Star Wars: A Smuggler's Entanglement Part II
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
5 BBY, the Utapau System
The smuggling, Corellian starship, Burned Cloak, slowly coasted down into the sinkhole city of Nos tai. It was one of the smaller conurbations on the planet of Utapau, located a bit further out from Pau City—the largest of them. The concentric, superstructure of the sinkhole itself was not as deep as the other sinkhole cities, so the network of lagoons at the bottom was easily seen. All the same, the various city-levels were jammed with off-white buildings, moored spaceships, and a buzz of activity with all the crisscrossing of flying dactillions and ships, meandering Pau'ans and Utai, and the occasional band of clone troopers. As Ccer said to Deacon 90 upon their approach to Nos tai, the Imperial presence had never left Utapau since the day several Venator-Class Star Destroyers descended upon Pau City several years ago. That was the day, many said in the Galaxy, that the Clone Troopers became Stormtroopers! For, till this day, many still do not understand why the Republic's troops had turned their guns on the Jedi throughout the Galaxy...
Cloak had a large amount of Nedimix, the rich soil mixture from the valleys of planet Nedij. Kaird, the raptoid that owned the mining and manufacturing operation and a one-time Black Sun agent, stocked Captain 90's ship of the ore and sent the smuggler on a genuine business run to Utapau so that Port Administrator Tion Medon would get to inspect the first shipment of Nedimix. Truth was, the real business was just a subterfuge for Kaird to send his extended family away from the Nedij star system before the new-found Galactic Empire snatched the solar system...and him. The Emperor had gotten word that, years ago, Kaird had assassinated an admiral and several other high-ranking officials of the Republic, and it was payback time! And from the rumors that Kaird had heard about this enigmatic Emperor and his black-clad henchman, mafia Black Sun was a classroom full of Jedi padawan compared to the galactic ruler!
Mindful that Kaird's family were all stashed away in two of his ship's fake-thrusters, Deacon 90 double-checked his computer's cryption, making sure that the two faux-thrusters were charged and programmed to blast-off at a moment's notice during an emergency! He had hoped the unexpected entanglement with the Empire's presence at Utapau would not come to that, but if it did it would be rather messy to have two powerful, rocket-like thrusters suddenly ignite from his docked ship in Nos tai, and then have them blast right through whatever was in their path!
Deacon had the emergency cryption programmed to a device that was on his person. For safe keeping.
When he finally stepped out of the Cloak's long hatch ramp, Deacon was alerted that there were several clone troopers surrounding his ship while a young human male, about thirty standard-years, stood ram-rod at the foot of the ship's ramp. He had a black uniform on; his trousers flared in the hip area while the pant legs were tucked into black boots that were just below the knees. His long-sleeved, double-breasted tunic was belted, and the young man's gloves and angular cap completed the rather severe presence.
For his part, Deacon wore a rather business-type attire common on Corellia—simple long-sleeve white shirt, beige pants with matching high-boots, and a dark-gray jacket that was typically left opened. Even something as mundane as his attire was all apart of Deacon's and Kaird's ruse to throw anyone off to the smuggling operation of Kaird's family.
Deacon, however, was not quite so humbled when it came to his BlasTech DL-44. It boldly hung on his right-hip in it's holster. However, Deacon was mindful not to keep his right hand too close to it. Again, the slightest gesture can trigger a much bigger response than one intended!
"Captain," the young officer greeted Deacon while he made his way down Cloak's ramp.
Deacon was not sure how to reciprocate. He was not used to such formalities, even by Coruscant's standards! He had been in Nedij's mining fields and factory for too long, apparently. "And you would be...?"
"Field Officer Orel Calrian," he said with a proud snap. Field Officer Calrian then gestured to a couple of lower-ranking officers, whom in turn hustled over to the ship as they wheeled over a large container.
The two men, wearing a gray uniform with an emblem on their right shoulder that Deacon did not recognize, then detached a segment of the cart and both proceeded up Burned Cloak's ramp. Calrian could see the puzzlement in Deacon's face as the two officers disappeared into his ship with the compartment.
"Scanning unit," he said to Deacon; his hands now clasped behind him. "You've probably heard of several attacks on Imperial outposts and ships of late."
Deacon was nodding. Secretly, he began to regulate his body so that his nerves about Kaird's family in the faux-thrusters would not show on his face. "Just rumors...who'd want to attack Imperial interests?" They were now slowly walking off to the side, as they waited for the scanning crew.
