Monthly Archives: January 2024

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 8

Ayli didn’t know how she’d been caught. The chance that Nix would take them to the one planet, and one the bio-dome out of the tens of thousands where people were likely to be waiting in ambush for her should have been a statistical impossibility. As her breath was crushed out of her, she briefly wondered if Nix hadn’t been a secret plant all along, carefully designed to lure her into this exact moment.

“Ayli! You’re back! How are my niece?” Gewla asked, or really growled, out in Shryiiwook.

Ayli patted Gewla’s arm three time to say ‘I can’t speak, you’re crushing me’. That wasn’t a part of Galactic Basic or Shryiiwook because most Wookies didn’t need to be reminded that their adopted niece was far more squishable than they were.

Fortunately for Ayli, she hadn’t been go so long that her Aunt had forgotten their shared language additions.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just so happy to see you,” Gewla said and then noticed Nix who was climbing out of the shuttle with a bemused look in her eyes.

How Nix could tell that Ayli wasn’t under an actual assault, Ayli wasn’t sure, but from the general surprise and confusion in Nix’s body language, Ayli had to discount the idea that she’d been a secret agent in Gewla’s employ.


Humans were so difficult to read with their absence of the sensible lekku Twi’leks possessed. Though to be fair, Ayli had to admit that lekku or no lekku, Nix was open in a way few people Ayli’d known were. Or at least she was for Ayli. She had tricked Sali pretty thoroughly. Ayli wanted to ponder that further, but more pressing matters were at hand.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Ayli said. “You know how it goes though. You get a paper to write, which gives you a lead on a new discovery, and that leads to another lead, and then a dead end, and then another lead and somehow a couple of years have gone by.”

Ayli had been tempted to explain in Shryiiwook, but her ability to pronounce things properly in Gewla’s home tongue was mediocre at best. Also the growling left her throat raw after about five minutes of trying it. 

“You two know each other I take it?” Nix asked, as though there was any other explanation for what she’d witnessed.

“Nix Lamplighter, may I introduce Archivist Gewla, my aunt,” Ayli said. She didn’t add the ‘adopted’ part. It was obvious and an unimportant distinction as far as she was concerned. “Aunt Gewla, Nix Lamplifter, my…” she paused trying to decide what the right answer was for the unspoken question of who Nix was to her. “My ship’s engineer.”

Ayli kicked herself. That wasn’t the right choice. Nix was more than that. Wasn’t she? But even if that was true, did Nix want to advertise that? Especially to Ayli’s family who might have expectations of her?

They probably needed to talk about that Ayli decided, but not until they were alone.

Gewla snapped clapped her hands and a small droid hopped up onto her shoulder.

“A pleasure to meet you Nix Lamplighter,” Gewla said in Shryiiwook. The droid repeated her words in Galactic Basic.

“A pleasure to meet you as well Archivist Gewla,” Nix said, keeping her eyes on Gewla rather than the micro-protocol droid, something far too few people seemed to think to do.

“What brings you to the Library? Have you eaten? Come, Vromno will have your favorite meal almost ready now,” Gewla said, grabbing Ayli’s arm to ‘encourage’ her to follow along.

“You knew were coming?” Ayli asked.

“No. This is a wonderful surprise,” Gewla said.

“How will Uncle Vromno have Bosnin Berry Ryyk Supreme ready then?” Ayli asked.

“He’ll start making it when we get there,” Gewla said, ignoring two hour prep and cooking time the dish required.

Ayli glanced back at Nix to see Nix looking to her for guidance. 

This clearly hadn’t been Nix’s idea since she seemed to have no idea how to respond to Gewla’s offer, or even Gewla in general, but from her nod she seemed to be willing to follow Ayli’s lead. Whatever that turned out to be.

Fleeing from Gewla would have been possible. Ayli knew any number of white lies which could have covered her, from something as elaborate as needing to make an appointment to view a private collection on the other side of the planet, to something as simple as needing to secure a room and some sleep after a long hyperspace trip.

The promise of Bosnin Berry Ryyk Supreme though was a difficult one to pass up. 

Not to mention that she knew she should spend some time with her adopted family. They’d been good to her when the galaxy hadn’t, and she didn’t want them to ever think she wasn’t grateful.

“Uncle Vromno doesn’t have to go to all that trouble,” Ayli said. “We can treat you two to something if you’ll let us.”

“Nonsense,” Gewla said. “You’ll eat with us. That will be our treat.”

Ayli could have predicted that response word-for-word but her objections had still been worth making. 

“You’ll let us help prepare the Ryyk?” Ayli asked, again making an honest offer that she knew would be refused.

“It’s already prepared,” Gewla said. “Vromno just needs to scale it, bone it, and make up the marinade.”

And probably go to the nearest market and buy it as well, unless Ayli missed her guess.

“Then we can sit and talk with you,” Ayli said, which was, of course, exactly what Gewla wanted to hear.

Gewla and Vromno’s house had an entirely different set of random relics and unlabeled artifacts scattered around it than the last time Ayli had visited them, but that was consistent with every other time Ayli had come home.

As one of the “first lines of defense” against the flood of random trash that was submitted to the Library for “archival purposes”, Gewl and Vromno always had a wealth of fascinating treasures they were evaluating for formal submission to one of the specialized bio-domes (or submission to the nearest trash compactor, depending on the piece’s actual value and uniqueness). The rooms and rooms they had which were full of the stuff was nothing like Ayli’s childhood home, but the years she’d spent with them had lent their dwelling the same sense of belonging that her families home had possessed.

“Your engineer is very pretty for human, is she not?” Gewla tapped the mini-protocol droid so that it wouldn’t translate that and added. “How long have you been together?”

Gewla wasn’t one to tease Ayli about her relationships, few of them as there’d been, but there was an undercurrent of “is this someone we should have met long ago” to her question.

“We just met a little over a week ago,” Ayli said. “On Canto Blight.” She didn’t know why that seemed like an important detail. It certainly wasn’t going to keep Gewla from asking even more questions.

“I needed a job and Ayli’wensha needed a mechanic. It was quite fortunate,” Nix said, apparently not having guessed what Gewla’s first question had been.

“That sounds wonderful!” Gewla said, allowing the droid to resume its translation. “Vromno and I met by serendipity like that too.”

Ayli knew Gewla had always hoped Ayli would find a mate as loving and supportive as Vronmo was to her, even well after Ayli had abandoned the notion that such a person existed. She forgotten how lacking in subtlety on the subject Gewla was though. If Nix wasn’t already married to her, Ayli would have been terrified of her Aunt scaring Nix off. As it was though, Nix’s answer was almost more worrisome in the other direction.

“Really? I’ll have to hear that story. It’s always good to know how successful relationships are put together.”

Was that…did Nix want…well, yes, she’d said exactly that. But that had been the Santo Nectar talking…no, Ayli couldn’t pretend that was the case. Still. It was…nice? Or terrifying? Both. What Nix was suggesting was both.

“What brings you to the Library?” Gewla asked, obviously seeing her niece’s plight and choosing mercy for a change.

“Research,” Ayli said, which was admittedly the least helpful of all possible answers. The only reasons anyone came to the Librarium Nocti was for research. “There’s an ancient religious order that I’m trying to track down.”

“And what sort of treasure did this ancient religious order leave behind?” Vromna said as he entered the room with a pitcher of Apri nectar and some freshly defrosted Luni Plums.

It was funny to hear the translation of his words come from the same protocol droid that Gewla was using, though the droid had at least been equipped with multiple vocal patterns to distinguish who it was translating for, so the Basic version of his words held the same deep resonance as he actual voice.

“It’s not about the treasure Uncle,” Ayli said.

“It’s always about the treasure,” Gewla said. “The trick is noticing when you’ve found it.”

She gestured to the widgets and detritus which filled the room, seven of which were in the middle of being evaluated on her work bench.

“Some treasures are easier to recognize than others,” Nix said, a comment which Ayli simply refused to evaluate at all. “That’s an actual overload break from the second Death Star not a replica, isn’t it?” Nix pointed to helix of badly scorched golden and silvered metal which was in the ‘To Be Worked On Soon’ pile beside Gewla’s table.

“That’s the claim,” Gewla said. “We’ll need to perform conductivity tests on it to be sure, but the chain of ownership supports it originating in the Endor system.”

“If it’s real, it’ll have a 256 character ID code etched into the inner coils,” Nix said.

“How do you know that?” Ayli asked, more curious than surprised by Nix’s oddly eclectic knowledge.

“The Emporor ‘liquidated’ the company that made them after they delivered a sufficient supply for the second Death Star. I guess he didn’t want anyone making a rival battle station or something. The few that weren’t blown up go for a lot of credits, not because anyone wants to make another Death Star but because they let you amp up the output of your hyperdrive by a factor of 2.5 without worrying about blowing it out or exploding. It’s a really efficient part. It had to be to support the load of the Death Star’s main laser.” 

Nix looked like she could have gone on longer but silenced herself out of habit from a lifetime of people being uninterested in what she had to say. The could not have been less true of Gewla and Vromna, who were hanging on her every word.

“Oh, I think we need her,” Gewla said. “You can find another one, right Ayli?”

“Hey. No. Hands off. She’s mine,” Ayli said and immediately regretted the outburst.

Coming home sucked. People knew how to push her buttons too easily.

“What can you tell us about the religious order you’re looking for?” Vromno asked.

“They claimed to have found the secret to Eternal Life, or it could have been Eternal Youth, the source text is in Shadow Vyllandi and they use the same term for both,” Ayli said.

“Shadow Vyllandi? Are you looking for the ‘Children of the Storm’?” Vromna asked.

“Yeah. Wait, how did you know? Have you heard of them?” Ayli asked.

“Not until last week,” Gewla said. “There was a shipment of artifacts that came in from Beta Narsus which had the strangest Phrik coins. We were going to send them out to the Cyberiad Metal Concern for analysis but there was a Nun who was giving a seminar on Phrik based religious paraphernalia so we went to see if she could provide any information on the Phrik coins.”

“Did she? Or, was she able to?” Ayli asked.

“Yes. She identified them as being minted by the Children of the Storm. Said she’d been doing research on them for ten standard years now,” Gewla said.

“Do you know where she is now?” Nix asked. “We’d like to talk to her if we could.”

“That’ll be a little tricky,” Vromna said. “The last I heard, she was in solitary confinement in one of the orbital prison cells.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 7

Nix had always pictured the Grand Stellar Library as a planet-wide edifice of data stores and ancient artifacts, carefully organized so that researchers would be able to find the information they sought with a minimal amount of work. In theory that was exactly what they found when the Goldrunner arrived at the General Patrons port. In practice the Library started showing off its unexpected quirks immediately.

“Why is it hollow?” Nix ask as she and Ayli disembarked into a docking ring which orbited the surface of a sphere which seemed to have no interior and exterior that was more of a latticework of domed biosphere than a proper planetary surface.

