Champions of all oppressed by the powerful and evil Emperor Sakarin and his dreadful Knights of the Empire, the Chedi Order were the ultimate warriors of the Milky Way Galaxy. Their prowess was achieved through intense training and consumption of the powerful, sweet, chocolate-rich Fudge.
The Fudge was empowered by natural properties within the chocolate—its primary ingredient—which strengthened and heightened their varied abilities. Additional ingredients and methods of preparation further enhanced the properties of the Fudge and enabled the Chedi to perform both mentally and physically at superhuman levels.
Led by the Emperor’s most powerful and evil knight, Diet Vanillla, the Knights of the Empire, were strengthened by their own powerful but bitter variety of the Fudge. For years, the two sides had battled. The Chedi had enjoyed many victories, but the Empire, despite those losses, continued to grow large and powerful.
Led by M and M, the wise masters of the Chedi Order, the valiant fighters of the planet Choctooine struck forth from the Wonkka system alongside the fighters of the Wonkka Alliance, a collection of worlds whose people were also sworn enemies of the Empire.
Their mission: to win truth, justice, and chocolate for all…
It was a dark and dismal night on a near-dead world far, far away.
A small but full moon shone dimly in a cloudless sky almost void of stars. A frigid wind wailed across a flat and crumbling landscape. Other than the skeletal remains of a few long-dead and fossilized trees, the horizon was broken only by a single, jutting structure. Immense and heavily fortified, the structure’s lower levels were constructed of massive stones laid side by side and one upon the other. Fifty meters high, the stone’s masonry pattern was broken only at its upper levels by two large, seemingly impenetrable metal doors that sealed access to the interior. The exterior was windowless, except at its uppermost levels. With no entrances at ground level, access to the interior was only available from the air.
From opposite sides of the stone structure’s summit, two twenty meter landing pads jutted outward. Both were unlit, and on each sat a collection of space-able vessels. Several were small, one- or two-man fighters. One was larger, heavily armored and armed. All but the large ship appeared to be fully powered down and unmanned.
A narrower portion of the fortress continued upward from that point for several more levels. This section of the structure had a flat, metallic surface that dully reflected the minuscule amount of light the pale moon was providing. Its surface was studded with numerous balconies, large barred windows, dozens of shield projectors and blazer ports. Its top level was capped with an angled, tiled, metal roof and dotted with large skylights. Interior light shone upwards through several of them. At each of the roof’s four corners stood tall stone and metal turrets. An external staircase spiraled up each turret’s outer wall.
The fortress was the home and headquarters of Wardo the Nutt, one of the Empire’s most powerful, wealthy, and vicious allies. Once an opponent of the Empire, the Nutt now fought and pirated for Emperor Sakarin. Allowed to retain much of his booty, Wardo had improved his situation greatly since betraying the Emperor’s opposition.
At the peak of one of the fortress’ turrets, a lone figure held a heavy cloak tight against the frigid wind. Her face hidden by a breath shield, she was looking into the near-empty heavens above. Other than the flutter of her cloak in the powerful gusts, the figure was still and, despite the cold, patient as she watched and waited.
Her back stiffened when a shooting star blazed in the almost empty sky. The object flared brightly as it streaked through the planet’s upper atmosphere. Remaining still, she watched its progression for several seconds. Unconsciously, as her eyes tracked the object, her hand shifted to the weapon on her hip.
As the flare of the object’s passage extinguished, the guard turned. Ignoring the external stairway, she entered the turret through a narrow slit of a portal. A metal door closed the opening behind her as she walked sideways through an equally narrow passage.
The corridor opened into a wider space, where she hurried past control panels for an atomizer cannon and shielding equipment. Their status screens read, Standing By. Stepping up to the primary control station, she paused to study the lime-green text on that status screen:
Security System Status
Aerial - Functioning normally
Surface -Functioning normally
Visual motion detectors
Aerial - Standing by
Surface - Functioning normally
After a quick nod, her eyes shifted to a screen at the next station. It read:
Security System Status
All Systems - Functioning normally
With another nod she stepped away. Near the center of the room’s floor was a metal disk about a meter and a half in diameter. Stepping onto the disk, she depressed a button on her belt and instantly dropped into the floor. A moment later another disk lifted into place, recovering the hole.
Above and through the darkness, a small armored ship pulled into level flight after having dropped into the planet’s upper atmosphere. The faintest shimmer of gold, forming a bubble around the ship, was the only hint of the masking equipment preventing its detection by any scanning device. Visual observation was the ship’s only weakness in avoiding notice. In the vastness of space a ship was very small and could, without the benefit of sensors, easily be missed. Within the comparatively small area within a planet’s atmosphere however detection was far more likely.
Duke, one of the ship’s two member crew, checked his control panel for any sign that they’d been discovered. After several moments, he was satisfied that they had not.
He signaled the pilot. “Wardo’s transport ship is manned, but her engines are cool, and her weapon systems are down. All the fighters are powered down and cold. All’s clear. Let’s go.” The pilot, Hagjo, nodded and directed the ship into a steep descent.
The two were more than spacefarers. They were Chedi, on a mission of galactic importance.
As their ship dropped toward the fortress, the two Chedi each placed a piece of powerful Fudge into their mouths. Both sighed as its strong, sweet flavor fully awakened their senses, tensing as its empowering chocolate coursed into their systems. Their eyes tightened with a rush of energy and clarity of thought.
Smiling, Hagjo engaged the ship’s antigravity field. Bands along the ship’s lower hull flickered and then brightened to a dim shade of blue as he shut down the ship’s engines.
Ignoring the fortress’s landing pads, he slowed the ship and set her down gently on the dark tiled roof. Duke and Hagjo swiftly exited the ship. The frigid wind whipped their clothing as the Fudge-infused duo hurried across the angled roofline. Avoiding the skylights, the pair moved with assurance that their mission was well planned. Leaping from the roof’s edge onto a large balcony, they approached a secured door. In seconds, the lock was disabled and they entered a brightly lit, overly warm atrium.