"Oh, you'd be surprised, Captain 90...Hutts and pirates not having gotten the word that the Empire will not tolerate their violent turf-battles like in the days of the Old Republic! Why, we've even encountered a political movement against the Emperor himself." Deacon did not like the way the young officer fixed his stern eyes on him. "Some kind of alliance of rebels. The few we've caught so far do not match a particular demographic. They're Rodian, they're Twi'lek; some Caamasi, some Human..."
"Some Pau'ans and Utai," Deacon asked, a bit accusatory as he looked around. For he noticed that he did not see as many of the two predominate, bi-pedial peoples like he used to when he last had been on Utapau.
Field Officer Calrian showed disapproval with Deacon's sarcasm by lifting his head slightly, while maintaining his steely stare at him.
"Speaking of which, Field Officer," Deacon said, ignoring the younger man's gaze, "my employer instructed me to confer with the port administrator, to show him my shipment of Nedimix..." Deacon looked around again, but toned-down his attitude. No sense in pinning a target on his back! "I believe I transmitted the writ to your officer upon my arrival."
"Yes, and it checked out. As for Tion Medon, I'm afraid I have rather disconcerting news."
Deacon's heart skipped a beat, but he kept disciplining his body to remain calm. He let Officer Calrian explain.
"As I said, Captain 90, the Empire has been under attack!" He then indicated the scanning crew, the clone troopers encircling the ship, with a quick twirl of one of his hands. "All this is not for show. The Empire had stumbled across some indigenous Utapaun insurrection, bent on violently expelling our presence here! Even though the Empire has been a guardian for the Utapaun system against the remnants of those marauding Jedi...I'm afraid that Administrator Medon was apart of the Utapau Resistance."
Finally, the scanning crew were making their way down Cloak's ramp. This was extremely good news for Deacon's smuggling job for Kaird's family. The faux-thrusters out-witted an Imperial scan! But now, Deacon was concerned about the cover job, with Port Administrator Medon out of the mix of Kaird's plan. For it was Administrator Medon who was going to allow safe-passage for Ccer, Kaird's wife, and their extended family to Utapau 7!
This was one of many smugglers' fear: getting snagged into an Imperial entanglement! Black Sun, the Hutts, and other galactic fiefdoms' reach only went so far. Whoever this Emperor was, his power over the Galaxy was steadily creeping further out from the Core worlds, and clenching more at the Outer Rim Territories!
"So, what's happened to Administrator Medon, if I may ask," Deacon polited, as he watched the scanning crew re-assemble the container and equipment, then rolled off with it.
"Oh, he's alive, if that's what you are asking," Field Officer Calrian said, actually with a bit of humor in his tone. He, too, watched the scanning crew roll the scanner off the docking bay. "He's been assigned to the Recolonization Effort. And that part, Captain, I cannot disclose...Imperial discretion, I'm afraid."
Deacon noted the look of victory in the young man's face, but he could sense in him a lot more than mere pride.
"I suppose that means I have to show you the Nedimix shipment, then," Deacon surmised.
"Very good, Captain 90. You see," he then spoke aloud to the nearby clone troopers, "there are civilized beings in the Outer Rim! Captain Deacon 90, here, can serve as a role model!"
"How much longer do we have to wait in here," one of Ccer's grandchildren said from the back area of the faux-thruster she was in.
"I'm not sure, my little chickling," Ccer said with some impatience from her seat, at the front end of the structure. She was looking at one of the rudimentary monitor in the faux-thruster. Ccer was at the helm of the small console, where she could fly the thruster, had an emergency occurred and Captain 90 pushed the evacuation button he kept on him...basically, the two smuggling thrusters were very large escape-pods!
Ccer's and Kaird's extended family wasn't quite a village, but there were a lot of them from Nedij. Tog, one of their sons, and Kairdda, their daughter, were in the same thruster as Ccer, and they had all of their young children with them and their respective spouses. While Cceru, the elder of Kaird's offspring, was in the other pretend-thruster of Burned Cloak with his kids and wife. The entire family could all physically fit into just one of the faux-thrusters, but with the need for stocked food, clothing, and other necessities, two of the four faux-thrusters were needed. Indeed, Deacon had the foresight years ago to even install a small reliefroom with a sonic-shower in all the faux-thrusters. Though, he did not imagine stressing the recycling systems with as many beings using them as Kaird's family did. Indeed, if a situation happened and the faux-thrusters took flight, it would be a very rough trek for the Kaird family; especially for the thruster that had Ccer and the two families of offspring in it!
"Where did this Deacon go," Cceru asked over the comlink from his thruster, with his family getting fidgety in the background. He, too, was looking at the docking bay with his crude monitoring system at his console.
