Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 25

Being dunked in liquid nitrogen was not a typical hazard for a starship mechanic. The cooling lines to various components tended to be better behaved than that, and most didn’t carry anywhere near as much of the liquified gas as the trap which had dumped its contents on Nix’s head.

It hadn’t been foresight which saved her, or not exactly foresight. As she stepped across the threshold, the Force had spoken with perfect clarity to let her know that she was in danger from literally every direction.

So she’d pushed it away.

All of it.

In every direction.

The effort had driven her to her knees but with both arms extended she was able to maintain the bubble of space that the liquid nitrogen was flowing around.

It was still really damn cold though.

“NIX!” Ayli yelled from only a few meters behind her, and a new warmth entered Nix’s heart.

“I’m okay!” she yelled back, adjusting to the weight of the freezing liquid and struggling back up to the her feet.

“She doesn’t have the strength for this,” Ravas said, her voice carrying through the barrier between them without any of the muffling that Ayli’s had.

A spark of irritation lit in Nix’s heart at Ravas’s claim and with it the load she was carrying seemed to lighten.

That wasn’t what she needed.

She could feel the whole spire around her was suffused with memories of loss and pain. It was tempting beyond measure to snap back at it, or to cut it off.

I tried to turn away from it, a familiar voice whispered in her mind from a place more distant than the stars, Which worked to a degree. It was what I’d been trained to do, to rise above, to find clarity by creating emotional distance.

Is that what I should do? Nix asked, feeling that wasn’t the right answer somehow.

Which was all the answer she received.

She listened for a long moment, hoping Kelda might speak to her again. In the distance, Ayli and Ravas were arguing but Nix wasn’t listening for them. She was focused on the brighter, more hopeful side of the Force. 

Which was almost as drowned here as she was.

This was not a place where good things happened.

This was not a place where people had been kind to one another.

This was not a place where people had even lived. It was built for a purpose and that purpose was as mechanical and unbalanced as its engineers could make it.

Nix noticed that the liquid nitrogen was not getting any lighter. The sensible action was to go back. They could wait for the flood to warm up and evaporate as gas. In the worst case, the rebreathers in their masks would prevent them from suffocating in an all nitrogen environment and they could explore at their leisure.

Except, if Nix was making a trap like this, she would definitely make sure it was able to recondense a fresh supply of liquid nitrogen in the time one flood’s worth was able to evaporate.

By that logic, she should move forward. She took a few steps in that direction and felt the liquid nitrogen sloshing around her. She could keep going. A corridor full of liquid was heavy but she had this. She could keep going.

But did she want to?

Ahead of her, the first ice covered statue awaited. The figure was humanoid, but so covered in ice, Nix couldn’t tell what species it was supposed to be beyond that broad description. It’s pose was one of supplication and terror, fallen to it’s near with one hand raised in despair to ward off the doom which had clearly claimed it.

That was what awaited Nix if she failed. She knew that as certainly as she knew she would not fail.

Ayli sounded so far away, but that was due to the muffling effect of the liquid between them.  And because Nix was still moving away from her.

Nix stopped.

The creators of this trial had engineered it to isolate the applicants. It drowned you and it was only through your own strength that you could win through to the far side, emerging reborn from the cruel baptism or left behind like the statue as a frozen testament to those who dared challenge a trial they were too weak for.

Nix wasn’t too weak. Even as drenched in the Dark Side as the spire was, she could still feel the Force flowing through her, life sheltering life. The original engineers had envisioned that but they hadn’t counted on putting another engineer to the test.

With a contended smile, Nix reversed her course and walked back to where Ayli was waiting.

“You’re alive!” Ayli said and grabbed into a fierce hug the moment she was through the atmo-barrier that was keeping the liquid nitrogen out of the entry chamber.

“And running away,” Ravas said, though neither woman paid her any attention.

“Come on, you knew that,” Nix teased, guessing more than knowing that Ayli had been able to sense her presence.

“Don’t do that to me again,” Ayli said, parting from Nix and giving her what passed for a stern look.

“I won’t. In fact I think this will work better with if we both go in there,” Nix said.

“Imagine that. Just like I’d said?”

“Yes, but this time I have a plan for what we can do.”

“Is this a plan I’m going to hate?”

“I don’t think so,” Nix said. “It involves stabbing things with the lightsaber.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s no one in there to stab though?” Ravas said.

“We don’t need to stab someone,” Nix said. “We need to stab something. Specifically the delivery nozzles for the liquid nitrogen.”

“Won’t that mean they’ll dump more liquid nitrogen on us?” Ayli asked.

“Right now the tunnel is still pretty full,” Nix said. “There’ll be vents to let the gas escape as it warms up, otherwise this whole place would explode the first time the trap was triggered. If we lightsaber the nozzles, the machines that condense the gas will be stuck permanently refreshing the supply. Since it’s probably not designed for extended duty, it’ll probably fry itself in a couple of days or so. Then we can wait a bit, let the the flood in there evaporate completely, and walk around at our leisure.”