“You can blame the archives for that,” Ayli said. “Each one is kept in a strictly regulated environment in terms of gravity, temperature, humidity, all that stuff. It was easier to build the Knowing Center – those bio domes down there – and once they had enough of them they didn’t need the rest of the planet.”

“But, wait, that doesn’t make sense,” Nix said. “The orbital dynamics alone would be easier to deal with if the original mass was here. Not to mention all the resources you can get for free from a planetary body like magnetospheres and so on.”

“Oh, they’re getting their free resources out of the planets core still,” Ayli said. “You can’t see the Solar Ring from here, but it collects all the energy the Library needs and then some.”

“That doesn’t make sense either!” Nix said. She wasn’t a Stellar Architectural specialist but she was familiar enough with the relative masses of habitable planets and stars to know that you couldn’t put a ring around one from the materials you found in the other. Or at least she was pretty sure you couldn’t? Maybe if you pounded it really thin? 

“There’s not a lot about this place that makes sense,” Ayli said. “They call it a Library, but honestly it’s more of a museum or a zoo. The data stores are ridiculously extensive but copies of them can be found all over the place. What the ‘Library’ really specializes in is artifact collection and storage.”

“That does sound like a museum,” Nix said. “The question is, will it be a museum we can use.”

“For a price? Almost certainly. For a price than any three systems put together could afford? Eh, it’ll depend,” Ayli said.

“On what?” Nix asked, curious how Ayli knew so much about the library. Ayli had said that she was a historian, but Nix sensed a more personal connection than mere academic interest would provide.

“If we can find a trail in the Public Archives, we shouldn’t have to pay too much for access to the artifacts that would confirm what we need to know. If we find something and it leads us to the Restricted Archives, or worse, the Private ones, we might as well start searching the galaxy at random, otherwise Ravas’ temple could be built from solid Phrik and we’d still wind up in debt until the heat death of the universe.”

Nix smiled. She kind of liked the idea of wandering the galaxy at random with Ayli looking for lost treasure. She also liked eating and being able to maintain the ship though, so treating their current endeavor like an actual job was lamentably rather important.

“We’re not waiting for Sali are we?” Ayli asked when the droid driven shuttle pulled up. “She’s still sulking in her room, right?”

Sali had not been especially pleased when she’d woken up from her gel packet induced healing slumber. The nine hour nap had done her just as much good as Nix had predicted it would – wounds healed, strength reinvigorated, all that and yet it had not improved her mood.

“She’s not sulking,” Nix said, getting into the shuttle and making room for Ayli to join her. “She’s evaluating.”

“Evaluating what? How much of a bounty she’d have to claim on us for all this to be worth it to her?” Ayli said as she slid into the shuttle’s other seat behind the droid pilot. 

With the passengers collected, the droid indicated the fare payment terminal which Nix dropped a credit stick in. She was sure it wasn’t particularly traceable given that she’d pilfered it from Sali’s fortress before they left, and Sali was much too smart to allow her moves to be tracked by any kind of automated system. Nix just wished Sali would apply that intelligence to accepting that her current situation was exactly where she needed to be.

“She knows I’m right. She knows she’s not going back to Calerpris. She just doesn’t know what to do instead yet,” Nix said and felt the shuttle push off and begin the descent down to what had felt like it was the most useful biodome they were allowed to visit.

“She sounded pretty certain she was going back this morning when I brought her breakfast to her,” Ayli said. 

“Of course she did. When have you ever heard Saliandris say anything that would indicate she’d ever once been wrong about something? That’s not how you can tell that she’s changed her thinking about her ‘enforced vacation’ though.”

“What’s her tell for that?”

“We’re not tied up in the hold while she pilots the ship back to her fortress,” Nix said.

“She hasn’t had time for that. We’ve kept her locked up in her room for the last two days,” Ayli said. “Haven’t we?”

“No. Her door’s not locked. She could have come out and joined us any time she wanted to,” Nix said. “Which is why she hasn’t.”

“Ah, right, because if she came out and did anything but overthrow us, she’d be admitting the vacation suited her.”

“I have no illusions how a two on one fight would go. Not if the one was Sali. Given that the one is Sali though, I also know she has nothing to gain by taking us back to Calerpris. She doesn’t need money – she’s got plenty scattered in accounts around the galaxy. She doesn’t need a position of authority – people listen to everything she says even if they’ve only just met her. And as for that fortress of hers? That was far more of a prison than the Goldrunner ever could be.”

“So you’re thinking when she calms down, she thank you for this?”

“I’m expecting she’ll decide to trust me again something after the last star in the galaxy burns down to a cold dark lump of iron. That’s not all that important though. How she feels me about me doesn’t change what she needs.” 

Nix wasn’t quite sure why she was so certain of that. She could have called it ‘intuition’, but most people didn’t seem to have the same guiding clarity when it came to their intuitive guesses. 

It had been that same sense of clarity which had led to her abandoning Sali in the first place, and had caused her to maroon her ex-captain and his crew on a backwater planet off the known hyperspace lanes. She’d later learned that the captain and his crew were ex-Imperials who’d been contacted to form a ‘Storm Trooper Recruitment’ team – also known as a kidnapping squad to bring kids to one of the Re-Education Centers which the New Republic hadn’t discovered in order to “train up a new generation of Storm Troopers for the Empire’s glorious return!”

Nix hadn’t known any of that when she’d set the hyperdrive to melt down and take the sublight engines with it, she’s only been certain that the next trip the crew took was wrong and that she couldn’t let it happen.

So she hadn’t, and as an indirect result, the New Republic had stumbled on the hidden Storm Trooper brainwashing camp’s location when they investigated the missing ship’s last known hyperspace location and trajectory.

Her motivation with Sali was far more benign and her intuition seemed to appreciate that based on the calm she felt when speaking about what she’d done.

Or maybe that was just being with Ayli?

Somehow, talking when her wife was around was significantly easier.

“Sorry again for springing this one you,” Nix said, the thought of losing Ayli’s trust by failing to include her in potentially deadly decisions lapping back up from the sea of her anxieties.

“I was the one who suggested we go to Calerpris. I’m taking you getting us out of there in one piece as a minor miracle at least,” Ayli said.

“It wasn’t that hard,” Nix said. “And it didn’t have to include Sali. We didn’t even really have a debt to her to pay off.”

“We didn’t,” Ayli agreed with a nod. “But you wanted to do the right thing.”

“Or at least what I thought was the right thing,” Nix said.

“It probably was, and doing the right thing is important. Important and dangerous. Which makes you brave, and, to be honest, that’s terrifying.”


“Because brave people don’t last. But what they do does.”

“What do you mean?” Nix asked, feeling like she was standing at a long seal door and on the other side of it were parts of Ayli which Ayli barely even revealed to herself.

“I’ve seen a lot of people die doing the right thing,” Ayli said. “It’s easy to hate that. You can spend days screaming your head off and crying your eyes out and that doesn’t do anything to bring them back. When you’re done screaming and crying though, what they did is there waiting for you. The consequences they gave they lives for. You wouldn’t think anything would be worth that, but there are. People, sometimes even places, sometimes even just an idea. I try to remember that every day, but I’m not that good at it.”

Which wasn’t true in the slightest, though Nix could feel the anxiety and pain that lay under Ayli’s words nearly ripping through her flesh.

“I don’t think anyone is,” Nix said. “I think it’s something we always need to work at. If we choose do so at all.”

“Just…” Ayli paused, either searching for words, or unsure of the ones she had. “Just before you do anything too brave, remember you’ve got something to live for too, okay?”

Nix wasn’t surprised when Ayli leaned over to kiss her but the wave of emotion that crashed around her as they embraced was more intense than she’d imagined it would be.

She melted into Ayli’s arms and reached up to trail a gentle caress down Ayli’s lekku only pulling her hand back at the last moment when she remembered exactly how sensitive Ayli’s head tails were and how far away their bed was.

“I’ll always be happy to run away with you,” Nix said which earned her a smirk from Ayli.

Before she could kiss the smirk away, the droid pilot’s automated announcement system chirped to life.

“Arrival at destination: Beldain Geological Dome imminent. Please make ready to depart,” the droid said.

“Beldain Geological? Wait. How did you know to come here?” Ayli asked.

“It seemed like a place that will either have what we need or be able to suggest who we should talk to,” Nix said. “Why? Should we not have come here?”

Nix knew the environment was compatible with their physiology and that the Dome was one of the “Open Access” areas where members who were paying patrons were allowed to enter and do basic research. She’d checked on all that before she’d settled on coming to the Library in the first place. 

Ayli knew something else about the place though and buried her face in her right hand.

“No. It’s okay. It’s just…” she started to say as the shuttle arrived and its door swung open.

Outside some of the Dome’s staff was waiting for them. Nix knew that was how new arrivals were commonly greeted. What she hadn’t expected was for there to be a moment of pleasantly surprised silence as they stepped out of the shuttle followed by her wife being scooped up and lifted off her feet into a bear hug by a walking, talking, bear.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 6

In Ayli’s experience, when your mechanic tells you that the ship needs to move right now, you move the ship right now.

“I thought we weren’t ready to fly yet?” Ayli called out as she heard Nix finish dragging something heavy on board and hitting the button to close the hatch.

“Goldie’s fine,” Nix called back. “We will be too if you can get us up above the satellite layer. Like in under a minute hopefully?”

Ayli did not like the sound of that but since they seemed to be executing whatever escape plan Nix had been working on for the last few days, she understood the need for haste.

“Hang onto something and pick someone to pray to then,” Ayli said and angled Goldrunner straight up.

For most flights, taking off in the direction of the planet’s rotation was the most sensible approach. The added momentum help cut down the fuel requirements and placed less stress on the ship than the direct ascent Ayli had chosen.

Above her, the night sky was covered by the thick clouds of one of Calerpris’s seemingly constant torrential rainstorms. As the Goldrunner’s drives came to life underneath her, Ayli felt the ship punch through the atmosphere to reach them fast enough that a plasma sheath formed around the nose.

“What did you to the engines!” she shouted back and without waiting for an answer added, “I love it!”

The shock of their passing punched a hole in the storm clouds and sent lightning crackling along the Goldrunner’s hull in a blinding burst of light. The sensors cleared less than a second later to reveal the missing sky full of stars the storm had been hiding.

“Are we high enough to jump to hyperspace yet?” Nix called at the exact moment they passed by the last of the marked satellite orbits.

“Yep, I don’t know how, but we’re out of Calerprise airspace already!” Ayli said, savoring the blistering speed the Goldrunner had acquired under Nix’s care.

“Punch it then!” Nix shouted, still apparently struggling with something heavy.

“Where are we going?” Ayli asked.

“Not here!”

That was enough to convince Ayli. Being far away from Sali when she found out that she’d lost not only her two prisoners but also the ship she’d paid to have renovated seemed like an incredibly good idea for their continued survival.