"I'm guessing Deacon had to take that officer to get the Nedimix," Ccer responded. "We'll be ok, so far, since we past the scanning phase...I've seen how this new Empire prodigal works at other star systems."
"What will they do next," Tog, the youngest of Ccer's grown children, asked from his seat, behind Ccer; his violet, raptor-eyes shining in the dark from the monitor. Both faux-thrusters' lights were tunred off to conserve energy.
"Well, Deacon still has to do the mining part of the job. Which means he'll have to let the Imperial officers inspect the shipment, then unload all that ore. That is, if the officer even accepts the cargo!"
"I've talked to grandfather about his mining business sometimes," one of the male chicklings protested over Ccer's comlink. "That could take hours!"
There were groans from the Nediji chicklings and the adults from both thrusters!
"Yes, little one," Ccer sourly admitted, "it could. So I suggest we advantage this time by saving both thrusters' portable energy. Let's shut everything off accept the life-essentials, Cceru!" Ccer had already began clicking buttons on the console, the various hums and whir eerily going silent.
In the darkened false-thruster, Ccer leaned back in her seat as her grandchildren in the back of the elongated structure finally began to settle down. Kairdda, her daughter, was whispering with her husband, Nej; just as Tog was conversing with his wife, Iji...no doubt, the grownups were trying to figure out why in the Galaxy had Kaird uprooted his entire family from Nedij, and put them in such an untenable situation?
Ccer had known about Kaird's smuggling side-job. He had been doing it for decades! She had her own professional job on Coruscant as a financier for one of the Trade Federation's companies. She had left that very comfortable life after meeting Kaird on one of his runs to Coruscant—though, he swore he was not there doing a smuggling run at the time they met. Ccer had always wondered what it was that Kaird did for a living, because the smuggling had always just been a side-job and there was no way he could support his family the way he did by solely smuggling!
In the darkened thruster, she realized their family's new-found refugee status had something to do with whatever it was that Kaird had done over the years, but yet failed to tell Ccer about it!
The last containers full of Nedimix was finally pulled out of the Burned Cloak by a service droid, similar to the grapplers Deacon worked with on the mining grounds back on Nedij. By that time he was exhausted and hoping that the young, overly-driven field officer would hasten the additional paper work, pay Deacon the credits owed to Kaird's Operation (and his cut, as well), and let him blast out of Nos tai and head out to Utapau 7—that portion of his journey, of course, Deacon would keep to himself.
Or could he?
"And your next destination," Field Officer Calrian asked nonchalantly, his eyes on some checklist on his info-slab.
This sideswiped Deacon! Now he was beginning to see why Ccer had warned him about the Empire!
Deacon scratched his chin, and then subtly waved his hand once just in front of his own face; his hand back on his stubbled chin. "Field Officer Calrian, sir, do you really need to know my next destination...?"
The young officer looked up from his slab and focused on Deacon, frowning at the question.
"I was just wondering if it were really necessary for you to know where I was going next," Deacon asked, his hand once again leaving his chin and gently waved once in the air.
Field Officer Calrian's face slackened a bit and he shook his head. "No...of course not."
"After all, Officer Caliran," Deacon nearly whispered, "you checked the ship and it's itinerary and manifest, and you wouldn't allow it to go, otherwise."
"Indeed," the Imperial officer said firmly, as he deactivated the slab and lowered it to his side, "the ship's itinerary and manifest check out...you may leave now, Captain 90."
"Thank you, Field Officer Calrian," he said with a quick nod and without delay went straight up Burned Cloak's ramp.
Officer Calrian gave the standard orders for the clone troopers to take their positions while a ship was departing a docking bay, so that no one was in the way and for the troopers to keep an eye on any ship as it left.
As soon as Deacon was out of the line of sight from the stormtroopers and Officer Calrian, Deacon sprinted to the cockpit, threw himself into his pilot's seat, strapped himself in, and fired up the ship's engines!
There was a chirp from the console; it was Ccer, from one of the smuggling thrusters. "Ah, Captain 90...I see that we've finally got permission to proceed!"
"Uh...something like that," he said as he frantically switched on ship's functions. "Madam Ccer, make sure you and your family is strapped down."
There was a long pause at the other end of the communication. "Oh, no," she said with a grave voice.
"We still have a little time, but they'll catch on to us. And, ma'am...we're not going to Utapau 7!"
"I understand, Captain. Do what you must. I told you about this Empire!"
