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STAR WARS

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STAR WARS
 
 
306 ABY
 
 
The Galactic Senate has brought about an age of great peace
and prosperity that has lasted for decades.
However, unknown to the Senate, the winds of change are coming.
 
The Jedi, a once proud order of guardians tasked with
protecting the galaxy have long-since fallen into obscurity.
A new Empire has risen from the ashes of the old,
guided by a shadowy force unseen in decades. 
 
Meanwhile, a young Mirialan smuggler named Dax Arandel,
Captain of the Jade Centurion, carries an illegal cargo
in the form of a group of refugees fleeing from the Empire.
Unbeknownst to Dax, however, amongst the refugees
hides one of the last remaining Jedi Knights, Riff Suthra.
Together, they may be the last hope
for the scattered remnants of the rebel alliance...
 
 

 
 
Dax Arandel pulled herself out of the pilot's chair of the Jade Centurion and glared at the shadow drifting over her cockpit. The star-filled inky blackness of space was normally a comforting sight. But as the stars vanished before her crimson eyes, one by one, she swallowed nervously. It was a ship. But no ordinary ship. This was an Imperial Destroyer. It made the Jade look like an bug in comparison. Dax was a Mirialan, a green-skinned race of humanoids, she had the customary geometric black tattoos on her face. A thick black line ran horizontally just beneath her eyes, across her nose. A thick mane of black hair ran over her shoulders and she wore a ragtag mixture of plain clothes with a short dark brown leather jacket over the top. A laser pistol was strapped to a holster on her leg. She looked like she could take care of herself, but right now she wasn't so sure. Smuggling refugees paid well, but crossing the Empire was a bad idea. It was a risk she was willing to take, but as the shadow cast the cockpit in darkness, she wondered if she'd bit off more than she could chew. As Dax left, she heard a voice on the comm.
"Unidentified vessel, prepare for inspection, power down engines and ready for boarding. Any resistance will be met with lethal force."
"Charming." Dax muttered to herself, she opened the cockpit door and walked down the metal gantry, "I've got a bad feeling about this." She added, as she turned the corner into the central chamber. A dozen or so people, from an assortment of races, turned to look at her. They looked nervous. 

"An Imperial Destroyer is sending a boarding party--" Before she could finish her sentence the questions and shrieks and panic spread through the group, she tried to calm them but quickly grew irritated, "Hey!!" She snapped, trying to quiet them, "You can hide below the gantry, they shouldn't find you there, you just need to be quiet. They'll be here any minute." 
Dark eyes peered out from under a dusty, tan robe. The man had tanned skin, and dark, thick hair. He lifted the hood of the robe from his face and revealed long, dark dreadlocks tied back in a ponytail. Despite the news, he did not look fearful, nor did he make any noise of alarm. Instead he just stared at Dax, assessing her. After a moment he stood up, gathering his satchel of possessions, and walked forwards. "Lead the way, Captain." He said, his voice low and gruff. His tone was neutral, with no hint of inflection, and yet just the sound of it seemed to settle the scared people.
 
For a moment, she was taken aback. This man was unlike any of the others. To be honest, he was a little unnerving. She couldn't quite put her finger on why. She nodded to the man, and led the group down a corridor towards the rear of the ship. She pressed a concealed button on a panel along the wall of the ship, and the gantry ahead of her slid back to reveal a large crawl space. 
"You'll have to go in there, and be quiet. The Empire scans for heat and noise. Heat I can neutralise, down there at least. Noise is another matter, you have to stay quiet or we'll all end up in a cell." She watched as they disappeared down into the hole until only the peculiar robed man remained. As he passed her, she got a good look at his face, and she realised what made her uncomfortable about him. He was unafraid. Hell, even she wasn't stupid enough not to be afraid of the Empire, never mind an Imperial Destroyer. But here was a refugee without fear. Why flee from something you're not afraid of?
 
