Star Wars: A Smuggler's Entanglement Part I
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Nedij, the medium-sized, terrestrial planet on the "eastern" spiral of the galaxy; in the Samix Sector. Kaird, the now-retired Black Sun operative of the raptor species within Nedij, slowly walked his mining operation's grounds. Nestled withing the valleys of a grouping of mountains on the northern quadrant on one of Nedij's continents, "the Operation," as it was simply referred to, snaked the entire floor of the valley. Perhaps some ten miles or so. The Operation was totally legitimate, by Imperial standards. The product was the special mixture of melted snow that slushed with the rich soil of Nedij at the foot of the long range of mountains during the spring seasons. It was this geological striation that now made Kaird a rich Nediji! For similar substance was in short supply, predictably, on over-populated and hyper-developed Coruscant, where many of the populace used "Nedimix" for growing their own produce on tiny, personal gardens that were often used to supplement Coruscant citizens' diets and used for show during more social gatherings...it was considered a status symbol for some on Coruscant that showed they had the financial means to grow their own food with an exotic soil from the outer regions of the Galaxy and not simply feed at the trough of the planet-city like one of the masses!
Kaird even made sure to pay his taxes to Coruscant. Though, more to keep out of imperial entanglements than for the little public goods Nedij got from the capitol-planet. There were some days that Kaird actually thought about joining a nascent movement that had been bubbling up against the galactic Empire of late. Given that Nedij was so far from the galactic action at the center, he had only heard of rumors of some radicals organizing against this mysterious emperor and his minions on Coruscant and in the Trade Federation.
But deep down inside, Kaird knew he wasn't the political-type. He tolerated the Black Sun as it was because he didn't have much in the way of education. They came into his life at an opportune time. He served that underworld organization for many years until he could finally "retire" from that sordid lifestyle before it retired him! But, again, deep down inside, Kaird believed that he had killed and assassinated too many beings in the Galaxy for him to get away. He was always looking over his shoulders; always keeping one eye open around others—even around his own family members. This was the price to pay for agreeing to be one of many puppets for the Black Sun...especially, because of two members in particular. It had been about fifteen years since two of his former colleagues from Black Sun had betrayed him and very nearly killed him in their greed to hoard a shipment of bota during a job he was sent to do on the verdant and rainy planet of Drongar.
Kaird surviving that assassination attempt had been the final draw those years ago. From that point on, he had resigned himself to get out of the underworld business and go straight. It took him several more years and a stint at trying to be top-underlord for Black Sun, but there he was; walking around on a major mining operation on Nedij...and it was all his!
But some things never changed for this self-made raptoid. He was out on the mining grounds not for a stroll, but seeking out one of his employees. Kaird had another job for him to do, but this one would not show up on the Operation's books...
Kaird spotted the human. Of mature years, yet young enough to be agile for the smuggling business. Deacon 90 was pretty much an average human, Kaird noticed during the five years since he had hired the Corellian. Yet, there was something a bit different (off, even?) about him. Deacon, dressed in the jumper-drab of the miners on Nedij, had finished unloading a cart of slag that was just brought up from one of the deep gouges of the valley. A transfer-droid, hovering a few feet above the ground with its several grappling arms extended, grabbed the large cart and hovered toward a yet-bigger stash of slag on top of a land carrier that was slowly marching its way to a dumping area, away from the artificial crater, where Kaird and Deacon 90 were. Both watched as the several-storied walker lumbered its six mechanical legs toward the dumping grounds, where a score of other slag-walkers were either making their way to the dumping grounds as well, or they were walking away from it. This slow-motioned choreography went on, literally, non-stop for all shifts of the Operation during every Nedij day!
"You're early," Deacon said in Basic, though thick with Corellian. He didn't even take his eyes off the slag-walkers, as he watched through thick, circular goggles. Several other miners kept at their tasks as droids aided them. "Usually you have something for me around the end of a lunar cycle."
Kaird, also dressed in that ubiquitous jumpsuit—tailored for the Nedij raptor species—nodded knowingly. It was safe for them to talk, given how loud the work site was and the distance the other workers were. "You're observant, Deacon...it's because this job is a big one. Probably the biggest one since Kolatill!"
Now Deacon was looking at the rather short raptoid.
"That was one of the earliest jobs you got me on!"