Looking beyond the bordering foliage they saw that the room was peopled by a dozen females of as many different races. Among them was a characteristically tall and thin Licoricean. Her black, sinewy form was coiled into a tight mound on a large cushion. A Skittle lay listlessly on a short couch. Both her multi colored scales and her spirit had been dulled by her captivity. On a wide overstuffed chair was a Chicklet. Her eyes were closed and her breath, which whistled as she exhaled, was slow and steady. The armored female had a bright blue shell that covered her chest and back. The shell caught the light, and the Chedis’ eyes as they scanned the group.
Beside the dozing Chicklet was a Hersheyan. Seeing this female, Duke gasped. Her creamy brown beauty was breathtaking and unaffected by her somber expression. Despite any fear she may have felt, she held her head up and didn’t avert her eyes as the Chedi stepped through the foliage. Her eyes widened when they found Duke’s face. As he and Hagjo cleared the foliage and stepped fully into view, the others saw them as well.
Immediately the females began screaming and running toward the duo. Duke, also a Hersheyan, left Hagjo to calm the other women as he stepped toward the Hersheyan female, who had not moved other than to keep her eyes on him. Drawing near, he could see that she had already recognized him. The relief in her eyes was plain. But for reasons Duke was unable to determine, she didn’t speak.
None of the females pleading with Hagjo spoke in common Galactic, each pleading to him in her home tongue. Unfamiliar with any of their languages, Hagjo struggled to make himself understood, uncertain of exactly what was being said to him. It was clear however that all of the women were distraught.
“Please be quiet,” he whispered as he held a finger across his lips.
“Gorde calup en lave!” begged a muscular woman with orange skin and an elephant-like nose. She held Hagjo by his arm. Her fingers like a vise, her grip was almost painful. But her eyes shone only with fear. The same fear that lit the eyes of the other women.
The Chedi glanced at each other. Duke grimaced and shrugged. Hagjo shrugged in return, then turned back at the women. “Nerdz!” he mumbled before the mass of frightened expressions.
The word ”Nerdz” was slang used within the Wonkka system and beyond. Its use expressed exasperation toward a problem or event that had gone wrong. Most often, something that had foolishly gone very wrong.
The Nerdz were once an incredibly intelligent and sensitive race of beings. On their small world, at the far side of the Wonkka system, they evolved quickly through their primitive beginnings into a race capable of great thought, beautiful art, brilliant science, and deep emotion. The artifacts of their race indicated that with their technology, single-minded focus, and even-handed judgment, they could have peacefully and fairly mastered the universe. Their reign would have been free of strife, and their guidance surely would have prevented the Empire’s rise to power.
Unfortunately, as the Nerdz advanced technologically, they invented the computer, and ran afoul of their single-mindedness.
As their computer technology improved, the Nerdz’ entire focus became centered on the machine. They improved it, expanded its uses, created data bases, e-mail, chat rooms, programs to allow the creation and viewing of books and movies, the playing of games, and numerous other forms of digital entertainment. The computers improved to the detriment of all other aspects of the Nerdz’ way of life, and eventually, their own existence.
In just a few years their civilization began to crumble as the Nerdz became more and more focused on their computer screens. Breast pockets suited with pocket protectors were filled with computer compatible pencils, protractors, and snacks of little or no nutritional value. The Nerdz only allowed themselves to be distracted from their small screens to create and assemble solar panels and wind generators to ensure power for their obsession.
They disregarded their children and families, their jobs, homes, and cities, and finally even themselves. Eventually there was no drinking water, no food. Once the slide toward their end truly began, it took only a few more months for their entire civilization to expire.
Decades later, Choctooine explorers came to the Nerdz world. Landing their scout ships, the Choctooinians found crumbling cities, and the remains of the planet’s inhabitants. Propped before their burned-out or powerless computers, Nerdz after Nerdz had let themselves wither and die, rather than move away from their glowing screens. The entire Nerdz population had become extinct. Much of their knowledge, art and digital games had survived on the millions of hard drives which were still intact. The possible saviors of all the species in the universe had lost their focus on life and ceased to exist.
“Nerdz!” Hagjo repeated as the women’s panic grew. “I’m sorry,” he tried again to explain. “We thought we would be able to communicate with someone in your group.” The women paused, struggling to understand. But in seconds they were panicked again. Hagjo sighed deeply before holding up his hands and attempting again to explain that he and Duke were there to help them. With their eyes wide and breaths rapid, the females formed a tight circle around him and frowned fearful expressions of confusion.
Watching his fellow Chedi’s struggle, Duke turned back to the female Hersheyan, certain he could communicate with her.
“You know who I am?” he asked her anxiously.
She nodded immediately and took his hand.
Duke smiled and asked, “Can you explain to them…” he gestured with his head toward the anxious women, “…that we’ve come to rescue you?”
The Hersheyan woman embraced Duke suddenly, then just as suddenly drew back and shook her head. Before the Chedi could ask why, her lips parted, and a light hissing noise sounded as she silently mouthed speech.
Duke frowned, recognizing her inability to speak. He grew angry, assuming that the Nutt was responsible for her disability.
“We will get you away from here,” he assured her.
The woman smiled and tightened her hold on his hand.
“Where’s Wardo?” he then asked.
She turned and pointed toward one of several doors along the room’s interior wall.
Duke squinted at it. “We must take care of him first…”
Immediately fear bloomed on the woman’s face, and Duke again was angered at the certainty of her punishments under the Nutt. Before he could voice an accusation, he heard joyful moans, and voices full of relief behind him. He turned to see Hagjo smiling and almost lost in a huddle of hugs from the females—the large, orange woman actually lifted him into the air. She sat him down and Hagjo quickly moved away and toward Duke.
“How did you manage that?” Duke asked.
Hagjo indicated the buckle on his belt. “Once they realized we were Chedi they understood we were here to help.” He smiled and reholstered his beam blade.
