Author Archives: dreamfarer

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 36

Ayli was used to worrying about her comrades. As a child in the rebellion, she’d been helpless to protect a lot of people she’d known. The situation hadn’t changed as far as she was concerned as she’d gotten older and more capable. The Empire had taught her that no one was ever really safe. 

Which, she reflected, probably explained why she had a wide assortment of contacts and associates and few friends. Also, possibly, she could chalk one or two (or more if she was feeling honest) failed relationships up to her reticence to risk caring that much about somehow.

So how in all the frozen hells of Hoth had Nix snuck in and made Ayli give so much of a damn about her?

It wasn’t any sort of Force Manipulation. Ayli knew that outside of someone’s presence Force Compulsions faded quickly – a little tidbit of knowledge she’d absorbed from Ravas who’d always found that fact inconvenient. Also there hadn’t been any force, mystical, social, or otherwise involved in her time with Nix.

They’d wound up married because they were both drunk idiots, and it had just worked for them in the moment.

And it had kept working. 

Which is shouldn’t have.

That wasn’t how relationships happened.

Ayli had seen it with Gewla and Vronmo after they’d all but officially adopted her. Their relationship was one of the strongest ones she’d ever seen and they’d both had to work it. According to them it had taken three years of unacknowledged courting on each of their parts before they were even willing to start calling what they were doing dating. Then it had been another five years before they were sure they wanted to be married, and decades since then building the enduring life together than they shared.

Drunken hookups on a casino planet did not lead to true love.

Not that Ayli loved Nix. 

No. It was textbook insanity to even think that.

“You might want to go easy on that scanner switch,” Zindiana said. “Breaking it off isn’t going to help them get here any sooner.”

Ayli snatched her hand away from the control panel.

“This plan sucks. Why did we agree to this?” she asked, unhappy to keep the growl out of her voice. All sorts of other dark thoughts rose with it and, lacking Nix’s calming presence, she felt like she was all wrapped up in them.

“It sucked less than the alternatives?” Zindiana said. “Are you starting to feel misgivings from the Force about it?”

Was she? Ayli took a deep breath and tried to push the anger and fear away. Those never showed her a clear view of reality she’d decided. 

“No. No visions. I just can’t believe we’re doing this,” she said. “I hadn’t planned on fighting a criminal cartel or taking over an automated fleet. This was supposed to a simple historical survey with some loot on the side to prove some University idiots wrong.”

Zindiana laughed.

“Oh have I ever been there,” she said. “They say the best revenge is living well, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as publishing a paper with hard evidence to cram in the faces of people who thought your theories were bunk.”

“It sounds kind of petty when you put it like that,” Ayli said.

“It’s absolutely petty,” Zindiana said. “Petty can be  supremely satisfying though. Especially with the particular smugness that you find in academic circles.”

Ayli let out a sigh she hadn’t felt like she was holding.

“That’s true. Just hard to feel like it’s worth it when it blows up to all this,” she said, gesturing to the galaxy in general and all the parts that seemed to be arrayed against them.

“I’m not going to say they’ll be all right,” Zindiana said. “I don’t have your gifts with the Force, and I know how hollow those words can ring. I will say that our girls are pretty remarkable though, and if anything does happen to them, well it wouldn’t be the first time I had to wreck blood vengeance across the stars.”

Ayli huffed a laugh.

“Mine either,” she said, though her vengeance had really only been limited to a single planet, and the body count wasn’t that impressive she thought. “Wait, ‘our girls’? Does that mean you and Sali are official now?”

“We’re…hmm, you know we haven’t put a name on it really. She’s surprisingly agreeable to be around though. Not the sort of gal I’d usually share a bed or a bottle with, but my only complaints would be if I didn’t get to do either of those again,” Zindiana said. “I’m not sure if she feels the same, but it’s been fun so far.”

“Nix knows her better than I do,” Ayli said, “But I think it’s safe to say, Sali finds being with you ‘surprisingly agreeable too’.”

“Who knew a life of crime could be so rewarding?” Zindiana said. “If I’d known that getting thrown in jail would net me a hot pirate queen and a grand adventure with treasure and a fantastic ship I might have tried it sooner.”

“Awww,” Goldie said, “You think I’m fantastic?”

“Well, you’re the first ship I’ve been able to have a conversation with,” Zindiana said. “And the first one who ever saved me from a cartel’s Destroyer, so yes, yes I do.”

Ayli smiled at the flickering of colors that ran across the control panel – Goldie’s version of blushing it seemed.

“I don’t know if this helps or not,” Goldie said. “But we’re coming up on the planned time Mom had specified for how long it was likely for them to get the Preservationist  fleet here.”

“That was a guess on her part,” Ayli said. “We’ll want to give her some time past that.”

“She seems to listen to the Force a lot,” Zindiana said. “Do you think her timeframe was informed by that?”

Ayli was about to say “no” but stopped to consider why she thought that. Zindiana was right about Nix being somewhat effortless adept at sensing the flow of the Force. Was it that unthinkable that she was following it’s plan for how things would turn out?

“This feels more like Nix’s idea, if that makes sense,” Ayli said. “Freeing the Preservationist’s slaves from their collars was important to her and so she worked out how to do that and get us where we needed to go too. She might have been following the Force’s suggestions for the most likely paths to make that happen, but her estimates feel like her own. I think?”

“Works for me,” Zindiana said. “Everything I’ve learned about the Force is that dealing with it involves working in some pretty fuzzy spaces.”

“Maybe not so fuzzy,” Goldie said. “Sensors are saying we’ve got a fleet warping into the system now.”

“Wow she’s good,” Ayli said, her mood brightening in an instant only to come crashing down with Goldies next words.

“Problem,” the ship said. “It’s not them.”

“Who else…” Ayli started to ask and cut herself off. “Oh no. Not them.”

But of course it was.

“Afraid so,” Goldie said. “Klex battlecruiser inbound, along with at least a dozen other warships.”

“They have better repair techs than we anticipated,” Zindiana said.

“Or they’re running damaged,” Goldie said. “I’m reading some interesting plasma venting from the battle cruiser.”

“Are they badly beat up enough that we could take them in a fight?” Ayli asked, already knowing the answer but needing to hear it before she gave her next order.

“Not a chance in all of Hoth’s hells,” Goldie said. “They’re still a battle cruiser and I’m very much not. Also no element of surprise this time. Not to mention the other ships. Sorry.”

“No apologies needed,” Ayli said. “I am delighted beyond words that you have a reasonable estimation of your own capabilities. It’s seriously invaluable.”

“That does not leave us many good options, does it?” Zindiana said.

“That leaves us no good options at all,” Ayli said. “Which is why I’m taking us down to the surface.”

“The defenses around Praxis Mar are still quite active,” Goldie said.

“I’m aware,” Ayli said.

“They’re actually stronger than the battle cruiser,” Goldie said.

“Yep. I remember our scans,” Ayli said, flipping the deflector fields into an array which left the forward arc completely undefended.

“Anything I can do to help?” Goldie asked.

“If we take a good hit, deploy as much chaff as you can,” Ayli said. “It won’t fool them forever but if we can make them think we blew up even for a little while it’ll buy us time down there.”

“If we take a good hit, I may not need to deploy any chaff to make them think we blew up,” Goldie said.

“Want me to head to the guns?” Zindiana asked.

“No. Stay here. I don’t want to damage any of the defenses,” Ayli said. “If we can make it through, they’re going to be all that will slow down the Klex’s from following after us. Also, I might need you to handle the deflectors if they gets as bad as I think it will.”

“On it,” Zindiana said.

And she was. To Ayli’s surprise, as Zin took over control of the deflector arrays, she didn’t change anything about the pattern Ayli had setup, apparently understanding why Ayli had stripped them of protection in their forward arc.

“You can do this,” Ravas said, from the seat behind her.

It was the first time Ravas had appeared or spoken since she’d fled but Ayli wasn’t surprised by her presence. The encouragement though? That was unexpected.

With a silent nod of agreement or thanks or something, Ayli cranked the engines to full power and dove towards the array of defensive installations in orbit and mounted on the moons of Praxis Mar.

It was a death sentence.

Both the original architects of the temple and the Children of the Storm had been seriously invested in preventing unwanted visitors from reaching their holy site, and a blind rush forward at high speed was the most obvious of strategies for them to put in counters for.

All defenses had weak points though and opening herself up to the Force, Ayli felt them all.

She didn’t question the revelations or hesitate. The Goldrunner couldn’t fit through some of them, most of them, but Ayli plowed through more than a few of those, trusting the deflectors to handle the glancing shots she allowed to land in order to bypass the points where there was no chance they’d survive the coordinated fire.

The deflectors did their part, to the extent that they could. Nix had rigged them up well, and so they shielded the Goldrunner from more than their fair share of the explosions and turbolaser fire that crashed onto the ship. 

But they had their limits, and Ayli pushed them far past that.

Even with her Force enhanced flying, the load was too much for the starboard shields, which buckled and exploded. Goldie was giving status updates on the ship’s systems as they breeched the atmosphere, but since they were all varying degrees of terrible, Ayli tuned them out.

With only the rear and port shields energized, she was forced to put the Goldrunner into a dance that would have torn it to shreds if the inertial dampeners failed. With the deflectors pulling as much energy as they were from the Goldrunner’s systems, and the worrying failures of sensors on the engines themselves, Ayli wasn’t terribly surprised when the danger light for inertial failure blazed to life.

A moment later than engines quit entirely, leaving them in freefall. 

Fortunately, they were so close to the surface that most of the orbital defense could no longer target them.

The automated ground defenses on the other hand were more than happy to pick up the slack and blast the freefalling Goldrunner in places Ayli really wished they wouldn’t. 

As the ground loomed closer, she felt a familiar presence brush up against her mind and did her best to send a reassuring touch back.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 35

As plans went, Nix found herself reasonably pleased with how hers was turning out.

“We’re in a jail cell,” Sali said, pacing the length of the tiny room they were in. “Was this a secret part of your plan? Maybe one of those bits you didn’t want to tell me about?”

“We’re not in a jail cell,” Nix said. “This is a reception room.”

“A reception room with doors that don’t open from the inside and a reinforced bulkhead on either side of the one entrance?” Sali asked.

“So it’s a very secure reception room,” Nix said looking for signs of poor maintenance she could use in her negotiations.

“It’s a jail cell,” Sali said. “Trust me, I’ve been in enough of them.”

“If this was a jail cell, they’d be recording us,” Nix said, leaning over to inspect one of the seems in the floor. The weld was good, and it looked like it had been sealed properly, but the cleaning solution they were using was all wrong. The seal hadn’t degraded enough to be a problem but another year or so and they’d be replacing the whole panel or it would be venting enough gas to act as another engine.

“We are recording you,” Thirty-two said, strolling into the jail cell with a datapad in his hands. “Though, for legal reasons, I must specify that Ms. Lamplighter is correct and this is not a jail cell. It is a holding and evaluation room. We are not permitted to incarcerated anyone except duly convicted prisoners and those who are we transporting to the nearest law enforcement facility where we will be pressing charges against them.”

“And what charges will you be pressing against us?” Sali asked, her hand staying mercifully away from the two holdout blasters Nix knew she was carrying.

“None,” Nix said. “Mr. Thirty-two is here to evaluate my credentials as a licensed ship inspector.”

