie’s fine. She wanted me to tell you that the repair manuals you loaded were great and she patched up all the damage all on her own. She was very proud of that,” Ayli said.

“Aww, what a good girl she is,” Nix said, beaming at the thought. “Give me just a sec here.”

She paused by a comm panel on the wall, ripping the facing off and reconnecting the wires within seemingly at random. 

“Goldie?” Nix said as the comms chirped back to life.

“Mom?” Goldie’s voice called back instantly. “You’re okay? They promised you’d be okay!”

“I’m fine. I need you to make a light speed jump to the other side of the system and then skip back here, I’ll send you the coordinates of the ship we’ll be on.”

“Why are you flying on a different ship? Just come to me,” Goldie said.

“You’re being watched kiddo,” Sali said.

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re the only ally we have here that’s not in this hallway,” Zindiana said.

“So we need you to be sneaky,” Nix said.

“Okay. When should I be back?” Goldie asked.

“As quick as you can. The ship we’ll be in won’t have much air supply in it,” Nix said.

“What are we doing?” Ayli asked.

“Do you trust me?” Nix asked.

It was a dangerous question, and one the presence seemed ready to jump all over. Before it could though Ayli took Nix’s hand in her own.

“I do,” she said.

“Then let’s go get fitted for our coffins!”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 15

Nix wasn’t dead. Or At least she was pretty sure she wasn’t dead. She wasn’t in pain though and the last thing she remembered was being stabbed through the torso by some unpleasant looking crystal claws. So, that was a maybe on the whole dead thing?

“I don’t wanna be dead yet though,” she grumbled without opening her eyes. She knew she’d been able to slurp down one of the Bacta packets, but she also knew their limits and looking down to find giant holes in her belly was not a particularly appealing option.

“You’re in luck then,” an oddly familiar voice said, “cause you’re not. Trust me. I know what dead’s like.”

Against her better judgment Nix opened her eyes.

She wasn’t laying facedown in a pool of her own blood.

So that was good.

Great even.

But she had no idea where she was. 

Around her a vast done of stars wheeled about, but she wasn’t floating in space and the stars were all wrong. Too close. Too many. Whole galaxies visible like they were neighboring star systems. And they were moving much too fast. Not the blur of a jump to lightspeed, but visibly shifting when they should have stood as silent and still sentinels to guide travelers home.

Unless, here, the star were the travelers themselves, journeying…where? From one place to the next? From one time to another? From one life to what lay beyond?

“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?” said an old woman who wasn’t glowing blue and transparent this time. “Turns out that’s true even when you don’t have breath left to take anymore.”

“You said I’m not dead though? Right?” Nix asked, pressing her hands to her robes and finding no evidence of severe puncture wounds.

Her robes?

Since when did she dress in robes?

Especially dull brown ones?

“You’re not,” the woman said. “Which makes one of us.”

Nix took a closer look at the other woman.

She wasn’t old. Not really.

And she wasn’t alive. Though that was a fuzzier distinction.

“You brought me here?” Nix asked.

“Nope. This is all your doing. I can only interfere so much before our bond fades.”

“Interfere?”

“Your life is yours. We’re not bound all that strongly, so if I try to pull you into the mess I left behind, well, you pull away like any rational person would, and no more chat time for us.”

“I think understood maybe a quarter of that, and I probably only really got an eighth of it,” Nix said. “I don’t suppose you could start at the beginning and make all of this approach something sensible?”

“Does this feel like a place where we’ve got all the time in the world to talk?”

“Yes…and no? I…it feels like I’ve been here before. Like I know wherever this is,” Nix said, trying to see if she could locate any familiar star patterns at all.

“You have been. So has everyone. You’re just a bit more aware than most.”

“Thank you?” Nix felt like it had been intended as a compliment but she wasn’t sure it was it actually applied to her.

“Don’t thank me, you did all the hard work.”

“What hard work? This seems familiar, you seem familiar, but I don’t really remember being here and I don’t remember you, except for that time in Sali’s garden.”

“I wish we had more time together. Or more of a bond I guess. It’s not our time that’s limited. It’s how many things I can say that have an impact on your destiny. How much I can change your life.”

“If information is going to change my life, then I want it,” Nix said. “Give me all you’ve got. Print out a whole instruction manual if you can. I like reading up on things. I like knowing how stuff is supposed to work.”

The old woman smiled and turned from Nix to face the stars.

“You wouldn’t think hearing your own words cast back at you would be such an effective punishment yet here we are.”

“Uh, what?” Nix asked.

“I said something very similar to one of my teachers and she laughed herself silly and wished me a student just like me someday,” the old woman said, turning back to face Nix, mirth lingering at the corners of her eyes.

“Is that what I am?”

“Not yet. Maybe not ever. Doesn’t mean I can’t teach you something though.”

“So teach me then. What am I doing here? Where is this place?”

“This is less of a ‘Where’ and more of a ‘When’. Consider it something like a dream, except it’s more than that. It’s the place your mind goes when you’re attuned enough to the Force for it to show you visions.”

“Is that what this is? A vision?”

“Not exactly. Your mind is pretty deep in the Force at the moment, but I’m not an image from the past or a glimpse of a future. We’re both here, now, and this is really happening. Just not in a physical sense.”

“So this isn’t my body?” Which might explain the lack of holes, Nix thought.

“It’s a reflection. It’s your body as your mind sees it in this moment. If we drift into one of your memories, you’d be wearing the body you remembered having then.”

“Okay. That feels right. Why am I here though? And, who are you?”

“My name is Kelda,” the old woman said. “Kelda Torchbearer. As for why you’re here? You were hurt. Quite badly. You pulled a clever trick with the Bacta packet. I wish they’d had those in my time. That alone wasn’t enough to save you though. You needed help. And you got some.”

“From Ayli?” 

“Yes, and we’ll get back to that later, but also from yourself.”

“How did I help myself?”

“By coming here. Your body needed healing, so you put yourself deep into a Force Trance to restore what you could and buy time for your friends to help you.”

“I did what now?”

“You subconsciously put yourself into a state where your natural healing was accelerated and your bodily functions were slowed down. It’s something that requires being highly aware of your life essence. Normally slowly down your body also slows down how quickly it can repair itself. Speed up your healing and you speed is the effects of the traumatic injury. In my time teaching the sort of healing you’re doing right now was reserved for people who’d passed the Test of Knighthood.”

“But going into a healing trance doesn’t bring you here. It usually leaves you comatose doesn’t it?” Nix asked, the knowledge flowing through her rather than being recalled.

“Usually that’s true,” Kelda said. “In your case though, I was calling for you and once you were sunk down into the healing trance enough of the other distractions faded away so you could hear me. After a while at least.”

“Why were you calling me though? You said we had a bond, but I don’t think we know each other at all, do we?”

“I could spend years answering that question,” Kelda said. “We don’t have years though, so here’s the simplest answer; we’re similar, enough that I can see a lot of things in you that I couldn’t in myself but which were definitely there. Also, the woman you’re in love with is currently being possessed by the woman I’m in love with.”

“You were in love with a ghost?”

“She wasn’t a ghost at the time, and she’s not technically one now either. Also, I’m still in love with her. That’s why I’m still here. A thousand years is a long time to wait, even when you skip past decades like heart beats.”

“How…why me? What can I do about that? I’m not…this place isn’t….I have no idea what I’m doing here.”

“Yeah, I thought that would be a little much to dump on you,” Kelda said. “You said you wanted an instruction manual? Here’s the one that you need.” She tapped Nix on the center of her chest. “Just make sure to read it with this.” She tapped Nix’s forehead.

“That’s not all that helpful,” Nix said with a frown.

“I know. But it’s what you need. Trust your feelings. You know so much more and can do so much more than you know yet. That doesn’t mean your should just do whatever pops into your head. Listening to your feelings means being aware. Think about them. If you feel like you’re in danger, you probably are, but it’s what’s on top of your neck that will help you understand the danger and how to get out of it.”

“How is that going to help Ayli though? Can I ‘feel’ the ghost out of her?”

“No. Your wife called on Ravas’ power and is holding onto of her own volition. It’ll be up to her, and Ravas to an extent, when they part. What you can do, what she’ll need you to do, is be there. Be there to remind of who she is. To remind her of the life she has. To remind her that there is someone out there who cares about her, so that she never feels like she has no one left at all.”

Nix could hear the undercurrent of centuries old anguish that ran through Kelda’s words. 

“What happened between you and Ravas Durla?” she asked.

“A lot that didn’t have to and far too little of what did,” Kelda said. “We can get into my story some other time. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone, and that you’ve got the tools to deal with what’s coming, even if you’re not used to them yet.”

“Well, thanks. How are we going to talk again though? Do I need to put myself in another coma?” Nix asked, beginning to consider just how miserable waking up was going to be. Bacta packets or no, major wounds always came with major pain to deal with at some point.

“You can talk to me whenever you want. It’s one of the perks of being part of the Force, I can hear you almost anywhere. You hearing me is a little trickier, but that is something I can teach you before you have to go.”

“Do I have to go?” Nix asked. “It seems nice here. Peaceful but, vibrant? Is that the right word?”

“It is. Peaceful and vibrant. This is what it’s like to be in harmony with life. This is what it feels like when you and the Force are close together. We are all a part of something much greater than ourselves and here that connection is the air we breath and the sky we’re shining in like stars. That’s the lesson. That’s what you need to hear me. Focus on what you’re feeling right now. Remember this and let yourself sink into the calm silence within you. You’ll find a pulse of energy there. That’s you, and it’s me, and it’s all of us. Everyone, from everywhere and everywhen. Reach out to that and you’ll find me reaching back, whenever you need.”

“Why do all this for me though? What makes me special?” Nix asked.

“You’ll have to find what makes you special on your own,” Kelda said. “As for why I’m doing this? I owe a debt that’s been left unpaid for far too long, and this is my chance to set things right at last.”

Nix felt the lightest of touches on her forehead.

But it wasn’t Kelda who was stroking Nix’s hair back.

Instead, when Nix opened her bleary, anesthetic-addled eyes, she found a lovely blue hand tracing a pattern through her hair.

“Welcome back,” Ayli said in a voice just above a whisper.

They were in a plain white room, with Nix laying on what was obviously a hospital bed and Ayli in one of the ubiquitous plain chairs all hospitals seemed to share.

With the lighting dimmed, the moment felt almost as peaceful and quiet as Nix’s Force Vision, or whatever it had been.

Except for the transparent, multi-horned woman with red and black skin who was standing just behind Ayli and had her hand on the back of Ayli’s neck.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 14

Her lightsaber was in her hands. 

And she’d reclaimed her body.

Well, perhaps not her body, but a body nonetheless.

Hot, wrathful glee surged through her.

Everything was right at last.

Though there was a woman crumpled on the floor in front of her.

So perhaps not everything.

It didn’t matter though. The woman was…

That was Nix!

Ayli ripped her thoughts away from the cloud that had fallen over them, though not her heart away from the rage that burned within it.

She was surrounded by creatures that were three meters tall at least and built like they ate Hutt’s for breakfast.

She did not care.

Gewla and Vronmo had tried to instill in her the idea that even life forms which were very different from her own could be people and were worthy of respect and understanding.

Ayli understood that these pieces of bantha pudu had hurt Nix and what they were worthy of was a violent and painful death.

Her hands swung in an arc all on their own and the nearest Smoke Wraith lost the upper half of its torso. It started to reform and pull itself together but the lightsaber jerked and pierced through the purple crystal at its core.

Ayli was happy with the result but she fought for control her limbs anyways.