“Won’t that much coolant take a long time to evaporate though?” Ayli asked.

“Typically, yeah, but that can vary a lot based on the materials its interacting with. Also, unless I miss my guess, they’re venting the waste heat from the compressor underneath the floor of the corridor,” Nix said. “I don’t think you’d want to have a trap like this and then not be able to get into your base for a month or more.”

“Or you could just perform the trial as it’s meant to be performed,” Ravas said.

“You mean, rush right into the trap and stumble on the second trap which is obviously waiting for us before we clear the first one?” Ayli asked.

“Your strength is great enough to overcome all of the obstacles in here,” Ravas said.

“And my intellect is sharp enough to know when to listen to my wife,” Ayli said and threw an accusatory glance at Nix.

“The Klex’s won’t be happy,” Nix said. “But I think that’s a good thing. If Darsus gets bored enough he might either leave, or do something stupid.”

“Which could be bad for us,” Ayli noted as that it were by far the most likely outcome.

“It could be, but there’s not a lot of ‘good for us’ options in how this ends,” Nix said.

“Unless Sali and Zin are able to do something about that battlecruiser,” Ayli said.

“They’ve got Goldie to help them,” Nix said. “She’s not built for cracking battlecruiser command systems but she should be able to keep them off the Klex’s scanners unless they do something really loud.”

“With Sali I’d say ‘loud’ would be the most subtle we could hope for, but Zin’s got a better head on her shoulders than that.”

“So, you’re okay with this plan then?” Nix asked.

“It’s going to annoy the Klex’s so it seems like a perfect one to me,” Ayli said. “We should comm them as soon as we’re done though. Days without a message from us will yield very different actions than if they know we’re stuck here, waiting.”

“Maybe we comm them first?” Nix suggested. “Giving them the impression that they get a say in what goes on here might increase their patience a bit.”

Ayli grumbled and shrugged. “You’re probably right. Let me do the talking through. Better if they think of you as just the ship’s mechanic.”

Raising the Klex battlecruiser meant venturing out of entrance chamber and into the disguised hangar where they’d left their shuttle.

Which was how they saw that it hadn’t taken long at all for Darsus to grow bored enough to do something stupid.

“I knew you’d run away!” he said, from behind the safety of six of his father’s armed guards.

“Oh good, you’re here. That saves us a comm,” Ayli said, refusing to break her stride towards their shuttle. “Let your father know that there’s a trap, which we expected obviously, and that we’ll be dismantling it. Looks like it’s going to take about a week to get past it.”

“I’m not your message boy,” Darsus said. “And you don’t have a week. Get by it now.”

“The tunnel to get through is filled with freezing coolant,” Ayli said. “It’s going to take a week, at a minimum for it to evaporate.”

“Not my problem. Get through it.” Darsus stepped in front of his goons, his blaster already in his hand.

“Don’t taunt your enemies,” Ravas said, walking directly behind Ayli.

“Really Darsus?” Ayli said, not bothering to reach for either her blaster or her lightsaber. “What’s your play here? You’re going to shoot me for calling your father?”

“I might shoot you just because I feel like it,” Darsus said, blaster shaking just a little in his hand.

Nix could feel the Dark Side rising. This was not the sort of place to have tense standoffs. It wanted violence and it needed death.

How do I stop this? she asked, hoping Kelda, or anyone might have the answer.

I usually used a lightsaber to deal with situations like this, Kelda said. Can’t say it was a great option then, not sure if it’s a great option now.

Which was as helpful as Nix had expected.

If a lightsaber wasn’t the solution though what other tools did she have to work with?

She breathed in and tried to draw the possibilities to herself.

If she tried to interrupt, Darsus would shoot her. For certain. And then Ayli could cut him in half. Possibly she’d carve up the rest of the guards too. Possibly they’d fill her full of blaster bolts before she could manage it. That would depend on how much aid Ravas provided. Nix might survive – dodging a blaster bolt at the range they were at would be difficult but moving enough not to get hit anywhere too vital was theoretically possible. The other guard though would fire far too many blasts for her to avoid given that there was no cover to work with.

Alternatively, she could try to force push Darsus and his minions out of the cave. The Spire was definitely happy with that idea. It wasn’t quite as visceral of a slaughter as it would prefer but all those bodies dashed to pieces at its base would add nicely to pool of Dark Side energy which wreathed the Spire.

Most other violent solutions ran to the same end, through either more direct or more subtle means.

What I need is some way to turn this place against itself, she thought and received and feeling of approval from Kelda in the far distance.

Which was, of course, the answer.

“Hey, Ayli,” she called out. “Why don’t we deal with the trap now? We don’t want Darsus to get too frosty on us.”

Ayli’s hand had dropped to her side where the lightsaber hung, but she paused and met Nix’s gaze before nodding. She didn’t know what was coming next, but that was okay. Neither did Darsus.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.