“You are very perceptive Ms. Lamplighter,” Thirty-two said, dropping gracefully into one of the chairs beside the room’s small desk and gesturing for Nix to take the seat opposite.

“Ship inspection requires the ability to pay attention to details,” Nix said, glancing and the jamming device in Thirty-two’s hands and upwards at the small patch of wall where the recording equipment was hidden.

She’d expected the interrogation chamber to be smaller and better outfitted with sensor equipment but since they’d been allowed to dock with the Providence-class Battle Cruiser, their reception had been farther towards the side of actually being treated like guests rather than potential felons. Possibly because the credentials Goldie had setup for Nix bore enough real seals of approval that they’d already passed muster with the Preservationist’s local command bots.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Thirty-two passed the broken jammer over to her. “Normally we hire inspectors from fully accredited agencies which the League has long standing with. In this case, however, our duty cycle has prohibited us from engaging their services in a timely manner.”

“Hence this interview and test, I understand,” Nix said. “I should tell you that this time will be considered billable even should you choose not to hire me.”

Sali shot her a look of surprised approval, which Nix had to suppress a smile against. Even the pirate queen she’d dated didn’t seem to realize how many ways in which they’d been compatible.

It was just as well though. Ayli felt like a more comfortable fit than Sali ever had.

“Oh of course,” Thirty-two said. “Payment to be rescinded if any irregularities are discovered in your credentials or if your inspection fails to turn up any problems more severe than Class 3.”

“For cursory inspections, Class 3s are guaranteed,” Nix said. “If you wished to engage my services on a longer term basis, the full suite covers Class 2 as well.”

“You initial communique indicated that you were intent on leaving the system sooner than that,” Thirty-two said, and Nix could feel his concern that he might have misread their desire to leave and its source.

“Yes, we have an itinerary to keep to,” Nix said. “I make the offer of a longer commitment in terms of future business arrangements we might enter into.”

Nix guessed that Sali would think they were discussing some secret plans, but the offers and requirements were almost a pre-scripted part of contract work.

Thirty-two smiled at her offer, calmer at the reassurance that his initial read on the situation had been correct.

“In the interest of your time and our expenditures then, if you could take a look at this device and offer you opinion as to it’s repairability?” Thirty-two asked.

“Certainly,” Nix said, taking the inactive jamming device. “What can you tell me about it’s origin and purpose?”

“Purpose unknown,” Thirty-two lied. “It’s origin was an unexpected weapon’s cache on the planet below. The controller were concerned that it might be dangerous to leave unsecured, but there does not seem to be enough of a power signature from it to suggest that it harbors any danger.”

“Power scans can be deceived,” Nix said, quite truthfully. “May I interact with it?”

“To the extent you feel our safety will not be compromised,” Thirty-two said. “Obviously should the device detonate we will posthumously cancel any financial obligations to your estate.”

“Obviously,” Nix agreed. There was something about the boilerplate nature of work discussions which was both soothing and annoying, and with her nerves already more taut than she preferred she reached out the ‘soothing’ aspect as well as she could.

The inactive jammer was an old design, one that she knew about from hanging out with people like Sali rather than any of the ones which appeared in legitimate tech catalogs.

Which meant she was pretty certain it wasn’t going to explode.

A shame since explosions were more useful than ship’s mechanics liked to admit.

“Initial thoughts?” Thirty-two asked.

“Are likely to be based on incomplete data and have the highest likelihood of being misleading,” Nix said. 

Having the customer want answers instantly was also a standard part of inspection work, though it fell solidly on the ‘annoying’ side of the scale. To his credit however, Thirty-two accepted her answer, shut up, and allowed Nix to work unimpeded which tilted the scale back towards soothing.

The jammer was easy enough to enable again. It’s battery was probably disconnected while it was switched off and still had enough charge to bring its processors back online. Nix turned it on to ‘record’ mode and debated how long she should let it go before setting it to project its loop to the sensors.

A familiar presence brushed against her awareness and she gave a little nod of her head. Far away, the Goldrunner’s engines came to life under Ayli’s hands and in an instant the presence faded away from Nix’s mind.

A moment later an alarm blared through the Destroyed.

“Intruder vessel has departed system,” a mechanized voice called out over the ship’s comms. “All hands assume battle stations and brace for potential attack.”

It was a predictable response to the Goldrunner’s departure, given that they could easily have been the forward scouts for a pirate fleet or other hostile force.

“Well, that is an unexpected turn,” Thirty-two said. “It looks as though we will have to escort you to our prison cells.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Nix said.

“I’m afraid with your friends abandoning you, we must conclude that you represent a hostile force and act accordingly,” Thirty-two said.

“That conclusion would be incorrect,” Nix said. “Moreover we’re happy to share our itinerary with you. If you wish to apprehend the rest of our crew, my compatriot can provide the exact navigational coordinates for their jump.”

“You knew they were going to leave you behind?” Thirty-two asked.

“We knew circumstances might arise which would necessitate an active response on their part,” Nix said. “We have a recording here from the ship’s captain, timestamped to our departure corroborating that fact.”

“Fascinating,” Thirty-two said, returning to the state of calm he’d enjoyed when he entered the room.

“If you wish to send a ship to retrieve them, their business in our destination system is not likely to consume much time,” Nix said, hoping dearly that Thirty-two wouldn’t send a ship she wasn’t on.

That was the weakest part of her plan, and had been the strongest argument for taking over the fleet while they were still in the Velkos Eiridini system.

The others had all been surprised at the idea that Nix’s plan called for overriding the core control after the fleet jumped to Praxis Mar rather than as soon as possible. Once she explained that, while she was sure she would be able to take over the Destroyer’s systems, she couldn’t be certain that the non-Trade Federation refurb ships in the fleet were linked in to the same control circuits and that their safest bet was to have those ships in a system where they did not have access to long range communication relays to call in the rest of the Preservation Leagues forces Ayli and Zindiana agreed with her reasoning. Sali didn’t, but that was because Sali hated everything about what they were doing.

“I am being told that according to proper doctrine, we will not expose an individual ship to the peril of a potential ambush situation,” Thirty-two said. “If you will provide us with the coordinates, we will direct auxiliary forces to that location to conduct the retrieval.”

Which could have been a disaster for Nix’s plan, except Goldie had been able to determine where the rest of the League’s forces were and none of them had a jump lane to Praxis Mar that didn’t take them through the Velkos Eiridini system.

“We will give you a confirmation message as well,” Nix said. “So that your other forces won’t be taken as hostile attackers when they arrive. Jirandris, if you would be so kind?”

‘Jirandris’ because Sali owed someone with that name money and found it amusing to get them in trouble if the Preservationists came looking for payback based on the credentials they supplied. Why Sali and Goldie had talked about that prior to Goldie sending over the fake credentials was something Nix knew she should look into but did not have the time for.

Sali, being a successful liar and cheat, one of the job requirements for a pirate queen, responded to her fake name immediately and fished a data chip out of one of her pockets. That the pocket also contained a holdout blaster was something Nix was reasonably sure of but Sali allowed no hint of that to show.

Thirty-two took the chip and slotted it into a port on the thermo-collar he was burdened with.

“Your collars have security software built in?” Nix asked, not really needing the confirmation but the role she was playing seemed like they would have been surprised at the data security dangers involved.

“Yes. If anything amiss is detected the central system can neutralize the collar before it spreads,” Thirty-two said.

‘Neutralize’ in this case being the League approved verbiage for “explode, taking the involuntary workforce member along with it.

“Curious,” Thirty-two said, his surprise entirely feigned, “Your comrade’s destination is in one of the lost star systems.”

“Yes. Discovering it was a reason we are out here,” Nix said.

“And apparently the reason you came to this system,” Thirty-two said. “Control is saying that we are closest group to it, so our support will be dispatched to this system to hold it while we pursue the fleeing ship.”

Translation: while they pursue whatever valuables the Goldrunner was clearing jumping towards.

Nix judged that to be the moment she’d been waiting for, so she flicked the jamming device to active mode and set it down on the table in front of Thirty-two.

“That’s excellent news,” she said. “Now let’s talk about getting that collar off you.”

The Force, Nix knew, was a powerful ally, but you shouldn’t expect your allies to do all the work for you. Sometimes you could make the plan come together yourself.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 34

The problem with great plans is often that when they’re laid out for everyone involved to see, they sound a lot less great.

“You want me to do what?” Sali asked.

“Take command of all the ships in this system,” Nix said.

Ayli knew that her wife was mad – evidence aplenty existed, starting with their marriage. How Saliandris had missed that fact despite dating her for longer than Ayli and Nix had been married was the only puzzling thing at the planning table.

“All the ships which follow us to Praxis Mar,” Nix said, her cheer undiminished. “Which will probably be all of them. At least if I have anything to say about it.”

Sali steepled her fingers in front of her face and drew in a breath that seemed to fill her with nothing like the patience the situation required.

“And why, exactly and in detail, do we want the Preservationist League to follow us to Praxis Mar?” she asked.

“How else are you going to get a fleet?” Nix asked, looking puzzled as to why that reason wasn’t patently obvious.

Sali drew in another breath.

“I had a fleet,” she said. “A perfectly good one. They obeyed my orders at least half the time, which is half more I would like to point out than the Preservationists will be willing too.”

“You’re last fleet sucked,” Nix said. “No offense to them. Or you know, full offense I guess.”

Ayli could heard Sali’s teeth grinding and admired the big woman’s restraint at not grabbing Nix by the neck and squeezing for all she was worth.

“No, seriously, those idiots had no idea the windfall they lucked into having you as their leader,” Nix said. “I watched them remember? I saw all the cranky backtalk and the stupid whispering they did. Sure, some of them had a brain, but even those people didn’t get how valuable you were. They all thought they could do things better, and made it a point to make your life a living hell.”

Sali frowned but the tension in her neck muscles eased.

“Getting you to leave was absolutely for you, and I’ll stand by that,” Nix said. “But it’s also going to help them, because now all the would-be usurpers will have to put up or shut up.”

“Mostly of them are going to shut up because someone slit their throats,” Sali grumbled.

“And will the galaxy be a worse place for it?” Nix asked.

“You know, I mistook you for the nice one of this crew Lamplighter,” Zindiana said.

“A lot of people do,” Nix said. “I don’t know why?”

“We’re getting a bit off topic here,” Ayli said, with less than five hours remaining until Mr. Thirty-two and the rest of the Preservation League learned that the credentials Goldie had supplied to them were backed by smoke and imagination, they needed to begin implementing their scheme sooner than later.

“Right,” Nix said. “I promise though that getting Sali a fleet is an important part of the plan.”

“But you won’t tell us why?” Sali said.

“Yeah, because you won’t like it,” Nix said.

“I don’t like any of this,” Sali said.

“But you will!” Nix said. “You just have to trust me. Just a little bit.”

“The last time I trusted you, I got shocked so hard I was tasting Bacta packet goo for days,” Sali said.

“That time though I knew you wouldn’t like what I wanted to do,” Nix said.

“You just said I’m not going to like this either!” Sali said.

“Right, which is why I can’t tell you,” Nix said, clearly pleased that Sali was understanding her.