Something wanted to puppet her? Too bad. Her rage was her own, not anyone else’s.

There was a presence inside her. A voice and a will that was not her own. One that had waited for so, so terribly long. One that would not be denied!

One that absolutely was going to be denied. One that could shut the hell up, because Ayli had her wife to rescue.

Don’t be dead Nix. Please don’t be dead.

Of her own volition, Ayli spun the lightsaber in a tight series of arcing swipes.

Did she know how to fight with an energy blade?

Of course not. Blasters were better in every circumstance.

Every circumstance except the one where she’d lost her grip on them and only had a stick of plasma to work with.

To it’s credit though, the stick of red plasma was a pretty decent substitute for a blaster. People seemed to think they were hard to use but it didn’t take years of practice to work out the basic mechanics of “swing death beam through monster” and the crystal hearts of the beasts had the resiliency of spun glass in terms of resisting the lightsaber’s blade.

From what Ayli could recall that was true of most things when they met a lightsaber’s blade. Except fro Phrik and a few other materials. Which was probably why Ravas Durla’s post-death cult had been so keen on it. 

One of the Smoke Wraiths lunged for her, trying to tear the lightsaber from Ayli’s hands and Ayli stabbed it reflexively though the head.

Which was bad.

Head wounds did nothing to the Smoke Wraiths, and the reflex action hadn’t been hers.

The presence inside her was a tricky little thing.

It couldn’t control her.

Not exactly. Not if she didn’t let it.

What it could do, apparently, was nudge her thoughts along pathways they were used to taking. Send her down into memories of history and making connections with the present and Ayli was a lot less mindful about what she was doing in the here and now.

Even that moment of introspection cost her and she had to check her hands as the swung the lightsaber towards Nix.

The presence seemed to think Nix was what was allowing Ayli to resist its influence.

“Hurt her and I will end both of us,” Ayli said and opened the absolute sincerity of her      intentions for the presence to see.

Surprisingly, the presence retreated at that and released the lingering hold it had been exerting over Ayli’s limbs.

That was when the Smoke Wraiths really started dying.

If unnatural abominations of crystal and Dark Side power could be considered to be alive in the first place.

Ayli didn’t care what the answer was. They were a deadly threat, and so they were going to get dead. Her years as a Rebellion brat had taught her that hesitating to protect yourself never led anywhere good.

Her rage at being reminded of that fact wasn’t quite sated by the time she’d slashed apart all of the Smoke Wraiths.

In the process, a few of them had landed cuts and bruises on her. That was inevitable in any close quarters fighting. 

In fact it should have been inevitable that one or more of them would have speared her like they had Nix. A lightsaber is probably the fastest melee weapon imaginable, but sheer numbers should have given the Smoke Wraiths the openings they needed to put Ayli on the ground with her wife.

Except she’d known where those openings were.

She’d used them, baiting the Smoke Wraiths into making attacks she’d known were coming. Taking limbs off which opened them up for thrusts through their heart crystals.

It had been like a dance.

An angry, hateful, brutally violent dance.

Which was what the Smoke Wraiths had deserved.

She wished one or two of them would rise again. She needed to hurt them more.

No.

No she didn’t.

Her rage shattered when she saw Nix again.

Curled up.

So small.

And still.

Terribly, terribly, still.

Ayli dropped the lightsaber and flung herself to the ground beside the woman who had crept so much farther into her heart than Ayli could have imagined.

The woman who was still breathing.

The woman with an empty Bacta Gel pack in her hand.

“You beautiful idiot,” Ayli said through tears she hadn’t been aware she’d been crying the whole time.

Ayli knew Nix’s weight. She knew she could hold and lift the human woman with ease. Lifting the human woman and all of her gear on the other hand was noticeably more difficult. At least at first. After a moment’s struggling though the burden grew much lighter. Ayli checked to see if Nix’s gear had fallen off, but no, something was giving her more strength.

Cradling Nix in her arms, Ayli reached up and tapped the communicator to signal the drop ship.

“Oh, uh, you two still alive?” a disheveled sounding Sali said amidst the sound of cloth ruffling.

“Nix is hurt. Get the drop ship up here. We gotta get back to the Goldrunner. Now,” Ayli said relying on the imperative tense to convey that she was not in the mood for delays or banter.

“Up where?” Zindiana asked over the sound of the drop ship’s engine’s kicking to life.

“There’s a hole in the wall at the top of the tower. Bring the dropship up to it and I’ll hand Nix over to you. We don’t have time for me to bring her back downstairs,” Ayli said.

“We’ll be there,” Sali said, with no playful banter or questions at all.

Ayli started walking towards room’s newest egress.

The presence within gave a mild tug on her attention though and Ayli cast an eye back towards the cenotaph.

The symbols on it weren’t just decorative.

They were a map.

The historian in Ayli wanted to stop and take recordings of all the imagery in the room. 

Nix needed her though.

The Bacta Gel pack was not the same as full immersion in a Bacta healing tank, or even the work the Goldrunner’s medical kits could do. Nix had bought them time. Ayli wasn’t going to waste a moment of it.

And she didn’t need to.

She wasn’t going to forget where the map showed her to go.

The presence was all too reassuring that it would be there to remind her.

True to her word, Sali was there with the drop ship by the time Ayli arrived at the hole leading out to the storm beyond.

“Let me take her,” Zindiana said, unburdened by the controls Sali was parked in front of.

The transfer wasn’t easy, even with Sali’s expert hands on the controls, the storm battered the drop ship but neither Zindiana nor Ayli risked letting Nix go until they were sure she was secure.

Without really considering it, Ayli turned back to the room before jumping into the dropship herself. The Smoke Wraiths were good and dead. No threats remained. Ayli was carrying the deadliest thing in that room within herself already.

She reached out her hand and the lightsaber flew into it.

Might as well take the second deadliest thing too. It had come in handy. Probably would again.

It wasn’t until she noticed Zindiana’s quizzical gaze and Sali’s surprised one that Ayli registered what she’d just done.

“Don’t often meet someone who knows how to use one of those,” Zindiana said.

“First time I’ve ever held one,” Ayli said. “Let’s get going. Can you handle those orbital guns?”

“Pfff, the ones with the gunners who couldn’t hit a Star Destroyer if it was docked with them?” Sali said and hit the engines for a full burn out of the atmosphere.

Nix whimpered at the acceleration, but she was still breathing and that was all that mattered to Ayli for the moment.

Sali, it turned out, did have some trouble with the orbital gunners. Which struck Ayli as odd. Of the two of them, she wasn’t sure which was the better pilot, but she was certain that Sali could give her a run for her money even on Ayli’s best day. 

So why were they taking ten times the fire on their deflectors than they had coming in? Had the orbital crews woken up their better gunners while Ayli and her crew were down on the planet? Had they installed new tracking software?

Or was it because they weren’t following Nix’s flight plan this time?

Ayli could fix that.

Or the presence could.

Flying past long range fire was child’s play.

All Ayli needed to do was go to sleep. Yes, sleep. Just for a little bit. Just till they were safe. Just till Nix was safe. 

Ayli felt the cool solidity of the lightsaber’s hilt in her hand.

She calmly, and carefully raised it and placed it directly under her chin.

The presence got the message and retreated, sulking into the dark corners of Ayli’s mind.

Ayli had zero interest in self destruction. She’d survived too much and fought to hard to stay alive to give up no matter what her state was. She was at the same time however absolutely unwilling to be used as a tool to destroy the people she loved. Whatever had happened to her when she took up Ravas Durla’s lightsaber, she would deal with it. She simply needed to set certain ground rules up with whatever the presence was, the foremost of them being that even in the scenario where Ayli didn’t win, they were both going to lose.

Strangely the presence seemed to respect that, at least if the grudging feeling of admiration that bubbled through Ayli’s subconscious was anything to go by.

“What happened back there?” Sali asked.

“The room at the top of the tower had guardians,” Ayli said. “We didn’t expect that. Nix had already disarmed some nasty traps. They got me, then they got her, then I got them.”

“Didn’t seem many bodies left in the room when we were hovering outside it,” Zindiana said.

“I believe in being thorough,” Ayli said. “Also they were constructs of some kind. I wasn’t sure if they could pull themselves back together, so smaller pieces seemed better than big ones.”

“They were made out of the crystals that were on the floor?” Zindiana asked.

“Were, yes,” Ayli said.

“Sounds like we left a small fortune behind there,” Sali said.

“That’s fine,” Ayli said. “I know where the next trial is. A small fortune will be nothing if we can find the big one at the end of this nonsense.”

“It’s always the big fortunes that keep people the poorest,” Sali said. “Plenty of money to be made knocking over the easier targets.”

“Pirate,” Zindiana laughed and bapped Sali on the back.

They were past the orbital defense stations and Goldie was en route to meet them in another few seconds. They’d made it to safety.

Ayli stroked Nix’s hair, a tight knot in her heart hoping that they’d made it in time.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 13

By its outward appearance, the central tower wasn’t that imposing. As engineering efforts went, Nix had seen grander structures on at least a dozen other worlds. Taller spires, heavier armor plating, grander architectural flourishes. Where the Children of the Storm had fallen short on each of those fronts, they more than made up for it with the ambiance they captured though.

Each step into the tomb, and Nix was sure it was a tomb, at least of some sort, filled her with an every growing agitation and dread.

Should they be here?

No. Obviously not.

What right did they have to the treasure that was housed in this place?

The right of power?

Yes.

They were here, despite those who tried to stop them. They could take what they wanted because there was no one who could stop them.

No one besides themselves.

Would Sali or Zindiana stop them? Would they want the treasure for themselves? Of course they would. Could she win a fight if it came to that? If she had the treasure she could…

Nix smacked the intrusive thought right on the nose.

She was used to her mind wandering off into dark corners like that, especially when she was in creepy or dangerous places. 

It was so easy to avoid her fears by imagining herself as violent and powerful and more horrible than anything horrible that tried to hurt her.

She didn’t need to be angry though. She didn’t need to be hateful. Neither of those states led towards outcomes she was usually all that happy with. Inventing misery tended to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What she needed was to pay attention to where she was and what was happening around her.

And how her wife was doing.

Which wasn’t hard to tell at all as soon as Nix consciously considered it.

Ayli was on edge.

She was driven.

She could sense the same intangible peril which seemed to haunt the spire like a ghost laughing just beyond the edge of their peripheral vision. 

Nix kicked that thought away too.

She was afraid. She knew that. No need to go inventing ghosts to explain it. She wasn’t all that used to being shot at, even if the people doing the shooting were easy to avoid, and that kind of experience lingered under your skin well after you thought you were past it.

As for why her mind went to ghosts? Well, the entire aesthetic of the Children’s Spire was one of subtle menace and anger. The designers wanted to encourage a certain fearful and submissive mindset in new visitors. Why? Because they were a cult, and cults are ultimately all about control. There were many methods for controlling sapients, but fear and anger tended work well no matter what background the person in question came from. 

Nix felt that, more than knew it, but being aware of the elements that were artificially inducing fear in her helped her find the distance and perspective she needed to reclaim a center of calm to work from.

“The top of the spire will be an exalted place,” Ayli said. “The treasure should be there.”

Nix nodded. “If there are any defenses that are still active, they’ll be concentrated there too.”

“Right. We’ll need to be careful,” Ayli said, unholstering one of her blasters with her free hand.

“I don’t think we’ll run into any guards,” Nix said. “Any defenses that are left here are going to be environmental, like locked doors or prison rooms.”

“Can you get us past those?” Ayli asked.