The Burned Cloak's stout thrusters fired up, and the Corellian starship eased out of the sinkhole city of Nos tai. As he piloted the ship past the opening of the sinkhole and quickly beyond the surface of Utapau, Deacon 90 could see nothing out of the ordinary. As Cloak rocketed away from the desert-green planet, Deacon saw Utapau's nine moons and wondered if he would ever see them again—
The ship's warning system of approaching craft blared loudly! Deacon could not pick up visuals with the naked eyes. He then switched to the ship's monitors. He saw ten small—very nimble!–ships coming straight at him! They were of a design he had never seen before. The body of the ships were spherical, much like the moon-sized weapon schematic that Kaird had showed Deacon back on Nedij. The front of the ships had a polygonal-fitted, cockpit windows, and connect to the port and starboard of the ships via stout "arms" were large, hexagonal wings—solar panels, perhaps? In any case, Cloak's sensors showed that they were streaking toward Deacon at a fast clip!
"What are those," Deacon asked Ccer over the comlink.
Even with the no-frills monitoring system Deacon had installed in the faux-thrusters, Ccer could see what they were.
"TIE fighters...Twin Ion Engines assault ships. One of many several new ships the Empire has developed since the Clone Wars! We must go to hyperspace soon, Captain 90. I've seen these craft in action!"
"We've got to get far enough from Utapau's moons first! Their combined gravity-wells would suck us in!"
As Deacon readied the ship for hyperspace-mode, he noticed that the Imperial II-class Star Destroyer had also began pursuit! He assumed it was where the TIE ships had come from. For they were much too small for long-distance space travel. But Deacon got his first lesson on Imperial-blitz tactics!
A couple of the closer TIE fighters fired hot-green, lancing lasers and struck the Burned Cloak on its port side; taking out a huge chunk of the bottom faux-thrusters! Fortunately, it was one of the vacant smuggling thrusters, Deacon could see based on his ship's sensors. But it violently pounded Cloak and slowed it down...hence, causing the TIE ships and the Star Destroyer to get closer! Which, in turn, meant even more laser-shots from the TIEs!
"Captain, now," Ccer's voice barked from the comlink, screams from her grandchildren nearly drowning her out!
Deacon did not even argue with Ccer. He normally would remind a client that it was his ship. But in this case, with her extensive experience with the Empire more than Deacon, he took her orders and punched the hyperdrives and the Burned Cloak's thrusters' brilliance flashed five times brighter, and the Corellian ship disappeared from the Utapau system; leaving debris from the faux-thruster in its wake.
"No, no, no, no...!"
It was Ccer over the comlink. She was apparently reacting to the planet they found themselves near, upon jumping out of hyperspace after fleeing the Empire, back on Utapau!
To Deacon, the gem-blue and white terrestrial planet with its two moons reminded him of Corellia, but without the large continents. This particular planet was predominately blue oceans, billowy clouds, and a great deal of islands; scattered all over the planet. It was beautiful to the Corellian!
"Figures," Deacon retorted, "we run across a planet with some potential and you find a problem with it!"
"Captain 90, have you no idea where we are?"
"Look, that Destroyer can follow us anywhere in the Galaxy, Madam, so I had to punch in some kind of coordinates to give us a chance to hide from the Empire. Even if it's in the Unknown Regions...Madam Ccer?"
Apparently, as Deacon was talking with Ccer, she must have told her family that it was safe to get out of the faux-thrusters and stretch their legs. Now, behind him, even with the cockpit door closed, he could hear the Kaird family run into the main area of Burned Cloak. Slowly, the creaking ship began to fill with cackling laughter of young Nedij-raptors. Deacon checked his sensors for other ships nearby and there were none detected at that time; in normal space nor hyperspace. It was a good time for him to set the ship on auto and have a bit of a meeting with the Kairds in the lounge area of the Cloak.
It took a few more minutes for Ccer's grandchildren to settle down. They all sat with their respective parents, filling up the stately lounge with its white furnishings. Deacon stood in the middle of the lounge, next to Ccer for the meeting. Given that the Empire back on Utapau had drastically blown their plan to bits, the Burned Cloak group needed to assess what they would do next. And as for Deacon, he never got the payment for the Nedimix delivery back on Utapau!
Ccer produced a holoprojector and brought up an image of the planet Lehon, which system they had just clumsily entered in. The sharp, blue image produced telemetry and thumbnail sketches about the planet.
"I take it this is another system you've been to," Deacon guessed.
"Not this time, young human. Not this far out from the Galaxy's Core. Especially not this system, of all the Outer Rim Territories! This is Lehon. I've heard about it from a few acquaintances back on Coruscant years ago. I read the auto-scan identifier from the faux-thruster's console. That's how I knew where we were...an old friend of mine, a Selkath from Manaan, told me that many thousands of years ago, many of Manaan were taken for slaves by an indigenous people from Lehon. They were called the Rakata..."
