Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 26

Darsus did not trust them. He was an fool but not quite that big of a fool it seemed.

Which was perfect.

If he’d been more reasonable then he wouldn’t have walked into Nix’s trap.

Whatever that was.

Ayli was going almost entirely on faith that there was a plan, a trap, or some scheme in Nix’s mind to deal with the problem Darsus, or more precisely Darsus’s six armed retainers, posed. They hadn’t had time to work out any contingencies for a situation like this, in part because it was such a perfectly stupid situation that only Darsus could have been responsible for it.

Kicking herself for not thinking of that wasn’t going to help Ayli at all though, especially not when she had Ravas ghosting around ready to snipe at whatever real or imagined failings she could find. 

Oddly however, Ravas was being quiet. 

Ayli cast a quick glance over at the ghost and found her watching Nix in turn.

Nix was humming a jaunty little tune as she tinkered with a small rod with a trio of glowing lights on its end.

It wasn’t a blaster. Ayli was familiar with a lot of different kit-bashed blaster designs and Nix’s little device was lacking a bunch of key elements – like a focusing muzzle to start with.

“What in the hells is that?” Darsus asked, shoving past one of his bodyguards and into near perfect range for a lightsaber swipe to the throat.

Or she could just shoot him. For as flashy as the red lightsaber was there was still a lot to recommend a good old blaster.

Either option would get her or Nix shot full of blaster bolts from the bodyguards of course. Unless Ayli was fast enough. Which she suspected she might be. 

Or she could let Ravas ‘help’ her. She’d kept the ghost out so far, but she could sense beyond the boundary of that choice the power that waited for her if she was able to draw on Ravas’ training and Ravas could work with a real living being’s connection to the Force.

Ayli wasn’t that desperate yet though. 

She would never be that desperate. She swore that to herself. Or was it a promise? A hope? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to give herself over to some millenia old witch. She’d fought too hard for the life she had to lose it to anyone or anything at this point.

Which was not a good sign for Darsus or his goons.

And Nix would know that. So what did she have in mind?

“As you can see, the path forward has a pretty simply impediment,” Nix said as they all gathered in the small entryway.

In front of them the atmo-barrier flickered and popped, holding the tide of beyond-freezing coolant at bay like an aquarium’s viewing window. Bubbles and contaminants fizzed in the flood, rendering it effectively opaque, but Ayli had seen how long the corridor was so had a sense of  the sheer volume of coolant they were looking at.

“So find a different door to go in,” Darsus said.

“There isn’t one,” Nix said. “I checked the schematics on the terminal over there,” she gestured to a small pad beside the door. “This place is built with one opening in or out. I guess they wanted to be able to defend it easily, and, you know, kill people who were too weak to pass the test.”

“What test?” Darsus demanded, shaking his blaster, though not yet at Nix.

Lucky for him that meant he got to keep his hand attached to his wrist.

“This is the site of the Second Trial, right?” Nix said. “Well, here it is. The test is ‘get past enough liquid nitrogen to freeze a herd of banthas.”

“That’s impossible,” Darsus said.

“Not if you take your time,” Ayli said. “When it warms up it evaporates.”

“How long does that take?” Darsus asked.

“Could vary a lot,” Nix said. “I think this one would take at least a week, and that’s with the trap being designed to be cleared out. I guess there might be an option to clear it in a day or maybe even an hour, but the controls for that are definitely on the other end of the corridor.”

“We’re not waiting a week,” Darsus said.

“I agree. We’ve got a better option after all.” She brandished the device she’d been working on. “Unlike the people they brought here when the Cult was a public thing, we don’t have to care about passing their tests how they intended us to. All we need to do is get through using whatever tools we can.”

“That thing?” Darsus asked, pointing towards Nix’s device with his blaster. That was almost close enough to justify separating his arm from his  hand but Ayli held her ground. 

Nix was working, interrupting would be rude. 

And probably fatal.

“The actual applicants wouldn’t have had personal forcefield generators. All we need to do is push the liquid nitrogen away as we walk though and we’ll be fine.”

“Wait, that’s a forcefield generator?” Darsus asked, looking to his goons for confirmation.

“Well, not a full one,” Nix said. “The power drain for a real forcefield generator would mean something this size could only put one up for about a tenth of a second. I don’t need to screen high intensity things like blaster fire though. Just the liquid gas. Which is much easier.”

“Why did you have something like that on you?” Darsus asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion. 

“I didn’t. I built it,” Nix said. “Well, cobbled it together. I had the parts in my toolkit but it took a little work to make it so they would work how I want. Should work. I haven’t tested it yet. Might need a few tweaks.”

“Should work?” Darsus asked.

“Will work,” Nix said. “This will definitely work. A few tweaks and it will be safe as anything. We should all be able to fit inside the bubble it makes with no problem. We’ll want to be careful about touching the walls of course, those will be super cold, and disrupting them could pop the bubble, but that’s simple avoid, so we will definitely be safe.”