Ayli fought valiantly to keep the smile that was threatening to explode into laughter off her face. There was something about seeing Nix drive Sali mad that was deeply satisfying. Not that Ayli was intimidated at being compared to the near perfect physical specimen that was the pirate queen. It was just nice to know Nix liked her better than Sali.

“What’s the rest of the plan then?” Zindiana asked.

“You won’t like this part either,” Nix said. “Remember when I said we’d have the whole Preservationist fleet there if I had anything to say about it? Well, I will. Because I’ll be on the Destroyer they have.”

“Why and how?” Sali asked.

“The why is fairly simple,” Nix said. “That a refurb from the Galactic Civil War right?”

“Has to be, they haven’t made those in years,” Sali said. “Not since the Empire obliterate the Trade Federation’s leadership.”

“One thing I’ve seen on all the old TF ships, is that the command systems are still in place. They were so central to the design and so efficient that taking one out would basically involve building a whole new ship,” Nix said.

“Oh, that’s interesting,” Zindiana said.

“Isn’t it though?” Nix said, clearly pleased that someone was following her line of thought.

Ayli was as well but wasn’t as happy with where it was heading.

“You’re thinking you can take over the security droids with the controls on the command ship?” she asked, hating that it was even a possibility under the circumstances.

“I know I can take them over,” Nix said. “It’ll be a little tricky getting to the command deck, but the security on the main controller is decades out of date. I could rewire it with my eyes closed.”

“You don’t think they’ve changed it?” Sali asked.

“No one changes their security as often as they should,” Nix said. “And changing the security locks on a barge like that is a nightmare. Again, it’s like building a whole new ship. The Trade Federation believed in security through security droids, so the actual challenge was getting past things like destroyer droids.”

“They still have those,” Zindiana pointed out.

“But do I look like a threat?” Nix asked.

“Yes,” all three other women and Goldie answered together.

“I…I do not!’ Nix said. “I’m just a harmless mechanic.”

“You’re not one of them,” Ayli said. “They will absolutely consider you a threat the moment they see you onboard their command ship.”

“Oh, not if I’m there because they invited me though,” Nix said.

“They’re not going to invite you onboard  their most secure vessel,” Sali said. “They’re not that stupid.”

“Of course they’re not,” Nix said. “Which is why they’re definitely going to invite me onboard their most secure vessel.”

Sali buried her head in her hands.

“You know, there used to be days when I was sorry that you’d left,” she said. “I would think ‘if only she’d come back’. Why was I cursing myself like that? Did I hate myself?”

“Probably a little,” Nix said. “I never did though.”

“That does not make it even a little bit better,” Sali said.

“It’s okay,” Nix said. “You’re on a better path now.”

Sali turned to look at Ayli.

“Run,” she said. “I’m apparently doomed by this madness but there’s still a chance for you.”

Ayli chuckled at that.

“I’m afraid not,” she said. “This whole mess was at least half my fault.”

“You have a strategy to get onto the Destroyer, don’t you?” Zindiana said, more as an accusation than a question.

“I have the shell of a strategy,” Nix said. “It’s based on some observations, things you’ve said, and, hopefully the results I’m expecting Goldie to turn up.”

“I don’t know if I want to share those with you Mom,” Goldie said.

“And now the ship’s like that too,” Sali said.

“You found something, didn’t you?” Nix asked.

“Maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t,” Goldie said. “I think I should tell the others first though because this plan sounds really bad to me.

“That’s because it is!” Sali said.

“Do you think if you don’t tell her, she’ll give up, or will she come up with a worse plan instead?” Ayli asked, ready to bet a mountain of credits on which of the two Nix was likely to pick.

Goldie was silent for a moment.

“That’s not fair,” she said eventually.

“Very little is,” Ayli agreed.

“Okay then, yes, I was able to find inspection requirements in the Preservation League bylaws,” Goldie said.

“And how far out of inspection is the Destroyer?” Nix asked.

“It’s not bad,” Goldie said. “It’s late by five weeks, but according to the public flight plans from Hillben Station, it’s due for a refueling stop there in three weeks.”

“Eight weeks? That’s perfect,” Nix said.

“Perfect how?” Sali asked.

“It means they keep a tight schedule on their ship inspections,” Ayli said, seeing where Nix’s plan was going.

“Yeah. Most ships go for six months to a year with out of date inspections,” Nix said. “Technically the Chief Mechanic’s logs can count as temporary inspection passes in most systems, but those tend to be hashed up too.”

“So you’re going to offer to write them a mechanic’s log?” Zindiana asked.

“No, I’m going to offer to give them a full inspection,” Nix said.

“Why would they care about that?” Sali asked.

“I’m sure Thirty-two doesn’t,” Nix said. “And I’m sure he’ll have a pretty good idea what I actually plan to do.”

“So he’ll want for you to board and shoot you then. Gotcha. Brilliant plan,” Sali said.

“Would you like to make a wager on that?” Nix asked with a dangerous gleam in her eye.

“I don’t bet with dead people,” Sali said.

“That’s good because I’m not going to die,” Nix said. “Thirty-two is going to welcome me with open arms to the Destroyer, and then lead me right to the command deck.”

“What’s the tricky part then?” Zindiana asked.

“Making sure no one else stops us,” Nix said.

“Can we go back to the part about the enemy welcoming you with open arms?” Sali said.

“Thirty-two’s not the enemy,” Nix said. “He, and all of the rest of the ‘involuntary work force’ are the best allies we’ve run across so far. Present company excepted of course.”

“It says something about us that they’re all convicted criminals doesn’t it?” Zindiana asked.

“It says more that she’s probably right,” Ayli said.

“I feel the need to point out that our ‘best allies’ are currently in charge of enough firepower to reduce us to space dust, and have not one but five different target locks on us,” Sali said.

“Not exactly true,” Nix said. “Thirty-two and the others don’t have the target lock on us. Their control collars do, in a manner of speaking.”

“Yeah, but they have to do what the…” Sali got that far in what she was saying before the full appreciation of the scenario hit her.

“Right. They have to do what the collars so. Which I why I’m going to turn those hideous things to scrap,” Nix said.

“Oh, that wasn’t what I was thinking you were going for,” Zindiana said.

“What else would I…oh, you thought I’d just take control of the system myself?” Nix said. “I mean, I suppose that’s part of the plan too, at least for the non-sapient droids. It’s just the thermo-collars that have to go.”

“You’re not going to have any control over them once you do that,” Ayli said, not in the slightest bit surprised at the direction Nix’s plan was heading. Contrary to Nix’s assertion, she was definitely the nicest of the four of them. Or five if Goldie’s willingness to blow up non-hostile ships was anything to go by.

“Of course not,” Nix said. “That’s what I need Sali for.”

“I’m not acting as a blaster shield for you,” Sali said.

“You know I would never ask that of you,” Nix said. “Your body is not one that should ever be ruined by blaster fire. I’m giving you a new crew. One that is going to listen to you because you’re going to let them do exactly what they want to do.”

“I am? And what would that be?” Sali asked.

“Live free,” Nix said.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 33

The stop over in Velkos Eridini was supposed to have been a quiet chance for the Goldrunner’s crew to catch their breath. Velkos Eridini was also supposed to be abandoned.

“Unidentified freighter please transmit your transponder codes now and maintain your current orbital distance. Failure to comply with either of these directives will be place you in violation of the terms of the Covenant of Landfall,” the prim voice of a young human male said.

“What’s the Covenant of Landfall?” Sali asked.

“Ugh,” Ayli groaned. “Not them.”

“Can’t really be anyone else,” Zindiana said. “Not out here.”

“Who’s them?” Nix asked, not sensing anything amiss from the voice on the comms, but well aware that ‘not dangerous in the Force’s estimation’ and ‘not a problem’ were vastly different things.

“The Preservation League,” Ayli said. “They work out here on the rim mostly, but they’ve claimed a few worlds in towards to the core too.”

“They lay legal claim to abandoned or ruined worlds,” Zindiana said. “On the surface it’s for a noble cause, they’re focus is on restoring the worlds to a habitable state through slow natural processes.”

“And those natural processes involve fertilizing the ground with the blood of countless enemies?” Sali asked.

“No. Worse,” Ayli said.

“The restoration of the planets is above board – sort of,” Zindiana said. “Their techniques are simple, involving mostly manual labor by sapients and the long time spans needed for ecosystems to achieve the equilibrium the Preservation League desires. The problem lies in how they arrange for the manual labor to be performed.”

“Slaves?” Nix guessed, though that didn’t seem quite right. 

“Criminals,” Ayli said. “They buy criminals and make them work off their sentences.”

“That sounds disturbingly above board,” Sali said. “What’s the problem?”

“The problem comes from the fact that they don’t trust their workforce out of the range of a stun stick,” Zindiana said. “They put everyone in thermo-collars, have one security droid for every ‘worker’, and a rulebook so long that even the droids can’t remember it.”

“And whenever you do anything with them, you have to do it exactly how their rulebook says.”

“Or what?” Sali asked.

“Or the thermo-collars blow up,” Zindiana said, miming an explosion at neck level.

“How is that allowed?” Nix asked, knowing she shouldn’t be surprised given the galaxy she lived in, but still disturbed by how open and accepted the arrangement seemed to be.

“Not a lot of laws out here on the Rim,” Zindiana said.

“And even in the core, criminals convicted of galactic crimes lose a lot of their rights,” Ayli said. “Also, the ‘workers’ technically volunteer for that treatment.”

“Oh sure, because people facing time in a galactic prison aren’t under any coercion there at all,” Sali said.

“Unidentified freighter, this is your second warning,” the man said. “The third warning will come in the form of disabling your ship and selling it for parts to pay for your trial and incarceration. Should you wish to join the Preservation League, I am required to instruct you that a criminal conviction is not required and that applicants with a clean history in both local and New Republic jurisdictions are eligible for special signing bonuses which are forfeit should hostile actions be taken against Preservation League holdings.”

There was a trace of forced cheer in the man’s voice but Nix thought she heard a trace of genuine amusement there as well.

“You people are the worst,” Ayli said after hitting the transmit button, “Transponder codes sent and orbit locked in.”

“I could blow them up,” Goldie said, after, Nix noticed, the transmit light switched off.

“Tempting,” Ayli said.

“But probably not a good idea,” Zindiana said.

“They’ve only got the one ship up here with us,” Goldie said. “I’m pretty sure I can hole their jump drive from here and even if we miss, we’d be able to jump before they got in range to do any real damage.”

“Do you really want to kill everyone on board that ship?” Nix asked without admonishment.

“That depends on whether they plan to stick thermo-collars on your necks or not,” Goldie said.

“That’s fair,” Sali said.

And it wasn’t at all worrisome that the fledgling machine intelligence was calibrating its moral compass to be in line with a pirate queen.

“They won’t be putting collars on us,” Zindiana said. “They’d have to purchase us first.”

“Aren’t you technically an escaped fugitive?” Sali asked.

“Technically we all are,” Zindiana said. “In practice though, the Preservationists only deal with criminals convicted in galactic courts. Local laws are too varied to be sure the convictions will be honored in other jurisdictions.”

“We’ll need somewhere we can set down to make repairs,” Nix said. “Are they going to let us land?”

“Depends what state the planet is in,” Zindiana said.

“And how much we’re willing to pay,” Ayli said.

“I don’t recall any of us being terrible flush with funds at the moment,” Nix said.