Dax was unable to explore this thought, as the sound of the hatch opening at the far wall made her quickly reach for the concealed button once more. She watched as the gantry closed over the robed man and seconds later a cloud of coolant vented into the ship and a wave of stormtroopers marched inside. Their laser rifles raised, several of them split out and began to search the ship. Three of them immediately gravitated towards her, their rifles aimed at her head. She slowly raised her hands to show cooperation, and one of them reached forwards and pulled her holstered pistol out and held onto it. Now she was surrounded, and disarmed, and smuggling a cargo that would likely get her executed. The troopers made no signs of nervousness or agitation, they were trained, they were in control. From out of the coolant stepped a stormtrooper, her armour identical to the rest but emblazoned with the sigil of a black bird on her chest. Her helmet looked like it had been damaged, but as she came closer, Dax realised what it was. She had taken a knife to the side of her helmet, there were several dozen cuts gouged into the armour. Dax had an idea what that meant. 

"What's your name, girl?" The female trooper demanded, looking her over.
"Dax Arandel." She replied. 
The trooper pulled out a small info pad and started scanning, "Multiple arrests, 6 years time served in the Bay. Maximum security prison. Petty theft, smuggling..." The trooper began to read out a list of her offences, but she became distracted by the final figure to enter her ship. The man stepped onto the gantry of the Jade as though he had all the time in the world, as if he was surveying a field of wild flowers on a warm summer day. He was clothed in black, with a long black cloak and hood. He wore a mask that obscured his features completely. It looked like a single piece of polished black glass, and she could see nothing in it's reflection. It seemed darker than space. But it was his demeanour that unnerved her the most. He took his time with everything, he was not invasive or demanding. She couldn't even call him threatening, yet he was all the same.
 
"Anything of interest, Captain?" The man asked. The mask muffled his deep voice, but his tone of mild curiosity still came through. He slowly crossed his arms behind his back and strolled down the corridor, inspecting the panels of the ship.
"No, Lord Baal. Petty infractions, this one's a smuggler. We're searching the ship now." 
"I see." Baal replied. Dax watched the man, she couldn't tell where he was looking but when his head turned enough to indicate he was looking away. Then he turned and she realised he was looking directly at her. "Mirialan." He stated. 
"Yeah, and?" Dax muttered. That was about as much venom she dared to spit.
"Your people are a spiritual lot, are you not?" He asked, his head inclining to one side as though he was contemplating something, "Unusual then, that you isolate yourself to the vast emptiness of space, when you are so much a social species."
"I was brought up on ships like these. This is my home." 

Baal stood in silent reflection for a moment, then without taking his gaze off her, called over his shoulder, "Captain Grell?" He asked, "Have you checked for crawl spaces? Perhaps the gantry? Some smugglers use such places to stow illegal cargo."
"I'm not doing anything wrong." Dax replied, clenching her fists.
"I believe you." Baal replied, his tone indifferent. A shiver ran up her spine and Dax found herself almost wanting to cry. She couldn't explain the sensation, but she felt like a darkness was closing in on her, and she started to feel claustrophobic. A feeling she had never experienced in her life.
"Check the gantry!" Captain Grell ordered a pair of troopers. They saluted her and the pair marched down and started checking each of the spaces. Dax waited in silence, she tried to keep her gaze on Baal. But she wanted to look anywhere but the void of his mask. Eventually she couldn't help herself, her eyes darted in the direction of the refugees. If only for an instant.
"Captain?" Baal called again, and nodded in the same direction. The Captain gave the order and Baal faced Dax once more and waited patiently, as the two troopers changed direction and headed towards the other gantry there was a quiet metal clank. The two troopers froze and looked at one another, then surged forwards and began searching. After a moment, one of the troopers called back.
"Got something here." He pressed the button to the secret crawl space.
 