“Probably. It’ll all be old tech, and unless they had some actual, well trained security specialists in their membership, I’m betting it’ll be pretty poorly hacked together. Amateurs are terrible at setting up real security system, and there’s a lot of amateurs who get paid as professionals.”

Ayli glanced over and gave her an amused smile.

“I thought you were a ship’s mechanic? Are you secretly a security tech?”

“Oh, not in the slightest!” Nix said. “I’m strictly an amateur too, I’ve just read enough to have a clue about all the things I don’t know. Like, for example, that this door here might or might not kill us for standing in front of it.”

Their careful walk into the spire had led them to a door made of purple crystal which lead to an enclosed crystal staircase which in turn led up to an opaque room at the top of the tower.

“I could shoot it?” Ayli offered without a hint of seriousness. 

Nix squeezed Ayli’s hand and stepped closer to bump their shoulders together. It was nice to see the intensity drain away from Ayli. There was something unhealthy about being too invested in what they were doing, even if it did require their complete attention.

“Help me pull up the floor panels around here,” Nix said.

They released each other’s hands and both knelt down to inspect what seemed like the solid floor beneath them.

“We’re not going to get around the door by dismantling the tower are we?” Ayli asked. “Because I’m reasonably sure our orbital friends will get their acts together and get down here long before we can manage that.”

“Nope,” Nix said, prying up one of the otherwise invisible tiles with a small vibro-blade from her carry-on kit. “This just confirms we’re working with amateurs.”

“How so?” Ayli asked, looking over Nix’s shoulder to peer into the mass of wires and control boards which were crammed into the small space beneath the floor panel.

“Apart from what a mess this is, these controls should all be in a secured box somewhere a lot less accessible,” Nix said. “Professionals can do that because they install it correctly the first time. Amateurs install a system, and then come back and fix alarms that are going off every two minutes. Then they come back again and fix the alarms that are every five minutes. Then ten minutes, and so on, until they eventually put all the controls close by so that when they inevitably have to come back and fix the system again everything’s nice and convenient.”

“Which is also nice and convenient for people who want to bypass the security. Brilliant,” Ayli said.

“To be fair, they did a decent job of hiding the panels though.”

“So not entirety incompetent then?”

“Not entirely. Can you pull up the panels leading off to my left? I don’t think this is all the controls they have for monitoring the door here.”

Nix let herself fixate on the security controls she could see for a moment, feeling out the connections and trying to intuit what they did.

It wasn’t particularly hard.

The door was, indeed, secured.

At least two of the monitoring systems on it lead back to control rooms which were likely on other levels of the building. There were also three different locking mechanisms and two leads she suspected controlled some sort of deadly “intrusion prevention measures”.

“Is this what you need?” Ayli asked, pointed to the underbelly of the fifth tile she’d pulled up where another mass of  jumbled wires was visible.

“Probably, yeah, let me see what we’ve got there,” Nix said.

What they had were three locks that were painfully easy to bypass since they relied on a secure code system that was probably a century out of date when we it was installed, and two explosive traps which were less easy to deal with.

“I’m glad you didn’t blast the door,” Nix said. “The photonic charge on the door handle  might have been incinerated but I think the Thermex bomb they have rigged underneath the door might be strong enough to vaporize the whole top of the tower.”

“Would the Thermex still be stable after all these years?” Ayli asked.

“Not even slightly,” Nix said.

“So opening the door could set it off?”

“Our breathing could set it off, in theory,” Nix said. “In practice I think the case they have it in is probably isolating it from the environment pretty well or the storm outside would have blown it up ages ago.”

“We can risk going up then,” Ayli said. It didn’t sound like a question, which worried Nix a bit, but she nodded in agreement anyways.

There was something at the top of the spire.

Something they needed to deal with.

She didn’t think they’d be happy to deal with it, but it was a problem that had waited for a long time and it was one they could fix.

And fixing things was what she did.

With a few quick clips, Nix disabled both the locks and the sensors which would trigger the offensive defenses.

She hoped.

“Let me go first,” she said, reaching for the door handle but Ayli caught her arm and then hesitated.

“Yeah, okay, maybe that would be best,” Ayli said, shaking her head and relaxing again.

“Good news,” Nix said. “If I’m wrong about the Thermex’s container it’s biologically impossible that we’ll feel a thing when it goes off.”

Ayli shook her head, “You are objectively terrible at being reassuring. You know that don’t you?”

“Yeah, but it meant you didn’t have time to worry when I opened the door, see!” Nix said, gesturing to the open and unexploded portal.

Ayli narrowed her eyes at Nix.

“You’re lucky you’re so damn adorable, you know.”

“I do!” Nix said, thrilled as ever to hear Ayli describe her like that.

The thrill faded as they ascended the stairs though.

The crystal walls deadened the sound of the storm outside to a whisper.

Or maybe the whispers were something else.

With each step upwards, Nix became more convinced that they were not alone.

This wasn’t the hazy, jumpiness brought on by the intentionally creepy decor of the tower. She could feel a presence surrounding them. No. Many presences. 

Strangely, at least one of them wasn’t malevolent.

But only one. 

The rest were so filled with malice there couldn’t be room for anything else in any mote of their being. The rest except for one other, and that one was hungry.

A small voice inside here wanted to turn to Ayli and say ‘we shouldn’t be here’, because they shouldn’t. But they needed to be here and reaching into the calm she’d made for herself she found the strength to believe that and keep moving forward.

Which was how they found the tomb that wasn’t a tomb.

“It’s a cenotaph,” Ayli said, pausing at the entrance to the elaborately adorned room.

In the center, on a dias surrounded by shards of jagged purple crystal formed into the likeness of a bonfire, rested a coffin-like shape made from black basalt and carved with symbols and figures which all seemed to be writhing in rage. Atop the black coffin, the figure of a woman was carved in the same jagged purple crystal as the flames. In her outstretched hand she held…

Nix wasn’t sure what she was holding or supposed to be holding, because she had to move. Immediately.

She’d pushed Ayli to safety and leapt away from the attack before she was consciously aware of what she was doing.

Rolling to feet, she had no complaints about that though.

From the walls, hulking and only vaguely humanoids shapes had detached, their bodies formed from seething smoke and shards of the purple crystal the walls were made of.

“Nix!” Ayli called out, blasters in both hands, bolts flying at two of the monsters which were swiping their serrated talons at her.

Nix pitched herself forward, evading the attack Ayli had been warning her about.

She turned to face her monster and raised her hands to…

To what?

Her hand were empty. She didn’t know what she could do with them that would make any difference against a three meter tall inhuman beast.

Trust in.., an oddly familiar voice, yet garbled voice said from much too far away. You know more than you realize.

As advice went, that was terrible.

Nix was the sort who preferred to get her instructions in simple numbered lists, ideally with a detailed owner’s manual to back them up.

Blaster bolts rained past her, driving the monsters back.

Until Nix heard an anguished cry from behind her.

She whirled to see Ayli had dropped to her knee and was holding a hand to her shoulder, clasping a deep gash. 

She’d dropped her blasters.

She was defenseless against the monster that was standing over her.

“No!” Nix shouted and thrust her hand out.

Nothing should have happened.

She was too far away to save Ayli.

But she needed to.

She needed to more than anything she’d ever needed before.

The monster was blasted backwards.

It shattered the wall it crashed into and sailed out into the empty air outside the Tower.

Through the breech, the storm raged in. Lightning painting the room in a gashes of strobing red .

Nix felt exhilaration run through her.

Then she felt three of the monsters talons run through her.

That shouldn’t have happened.

Except she wasn’t paying attention.

She’d known she was in danger, but that hadn’t mattered.

She’d had to save Ayli.

And she had.

“NIX!” Ayli screamed.

 As Nix collapsed, she saw Ayli leaping over the cenotaph towards her.

Nix hit the ground. Hard.

Something terrible had happened.

She wasn’t going to die.

She would fine.

She knew that.

But Ayli stood in front of her.

And a blade of crimson light blazed in her hands.

Something terrible had happened.

Star Wars: Treasure of the Force – Ch 12

As deadly hails of laser fire went, Ayli had seen worse.

“Are they firing at pre-set positions?” she asked, skewing their makeshift dropship along the corkscrew path Nix had plotted out for her.

“Could be!” Nix said, working the baby nav-computer to feed Ayli a barrage-free trajectory to follow. “This might be from some kind of ancient automated defense system.”

“I can blow it up!” Goldie said over their comms.

“Not necessary,” Ayli said. “They’re not even tickling our deflectors yet. Let’s not blow up equipment we might want to sell later.”

“Gotta live long enough to sell it,” Sali said, though Ayli suspected the pirate was mostly unhappy about not being the one to fly the dropship.

“This isn’t automated,” Zindiana said. “Even ancient droid systems would keep up a steady cadence of fire. This is too sporadic.”

“Huh, you know, she’s right,” Sali said. “I’ve been shot at like this before. There are some panicking people behind those guns. Easy pickings if we can board them.”

“I point out that there are four of us here and only one of us is supposed to be carrying a blaster at the moment,” Ayli said.

The fact that everyone except Nix had multiple blasters on their person hadn’t escaped Ayli’s notice, but she still didn’t like their odds for overthrowing what she guessed to be multiple defensive bases orbiting Lednon Three.

“They’re just a distraction,” Nix said, strangely certain of that for someone who was a ship’s mechanic and not a fleet tactician. “I’m going to switch one of the power couplers over to the deflectors. Let’s just punch through and get to ground.”

“Won’t that leave us exposed down there?” Zindiana asked.

“Nope. I’m getting telemetry scans from the planet’s surface,” Nix said. “There’s definitely old structures down there. Big ones. We can hide in them. And I don’t think they want to blast their own city.”

“How do you know it’s theirs?” Sali asked. 

“The buildings are in good shape. Too good. Someone’s been taking care of it.”

“Anyone think we should try talking to these guys?” Ayli asked, raising the question solely so that no one could accuse her of not considering it sooner. She already knew the Sali and Zindiana would be opposed and Nix would think it was a good idea but that the hostiles wouldn’t respond.

“Definitely not,” Nix said, catching Ayli off guard.

“Wait, what? Why?” she asked, trying to work out where Nix’s headspace was on the matter.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about these people,” Nix said. “Apart from the whole ‘they started shooting at us with no warning’. These might be remnants of the Children of the Storm.”

“Does that mean we can blow them up?” Sali asked, sounding as excited as Goldie had been by the idea.

“No,” Ayli said. “We don’t need that kind of trouble, and we don’t know what they want.”

“The Children of the Storm had some odd beliefs,” Zindiana said. “They were big on reaching enlightenment through strife and domination over others. If this is a remnant group, and if they still hold to the ‘old teachings’, we’re potential slaves at best.”

“Probably going to get yelled at for stirring up this nest of them then,” Ayli said.

“Or a medal,” Zindiana said. “The old Children of the Storm were, among other things, raiders against anyone they could get away with attacking. Since there’s not exactly a lot of commerce out here, I’d have to imagine this lot kept the old traditions up.”

“I’d say their luck’s run out then.” Nix adjusted a pair of dials, reached under her seat and made a quick adjustment as a new trajectory appeared on Ayli’s screen. 

With the flick of another switch the dropship’s acceleration was cut in half and a visible corona of light appeared around it from the overcharged deflector shields flaring to new life.

Ayli wanted to say that it was her amazing piloting skills which brought them down into the less-ruined-than-it-should-be city, but the truth was the path Nix’s had laid out for her made the flight in a breeze. They screamed past the five orbital platforms which were failing miserably to draw a bead on them and punched into the atmosphere fast enough to be lost in a plasma sheath nearly the whole trip down to the ground. 