Nodding, Duke turned and looked into the female Hersheyan’s eyes. She smiled and he squeezed her hand. “We’ll be back!” he promised. After another squeeze, he released her hand, and turned to Hagjo. “This way!”
Together they raced toward the door the female Hersheyan had indicated. Her gaze followed them, as they left.
Once at the door, Duke and Hagjo made a swift assessment of its mechanism and automated control panel. At Duke’s whispered instruction, Hagjo stood ready on the other side of the doorway and listened for any sign of activity behind the door.
Duke signaled he was ready and reached to activate the door. Both Chedi grabbed for their weapons as the door suddenly opened before Duke’s hand reached the control.
The Chedi smelled the guard before they saw him. Eyes down, the Limburgen paused in the doorway. Brawny but only one meter tall, with skin splotched in white, blue and green, the guard entered carrying a large blazer.
A collective and fearful moan rose from the females behind the Chedi. Duke immediately closed the door behind the Limburgen, cutting him off from whatever escape or help he might expect. Hagjo stepped into the short Limburgen’s path. In one motion he grabbed the creature’s weapon, and inserted its business end into the guard’s large, unpleasant mouth.
But before either of the Chedi could deliver a warning, the Limburgen yanked at the weapon to pull it away. Instead, though, his thick fingers pulled the trigger, and the plasma discharge sent the foul smelling creature immediately to whatever dismal place Limburgens go after eating blazer fire.
The closed door and the Limburgen’s mouth muffled much of the noise from the blazer, but the Chedi realized there was still a chance they were heard.
“Let’s move,” Duke hissed. “Our element of surprise may be gone!” He reopened the door onto an empty hallway. Instructing the women to hide themselves, the Chedi turned and dashed from the room.
Duke was pleased to find the long, wide corridor was free of additional guards. As the Chedi rushed though, they couldn’t help but notice the large, ornate murals covering the walls in bright colors on both sides of the corridor. Separated by glass and gold columns, the images stretched from floor to ceiling. Each displayed a variety of beings in a variety of locations. Under red, yellow, and even harsh white suns, they included varying terrains. Mountains, flatlands, swamps, and deserts. Others included cities with cross-sections of buildings or subterranean caves. Still others had cross sections of ships on raging seas, or spaceships and space stations afloat before a spray of distant stars.
But all shared a theme: each mural depicted a fierce battle—one in which Wardo’s minions, in their red and white stripped uniform, were on the verge of victory over the other side. Individual scenes of destruction and death merged to form each graphic view. In all, sometimes almost hidden within the scene, the Chedi were able to locate a depiction of Wardo, in some either wielding a weapon in battle himself, in others merely watching the destruction. In all he was clearly enjoying himself.
Hearing nothing but their own footsteps, the Chedi continued down the otherwise empty hall without incident. Suddenly both slowed, then stopped before a particular mural.
This one, set in open space, displayed a similar collection of individual scenes which created the whole of a battle. Cross sections of large and small fighters darted across the panorama, firing their weapons on cross sections of other ships that were clearly built for transportation not battle. Their hulls blown open, ships spewed their crews and passengers into the black void of airless, weightless space where they were fired upon again. Other crew could be seen inside the ships, equipment exploding and blasting crew.
Both Chedi immediately recognized the battle represented before them.
A team of Choctooine scientists had traveled to Pacific, a world on the far side of the Wonkka sector which was dying. Their purpose in establishing labs there had been to assist, but also learn from the world’s tiny race of natives. Peaceful to the extreme, the “Pacifists” had happily welcomed the scientists to their dying world. Once they’d learned of their reason for visiting, they were even more welcoming.
Their planet had passed through the tail of a comet that had journeyed through their solar system. The materials from the comet’s tail had severely damaged Pacific’s ozone layer, leaving holes that foiled its ability to protect the planet’s inhabitants. The Pacifists would not survive without help.
The Empire learned of the Choctooine science team’s visit, but did not believe their mission. Convinced that the planet held either something of value or a weapon the Wonkka Alliance would use against them, Emperor Sakarin sent Wardo, in secret, with a powerful armada.
Caught unprepared, the scientists and the Pacific natives were forced to flee, attempting to evacuate the planet as Wardo’s armada bombarded them from space.
Clear that there was no great weapon, Wardo’s forces, in very short order, also established that there was nothing of value either. Enraged by the waste of his time and resources, Wardo commanded his ships to continue the attack on the defenseless planet. In so doing, he destroyed any chance of its recovering from the damage of the tail of the comet.
The Choctooine scientists, and as many of the natives that could be fit on their transport ships, fled the planet, Wardo ordered his ships to pursue. With only a few fighters and nothing more than a few blazer banks to defend themselves, none of the Choctooine science vessels had a chance, and all were all destroyed.
A later mission from Choctooine to the Pacifica rescued only a few thousand Pacifists—all that was left of the planet’s population.
Wardo reported to Sakarin that sensor readings located high energy sources emanating from the planet’s surface. He indicated his suspicion that they were generated by a weapon. The sensor readings he uploaded to support his report purposefully obscured the identification of the Choctooine science labs as the source of the elevated energy readings, and Wardo was rewarded for a job well done while the Pacifists were almost exterminated.
Still frowning at the mural, Hagjo heard Duke repeat, “Where’s Wardo?”
He realized then that he, too, had been lost in thought, searching for their quarry’s image in the horrific painting before them. Simultaneously, the Chedi found him in the upper left corner. Aboard one of the ships and behind its large viewport, Wardo stood wearing one of the red-and-white-striped uniforms used by his guards. A digital recorder in his hand, the picture portrayed him wearing a broad smile.
At last turning away, the Chedi proceeded down the corridor, eyes slit in disgust and anger. Ignoring the remaining murals they were again moving quickly when, ahead of them, a large set of double doors swung open and Wardo the Nutt stepped into the corridor, a large satchel clutched in his hand. His eyes bulged as he caught sight of the two Chedi and he stopped short.