The stars outside the window stretched out to the comforting streaks of a normal hyperspace jump the moment Ayli engaged the drive and a moment later the familiar blue swirl of hyperspace was all she could see outside the ship.

She breathed a sigh of relief. They were safe.

“Yo, Nix could use a hand,” a unfamiliar voice said from the ship’s comms.

“Do we have a stowaway Nix?” Ayli shouted, reaching for her two most accessible blasters.

“No stowaways,” the unfamiliar voice said. “But we do have a kidnapping victim onboard. I think?”

“Nix? What’s going on here?” Ayli said slowly as she stalked down the corridor to where she could hear Nix still struggling in one of the cabins.

“Oh, that’s just Goldie, say hi Goldie!” Nix called back.

“Hi Goldie,” the ship said, having apparently acquired a sense of humor to go with its new voice.

So. That was a thing. Ayli wasn’t sure she needed a ship with a sense of humor, but if it was a problem then it was one that could be dealt with later.

“Did we kidnap someone or are we being…” Ayli didn’t get to finish that thought because she rounded the corner to cabin Nix was in and discovered the answer.

“We didn’t kidnap her,” Nix said as she straightened Sali’s limp form out on a table in the center of the room. Ayli was relieved to see that Sali seemed to be breathing still, though on reflection she wasn’t entirely sure that was a good thing.

“You know the last beautiful woman I kidnapped in this ship was a lot more conscious when I brought her on board,” Ayli said.

“We’re not kidnapping her!” Nix said. “We’re…I don’t know, forcibly vacationing her.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s a crime against galactic law and the language standards of Basic,” Ayli said, amused at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

“Imagine being an accomplice to it,” Goldie said. “Oh wait, we all are!”

“She kept us prisoner for four days,” Nix said. “She owes us at least that much time to help with what we’re doing.”

“And if she disagrees with that clever bit of accounting?” Ayli asked, noticing that Sali was beginning to stir as Nix tended to her.

“Then we drop her off and find what we’re looking for without her,” Nix said.

“You do know that she has a literal armada of pirates at her beck and call right? And she’s not known for her wide and open forgiving streak.”

“No, I’m not,” Sali said in a bleary voice. “What am I not forgiving now?”

Nix helped her sit up and produced a gel pack from inside coveralls. 

“This stuff is sweeter than you like but it’ll knock out the headache you’re feeling in a minute or two,” she said, tearing the top off the gel pack and handing it to Sali.

Sali stared at it for a moment, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“You zapped me, didn’t you?” she said.


“And then you kidnapped me?”

“It’s not a kidnapping!” Nix said. “It’s a vacation.”

“I don’t remember scheduling a vacation,” Sali said.

“You didn’t. And you were never going to. Admit it.”

“I…” Sali said and scowled. She slurped down the gel pack rather than continue.

“Calerpris was killing you,” Nix said. “Not just the danger and backstabbing. You’ve obviously got that covered.”

“You’d be surprised how many people disagree with you on that,” Sali said.

“They’re idiots then. You’re the next best thing to invincible,” Nix said. “There’s only one person who can really beat you.”

“A certain sneaky ex-girlfriend?” Sali asked, seeming more amused by the idea than upset, which Ayli took as a promising sign and Nix seemed to have anticipated.

“No. Yourself,” Nix said. “You were going to kill yourself on Calerprise rather than admit that’s its not what you really want to be doing.”

“Uh, isn’t that for her to decide?” Ayli asked, not sure exactly how far Sali would let Nix go before she did something violent and unpleasant. That they might have already crossed that line had not escaped Ayli either, but there wasn’t a lot to be gained in dwelling on that.

“No, she’s right,” Sali said. “I hated it there. But it was my place to hate.”

“Sure. And you can go right back to it if you want,” Nix said. “Say the word and we’ll drop you off anywhere you want.”

“My compound, in the repair bay, after I call my idiot droid guards.”

“Okay. Almost anywhere,” Nix said. “Ask yourself if that’s what you really want though.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You did just say you hate it there,” Ayli said.

“But it was my thing to hate. Now it’s all going to fall apart and all that work will have been for nothing.”

“What? No it won’t,” Nix said. “You took Calerpris from an unname ball of water no one ever heard of and made it a center for, well pirates, but a lot of legit businesses too. It’ll change a lot without you, but it needs to change. The people you left behind are going to fall down and screw everything up. Then they’ll pick themselves back up, and make a bunch of new mistakes. Over and over.”

“That sounds terrible,” Sali said and Ayli had to agree.

“That sounds like life,” Nix said. “The point isn’t that we never fall down, or never make a mistake. The point is that we recover from them. We learn. We try different things. You created something that’s grown enough to do that. Come back in a year and you’ll find chaos. Come back in five and there’ll still be chaos but it’ll be a different sort of chaos. Come back in fifty and a whole new world of problems and chaos will be waiting for, but the world will be stronger and more resilient than you can imagine.”

“That’s a pretty rosy picture you’re painting,” Sali said. “Odds are if I come back in a year, someone will have boiled the oceans off and then frozen the planet into a snowball.”

“Do you think so?” Nix asked. “Or is that what you’re hoping will happen if you’re not there to save them from themselves.”

“I don’t want to save anyone but me,” Sali said.

“There’s a cabin with your stuff in it then,” Nix said. “I had your butler droid pack a suitcase for you.”

“What? No. I’m not taking a vacation,” Sali said.

“Well then we’re kidnapping you and none of this your fault,” Nix said. “You made the terrible mistake of having feelings for someone and trusting them and they went and shocked you into unconsciousness. You can blame this whole thing on me. I didn’t give you a choice after all. You’re not responsible for anything that happens from here.”

“I never said I had feelings for you,” Sali grumbled.

“Of course not,” Nix said. “My mistake. Maybe I’ll make another one and you’ll be able to escape then. You’ll probably be able to haul me back to Calerpris and arrange an auction as soon as we get there. Sell me to Hutt or something. Make your money back and have your revenge at the same time.”

“I’d never sell you to a Hutt,” Sali said, looking away from Nix.

“I know,” Nix said. “Just like I know you’re going to need to sleep a bit to let that gel paste do its work.”

“I don’t feel sleepy at all though,”Sali said and promptly sagged into unconsciousness.

Nix caught her with gentle arms before Sali could tumble off the table.

“We should get her to one of the cabins,” Nix said. “She’ll sleep for about twelve hours I think. Or maybe ten. This is Sali after all.”

“You spiked her gel pack?” Ayli asked.

“They come like that,” Nix said, hoisting the thoroughly limp form of Sali into arms far more easily than Ayli would have assumed to be possible. “It’s an internal bacta-mix. Without it she’d have been a wreck once her body noticed how much bruising the zap inflicted. The mix makes sure that’s all patched back together by the time she wakes up.”

“You’re speaking from personal experience aren’t you?”

“Self-inflicted,” Nix said. “I’ve forgotten to cut power to the right relays a couple times now.”

“You’re amazing, you know that right?” Ayli said.

“Amazing good or amazing bad?” Nix asked, carefully navigating through the door without bumping Sali’s head.

“Just amazing. I’m honestly surprised Sali let you slip away.”

“I can be resourceful when I need to be,” Nix said.

“And I’m glad of that,” Nix said and found that she was rather delighted that Nix had escaped from Sali and that, despite the tenderness Nix was showing their ‘guest’, whatever feelings there were between them, neither Nix nor Sali seemed to regard the other as anything but an ‘ex-’ anymore.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t fill you in on any of this,” Nix said. “Sali had us bugged. Obviously.”

“And you didn’t want to tip your hand to her, I understand,” Ayli said. “Apart from our involuntary stowaway, I think we made a clean getaway. So clean in fact that I have no idea where we’re going.”

“Don’t worry boss, you’re gonna like it,” Goldie said, unprompted.

That brought images of warm, sandy beaches, cool nights by a roaring fire, and the sort of luxurious living that they’d flown away from when they left Canto Blight.

“Sali may or may not be willing to help us,” Nix said, “so I wanted to make sure we had another option for finding the trail you’re looking for.”

“And where would we find that?” Ayli asked, a subtle tremor of nervous anticipation running through her.

“Librarium Nocti!” Nix said.

The Grand Stellar Library.

Home to a repository of galactic knowledge even the deepest Holonet archives couldn’t match. Home to researcher of every discipline and calling. Home to countless conferences and symposiums and think tanks.

Also, just home.

Ayli frowned.

She hated going home.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 5

In the end, it didn’t take Nix five days to retrofit the Goldrunner. Which wasn’t surprising. Engineering estimates are often inaccurate due to the complexity of the tasks involved and the necessity to change plans are further complications are discovered. Far from expecting tasks to be done in a quarter of the time specified, most people who work with engineers for an extended period will learn to add a generous amount of padding to the projections they’re given.

Nix therefor did not get the Goldrunner into a proper flightworthy state in five days.

She got it done in four.

In part that was because five days had never been her real estimate. She’d thought she could get it done in three and had added a heap of time that she thought she didn’t need to mask her true intentions. She wasn’t unaware that Sali had them bugged after all, but just because someone could hear everything you said, didn’t mean they could understand what you were saying.

That there’d also been a measure of professional pride and showmanship in the mix was something Nix chose not to reflect on. It wasn’t her fault that she was simply a better mechanic than the Garnocks. She had a knack for it after all, and if she prided herself on that, well, it was good to be self confident wasn’t it?

The four days had taken their toll on her though. By the end of the first day, she’d been convinced that she was looking at a five month effort, not five days. Ayli’s friends were, in Nix’s objective professional opinion, madmen. They hadn’t so much kitbashed the Goldrunner into shape as connected things to one another randomly until it started flying just to get away from them.

By the second day, Nix was convinced that they weren’t mad at all though. Only people who were being deliberately malicious would have created a system as disorganized and counterintuitive as the one Ayli’s friends had created. In her spare time, Nix looked up every Engineering Safety Board she could find in the hopes that one or more might have a fleet of gunships in the region of Ayli’s friends.

By the third day, she had the deflector array working, which sent her whooping in triumph up and down the length of the ship.

Until she noticed that in the process she’d taken the sublight drive and turned it into a highly effective parking brake.

Ayli had found other places to be in Sali’s fortress while Nix was working, claiming that she not only didn’t know the translations for the swears which were ringing through the Goldrunner’s hull, she also didn’t want to based on how horrible they sounded.

Nix would have missed her wife’s warmth and companionship if she’d been aware of it, but for as deep as her body was in the guts of the Goldrunner’s engines, her mind was lost even deeper in the perplexing mysteries of its myriad interconnected systems.

She wasn’t unfamiliar with being in that state. It was what drew her to engineering in the first place. Being able to see and hold an impossibly grand design in her head and understand its smallest pieces was exhilarating.

Or exasperating.

More often exasperating if she was honest.

But that was what made the moment of understanding and clarity so much more rapturous.