To her credit, Nix’s deflector shields handled the superheated air as easily as they would have dealt with the concentrated plasma of a ship’s gun, and aside from the excitement of wondering if the untested kit would fail spectacularly, the journey was as smooth as any other Ayli had ever made.

The viewscreen cleared to show they’d arrived on a planet with more than a little active weather in play.

“Did you navigate us into a hurricane?” Sali asked.

“I don’t know if hurricane’s normally get this big,” Nix said. “Do they become something else where they’re over a thousand kilometers across? And have that in them.” She pointed directly ahead of them where red lightning was crackling across the horizon.

“What the hell is that?” Sali asked.

“Nothing good,” Zindiana said.

“I did mention my bad feeling right?” Nix said.

“Yep. And I bet I know what you’re going to say next,” Ayli had bad feelings too, though usually she was smart enough to listen to them. Not this time though it seemed.

“If you mean, that we need to go there since that’s where the manufactured structures are, then yep, you nailed it,” Nix said.

“The less inviting the place looks, the less willing our friends up in orbit should be to follow us,” Zindiana said.

“Unless this is one of their Holy Places,” Ayli said. She’d dealt with fanatics before, usually by choosing to be in some other star system and leaving them to their pursue whatever self-destructive end their fanaticism would lead them too.

“The Children of the Storm didn’t really do ‘Holy Places’,” Zindiana said. “They were more about accumulating personal power than wasting it on shrine’s and such – their loot bank being the notable exception as shrine’s went.”

“This seems like a weird place to put a treasure trove,” Sali said. “Storms aren’t constant enough to make for good defenses and even with it blowing like that, we’ll still be able to get through even in a ship like this, no offense Nix.”

“That’s okay, you just don’t know Droppy well enough yet,” Nix said.

“You named?….of course you did,” Sali said. “Is this one sapient too?”

“No. But all ships have a heart to them,” Nix said.

“Assuming there’s no objections, I’m taking us in before the orbital folks figure out how to turn their targeting computers on,” Ayli said and punched the ship’s engines up to their in-atmosphere cruising velocity.

The red lightning didn’t abate as they approached.

If anything it grew more intense.

That wasn’t going to be a problem while they were in the ship.

Probably.

Red lightning was weird, but planet’s had all sorts of odd things in their atmospheres that produced all sorts of odd effects. From the ship’s scans, it seemed like this atmosphere was a little thin but rich enough in oxygen to be breathable without a respirator. The scanners weren’t designed to do a full bio-analysis and trace element sweep, but what they were able to report looked promising, which made sense given that people had apparently lived here.

The interplay of the lightning and the shadows was evocative, Ayli had to give it that. The tableau should have been threatening but there was an allure to it as well that went beyond the promise of treasure. Each flash of light screamed that there was something here. Something precious. The treasure she’d been searching for, even if she’d never known that she needed it.

That was just wistful dreaming though, she told herself. It was entirely possible the place had been picked clean already. In fact if the orbital fanatics had access to it, it had probably been picked clean decades ago, or more.

Ayli gripped the flight control hard enough that she thought she was going to twist the metal into knots. The thought of someone else making off with her treasure filled her with the sort of rage which demanded pain and suffering until they repented their sins.

“Are you okay?” Nix asked and the touch of her hand on Ayli’s arm snapped Ayli out of the angry daydream that had swept over her.

Why had it swept over her in the first place though? Maybe because she’d been working towards this goal for a while and it was disappointing to think of it all falling through. Especially if the ‘someone else’ who got the treasure was as awful as Zindiana was making the Children of the Storm out to be.

“Yeah, just thinking evil thoughts about our friends in space,” Ayli said. “They better not have taken our stuff or maybe we will have to board them.”

“Nah, if anything they should have added to it,” Sali said. “This is supposed to be their hidden vault right?”

The complex they reached did not look like a vault though.

It wasn’t a giant temple either, which was what Ayli had been expecting.

“This is a fortress?” Sali asked, gesturing to the high walls and the force dome which still covered the compound.

“Shouldn’t there’d be guns here too if so,” Zindiana asked.

“Depends on what the storms would do to them,” Ayli said. “At the very least, they might be retracted or recessed to protect them when they’re not in use.”

“Or there are no guns here at all,” Nix said, her voice slightly distant. “This isn’t a fortress. It’s a tomb.”

“Oh, well that’s excellent then!” Sali said. “Tombs have all kinds of neat stuff in them.”

“It shouldn’t be a tomb though,” Ayli said. “This is supposed to the Temple Ravas Durla founded.”

“Oh, wouldn’t that be interesting,” Zindiana said.

“What?” Ayli snapped, harsher than she had any need or intention to be.

“You’ve read the story, or myth, of Ravas Durla’s reign right?” Zindiana asked and continued on knowing that at least two people in the ship probably hadn’t. “The story the Children of the Storm spread was that Ravas Durla had returned to them after passing through the “Three Gates of Enlightenment” which was why she was still around a thousand or so years after her myth is set. That’s where the whole Eternal Life thing comes from.”

“What does that have to do with this place being a tomb?” Sali asked.

“Nothing,” Ayli said. “The Three Gates are supposed to be mental states, or symbolic trials you can pass through. The myths never speak of them as being physical places.”

“They don’t,” Zindiana agreed, “But as Trials they would, or could, have had different sites where the tests were endured, or undertaken, or whatever.”

“So this is, what, a testing ground?” Sali asked. “What’s the first trial supposed to be?”

“Seething,” Zindiana said. 

“It’s also translated as ‘Passion’,” Ayli said, recalling the myth Zindiana was speaking of.

“This isn’t a place of love,” Nix said.

“Not that kind of passion,” Ayli said. “The translations are difficult, but the sense of the word they use is more fiery, more aggressive. It’s the kind of passion that burns you up. That forces you to act, beyond your limits, beyond reason.”

“Is that why we’ve got red lightning here?” Sali asked.

“Possibly,” Zindiana said. “If this was the location of the first trial, they may have picked it for the ‘charged atmosphere’ as being conducive to the mental state they were trying to achieve.”

“You think the Children of the Storm built this place as a reference to Ravas’ myth?” Nix asked, sounding uncertain.

“They might have,” Zindiana said. “It certainly puts on a good show for new converts.”

“Wouldn’t that mean they wouldn’t keep their treasure here?” Sali asked.

“No. There’s treasure here,” Ayli said, almost able to picture it waiting for her.

“And death,” Nix said.

“Sounds like my usual stomping grounds,” Zindiana said. “Is there anywhere with an overhang you can put us down? Even if there’s nothing else here, we might be able to find the location of the second gate.”

“Yeah, I can see just where we should go,” Ayli said, an enclosed landing pad near the top of the central tower catching her attention and holding it fast.

“Where we have to go,” Nix mumbled, to no one in particular.

Droopy touched down as light as a feather, her controls as responsive as any Ayli had found in even the few top end racing ships she’d flown. 

“Someone should wait in the ship in case we need to leave quick,” Ayli said.

“You wouldn’t trust me to do that,” Sali said.

“Sure she would,” Zindiana said. “At least if I stay behind to watch over you.”

“I was thinking Nix should stay,” Ayli said. “Since she knows how to fix things if anything goes wrong.”

“No. I’m coming with you,” Nix said. It wasn’t a suggestion. It wasn’t even open to debate.

Ayli glanced at the pirate and the nun. Sure. Why not give them some alone time. Fewer people to split the treasure with.

“Whatever we find, I’m here with you,” Nix said, taking Ayli’s hand in her own.

Ayli’s breath caught in her throat. It was such a simple gesture. Why did it feel more intimate than if they’d wrapped their lekku together? Not that Nix had lekku. Not that she needed them. 

“Same,” Ayli said and, hand-in-hand, walked into the darkest place she’d ever ventured in her life.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 11

Lednon Three was everything Nix hated about planets rolled into one big, ugly, and forgettable ball in the sky. Hot and dry planets were bad enough but hot and miserably humid were terrible for a place where humans to live while being excellent for the sort of insect life which was seemed to be purpose built for consuming the flesh of humans foolish enough to venture to a climate which simply hated them.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to go down there,” Ayli said as they got dressed in the supplies they’d picked up at the most convenient outpost on the no longer used hyperspace routes to the Lednon System. 

It was a tempting offer. Almost painfully so. There was something about Lednon Three which filled Nix’s stomach with the sort of loathing usually reserved for incompetent repairs to life critical systems on a ship. 

Which was why she needed to go down there.

That didn’t make any sense.

She knew it didn’t make any sense.

And she knew she was going down to the planet’s surface with the others anyways.

“I want to see Sali’s expression when we find the treasure and she realizes she should have backed your play,” Nix said, which was true, though only a small part of her actual reasoning.

“Confession time,” Ayli said. “It is distinctly possible that the ‘treasure’, such as it is, may only be in the form of the historical significance of the site. This place is well hidden, but it’s been a long time, and if we’re the second people to find it, the first ones will almost certainly have made off with all the easily portable stuff, where ‘easily portable’ means it wasn’t nailed down so tightly that they couldn’t pry it loose.”

“And the problem with that would be what exactly?” Nix asked.

“I thought you married me for my money?” Ayli teased.

“I thought I married you so I could carry you back to your room and have my way with you?” Nix said. “Or maybe it was so you’d be there in the morning afterwards.”

Ayli rolled her eyes, but Nix thought she detected a faint tremor in Ayli’s lekku that was somewhere between a blush and a shiver of desire.

“You know, you haven’t had your way with me nearly enough since then,” Ayli said, just in time for the door to their room to chime and Sali to bellow from right outside it.

“I know this place has been waiting for us for a million years now, but I’d rather it didn’t have to wait a million more,” the pirate queen shouted, remaining scrupulously on the far side of the door.

“Are the modifications to the prison pod done already?” Nix asked tucking a a hat with heavy netting into her travel sack.

“Nope,” Goldie said. “I got all the changes put in place, but until you inspect it, the job’s not done.”

That Goldie had arrived at that conclusion on her own filled Nix with a glow of pride. Of course that part of Goldie’s development curriculum had been the safety regulations on every brand of star ship Nix could get her hands on, as well as the awful stories whose blood the regulations were written in, probably had something to do with how safety conscious Goldie turned out.

“I’ll be right down,” Nix said, leaving Ayli to finish packing their away supplies.

The Goldrunner wasn’t a big ship compared to some that Nix had worked on, but it was large enough that she had a moment alone with Sali as they walked to the cargo bay.

“So, Wensha? Didn’t think she was your type?” Sali asked

“I’ve got a lot of types,” Nix said. “Including ladies tall enough to climb like trees and pretty enough to stop my heart even after they held me prisoner for four days.”

“I’ve never been pretty a day in my life,” Sali said.

“Excuse me? Did I ever leave you the slightest room to doubt how ravishingly gorgeous you are?” Nix said.

Sali blinked and paused, falling behind Nix.

“You know, I don’t think that’s how someone should be talking to their ex-girlfriend,” she said, blushing a more distinct shade than Ayli had.

“It is if my next best alternative is to kick your butt over towards a certain badass nun who can’t take her eyes off you,” Nix said. “Or, wait, you’d like that wouldn’t you? Right, I think I can still lift you. I’ll just toss you at her when we get to the cargo bay.”

“What? No! Shut up! It’s not…”

“”Yes, it is. It is exactly like that,” Nix said. “If anyone here isn’t someone’s ‘type’, it’s me for you. We both know I was fun and different, but I wasn’t what you needed.”

“What I need is my crew back,” Sali said, looking at a particularly fascinating run of piping in the ceiling. “And a blaster.”