Ccer directed her attention to Deacon. "Have you heard of them, Captain?"
"I've never even heard of Lehon!"
Ccer nodded, expectantly. "I'm not surprised. Not too many survived once they were snatched from their homeworld and brought here, much less having any descendants tell what happened here. The Rakata not only pilfered the Selkath, but many other species from other planets—Wookiees, Kumumgah, Noghri...Humans. The Rakata were so advanced and powerful that they were able to conquer and enslave these other beings for well over a thousand years. But, eons before that, they received succor form another source. My Selkathan friend said that her family's lore of Lehon gets a little muddled here, since it was so long ago, but a very, very ancient people by the name Kwa visited Lehon and discovered the Rakata in their primitive-state. What was most amazing was the Kwa's power of mixing the Force with science. From that, they created what was called the Infinity Gates...immense, superstructures that served, both, as a galactic weapon and an inter-stellar transporter; giving the Kwa the ability to traverse the Galaxy without the need of a starship!"
By this time, Ccer's grandchildren, and even her adult children, had sat anywhere they could in the Cloak's lounge; listening intently. Deacon was mesmerized. For this was all new to him as well. The images from the holoprojector had changed to show the respective subject that Ccer was discussing at the time. This was via voice-association programmed into the projector.
"It is believed by the Selkath of Manaan that even the ancient Kwa had received this technology from, yet, an even older ancient, of ancient peoples...the Celestials, I believe is what my friend called them. Who were these ancient people is lost in the deep past, if it were ever known at all. But the Kwa took it upon themselves to impart knowledge of the Force and science to the Rakata, as the Celestials had done for them!
"For several generations, the Rakata had, indeed, learned to use the Force and science and created what we know today as hyperdrives! Some in the Galaxy do not take this lore to heart, but, this is what my friend knows...as for the Rakata," her demeanor had soured now, "they could not shake off their primitive ways, even after so many years and technological advances. For their natural inclinations to Force-sensitivity betrayed them, and they used their technology to overrun many other star systems in the Outer Rim."
"The enslavement of those you spoke of," Deacon interjected, remembering the telemetry given from the holoprojector. "In Manaan, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Honoghr—"
"And Corellia," Ccer said with poignancy, as she looked at him with sympathetic eyes. It was not lost on Deacon, she could see. She continued. "Indeed, the Rakata had become avaricious with their new-found empire and demanded to know the secrets of the Kwa's knowledge of the Infinite Gates! But upon seeing how the Rakata had turned to the Dark Side of the Force, the Kwa refused. And much like a Sith's apprentice turns to kill the master, the Rakata had turned against the Kwa! Anticipating the Rakata's victory, the Kwa destroyed all of their Infinity Gates before the Rakata could apprehend them.
"Dathomirian Nightsisters were the final blow to this once-powerful, Force-society...the Dathomir witches believed the Infinity Gates were portals that left their world exposed to their enemies. They hunted down and destroyed what was left of the Kwa civilization."
The holoprojector, via the voice-coder, ended with an image of the planet Lehon and its two moon. It was the exact scene that was right in front of the Cloak's cockpit, Deacon could see through the opened door. But as he looked at Lehon through the cockpit's window, he fell silent. The Kaird family around him, still absorbing the Lehonian tale, began to notice one by one.
"Madam Ccer," Deacon said, disjointedly, "how long ago has it been since the Kwa-Rakata War?"
As she replaced her holoprojector, she frowned at Deacon's behavior. She glanced at her adult children, to see if they noticed. "According to my friend's family, about a hundred thousand, standard-years ago."
"Has Lehon fallen to the influence of any other civilization since then," Deacon asked; not having moved one bit.
"My personal understanding is that a few independent spacers, from archeologists to smugglers, have visited Lehon for its ancient artifacts..." She shrugged as she stepped beside him and looked out the cockpit's window, down the Corellian ship's lounge area and to the front. "Other than that, Lehon has, for practical purposes, been dormant of sentient powers ever since."
Deacon fell silent. Ccer looked behind her at her family and most of them, in turn, just shrugged. Suddenly, Deacon snapped around and looked at the Kaird family in the lounge, then back at the matriarch.
"Why don't you all buckle yourselves in here, at the lounge, while Madam Ccer joins me up front."
She shot him a questioning glance with her raptoid eyes.
"Someone's there, Madam Ccer...and it's not the Empire!"
…...End of Part II...