Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 30

Fleeing from a battlecruiser tends to go poorly for freighters. Indeed the last time Ayli had tried it, they’d been scooped up by a tractor beam and been forced to spend time with Ulno Klex.

“Take the helm,” Sali said. “I’m going back to the guns with Zin.”

That wasn’t what Ayli had been expecting to hear when she arrived in the Goldrunner’s cockpit but she gratefully slid into the pilot’s seat and ran through the briefest of flight checks she could.

Yes they were under fire.

Yes the Goldrunner had just been flying ten seconds prior.

Ayli could still hear her old flight instructors bark about none of that being an excuse to skip a flight check.

“Hold on,” she said after she confirmed the state of all the critical systems as being at least vaguely within tolerances.

“Zin, Sali, how are the targeting systems on those guns?” Nix called out from the co-pilot’s seat.

“Twitchy,” Zindiana called back. “I’m having better luck with them off.”

“Good. I’m disabling them then,” Nix said. “Also buckle in cause I’m taking the arti-grav offline too.”

“Wait, we can’t jump without that can we?” Ayli asked, knowing for certain that jumping to lightspeed without being in control of the gravitational forces affecting the ship was a fine recipe for cooking up a cloud of dissociating particles were your body used to be.

“How do you feel about lightspeed skipping?” Nix asked.

“Hate it,” Ayli said without hesitation. 

The strain on a ship when it jumped to lightspeed in space was considerable, but it occurred in predictable amounts, ones which all ships with jump engines were designed to withstand across thousands of jumps without maintenance.

Jumping to lightspeed within a planetary gravity well on the other hand was specifically on the “void the warranty” list for every jump engine and ship that could mount one. In most places it was a felony as well, though usually one prosecuted posthumously for the purposes of determining liability for damages.

“I’d ask you to marry me if we weren’t already married,” Nix said before calling back to the newly installer gunners stations. “Sali, how well did you wreck their tractor beams? Are they going to have them back online yet?”

Ayli didn’t hear the answer because Darsus Klex and his support ships caught up to them at that point and all of her attention went into navigating through the barrage of fire they rained on the Goldrunner.

“Forget the cruiser, Darsus’s fighter group’s got a targeting lock on us,” Ayli said, spinning the Goldrunner to give Sali and Zin an open field of fire at the still distance fighters.

“Sorry there Wensha, thought we’d given them the slip for a little longer that this,” Sali said.

“You did fine,” Nix said. “The deflectors are running at 220% power for the next two minutes. We can shrug off their direct fire just fine for at least half that time.”

Ayli felt a hungry smile creep over her face. If she didn’t need to make the Goldrunner dance through a mad flight pattern, she could focus on making things easier for Sali and Zin. Much easier.

“My target,” she called out and selected the nearest ship in Darsus’s fighter group, feeding that to Sali and Zin’s firing reticles. 

Distant plasma bolts and laser blasts crashed against the Goldrunner’s deflector shields and scattered away. The same was not true for the refurbished Tie-Fighter nearest to them. It tried to break off as Zin’s shots arced in towards it, but Ayli barreled the Goldrunner right through the incoming fire and held a deadlock on the Tie’s path.

Dead being the operative word a moment later as Zin’s shots found their mark and the fighter exploded in a shower of debris.

Ayli was grimly tempted to repeat that trick with the rest of the fighter group. With each one they took down the return fire would lessen after all.

Except a minute was not a long time, and the expanding debris cloud in front of her was an excellent opportunity for escape if she used it properly.

“How close is the battlecruiser?” she asked, trusting Nix to have the navigation data handled.

Unexpectedly, it was Ravas who answered though.

“They will not block you,” she said. “Slay these enemies…”

Ayli glanced over her shoulder at Ravas going oddly silent.

“Slay them or not, your path is clear,” Ravas said and sank back into the seat she didn’t actually need to sit in.

How Ravas knew that when she claimed to never use the Force for future seeing was something of a mystery but Ayli decided to trust the ghost this time and do what she’d been intending to do anyways.

Looping the Goldrunner up, she dove downwards into the rapidly falling cloud, intent on making it look like she was going to ride it down to the frozen surface and escape from it into the cover of the fissures and canyons around the Spire.

“I need arti-grav back in 2 seconds,” she said and felt the ship’s gravity reassert itself almost instantly.

“No problem,” Goldie said.

From within the plummeting debris cloud, Ayli had no view of the planet or the sky above, so she had to rely on nothing but sensor data. 

Which was being scrambled by the debris around them.

She’d anticipated that, and knew that with enough time picking the true readings out of the chaff was easily possible for a decent nav computer. “Enough time” however was easier to find when there was an atmosphere to slow the descent of the cloud one was hiding in. With Dedlos being a frozen world with a frozen atmosphere, they were descending substantially faster than she’d hoped.

Which meant they were going to crash.

Ayli took one calming breath and reached out.

Her hands danced over the controls, finding a true vertical orientation for the Goldrunner and lighting the engines up as bright as they could go.

Darsus’s fighter group, veered upwards as well, but two other exploded for making the mistake of taking too direct a course behind the Goldrunner, leaving themselves perfectly lined up for Sali and Zin’s counter fire.