“Speak for yourself,” Sali said. “I’ve got a nice little hoard back on Calerpris.”

“Do you?” Ayli asked, as though Sali was forgetting a small but vital factoid.

“Okay, I had a nice little hoard,” Sali said. “Now a whole bunch of other people have my hoard. Doesn’t change that it’s still my hoard.”

“That hoard sucked and you know it,” Nix said. “Each coin you had was costing you two coins worth of sanity and three coins worth of sleep.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” Sali said, turning away to stare at a random point on the readout that was showing the ships current waste reclamation levels.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ayli said. “We’re not paying them. Not even if a room full of credits plopped into our hold from out of nowhere.”

“Paying them wouldn’t make things easier?” Nix asked, imagining some of the loan sharks former captains had been in debt too. Payments were always demanded and never enough.

“It’s never a direct payment with them,” Zindiana said. “It’s always a donation.”

“And then you’re on their donor rolls. For life,” Ayli said. “Which they advertise to everyone.”

“They have a lot of other methods of profiting off an ‘official business relationship’ as well. Including things like selling your current location, no matter where that is,” Zindiana said.

“And framing you for crimes so they can seize your assets and buy you into their workforce,” Ayli said.

“They sound just lovely,” Nix said.

“I’ve got the shot now,” Goldie said. “I can put a meter wide hole through their jump drive and their ion drive. They won’t be able to do anything.”

“They’re not the ones we need to worry about,” Zindiana said. “Ping out a scan for ion trails around the moons.”

A moment later the long distance scanners flashed with over a dozen new “potential” contacts.

“They don’t operate alone, but they do lay traps for raiders,” Zindiana said.

“That’s a lot of ships,” Sali said. “Oh is that a Providence-class Destroyer?”

“Refurbished most likely,” Zindiana said. “They made out well in the bidding on the Trade Federation’s assets after the Galactic Civil War ended.”

The inter-ships comms crackled to life again before Nix could ask how a group like the Preservationists had been tolerated by both the Empire and the New Republic.

“Welcome to the Velkos Eiridini system Goldrunner. My name is Thirty-Two XJ7. What reason would you like recorded for your visit to this controlled territory?”

“Refuge,” Zindiana said before anyone else could speak up.

“No!” Ayli groaned after muting the comms. “Now they’re going to want a full witness statement.”

“Oh, refuge? Today might be interesting after all,” Thirty-two said. “Would you like to fill out the short form for temporary lodging or the long form for a permanent residence?”

“Neither,” Ayli said. “We’re just passing through.”

“That’s wonderful. Travel through controlled space requires a visa and identity registration from one of the participating planetary governments. If you have those items duly notarized, you can, of course, transmit them now and I would be happy to forward them on to our customs review board. If not, we can start with the Declaration of Identity forms for all sapients on board or who have traveled in your company in the last seven standard rotations.”

Nix could sense that Thirty-two was enjoying this. Not because he enjoyed paperwork, or held any love for the system he worked under. That sort of joy would have held a different weight to it. No, from what Nix could tell, Thirty-two was simply delighted that someone else was going to have to experience the bureaucratic misery which composed the majority of his life.

“Transmitting Visas and Identity registrations now,” Goldie said on the inter-ship comms. “We have them in Seventh Core format, with the latest security patches as of the scheduled update cycle for this annum. If you require a newer security level, please advise.”

Ayli muted the comms again. “What did you just send him?”

“The new Republic has specs on the credentials he asked for. So I generated some for you. Well, not your real identities, but unless they ansible back to Coruscant for confirmation, the signatures I used should stand up,” Goldie said.

“And if they do check with the central banks you impersonated?” Zindiana asked.

“Oh, then the game is definitely up,” Goldie said. “We can claim corruption in the transmission except that there’s no chance a corrupt security seal would have the right self-verification information.”

“You had Visa’s ready for this system?” Thirty-two asked. “And you’re seeking refuge here?”

It wasn’t that he’d found fault in the documents. Not yet at least. He wasn’t even unhappy that they had the documents on hand. Quite the contrary. He sounded oddly pleased instead.

“Yes,” Ayli said, and left it at that.

“And you are confident these will pass our Customs Review Board?” Thirty-two asked.

“They’re legit, so unless your Customs board is a glitched out astromech droid or something, this is just wasting our time,” Ayli said, annoyance drowning the lie. 

The Force wrapped itself around her words, amplifying the certainty she put into them so that they sounded convincing even to Nix, who knew for a fact where the lie was.

“Oh,” Thirty-two said as though noticing Force embellishment the words carried. “Well in that case you should be able to leave orbit in six standard hours, once the Review Board has validated the files.”

“Six standard hours is enough time to contact Coruscant isn’t it?” Sali asked off-mic.

“It is. And they will,” Zindiana said. “It’s their best bet for making a profit. And for taking us on as ‘untrusted contractors’ since falsifying galactic identity information is a galactic crime.”

“I don’t think Thirty-two is interested in a profit,” Nix said. “He’s looking for something else.”

“He probably wants help escaping,” Zindiana said. “What he wants is sadly irrelevant though since it’s the Preservationist rulebook, and the security droids who are enforcing it, that are calling the shots.”

“Well, we’ve got six hours to figure out how to fix that then,” Goldie said. “Or we can fight.”

“You have a crazy ship here if it wants to fight a Providence-class Destoyer,” Sali said.

“Oh that one, I’m planning to run away from,” Goldie said. “Mom did not give me shield sufficient to repel that kind of firepower.”

“Ah, someone who acknowledges their own limitations,” Zindiana said. “That’s a breath of fresh air.”

“Maybe she’s right,” Nix said, the beginning of a plan starting to form as a collection of disconnected pieces in her mind.

“You think we should fight too?” Ayli asked. “No, wait, you’ve got something else in mind. Something sneaky.”

“How can you tell?” Nix asked, wondering if Ayli was growing more sensitive in understanding the Force.

“You’ve got a gleam in your eye that’s just like when we blasted off from Calerpris,” Ayli said.

“I hate this plan already,” Sali said.

“You hate it now,” Nix said. “If it works out though, I think you’re absolutely going to love it, Admiral.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 32

Ravas vanished. That didn’t surprise Ayli. Despite what Nix had done, Ravas was still a ghost, and pulling away from Nix had seemed like an overpowering and involuntary reflex.

“Woah,” Nix said and wobbled a bit before Ayli caught her.

“What was that?” Sali asked. Her blaster raised again and scanning around the small cockpit for an attack which wasn’t in danger of coming.

“Sorry,” Nix said. “That was the other Force ghost I’ve spoken with.”

“The other? Does that mean there are only two of them?” Zindiana asked.

“Two’s two too many,” Sali said, remaining wary as only a pirate could.

“This one sounded like she was Jedi?” Zindiana asked.

“I think so? A contemporary of Ravas too, obviously,” Nix said. “She’s not usually as ‘present’ as that though.”

“What does she want?” Zindiana asked.

“What do both of them want,” Sali asked.

“In case anyone cares, I have no idea who you all are talking about,” Goldie said. “Also if you could please put the blasters away. If they go off, you’ll definitely be shooting my insides, which isn’t all that pleasant even if I lack pain receptors.”

Sali and Zindiana glanced at each other, shrugged, and holstered their blasters.

“I think they were at odds when they were alive, and I think they still are, though not quite how Ravas imagines,” Nix said.

“You know their history?” Zindiana asked.

“It’s mostly intuition,” Nix said.

“I’d prefer nice solid facts,” Sali said.

“You can trust Nix’s intuition,” Ayli said. “It’s more than just fuzzy feelings. It’s…”

“It’s the Force,” Zindiana said. “You were right about the Jedi not being completely exterminated by the Empire. One of the Sisters in my order was a Jedi stationed at a creche along the rim. She saved a lot of kids, mostly because a bunch of random people joining my Order is a pretty typical occurrence, especially back when the Empire was coming to power. Sister B’Kallu taught the Sister who had potential what she could, and the rest of us how to recognize a Force user, and how to  deal with them.”

“I’m surprised the Empire didn’t make your Order a higher priority target?” Ayli said, wondering what impact a group of Special Forces Nuns could have had on the Rebellion if they’d stepped up.

Or had they? Ayli knew the Rebellion had survived because of a lot of allies who could never be formally acknowledged.

“Oh the Empire hated us. They eradicated my Order five times. Once even the safe house was actually one of ours,” Zindiana said. “We still have warrants out for the leaders of that particular Imperial garrison.”

“Why weren’t you with the Rebellion then?” Nix asked.

“Some of us were,” Zindiana said. “At least after we got rid of the leaders who wanted to side with the Empire. We had something of a schism, but it all resolved well enough.”

“Peacefully?” Nix asked.

“For those of us who were left? Yes, it was quite peaceful when the Imperial sympathizers were dealt with,” Zindiana said. “I suppose it was peaceful for them as well. We do still pray for them you know.”

“So what’s the deal with all this Jedi nonsense then?” Sali asked.

“That’s for them to tell us, I think,” Zindiana said. “What I know is that the Jedi, and other Force users can do far more than move objects around with their mind. Sister B’Kallu described the Force as being alive itself, and aware.”

“Alive and aware, but it doesn’t care how it’s used?” Sali asked. “I mean, there were bad Jedi too right?”

“It’s more complicated than that?” Nix said. “And, honestly, I have no training in this. I’m just going by what I’ve experienced and what feels right.”

“That might make you a better source than most,” Zindiana said. “The Jedi had their teachings and that would have colored their views of things. Being able to compare what you’ve discovered with what they believed would make for an excellent thesis.”

“How it is more complicated?” Sali asked.

“You’ve heard about the ‘Dark Side of the Force’, right? I mean if you watch even one bootleg vid with Jedi in it, there’s always some evil witch, or fallen master, or some stuff like that were someone ‘fell to the Darkside’. The thing is there’s an element of truth to that, but it’s not the Force that got a ‘Darkside’. It’s us. We’re “dark” and “light” and all sorts of mixed up bits in between.”

“I thought the Force was alive and aware though? Are you saying it’s all good, or is it just like an animal? Like it depends on how you treat it?” Sali asked.

“It’s…I wish Kelda was still here. She would definitely have the words to explain this,” Nix said. “Not that she would though. Okay, so, my take on it? The Force doesn’t have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides. It has ‘harmony’ and ‘disharmony’. Like a jump drive. All of the pieces need each other – and the ‘engine’, or the Force, is really just the synthesis of those pieces. No one piece is an engine, and no one person is ‘the Force’, but all together, we are.”

“So we’re all just cogs then?” Sali asked.

“No, that’s why this is hard. And my metaphor sucks. We’re so much more than that pieces of a machine. And that’s why the Force is so much more than an engine. We don’t have one preset purpose for existing and so neither does the Force. But there’s still a flow to it as we create it and are created by it. “Dark” or “Light” if you do something with the Force, you’re altering that flow. I try to work with it, but from what Ravas has said, her master taught her to compel what she wanted, through anger, and fear.”

“That’s not healthy from what Sister B’Kallu described,” Zindiana said. “According to her, using the Force in anger let the Dark Side take hold of you and once you started walking that path, you would just get worse and worse.”

“You have to figure the Jedi weren’t entirely wrong about that,” Nix said. “They had a lot of experience with people making mistakes with the Force after all.”