It was some time after both of Calerpris’s suns had set on the third day that everything finally clicked and Nix heard what she’d been listening for over the last three days.

The engines were straining and bound.

And she knew why!

One by one, the systems tumbled into place and the vista of beauty beyond the madness revealed itself to her.

Everything had been put in backwards for a reason.

It wasn’t a good reason – they were trying to work around a defective component which rather than replacing it – but it wasn’t arbitrary cruelty or blatant stupidity.

From there the rest of the pieces fell into place. All the bad decisions made so much more sense in light of the questionable ones the previous repair crew had made, even ones that bore no direct relationship to the damaged part or the weird workarounds they’d had to setup for it.

That wasn’t the end of the work of course. The life support system, the artificial gravity system, the drives, the deflector, the collision avoidance sensors, all of them required recalibration and repairs of one sort or another. And then there were at least twice as many enhancements that Nix wanted to make to each of them, several of which she placed orders for through Sali’s account.

She regretted that she wasn’t going to get to implement those changes, but the parts she ordered were high quality and general enough that the techs Sali employed were sure to find good uses for all of them.

With the Goldrunner still apparently in pieces, she tromped away to have her first meal of the fourth day just after the second sun reached it’s zenith. Her first impulse was to grab a shower since she’d lost track of the last time she’d done that. Canto Blight maybe? She had some hazy but happy memories of a shower stall there. 

Which reminded her of Ayli.

She was definitely going to need to find her before too much longer since she hadn’t exactly briefed Ayli on what the plan really was.

Her grumbling stomach though  told her that food was, at the moment, a higher priority> Obeying it for the first time in probably too long, she wandered off to the kitchens, hoping that Chef Marsbel was working today.

As it turned out he was, so lunch was as delicious as she’d hoped, but sadly Sali was entertaining some horrid group of guests and Marsbel was required to put on a show for them. Some Calerpris culinary art of fileting live fish onto the serving plates which sounded needlessly messy and cruel to Nix. 

They really weren’t a good couple Nix knew. She and Sali didn’t value the same things or agree on some important points of acceptable behavior. That didn’t stop Nix from seeing the good in Saliandris A’Prezzo, Tyrant Queen, Breaker of the Siege of Bokrund, Scourge of the 5th Begani Legion, and Collector of Stuffed Lolth Cat toys. The trick, Nix knew, was finding a path to ground for that goodness so that it would have time to grow and somewhere for it to take root that was less treacherous than the unsteady currents of Calerpris.

It may have been the thoughts of ground and growing which led Nix to the farthest of Sali’s meditation gardens. It had always been her favorite when they’d been together.

Or maybe it was that the path which lead her there was free from any people, which felt relaxing.

Or, just possibly, it was the strange old lady who was admiring the blossoms. 

And glowing blue and transparent.

Nix wasn’t startled by the old lady’s presence. Which was odd. But that the old lady felt like she belonged there. Like being surrounded by flowers blooming in a panoply of yellows and blues and greens and purples was her natural state.

What was even more odd was that  Nix didn’t feel like she was intruding on the old lady’s presence either, despite having clearly walked in on her while she was meditating. 

“Huh, I guess that does work?” the old lady said, opening her eyes and offering Nix a smile which suggested one of them was getting away with something they possibly shouldn’t be.

“Have we met before?” Nix asked, looking around for the holo-emitters which had to be projecting the image of the woman she was seeing.

“Seems like we have, doesn’t it?” the old lady said.

“It does, but I’m not great with remembering names,” Nix said in the hopes of prompting the old lady to fill in the details of their acquaintance which Nix had clearly forgotten.

“Names aren’t that important,” the old lady said. “You forget those because its not how you remember people.”

That was probably true Nix decided, but not the answer she was looking for.

“I thought I remembered everyone Sali employed,” Nix said, it having been important to her at the time that she not get swept up in the romance of dating the Great and Powerful Saliandris and in the process forget about all of the regular people who gave substance to the myth Sali was building around herself.

“Oh, I’ve never worked for your girlfriend. Or your ex-girlfriend I guess,” the old lady said. “I’m not here for her. I’m here for you.”

Nix wasn’t all that fond of people focusing their attention on her. In her experience it usually meant that they wanted something from her, typically something that was bad for her, for them, or, in most cases, both.

So why wasn’t she getting that sense from the old lady?

“I’m not sure what I can do for you?” Nix said. “I’m sort of a prisoner here.”

The old woman glanced around as though taking in her surroundings for the first time.

“Oh? Oh, that’s just wonderful,” she said. “Oh, that takes me back.”

Which, again, was not the response Nix had been looking for.

“I wish I could stay around to see that,” the old lady said. “But I don’t think we get much time yet. I suppose we never do. But, still, it worked. Maybe it will again.”

“What worked?” Nix asked, reasonably sure the old lady was of perfectly sound mind despite the fact that nothing she said made any sense.

“Nothing you need to worry about right now,” the old lady said. “All you need to know is this; you can trust yourself. You’ve been training for far longer than you know, and you’re capable of so much more than you’re aware. So trust in yourself. And trust in the Force.”

And just like that, she was gone. 

There wasn’t the winking out of a holo-emitter turning off, the old lady just vanished.



That was a thing that happened.

With absolutely no evidence left behind.

Nix paused for a moment and tried to recall how long had it been since she’d last slept?

Only a day or so right?

Maybe two?

She didn’t feel…okay that was lie, she felt plenty tired.

But not “hallucination level” tired.

She didn’t get that tired.

Did she?

The garden would have made a great place for a nap, but falling asleep surrounded haunted plants didn’t feel like it was a thing that was going to happen, so Nix headed back to her room, nibbling on the food she’d pilfered from the kitchens as she went.

Either the walk, the food, or finding Ayli waiting for her banished the fatigue she’d been feeling and left her with the tingle of anticipation that told her events were moving into just the place she’d hoped they would.

“I think I’ve got the navigation array sorted out,” she announced, as much for Sali’s eavesdropping benefit as for Ayli’s. “If you’ve got a moment could I ask you to help me run through Goldie’s memory archives to make sure they’re in order?”

“Goldie?” Ayli asked, putting down the datapad she’d been reading.

“Yeah, you put a droid at the heart of the ship. It needed a name,” Nix said.

“I thought it wasn’t fully enabled?” Ayli said.

“Well…” Nix grimaced and wondered if she should have okayed those particular changes before she made them. “It’s a lot more useful now!”

Ayli laughed and flashed Nix what looked like a genuine smile.

“You don’t ever have to apologize for fixing things, especially not when no one else even thought that was possible,” Ayli said. She looked like she wanted to embrace Nix, but she settled for nodding towards the door. “Let’s go see what Goldie’s like.”

Nix felt bubbles of happiness floating up within her like she’d become a human-shaped bottle of Santo Nectar. Those carried her back to the repair dock where they were joined by a swarm of Ilythian Butterflies in her stomach at finding Sali waiting for them.

A Sali who looked as tired as Nix was supposed to feel.

“The repairs are coming along great!” Nix said, offering Sali and encouraging smile in lieu of the cup of Caf Sali clearly needed.

“So I’ve heard. Apparently you’re down to cursing in Basic again?” Sali asked, answering Nix’s smile with a wan one of her own.

“Oh, uh, you heard that?” Nix asked.

“Everyone in the fortress heard it,” Ayli said. “I think I saw a protocol droid died of fright.”

“Well, the ship’s making sense now,” Nix said. “Mostly. Just got a few more things I need to get in place.”

“Don’t let me stop you,” Sali said. “I’m inspecting. Give me something to inspect so I can put off the rest of today’s work for a bit longer.”

“Aren’t you the boss of this place?” Ayli asked.

“You would think so,” Sali said. “You’d damn well think so, except all that really means is everyone’s problems are my problems.”

“Delegate them to someone else?” Nix suggested.

“Tried that. They just come back the next day as twice the problems. Or my minions get drunk on power and try to backstab each other and/or me.”

“You can’t go on like that forever.” Nix opened one of the external hatches on the Goldrunner and removed a mass of cables which she started connecting to each other. “Ayli can you power up the aft-collision detectors. They were a little flakey this morning.”

Which had been true, before she’d fixed them and tested them herself.

“What’s wrong with the ship?” Sali asked, ignoring the statement Nix had made.

“Nothing!” Nix said with the kind of gusto engineers often use when they’re willing that sentiment to be true, usually in the face of reason and historical precedent. “Here, could you hold this?”

She offered a cable to Sali who’d risen to see what she was working on.

“Sure,” Sali said without really thinking about.

“Good, cause it’s time for us to go,” Nix said, and flipped the switch that sent a torrent of electricity surging through Sali’s body.

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 4

One agreeable thing about being taken captive by Sali, she at least put you up in a nicely gilded cage. Ayli wasn’t sure if she was willing to tolerate being in even so luxurious a form captivity for much longer, but Nix seemed to be working an angle and Sali definitely had other plans than turning them in for the bounty so Ayli was willing to let things play out a little longer.

“How was breakfast my dears?” Sali said, strolling into their suite like she owned the place.

Which of course she did, and Ayli had no illusions that the entire place wasn’t bugged with more micro-recorders than she’d find if she searched for a year, but still the illusion of privacy would have been nice. She and Nix had slept in separate rooms in an unspoken agreement to keep Sali from deciding she could use one of them as leverage against the other, and though they’d only spent a grand total of three nights together so far, Ayli found herself missing her fake-wife’s warmth. 

“Chef Marsbel remembered my favorites!” Nix said. “Give him my thanks if you would.”

“You’re quite a valuable asset,” Sali said. “It wouldn’t do to have you die of hunger on us before the Klex Cartel pays out for you.”

“Come on Sali, we both know you’re not doing this for a measly ten thousand credits,” Ayli said, looking up from the datapad where the recent Galactic news was scrolling along. There was a Xenoarchaeology Conference on Coruscant that looked interesting. Too interesting in fact. There were two tracks on ‘Lost Religious Movements from the Late Republic Era” during it. That didn’t mean someone else was looking for Ravas Durla’s temple, but those were the sort of lectures which might plant ideas in the wrong heads. Those being any other head than her own.

“Of course not,” Sali said. “You’re worth at least a million credits, easily.”

“We’re going to be scapegoats, aren’t we?” Nix said, seemingly seizing the idea out of thin air.

“Well, at least one of you will be,” Sali said. “I do still have openings on my staff for someone bright and talented.” 

To her credit, sort of, Sali didn’t seem to be particularly concerned which of her guests she scooped up and which she fed to the space wolves. Ayli knew she would be the easier one to place as the scapegoat if Sali had issues with the Klex cartel and if it came to it, she’d insist that Nix do the sensible thing and take whatever offer Sali put on the table.

“Who are you setting us up against?” Ayli asked.

“I have options,” Sali said, as though she didn’t have her entire plan worked out already.

