Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 24

Dedlos was, if anything, even less tolerant of living beings infesting its surface than Lednon Three had been. Where Lednon had been wracked by a mega-storm which only threatened to electrocute would-be interlopers, Dedlos was a bit colder in its menace.

“It’s so cold there the atmosphere has frozen,” Nix said. “We’re going to need special gear to even attempt the Second Trial.”

“No you won’t,” Ravas said. Ulno Klex, Darsus and their bodyguards couldn’t hear her, but Ayli and Nix could which made it all the more infuriating when the ghost failed to provide any follow up information since asking her for clarity would have made them both seem too unhinged for Ulno to continue working with. As a method of getting booted out an airlock went, speaking to people who weren’t there would have been an undeniably effective one, so Ayli settled for glaring briefly in Ravas’ direction.

“The Children of the Storm set these up to con their marks,” Ayli said. “If people felt they’d passed the tests because they were wearing a lot of tech, they would have been less invested, both emotionally and financially. There must be a hidden base on the surface somewhere that we could dock with.

“I have this sneaking suspicion that the Children conveniently never mentioned anything about that when they told you we’d be arriving in this system, did they?” Nix asked, turning away from the 3d projection table of the planet to look at Ulno Klex.

“Quite surprisingly they did,” Ulno said. “They even provided coordinates for the ‘sacred site’ you were intent on looting next.” He spun the globe and tapped his finger on the center of a landmass in the northern hemisphere. “It is, as you might imagine, an empty shell and quite clearly a trap.”

Ayli spun globe so the ‘sacred site” face her and then gestured to zoom in for a ground level view.

“Oh yeah, that is a great place to kill people,” she said, which Ravas sniffed at. The ghost had clearly been looking forward to pointing out how foolish it would be to go there, but in Ayli’s line of work, picking through the ruins of ancient civilization wasn’t something you got to do more than once if you weren’t observant for dangers they contained.

“Is that an atmosphere dome they have setup over it?” Nix asked.

“That’s the first part of the trap,” Ayli said. “Any permanent installation on a world like this would be built into permanent atmosphere enclosures. Powered domes are for temporary camps or if you want to be able to turn them off an expose everyone inside to the native atmosphere with the flick of a switch.

“So we would need suits to explore it anyways, great,” Nix said.

“Not just suits, powered suits,” Ayli said. “The frozen atmosphere is partially liquid. It will steal heat a lot faster than vacuum will.”

“And powered suits can be detected, which will set off the other traps,” Nix said with resigned understanding.

“Also, that place is visible from space. A simple scan of the surface would pick it out a hundred times out of a hundred. On a planet they erased from the galactic nav charts.”

“That does seem a little sloppy,” Nix said, continuing to study the globe.

“You’re the ones who seem sloppy,” Darsus said, pacing around the outskirts of the room. “We should be sending them in now. Is the point that they’re expendable?”

“You really have no idea how to get the most out of your investments do you?” Ayli asked, without really thinking about it.

She’d run into Darsus a few times before the whole debacle with the Goldrunner started, and repeated exposure had only solidified her opinion that he was two brain cells short of having a pair of them.

“She’s correct,” Ulno said before Darsus could open his mouth and make the situation worse somehow. “There’s no point sending our guests to explore a location of no value. If we wanted to kill them, we have plenty of options here, and none of those incur fuel costs or the potential loss of a shuttle.”

“We could send them in their shuttle.” Darsus’ objection was the whining of a five year old who really wanted to break one of his toys.

“I thought you’d claimed the Goldrunner as your own?” Nix said. “I guess this means we still own her?”

Darsus growl of rage was held in place by Ulno’s chuckle of amusement. The bodyguards didn’t move or make a sound in either direction but Ayli noticed one of the fighting to suppress a smile too.

“We have an advantage in searching for the right place,” Ayli said, dragging the topic of conversation away from humiliating Darsus. 

“The liquid atmosphere?” Nix guessed. “It would prevent them from building anything in the lowland areas. And the seas are all frozen solid.”

“You can carve things into ice,” Darsus said, as though Nix was an idiot for not considering that.

“Under ice bases would need tunnels to the surface,” Ulno said. “And the gaps in the ice would be both unusual and detectable, though not without some effort.”

“Also, if the planet every goes through a warming phase, your ice walls would flood into the base. Or you could use regular walls and hope the extreme temperature changes don’t create cracks in them,” Ayli said. “So, they’re not in the oceans. And they’re not anywhere too low.”

“I do hope you’re not going to propose a full geological survey of the planet’s mountain ranges?” Ulno asked.

“If I thought I could get you to pay for one, I absolutely would, but given that the portable treasure here is going to be minimal, I assume that’s not in the budget?”

“It is refreshing to deal with a professional,” Ulno said.

“Well then in my professional opinion, this is where we want to look,” Ayli said, pointing to a small island that was covered in mist with a single spire rising from it.

“Seems rather isolated, on a planet where there’s nothing in particular to be isolated from?” Ulno said.

“That’s one draw, though there are at least fifty places that are about as isolated,” Ayli said. “The mist is the real pull though.”