“But you’re not wrong either,” Ayli said. “I know what you’re saying about using anger to make the Force give you what you want. It’s really easy to demand more power when your afraid or enraged. You feel so right in what you want, and I think the Force responds to that, even if what you want is to destroy people.”

“And when getting angry and smashing things becomes a viable answer…” Nix said.

“Then a lot of problems look like ones that are worth smashing,” Ayli said. “Because it works. To a point. But you pointed out that it’s still a choice. You can still walk away. When we fought the specters, well, I didn’t win, but I remembered the work we’d done.”

“And you didn’t give in to your fear, or your anger,” Nix said. “I could feel that. And I think it saved us. If you’d reached for power with your hate, I think it would have drawn on the Ancient Specter’s power.”

“And then I would have been possessed by two ghosts,” Ayli said. “Though maybe not for long. Ravas made pretty short work of the specter.”

“She did more than that,” Nix said. “When she destroyed him, she tore out the knot the Force had been twisted up into there.”

“Wait, what had happened to the Force?” Zindiana asked.

“Back when she and her master were setting up their Immortality scheme, they needed a nexus in the Force where they could work easily, so they created, for lack of a better term, a Dark Side nexus. The Force flowed there still, sort of, but it was bent and twisted and wrapped in on itself. It was miserable and horrifying, and by ripping the heart out of the Ancient Specter she also tore the blockage in the Force that they’d created free. There’s all kinds of other twists and snarls there, but with the main one gone, it’s possible the Force will be able to unravel those on its own.”

“Why would she destroy something she created?” Zindiana asked. “That’s her legacy.”

Ayli glanced at Nix who nodded to her.

“I don’t think she’d happy with her legacy,” Ayli said, trusting to the impressions which had been building in the back of her mind since Lednon Three. “She’s been trapped by that legacy for centuries. The Children of the Storm, woke her because of it and tied her to it even further.”

“It’s kept her from her rest,” Nix said. “And from someone she loved.”

“Someone who she still thinks betrayed her, it’s worth pointing out,” Ayli said.

“She might be coming around on that,” Nix said. “I think she wouldn’t have left like she did if Kelda’s words hadn’t hit something deep inside her.”

“So why did you say she was going to be our enemy then?” Zindiana asked.

Because she’d existed for longer than they’d all been alive and had never expressed an interesting in changing who she was even once? Ayli wondered if there was a universe where they ever could have met where Ravas wasn’t their enemy.

“Not the Ravas we saw here,” Nix said. “That was her spirit, or whatever essential element in us is in communion with the Force.”

“I thought there were some blood bugs that did that?” Sali asked.

“You’ve studied the Jedi too?” Zindiana asked, openly surprised.

“Not for real,” Sali said. “This was in one of the bootlegs Nix showed me.”

“You remembered that one?” Nix asked.

“You wouldn’t shut up about it for a week, how could I forget?” Sali said.

“It was a good vid,” Nix said. “And I looked up the ‘blood bugs’ thing. It turns out the Empire destroyed most of the facilities that made tests for them, but from I read they weren’t how you used the Force, they were just a life form which multiplied strongly when someone used the Force a lot. Basically like plants growing when there was a lot of good soil, sunshine, and rain. So correlation, but not causation.”

“That makes sense,” Sali said. “If it was like the movie, someone would have bottled up blood supplements of the bugs and everyone would be Jedi Masters or something.”

“I’m pretty sure the who ‘master’ thing takes training and effort,” Nix said. “I’ve been using the Force since I was a kid, I just didn’t realize, or wouldn’t let myself realized, what I was doing.”

“Wouldn’t let yourself realize?” Ayli asked.

“While there’s a mountain of evidence to the contrary, I have usually tried to keep myself safe,” Nix said. “Observing things, listening to them, knowing what people are feeling? Those are all pretty hard for anyone to spot. And pretty easy to play off as just natural character traits. Lifting heavy objects? If you keep your hands on them and they’re not too large, it’s pretty easy for that not to draw any attention either. Anything beyond that though? It never felt right to try more stuff, even when I’d just caught a good vid. Which I think was the Force warning me to not even consciously acknowledge what I could do or else one of the Inquisitors would help me down. Assuming they actually existed that is.”

“They did,” Ayli and Zindiana said at the same time with Zindiana adding. “Did in the past tense, and the galaxy is better off for it being the past tense.”

Ayli had never met or even seen one of the Imperial Inquisitors, but she’d heard the stores in the Rebellion. The cells which had been utterly destroyed. The ones which had been compromised. The ones that had sold other cells out. Zindiana was right, the galaxy was a much better place with the Inquisitors having been removed from it.

“Which brings us to the problem of Ravas,” Nix said. “I don’t think she is ‘past tense’. I think the Immortality treatment is why she’d so much more present than Kelda is, or even can be. When we get to Praxis Mar, I think we’re going to find the piece of her the Immortality treatment worked on. The part that’s holding her here.”

“The part she wants to destroy,” Ayli said.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 31

Making a woman disappear was a classic piece of misdirection and stagecraft performed all over the galaxy. Conjuring one from thin air however was rather less common, especially when she truly had not been there a moment earlier.

“Who the hell is that?” Sali asked, on her feet and with a blaster in her hand faster than Nix could blink.

“Stowaway?” Zindiana asked. She’d also seemingly materialized a blaster in her hand.

Seeing the two of them so rapidly and menacingly on guard should have been frightening but, to Nix’s relief neither of them were pointing the weapons at her, which spoke to a level of trust in her she’d hoped they felt but hadn’t been entirely sure of.

“What is this?” Ravas asked, trying to pull her hands free from Nix’s.

Nix held on firmly enough to indicate she didn’t want to break contact yet, but not so tightly that Ravas couldn’t have pulled free if she chose to.

“Sali, Zindiana, may I introduce Ravas Durla,” Nix said, without taking her eyes off the increasingly more confused Zabrak woman.

“Ravas Durla has been dead for centuries,” Zindiana said.

“She still is,” Ayli said, rising out of the pilot’s chair to examine Ravas more closely.

“What am I seeing here Nix,” Sali asked. “Is this a ghost? Are we haunted now?”

“No,” Nix said.

“Yes,” Ayli said at the same instant.

“I am not a ghost,” Ravas said.

“You are looking rather solid for that,” Zindiana said. “You’re also looking rather too young to be a woman who lived over a thousand standard years ago.”

“Nix what are you doing?” Ayli asked.

“Helping Ravas project herself more than she usually does,” Nix said, feeling the Force flowing through her like an eager river, delighted to be reunited with a long dry stream bed. 

“Why?” Ravas asked, apparently too confused to try to retreat.

“Because we’re heading to the final trial,” Nix said. “Your tomb. That you know nothing about.”

“I feel like we missed something,” Sali said. “What did you discover in that Spire?”

“We got the coordinates for the last planet,” Ayli said.

“And we know what’s waiting for us there,” Nix said.

“You do not,” Ravas said.

“Of course we do. You’re there waiting for us,” Nix said.

“Two problems with that,” Zindiana said. “First, if this is Ravas Durla, she seems to be here now, not there, and second, Ravas Durla is long dead. This can’t be her.”

“She was working on an Immortality treatment,” Nix said.

“And your master killed me before we could complete it,” Ravas said.

“Did she?” Nix asked. “Tell us exactly what happened.”

“I was in one of the Chrysalis Pod,” Ravas said. “Before the transformation could commence though, she was there, your master. She saw what was happening, what we were doing and she demanded that we stop. When we didn’t, she destroyed the Immortality Engine and me along with it.”

“How,” Nix asked. “What did she do. Exactly.”

“I…I do not know,” Ravas said. “I was fully immersed in the Pod. But I could hear her clearly. I heard the curses she spat at us.”

“At ‘us’?” Nix asked. “Or at your master? You were in a Chrysalis Pod. If you couldn’t see her, are you sure she could see you?”

“She called my name,” Ravas said. “I was the first one she commanded to stop.”

“And was she cursing then?”

“Jedi do not curse. They run from such power.”

“I thought you just said you heard the curses she spat at you?” Sali asked, not hosltering her weapon but relaxing her posture and grip a bit.

“My master fought her,” Ravas said.

“She was alone?” Nix asked. “I thought Jedi usually worked together?”

“They did?” Ayli asked.

“Yeah, or at least in all the bootleg vids the Empire didn’t manage to get rid of,” Nix said. “There was usually an older foxy one and a young idiot.”

“They were all idiots,” Ravas said.

“But did they actually work together?” Nix asked.

“They…hmm, were the others silent?” Ravas asked herself, answering Nix’s question in the affirmative through her confusion.

“So Jedi work together. But could Kelda have come alone then, not as a Jedi, but as someone who cared about you?” Nix asked.

That drew a bitter laugh from Ravas.

“She never cared for me,” Ravas said. “For all their talk of the connection of all things, the Jedi were quite insistent that none of their numbers ever be allowed to form bonds with one another. And when they demanded that she leave me, your master was all too eager to comply.”

“So why did she come after you?” Zindiana asked. Unlike Sali she had not relaxed her guard or changed the point of her aim.

“Our work was an abomination in the eyes of the Jedi,” Ravas said. “Eternal Life is not the way of the Force they said. They have slain those who sought it before, and did so again in the centuries that followed.”

“Seems pretty harsh,” Sali said.

“They are as unyielding as they are unforgiving,” Ravas said.

“Maybe that’s what got them all wiped out,” Sali said.

“The Jedi are not gone,” Ravas said. “They stand here before you.”

“Nix?” Zindiana asked.

“Can’t be,” Sali said. “She’s a mechanic. She’s not a Jedi. No offense Nix.”

“None taken,” Nix said. “I like being a mechanic.”

“She pulled a woman here from no where,” Zindiana said. “And that’s far from the only thing she’s done that had to have been using the Force.”

“Yeah, but she’s just Nix,” Sali said. Her blaster wasn’t pointing at Ravas anymore. To Nix’s relief, it still wasn’t pointing at her either. 

“She’s a nuisance is what she is,” Ravas said.

“I was hoping for ‘an aggravation’ or ‘an annoyance’, but I’ll take what I can get,” Nix said.

“Jedi are all of those things,” Ravas said.

“Were you trained? As a child perhaps?” Zindiana asked.

“By who? The Jedi were all wiped out,” Sali said.

“Not all of them,” Ayli said. “There were a handful or more in the Rebellion. At least.”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t in the Rebellion. She was too young for that,” Sali said. 

“Age didn’t really matter. Not to the Imperials anyways,” Ayli said and Nix felt the ache of an old pain lingering in those words.

“She’s right though. I wasn’t in the Rebellion. And I haven’t been trained by anyone. All the stuff I can do now, I figured out on my own,” Nix said, knowing Ravas wouldn’t believe her anymore this time than last.

“Jedi also lie,” Ravas said. “Often with every breath they take.”

Nix heard a distant laughter at that statement and felt a wave of approval ripple over her heart.

So Kelda was happy with how Nix was handling things.

That was comforting to know, if not particularly helpful.

“You know when I’m lying,” Nix said, making sure to star directly into Ravas’ eyes. “You’re far more attuned to the Force than I am. I couldn’t lie to you if I needed to.”

“That should be true,” Ravas said. “But I don’t believe it is.”