“What happens if the power on that thing dies,” Darsus asked.

“It’s not going to lose power. I build good stuff,” Nix said.

“But what if it does?”

“Well, that’ll be fine too. We won’t feel a thing. We’ll freeze and probably crumble to ice cubes faster than our nerves can process the signal.” Nix didn’t look concerned about that. In fact it sounded like that would be an excellent result in her book.

“We’re staying here,” Darsus said. 

“You don’t have to,” Nix said. “There’ll be a lot more of the complex to explore once we pass the Trial.”

“Only one entrance and exit though right?” Darsus said.

“Yeah. They were pretty paranoid I guess. I mean we could try to blast a new entrance in but until we know where the coordinates for the Third Trial are kept, there’s a decent chance we’d be erasing them and making the real treasure impossible to find.”

“We’re staying here,” Darsus said. “If you’re not back in an hour, we blast the place to rubble and let the bots work out how to put it back together.”

“They don’t work like…you know what, never mind,” Ayli said, forcing down her irritation before it could ruin the scheme Nix so clearly had in mind.

“Can we have two hours?” Nix asked. “There might be a lot to explore in there. And I might have to build a different gadget for the next trap.”

“One hour. That’s it,” Darsus said.

“We’ll just have to work quick then, I guess,” Nix said. “Suppose we better get to it. Sixty minutes. Sheesh. I better make sure this thing doesn’t overheat.”

With that she stepped forward and raised the device she was carrying to be level with her eye line. Beyond the atmo-barrier, a dimple formed in the coolant.

“Let’s get going,” Nix said, holding her free hand out for Ayli to take.”

“No,” Darsus said. “She stays here.”

“I need someone to come with me,” Nix said. “They’ll need to hold this device while I work on the control mechanism at the other end of the hall. It’s simple work, so maybe you want to do it instead?”

“I wouldn’t mind staying here where it’s nice and warm,” Ayli said.

She watched the conflicting emotions war in Darsus before he finally came to a decision.

“Fine. You go. But you’ve got an hour. And the clock is already counting down.”

Ayli took Nix’s hand and let herself be pulled into the bubble that formed in the coolant.

They’d taken no more than two steps into the flood before Nix stopped.

“Do me a favor,” she said. “Stab the atmo-barrier’s projectors here and here.” She gestured to two spots on opposite sides of the corridor at about head height.

Ayli flicked the red blade to life with glee in her heart and struck exactly where Nix had indicated.

The sound from beyond the barrier was delightful.

It didn’t fail all at once. Instead it began to flicker and spring leaks. One after the other. Each jetting out a stream of super-cooled liquid. Darsus got clipped by one in some unfortunately non-fatal part of the anatomy and began swearing and calling for his goons to open fire.

Which they did.

The blaster bolts were not especially effective against the meter or so of coolant shielding Nix and Ayli, but they were quite excellent at accelerating the damage to the atmo-barrier.

“Think they’ll run in time?” Nix asked. “I was figuring they would but now I’m not so sure.”

Darsus’s scream of panic rose over the sound of blasterfire and began rapidly retreating.

“Yeah, they’ll be fine,” Ayli said. “How long will your gadget really hold out though?”

“Oh? This?” Nix said and stuffed the device back into her waistbelt. “This is a loop verifier with a grade B cycle adjuster. Looks pretty though right?”

“Wait. What’s making this bubble then?” Ayli asked.

“I am,” Nix said. “And we should get going because I’d really like to be gone by the time they come back here to see what happened to us.”

“How are you…?” Nix started to ask.

“She’s trained with someone,” Ravas said.

“Yeah. You two,” Nix said.

“That’s not possible,” Ravas said. “You have skills it would take a Jedi a lifetime to master.”

“Maybe they were really lazy?” Nix said. “Or there were other things they had to work on? I’ve been moving stuff like engine components around for a long time though. This isn’t all that different. Except for the part where I don’t have to touch the things I’m moving.”

“No. The Force…you can’t be that strong in the Force. You don’t have any anger to drive your power.”

If Ayli didn’t know better, she would have sworn that Ravas was having a crisis of faith right in front of her.

But shouldn’t ghosts be beyond that sort of thing?

“I don’t need anger. I’m not making this happen,” Nix said. “The Force wants this as much as I do. I’m just…I don’t know, here to help it focus in this moment? Wait, do you have to demand that it do things for you?”

“That’s what focus is!” Ravas said. “Honing your mind to project your will into the world. Making the Force obey your desires. Having the strength to claim the power to make things as you wish them to be.”

“Take my hand,” Nix said, offering her other hand to the ghost. “Feel what I feel. It’s not like that at all. It doesn’t have to be. It’s not a battle. It’s a partnership. We’re together. Ayli and me. And the Force too. Even you. All of us.”

Ravas looked at Nix’s hand like it was the most venomous of serpents, the stark terror of recognition repelling her with the force of a gale wind. 

“You’ve spoken to her,” Ravas said, fear drenching every word, and vanished completely.

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