“You’re going to have us kill Ulno Klex,” Nix said, again as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Not you, Ayli was quite clear on that,” Sali said. “All the messy work will be handled by trained professionals. They’ll simply be disguised as you.”

“Why?” Ayli asked, trying to picture a more convoluted and risky means of going about a simple assassination and coming up with a dozen options off the top of her head.

“She gets to destabilize the Klexs and it’ll run the bounty on us up by a factor of ten, so she can get paid for it too,” Nix said, with a far away look in her eyes.

“By a hundred, like I said, you’re easily worth a million credits,” Sali said.

“Won’t they know you took us in?” Ayli asked.

“Of course not. Why do you think I had you picked up before you left the dock?” Sali said. “Also, I was in a meeting with Bolobla Ool at the time too so, clearly, I could not have been there either.”

“How did you get Bolobla in on this?” Nix asked. “I thought he hated you.”

“He does. Ever since I took the surface cities from him. Or at least that’s the public image he keeps up. In truth he was happy to get rid of them, especially since I’ve doubled his revenue and taken all the paperwork off his flippers. The Klex on the other hand killed his cousin right before their last spawning season, so he’s not terribly fond of them at the moment, especially Ulno.”

“Did you have all this planned before we got her?” Aylia asked.

“Not at all. I expected I’d never seen either of you again. It is a big galaxy after all,” Sali said.

“I’m sorry we didn’t part on better terms,” Nix said.

Ayli did not echo the sentiment. Her previous dealings with Sali hadn’t ended badly but Ayli had always felt like she was dancing on the knife edge of betrayal.

Or that might have been her paranoia from growing up as a Rebellion brat showing.

Current kidnapping aside, she liked Sali too. She just knew better than to trust her. Or date her? What had Nix been thinking?

Apart from the obvious of course.

There was no accounting for taste, even if a quick glance towards Sali suggested that Nix’s taste was, in fact, excellent.

“Why did you two break up?” Ayli asked, the question tumbling out before it occurred to her it was probably an unpleasant topic for both of them.

“She blew up one of my cargo ships and vanished before I could ask her why,” Sali said.

“I didn’t think you’d want to talk much after that,” Nix said.

“At the time, no, I suppose I didn’t,” Sali said.

“Wait, why did you blow up a ship?” Ayli asked.

“It was hauling weapons to the Sundalli, for their offensive on Gartock IV,” Nix said, as though whatever local conflict the Sundalli and Gartocks had been embroiled in had been newsworthy enough that Ayli might have heard of it.

“The Sundalli launched an attack on the Gartockans after the Gartockans won a battle against an Imperial Remnant fleet and lost three quarters of their own in the process,” Nix said on seeing Ayli’s confusion.

“The Sundalli saw an opening and took it, even managed to capture the Gartock capital city,” Sali said. “But they wanted more weapons to expand their front and take the whole world.”

“And that didn’t work out for them, did it.” Nix said, somewhere between knowing the answer and having a solid guess at it.

“Not for them or for anyone who was ‘providing aid or comfort’ to them,” Sali said.

“What happened?” Ayli said.

“Turns out the Gartock Fleetyards are exceptional at repairing damaged ships,” Sali said. “They had their whole fleet back in action in a week. The Sundalli, or the ones who remain, are now enjoying a pre-space flight existence and the people who supplied them with weapons or ships are now mostly clouds of free floating ions.”

“I know that wouldn’t have been you. You could have taken them if it came to a fight,” Nix said. “But the cost wouldn’t have been worth it.”

“You could have told me all that before blowing up my ship,” Sali said.

“Could I have?” Nix asked, not flinching from Sali’s gaze.

They each refused to budge for a moment, until Sali looked away and sighed first.

“I suppose not,” Sali said.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think I could have explained myself well enough to convince you even if you’d been willing to listen,” Nix said. “Sometimes things just make sense without me being able to explain why.”

“You sound like my grandmother,” Sali said. “Mystical old bat was always trying to teach me to meditate and things like that.”

“I thought that was every Mirialan?” Ayli said, though she couldn’t call the handful of Mirialans she knew a necessarily decent sample size for the species. “Don’t you have a whole meditation garden setup somewhere in here?”

“I’ve got three of them,” Sali said. “You should visit them, I hear they’re quite lovely.”

“I thought you liked the gardens?” Nix said.

“I do. It’s very peaceful there. I could spend sun up to sun down in any one of them, with or without company,” Sali said. “And if I did that I’d lose half the cities that are floating on the surface before the first sun set.”

Nix walked over to her and took Sali’s left hand in both of hers.

“You need an exit strategy,” she said. “You can’t keep living like this.”

“Maybe not,” Sali said, pulling her hand away from Nix’s, though slowly, “But I can, and will, certainly die if I give people too many openings, or lose too much of what I have built up here.”

It was Nix’s turn to sigh.

“Yeah. I suppose you’re right.” Nix’s wistfulness said how much she wished she was wrong, and hinted towards the well of fondness she still carried for an ex- she was clearly not compatible with.

“Speaking of those duties, its time for me to go put a stranglehold on some suppliers. You let them update one trade agreement and suddenly the whole planetary food network is on the docket.”

“Before you do,” Nix said. “Have you thought about the Goldrunner?”

Sali paused, confusion playing over her face.

“You’re ship? No, why?”

“You should bring it here, so I can fix it,” Nix said.

Sali snorted a brief laugh out.

“And, why, exactly, would I do that?” she asked. “I believe I already turned down the chance to back another one of this one’s wild expeditions to nowhere.” She gestured towards Ayli who shrugged. She’d had to try to make a pitch even if it was doomed to fail.

“Oh, not for us. For you,” Nix said.

“For me? Do tell me how this will benefit me, please.”

“You’ll get a lot of use out of it!” Nix said, oddly cheerful at the notion. “First of all, if you’re planning to have someone impersonate us, they’ll do a much more convincing job of it if they’re flying our ship.”

Ayli found it amusing that Nix was calling the Goldrunner ‘their ship’. It didn’t feel wrong, only a bit surprising. 

Which was a sign that Ayli had probably lost her mind due to captivity or something since it wasn’t like they were actually married. Only Canto-Blight-married, which was about as binding a pinkie-promise.

“I think we’ve got whatever claim on each other that we chose to have.” Nix had said, and the words were still echoing in Ayli’s ears as a question she either didn’t have the answer to or was “too smart” to accept that she already knew what she wanted her answer to be.

“Also,” Nix said. “If you’re going to turn us in for a million credit bounty, why not cash in on a Wayfarer class freighter too? It’s probably at about a third of its full value at the moment with the deflector array and the engines in the state they’re in. And that’s assuming the rest of the systems weren’t put in backwards too. Given me some time with it in your repair dock and you know it’ll be worth its full value or more.”

From anyone else that would sound like either the worst lie in the world, or the depths of madness speaking. Ayli’s experience with Nix so far however suggested she was being ernest about wanting to repair the Goldrunner, and the kind of improvements she could make to it.

Something about her offer though suggested she was working some other angle too, which was something Sali was usually frighteningly good at picking up on.

“You know what? Sure. Let’s do that,” Sali said. “We’ll call it my gift to you.”

Ayli froze her face to not give away her surprise. It wasn’t that Sali agreeing to fix the Goldrunner was unreasonable, but since when was Sali reasonable about things like that?

Since Nix apparently.

Sali pulled a datapad from her pocket and keyed in what Ayli assumed were the orders to retrieve the Goldrunner from its hidden dock and, as she later discovered, an open purchase request for anything Nix needed to repair it. 

With a smile she then left Ayli and Nix alone in the room once more.

“That went well, I think,” Nix said, looking completely unsurprised by the turn of events. “It’ll take me about a week to get the Goldrunner in proper shape. No, wait, five days. I gotta be able to do a better job than those hacks on Gartock. Think you’ll be ready to leave by then?”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 3

It wasn’t the first time Nix had felt the muzzle of an E-11 Blastek pressed against her back. It wasn’t a common occurrence for her either but after the first dozen or so times it had become less unnerving and more irritating. The rent-a-goon with delusions of adequacy who was on the Calerpris Dock Security payroll wasn’t going to shoot her. He more fearful than aggressive. Also, he still had the safety on given the lack of a subtle rumble where the barrel made contact with her spine. 

“So, how bad did you say your breakup with Sali was again?” Ayli asked, her hands behind her head the same as Nix’s were.

Unlike Nix however, Ayli had a pair of clever little hold out blaster at the top of her jacket. Fortunately, Ayli wasn’t in a murderous mood, at least not as far as Nix could tell, so no one was likely to have their vital fluids staining the dock’s floor in the Calerpris arrivals area any time soon.

“I mean breakups are never good, but it wasn’t ‘hold me at gun point’ bad.” Nix said. “I’m sure she’s forgotten about the money I lost her by now.”

“As though I’d ever forget about you,” Saliandris A’Prezzo, the Tyrant Queen of the Dashfin Run, Breaker of the Siege of Bokrund, and Scourge of the 5th Begani Legion said as a pair of blast doors whooshed open to admit her to the docking bay. “Or even a single credit I’m owed.”

Saliandris’ entrance didn’t drop everyone to their knees, but the the guards around Nix lost their attention for anyone but their boss. As though they drilled it a thousand times, each made sure that their weapons were pointing as far from her direction as possible. Nix understood the reaction. Sali had an imposing presence even beyond her two meter height and muscular build. Mirialans didn’t tend to grow that tall, but that was far from the only measure by which Sali was exceptional for her species. 

“It worked out for you in the end though, didn’t it?” Nix asked, unsure exactly how their last disagreement had benefited Saliandris but certain that it had. Which was good since it hadn’t worked out terribly well for Nix.

“Surprisingly enough, it did,” Sali said. “And see, you didn’t get shot at all when you came back here.”

“We appreciate that,” Ayli said. “But why did we even get stopped? I’ve got a real transponder in the Goldrunner and everything for a change!”

“Oh, my dear Ayli, haven’t I told you that playing by the rules brings nothing but trouble?” Sali said, gesturing for the dock guards to find somewhere else to be. Her personal retinue was made up of only two droids for a change. Two droids with the firepower of a small army unless Nix missed her guess. Given their generally human stature and proportions most of the weapons would be built inside their black metal chassis but for good measure they were both carrying the kind of blaster rifles one usually targeted hostile starships with. Always easier to be intimidating when everyone around you knew at least one thing to definitely be afraid of.

“They’re your rules though!” Ayli said, relaxing as the guards departed, though not so much that she tried to close the gap between herself and Sali.

That was the ‘nice’ thing about droid body guards – there was really no telling what might set them off and they had no body language to read to help provide a clue in that regards. Best to let the planetary regent (for all intents and purposes) lead the dance, unless one felt like dancing with the fishes in Calerpris’ planet-wide oceans.

“They are, and I should thank you for respecting them, but I think I prefer the money from your bounties,” Sali said.