"Indeed. Only, unlike slipping ancient, fine artifacts from the Kolatill system past the Empire to those snobs on Coruscant and Alderaan, this job actually has real life consequences."
Deacon frowned at that last remark and slipped his goggles onto his capped head. "I thought consequences weren't a smuggler's business?"
"Usually," Kaird cautiously agreed, Deacon noted. "Not exactly one of the Combat Litany of the Smuggler's Creed, I'll admit, Deacon. But there are times when even scoundrels like us have to think of consequences to our lives and families..."
Now Deacon was really not liking where the conversation may have been heading.
Kaird gestured to another miner to take over for Deacon as the two of them walked toward a more opened area. The ground beneath them shook as all the slag-walkers trekked their tasks, and the Nedijian blueish sky was streaked with the vapors of transporters coming and going with loads of Nedimix or on a return for more of it. As huge as the walkers were, they were dwarfed by the surrounding snow-capped mountains that stretched the entire horizon!
After they stopped at the clearing, Kaird cocked his head so that both violet eyes were focused on Deacon. "I'm in a bit of a bind, Deacon...let's just say that I'm finally on the other end of what I've been doing for years."
Deacon recoiled with surprise and fear. "Black Sun's after you? I knew you couldn't just walk away from them!"
Kaird slowly shook his head. "Worse, my friend..."
Deacon's frowning face then took on an almost serene countenance; as if he were meditating. Kaird had noticed Deacon do this from time to time over the years, but for some reason he was starting to feel...suspicious about it lately.
"The Empire," Deacon said with an almost, I should've seen that coming.
"Yeah...the Empire. I thought I was keeping clean—tributing taxes, having customers file paperwork and all that. But, still, my Operation comes up on their radars." Deacon remained silent, letting his boss explain. "They finally found out about my past, Deacon. I won't go into details about it—not even with you, my friend. But let's just say I took something that belonged to them that could never be replaced, and now they've given me an ultimatum..."
Kaird reached into a pocket and whipped out a communicator. He activated it and a green-tinted image with schematics came up; levitating several inches from the hand-held device. Kaird pointed at the hologram with a taloned-finger.
"Behold the future," Kaird said sardonically.
The image was of a spherical structure. On the top-half of it, on one of the hemisphere was what looked like to Deacon an artificial crater, but of an immense size! And along the equatorial region was a trench, not very big, but it ran the entire midsection of the structure.
"What the blazes is that," Deacon said with a mixture of intrigue and alarm.
"I'm not sure. It's a weapon of some kind, I think. This is where you come in, Deacon...the Empire has a workforce building this behemoth, and that requires fuel. Fuel for their ships to transport the workers there, fuel to transport the durasteel and other materials there, and fuel for the workers—"
"The Emperor wants some Nedimix," Deacon reasoned with a shrug. "Kaird, that sounds like a windfall for your business! You'd have to triple your own workforce—"
"You don't understand, Deacon...yes, he wants my Nedimix, but he wants it all!"
"The Emperor wants the entire Operation's production earmarked solely for the Empire as my payment to them for what I've done." The raptor paced away and looked at his mining business and shook his head. "Deacon, it's not a business transaction. The Emperor wants me to run the Operation and deliver the Nedimix to the Empire with no compensation for me!"
"Slavery," Deacon belted deep from his gut. "This grand Emperor wants to enslave you for one wrong thing you did years ago against the Empire?"
Oddly, Kaird chuckled as he turned back to look at Deacon. "For one thing, it was before the Galactic Republic became our beloved Galactic Empire—in the days of the Clone Wars. So, technically speaking, my violation was against the Republic. Secondly, I suppose one could say I'm getting a slap on the wrist in comparison to what I've done. Not just this one incident, but my whole career with Black Sun..."
Deacon merely stared at his broken friend while Kaird continued. "Deacon, you know how violent Black Sun is. We all know even if one leaves them, that being will live with the consequences of being a member for the rest of their life! And now, this is my turn."
Kaird touched a couple of commands on his communicator and the green, holographic image switched from the gargantuan weapon system to a still-image of Kaird's family. Deacon had met them several times over the years, so he recognized them straightway. Deacon's face furrowed upon seeing it and his eyes cut sharply to his boss.
