Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 23

Nix had been right. In general terms. If she’d had more specific information available about what waited for them when they dropped back to regular space, they might have avoided being captured at all. Ayli had certainly made a game attempt at evading capture but once they got stuck in a tractor beam there wasn’t much she could do that wouldn’t tear the Goldrunner to pieces.

“So very nice to make your acquaintance at last,” Ulno Klex said as Nix and Ayli were marched into his throne room. Which was to say, the room he’d outfitted on his battle cruiser to impress those who were easily awed by the scenery. 

Nix had never met Ulno Klex before, and hadn’t expected to meet him at all given that he was supposed to be dead, but she’d run into enough people with towering egos like his that she knew how their encounter was going to go from the moment they stepped in the room.

“You are surprised I am the one who captured you?” Ulno asked, rising from him throne and pacing on the dias it rested on. 

Behind him six guards with blaster rifles at the ready were doing their very best to look menacing and dead serious, despite the absurdity of their boss trying to impress a historian and a mechanic and, apparently, failing for unknown reasons.

“We did meet a couple of bounty hunters who seemed to think your next of kin had put a price on our heads,” Ayli said.

She did not have her lightsaber.

They’d agreed that while she’d made a lot of progress with it, carrying one would send exactly the wrong sort of message to their captors.

“Indeed, very fortunate that the galaxy was so easily convinced of my demise by a paltry few credits,” Ulno said. 

Nix had expected him to be outwardly grotesque somehow, but apart from the implied threat of the faux-military regalia he wore, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the man. Human, like an outsized portion of the galaxies population. Moderate height and build. Blonde hair shading to gray. Even his features were bland. It was as though someone had shaken together the least interesting qualities the galactic community possessed and poured them into a bag of ego problems that liked to hear itself speak.

“Isn’t it a bit embarrassing to let people think you’d been killed by nobodies like us?” Nix asked. She didn’t want to be Ulno’s friend. A part of her wanted to shove him through enough bulkheads that he popped out into the vacuum of space. And then just popped. That, however, was not an option. Nor was it a particularly wise idea given what channeling the Force with such hate-filled intentions could do to her.

“Oh, not in the slightest,” Ulno said. “You see you are among the galaxy’s premier assassins. No on has heard of you before of course because that is the mark of a premier assassin, is it not?”

“Did you pay off the real assassins?” Ayli asked.

“Pay?” Ulno sounded offended. “Why would I pay for people when they already work for me?”

Ayli closed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief.

“This can’t get any stupider,” she said.

“I assure you, this whole stratagem has been quite brilliant,” Ulno said. “With my untimely demise, over a hundred warrants on almost as many worlds have gone null and void. Not to mention how easily it allowed me to smoke out those who thought to they were in a position to usurp my throne. Tell me, how is my dear Saliandris?”

“You’re the one who’s got her.” Ayli’s lie held exactly the proper tone of resentment for the loss of a friend who was also a major aggravation. “Don’t pretend like we’re not supposed to have figured that out.”

Ulno stopped pacing.

He was puzzled.

Mostly because he definitely did not have Sali, and yet Ayli sounded so certain in her accusations that even he had to wonder at that for a moment. The guards behind him glanced at one another as though trying to work out which of them might have captured the pirate queen and not told their boss.

“Alas,” Ulno said. “You are our only guests at present.”

“So, you’ve spaced her already,” Ayli said. “Probably what she deserved. The jerk.”

Again, sadness lingered behind Ayli’s words just long enough that even Nix had to force herself to remember that neither Sali nor Zindiana had fallen into the clutches of the Klex cartel, thanks largely to the Goldrunner’s unadvertised smuggling modifications and some cleverly timed fake battle damage Nix had arranged.

“She…I’m afraid you are supposing scenarios which have yet come to pass,” Ulno said. “We have not apprehended your friend yet. Rest assured we will though.”

Ayli chuckled, and Nix used the distraction to reach out with her senses, searching for Sali and Zin.

They’d left the hidden compartment at Goldie’s signal. Both were in good health still, and neither had been spotted yet despite being quite close by.

Too close by.

Nix grimaced. Sali was not in a pleasant or forgiving mood. Zindiana wasn’t in any sort of mood at all. Together the two of them were committed to mayhem and murder, though not necessarily in that order.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to lie,” Ayli said. “She wasn’t much of a friend. If you spaced her, I can’t really blame you.”

Nix felt a flash of annoyance from Sali, who was apparently close enough to have heard Ayli’s comment.

“Seriously, she interrupted so many of my deals, I was probably a couple of days from spacing her myself before your goons got to her,” Ayli said. She’d felt Sali’s presence too and was performing for two audiences.

“And which goons would those be?” Ulno asked, suspicion radiating from every pour.

“The one’s at Galvus Station,” Ayli said.

“You escaped from Galvus,” Ulno said. “Quite cleverly I might add.”

“They weren’t that clever,” Darsus Klex said, strolling into the room from the door behind Ayli and Nix. “They fell right into our trap.”

Ayli laughed again.

“This was your Dad’s trap,” she said. “You had nothing to do with it.”