“There’s no bounty on me?” Nix said. She wasn’t sure of that but the only one who might have put a bounty on her head was her previous captain and he was stranded on a planet in the Galarus system where no ship docks were available to fix his exploded hyper drive or the sublight engines the hyper drive had slagged when it blew up.

“You’re included in the ‘and the crew of’ section beautiful,” Sali said.

“Wait, who put a bounty on us? We just got here,” Ayli said, she started pacing in a small circle and chewing her bottom lip. Nix fought back a smile at how adorable it looked, not wanting to test Saliandris’s patience, or reveal yet that there was something between Ayli and herself.

“It’s on the Holonet, couldn’t believe it myself when I saw it. Did you really kill one of the Klex Cartel?” Sali looked as amused as she sounded, which Nix did not take to be a good sign. Sali’s idea of amusements have been one of the, as it turned out, many things, they’d disagreed about during their sadly brief time together as…as whatever they’d been to each other.

“No! Of we didn’t. Wait, which one?” Ayli asked, not making them sound as completely guilty as she might have.

“Show her,” Sali said to the droid to her left.

The droid opened it’s palm and projected the holographic image of a bounty notice. Nix was too fixated on the holoprojector, which she recognized as a rather clever rework of a Sendyne Systems Burst Laser Array, to read the Bounty notice at first. That the hologram emitter could have been refocused in under a tenth of a second to emit a laser change capable of melting an inch of durasteel should have frightened her, but curiosity left her itching to take it apart and see how they’d managed to get the holographic refractors to play nicely with the Blaster Array. Usually one would fry the other, but Calerpris had some excellent techs.

Also, Sali wasn’t going to have them shot. That wasn’t why any of them were here. 

“Ten thousand? That’s it?” Ayli took a step forward, and the droids did react, but only to take a half step in front of Sali. 

“A bit insulting I know, but it’s your first bounty,” Sali said. “You need to give these things time. Work on them every chance you get. Maybe kill Ulno Klex next time?”

“We didn’t even kill Barto though!” Ayli said. “I mean really, for ten thousand credits? Who would think I would work that cheap?”

“Would Darsus have a bigger price tag?” Nix asked, again curiosity override her better judgment.

“Not for this one, seeing as how it was Darsus Klex who posted it,” Sali said. “I mean some people arrange for posthumous bounties, never really saw the point myself, but I don’t think Darsus has that much foresight.”

A private cab arrived at the dock and parked beside the Goldrunner. From the armor plating, and the wonderful purr of its repulsorlift engine, Nix knew it belonged to Sali, and better Sali had kept it in good repair since Nix had last been able to work on it.

At Sali’s gesture, they all climbed into the cabs spacious interior. Nix opted not to take her usual seat beside Sali. It had the best view out the right side of the cab but she wasn’t sure if she’d be welcome there and sitting beside Ayli sent a better message anyways.

“When did Darsus post the bounty?” Ayli asked as the cab lifted off and joined the traffic stream over the capital city. Nix knew the route it was taking and found herself wishing they’d been able to tow the Goldrunner along with them. Sali’s repair bays were top notch, as was pretty much everything else in her fortress compound.

“Went out on the Holonet about a day ago. Why’s that?” Sali asked.

“That means we didn’t kill him either,” Ayli said, a note of frustration in her voice.

“Sorry,” Nix said. She knew Ayli wasn’t angry at her, but anger in general felt like loose plasma currents arcing around her.

“Not your fault,” Ayli said. “I put off the refit on the Goldrunner’s weapon systems at the last dock. We could have earned the bounty proper if I had.”

“Well if you’re not opposed to that kind of work, maybe you can be a bit more valuable than the bounty on you suggests,” Sali said.

“We could…” Nix started to say before Ayli cut her off.

“No.” She shook her head and put her hand out as though to protect Nix. “Even if I felt like stirring up that kind of trouble, that’s not the work we do.”

“We could do something else though,” Nix said.

Sali gave her a long look up and down, though they both knew Nix wasn’t offering herself as part of any deal.

“I bet you haven’t had the Silver Star tuned up since I left,” Nix said, reasonably sure she’d win that bet, but knowing that it wouldn’t be enough of an offer for Sali to jump on.

“Haven’t had a chance for a proper sightseeing tour since then,” Sali said, as though deflecting an accusation.

“We might be able to give you the chance for one,” Ayli said. “It’s what we came here for in the first place after all.”

“You flew out here to give me a vacation? I don’t think you know what would happen if I took a vacation. This whole place would tear itself apart inside a week,” Sali said.

“A working vacation then,” Ayli said. “You travel for business right?”

“Less and less these days,” Sali said. “Easier to project the right image when you make them come to you.”

“The last thing you have a problem with is image,” Nix said which drew a wicked smile from Sali. Ayli gave her a suspicious look but followed it with a small shrug. It was too hard a compliment to deny.

“You’d be surprised,” Sali said, looking out towards the recollection of some troublesome memory Nix could only imagine. “You do have me intrigued though. What would this ‘working vacation’ entail?”

“Finding buyers for priceless treasures and taking a five percent cut of the profits, while getting to mingle with the sort of people who buy treasures where price is of no consequence,” Ayli said.

“Seems to me if you’ve got priceless treasures on hand, you could just hand those over and pay off your bounty without any fuss,” Sali said.

“That’s the other thing we came here for,” Nix said.

Sali sighed and then chuckled.

“Of course. You don’t have any treasures at the moment but you’ve got a great lead on them and with just a small investment, you’re sure to be rolling in a pile of credits as deep as the Sargras Sea. Does that about cover it?”

“No. We don’t need an investment,” Ayli said. “I’ve got that covered. Well, except for some ship repairs. We could use those, if you’ve got some spare parts you’re not doing anything with?”

“So, free ship parts? Probably a free dock rental? Free repair bay access too? Maybe a hyperdrive recharge? Permits and inspections waved? Food and water stores replenished? Oh and let me guess, expedition gear for whatever backwater hellhole you think has a bunch of culturally relevant hunks of carved rock?”

“Yeah. All of that, and some information too,” Ayli said.

“For five percent?” Sali said.

“Of the profit, yes,” Ayli said.

Sali started chuckling and it turned into honest laughter a moment later.

“Oh Ayli’whensha, I have missed you.”

“Your aim was pretty close last time though,” Ayli said.

“You know I was shooting at the Scurthan pirate scum behind you,” Sali said.

“I still say that was a lucky shot,” Ayli said.

“Luck never enters into it,” Sali said. “I always hit my mark.”

“So does that mean you’re in?” Nix asked.

Sali laughed again.

“I wouldn’t want to be within a thousand parsecs of a deal like that.” She gestured to the two droids who raised their arms, deploying one of the dozen of built-in weapon systems they had. Nix thought that the laser targeting dots which appeared on Ayli and her own chests were a nice touch. Not too flashy, but still able to convey a definite message.

“No, I think I’ll be taking you in and seeing if we can’t get that bounty raised a little higher.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 2

The jump to lightspeed felt wrong. Ayli was not an astounding pilot but she knew how the Goldrunner felt when it launched itself into hyperspace and this time the moment of transition had felt noticeably different. Almost worrisomely so some might say.

“Uh, Nix, what did you do?” The image of plowing through the gravity shadow of a stellar mass at ten thousand times the speed of light had never really bothered Ayli. It seemed like a painless end and an unlikely one. Almost as unlikely as meeting a beautiful mechanic who was coincidentally in need of a new home and ship to work on.

“It worked!” Nix’s delight was not muffled by the ship’s comm at all.

“What worked Nix? I’m seeing…I don’t know what I’m seeing on these readings.”

“We’re not being pursued anymore,” Nix said.

“I get that,” Ayli said, searching for any readout on the Goldrunner’s control panel that would give her a sense of which button she needed to press to avoid becoming a gravity pancake. “Not quite what I’m worried about now though.”

“Worried?” Nix asked. “Oh! Yeah, don’t be. We’ll be…”

Space lurched again and the stars which had been swirling outside returned to being their normal, sedate little points-of-light selves.

“Fine!’ Nix said. “See. No problem at all. Well, aside from us needing some new deflector shields.”

Ayli massaged her temples and forehead. 

She’d married a maniac.

Not a surprise really. Anyone who’d marry her would have to be a maniac. This one though? 

Nix bounced onto the bridge with her dimply smile and bright cheerful eyes and for a moment Ayli lost her train of thought.

“Don’t worry about the deflector arrays,” Nix said. “Or do. I mean, it’s never good to be at less than a fully working compliment of those, but if we can find a dock – any dock – I can redo the connections on the remaining ones and we’ll be at least twice as protected as we were a few minutes ago.”

“Nix, slow down just a moment please. What happened, what did you do?”

“Oh, right,” Nix deflated a bit and folded in on herself as she sat down at the engineer’s station. Ayli glance over a the co-pilot’s seat, indicating with a glance that Nix was free to join her there, but Nix was already looking away.

“I saw that the larboard deflector array had been damaged – it wasn’t installed right – but it still had power so I turned it into a bomb.”

Ayli wasn’t sure why Nix seemed to expect her to be mad about that. 

“You did all that in a minute? That’s wonderful. Please tell me it blew Darsus’s whole squadron to space dust!” 

“Probably not,” Nix said without lifting her gaze from the deck. “They were still pretty far off so it would have missed one or two of them. The good news is that they’ll think we blew up, so they should give up looking for you.” Nix finally glanced up, searching for Ayli’s gaze and approval.

“One or two? Talk about the perfect honeymoon present! Oh you are the best wife ever!” Ayli said cackling internally at the idea of Darsus having met such a well deserved end. “Is that what messed up the jump to lightspeed?”

“Not exactly?” Nix said. “There’s a lot of weird math involved, but the basic idea is I used the field the hyperdrive produces to shred the deflectors and shoot them out at something like 99.999% the speed of light. Sorta. Lightspeed physics is weird. The jump to lightspeed felt off because the I’d routed around the primary safety constraints on the drive to allow that to happen and so that we could jump without a finished route calculation.”

Ayli could feel the anxiety lurking in Nix. A wrong word here wouldn’t break Nix, she was too ready for that, too braced for it. It would damage something though. Some connection they’d managed to form in the short time they’d been together.

That gave Ayli a moment’s pause. She didn’t know quite what she’d found with Nix, but she was already starting to value it. Their whole arrangement was doomed to fail of course. No one jumped into a partnership, much less a marriage, with as little knowledge of each other as she and Nix had. Doomed things could still be worthwhile though, and there was a persistent and annoying voice in the back of Ayli’s head that kept asking “what if?” as though her subconscious had made some decisions which it hadn’t bothered to share with the rest of her yet.

“For the record,” she said, not sure if what she was about to say was wise, but it at least felt right, “I don’t make a habit of second guessing experts who are working under tight deadlines. You’re the Ship’s Mechanic, and if you needed to disable a safety system, I’m going to assume you knew what you were doing. I’ve met a whole lot of you engineer types and you don’t tend to turn stuff like that off for kicks and fun.”

