Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 37

Getting on to the bridge of the Providence-class Destroyer hadn’t been difficult, or at least not any more difficult than Nix had anticipated. 

True, there had been a small cadre of independent Destroyer Droids who she hadn’t been able to shut down once she’d taken control of the central command system. The droids had massed in front of the command deck’s main blast door but Nix had removed them from the equation via the simple expedient of buying their loyalty with hard currency and a shuttle.

To Preservationist League’s credit, she felt the League was to be commended for noticing the hole in the Trade Federation’s overly centralized command structure and attempting to patch it. Their downfall was their fundamental inability to trust people though.

Which also meant they didn’t treat independent droids as people, but rather as expensive tools they could rely on to ensure their rule was enforced without question.

Nix suspected that if the League could have, they would have installed restraining bolts on everything and everyone, which was why she was glad that the bolts they used on the “independent” droids were relatively trivial to remove. 

The credits and the shuttle were supplied to the Destroyer Droids once Nix had glitched their restraining bolts in order to provide them with the option to either pursue whatever lives they chose to or remain for the battle which would inevitably arrive.

Unsurprisingly, they’d all chosen the shuttle. 

“You’d think Combat Droid would be hard to keep away from combat,” Sali said.

“These were old model Combat Droids,” Nix said.

“Ah yes, and warriors don’t grow to be old unless they avoid war, don’t they?” Thirty-two said.

“That too, but I think they were old enough to have been manufactured during the Galactic Civil war,” Nix said. “If so, their hard coded loyalty modules are all tagged for the Trade Federation leaders from back then. With the bolts gone they have no stake in this fight at all.”

“You’re far too young to have served on either side back then,” Thirty-two said. “How did you recognize that?”

“The moment you tell people you’re a mechanic, they want you to fix something for them,” Nix said. “Say yes and you get to see a lot of weird, broken things. Say no and they offer to pay you to see a lot of weird, broken things.”

“Speaking of payment, you know the League will not be honoring the contract for the inspection you offered,” Thirty-two said.

“I think they had more than enough hard currency in the ship’s vault to cover my work,” Nix said. “Not to mention the ship itself.”

“I thought the fleet was supposed to be mine?” Sali said. 

“I stole you away from one treasure hoard,” Nix said. “It seemed only fair I do a bit of work to get you a another one.”

“Wouldn’t that mean I don’t have a stake in this fight either then?” Sali said. “I mean getting my brand new fleet all shot up seems like a bad idea wouldn’t you agree?”

“You’re free to go wherever you like,” Nix said, checking the coordinates again and again seeing that they were almost at the Praxis Mar system.

“It’s the open sky for me and my new crew then!” Sali said, spinning in the captain’s chair.

“That sounds delightful,” Nix said. “Out of curiosity, will you be going to pick up Sister Zindiana? She’s on the Goldrunner still in case you forgot.”

Sali stopped spinning and frowned at Nix.

“I hate you.”

“I know.”

“How do you know there will even be a battle?” Thirty-two asked. “Unless you changed trajectory, the system we’re head for has been left off the star charts and forgotten for over a thousand years.”

“Left off the charts? Yes. Forgotten? Not so much,” Nix said. “And as for who we’ll be fighting?”

The ship’s automated systems dropped them back down into sublight space and a sky which was filled with explosions and turbo-laser fire.

“Them. We’ll be fighting them,” Nix said.

“What if we don’t want to fight them?” Thirty-two asked.

Explosions began to crash against the deflector fields, and half of the Klex’s battle units changed facing to meet the newly arrived threat.

“We could ask them nicely if they’d be willing to let us just cruise on out of here,” Salis said. “But there’s a few problems with that.”

“They have us outgunned?” Thirty-two said.

“That and the fact that they’re a bunch of pirates who are out of a lot of money at this point and would be only too happy to sell my new ships for scrap and any survivors back into the the same system we just go you all out of.”

“Also they hate Sali specifically and will assume we’re all working with her,” Nix said.

“I have to give credit where credit is due,” Sali said. “I think Darsus hates you more than me at this point.”

“True but Ulno still commands their fleet,” Nix said and watched a strange expression come over Thirty-two’s face.

“Pardon me, but did you say Ulno Klex was onboard one of those ships?”

“Yeah, he was on their command ship last I saw him,” Sali said.

“All Workers, we on the bridge would like you extend you an invitation,” Thirty-two said, keying on the shipswide mic. “We are presently engaged with a hostile force. That’s those disturbing booms you’re hearing. In less disturbing news, Ulno Klex, leader of the Klex Cartel, is on the enemy flagship. You are invited to attend a boarding party which will be hosted by yours truly. Weapons will be provided, but you will be expected to bring your own mayhem.”

“Boarding party?” Sali asked, not hiding her skeptcism. 

“You’ll need a distraction if you’re going to rescue your crewmates,” Thirty-two said. “Take one of our shuttles, they’re small and stealthy. Ulno Klex is ours and no one else gets to collect from him until we’ve gotten our piece.”