Nix caught feel the surge of anger boil out of Darsus even without turning to see him. Darsus’s anger didn’t lessen at all when his father burst out laughing.

“This one has your number little Darcy,” Ulno said. “And of course you are correct,” he added with a nod towards Ayli. “The galaxy is already under the impression that I was foolish enough expose myself to an assassin. We don’t want to foster even the smallest doubts of my capabilities when I reveal my survival.”

“Little Darcy?” Nix whispered with a suppressed laugh, just loud enough to be certain that Darsus would be able to hear it.

She felt rather than heard him draw his blaster.

“I don’t think you want him to do that,” Nix said. Her hands were locked in restraints but she was still able to waggle a couple of fingers towards Ulno. She wasn’t pushing him away physically, and she knew she didn’t need to gesture with her hands to use the Force even if she had been trying to fo that. Nonetheless, it did feel right to toss a bit of persuasive energy behind her words with a physical gesture. Irrational. Probably useless. But her hindbrain liked it and who was she to argue with ancient instincts.

“I don’t want him to shoot you?” Ulno asked, the mildest hint of confusion in his voice. “And why would that be?”

“If you wanted to shoot us, you could have just blown up the Goldrunner,” Nix said. “Or shot us and threw us out an airlock instead of wasting your time.”

When they’d exited hyperspace, Nix had been pretty certain that’s how things would play out, but a tiny part of her had been worried that her certainty might have stemmed from wishful thinking more than accurate premonitions that Force was providing.

“You are most astute, Miss…erm, Mechanic?” Ulno said.

Because why bother learning a mechanics name? She clearly wasn’t anyone important.

“It just made sense and I figured you didn’t get to be where you are without being pretty smart,” Nix said.

“Not like you,” Darsus said. He was still holding his blaster but Nix could sense that he was cowed. To shoot now would be a defiance of his father, and Darsus wasn’t ready to make that play yet.

“I’m guessing you want us to explore Dedlos for you?” Ayli said.

“And why would I want you to do that I wonder?” Ulno said, clearly pleased that people were working out his scheme.

“Lednon Three was a nightmare of traps and ancient guardians,” Ayli said. “I’m guessing your fond enough of Little Darcy there that you’d prefer to send someone more expendable to risk the dangers of the Second Trial.”

“I do so love my boy, that is true,” Ulno lied.

“My only question is what’s in it for us?” Ayli asked.

“You get to keep breathing,” Darsus said, raising his blaster and placing the barrel against the back of Ayli’s head.

Nix wasn’t sure she could manage any sort of fine control with the Force yet, so crippling the blaster was out of the question. Shoving Darsus’s hand aside the moment he thought of tightening his finger on the trigger however was quite definitely in her wheel house. If Darsus and the gun happened to be slammed through one of the bulkheads that would be a real shame. Nix thought she might even lose two to three whole minutes of sleep over it.

“Breathing’s nice,” Ayli said. “Treasure’s nicer though.”

“And what sort of treasure do you imagine we would let you keep?” Ulno asked.

“The best kind,” Ayli said. “The stuff you don’t care about.”

“I don’t care about you,” Darsus said.

“Oh, good, then you won’t care if I go back to my ship and never bother being in the same system as you again?” Ayli said.

“That’s my ship,” Darsus said. “You stole it.” 

“Did I?” Ayli asked. “Most have taken it from a real idiot then, cause I’m a pretty talentless thief.”

Darsus decided to shoot her and acted on that instinct in a heartbeat. Nix had felt any warning of danger though because his finger never got to tighten on the trigger. 

“Don’t taunt your foes,” Ravas said to no one except Ayli and Nix. “Kill them or avoid them. Making them angry only gives them resolve and strength.”

And entices them to make hasty and thoughtless decisions, but Nix didn’t have the luxury of speaking freely like Ravas did.

“I’m impressed. Most people who taunt Darcy like that wind up as disagreeable messes for the staff to clean up,” Ulno said as Darsus dropped his blaster to his side and shook his head to clear his thought from the static Ravas had filled his mind with. “He must see something useful in you.”

“We can be useful to each other,” Ayli said. “We’ll figure out how to bypass the Second Trial like we did the First. You can take all the treasure you want from the temple, and the location of the Third Trial. Leave us the facility, intact please, and I’ll have a historical site that I can write a thousand papers about. It’ll make my career.”

“And if you fail?” Ulno asked.

“Have you lost anything if we do?” Ayli asked.

“Our friends among the Children of the Storm will not be pleased to have their sacred sites raided,” Ulno said.

“The Second Trial doesn’t have much of value at it, aside from the location of the Third Trial,” Ayli said. “And I know they’ve kept that a secret from you.”

“Do you now?” Ulno asked.

“That’s where their treasure really lies,” Ayli said. “Without that, they wouldn’t have any means of paying you for the supplies and services you provide them, and if you knew where it was, why would you bother bartering for the loot when you have a battlecruiser and can just go and take it?”

Ulno laughed, and there was no kindness in it.

“I like how you think,” he said. “We are going to have a most profitable relationship.”

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