Just under two meters tall and slightly over one meter wide at his middle, there was little distinction between Wardo the Nutt’s head and body—he had no neck, and his whole shape formed a large, brownish oval. His flat face was only two angry slitted eyes, a ragged gash of nose, and a nasty gapping mouth stretched from one side to the other of his lumpy head. A thick tangle of living roots wriggled into view beneath the hem of his striped robe. At the ends of his two, short, muscular arms, his hands tightened on the satchel.
His tangled roots became a blur as the Nutt retreated back toward the room he’d just exited. His voice blasted in a burst of gas that brought to Hagjo’s mind the sound of a Buttoxan clearing its gelatin-filled blowhole.
It was more than his voice that had come to resemble a Buttoxan, Hagjo joked grimly to himself. Their former ally’s excesses had increased his girth incredibly, and if not for the ball of roots he moved upon and the lack of an elephantine nose, his outline would have matched perfectly a young Buttoxan. Fortunately his scent didn’t compare.
As the Nutt disappeared back through the doorway, the Chedi raced forward, each pulling short, blunt-ended tubes from their belts. Holding the devices away from their bodies, each Chedi depressed a button on the device’s side, igniting a bright beam of crackling blue light that leaped from the far end of the tube and stopped after reaching a meter in length.
The beam-blade was the weapon of the Chedi. A single filament suspended in a glowing force field, it originated on Choctooine as a tool for cutting chocolate. The monofilament’s cutting edge was only a few molecules wide and thus impossibly sharp, while the energy field put off heat to seal the chocolate and prevent crumbling, leaving no precious flakes to waste.
Strengthened by their constant training and Fudge-enhanced senses, armed with beam blades, the Chedi were formidable warriors.
Glowing weapons in hand, the Chedi reached the doorway and looked into an enormous ballroom. From its ceiling hung a dozen massive and gaudy chandeliers. Amongst them were several floating platforms of undetermined purpose. The far end of the room was filled with large crates in stacks measuring over four meters in height. The ceiling loomed another five meters above the top of the crates. The near end of the room was empty except for the Nutt and eighteen red-and-white striped guards, all armed. Wardo gagged inarticulately again as the Chedi neared.
“Glad to see you too Wardo!” Duke growled. “I’m tellin’ you, buddy, you need to learn to push away from the table. You’re really packin’ on the kilos!”
Wardo responded with an angry bellow.
Hagjo joined in, “Maybe we should start calling him Lardo!”
The Nutt roared and his guards sprang into action. Three positioned themselves before the Nutt as the others closed on the Chedi.
Hagjo and Duke swept their beam blades and leapt forward in unison. Their glowing blades were a blur as they deflected bolts from the guard’s weapons struck back. In only seconds, six of the guards were disarmed and retreating. Despite the Nutt’s renewed bellowing, the others backed off, joining the three comrades guarding their employer.
The Chedi jerked to a stop as they sensed a new danger. Simultaneously they looked toward the ceiling as threenew opponents leapt from one of the floating platforms.
They landed silently between the Chedi and the Nutt, their grey cloaks brushing the floor. Their one piece uniforms were charcoal grey. Centered on the stark white background on their belt buckles was a large red C—the symbol for Cert, the world that served as headquarters for the Empire. A golden strand, representing dental floss, wound around the red C. A form-fitting mask hid their features, covering each one’s entire head except for a jagged slash. Originating at the chin, the slash exposed their mouths and their perfectly white and straight teeth. Branching off, two narrower slashes extended upwards over their cheeks and ended as they widened around the knight’s eyes.
Colored the same stark white as their buckle, the masks allowed for no identification of the faces beneath.
These men were three of the Emperor’s knights. Enhanced by their bitter version of the Chedi’s Fudge, they were the ruthless enforcers of their Emperor’s every whim and desire.
Despite his mask, both Duke and Hagjo immediately recognized the largest of the knights as Bluto. Even more than Diet Vanillla, the leader of the Emperor’s knights, Bluto was known as the most savage of the grey knights, famous and feared throughout the Empire and beyond. An expert marksman and master swordsman he’d butchered many of the Emperor’s enemies.
Bluto’s latest victim was Captain Popaiy, of the Wonkka Alliance Stellar Navy. Bluto’s most dedicated opponent. Captain Popaiy was killed in a surprise attack on an Alliance encampment. Like Wardo the Nutt, Captain Popaiy, was a Herbiant, a mobile and sentient plant lifeform. His remains were found sealed within a crate of small, airtight metal containers. His wide, green, leafy limbs, bearing the traditional tattoos of the Stellar Navy, had been shredded.
Only a single member of the encampment’s crew lived through the savage raid. The lone survivor identified Bluto by his size, his ferocity, and his wide, perfect smile. It had been long rumored that Wardo was also involved in that attack. Bluto’s presence at the Nutt’s fortress seemed to confirm it.
The Chedi held their positions as the other two Imperial Knights dropped their cloaks and advanced while igniting their own weapons, their beam blades blood red. Closing in carefully, they separated, each selecting his opponent.
With the dark power of the Bitter Fudge, the knights sprang forward, forming a wedge between the Chedi, and driving them apart, blades whipping in determined attacks. Bluto pulled his cloak close and held his position in front of the Nutt and his guards.
Duke faded back as his attacker ignited a second beam from the bottom of his weapon’s grip. He charged Duke, spinning the double-blade in swift, brutal attacks that drove Duke further away from Hagjo. Duke parried each blow, ducking and dodging the whirling energy beam and its deadly edge. He silently thanked M and M for their relentless training—the advantage of the knight’s two bladed weapon would be far more difficult to handle without both his Chedi fighting skills and the enhancements of the sweet and powerful Fudge.
Hagjo’s attacker kept to a single blade in his assault. Hagjo quickly took the offensive. Although he was unable to pierce the knight’s defenses, he gained immediate advantage, advancing steadily as the knight retreated.