Boarding actions were, from the holonet-drama-fueled knowledge Nix possessed, terrible ideas. According to nearly every action-adventure and historical recreation she’d watched, space combat was best fought at long ranges with jump drives at the ready. Closing in to deliver a payload of attack droids involved absorbing so much firepower that there wasn’t usually anything left to be worth boarding. Delivery a payload of living being was just as bad with the added wrinkle that the payload in question was likely to be reduced to a chunky salsa long before a boarding action could be undertaken.

Which was why all of the holo-vids had an elite team do it anyways – to show how just how dang incredible they were.

She considered mentioning that to Thirty-two but decided against it as a.) he almost certainly already knew those facts, b.) just as certainly did not care, and c.) had slightly higher than normal chances thanks to the Klex’s main capital ship being in generally rotten shape still from the destruction Sali and Zin had unleashed on it earlier.

Also he was right that they needed a distraction.

“Thanks, we’ll leave you to it then,” she said therefor and grabbed Sali’s hand to drag her away to the hangar before they were too close to pass unnoticed when they departed.

“Don’t get my ships too shot up!” Sali called out as she let herself be dragged away.

The hangar was easy enough to find. It was one of the few places they’ve been on the ship, but when they got there Sali found Nix heading immediately away from her.

“Where are you going?” Not that Nix needed to ask. She’d seen the sleek N-1 Starfighter someone had lovingly restored.

“Stealth isn’t going to cut it,” Sali said. “We need firepower if we’re going to get through the Klex’s blockade and whatever defenses the locals have setup down there.”

“Yeah, and you know what else we need,” Nix said, “more than one seat!”

“Right, which is why you’re going to take the shuttle we came in on and follow me.” Sali pointed to the Goldrunner’s shuttle which hadn’t moved since they’d arrived.

“I don’t know if splitting up is a good idea,” Nix said, unsure if her hesitancy was a nudge from the Force or simply general unhappiness at the idea of flying into battle alone.

“None of this has been a good idea,” Sali said and then turned to take hold of Nix’s shoulders, “but I trust you. I’m an idiot, but I trust you. You got us here and we’ve got a chance to walk away from this with a pile of riches.”

“And the women we love,” Nix said.

Sali offered her a begrudging smile.

“Them too,” she admitted.

“And we will walk away,” Nix said. “You can go play with the shiny toy if you promise me that. No going out in a blaze of glory.”

“It’s how all good Pirate Queen’s go though,” Sali said with a teasing smile.

“Not my Pirate Queen,” Nix said. “Somebody shoots at you, you dodge, you hear?”

“Loud and clear,” Sali said, her smile broadening to light up her whole face.

That wasn’t the only reason Nix didn’t want to split up, but she held the rest to herself. Fighting back against the perfectly reasonable case of nerves as she buckled herself into the unfamiliar pilots seat of the Goldrunner’s shuttle.

Sali had probably forgotten since everyone else they knew was at least a decent pilot, but Nix’s talents with spacecraft didn’t extend to actually flying the beasts.

“None of this was a good idea,” she said as she flipped the shuttle to life and set the deflectors to what felt like the best layout she could find.

The shuttle did not disagree with that sentiment, but it also didn’t experience any unexpected mechanical failure to keep her grounded on the hangar’s flight deck.

“But it’s the best one I had,” Nix said as she watched Sali blast out of the bay in the N1.

The shuttle didn’t have a pray at catching the faster and more maneuverable starfighter. Nix’s talent at hacking together a ship from scraps was impressive but very little could compete with one of the best ship designs in the last few centuries when it came to performing it’s primary function.  

Sali was aware of that too and, after a few unnecessary loops and twirls, took up an escort position directly under the Goldrunner’s shuttle.

It was a smart move, Nix realized. On a radar ping, they would present such an irregular shape that collision tracking modules would flag them as debris rather than another ship.

That worked a charm on the Klex’s ships, especially given that Thirty-two put the Preservationist League’s ship on maximum burn and filled the sky with plenty of actual debris.

The automated defenses around Praxis Mar however were more than happy to reduce anything, ship or debris, to its constituent atoms since they’re energy budget was basically “yes”. 

“I’m going to cut us a clearer path,” Sali said. “Follow me, but not too close.”

It was a cute instruction Nix thought. As though she was able to do more than guide the shuttle through one turn in the time Sali had taken twelve.

With only a novice’s understanding of what she was doing, Nix reached out to the Force to help her guess at the right controls to press.

It wouldn’t have worked if she didn’t know what the controls did.

At least she thought it wouldn’t have worked.

Watching her hands fly across the switches and dials though, Nix found that the most important thing she could do was stay out of her own head.

She could see where Sali was going.

She knew the limits of the shuttle.

She felt at each moment where the safest path forward lay.

Deep into her trancelike state, Nix felt for her connection to Ayli and found Ayli so very close.

And so very much in danger.

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