Nix melted in her seat, the warmth of her delight returning to her eyes.

“Yeah, the one who disregard safety systems you don’t tend to meet for fairly obvious reasons,” Nix said. “In this case, I knew it was okay to take the primary safety lock offline because  the Goldrunner’s got secondary and tertiary systems. With the primary down we were able to jump to light speed to avoid the blast, but the secondary put the brakes on almost instantly and then killed the jump entirely when it parsed to the end of the computed path and saw it wasn’t finished.”

Ayli blinked. She’d had it drilled into her so deeply that you had to have a properly computed hyperspace route or you’d absolutely die that it had never occurred to her there might be workarounds or cheats you could pull.

“Is that something all ship engineer’s know?” she asked, wondering if she’d have to throttle a few of the ones she’d worked with over the years for not proposing it when they’d been in tight spots.

“Um, no, I kind of invented it? Or not really invented, I mean I’m sure there’s a lot of other people who’ve thought of it too. It’s just when you listen to the drives, there’s these specific changes they go through as the safety systems cycle through their checks and if you’ve read up on the drive specs it’s easy to see how the timing works out between the primary and the secondary,” Nix said. “Also I don’t think many people do it because, well, it does leave you a bit lost.”

“Lost?” Ayli turned to her console and saw then, yes indeed, the navigation and positioning system was having a minor panic attack over dropping out of hyperspace at a ‘random point in the galaxy’ according to the read out.

That, in turn, gave her a moment of mild panic, but she forced herself to breathe and turn back to Nix, who she somehow knew would have this eventuality covered.

“I can fix that,” Nix said. “The systems get confused by the jump, but it was so short we’re barely out of the system. If we’d been on proper hyperspace route, we’d be much farther out but a blind jump like that one is almost guaranteed to be a slow one.”

“Almost?” Ayli asked out of pure curiosity rather than concern.

“People do find new hyperspace routes from time to time and blind jumps are usually what’s responsible,” Nix said. “Those can do really incredible things to the output of the drives. It seemed like that was a risk worth taking under the circumstances though.”

“Absolutely no argument on that here,” Ayli said. “Will we be okay for another jump without the deflector array or will we need to limp back to Canto at sublight?”

A mischievous smile flitted across Nix’s lips before she spoke.

“It would be tempting to say we should stick to sub-light. I mean I can think of all kinds of things to do with a month or so alone with you, but, as your Ship’s Mechanic, I believe in being honest with my captain, so I must confess that we’re fine for another jump.”

Ayli found that she was oddly disappointed to miss out on the month of sub-light travel. Of course given the rations she had on board, it probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable a month as she was imagining but still…

“Also, I believe there was talk of ‘treasure that wouldn’t wait’ just laying out there for us to pick up?” Nix said.

It was Ayli’s turn to smile.

“See and this is how I know we’re compatible,” she said.

“You know I don’t think I remember you mentioning what the treasure actually was though?” Nix said.

“Eternal life!” Ayli said. “Or Eternal Youth, the myths do a terrible job of differentiating between the two.”

“Oh, so this is a mythic treasure then?” Nix said. “Do we sell it for mythic money?”

“The Eternal Life part? Yeah. It’s worth all the imaginary money in the world. The temple that was build as a  shrine to the Eternal Spring though? That’s got the kind of real treasure that we can use to buy a few billion more deflector arrays with.”

“This sounds more like a robbery than a treasure hunting expedition? Or, wait, let me guess, the temple’s a myth too?”

“Was a myth. Is still considered a myth. Is not, however, a myth.”

“And you know this how exactly?”

“In addition to being a dashing treasure hunter, I am also a renowned historian,” Ayli said, stretching the truth just slightly.

“I can see how the careers would intersect,” Nix said. “Don’t most historians just write books though?”

“The boring ones do,” Ayli said. “But the boring one’s don’t have this!” 

She pulled the coin she’d been carrying with her for the last three months and held it out to show Nix.

Who leaned away from it warily.

“It’s made from a metal alloy similar to Phrik,” Ayli said, deciding not to comment on Nix’s odd reaction. “No one makes coins out of Phrik. It’s ridiculously hard to work with and make and has a lot of better uses. No one would waste it on coins. No one except Ravas Durla, the not-quite-so-mythical founder of the Temple of Eternal Life or Youth or whatever the right translation should be.”

“What was her story? Was she evil?” Nix asked, still leaning away from coin.

“She ran a Temple that supposedly raked in all sorts of treasures, and hoarded them. That’s not typically what good people do, but history shows us not to judge the people of the past too quickly. Ravas Durla lived in a very different time and since we still know almost nothing about it, or her, I’m not about to pass judgment.”

“That sounds fair,” Nix agreed, relaxing a bit. “How does a coin help us find her temple though?”

“It doesn’t. Not alone. It does give us a point of data though and that’s more than anyone’s had on Ravas Durla’s temple since people started looking for it about a hundred years ago.”

“What happened a hundred years ago?” Nix still wasn’t moving closer to the coin, so Ayli put it back in the case she’d been carrying it in, which seemed to relax Nix even more.

“A weird religious sect popped up. They called themselves ‘The Children of the Storm’, and their leader claimed to be receiving ‘Visions from the Bringer of Eternal Life Ravas Durla’. The Jedi Order apparently sent some people to investigate the group, but by the time they got to there, the whole cult had vanished.”

“And people are still talking about them?”

“The mystery of where they went helps with that, but what’s kept them more relevant is that their leader published a recounting of his visions and there were some actual historical findings discovered from it. Not the Temple of course, but two lost planets turning up as habitable when they were missing from the galactic charts tends to hold people’s imaginations for a while.”

“And neither one had the Temple on it?”

“Nope. The temple was on the third planet mentioned in the ‘Visions’, but that one turned out to be an empty system. No planets. No asteroids. No space stations.”

“So guy who wrote about it lied about where it was?”

“Probably. Either that or someone found a way to hide an entire planet.”

“Which means the questions is, how are we going to find it?”

“Easy,” Ayli said. “One piece at a time.”

“Seems like we’d need a lot of pieces to make up a whole planet.”

“True, but you need surprisingly few to triangulate one’s location.”

“And I take it you know where you can find these additional bits of information?”

“Not me precisely, but I do know a gal,” Ayli said. “She said she’s got a line on another coin from a different dig site.”

“So we get the next coin, or more importantly, we find where it’s from and work out which systems the two places might shared jump routes with to narrow down our search?”

“That and I can do some research about the dig sites that were discovered to look for clues towards other sites that might have more relics to work with.”

“Your friend wouldn’t happen to have a nice shipyard she could loan us a berth in would she?” Nix asked.

“Oh yeah. She sort of a major player on Calerpris. Knows pretty much everyone and has her fingers in about a million different data systems.”

“Calerpris?” Nix asked, trepidation creeping into her voice. “You wouldn’t be talking about Saliandris A’Prezzo would you? The Tyrant Queen of the Dashfin Run? Breaker of the Seige of Bokrund? Scourge of the 5th Begani Legion?”

“Oh! You know Sali too!”

“She’s my ex.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 1

Nix woke to find herself in bed with a charmingly soft and warm companion nestled in her arms and a wedding ring on her finger.

That’s new. The thought bubbled up much like the sparkling Santo nectar had the night before. Or was it the night before that? She spent a long moment trying to recreate the events of the previous evening but her thoughts were sluggish and too eager to circle back to the dream she’d been enjoying. Why, they asked, worry about things like yesterday when today was starting off so nicely?

Feeling the woman in her arms stir brought Nix fully awake, but left her wondering which part of her dream had been memories after all. With how reality was turning out, her aching heart was hoping the answer would be “it had all been real”.

“Oh, good, I didn’t just imagine you,” the woman said, stretching lazily as she turned under Nix’s arm. In place of Nix’s long hair, the Twi’lek woman had a pair of long, graceful head tails, and where Nix’s skin was a light brown, the woman’s was the pale blue of an early morning sunrise on Nix’s homeworld.

“Did we get married?” Nix asked, perplexed by the matching rings they both seemed to be wearing.

“Uh? I think so?” the woman said. “Was it my idea? Or yours?”

“I don’t know,” Nix said. “Mine maybe? You’re Ayli?” 

Fragments of memory supported that guess as did the name etched around the band of ring Nix wore.

“Ayli’wensha, but Ayli’s fine. And you’re Nix Lamplighter, and you’re a mechanic, right?”

Nix chuckled. “I guess we got to know each other first at least.”

Ayli smiled in return, a playful grin that sent tiny wrinkles to the corners of her eyes. “Fairly well I’d say.”

More memories returned, drawn out by that smile. Adorable lips. Adoring lips. The better parts of Nix’s dream may not have been a dream at all she decided.

“Getting married might have been my idea,” Ayli said. “I’ve been looking for a mechanic for a while. I think at some point the idea of marrying one seemed more reasonable than trying to hire somebody. I’d say that was the Santo nectar talking but I’m pretty sure I’m sober now and for a change I do not regret my drunken choices.”

Ayli ran a hand along Nix’s back leaving goosebumps in the wake of her touch. Regret was the furthest thing from Nix’s mind as well, though there was a voice in the back of her head pleading for a moment’s rationality.

A random one night fling was one thing, but she could not seriously be thinking it would turn into any more than that? Was she? 

She was.

Nix couldn’t find words to explain it. Not even to herself. Looking at the woman beside her though she felt herself standing at a turning point in her life. The path she’d been following had led her down roads which had grown darker with every step she’d taken. It had all felt right, been right even, at the time, but gazing into eyes as dark and deep as the night sky, Nix saw new possibilities opening before her. And new challenges. And new heartaches. 

But it would be worth it. The pool of calm which filled her as she reflected on a future with Ayil left her sure of it.

Which had to be Santo induced madness. Wedding rings aside, they knew nothing about each other. Or remembered nothing about each other.

But wasn’t finding out where the fun was? 

“No regrets here either,” she said, drinking in Ayil’s warmth and touch for a delicious moment before an unfortunate thought occurred to her. “Are weddings on Canto Bight recognized on any other planet though?”

“Not exactly,” Ayli said, pushing herself up to a sitting position. “I think that’s why I kidnapped you.”

“Oh. Nice. Where are we?” Nix asked. She knew they weren’t in her hotel room, mostly because she couldn’t afford a hotel room or even a small box on the street at the moment.

“This is one of the cabins on my ship,” Ayli said. “Or a room that looks just like it I suppose. I may have told the ship to head out of the system after we stumbled onboard.”

Nix’s head cleared more as her senses reached out and the familiar thrum of an Incom 3M9 sublight engine greeted her. They were making good speed for a sublight run, except for an engine glitch which ran along Nix’s nerves like a rusty nail.

“Your vari-coupling is shorting to your overcharge capacitor,” she said.