“You took that Ancient Specter apart with ease,” Nix said. “The one who was spinning me around like a drive wheel.”

“Indeed. Because you refuse to embrace the destructive side of your nature,” Ravas said. “But perhaps…”

She looked away from Nix and Nix had to fight the urge to reach up and turn Ravas head back so that Ravas would be forced to confront the truth’s she’d spent centuries running.

But coercion wasn’t going to pull Ravas out of the pit she’d fallen into. Nix couldn’t compel Ravas to understand why Kelda was still waiting for her. That was something Ravas had to see for herself, had to accept in spite of all the misery her life had been filled with.

“If this is Ravas Durla, and you’ve been talking to her for a while now?” Zindiana phrased it like a question but didn’t need anymore than a nod of confirmation from Nix to continue. “In that case why did we need to go Lednon or Dedlos? Why couldn’t she just tell us where the final temple was?”

“We picked her up on Lednon,” Ayli said. “When I got this.” She waggled the unlit lightsaber blade.

“Okay, so why didn’t we skip Dedlos then?” Sali asked.

“They did not trust me,” Ravas said.

“Should they have?” Zindiana asked.

“Of course not,” Ravas said. “Trust is for fools.”

Nix bit back a rejoinder to that. They were all fools. She knew that and she suspected Ravas did too, but reminding her of that fact was not going to convince her to see the world more clearly. If anything each little pushback against her worldview would only drive Ravas deeper into her beliefs.

“She also, like everyone who relies on astrogation droids to get them where they need to go, doesn’t know astrogation coordinates,” Ayli said.

Everyone on the bridge shrugged at that. Nix included, since it wasn’t like she’d memorized the jump coordinates for more than a handful of systems.

Which, she supposed, was a handful more than most people bothered with.

“Speaking of trust,” Zindiana said and glanced over at Nix. “You said, she’s waiting for us on the final world. I think we could all use an explanation with a bit more detail.”

“I’m guessing, sort of,” Nix said.

“Well that’s comforting,” Sali said. “We’ve had such good luck on the first two planets. I’m sure going into the last one with a guess to back us up will turn out just great.”

“We can drop you off any time you like,” Ayli offered, her tone friendlier than it would have been a week earlier Nix thought.

“You’ve deprived me of one fortune,” Sali said. “I’m getting my share of this one, or I’ll sell you back to the Klex’s for real this time.”

Which was, of course, not at all the reason Sali had stayed with them, but Nix was fine with letting that bit of self-deception stand. Working on Sali’s issues was Sali’s problem. And maybe Zindiana’s. Nix was sure where the two of them were in relation to each other.

“What are you guessing?” Zindiana asked.

“Ravas is a ghost,” Nix said. “Sort of. She doesn’t feel like Kelda does though.”

“Could that be a Jedi vs. non-Jedi thing?” Zindiana asked.

“Partially,” Nix said. “But I don’t think I could do this with Kelda. I think there’s something special about Ravas, something that’s kept her bound to this world more strongly than a ghost should be.”

“So you too believe I am an abomination,” Ravas started to pull away, disappointment plain in her voice.

“Not in the slightest,” Nix said, locking her grip tighter. Ravas was free to break the connection between them if she wanted to, but Nix wasn’t going to let it be over a misunderstanding. “You’re not an abomination. You never were.”

“You have no idea the things I did in my life,” Ravas said.

“They might have been abominable. Actions can be. Not people though. If you did something bad, that doesn’t mean you are bad. It means you did something bad. And you have to accept that, and, ideally, choose differently next time.”

“Once the Dark Side claims you, your destiny is forever bound to it,” Ravas said.

“Bullshit.” Nix wasn’t entirely sure that she was the one who’d spoken that word. It felt like it had come from far, far away, but on consideration she felt she could stand behind it.

“You don’t know…” Ravas began.

“Neither do you,” again the words were coming out Nix’s mouth but they didn’t feel like hers. “You’ll see though. If you can believe in these people for the two seconds you couldn’t believe in me, you’ll finally see you daft old fool.”

“K-Kelda?” Ravas stammered.

“It’s not much longer now Ravy,” Kelda said through Nix. “Just a little further my beautiful, beloved idiot.”

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.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 29

Time had an unpleasant habit of marching on no matter how much Nix wanted to linger in a moment and process everything that had just happened.

In this particular case, lingering was contraindicated by the rhythmic thumping of a starship’s heavy laser batteries blowing chunks out of Spire on a faster cycle time than they were supposed to be run.

It was the misuse of what were very delicate weapon systems that bothered Nix more than the fact that Darsus Klex was intent on killing them and in a position to accomplish that feat before anyone could intervene.

“What do you mean she killed you?” Ayli asked, her lightsaber still in her hand as they raced down the ancient stairway which lead to the secondary hangar bay.

“Your wife’s master slew me and killed my master,” Ravas said, appearing in front of them and disappearing as they ran past her. “It is not particularly complicated.”

Nix laughed at how the Force moaned at the deep, deep inaccuracy of that description,  but doing so hurt her ribs. Being spun around like a child’s toy was not a pleasant experience it turned out, and hadn’t been without a fair bit of bruising and pain. That Ravas had destroyed the Ancient Specter wasn’t something Nix thought she should feel gleeful about. That didn’t stop her from feeling gleeful though. The Ancient Specter had been a jerk in addition to being an unnatural abomination that the Force was glad to see destroyed, and Nix had no reason to disagree with the Force on that.

“She’s not my master,” Nix wheezed out as they ran. Between her and Ayli, she was, normally, in far better shape for physical exertion but human stamina had its limits and the beating she’d taken had exhausted most of hers. Nix could rely on the Force to give her strength but that was only going to hide the additional damage she was doing to herself which seemed like a dangerous idea even under the somewhat dire circumstances before them.

“She taught you how to manipulate the Force,” Ravas said. “Whether you acknowledge her or not, she holds mastery over you, through the power she holds and the power she can grant you, if nothing else.”

Kelda hadn’t taught Nix anything. Or at least nothing specific. And from Nix could see, Kelda didn’t have any power to grant, or any desire to empower Nix at all even if she could.

But arguing with Ravas was only going to drive a wedge further between them. Probably? Nix wasn’t sure she could get a good read on the Zabrak woman’s ghost. Which might be a trait of Dark Side users, or it might just be a Ravas thing.

“She cares about you still,” Nix said instead, hoping to break through the ghost’s perpetual detached distain and was rewarded to see Ravas miss her next flickering teleportation appearance. Nix knew Ravas was still around, but she’d managed to fluster the ghost, which in turn said Ravas still had feelings she could connect to. 

The trick was maintaining that connection.

“She knew we’d find you,” Nix said. “She didn’t warn me not to, or tell me that you were dangerous. I think she wanted me to help you.”

Ravas’ laughter was short and bitter.

“You presume much,” she said. “To think that you could be of value to me when you were too weak to save yourself or one you profess to care about.”

Which was true, and stung, but Nix didn’t let the hurt linger. How could she. It was true. She hadn’t been able to protect Ayli or herself. Even if she got stronger, there would still be people and situations that would be beyond her ability to manage. 

But that was where friends and allies came in.

“Every part has value,” Nix said, drawing on the lessons she’d picked up rather than trying to explain things in terms Ravas would gravitate towards. “You just need to know where they fit in and what they can do.”

The tower shook with a particularly close explosion and Nix had to grab onto Ayli to steady herself.

“It’s not much farther now,” Ayli said. “Can you keep going?”

“Yeah,” Nix said. “That was just a lucky shot, he’s firing blindly because doesn’t know where we are.”

“He does not need to locate you. Not when he has sufficient firepower to reduce this spire to rubble. As you are, you cannot escape this place,” Ravas said. “Your enemy has you boxed in.”

Nix reached out with her senses, casting them to where her intuition guided her and was rewarded to find things in motion that she hadn’t requested or dared hope for.

“Is that the future you see for us?” Nix asked, knowing she was doing a poor job of baiting the trap she planned to lay.

“I do not look to the future,” Ravas said. “Even your master would tell you that the Force only offers lies to doom the weak willed and unwary. You should know to deal with your present as it is.”

That was not at all how Kelda would have described things, Nix knew. From how tangled Kelda had been trying to express even simple concepts, Nix guessed an explanation of the visions the Force could offer would have been accompanied by an hour of caveats and exception warnings for every minute of solid lecture. 

That aside though, she was still glad to hear Ravas’ answer.

“Kelda didn’t mention any of that,” Nix said, using the name to diffuse some of the shock Ravas seemed to feel on hearing it. “Honestly, I think you’ve taught me more than she has by an order of magnitude at this point.”

“I’ve watched you,” Ravas said. “You’ve learned nothing from me.”

“Maybe we need to speak more then,” Nix said, ignoring the distrust and disgust in Ravas’ voice. There was an undercurrent to it which whispered all too clearly that Nix wasn’t the source or target of Ravas’ distress. 

Like an angry, hissing Growler Cat, if you wanted to get past her defenses, you couldn’t pay the unhappy noises too much attention. They needed to be respected of course. Pushing Ravas too quickly would likely result in similar bloody slashes to trying to pet a Growler Cat could produce. Given time, and space, and understanding though, Nix suspected that both Growler Cats and Ravas would grumble themselves into a begrudging acceptance of their associate.

“I think not,” Ravas said. “You can no more change what I am than she could, and I have no patience to entertain the arguments of the dead.”

“Maybe I just want to listen,” Nix said.

“You will not accept what I have to say,” Ravas said. “You do not see the Force as it truly is.”

“I can only accept what I believe to be true,” Nix said. “But I can promise to listen. Your story deserves to be heard.”

“She’s right,” Ayli said. “As a historian, one of my most important functions is to preserve and present the past as the people who lived it saw things. What we know of your life and the cult who sprung up in worship of you is so fragmented that it paints a picture which cannot possibly be accurate. Your story won’t be accurate either. None of us can relate the full history of our lives, but that doesn’t mean our stories aren’t worth preserving.”

Ravas missed another teleport appearance, but at the next landing she appeared in front of Ayli, halting their passage.

“I will not be able to tell you anything if you perish in this Spire,” she said. “Let me in. Only till we are free of this place. I can save you both. As I did in the control center.”

“You’d give me your word that you would set me free once we’re safe?” Ayli asked, though Nix could tell she wasn’t really contemplating accepting the deal.

“You would accept my word?” Ravas asked.

“Yes,” Nix said, knowing that Ravas had probably never been in a position where she felt any compunction about breaking a vow or a promise. “But in this case we don’t need to put you or Ayli to the test.”

“You will die,” Ravas said. “He will kill you. It is in his nature, as I have seen in countless others.”

“Yeah, I hate that you got put through that,” Nix said, catching glimmers of the myriad of complete monsters Ravas had to deal with during her apprenticeship under her Dark Side master. 

Ravas laughed again.

“You would hate more what I did in return.”

“I don’t think I need to,” Nix said, the near bottomless well of loathing Ravas possessed seeming to hold all the hate that could ever be needed for the things she’d done in life. “Just like I don’t think we’re going to die here.”

“If you would listen to nothing else I say, listen to this; the future is uncertain. It is always changing, and here, of all places, what you see coming to pass will be a trap. The Dark Side does not grant you life or freedom freely. You must earn it, and here you are sunk deep into its embrace. Here you must fight, must kill, to survive. Any visions which tell you otherwise are tests to winnow out those who cling to rosy dreams because they are too weak to face the terribly reality before them.”