“Do you have a jump mapped yet?” Ayli asked.

“I’ve got two,” Nix said. “We can jump to the Praxis Mar if we can get to the hyperspace lane, or we can jump to Velkos Eridini in about thirty seconds,” Nix said.

Praxis Mar was the location of the last trial, a destination which Ayli was simultaneously growing completely uninterested in pursuing any longer and certain that she would have to visit.

“What’s Velkos Eridini?” she asked, hoping for some surprise better option.

“An abandoned Outer Rim farming colony according to the charts,” Nix said.

“Abandoned sounds good, shouldn’t be any Klex forces waiting there for us,” Ayli said.

“Coordinates loaded then,” Nix said.

Without an atmosphere there wasn’t the transition to space of the stars coming up that usually accompanied leaving a planet, but right before they hit the mark Nix had plotted for their jump, Ayli saw the Klex battlecruiser, still off in the distance, venting bright gasses and slithering towards them like an angry Hutt after a weekend of debauchery.

And then the stars reached out and the blue of hyperspace claimed them.

“You survived,” Ravas said, disbelief clear in her voice.

“We did better than that,” Nix said. “We’ve got a jump on them now. Thanks to you.”

“I did not aid you in this,” Ravas said.

“Uh, you very definitely saved our lives down there,” Nix said. “I won’t forget that. Especially since that command center held the coordinates for Praxis Mar and where to find the Third Trial on it.”

“My tomb,” Ravas said. “They built their grand shrine on my tomb.”

“You have a tomb?” Ayli asked. “Or is it just ‘the place where you died’?”

Ravas chuckled at that.

“The tomb was there before the Children of the Storm ever violated my halls,” Ravas said. “Though, they too had not expected that. I think they believed me to be a myth, or a bed-time story to scare naughty Jedi Padawans.”

“Wait, they never talked to you?” Nix asked.

“They spoke about me often,” Ravas said. “Some of their inventions were delightful. Others, less so. None of them could see me as you do though.”

“Backing up a second here,” Ayli said. “If they didn’t build a tomb for you, then who did?”

Ravas was thoughtful for a moment.

“I do not recall,” she said. “I have slept across greater spans of time than both your lives put together. Someone in those early intervening years managed it. One of the acolytes who was spared from the purge I imagine.”

“Maybe one of the predecessors of the Children of the Storm?” Nix asked.

“Unlikely,” Ravas said. “Had my master’s teachings lived on, the cult which sprang up would have been less interested in base, worldly power and more focused on perfecting the means of cheating death which we researched.”

“You two learn where we need to go in there?” Sali asked as she and Zin made it to the Goldrunner’s cockpit.

“We’ve got coordinates for the final trial,” Nix said.

“Excellent,” Zindiana said. “How long till we get there.”

“We’re not going there,” Ayli said. “Not directly anyways. We’re jumping to an abandoned system now. We can get out bearings from there and find a path to the last trial that doesn’t involve running into the Klex battlecruiser again.

“The battlecruiser won’t be a problem,” Sali said. “Didn’t you hear what we said?”

“They patched the ion drives output into the tractor beam’s manifold,” Nix said with a malicious sort of glee.

“So no more tractor beams?” Ayli asked.

“No more main drive at all,” Nix said. “They were moving on backup drive power only. And their tractor beams will be done for. There’s not repairing that. Full replacement only, no warranty coverage.”

Ayli let out a sigh of relief.

“They can’t chase us then?” she asked, looking to Nix for a professional opinion.

“They’re lucky they’re not stuck in that system forever,” Nix said. “A refit of a battlecruiser takes time and money too, so even if they got towed out rather than limping back themselves, they’d still need a station capable of repairs on that scale. And a crew familiar enough to do it on short notice. We could go vacation on Ryloth for a month and we’d still be ahead of them.”

“How would they even know where to go next though?” Sali asked.

“Assuming that Darsus didn’t manage to wreck the command room with all the shooting he did, the coordinates were right there in one of the ledgers. With what we did to the main trap, it would be simple for them to send someone down who could get into the place by taking a better path than the one we used.”

“I want to know how they showed up when you needed them,” Ravas asked. “You couldn’t have reached out to them through the Force.”

“How did you folks know to come for us?” Nix asked, passing along Ravas’ question indirectly even though it looked like she already knew the answer.

“I heard the call come in from Darsus that you’d broken his ship and he needed support,” Goldie said. “I figured that meant you did too.”

“We had most of the charges in place by that point,” Zindiana said.

“Just couldn’t get any bombs close enough to Ulno to fix that problem before it comes up again,” Sali said.

“Not for lack of trying,” Zindiana said. “Unfortunately he’s smart enough not to have major air ducts anywhere near his quarters.”

“That fine,” Nix said. “It’s not him that we really need to worry about.”

“Yes, a far greater danger awaits you at the Third Trial,” Ravas said.

“That’s not what I meant,” Nix said, drawing confused stares from Sali and Zindiana. “I meant I’m concerned about what will happen to you when we get there.”

Rising from her chair, she clasped Ravas’ hands and Sali and Zin both gasped.

They were able to see ghost.

Who was no longer a ghost.

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