Beside the Nutt, a guard leveled his blazer at Hagjo’s back. His finger tightened on the trigger, but then the barrel of the weapon was deflected, his shot ricocheting off one of the far chandeliers. The guard’s gaze whipped aside, and he was shocked to see Bluto’s hand wrapped around the barrel of the blazer.
“Put it away,” Bluto snarled, “my man knows what he’s doing. The guard attempted to tear his weapon from the Imperial Knight’s grip. Bluto grinned mirthlessly with his famous smile. As his eyes tightened, the guard’s face paled. “Just enjoy the show.” Releasing the weapon, Bluto turned back, confidently ignoring the angry guard who shoved the pistol back into its holder. Bluto chuckled, giving the fight his full attention.
At their end of the ballroom, Duke identified the knight’s tactics and fighting style and adjusted his own. The smile present on the knight’s face at the beginning of his attack faded as the Chedi’s cuts came faster and closer. He struggled to regain control of their duel with no progress. Attacks and parries flew until Duke sidestepped the knight’s blade and surprised him with an upwards slash that grazed his grey uniform so closely he could feel the heat of its energy field on his chest and the pop of the fabric as the monofilament severed it.
Retreating to a defensive posture, the knight gasped, frowning in pain from the angry welt reddening his chest and visible through the charred slash now scarring the front of his uniform.
Duke continued to press. The knight began a wild, spinning series of attacks. Two of the slashes hit the floor sending sharp slivers of tile at Duke, ripping though his uniform and tearing into his legs. With a final spin, the knight discharged his blade and leapt straight up.
Duke raised his guard, expecting an attack from above. Instead he saw that the knight had grabbed the enormous chandelier under which they’d been fighting and braced himself within.
Still unsuccessful in striking his opponent, Hagjo began to suspect that he was being drawn to the far side of the large room. He eased his attack, glancing suspiciously at his surroundings. They’d almost reached the stacked crates he’d noticed upon entering the room.
Seeing Hagjo’s distraction, the knight lunged with a thrust. The Chedi parried it easily. The knight withdrew his blade and lunged again with a feinting thrust which worked perfectly. As Hagjo’s blade swept aside to meet only empty air, the knight directed the point of his blade at Hagjo’s chest, but the Chedi had already recovered.
Quickly stepping away, Hagjo dodged the thrust. The knight’s blade continued and Hagjo parried it, countering with his own attack. The knight sprang away, barely avoiding injury. Rolling to his feet, he was quickly back on guard and resuming his full defensive posture.
Hagjo kept at him, his beam blade practically flying, but he kept alert as he realized the knight had resumed his steady retreat toward the crates. He tried to ignore his growing frustration as one offensive maneuver after another did nothing more than increase the speed of the knight’s retreat. While concerned that Wardo might attempt to escape while the Imperial Knights kept Duke and him occupied, Hagjo was also confident that, if this were a card game, their wildcard guaranteed the Chedi a winning hand.
Hagjo took little satisfaction from the knight’s struggling. His defenses were prime, but that was true in large part due to his complete lack of offense. Cautious of whatever trick he was now sure the knight had up his sleeve—or among the crates—Hagjo increased his guard, wary of any surprise attack.
He pressed the retreating night across the room, until they were but a few meters of the crates and Hagjo’s Fudge-enhanced senses warned him of a new danger. Instinctively, he dodged as something whooshed past his head. The Chedi charged the knight, surprising his Imperial opponent, who stumbled back in confusion as the Chedi failed to fall.
Hagjo pressed his attack, sweeping his blade in a shallow parry and lifted its point, binding the knight’s weapon with his own. The knight’s eyes popped wide in fear as Hagjo lunged. Unable to break the bind, the knight continued his stumbling retreat, tripped and fell.
Hagjo leapt over him, landing with his back to a crate. He glanced up and swept his beam blade just in time to deflect a small torpedo. The Chedi’s eyes quickly backtracked along the torpedo’s path and located a wall mounted Nerph launcher.
Discovered on the planet Stark by the crew of an Empire conquest ship, the Nerph weapon system was immediately adopted into the Empire’s arsenal. Nerph torpedoes, while extensive in their variety on Stark, were nothing more than toys for the children of the warrior races of Ironmen who were native to the planet. Toys used for practice in preparation for one day when the children would become warriors like their parents. A more potent version of the Nerph torpedo had been used as nonlethal practice weapons by the Ironmen’s military.
Encased in powerful exoskeletons that covered them from head to toe, the Ironmen’s bodies, were safely shielded from all but the most powerful attacks. Their armored skin was so strong that it rendered them almost invincible. The weapons their militaries had to use to be effective were so powerful that they eventually destroyed the planet Stark and thereby their entire civilization.
When the ruins of Stark were discovered by an Empire ship, they found all native life extinct. Their weapons, launched in one last offensive by several of Stark’s warring governments had destroyed every living creature.
One of the few remnants of Stark technology that the conquest ship’s crew found was a Nerph gun similar to the one now targeting Hagjo. Absent a warhead, these torpedoes would have been like sponge rubber against the Ironmen’s armor. But they were perfectly lethal against the flesh of the Empire’s enemies.
Like the Nerdz, the Ironmen of Stark had left a legacy that the Chedi and all the people of Choctooine strived to learn from. The wisdom of peace had been taught to all of their people and, whenever possible each of them did their best to achieve it.
Balanced on the balls of his feet, Hagjo glanced at the knight. Still lying on the floor, the knight grinned evilly back at him. Hagjo’s eyes paused for only a moment before he looked back in search of a weakness with the launcher. A sudden, loud crash drew his eyes to the other side of the room.
Discharging one of his dual blades, the knight fighting Duke slashed through the chain attaching one of the multiple arms of the chandelier to its center support. Instantly, Duke dove aside as a two-meter-wide section of metal and colored glass came plummeting toward him, smashing into the floor, and shattering. He dove again, dodging a second chandelier arm.