Nix smiled, warmth wrapping around her heart at the sentiment behind Ravas’ words. The ghost cared. Ravas couldn’t admit that. Not directly. But she cared.

“Oh we definitely need to talk more,” Nix said. “I could get drunk on how refreshing it is to hear someone explain this stuff directly.”

“Then let me fix this,” Ravas said.

“You don’t need to,” Nix said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be safe because I’ve seen a vision of a future where we’re safe. I can’t even feel the usual flow that tells me where I should go. It’s like the Force has just been silent, or mostly silent, since I got here. So, yeah, I know I can’t rely on that. Which is why I’m relying on something far better instead.”

“And that would be?” Ayli asked.

Nix held up here hand and slowing closed her fingers into her palm until her index finger remained for one moment longer.

“Wensha, Lamplighter, do you copy!” Sali yelled over the comm unit Nix was carrying.

Nix dropped her hand to punctuate that this was the moment she’d been waiting for.

“We’re here Goldrunner, can you see the secondary landing bay?” Nix asked.

“Sure can Mom!” Goldie said. “Just need a moment though.”

A large explosion reverberated through the spire. 

“Got ‘em!” Goldie said.

“Got who?” Ayli asked.

“Wait. Dang it. Got the wrong one,” Goldie said.

“What is happening out there?” Ayli demanded.

“We’re escaping,” Zindiana said. “Thought you might like to come along.”

“Thought you might have a decent hiding spot,” Sali said.

“We’ve got a few Klex fighters following us,” Goldie said. “And Darsus’s ship. Sorry, I thought I hit him but one of his escorts intercepted the particle beam.”

“Particle…are you dogfighting with the Klex’s?” Ayli asked. “Where did you get a particle beam cannon from?”

“The same place she got a Quad Turbo Laser batter and two torpedo racks,” Sali said.

“As parents you really need to be careful letting your kid hang around with a pirate,” Zindiana said.

“I don’t…what is happening?” Ravas asked, looking as dumbfounded as Nix had ever seen her.

“You were right that on our own, we’d be dead here,” Nix said. “But we’re not on our own. All this exploration stuff? It’s been a fantastic cover for Sali and Zin to do the real work of getting us out of here.”

“Coming in for a landing right now,” Goldie said. “Don’t be in the hangar.”

The roar of starship engines on the other side of the door told Nix that Goldie had scanned the hangar before arriving. Also, if any of the Klex forces had been waiting for them there, well, those unfortunate souls were now free floating plasma. 

“We’ve got maybe thirty seconds before they start firing into the hangar. Let’s be flying out of here before then,” Nix said and dashed into the hangar and towards Goldie’s open ramp, happy to let the Force give her the strength she needed for this one critical moment.

Behind them Ravas stared is disbelief and consternation.

This wasn’t how things would have gone in her world.

This wasn’t a world she knew how to deal with.

Or that she’d ever imagined could be real.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 28

Ayli was glad she already had her lightsaber in her hand. It didn’t feel like it was going to be enough, but it was a damn sight better than being unarmed. That thought sent her stepping in front of Nix, who, notably, did not have a lightsaber to defend herself with.

“It’s always adorable when one of them volunteers to die first,” the Ancient Specter said.

His appearance suggested that he was the shade of a departed human, tall and fair haired, in the prime of his life.

Except that what stood before Ayli was not and never had been human. She wasn’t even certain that she was really seeing it. It felt more like a projection from the Force rather than anything that held memories of breath and blood.

“If you’re so eager for the dying to start, why don’t you come a little closer,” Ayli said. The lightsaber could hurt the specter. It’s blade wasn’t magical, or imbued with the Force, it was simply very good at disintegrating things and for all the specter’s incorporeal creepiness, it’s presence in the world as anything more than a patch of bad feelings was dependent on the ectoplasm it seems to be composed of.

“The food thinks it’s not worth playing with,” the Ancient Specter said, rising from the chair it had been lounging in to pace across the control room. “Do not worry food. We will not rush your suffering. We know you cannot linger here as long as we have, but we have much time together.”

The lightsaber could hurt the Ancient Specter but Ayli could feel the power radiating from the monster. A part of her wished she hadn’t been training with Nix, hadn’t been honing her awareness and senses. Without some ability to sense the Force, she wouldn’t have known anything about the Ancient Specter, wouldn’t have had any sense of just how overmatched she was.

“You don’t want to do that,” Nix said. “You don’t even want to try.”

Ayli risked a glance back, expecting to see Nix offering her hand in peace to their adversary.

Nix did not look peaceful.

Her features were cast harder than durasteel, and any traces of mercy were hiding too well for Ayli to detect them.

“Oh, we assure you, we have spent countless time desiring nothing more than this day when we may feast once more,” the Ancient Specter said, pausing at one of the desks to pick up a ceremonial ribbon with a phrik disk medallion hanging from it.

“You won’t,” Nix said, her voice flattened into a knife edge.

“But we will let you live, or whatever you’re doing, if you find someplace else to be,” Ayli said, knowing the bluff wouldn’t work but surprised by why it failed.

“No we won’t,” Nix said, spoiling a negotiation which hadn’t ever held any real chance of success.

“How delightful,” the Ancient Specter said. “Descension in the ranks. Perhaps we shall start with the one which thinks it knows how this will turn out?”

Before Ayli could react, she heard a gurgle from behind her and spun to see Nix floating two feet off the floor, clutching at her throat.

“Fear not, at least not yet, we promised to take our time and so we shall,” the Ancient Specter said.

That was enough for Ayli. Remembering the things Nix had taught her, she charged forward, letting the Force guide the stroke of her blade.

And she missed.

The Force was so snarled within the specter that  it only needed to casually wave one hand and Ayli was sent tumbling off course into one of the walls. Blood burst from her nose as an unseen hand ensured that she smashed face first into the wall and then bounced hard off the ground when she fell back.

She felt a growl building inside her and shot back to her feet in time to see the Specter rotating Nix in the air like a pinwheel tool.

Movement wasn’t as easy as it had been the moment prior but Ayli pushed herself forward, keeping her steps careful and centered.

It didn’t matter.

The Ancient Specter waved its hand again as Ayli flew back into the wall, impacting it like a fall from orbit.

“Don’t give up,” the Ancient Specter said. “It’s ever so boring when they lose hope soon into the proceedings.”

Ayli had not lost hope, but her control over her rage was definitely starting to slip.

Which wasn’t helping Nix, who was still gulping for air.

“If you want me to fight, then leave her out of this and I’ll give you the fight you’re looking for,” Ayli said, hoping that if Nix got free for even a moment she might be able to escape.

Escape to where was an open question, but anywhere that wasn’t near the Ancient Spectre had to be an improvement.

As Ayli fought to move forward, Nix was fighting too. As she spun around, NIx dragged one of her arms painfully forward. She’s raised it no more than a hand’s breadth before flew backwards, crashing into a wall of her own. 

Nix rose with fire in her eyes, and Ayli saw it hadn’t been the Ancient Specter who threw her away. Nix had done that to herself in order to break free.

“How very clever,” the Ancient Specter said. “Keep it up. Keep looking for trick that will save you. That will let you escape. That will buy you one more breath.”

Nix collapsed to her knees, driving downwards by a terrible blow to her back.

Desperate to do something, anything, Ayli hurled the lightsaber at the specter.

The blade froze in mid-air and began slowly twirling, as under the specter’s control as everything else in the room was.

“How sad, now that one’s disarmed,” the Ancient Specter said. “Here, let us give the food its tool back.”

Ayli barely had time to duck as the lightsaber shot towards her, point first. At the speed it was going it should have struck the wall and shattered into a million tiny fragments. Instead though, it dropped down lightly to clank on the floor beside her.

“Go on,” the Ancient Specter said. “Take it up again. You might get closer this time. Maybe you can distract us. Maybe the other food can. Maybe we will peel the skin off of her and stew you in a marinade of her suffering. Or does her agony not touch you?”

Ayli’s fight against the emotions swirling within her was as losing a battle as the one against the specter. She could feel the yellow rings Nix had spoken of starting to cloud her vision.

You’re still you, and you still get decide who that is, no matter how strong the temptation to be someone you don’t want to be gets. Nix had said those words while they practiced together. Had believed in her. 

Still believed in her.

Ayli drew in a deep breath and thought of the calm she’d felt working with Nix. Thought of the calm she felt flying, even through the tightest of scrapes. Thought of the peace she would feel again in the future that waited for them.

It wasn’t much, and it didn’t drive away the rage and the fear that was threatening to overwhelm her, but it was enough for her to rise to her feet again and call the lightsaber to her hand once more.

“Yes, yes, try again. Try harder. Give us everything you have and more,” the Ancient Specter said.

No.

It wasn’t Nix or Alyi who had spoken, and for a moment Ayli didn’t recognize the voice, charged as it was with an unnamed and unfamiliar emotion.

“They are not yours. They’re mine,” Ravas said, her voice disembodied and echoing from all the points around them.

“I beg to differ progenitor,” the Ancient Specter said, it’s voice filled with an all too nameable and familiar anger.

“Good. You’re begging. Now leave them. They’re mine.” Ravas said, her voice closer than it had been, though still without a particular location.

“You hold no sway here, progenitor. Your time is past. You are weak and we shall feast!” the Ancient Specter roared, turning left and right ever more frantically.

Ayli jerked backwards as a hand burst through the specter’s chest, carrying a mass of pulsing purple slime that had been its heart.

“I said, they’re mine.” Ravas shoved the specter forward, it’s body crumbling to dust as she crushed its heart into a bright gemstone.

The overwhelming pressure from the Force faded and the sense of snarled wrongness diminished as well.

“Thank you,” Nix said, through a choking cough. “Thank you for coming.” She grasped onto the nearest console to steady herself as she rose to her feet. “I didn’t know if you would.”

A series of complicated emotions raced across Ravas’ face too quickly for Ayli to catalog or sense, before the dead Zabrak woman school her features back into their usual vaguely-annoyed expression.

“I came to protect my legacy,” Ravas said, turning to Ayli. “You can still be of much use to me.”

Ayli wondered about that.

On the one hand, she clearly was not in Ravas’ league when it came to manipulating the Force. The ease with which Ravas had dispatched the specter aside, there was also the small issue that Ravas seemed to have discovered how to live on indefinitely after she died, a trick which Ayli was certain she could not replicate.

“What did that thing mean by calling you ‘progenitor’?” Nix asked. “I got the feeling that it was a lot older than you are, wasn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Ravas said. “It had existed through millenia long before I trapped it here.”

“You brought that thing here?” Ayli asked. “Why?”

“My master commanded it,” Ravas said. “It was not our intention to capture a creature such as that specifically, merely to sanctify this location and enhance the energies which it naturally gives rise to. The arrival of the specters was both of a result of that process and a boon to it.”

“Killing that one isn’t going to break the hold the Dark Side has on this place, will it?” Nix asked, sounding like she already knew the answer.

“The Dark Side’s shadow will be weakened,” Ravas said. “Over time it may even fade back to its natural levels.Or perhaps one of the other specters will consume enough of its fellows to rise as the new Ancient. I never studied how a Dark Side nexus might be cleansed.”