“There’s mist all over the place,” Darsus said.

“Yeah, in scattered patches, here and there, with one commonality to all of them except this place,” Ayli said.

“They’re all in deep crevasses? Huh, why is that?” Nix asked.

“They aren’t crevasses, or at least not natural ones,” Ayli said. “Someone fought a war here a long time ago. Those cracks are from Mantle Breaker bombs.”

That she’d seen the effects of far more recent detonations was a fact she didn’t intend to share with anyone in the room. The sight of the ancient aftereffects of ones brought back enough unpleasant memories as it was, the last thing she needed was to dwell on those thoughts any further.

“It’s why this planet is so strong in the Dark Side,” Ravas said. “Even a thousand years later, the ones who died here still call out in rage against their fates.”

“What’s causing the mists then?” Darsus asked. “No one’s dropping bombs on it anymore.

“Mantle Breaker bombs cause massive seismic shocks to a planet. You can destroy most infrastructure with them, and you will definitely leave scars in the crust that extend down to the magma layers if the planet is still geologically active.”

“So the magma is boiling the atmosphere back to a gaseous state?” Nix asked. “Sounds unstable.”

“It is, but on geologic timescales,” Ayli said. “In the meantime, I’m guessing the view from the top of that spire is breathtaking.”

“And a perfect sales tool for the cult’s scheme,” Nix said. “We’ll still need to wear suits when we go down there though.”

“Do a quick scan. I’m betting we’ll only need breathing masks,” Ayli said, wishing for a moment that Zindiana was able to back her up on that. She could sense the nun, as her pirate queen, had secreted themselves in the duct work nearby, but conversing with them would be even worse than talking to Ravas.

Ayli wasn’t sure how Zindiana had convinced Sali not to come into either the throne room or the war room with guns blazing, but Ayli was glad they’d worked that out. The last thing she needed was more chaos in a situation where they were already dancing on a knife’s edge.

“You knew?” Nix asked as the scan completed.

“With the frozen atmosphere melting in the magma at the base of that mountain, you’ll have gas ascending and thinning out until it refreezes.. If it was going to be useful as a base, you’d want to pick a spot on it where the air pressure was close to galactic nominal.”

“There’s got to be a lot of places like that though,” Darsus said.

“Probably, but none of the others are setup so you can watch snow fall upward,” Ayli said.

An hour later, Ayli landed of the Klex shuttles through what she refused to call ‘snow falling upward’.

“That was a damn blizzard!” she yelled to be heard over the howling, icy winds.

“WHAT?” Nix yelled back, not a square inch of her visible with the heavy parka and face mask she was wearing.

“INSIDE!” Ayli pointed towards the richly ornamented door hidden at the back of the shallow cave they’d discovered.

“It might be trapped,” Nix was still yelling but it was easier to hear her as they moved away from the winds.

“Save your time, it’s not,” Ravas said. “No one want to fumble for their keys with all that going on out there.

Ayli smiled in appreciation as Nix gave the door a quick inspection nonetheless. Trusting Ravas would have been an easy habit to fall into given that the ghost had been consistently helpful lately. Easy and probably also fatal, so Ayli was pleased to see Nix was still taking the implicit threat of Rava’s presence seriously.

“She’s right. No one has set anything up on it recently,” Nix said, which stopped the impending ‘I told you so’ Ravas had been preparing.

Inside they were greeted with a long, mural covered corridor.

“This is the test,” Ravas said.

“Walking down a corridor doesn’t seem like much of a test,” Ayli said, knowing it would not be that simple.

“A corridor? Are you inside already then?” Ulno Klex asked over the small holocom Nix was holding.

Part of the condition for sending the two of them to the planet had been that they stay in constant contact with the Klex Cartel’s battlecruiser. Ulno had promised that he would glass the planet’s surface if required to prevent their escape, and Ayli had no doubt that he would keep his word on that.

“You should be seeing what we’re seeing,” Nix said. “Let me adjust the feed to get through the rock and atmosphere.”

The device squeed in her hand and then snapped into perfect clarity.

“Looks safe enough,” Darsus said. “Send ‘em in.”

“No,” Nix said. “It’s not safe.”

“We are well aware of that Ms, Lamplighter,” Ulno said. “May I remind you that is why we have allowed you to undertake this endeavor?”

“She means walking in there blindly is stupid,” Ayli said. “This place looks simple because its a puzzle.”

“They’re just afraid to go. Or they’re stalling,” Darsus said. “Maybe hoping some will swoop in and save them.”

No one ever swooped in to save anyone. Ayli knew that, and she certainly wasn’t waiting for it.

“Okay,” Nix said. “Let me go in first.”

“We go together,” Ayli said.

“We work the problem together,” Nix said. “That doesn’t mean we have to march in lockstep. Let me go in first and you can bail me out of whatever trouble we find. If we go together there’ll be no one on the other side of the trap to free us from it.”

Ayli discovered she hated it when Nix was both reasonable and right.

“I should be the one to go first then,” she said.

“Yeah, except I called dibs,” Nix said and skipped into the corridor.

And an instant later an avalanche of liquid nitrogen filled the passage.

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