As the passage in to the crawl space opened with a hiss, the trooper went to descend, but the robed man rose to meet him, holding his hand out, making a simple sweeping gesture. "There is no reason to come down here." He said in a calm tone. "The noise was just the ventilation pipes. Move along." His words seemed to resonate with the trooper, and he stood silent for a moment. Then he closed the hatch as the robed man disappeared back in to the crawl space. 
The trooper turned back to his colleague as he ambled back down the gantry. "There's nothing down there. Probably just the pipes. We should move along."

 

For a moment, Baal broke his gaze on Dax and inclined his head behind him. He had sensed something. Something aboard the ship. He looked at Dax and considered her for a long while, then took a step closer. Dax retreated a step. He continued forwards until she was pressed against the wall and he leant towards her.

"Do you know what I am?" He asked.

The two troopers walked up to Captain Grell, explained there was nothing in the crawl space, and rejoined the rest of their unit.
"The ship is empty, Lord Baal." The Captain informed him. Baal remained silent.

Dax was confused as to why the troopers hadn't found the refugees, but she tried not to show it on her face. Baal's question had also thrown her for a loop. What was he? She wasn't sure she wanted to say, but she had a good idea. She'd heard they had all but died out. Yet here was one stood right in front of her. She could sense there was something different about him, that separated him from the others. 

"You're a Jedi." Dax stated. 
Baal remained motionless for a few seconds and then pulled back from her, "Tell your men to pack up, Captain. Return her weapon. We're leaving." Baal whirled around and started down the gantry. 
"But, my Lord, we've only just begun to--"
Baal lifted his hand and clenched his fist, one of the troopers he passed stopped what they were doing. His neck snapped in an unusual direction and he crumpled to the floor. He died in an instant. "That was not a request, Captain. Be thankful you are more useful to me alive." The troopers quickly filed out, not wanting to disobey Baal's order, Grell followed in silence, stepping over the body of the dead trooper. Baal stepped into the hatch and looked back at Dax one last time.
"I sense the Force is strong in you, Dax Arandel." Baal paused, taking a long breath, "You feel it's pull." He was silent for a long while, Dax was unsure what to do with herself but stand there, with her arms still raised in surrender, "We will meet again. I will make sure of that." Then he closed the hatch behind him and Dax felt her knees give way. 

 

Collapsing to the ground, Dax let out a breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding. She clutched her head in her hands and shook in silence. She could hear the ship-to-ship transport detach from the Jade, and return to the Imperial Destroyer. How had she gotten away with that? Whenever she'd encountered an Imperial Destroyer there was only two outcomes. If you ran, you might escape, or you were destroyed. If you surrendered, you were usually arrested and found guilty of something. She wasn't sure what had happened, and she kept replaying the scene in her head, over and over. Yet here she was. Alive, untouched, free. Was Lord Baal really a Jedi? One of the ancient order of guardians. She found that more difficult to believe by the minute. She'd not heard stories of Jedi since she was a child, and even then they were more myth than reality. Besides, what was a Jedi doing with the Empire? She supposed it made sense though. If the Jedi believed in order, and that was all the Empire preached, maybe it was one and the same? She didn't like their kind of 'order' though. 

Eventually, Dax pulled herself to her feet and opened the hatch. "They're gone now, you can come out."

"Nicely handled." Said the robed figure as he pulled himself out of the crawl space. "For a moment there I thought we were in some hot water."

"Nicely handled?" Dax repeated, "Listen, pal..." She pointed at him accusingly and then looked back at the hatch as the rest of the refugees pulled themselves up out of the crawl space, "Right... I saw him look right down there. I saw that trooper look right into that crawl space and then tell that kill-counting officer there was nobody there. What in the heck is going on here?!"

"Are you sure you really want to know?" He replied. "You're a sharp woman, but you clearly don't want the trouble. Let's just pretend those trooper helmets don't have very good vision."

"Dammit..." Dax growled and marched back towards the cockpit and threw herself down into the chair. "I'm taking us into hyperspace, don't need to stay around here any longer than we have to." She started the ignition sequence.