Duke rolled to his feet and leapt. Whipping his blazer from its holster, he tumbled from under the great chandelier’s remaining arms and spun, leveling his weapon. The knight, braced on the main support chain of the chandelier, saw the weapon and his smile dissolved. His blade flashed before him defensively.
Duke smiled, holding the pistol’s barrel on the knight. He squeezed off two shots. The knight deflected the first easily. But the second plasma bolt’s target was well above the knight. It hit with a burst of sparks and shattered the thick chain supporting the entire light array. Eyes wide in panic, the knight leapt as the chandelier came plummeting to the floor.
Metal and glass flying, the knight hit the floor hard and tumbled clear of the crash. Regaining his feet beneath him, he ignited both ends of his blade, scowled at Duke and charged. Duke slammed the blazer back in its holster as his blade practically leapt into his hand and ignited in time to parry the knight’s renewed attack.
Hagjo dodged another torpedo. His blade in a wary guard, he rechecked the fallen knight, whose smile remained wide and bright. Satisfied that the stunned knight was no immediate concern, Hagjo studied the automated launcher. Built into a short wall standing amongst the crates, it was clearly positioned to secure this side of the large room. Having no idea of the unit’s range, Hagjo spun and charged the knight. Sneering as he advanced, Hagjo’s eyes tightened as the knight quickly regained his feet.
The knight’s smile faded under the flurry of furious blows rained down by the Chedi. Hagjo angled his stance and his attacks, keeping the Imperial Knight between himself and the Nerph blaster, certain for now that the launcher wasn’t programmed to fire on its own people.
But empowered by the Fudge, he soon saw he was wrong.
Hagjo gasped as he saw the Nerph blaster angle and take aim, apparently programmed to ignore any obstacle between itself and its target. His eyes shifted, meeting the knight’s whose expression made it clear he was aware of the deadly Nerph attack aimed at his back.
Leaping forward, Hagjo parried and again bound the anxious knight’s blade. His foot lashed out, kicking the knight aside just as the launcher fired a double attack. The first torpedo rocketed by harmlessly. But as the knight fell, his arm flailed through the second’s path. Struck just beneath his right elbow, he dropped his blade, screaming in pain as his weapon shut off and skidded across the floor.
Hagjo landed awkwardly. He rolled back to his feet and dove again as the torpedo he’d been expecting flew past, barely missing him before tearing through one of the crates, releasing an avalanche of wrapped chocolates that flooded from the shattered crate and rattled against the floor.
Continuing to move, Hagjo leapt over the injured knight and drew his blazer. Coming up on one knee, he fired at the next torpedo. The bolt exploded on contact, deflecting the torpedo into another crate. Broken pieces of chocolate cascaded from that shattered crate as he continued firing.
Only meters from the launcher, his bolts ricocheted. Firing a few more times to the same effect, Hagjo stopped, disappointed as his blasts discharged harmlessly against the launcher’s protective energy shield.
But back on his feet and free of a blade-wielding attacker, he could now avoid easily the next torpedo as he leveled his blazer again. He fired several times, targeting the wall just beyond the edge of the launcher’s shield. He paused while smoke cleared, hoping to see that he had punched through the wall and severed the launcher’s power supply. Instead, he dodged again as another torpedo burst from the smoke. When moments later the smoke cleared, he was disappointed again to see the wall bordering the shield was charred, but the armor behind it held.
Firing again, he hit the underside of the next torpedo. As it deflected toward the ceiling he retreated. Glancing once more toward the knight, still on the floor cradling his injured arm, Hagjo raced away from the crate filled area. Clearing the perimeter, he turned back and stood ready only to see the launcher’s firing nozzle slide back into its chamber. Shifting his gaze toward the fallen knight, Hagjo saw him in an almost fetal position, pain and fear contorting his features as he struggled to remain perfectly still—with Hagjo out of range, the knight was intent on not becoming the launcher’s target again.
Sure now that he was now beyond the launcher’s programmed perimeter, Hagjo redirected his gaze. Looking past the injured knight, he spotted the end of the knight’s dropped blade poking out beneath a pallet stacked high with crates. Extending his arm, Hagjo let the power of the Fudge course through him, its sweet complex flavor triggering in his brain. He pushed with his mind and sent the blade skidding fully beneath the pallet, out of sight and out of reach.
His arm dropped. He gasped at the high-pitched whine he recognized as an overloading beam blade and spun back toward Duke at the other end of the large room.
Having leapt from the crashing chandelier, the knight had advanced beyond its wreckage and resumed his attack on Duke. The Chedi’s blade flashed, parrying rapid fire attacks as the knight pressed forward using both ends of his doubled blade. Weaving in and back, Duke deflected every attack and answered with his own. The knight lunged, managing a near miss. Duke retreated.
With another series of rapid-fire attacks, the knight finally caught Duke’s blade in a bind. Sweeping the Chedi’s blade away, he also swept his opposing blade in with a slashing attack.
Duke moved to counter it. Disengaging his blade, he dodged the knight’s swipe and followed with one of his own. A dazzling flash burst as his blade hit near the knight’s grip at the base of one of the dual blades. Both tried to withdraw their weapon, but the energy fields that supported the cutting filaments had fused.
The fused beam blades began to whine. Duke and the knight’s eyes met as each tried again to free his blade, knowing that the whine indicated the weapons’ were experiencing feedback—their energy systems were overloading. Duke triggered his discharge button—better no blade than one exploding in your hand, as M and M had often warned in training—but the blade didn’t power down. A chill coursed down Duke’s spine.
His eyes lit with pain, theknight tried to let go of his weapon. But with his hands centimeters away from where the blades were in contact, they were pinned within the weapons’ overloading energy field.
The whine grew to a buzzing howl. The knight panicked. Duke released his weapon and retreated in a string of rapid backflips as the overloaded weapons screeched and exploded in a hot, white flash. The concussion of the blast threw Duke to the floor.