“You have a blaster,” Nix said. “You have three unless I’m mistaken. What you need is to stop wasting time.”

“We’re about to go and find treasure and riches beyond our wildest dreams according to Wensha. Now’s not the time for distractions,” Sali said.

“Fine. Tell her when we get back then,” Nix said and started walking again.

“I’ll think about it,” Sali said before mumbling under her breath, “Can’t take her eyes off me?”

Down in the cargo bay, Nix found Sister Zindiana performing her own inspection on the work Goldie had done via the waldos. The prison pod no longer even vaguely resembled its former self.

What had once been a generally spherical and featureless white ball had been retrofitted into a sleek wing craft with a single ion drive in the rear and seating for four in the center of the wing. Stabilizers and ailerons spoke to the craft’s intended capacity of flying through an atmosphere, as did the micro-deflector screen which was enveloping the plane as part of its automated system test routine.

“What do you think?” Nix asked, coming up to stand beside Sister Zindiana.

“I’ve flown farther in worse.”

“I’m not happy with the deflector field strength, and the complete lack of weapons isn’t going to do us any favors if it we get into a fight, but I can promise you the engine’s sound and the crew compartment is solid.”

“I still don’t understand how you took the little station keeping drive they put in the prison pod and turned it into that,” Zindiana said, pointing at the kitbashed ion drive that was central to Nix’s design.

“It wasn’t as hard as you might imagine,” Nix said. “It’s cheaper for Trino System to buy off-the-self ion drives and throw limiters on them than to make speciality drives for station keeping the pods. All I really had to do was cut out the limiter and then have Goldie resculpt the exterior housing to make it fit the new fuselage and add a few control surfaces to it help with maneuverability.”

“She’s leaving out the part where she built the control system for it from the flight components she scrapped from Goldrunner’s old kit when she was putting Goldie in,” Ayli said, joining them all with the exploration kit they’d assembled in tow.

“That’s just repurposing stuff to do things it’s already design to do. Anyone could do that,” Nix said, keenly aware that their drop ship would not be winning her any design awards.

She wasn’t sure why the other three looked at her in disbelief but some unspoken agreement seemed to pass between each of them and the conversation moved on.

“So is it done?” Goldie asked.

“The automated tests look fine,” Nix said. “Give me about ten minutes to check the last few things.”

No one was troubled by that, which wasn’t too surprising given how bad it would be if their landing crafting failed them.

They’d talked about avoiding that possibility by simply landing the Goldrunner on the surface, but as a medium freighter, Goldie was not exactly the stealthiest of crafts and for the first run in, it seemed wise to discover if there was anyone still on Lednon Three before those people discovered them.

Keenly aware of the trust the others were extending her, Nix spent a good half hour going over Goldie’s work, offering feedback where the ship had done well and showing Goldie how to make spot corrections in the few areas where she’d made mistake.

The end result wasn’t perfect, but it would see them through at least a month of flying before it would need  any touch up work. 

“You’ll keep a channel open to me, right?” Goldie asked as Nix and the others climbed aboard their new dropship.

“Yep. Though if we do find someone there already we may need to go silent while we check them out,” Nix said. “You’ve got our encrypted token though so you’ll still see our transponder and you’ll be able to check the wing’s vitals..”

“If we get in trouble…” Ayli started to say.

“I’ll come get you right away!” Goldie said.

“No, if we get in trouble, stay in orbit till you can figure out what happened. We can take care of ourselves,” Ayli said.

“You can come pick up me,” Sali said.

“Me too,” Zindiana said.

That the two of them couldn’t see the connection they already shared was bamboozling to Nix, but then that was why she preferred working with ships for the most part. Making connections there was simple and easy and came with a manual for when you ran into something new and confusing.

“Stay safe,” Nix said to Goldie. “There shouldn’t be anyone down there to cause problems, but if there is they’ll probably have some ships hidden up here that you’ll need to avoid.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Goldie said, which worried Nix but not for the reason any of the others would have picked up on.

Goldie had weapon systems, sure, but she also had a drive, like all other warp drives, that could twist the fabric of space and a record of how Nix had used that property of a warp drive to turn a deflector array into something akin to a matter conversion bomb. The fun thing was, while Nix had used a charged up deflector array for her bomb, really any old piece of baryonic matter would work just fine as a substitute. 

“No getting lost on us,” Nix said.

“Okay, Moooom!”, Goldie said with all the put-upon suffering any child might show their mother.

“We good to go?” Sali asked.

“You belted in?” Nix asked.

“Yeah. Why do we need belts though?” Sali asked.

Nix looked at the control panel she’d constructed. Everyone was strapped in, the outer doors to the cargo bay were ready to open, and her new ship was showing green lights across the board.

“Because of this,” Nix said, slamming the button to open the cargo doors and then the one to ignite the ion drive a moment later.

Most ships have some kind of inertial compensators to help buffer the crew from the rigors of extreme acceleration. Nix’s new ship did too. They just weren’t exactly enough to deal with the engine modifications she’d made to the ion drive.

“Grk!” said Sali, eloquently expressing the experience of being rammed back into her seat with a half dozen multiple of the force of general gravity.

The stars didn’t blur – they weren’t anywhere near lightspeed – but the planet which had been a pale fingernail sized orb in the distance grew closer fast enough that Nix’s passengers, hardened spacefarers the lot of them, grew audibly worried.

“Relax,” she said. “It’s going to be a very controlled crash!”

“I don’t remember signing up for any sort of crash at all, controlled or not,” Sali said.

“It’ll fool our enemies,” Nix said, delighted at the thought of how silly Sali was going to feel when they touched down as gently as a feather.

“We’re not supposed to have any enemies here,” Ayli said.

But they did.

Nix felt a cold presence waiting for them on Lednon Three, and knew that whatever else they found, they were going to find an unwelcoming reception to go along with it.

And that was when the laser barrage began to target them.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 10

It was possible to track people through hyperspace. Possible however was not the same as probable, or likely, or even necessarily something any old security force could do. The law enforcement corporation which serviced the Librarium Nocti for example lacked the capacity to track anything beyond the boundaries of the local star system, and it’s ability to monitor things outside a fairly narrow margin of the Library’s orbital path was limited at best. Despite knowing all that Ayli wasn’t quite able to relax until a few minutes after they jumped to lightspeed and the comforting blue swirl of hyperspace buffered them from pursuit with more distance than a sublight engine could cover in its operating lifetime.

“How’s our new guest doing?” she asked over the ship’s comm as she relaxed back into the pilot’s seat.

“According to my scans, she’s fine. Nix and Captain Saliandris are still working on the hatch to her pod though,” Goldie said in her accented voice.

“Need me to come down there and blast it open?” Ayli asked, relishing the idea of solving a problem which was stumping both an expert at infiltration and a master engineer in such a simple manner.

“Do you think I couldn’t have done that already?” Sali called back.

“You don’t have a blaster,” Ayli said and immediately began questioning that statement.

“Keep on thinking that,” Sali said. “I’m sure it will help you sleep at night. With my ex-girlfriend.”

Ayli flushed at that last bit. She thought she and Nix had been careful not to expose their relationship, whatever it was, to Sali out of concern over how she might take it.

The idea that Sali almost certainly had one or more blasters on her person and hadn’t yet shot either of them suggested she was taking the news of Nix’s new status as ‘unavailable’ on the better end of the spectrum. 

Antagonizing her still seemed like a bad idea though.

“We’re trying to keep the hatch intact she we can use the pod later if we need,” Nix said, grunting as she fiddled with some part of the mechanism Ayli guessed.

“No need to rush. I’ve been in here for days now, a bit longer won’t kill me,” Sister Zindiana said. “If you happen to have any real food though, I wouldn’t say no. The breadstuff they give prisoners gets bland quick even if it’s ‘good’ for us in theory.”

“No worries, I got ya covered there,” Goldie said.

“Wait, you do? Since when can you make food?” Ayli asked her ship.

“Nix added a few extra data stores to my memory banks,” Goldie said.

“Okay, so you know some recipes. How do you actually make them?” Ayli asked.

“I have the waldos do it,” Goldie said.

“The what?”

“These guys,” Goldie said as a small box with four limbs dropped down into the console in front of Ayli.

To her credit, Ayli felt, she did not shoot the thing on sight. In part that was because someone (Ayli had a wife with either an excellent or terrible sense of humor) had placed tiny video displays on them which were showing the most adorably silly pair of eyes they could manage.

“We have small droids on the ship now too?” Ayli asked.

“Not droids, just waldos,” Nix said, still grunting against the hatch’s mechanism.

“Where did you get…” Sali started to ask before cutting herself off. “Did you steal my micro-repair droids?”

“No! Of course not,” Nix said, pausing in her labor. “Goldie didn’t need droids. She just needed bot bodies she could operate remotely.”

“So you lobotomized my micro-repair droids?” Sali asked. “No, wait, you wouldn’t that.”

“Of course not,” Nix said. “I had the repair droids fashion back up bodies for themselves and left out the central processing units. The waldos don’t have any sentience of their own. They’re just remote controlled bots that Goldie can use to do simple tasks.”

“Goldie is an advanced droid?” Zindiana asked.

“I’m the ship,” Goldie said. “Nice to meet you Sister.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a ship with this level of interactivity?” Zindiana said.

“Yeah, I’m built different,” Goldie said.

“You never planned to let me have this ship, did you?” Sali asked.

“She’s not someone anyone can really have,” Nix said. “She’s her own person now.”

“That you made,” Sali said.

“I provided the parts, or, well, you provided the parts, most of them. I just connected them all together. Goldie pretty much built herself from there.”

“Given yourself more credit than that Mom,” Goldie said. “You gave me all the learning packs I needed to build my core from, and you kept me from tipping over into catastrophic self-reference loops more than once.”

“Yeah, but that’s easy stuff,” Nix said. “You did all the hard work.”

“You know, I’m not the engineer you are, but I’ve worked with droid makers. Raising a new droid brain, or whatever they call it, that’s not something many people can do. Usually they just copy them from one of the standard templates,” Sali said. “Of course then you get idiots like my body guards. Always loyal, and never thinking for themselves.”

“A lot of people prefer the loyal bit, but it puts some hard limits on what the droids can do,” Nix said.

“Doesn’t that mean that Goldie could simply open all the hatches and let us choke on vacuum if we do something she doesn’t like?” Zindiana asked.

“Yep,” Nix said. “Ayli could do the same thing from the pilot’s cabin. And I could too, if you let me near engineering. Just because we can be a danger to each other doesn’t mean fear needs to guide our actions. If Goldie’s upset with something we ask her to do, she can always just talk to us about it. You know, like people do.”

“In my experience, people are more likely to space you than talk to you if they’re upset about something, but I’ll concede that I may not have associated with the best people out there,” Sali said.

“You and me both,” Zindiana agreed.

Ayli could almost hear the stupid grin that broke out over Sali’s face even though they were at opposite ends of the ship and Sali didn’t say a word.

“Good news then, so far I like the people I’ve been associating with. Nix gave me all kinds of toys and Other Mom’s a better pilot than I am, so I’d like to keep her too,” Goldie said.

“Other Mom?” Ayli asked.

“Would you prefer Second Mom? I thought that sounded a little too much like Second Best Mom, which, I don’t want to choose sides there,” Goldie said.

Ayli shook her head.

She could not possibly have foreseen where the decision to go to Canto Blight to blow off some steam would have led to and, for the life of her, she couldn’t imagine where it was going to lead.

‘Aren’t I too young to be a Mom?’ she wondered. Technically the answer was no, she’d been an adult Twi’lek for more than a decade, but kids hadn’t ever been part of her plans. Or long term relationships for that matter.