“Oh, uh, wow, you can tell that how?” Ayli asked.

“Each engine has its own harmonics. I grew up with them so its not hard to feel when one’s out of alignment,” Nix said. “Still a decent job of kidnapping though.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t say that was my best idea ever,” Ayli said. “Fortunately the ship didn’t engage the hyperdrive, so I can have you back on Canto as soon as you like.”

“Hey if I’m going to be kidnapped by my wife, I expect her to do a proper job of it,” Nix said. “I seem to recall a promise of treasure and fortune in there somewhere? And a visit to the Crystal Gardens of Nep’Tham?”

Ayli’s expression shifted from embarrassment to intrigue as she put on her discarded clothes.

“I do recall talking about the Crystal Gardens,” she said. “They’re fantastic if you catch them in the right season. It is really not fair me of to try to hold you into coming along on my treasure hunt though.”

“Taking me back to Canto Bight would not be doing me any favors,” Nix said. 

“Aren’t you a ship’s mechanic though?” Ayli asked. “If we turn around now, I can probably get you back before your ship leaves.”

“Oh, it’s long gone,” Nix said. “I am more of an ex-ship’s mechanic to be honest.”

“Really?” Ayli asked, a note of wonder creeping into her voice.

“I think that’s why I let you kidnap me,” Nix said. “In fact, if I remember right, I think the kidnapping was my idea wasn’t it?”

“Huh, yeah, I think it was,” Ayli said. “So, does that mean you really want to come along for this? I can’t exactly pay you until we find what we’re looking for.”

“I see why marrying a mechanic was easier than hiring one,” Nix said.

“That doesn’t count anywhere except on Canto Bight,” Ayli said, her gazing dropping to the floor. “And not even really there. I honestly don’t have any claim on you.”

“I think we’ve got whatever claim on each other that we chose to have,” Nix said, giving her heart leave to speak. “And I think what that means is something we can work out from here. If you want to give it a try. For now though, let me keep this,” she spun her ring with her thumb, “as a promise that we’ll see where this goes? Oh, and that you’ll feed me and give me a place to sleep.”

“Room and board? That’s it? You’re selling yourself short,” Ayli said. “I’m not going to be a fool and pass that offer up though. Ship, log Nix Lamplighter on as an official crew member and the ship’s mechanic.”

“Affirmative,” the ship’s deep voice responded.

“You have a droid?” Nix asked.

“Not exactly?” Ayli said. “The Goldrunner’s astrogation system was all shot up when I got it. Some friends of mine bashed together a working replacement but they went a little overboard on it.” 

“What did they do?” Nix had been accused of ‘going overboard’ on repairs once or twice and felt her curiosity starting to tingle.

“From what I could make out? Apparently took bits from what remained of an astromech droid, mashed those together with the core of a planetary landing coordination system, and welded the mess into more or less all of the Goldrunner’s systems with spit and prayers.”

“Ooo! That sounds clever!” Nix said, her mind racing as she considered the possibilities of how fully a medium freighter could be automated. “Can I see how it’s all wired together?”

“Sure, I’ll give you a full tour of the place,” Ayli said a moment before the entire cabin shuddered violently.

“That wasn’t the engine,” Nix said, jumping up from the bed too.

“No, no it was not,” Ayli said.

“Hostile vessels detected,” the ship said. “Beginning evasive maneuvers.”

“Who’s attacking us?” Nix asked. “Can we outrun them?”

“They were not supposed to find me this quick!” Ayli said.

“They who?” Nix scrambled around the bedroom and began to collect her own clothes, stumbling as another blast rocked the ship.

Well, no worries about the vari-coupler, she thought, picturing the extent of damage from the change in the engine’s whine.

“The, uh, bad news is that you may have married someone who’s wanted by the Klex Cartel,” Ayli said. 

“Wanted for what?” Nix asked, her eyes narrowing as she buckled her belt on.

“The Goldrunner has something of a history to it,” Ayli said. “Short version; they wanted it for smuggling, and I wanted it for treasure hunting. They were slow and I was not.”

The ship rocked again and Nix felt the Incom’s output drop by eighteen percent. They were not going to escape without a jump to light speed.

“They don’t seem too interested in getting it back in one piece,” Nix said, following Ayli out of the cabin and into the hallway that ran the length of the ship.

“That would be Darsus Klex,” Ayli said. “He is a big fan of the idea that if he can’t have it, it doesn’t get to exist.”

“So no chance of talking him down then I take it?” Nix asked a moment before another blast hit the ship sending her crashing into a bulkhead.

The good news was that the ships rear deflector had shielded them from the worst of the attack. The bad news was that there’d been spill over that had cooked the Goldrunner’s anterior drive stabilizer. Nix stretched out her senses for a  split second to be sure. Ah. It was the backup anterior drive stabilizer. Not the primary.  She smiled. The Goldrunner had backup stabilizers! Well, ‘had’ in the past tense. Still, that was a good sign. Someone cared about her. The ship that was. Nix always liked to see that.

“Won’t hurt trying to talk to him,” Ayli said. “Might buy us time to plot a jump out of here.”

“I’ll go make sure we’ve got engines left to make the jump with,” Nix said and started heading towards the engine room.

“How do you know…” Ayli didn’t get to finish the question before Nix jumped down the hatch which obviously led to the engines. 

The Goldrunner was a Wayfarer class medium freighter. Mediums were fun ships and people threw them together in all sorts of configurations, but ultimately the engines had to go where the engines had to go. It was just what made sense.

Nix knew that lot of people would disagree with her on that. Starship design was supposed to be some amazing esoteric art, but when you got down to the nuts and bolt and flux relays there was a poetry to every ship if you knew how to listen for it. Poetry whose form and structure would tell you where everything was (or should be) and what was inevitable wrong with the ship (all ships needed work done on them, some just needed it more urgently than others).

“Hey Klex, what’s the big idea shooting up my ship,” Ayli said, her voice coming from the ship’s comms which Goldrunner had patched into the broadcast of the ship-to-ship link.

There was an immediate crackle of static as Darsus Klex responded to the channel.

“That’s my ship Wensha! You stole it and now you’ll learn why no one steals from the Klex Cartel.”

“Nobody owned the ship when I took it Darsus,” Ayli said. “It’s not stealing if you salvage it.”

Another blast shook the Goldrunner, but Nix had the deflectors concentrated on the quadrant Klex’s ships were coming from. They weren’t going to hold forever but she only needed to buy them enough time for the hyperjump calculation to complete.

“My brother owned that ship! It belongs to me!” Darsus’s anger seemed to be matched by the firepower his ships were directing at the Goldrunner. 

Which suited Nix just fine. Deflector shields were great against people who mindlessly blasted forward without any tactics or strategy.

“You were the one who killed him!” Ayli said. “It’s not my fault you shot first and tried to pillage afterward.”

“I’m going to destroy you,” Darsus said.

“You won’t get a ship out of it if you do,” Ayli said. “Might as well just leave us alone. It’s just one ship after all, and you can always steal it back later right?”

“I’ll tell you what,” Darsus said, “You talk a walk out the airlock and leave the ship to me, and I won’t do anything too terrible with your corpse when we drag it in.”

Another series of blasts punctuated his words and the primary larboard deflector array smoked out.

That wasn’t good. 

The deflector arrays should have been far more resilient than that. 

Someone hadn’t installed them right.

Quite apart from the danger the shoddy work placed her in, Nix felt a surge of anger at the disrespect the poor workmanship demonstrated. 

“I’m sorry beautiful,” she said, whispering to the Goldrunner. “We’ll give you a full refit as soon as we can get to a proper dock.”

Of course, arriving at any dock would require surviving another minute and that was looking like a dicey proposition as the loss of the larboard deflector array had forced the jump calculation to reset.

“How are we going down there?” Ayli asked, the quality of the audio indicating that she’d cut the ship-to-ship link.

“Not great,” Nix said. “If we lose any more systems, the jump calculation’s going to pend and they’ll take us apart.”

“I’m sorry. This is a terrible honeymoon isn’t it?”

“To be fair, I can’t say I’ve ever had a better one!” Nix said. “Do you mind if I do something terrible that only has a tiny chance of saving us?” 

It was a silly questions. Ship captains never allowed their engineers do terrible things to the ship. You couldn’t trust engineers after all. Especially not one who admitted they were intending to do something dangerous.

“Better a tiny chance than no chance. Go for it!” Ayil called back without hesitation.

Nix’s heart skipped a couple of beats, but her hands were happy to keep working regardless.

“Get ready to hit the jump to lightspeed on my mark.” Nix had always wanted to try what she was about to attempt. Part of her said it should work. It had to work. That she didn’t know of anyone who’d ever managed it was probably more a sign of how limited her experience was than evidence that it wasn’t a viable tactic.

“We don’t have a route calculated yet,” Ayil noted as a point of curiosity rather than refusal.

“We will!” Nix called back and turned to focus on her newly beloved ship systems.

The astrogation system was a nightmare. She knew far better than to touch it before she’d done a thorough review of any component and dataline in it. The calculation module on the other hand was as stock as they came. That was the first lucky break she needed.

The next lucky break came in the form of the smoked larboard deflector array. It had blown ever fuse and slagged half its wiring because it was installed backwards, but apart from that it was in great shape. Plenty of charge still kept in it.

The last lucky break came in the firing pattern from the Klex ships.

They were directly behind the Goldrunner and gaining quickly thanks to the reductions in the Goldrunner’s sunlight drive. That was a problem which was getting swiftly worse as the ever shortening distance made the Klex’s weapons more accurate and damage and the additional damage in turn dropped the Goldrunner’s speed further and further.

Which was exactly what Nix needed.

With a few quick slices with a plasma cutting torch, she knocked the primary and secondary larboard deflector arrays loose from their couplings. Apart from a few cables that left them unmoored and free to move around the engine room. 

The Goldrunner didn’t have bomb doors, but it did have exterior maintenance panels that allowed access to the engine room from outside the ship, and those could be made to serve a surprisingly similar function to a bomb door, all one needed was a bomb to drop out of them. 

A hasty bypass on the controls to those exterior maintenance panels let Nix tie them into the control for the hatch she’d entered the room through. Which she promptly returned to.

And with that, her trap, such as it was, was set.

All she needed to trigger it was…

Another series of blasts slammed into the remaining deflector shields at the Goldrunner’s rear and Nix slammed down control to cast wide the maintenance panels.

“Why did we just lose pressurization in the engine room?” Ayli asked.

“All part of the plan!” Nix said and listened for the sound of a disconnected deflector arrays snapping free from their cables the outside of the Goldrunner.

The decompression of the maintenance doors opening had blown them out just as she’d hoped and the moment their cable’s snapped, she called out.

“Punch it!” she shouted and felt space instantly lurch around her as a much stronger explosion than any previous blast rattled everything in the ship.

The new jump calculation hadn’t been completed but they were going to be just fine.