"This is your cargo, Deacon. I want you to get my family out of this system before the Empire confiscates it!"
"I've made my decision, Deacon," Kaird rebutted with one of his feathered palms raised. "My wife will be expecting you and I've already sent the coordinates to your ship...this is a payment I have to make, my friend."
Kaird had began to walk away toward the same direction he came from.
"Kaird," Deacon called out, after a moment's thought. Kaird turned to him. "Of all the smugglers you have working for you...why did you choose me for this job?"
Kaird smirked. "I needed someone I know I can trust. I needed someone with honor, even among scoundrels!" They both shared a small laugh, but then Kaird became serious and pensive. "And, frankly, Deacon, something about you...I'm not sure what it is, but I can honestly say you are the most noble smuggler I've ever known."
Again, Kaird turned to go about his business, and, again, Deacon had to ask one last question. "I'm never going to see you again, am I?"
This time Kaird did not even respond to Deacon and continued walking away.
The Utapau System
The Burned Cloak did not have that far to travel, in astronomical terms, but Deacon 90 wanted to burn his hyperdrives nevertheless. Cloak's design was Corellian and favored much the ubiquitous Corvette. With its thrusters large and stout, the eight cylindrical drives were all clustered in a full-circle around the posterior of the spaceship. The fuselage was long and truncated at the anterior, where it was beveled. Whenever Corellian ships traversed in space it screamed Human in a Galaxy teeming with a myriad of species. Which worked in Deacon's favor for transporting Kaird's family.
To say that the Burned Cloak had eight thrusters was actually deceptive...for half of the eight structures were actually cargo-holds, in the shell of thrusters! It was one of those tricks that smugglers adapted to in order to avoid detection and boardings, first, by space pirates, then later the Imperial naval galactic ships. The four real thrusters were the ones on either side of Deacon's ship. The four other faux-drives were hollow and the back end of each of them were fashioned with pyrotechnics that made the faux- exhaust burn bright-blue, like the majority of space craft in the galaxy. But even then, that was to conserve energy. For the faux-drives actually had engines, at that very same location with the pyrotechnics. But the engines were for emergencies.
There were a few times that Deacon ran into trouble with nefarious spacers of all sorts—bounty hunters, Hutts, other smugglers. So, to deflect attention from his cargo he had to jettison the fake thrusters, much like rockets! And that was where the engines in the faux-drives came into play. After being boarded by such scums, Deacon had then traced where each of the thrusters had gone, retrieve them, and then finish his smuggling job and got paid. Handsomely!
The only trouble Deacon never had problems with during his five years of smuggling was with the Empire...until now!
"A Star Destroyer," Deacon said aloud, more to himself then to Ccer, Kaird's wife. She was seated next to him in what would have been the co-pilot's seat, except that Deacon 90 always worked alone. On the console's terminal-monitor was telemetry about the mile-long, triangular star ship. Burned Cloak had just come out of hyperspace from a long distance from Utapau, so the Destroyer was toy-sized by the naked eye. The computer's enlarged scope of the craft verified only too well what Deacon and Ccer were able to see.
"Well, of course," she stated, surprised of his reaction. "The Imperial forces never left from Utapau since that terrible galaxy-wide battle a few years ago...when General Grievous and many of the Jedi died."
"Order Sixty-six," Deacon said under his breath.
"What," Ccer said irritatedly. She was the female version of Kaird, with her mid-sized beak, thick, short fur, and a very vibrant set of eyes. Only, unlike her husband's florescent-violet, hers were sun-purple. Also, her fur-like feathers were almost white, while Kaird was a much darker shade.
"Ma'am, didn't you say your husband had a good working relationship with Administrator Tion Medon?"
She thought for a moment while Deacon was referring to his terminal for information about the System, as he punched in commands and read displays. "Well...he told me some time ago that the Utapaun Committee had signed a contract for several years' worth of Nedimix shipments out here, and his meeting with Tion went well, but..." She sighed and shook her head, disappointed. "With all these battles between the Empire and those Rebels of late, I don't see how Kaird can risk sending his shipments out here! Why do you ask?"
Just as Ccer was finishing her sentence, Cloak's com-system chimed and a male's voice, official in presentation, a bit threatening in tone, came over the speakers.
"Please state your business and identification, per the Empire for security reasons."