So why wasn’t she hating this one?

“We got it!” Nix announced with glee, derailing Ayli’s thoughts.

“So it’s safe to come out now?” Zindiana asked.

“Well, there are kidnappers, and pirates, and thieves out here,” Sali said, with what was technically complete honesty.

“Excellent, those are my kind of people,” Zindiana said.

“Don’t forget historians,” Ayli said. “There was a method behind this madness.”

“Ah yes, the Children of the Storm and the Temple of Eternal Self Delusion,” Zindiana said.

“The place really is bogus then I take it?” Sali asked.

“The cult was real. Their hidden temple was probably real too. The offer of Eternal Life, or Eternal Youth, or Eternal Anything though? Let’s just say it’s real easy to sell people on things that they’re willing to wait till the end of their life to see come true.” Zindiana said.

“Hah! I knew this was one of Wensha’s usual bad deals,” Sali said.

“Ask her about the Phrik before you start gloating too much you pirate,” Ayli said.

“There is that,” Zindiana said. “The Temple of Eternal Disappointment was probably a scam but scams can still make a lot of money. In this case they were pulling in so many donations they could afford to mint their own coins out of Phrik, and statues, and other nicely portable objects of high value.”

“Why would they do that?” Nix asked. “I mean apart from being able to load up a bunch of money and blast out of there once people starting asking too many questions?”

“Would you need another reason?” Sali asked. “Wait, I suppose you would. Normal criminals though would be fine with that.”

“They would but the Children weren’t normal criminals,” Zindiana said. “They had Grand Plans, and Grand Plans require buying off the sort of people for whom simple credit transfers are a bit too gauche.”

“People like who?” Sali asked.

“Planetary governors. Fleet Admirals. The Galactic Senate. They had the whole ‘Rule the Galaxy’ thing going on that a lot of these cults buy into,” Zindiana said.

“That takes more than a few coins and some art,” Sali said, speaking with the voice of experience.

“Hence why they had a hidden temple to stockpile it all,” Zindiana said. “Or at least that’s one theory. The problem is no one’s ever found it, and there’ve been plenty of people who’ve looked for it.”

“Yeah, but none of them were looking in the right place,” Ayli said, stepping into the cargo hold.

“And you are?” Sali asked.

“Not yet. Not until the good Sister and I compare notes.”

“I’m not sure I’ll be much help there. You asked where the Children’s artifacts I know of come from, and I can point you to about a dozen sites in the Kalmorvis system, with one or two more in the Glaxus and Fardray systems that are nearby to it, but those systems have been scanned down to the micrometer looking for any traces of the Temple with no luck to be had.”

“Yeah, because the Temple’s definitely not in those systems,” Ayli said. “Give me about an hour with the star charts and I’ll be able to tell you exactly where it is though, or at least what system it’s in.”

“How?” Sali asked.

“Triangulation!” Nix said.

“I don’t follow either,” Zindiana said.

“Picture you’re a paranoid cult leader whose fleecing the masses and you’ve got a giant horde of money in various forms to safeguard,” Ayli said.

“I’m liking this picture so far,” Sali said, for which Nix bapped her in the arm.

“Do you, a.) do business out of the world your hidden store of wealth is secured on, or b.) do business out of a fake front, or c.) do business out of several fake fronts?”

“I’m liking option C,” Zindiana said. “Especially because it make it almost impossible to tell where my actual storehouse is kept.”

“Yep, but someone might still work it out. Stumble on your system and then what?” Ayli asked.

“Then you kill them and dump the body into the nearest star,” Sali said.

“And if they have more ships than you?” Ayli asked.

“Then they kill you and dump you into the nearest star,” Sali said, apparently long resigned to such a fate.

“Which is an outcome even paranoid cult leaders would prefer to avoid,” Ayli said. “So you make sure no one can find you.”

“By never leaving the star system?” Sali asked.

“Nope, by making the star system not exist,” Ayli said.

“That’s a tall order even for a really rich cult,” Zindiana said.

“Is it? If you’ve got ‘bribe senators’ level of wealth, how pricey do you think a low level tech tending the Galactic Survey Registry would be to buy out?” Ayli asked.

“Oh!” Nix said, catching on to what Ayli was saying as the missing piece of the puzzle.

“The Galactic Survey can’t be hacked though. People have tried it,” Sali said.

“And lots of them have succeeded,” Ayli said. “The Survey goes to a lot of trouble to keep that secret, and to be fair, they do catch most of the mistake, eventually. The problem is that sometimes hyperspace routes do change, and some of the old survey results were corrupted when they were taken, so there are legitimate problems that have to be addressed, stars that aren’t really there and need to be deleted for example.”

“How does this help us then?” Zindiana asked.

“Like I said, give me about an hour and I’ll have the system we need. It’ll be one with route to the systems where we know artifacts were found, but which was deleted sometime around when the Children needed to setup the treasure hoard. They tried to hide it, but nothing stays hidden forever.”

That was a sentiment she would regret being right about.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 9

Getting into solitary confinement was remarkable easy from Nix’s point of view. She’d always pictured jails as being warrens of impenetrable security with the prisoners desperate to escape. On Librarium Nocti though, the orbital prison cells were clean, well lit, and relatively spacious (at least compared to some of the engine compartments Nix had called ‘home’).

As for prisoner’s being desperate to escape, there was the slight matter that each of the orbital cells was an isolated container with nothing but cold, hard vacuum outside which did a good job of dissuading the inmates from trying to burst free of their confines.

“Why is she in solitary?” Ayli asked the jailer who was ferrying them over to the cell from the prisons main facility.

“She got creative with the head of the Underwile Group,” the jailer said. “Sounds like he’ll be spending a few months in a bacta tank before they have all of his bits regrown and reattached.”

“A violent nun? We didn’t use to get those around here,” Ayli said.

“Why did she attack him?” Nix asked, guessing that there was more to story than a random encounter.

“Said he’d taken something that didn’t belong to him,” the jailer said.

“Seems like if her problem was with the Underwile’s head honcho, she wouldn’t be enough of a general menace to warrant solitary. What else did she do?” Ayli asked.

“You didn’t see the mess,” the jailer said. “That’s not why she’s in solitary though. We’re not protecting the inmates from her, we’re protecting her from the Underwile Group’s retaliation.”

“Why would they…” Nix started to asked before the answer leapt out at her. Companies didn’t tend to invest in revenge. It wasn’t profitable. What was extremely profitable though was silencing people who knew their secrets, and whether or not Sister Zindiana knew any further secrets was irrelevant. She’d known one, so she might know more, and there was only one method guaranteed to prevent those theoretical secrets from being revealed.

“Yeah. That,” Ayli said, guessing where Nix’s thoughts had gone.

“You know we won’t be able to provide any protection for you two,” the jailer said. “Are you sure you still want to talk with her?

Nix glanced over to Ayli. They needed this lead, but they also needed to avoid being murdered by paranoid research labs. Ayli shrugged acknowledging both the opportunity they couldn’t pass up and the danger which was tagging alone in its wake.

“We’ll be fine,” Nix said. They wouldn’t be, not perfectly so, but she was pretty sure they were where they needed to be.

Her answer came at a good time as the prison shuttle clanged against the orbital cell a moment later.

“Once more to make sure you’ve got it, here’s the drill. You’re going to get into the airlock. You will seal the door to this craft and the outer hatch to the airlock. You will then, and only then, unseal the door to the cell. Unsealing the cell door will unlatch this craft. If you reverse the order, you will be sucked into the void and I have no external controls or tractor beams with which to retrieve you. If you are capable of surviving in hard vacuum you will…”

“We’re not,” Ayli interrupted him. “And we won’t get the order wrong.”

“You’d be surprised how many people do,” the jailer said and waved them to move out of the shuttle.

Nix checked the hatch readings first. That hadn’t been one of the instructions, but Nix knew better than to rely on standard instructions instead of long learned lessons in how equipment failed.

In this case, as in most others, the equipment was fine. The hatch connection was solid, air pressure was appropriately low but present, and the latch on the cell’s door was properly fastened.

With a flick of the required buttons, she opened the hatch door and stepped in, waiting until Ayli had joined her before shutting and sealing the shuttle’s inner door and the airlock’s outer hatch before releasing the cell’s latch.

“Huh, guess they couldn’t scare you away,” the nun on the other side of the hatch said without turning away from the small counter where she was heating up her latest meal.

“Should we be scared?” Ayli asked, seemingly as unconcerned as it was possible for a mortal woman to be.

“I don’t know,” Sister Zindiana said turning to face them with a loaf of fresh breadstuff in her hands. “They seem to think that I should be. You’re not assassin’s are you?”

“Not according to the weapon scanners they made us walk through,” Ayli said.

“Though those aren’t particularly hard to fool,” Nix said. She wasn’t compulsively honest. Far from it. She did like to talk about tech more than was probably good though.

“That wasn’t a threat,” Ayli said. “That’s just Nix being helpful.”

“Oh that was helpful,” Zindiana said. “It tells me I need to get out of here sooner rather than later.”

“Before you do that, would you be able to answer a few questions for us?” Nix asked.

“I’m not required to incriminate myself,” Zindiana said. “My counselor made sure I knew that.”

“We’re not here to ask about what you did,” Ayli said. “We just need some information on Phrik artifacts.”

“Well, I should warn you, that is what got the other guy stabbed,” Zindiana said.

“But you don’t have any knives here.” Nix looked around to be sure of that claim as she made it.

“Yes, that is what the weapon scanners say.” Zindiana’s smirk was more playful than threatening but she was also standing in the relaxed posture of someone who did not feel at all disarmed.

“Maybe I can buy an answer then,” Ayli said. “Recognize this?” She tossed one of the Phrik coins she had to Zindiana.

“The Children of the Storm? I didn’t know there was any one else looking into them. Did you come to the Library for my talk?”

“Sadly we were busy being held captive ourselves then,” Ayli said. “Also, I didn’t see any event announcement for it.”

“My chapter house doesn’t have enough money for Holonet ads,” Zindiana said. “Which is why I came here. Thought it would be easy to attract a decent audience from just the local networks.”

“And instead you found someone who needed to be stabbed?” Nix asked.

“Technically I didn’t stab him,” Zindiana said. “And that was a surprise to me too. It’s not often you find the perpetrator of a cultural genocide sitting in the front row for one of your lectures. Still can’t believe he offered to show me his collection just like that. Not an ounce of shame or humanity in that one.”

“What was it that he stole?” Nix asked, knowing that it was the kind of question Zindiana would have every right to refuse to answer, but curious nonetheless.

“A statue called the Hope of Dawn, as well as the lives of the entire village that was tasked with protecting it,” Zindiana said. “I can’t do anything to bring those back, but the statue needs to go back to the other people on Consordia. It’s a centerpoint of two of their biggest festivals and has been a part of the shared cultures for a millenia.”

“Why not just take it and go then?” Ayli asked.

“That was the plan. Then I got trapped in his house and he thought he was going to have some fun. Did you know some people have health monitors that will automatically call the authorities to their home if their vital signs show a sufficient level of distress for a sufficient period of time? I didn’t and neither did he it turned out!”

“We could get the statue and bring it back to the Consordians,” Nix said, sharing a gaze with Ayli to make sure the offer was okay.

It was questionable at best. Apart from politely requesting the artifact be handed over, there weren’t any legal methods of returning it to its home, and several of the illegal ones were liable to get them both killed.

“Oh, I didn’t leave it with him,” Zindiana said.

“I thought he trapped you in his house?” Ayli said.