“Would Kelda know?” Nix asked.

A tremor ran through Ravas’s body, but again, she reasserted control over herself.

“The Jedi were arrogant fools who would tell you they knew everything of how the Force worked,” Ravas said. “In her case however, maybe.”

Ayli had roughly one hundred thousand questions she wanted to ask, at least half of them hanging on the tiny wistful note at the end of Ravas’ words. With too many of them to sort through though, a silent moment passed before Ravas continued.

“She was always a good student,” Ravas said. “The attentive one. If anything in the Jedi texts had anything of actual value to say about this place, she might have known of it.”

“Thank you,” Nix said. “She’s not here. She’s almost always distant,” Ravas snorted at that but didn’t interrupt. “But this place feels like a world apart from the rest of the universe. It feels, is ‘cut off’ the right way to say it?”

“It is just the opposite,” Ravas said, in a far more pedagogical tone than Ayli would have guessed the ghost would ever adopt. “This is a nexus of the Force. It is more connected to the universe than almost anywhere else.” There was pride in her words, but it faded as she continued. “Those connections are not ones which would speak to you though. They are bound within and around themselves. Strong. Unbreakable.” Pride leaked out leaving only sad regret. “Inescapable. And limiting.” She turned and paced away. “It was not the working we should have made.”

“Why didn’t you undo it then?” Nix asked.

“Time. It ran out of us,” Ravas said. “When she killed me.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 27

Nix had not expected to drive Ravas off as easily as she had. Part of her had assumed the ghost was going to be a permanent fixture in her life so long as she was with Ayli. If she was feeling honest with herself, she would admit that more than a few plans had crossed her mind for how she might exorcize Ravas, even if only for a day or an hour.

“Who was she talking about? Who did you speak to?” Ayli asked.

It was not the most important question before them at the moment, but it did suggest how much Ayli trusted Nix, given that Nix was the only thing standing between them and drowning in what was becoming a swiftly flowing river of liquid nitrogen. 

“It has to be Kelda,” Nix said. “There can’t be anyone else who would freak Ravas out like that after all the centuries she’s been dead.”

“She knows you’ve spoken to her old flame though, doesn’t she?” Ayli asked, uncertainty frosting her words more than the freezing river could.

“You know, I don’t think she does, or did I guess,” Nix said. Holding the bubble around them wasn’t as difficult as she’d imagined it would be, but that was because she wasn’t doing most of the work.

The Force wasn’t a muscle, or a battery. She didn’t have a giant reserve of Force energy in her. That wasn’t how it worked. Or it wasn’t how it worked for her. Ravas’ arguments suggested that some Force users did use their own reserves of strength to dictate how events would play out, but Nix knew that would never work for her.

What felt right to her was harmony. All her life she’d reached for that. She had memories of being just a wee little thing and feeling pulled by a flow beyond anything else in size. It had saved her life then. Not in a grand gesture but simply by coaxing her tiny feet onto the side of the hover platform that hadn’t collapsed due to bad rigging. No one else had considered the path of her steps significant. She was just a little child randomly running around an air concourse who’d gotten lucky. Nothing mystical about it. But the moment had stuck with her. She’d listened to the flow and it had carried her to safety, and so she’d grown up with at least one ear tuned for it, learning to follow where the Force led her without being fully aware that it was at all unusual.

She wasn’t unique in following the Force where it led her. Everyone felt its push and pull. When it went against their desires though, most pulled back or pushed on through it. Nix couldn’t claim she hadn’t done the same, more than a few times, and so she hadn’t thought she was particularly special.

Even standing amidst a river of death, she still suspected she wasn’t. 

She could feel the Force passing through her, could feel the liquid nitrogen parting because while it weighed far more than she could ever lift, it was so very small compared to the what the collective life of the universe could handle.

Not that she could call on the entirety of the Force. Only what she needed. And only as much as needed her.

“There’s enough coolant in this tunnel to reach the shuttles, isn’t there?” Ayli asked.

“More than,” Nix said. “Which the shuttles will not be happy about. Darsus isn’t going to be flying back to his daddy any time soon.”

“That raises certain problems for us too then,” Ayli said.

“I’m hoping we’ll find something at the end of the tunnel that’ll help with that,” Nix said.

“Hoping or you’ve had a vision of something?”

“Just hoping,” Nix said. “I can’t hear too much with all this rushing past us.”

It wouldn’t have been impossible for the Force to give her a clear view of where to go, but it seemed to prefer to leave things unspecified as much as possible. What bits of precognition Nix had experienced seemed to be limited to short bursts centered around moments of extreme peril.

Which suggested it was good that she wasn’t seeing what was to come.

“How much longer can you hold this bubble up?” Ayli asked.

“Long enough to get us to the far end,” Nix said. “There’s got to be a hatch or something we can use to get to safety. Especially if the candidates were following a tradition like Ravas where they’re burning their own reserves to use the Force.”

There was not, it turned out, a hatch at the end of the hallway.

There was a lift.

“This thing is a hundred years old, right?” Ayli asked.

“At least. It could be a lot older if the Children of the Storm found one of Ravas’ old bases to put to use for their scheme.”

“And it’s been exposed to extreme coolants, probably more than once.”

“Given the wealth the Children put together? I’m guessing hundreds of time? Maybe thousands?”

“And no one has been maintaining it?”

“I don’t see any droids around, so, yeah, probably not.”

Ayli flicked a switch on the lift’s control panel with her gloved hand.

The lift started rising instantly leaving the half filled corridor behind them.

“How is it still working? I can’t get a Kaf machine to last more than month and the Children have a death trap that lasts centuries?” Ayli demanded.

“Kaf machines are meant to break. They want you to buy new ones,” Nix said. “No one’s buying replacement death traps though, so they make those with extensive self-repair functions. The energy budget is probably pretty high but until the magma cools they’ve got a nice reliable geothermal source to tap into.”

“Should get one of those for the Goldrunner,” Ayli grumbled.

“Wait, did you think I didn’t build that into Goldie’s skillset?” Nix asked. “She can repair and modify herself however she wants, well within the limits of the components she has available.”

The lift finished ascending to reveal a room of long faded opulence. Small plasma torches burst to life on their arrival, illuminating a grand stage which they stood in the center of. Rising rings of seats flanked the stage on one side while on the other a huge red curtain hung, framing a view of empty wasteland outside the spire.

“I feel like there’s supposed to be an audience waiting for us here,” Ayli said.

“I think there is.” Nix gestured to the far back seats where spectral forms were flickering in and out of existence. 

“I don’t…” Ayli started to say and then drew her breath in sharply. Her lightsaber was in her hand and blazing with light an instant later. “Those aren’t ghosts.”

Nix watched and listened, trying to understand what she was seeing.

Ayli was right.

There were no ghosts in the theater chamber.

There were only the things which had eaten the ghosts.

“Oh. This was not a good place to come to,” she said, understanding the danger they were in. 

The Spire was a place where the Force had been cast out of balance and twisted into an ugly, tangled mess. Pain and death was baked into the foundations of the structures and the designers ill-intent had been preserved as well as lift had across the centuries.

The spectral creatures who inhabited the Spire had been drawn to it like moths to a flame and were caught in its web of hate and malice as surely as the ghosts of those who’d failed their tests had been.

“We should leave,” Ayli said, stepping in front of Nix as the spectral forms began to flicker closer.

“Darsus is still down there,” Nix said. “And the shuttles will be frozen to the floor for a while.”

“That is a problem,” Ayli said. “But it might not be as bad a problem as this one.”

“We might be able to talk to these things,” Nix said. “We know that’s not an option with Darsus.”

“They don’t look like they’re interested in conversation,” Ayli said, brandishing the lightsaber in a clearly threatening gesture.

“Hey!” Nix yelled to the specters. “We’re not the ones who did this to you. We can fix it though.”

“We can?” Ayli whispered.

“We can blow up the Spire if we can get out of here,” Nix said.

“As a historian, I find that idea abhorrent,” Ayli said. “As a sapient being with breath in my body still I am all for it though.”

The specters did not seem concerned with either Nix’s plan or Ayli’s lightsaber.

They should have been though.

As the first one flicked within range, Ayli lashed out, the red blade searing through whatever ectoplasmic substance the specter was composed it.

It screamed and Nix could feel it dying.

The others surged forward at that.

Some of them charged towards the stage, holding back only as far as the circle Ayli spun in to ward them off. 

The others turned to the wounded specter and devoured it, drawing fresh screams from it which seemed to energize all of them.

“Killing them makes things worse,” Nix said.

“Glad to hear any alternatives,” Ayli said.

Nix raised her hand and tried to shove the lot of them back as she’d held back the liquid nitrogen. When the Force she called onto the shield them reached a specter though it twisted and buckled, warping in on itself. 

The specters didn’t have material bodies to grasp onto but the long simmering rage within them had carved channels which carried away Force projections.

“I think these things are evolved to eat Force users,” Nix said.

“Maybe that’s why Force people carry lightsabers?” Ayli said.

“Good luck that we’ve got one then,” Nix said, noticing that even in this dire situation there were still threads of luck working in her favor.

“It’d be luckier if we had two of them,” Ayli said.

“Can you hold these things off if we try to get out of her?” Nix asked.

“I think so,” Ayli said. “They’re so, I don’t know, snarled? Makes them easy to get a read on even when they’re flickered out.”

“Let’s try to get up there then,” Nix said, pointing to the booth at the back of the theater where a variety of machinery was visible.

“I don’t think there’s a spaceship up there,” Ayli said.

“If there is, it’s a really small one,” Nix said. “What I’m looking for are the controls to this place, and the comms.”

“That could be useful,” Ayli said. “Stay close okay.”

Staying close turned out to be far easier said than done. Their dance on the Goldrunner had been at least partially under Nix’s control and she’d held back from moving as fast as she could to give Ayli a chance to get used to sensing the distance between the two of them. Fighting against the specters required just a bit more speed and precision than that.

They were halfway up the stairs to the back of the theater when the first specter slipped past Ayli’s guard. Nix could sense them too and managed to get her right hand in front of the specter before it struck.

Cold deeper than the liquid nitrogen flashed through her hand and up her arm. It was reaching into her chest to freeze her heart when she rallied and used the Force to move her own hand, casting the specter away.

“Nix!” Ayli had sensed the damage Nix had taken but there wasn’t time to deal with that.

“I’m fine,” Nix said. “I can keep up. Go all out. You won’t hit me.”

Ayli hesitated for a moment and wound up narrowly slicing a specter in half before it could barrel through her chest.

Nix laughed at the indignation on Ayli’s face and that broke the last bit of hesitation that was holding Ayli back.

Together they spun through a dizzying series of steps, slicing another two specters who were torn apart by the hoard before the growing melee reached the doors at the back of the chamber.

Nix opened the doors with Force, allowing them to dance through before she slammed them shut again.

Despite their incorporeal nature, half the specters didn’t seem to be able to follow them. They lost another half of the horde when they dashed into the stairwell leading to the control room, and the last few dropped away step by step as they rose to the top of the Spire.

Nix wanted to believe that meant they were moving towards safety.

But she knew they weren’t.

That feeling was confirmed when they entered the control chamber.

“It has been so long since anyone came here to die,” the most ancient of the Specters said.