He slid, finally crashing against a wall. As the roar of the explosion faded in his ears, he heard the sound of his dropped blazer pistol skittering away from him across the floor.
Swaying to his feet, Duke turned to face the Nutt and his remaining guards. Standing with them, Bluto glared angrily at the Chedi. Both men’s eyes glanced at Duke’s blazer where it lay on the floor between them, well out of Duke’s reach.
“Chedi” Bluto greeted, his lips spread into an evil grin. He lifted a massive two chambered blazer from beneath his cloak.
The blazer rifle was a heavy and awkward weapon. Only someone with Bluto’s size, strength and training could wield it successfully without assistance. Defenseless, Duke, looked back into Bluto’s smiling face. Despite the abilities he possessed through the Fudge, Duke knew he would not likely be able to dodge far enough to clear the wide blast of a blazer rifle. His mind itched to use the Fudge’s power to draw his pistol to him, but doing that, he knew, would only prompt Bluto to fire.
At the far end of the room, Hagjo rushed toward them, readying his shot. , But with guards and all the wreckage, he had no clear shot at Bluto and held his fire.
Duke stared coolly at Bluto, still preparing for a dodge he didn’t believe would be successful.
Bluto snarled, “Let’s see if your Chedi training can save you from—”
A flash burst beneath Bluto’s chin, cutting off his gloating. His eyes crossed and his lips pursed, his last syllable frozen in place. Duke sighed but held his position as Bluto took an awkward half step forward.
The guards behind Bluto were suddenly shuffling. Confused shouts rose and they began bumping into one another as Bluto tipped forward at his waist. His head dipped, and then separated from his neck. The Nutt belched angrily as Bluto’s head bounced across the floor.
Duke darted forward. Leaping over Bluto’s head, he kicked the knight’s collapsing frame in the chest. Wardo’s guards scattered as Bluto dropped the rifle. Duke ignored it, instead holding out his hand to catch his pistol as it leapt to him from the floor. Ready for action, he watched Bluto’s body as it toppled backwards into the scattering guards.
The guard, who’d seen the Chedi’s ship from the turret, became visible to Duke as Bluto’s body fell from view. Reigniting her beam blade, she drove more guards into retreat with only a few wild shots to defend herself against.
Pulling the breath shield from her face, she angled her blade to deflect the only well-aimed blazer bolt. No longer hidden by the mask her features lit with a smile as she looked to her fellow Chedi. Duke gave her a nod and she turned, her smile tightening to a thin line and her eyes narrowing as they focused on the Nutt.
Seeing her face, Wardo gasped and blurted another loud, ugly noise. The Chedi laughed, flashing her blade and leapt at the retreating Wardo
“I told you I’d be here when you went down, she reminded the Nutt. “Today is that day!”
She pirouetted, foot flashing in a roundhouse kick to the Nutt’s chest as she simultaneously wrenched the satchel from his grasp.
Wardo stumbled back as she retreated. Duke stepped to her side, pistol at the ready. Without looking at his rescuer, he took the satchel from her hand.
“Thank you Schan!”
“My pleasure,” she said as her beam blade blazed into action deflecting blazer bolts from the guards’ weapons as the Nutt burped and moaned orders.
Hagjo’s smile fell almost as soon as he joined the other Chedi. Several of the guards nervously positioned themselves between the slowly retreating Nutt and his enemies as he stuffed his face with the bitter and powerful Fudge of the Empire.
His face stained with dark brown smudges, the Nutt took several deep breaths and began shuddering with irregular and increasingly violent spasms.
The guards cast worried glances at the Nutt over their shoulders, most wishing that he’d order a full retreat. Schan stepped forward, brandishing her blade, as several guards lost their nerve and ran, not waiting for an order from their employer. The remaining few held their position.
Putting his hand on Schan’s shoulder, Duke stopped her advance and directed her attention to the Nutt’s behavior.
Pausing, the two Chedi’s eyes met briefly before shifting to meet Hagjo’s. Duke nodded again and he and Schan stepped backwards in a slow retreat. Schan’s expression clearly displayed her displeasure in their giving way, but Duke held her shoulder and kept moving. She snarled but didn’t pull from his grasp.
Hagjo looked back toward the seizing Nutt as the guards shuffled to stay between him and their unsteady employer. Still behind Schan, Duke extended his blazer and fired. A blossom of flame erupted in the center of a guard’s armored chest and he fell back. As the remaining guards redirected their attention and weapons at Duke and Schan, Hagjo made his move.
With two quick steps forward, Hagjo threw himself into the air. Vaulting over the guards’ heads, he slashed, and severed blazer barrels flew in a burst of sparks. The men broke formation as Hagjo landed in front of the Nutt. Schan and Duke were also moving, her blade and his blazer flashing as the last of the guards fled in full retreat.
The Nutt’s bulging eyes locked on Hagjo as the Chedi landed at his gnarled roots. Wardo’s only reaction was an increase in his twitching. His breath rushed up and down his throat as his body began to be transfigured by the energies of the bitter Fudge he’d consumed.
Hagjo pointed his blade at him. “It’s over, Wardo. No amount of Sakarin’s Fudge will help you escape this time.”
The Nutt staggered back, convulsing. His eyes locked on Hagjo as his hands clawed open his robes.
Flapping at his sides, Wardo’s torn robe exposed his broad, tan chest and a colorful wrap that covered him from his lower chest to the writhing roots he used for locomotion. Strapped above it was a wide black belt from which two pouches hung. As Hagjo watched, the Nutt reached into one and pulled out a fistful of dark, bitter Imperial Fudge. The Chedi had to stop himself from slashing the bitter Fudge from Wardo’s hand,
Seconds later he regretted resisting that impulse.
The Nutt shoved the Fudge into his mouth and three growths suddenly sprouted from his chest. In seconds they’d grown to over a meter in length. The Nutt jumped forward and slashed at Hagjo with two of the limbs which were studded with large, jagged thorns. The third began forming a large bud that grew and swelled and began to bloom.