“There’s trapped and then there’s trapped,” Zindiana said. “But that’s not what you came here to ask me about, is it? You want to know where the Temple of Eternal Life and/or Youth is right?”

“You’re familiar with it too?” Ayli asked, failing to appear innocent in any manner whatsoever.

Zindiana sighed and rolled her eyes.

“Treasure hunters. You always think your so clever.”

“She’s a historian,” Nix said, it being important to defend one’s spouse when the opportunity arose.

“Published any research on the Children of the Storm?” Zindiana asked.

“I need to do the research before I can publish,” Ayli said. “Or does your order do things in reverse?”

“Cute,” Zindiana said in an only mildly annoyed tone before turning to Nix. “You should keep her. She’s quick this one.”

“”I plan to,” Nix said.

“We’re not asking about the Temple of Youthful Life or whatever it is,” Ayli said. “If you knew where that was, you wouldn’t be giving talks on it. We’re just looking for other locations where the Children’s Phrik artifacts have been found.”

“That’s easy. I know plenty of sites where their stuff has turned up,” Zindiana said.

“And those would be?” Ayli asked.

“Something I will share with you as soon as you get me out of here,” Zindiana said. “I believe I did mention that I’d like to leave sooner rather than later?”

**********

Planning a prison break had not been on Nix’s agenda for the day, nor was it something her skillset was particularly suited for. 

But she knew someone whose skills were more or less perfect for the job.

“Sali!” she called out as the stepped back into the Goldrunner. “We’ve got a job for you Sali!”

When there was no response, Nix headed to Sali’s cabin with Ayli in tow.

“I thought I was on vacation?” Sali said. Sitting in bed. With a datapad. And sulking.

“This isn’t that kind of job. This is a Job,” Nix said walking over to plug a datachip into the monitor on wall of Sali’s room. “We’re breaking someone out of prison!”

Sali spent a long moment looking from Nix to Ayli and back to Nix.

“You’re serious?” Sali said and Nix answered with a nod. “Not just no but hell no then. I had my own criminal kingdom to run thank you very much. I’m not helping you set one up for yourself.”

Nix noticed the “had my own” phrasing rather than “have my own” and smiled. It was a good sign that, for all her sulking, Sali was acclimating to the idea of leaving Calerpris behind and moving on to a life that suited her better.

“She’s a pretty nun,” Nix said, countering Sali’s argument with that and a picture of Sister Zindiana displayed on the wall monitor. It was Zindiana’s arrest photo, but it was the look in her eyes that was truly the arresting part of it.

Sali managed to stay silent for another moment before a deep frown broke across her face.

“Damn you, Lamplighter.”

**********

For as open and relatively pleasant as the the Librarium Nocti penitentiary system seemed from a short visit, it was still a heavily guarded and carefully controlled warren of security systems, traps, and fully staffed defenses.

Ayli had suggested, jokingly, that they simply charge in, blasters blazing and rescue the fair maiden with brute force and no plan at all. Nix had objected that Sister Zindiana’s skin was darker than her own and that they had no reason to assume she was a maiden. Sali had objected that Ayli’s plan would get them killed in short order and proceeded to break down, in detail, the thirty seven failure points ‘just run in and shoot anyone who tries to stop us’  would have (once she was able to do some research, Sali amended that number to 84 failure points).

Ayli’s response was to challenge Sali to do better.

So Sali did.

And that was how they came to be flying out of the system with not just Sister Zindiana but her entire orbital prison cell in the Gold Runner’s cargo hold.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 8

Ayli didn’t know how she’d been caught. The chance that Nix would take them to the one planet, and one the bio-dome out of the tens of thousands where people were likely to be waiting in ambush for her should have been a statistical impossibility. As her breath was crushed out of her, she briefly wondered if Nix hadn’t been a secret plant all along, carefully designed to lure her into this exact moment.

“Ayli! You’re back! How are my niece?” Gewla asked, or really growled, out in Shryiiwook.

Ayli patted Gewla’s arm three time to say ‘I can’t speak, you’re crushing me’. That wasn’t a part of Galactic Basic or Shryiiwook because most Wookies didn’t need to be reminded that their adopted niece was far more squishable than they were.

Fortunately for Ayli, she hadn’t been go so long that her Aunt had forgotten their shared language additions.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just so happy to see you,” Gewla said and then noticed Nix who was climbing out of the shuttle with a bemused look in her eyes.

How Nix could tell that Ayli wasn’t under an actual assault, Ayli wasn’t sure, but from the general surprise and confusion in Nix’s body language, Ayli had to discount the idea that she’d been a secret agent in Gewla’s employ.

Probably.

Humans were so difficult to read with their absence of the sensible lekku Twi’leks possessed. Though to be fair, Ayli had to admit that lekku or no lekku, Nix was open in a way few people Ayli’d known were. Or at least she was for Ayli. She had tricked Sali pretty thoroughly. Ayli wanted to ponder that further, but more pressing matters were at hand.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Ayli said. “You know how it goes though. You get a paper to write, which gives you a lead on a new discovery, and that leads to another lead, and then a dead end, and then another lead and somehow a couple of years have gone by.”

Ayli had been tempted to explain in Shryiiwook, but her ability to pronounce things properly in Gewla’s home tongue was mediocre at best. Also the growling left her throat raw after about five minutes of trying it. 

“You two know each other I take it?” Nix asked, as though there was any other explanation for what she’d witnessed.

“Nix Lamplighter, may I introduce Archivist Gewla, my aunt,” Ayli said. She didn’t add the ‘adopted’ part. It was obvious and an unimportant distinction as far as she was concerned. “Aunt Gewla, Nix Lamplifter, my…” she paused trying to decide what the right answer was for the unspoken question of who Nix was to her. “My ship’s engineer.”

Ayli kicked herself. That wasn’t the right choice. Nix was more than that. Wasn’t she? But even if that was true, did Nix want to advertise that? Especially to Ayli’s family who might have expectations of her?

They probably needed to talk about that Ayli decided, but not until they were alone.

Gewla snapped clapped her hands and a small droid hopped up onto her shoulder.

“A pleasure to meet you Nix Lamplighter,” Gewla said in Shryiiwook. The droid repeated her words in Galactic Basic.

“A pleasure to meet you as well Archivist Gewla,” Nix said, keeping her eyes on Gewla rather than the micro-protocol droid, something far too few people seemed to think to do.

“What brings you to the Library? Have you eaten? Come, Vromno will have your favorite meal almost ready now,” Gewla said, grabbing Ayli’s arm to ‘encourage’ her to follow along.

“You knew were coming?” Ayli asked.

“No. This is a wonderful surprise,” Gewla said.

“How will Uncle Vromno have Bosnin Berry Ryyk Supreme ready then?” Ayli asked.

“He’ll start making it when we get there,” Gewla said, ignoring two hour prep and cooking time the dish required.

Ayli glanced back at Nix to see Nix looking to her for guidance. 

This clearly hadn’t been Nix’s idea since she seemed to have no idea how to respond to Gewla’s offer, or even Gewla in general, but from her nod she seemed to be willing to follow Ayli’s lead. Whatever that turned out to be.

Fleeing from Gewla would have been possible. Ayli knew any number of white lies which could have covered her, from something as elaborate as needing to make an appointment to view a private collection on the other side of the planet, to something as simple as needing to secure a room and some sleep after a long hyperspace trip.

The promise of Bosnin Berry Ryyk Supreme though was a difficult one to pass up. 

Not to mention that she knew she should spend some time with her adopted family. They’d been good to her when the galaxy hadn’t, and she didn’t want them to ever think she wasn’t grateful.

“Uncle Vromno doesn’t have to go to all that trouble,” Ayli said. “We can treat you two to something if you’ll let us.”

“Nonsense,” Gewla said. “You’ll eat with us. That will be our treat.”

Ayli could have predicted that response word-for-word but her objections had still been worth making. 

“You’ll let us help prepare the Ryyk?” Ayli asked, again making an honest offer that she knew would be refused.

“It’s already prepared,” Gewla said. “Vromno just needs to scale it, bone it, and make up the marinade.”

And probably go to the nearest market and buy it as well, unless Ayli missed her guess.

“Then we can sit and talk with you,” Ayli said, which was, of course, exactly what Gewla wanted to hear.

Gewla and Vromno’s house had an entirely different set of random relics and unlabeled artifacts scattered around it than the last time Ayli had visited them, but that was consistent with every other time Ayli had come home.

As one of the “first lines of defense” against the flood of random trash that was submitted to the Library for “archival purposes”, Gewl and Vromno always had a wealth of fascinating treasures they were evaluating for formal submission to one of the specialized bio-domes (or submission to the nearest trash compactor, depending on the piece’s actual value and uniqueness). The rooms and rooms they had which were full of the stuff was nothing like Ayli’s childhood home, but the years she’d spent with them had lent their dwelling the same sense of belonging that her families home had possessed.

“Your engineer is very pretty for human, is she not?” Gewla tapped the mini-protocol droid so that it wouldn’t translate that and added. “How long have you been together?”

Gewla wasn’t one to tease Ayli about her relationships, few of them as there’d been, but there was an undercurrent of “is this someone we should have met long ago” to her question.

“We just met a little over a week ago,” Ayli said. “On Canto Blight.” She didn’t know why that seemed like an important detail. It certainly wasn’t going to keep Gewla from asking even more questions.

“I needed a job and Ayli’wensha needed a mechanic. It was quite fortunate,” Nix said, apparently not having guessed what Gewla’s first question had been.

“That sounds wonderful!” Gewla said, allowing the droid to resume its translation. “Vromno and I met by serendipity like that too.”

Ayli knew Gewla had always hoped Ayli would find a mate as loving and supportive as Vronmo was to her, even well after Ayli had abandoned the notion that such a person existed. She forgotten how lacking in subtlety on the subject Gewla was though. If Nix wasn’t already married to her, Ayli would have been terrified of her Aunt scaring Nix off. As it was though, Nix’s answer was almost more worrisome in the other direction.

“Really? I’ll have to hear that story. It’s always good to know how successful relationships are put together.”

Was that…did Nix want…well, yes, she’d said exactly that. But that had been the Santo Nectar talking…no, Ayli couldn’t pretend that was the case. Still. It was…nice? Or terrifying? Both. What Nix was suggesting was both.

“What brings you to the Library?” Gewla asked, obviously seeing her niece’s plight and choosing mercy for a change.

“Research,” Ayli said, which was admittedly the least helpful of all possible answers. The only reasons anyone came to the Librarium Nocti was for research. “There’s an ancient religious order that I’m trying to track down.”

“And what sort of treasure did this ancient religious order leave behind?” Vromna said as he entered the room with a pitcher of Apri nectar and some freshly defrosted Luni Plums.

It was funny to hear the translation of his words come from the same protocol droid that Gewla was using, though the droid had at least been equipped with multiple vocal patterns to distinguish who it was translating for, so the Basic version of his words held the same deep resonance as he actual voice.

“It’s not about the treasure Uncle,” Ayli said.

“It’s always about the treasure,” Gewla said. “The trick is noticing when you’ve found it.”

She gestured to the widgets and detritus which filled the room, seven of which were in the middle of being evaluated on her work bench.

“Some treasures are easier to recognize than others,” Nix said, a comment which Ayli simply refused to evaluate at all. “That’s an actual overload break from the second Death Star not a replica, isn’t it?” Nix pointed to helix of badly scorched golden and silvered metal which was in the ‘To Be Worked On Soon’ pile beside Gewla’s table.

“That’s the claim,” Gewla said. “We’ll need to perform conductivity tests on it to be sure, but the chain of ownership supports it originating in the Endor system.”