Deacon and Ccer gave long, concerned looks at each other.
"Since when do sovereign planets need protection with Imperial Destroyers," Deacon asked sardonically. Ccer nodded in consent with a frowning face. Nevertheless, he activated his com. "This is the Burned Cloak, and I'm captain Deacon 90. I have a writ from Kaird, of the Nediji, in regards to a mining contract with the Utapaun Committee...I was instructed to meet with Administrator Medon himself."
"Please transmit the document."
All that was, in fact, true. Deacon never told Ccer and their adult children why they were being smuggled out to Utapau 7. Deacon reasoned, for all she and their family knew, the Empire had just done a hostile take-over of Kaird's mining operation and Kaird simply wanted his family to move to Utapau for better prospects for their tribe. In fact, Kaird's entire family never knew about his Black Sun involvements, and Kaird and Deacon kept it that way over the years!
As Deacon waited for a reply, he thought about the cover story Kaird had left for him in that transmitted note in Deacon's ship's system. In the belly of the ship, Kaird had some of his other miners load up the Cloak with a few tones-worth of Nedimix, packed away in containers. It truly was a legitimate contract with a legitimate shipment of product...meanwhile, Deacon had asked Ccer's grown-children and their own family members to stay in the faux-thrusters—which were modified with space-seats bolted to the floors and a few other creature comforts to soften things. Years ago, Deacon made sure that each of the faux-thrusters were manufactured with sound-proof insulation. He figured there would be some times that he would needed it...and this was the first time in those few years that the sound-proofing would be put to a test!
Deacon also had to think about how to "handle" Ccer. For she was independent, formerly a professional herself before meeting Kaird and starting a family, and she was very unpredictable! It was Deacon's idea to keep her in the cockpit of the Cloak. He reasoned she would become suspicious if she were asked to stay in the Thrusters with the rest of the family during the entire hyper-trip to Utapau 7, so he thought he could deal with her roaming around his ship for a couple of hours or so.
But, this! He did not expect the Empire. If they were to learn of Kaird's family—even if they learned of Ccer alone—they would put two and two together and that enslavement deal for Kaird would turn into a death sentence! Had it been space pirates or the Hutt, or even Black Sun, none of them would even care about Kaird's family. They would just board the Cloak and take the Nedimix, and if they were in a good mood, let the Cloak go on about its merry way...gone were the simple days for a smuggler!
"Permission granted," the Imperial mouthpiece finally responded. "The Empire thanks you for this temporary inconvenience. Please land at the provided coordinates."
Deacon's muscles relaxed just a tiny bit.
"Oh," Ccer said, a bit terse, "so now we have to make a stop on Utapau? I thought we were going to Utapau 7."
"Uh, yeah...I wish your husband had told you all about me taking along some samples while dropping you off. You know; striking two birds with the same rod—"
Given that Ccer and her family were raptoids, Deacon could see that the figure of speech was not the wisest thing for him to say. They kept quiet the rest of the flight until they reached one of the many sinkhole-cities that Utapau was famous for. Dactillions carrying their riders shared the air with spaceships, all coming and going as the lime-green panorama of Utapau slowly gave way to an enormous sinkhole, some of its segmented levels rimmed with a city furnished with various buildings and parked spaceships.
"Madame Ccer," Deacon finally said, as soft as possible, after a long silence during the landing, "is there a possibility that you could make yourself comfortable with your children and your grandchildren while I conduct this meeting for your husband?"
She gave him a long look, shifting her head to get a look at Deacon. "You must think me a fool, young man. You think this is the first smuggling-run I've been on for my husband's business?"
Deacon felt a surge of shock course through his body. Ccer got satisfaction upon seeing his reaction and chuckled a bit.
"Do you honestly think that Kaird would not have someone keep an eye on his precious ore? Deacon, I've been on several smuggling-runs. I will say that you are, by far, the most honest of all those employed by my husband...I can see why he picked you for this job. Don't worry; I will stay out of your way. But don't think that I'm not keeping an eye on things. Remember, Deacon, I'm the wife of a rich industrialist, so I've had the privilege to traverse this Galaxy more than you...be careful with this new Empire of ours, Deacon."
Deacon watched her walk out of the spacious cockpit and the door close behind her. She gave him a lot to think about.
…... End of Part I…...