Dodging one limb, Hagjo parried the other with his blade, severing it. As he came back on guard, he saw the bloom, now fully open and brilliant orange in color. A thick cloud of spores sprayed from it as Hagjo dropped and rolled away, avoiding the poisonous attack. Once on his feet again, he immediately dodged again as Wardo swung the remaining thorn-studded limb at his head.
“Wardo, stop now!” Hagjo shouted. The spent bloom withered, and several new growths begin to form. Extending his blade, Hagjo waited for a response as two of the new growths began to form buds. He shouted again. “Last chance Wardo! Don’t be a nut!”
Wardo only shoved more Fudge into his mouth. New limbs continued to sprout and grow. The Nutt began thrashing, attempting to strike Hagjo with his remaining thorned limb.
Hagjo ducked past and sliced through the limb with his blade, then frowned as new sprouts joined the others already forming. If anything, the new limbs were growing at a faster rate than the first.
As new buds prepared to open, Hagjo attacked in earnest. Slashing with his beam blade, he split the immature buds and severed the other forming limbs. The Nutt continued budding and trying to attack. Ignoring those efforts, Hagjo stepped in and sliced twice through Wardo's torso.
With the Nutt now divided into three pieces, Hagjo stepped back and frowned. His blade still high over his head he, breathed heavily as he looked down on the scattered sections. Wardo’s face was still and lifeless but every section of his divided body continued to flinch and squirm. Hagjo’s eyes widened in disgust as he saw several root-ike tendrils already growing from one of Wardo’s larger pieces, seeming to reach for the bags of Fudge. With a disgusted expression, Hagjo leaned forward and pulled the slashed belt and its pouches free of the root like fingers. Noting that each pouch was still nearly half full, he threw them and their contents across the room.
“Regenerate from that you traitorous, chocolate hoarding, peanut!” Hagjo growled, knowing that was exactly what was going to happen. As he backed away from the chopped Nutt, Duke and Schan stepped to his side.
“I’d hoped he wouldn’t make that necessary,” Duke sighed.
Schan remained silent.
His anger gone and his stomach uneasy, Hagjo holstered his blade, envisioning those fine roots thickening into hooked fingers that would continue sprouting from Wardo’s severed pieces. Grasping their counterparts, Wardo’s body would slowly pull itself back together and then begin its regeneration in earnest.
“I just hope that’s enough to keep him until the retrieval squad gets here,” Hagjo said quietly. “He’s eaten a lot of Saccharin’s Fudge.”
All at once, the Chedi tensed, their Fudge enhanced senses warning of a new danger. At the sound of an evil grunt, Hagjo and Duke began to turn, but Schan was already in motion.
Running, she leapt into the air, narrowly passing between several ripping blazer bolts. Twisting, as she flew, she slashed with her blade, deflecting a bolt before landing and dodging another. Discharging her blade as she landed, she chopped at the guard’s arm with the metal blade handle deflecting the guard’s aim. In the same motion, she stomped on one of the wide, flat feet of the Chikitan guard.
The Chikita closely resemble a sentient banana. With bodies the shape of a moon sliver and covered in a thick yellow skin, what appears to be a furry brown stem sticks out from the top of their pointed heads. Their arms and legs fail to distract from the resemblance. Over two and a half meters in height, the Chikita’s fibrous forms weighed in, on average, at almost one hundred and fifty kilograms.
Bellowing loudly, as his foot flattened beneath Schan’s, the guard’s eyes widened in anger, and pain. Distracted by the pain, the Chikita was surprised when she grabbed away his weapon.
Pulling the pistol free, she found herself looking directly into the Chikita’s wide, ugly mouth. The being’s shout of pain was enhanced by disgustingly foul breath and pale green teeth, sharp and jagged.
The Chikita grabbed her and leaned in to bite her face. Quickly reversing her grip on the blazer, Schan pressed its barrel against the guard’s chest and shouted a warning. Rather than stop however the Chikita’ green teeth snapped again. When the next attempt scraped her cheek, Schan fired once.
The Chikita dropped to the floor, Schan continued firing as an angry bunch of Chikitas rushed in. Duke and Hagjo opened fire as well. Wounded Chikitas dropped like overripe fruit, their comrades behind crashing to the floor as they slipped on their fallen comrades. Quickly, their numbers were sliced and those still standing dropped their weapons, and split.
The room was suddenly quiet. No more of Wardo’s red-and-white striped guards were in sight, Schan turned back to her friends. Hagjo was using his beam blade to slice through Wardo’s leather satchel. Duke then held it open, exposing the variety of solid dark and milk chocolates.
“That’s what we came for!” Duke grinned.
Hagjo smiled thinly, weary. He hugged Schan and shook Duke’s free hand.
“The Emperor won’t get his dirty tentacles on these beauties!” Schan announced.
“Tentacles?” Hagjo’s brow furrowed.
“He’s ugly enough!” she replied with a shrug.
Laughing, the three positioned themselves in the corners of a triangle and raised their clasped hands high. “Chocolate for all!” they declared together.
Immediately, they set about wrapping up their mission: First they freed the injured Imperial Knight from the Nerph trap, treated his wounds, and secured him with the other captured guards in the fortress’ holding cells. Then they disabled the Nutt’s ship and fighters on the landing pads, leaving them for the Chedi retrieval team to confiscate when they arrived.
Noting that the tiny tendrils had continued to form along the edges of Wardo’s severed parts, Schan dragged them several meters apart. To further hinder his regeneration, she ignited her blade, the filament snapping rigid in its glowing energy field, and slashed the tiny tendrils away, like so many whiskers under a crazed barber’s razor.
Finally, the trio gathered the ladies from the atrium onto their Chedi ship. Powering up the engines, they lifted into the still dark sky and left the Nutt’s fortress behind .
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