“If it’s real, it’ll have a 256 character ID code etched into the inner coils,” Nix said.

“How do you know that?” Ayli asked, more curious than surprised by Nix’s oddly eclectic knowledge.

“The Emporor ‘liquidated’ the company that made them after they delivered a sufficient supply for the second Death Star. I guess he didn’t want anyone making a rival battle station or something. The few that weren’t blown up go for a lot of credits, not because anyone wants to make another Death Star but because they let you amp up the output of your hyperdrive by a factor of 2.5 without worrying about blowing it out or exploding. It’s a really efficient part. It had to be to support the load of the Death Star’s main laser.” 

Nix looked like she could have gone on longer but silenced herself out of habit from a lifetime of people being uninterested in what she had to say. The could not have been less true of Gewla and Vromna, who were hanging on her every word.

“Oh, I think we need her,” Gewla said. “You can find another one, right Ayli?”

“Hey. No. Hands off. She’s mine,” Ayli said and immediately regretted the outburst.

Coming home sucked. People knew how to push her buttons too easily.

“What can you tell us about the religious order you’re looking for?” Vromno asked.

“They claimed to have found the secret to Eternal Life, or it could have been Eternal Youth, the source text is in Shadow Vyllandi and they use the same term for both,” Ayli said.

“Shadow Vyllandi? Are you looking for the ‘Children of the Storm’?” Vromna asked.

“Yeah. Wait, how did you know? Have you heard of them?” Ayli asked.

“Not until last week,” Gewla said. “There was a shipment of artifacts that came in from Beta Narsus which had the strangest Phrik coins. We were going to send them out to the Cyberiad Metal Concern for analysis but there was a Nun who was giving a seminar on Phrik based religious paraphernalia so we went to see if she could provide any information on the Phrik coins.”

“Did she? Or, was she able to?” Ayli asked.

“Yes. She identified them as being minted by the Children of the Storm. Said she’d been doing research on them for ten standard years now,” Gewla said.

“Do you know where she is now?” Nix asked. “We’d like to talk to her if we could.”

“That’ll be a little tricky,” Vromna said. “The last I heard, she was in solitary confinement in one of the orbital prison cells.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 7

Nix had always pictured the Grand Stellar Library as a planet-wide edifice of data stores and ancient artifacts, carefully organized so that researchers would be able to find the information they sought with a minimal amount of work. In theory that was exactly what they found when the Goldrunner arrived at the General Patrons port. In practice the Library started showing off its unexpected quirks immediately.

“Why is it hollow?” Nix ask as she and Ayli disembarked into a docking ring which orbited the surface of a sphere which seemed to have no interior and exterior that was more of a latticework of domed biosphere than a proper planetary surface.

“You can blame the archives for that,” Ayli said. “Each one is kept in a strictly regulated environment in terms of gravity, temperature, humidity, all that stuff. It was easier to build the Knowing Center – those bio domes down there – and once they had enough of them they didn’t need the rest of the planet.”

“But, wait, that doesn’t make sense,” Nix said. “The orbital dynamics alone would be easier to deal with if the original mass was here. Not to mention all the resources you can get for free from a planetary body like magnetospheres and so on.”

“Oh, they’re getting their free resources out of the planets core still,” Ayli said. “You can’t see the Solar Ring from here, but it collects all the energy the Library needs and then some.”

“That doesn’t make sense either!” Nix said. She wasn’t a Stellar Architectural specialist but she was familiar enough with the relative masses of habitable planets and stars to know that you couldn’t put a ring around one from the materials you found in the other. Or at least she was pretty sure you couldn’t? Maybe if you pounded it really thin? 

“There’s not a lot about this place that makes sense,” Ayli said. “They call it a Library, but honestly it’s more of a museum or a zoo. The data stores are ridiculously extensive but copies of them can be found all over the place. What the ‘Library’ really specializes in is artifact collection and storage.”

“That does sound like a museum,” Nix said. “The question is, will it be a museum we can use.”

“For a price? Almost certainly. For a price than any three systems put together could afford? Eh, it’ll depend,” Ayli said.

“On what?” Nix asked, curious how Ayli knew so much about the library. Ayli had said that she was a historian, but Nix sensed a more personal connection than mere academic interest would provide.

“If we can find a trail in the Public Archives, we shouldn’t have to pay too much for access to the artifacts that would confirm what we need to know. If we find something and it leads us to the Restricted Archives, or worse, the Private ones, we might as well start searching the galaxy at random, otherwise Ravas’ temple could be built from solid Phrik and we’d still wind up in debt until the heat death of the universe.”

Nix smiled. She kind of liked the idea of wandering the galaxy at random with Ayli looking for lost treasure. She also liked eating and being able to maintain the ship though, so treating their current endeavor like an actual job was lamentably rather important.

“We’re not waiting for Sali are we?” Ayli asked when the droid driven shuttle pulled up. “She’s still sulking in her room, right?”

Sali had not been especially pleased when she’d woken up from her gel packet induced healing slumber. The nine hour nap had done her just as much good as Nix had predicted it would – wounds healed, strength reinvigorated, all that and yet it had not improved her mood.

“She’s not sulking,” Nix said, getting into the shuttle and making room for Ayli to join her. “She’s evaluating.”

“Evaluating what? How much of a bounty she’d have to claim on us for all this to be worth it to her?” Ayli said as she slid into the shuttle’s other seat behind the droid pilot. 

With the passengers collected, the droid indicated the fare payment terminal which Nix dropped a credit stick in. She was sure it wasn’t particularly traceable given that she’d pilfered it from Sali’s fortress before they left, and Sali was much too smart to allow her moves to be tracked by any kind of automated system. Nix just wished Sali would apply that intelligence to accepting that her current situation was exactly where she needed to be.

“She knows I’m right. She knows she’s not going back to Calerpris. She just doesn’t know what to do instead yet,” Nix said and felt the shuttle push off and begin the descent down to what had felt like it was the most useful biodome they were allowed to visit.

“She sounded pretty certain she was going back this morning when I brought her breakfast to her,” Ayli said. 

“Of course she did. When have you ever heard Saliandris say anything that would indicate she’d ever once been wrong about something? That’s not how you can tell that she’s changed her thinking about her ‘enforced vacation’ though.”

“What’s her tell for that?”

“We’re not tied up in the hold while she pilots the ship back to her fortress,” Nix said.

“She hasn’t had time for that. We’ve kept her locked up in her room for the last two days,” Ayli said. “Haven’t we?”

“No. Her door’s not locked. She could have come out and joined us any time she wanted to,” Nix said. “Which is why she hasn’t.”

“Ah, right, because if she came out and did anything but overthrow us, she’d be admitting the vacation suited her.”

“I have no illusions how a two on one fight would go. Not if the one was Sali. Given that the one is Sali though, I also know she has nothing to gain by taking us back to Calerpris. She doesn’t need money – she’s got plenty scattered in accounts around the galaxy. She doesn’t need a position of authority – people listen to everything she says even if they’ve only just met her. And as for that fortress of hers? That was far more of a prison than the Goldrunner ever could be.”

“So you’re thinking when she calms down, she thank you for this?”

“I’m expecting she’ll decide to trust me again something after the last star in the galaxy burns down to a cold dark lump of iron. That’s not all that important though. How she feels me about me doesn’t change what she needs.” 

Nix wasn’t quite sure why she was so certain of that. She could have called it ‘intuition’, but most people didn’t seem to have the same guiding clarity when it came to their intuitive guesses. 

It had been that same sense of clarity which had led to her abandoning Sali in the first place, and had caused her to maroon her ex-captain and his crew on a backwater planet off the known hyperspace lanes. She’d later learned that the captain and his crew were ex-Imperials who’d been contacted to form a ‘Storm Trooper Recruitment’ team – also known as a kidnapping squad to bring kids to one of the Re-Education Centers which the New Republic hadn’t discovered in order to “train up a new generation of Storm Troopers for the Empire’s glorious return!”

Nix hadn’t known any of that when she’d set the hyperdrive to melt down and take the sublight engines with it, she’s only been certain that the next trip the crew took was wrong and that she couldn’t let it happen.

So she hadn’t, and as an indirect result, the New Republic had stumbled on the hidden Storm Trooper brainwashing camp’s location when they investigated the missing ship’s last known hyperspace location and trajectory.

Her motivation with Sali was far more benign and her intuition seemed to appreciate that based on the calm she felt when speaking about what she’d done.

Or maybe that was just being with Ayli?

Somehow, talking when her wife was around was significantly easier.

“Sorry again for springing this one you,” Nix said, the thought of losing Ayli’s trust by failing to include her in potentially deadly decisions lapping back up from the sea of her anxieties.

“I was the one who suggested we go to Calerpris. I’m taking you getting us out of there in one piece as a minor miracle at least,” Ayli said.

“It wasn’t that hard,” Nix said. “And it didn’t have to include Sali. We didn’t even really have a debt to her to pay off.”

“We didn’t,” Ayli agreed with a nod. “But you wanted to do the right thing.”

“Or at least what I thought was the right thing,” Nix said.

“It probably was, and doing the right thing is important. Important and dangerous. Which makes you brave, and, to be honest, that’s terrifying.”

“Why?”

“Because brave people don’t last. But what they do does.”

“What do you mean?” Nix asked, feeling like she was standing at a long seal door and on the other side of it were parts of Ayli which Ayli barely even revealed to herself.

“I’ve seen a lot of people die doing the right thing,” Ayli said. “It’s easy to hate that. You can spend days screaming your head off and crying your eyes out and that doesn’t do anything to bring them back. When you’re done screaming and crying though, what they did is there waiting for you. The consequences they gave they lives for. You wouldn’t think anything would be worth that, but there are. People, sometimes even places, sometimes even just an idea. I try to remember that every day, but I’m not that good at it.”

Which wasn’t true in the slightest, though Nix could feel the anxiety and pain that lay under Ayli’s words nearly ripping through her flesh.

“I don’t think anyone is,” Nix said. “I think it’s something we always need to work at. If we choose do so at all.”

“Just…” Ayli paused, either searching for words, or unsure of the ones she had. “Just before you do anything too brave, remember you’ve got something to live for too, okay?”

Nix wasn’t surprised when Ayli leaned over to kiss her but the wave of emotion that crashed around her as they embraced was more intense than she’d imagined it would be.

She melted into Ayli’s arms and reached up to trail a gentle caress down Ayli’s lekku only pulling her hand back at the last moment when she remembered exactly how sensitive Ayli’s head tails were and how far away their bed was.

“I’ll always be happy to run away with you,” Nix said which earned her a smirk from Ayli.

Before she could kiss the smirk away, the droid pilot’s automated announcement system chirped to life.

“Arrival at destination: Beldain Geological Dome imminent. Please make ready to depart,” the droid said.

“Beldain Geological? Wait. How did you know to come here?” Ayli asked.

“It seemed like a place that will either have what we need or be able to suggest who we should talk to,” Nix said. “Why? Should we not have come here?”

Nix knew the environment was compatible with their physiology and that the Dome was one of the “Open Access” areas where members who were paying patrons were allowed to enter and do basic research. She’d checked on all that before she’d settled on coming to the Library in the first place. 

Ayli knew something else about the place though and buried her face in her right hand.

“No. It’s okay. It’s just…” she started to say as the shuttle arrived and its door swung open.

Outside some of the Dome’s staff was waiting for them. Nix knew that was how new arrivals were commonly greeted. What she hadn’t expected was for there to be a moment of pleasantly surprised silence as they stepped out of the shuttle followed by her wife being scooped up and lifted off her feet into a bear hug by a walking, talking, bear.