"No arguments here." The man said with a nod. "My name's Riff Suthra, by the way."

 

Dax looked over her shoulder at Riff, judging him with a critical eye, before taking them into hyperspace. The stars stretched out before them and in a matter of seconds, a large blue moon loomed before them, scarred with the orange light of a sprawling mega city that seemed to cover most of the planet. Nar Shaddaa. Also known as the Smuggler's Moon. Where else was she going to take them? Dax smiled to herself, set the ship to auto pilot down to the surface and whirled around in her chair to face Riff.

"What's your deal?" She asked, "You're not afraid of that Baal character, you're not afraid in general. If I hadn't picked that sorry lot up on a dozen different worlds i'd think you were their leader. There's something strange about you, but I don't know why..."

"Fear..." Riff replied, musing on the word, staring out towards the moon that drew ever closer. "Fear is always present. Some choose to suppress it. I chose to master it." He spoke as if he was trying to convince himself, more than anyone else. Then he focused his attention back towards Dax. "Baal... I do not know the man. Yet he seems like the type of person whose attention you do not want to attract. Yet you have gotten his."

"No kidding." Dax muttered, rubbing her temples, "Listen, i'm going to drop you all off at the spaceport, you're gonna pay me the rest of what you owe me, and once i've stocked up on supplies i'm leaving this system." She shook her head, "For good."

"And where will you go?" Riff asked. "There is no part of the Galaxy that the Empire cannot reach."

 

Dax blinked. Somehow, in that one response, Riff had shut her down. She blinked again, and then slowly shook her head until she reassured herself into speaking, "I'm leaving. I've avoided the Empire in the past, I can do it again. I can hide, if I have to."

"From the Empire, perhaps." Riff nodded. "You're crafty enough, there's no doubt. But from Baal?" Riff swayed his head from side to side, gently. "He can sense The Force in you, and you cannot hide it. Should he desire to, in time, he will find you."
"I don't believe in space magic." Dax muttered, strapping her blaster back onto her leg.

"And that would matter if there was no such thing." Riff replied. "But you know that is not the case. Deep down, perhaps. You knew what Baal was... what I am." He paused for a moment, reconsidering what he was saying. "I apologize. It really is no business of mine. But The Force does not care what you believe. And without the training of a Jedi, you can do nothing to stop it."

Her breathing quickened, Dax looked at Riff, studying him. "... you're a Jedi...?" She frowned, "Then Baal?"

"Something else." Riff replied simply. "It doesn't surprise me that you have never met a Jedi before, but I assure you it is not as traumatic as what Baal put you through. Intentional, of course. Baal wants you to be afraid. Then he has you just where he wants you."

"Why does he want me to be afraid?" Dax asked, "And if he's not a Jedi, then what is he? Because he feels different, like you."

"Because fear leads you to him." Riff explained. "It leads you to the dark side. If you let it rule you, at least. Baal... he is an old enemy, one thought long gone. Yet no matter how many times they fall, more rise in time. Sith." He said the last word as if it were profanity.

 

"Sith?" Dax repeated the word in confusion. "I don't understand. Why is he your enemy? What has he done to you? I've heard the tales of Jedi and Sith, half the things people say I sometimes think are pure fantasy, but... I heard many years ago the Jedi started a military coup when they decided that the leader of the Galactic Republic wasn't fit to lead, even though they were supposed to be peacekeepers. Before that, they committed genocide in the Sith Holocaust." Dax shifted uncomfortably in her chair, "I admit, Riff... I like you a lot more than Baal, but Jedi and Sith seem awfully similar to me."

"I don't have time to explain our history." Riff said. "The Jedi Order is long gone, and I am not what you would call a poster boy of the Order. Jedi are taught at a young age, far younger than you. I'm not trying to convince you that we're a great people, the few of us that are left, anyway. I'm just trying to make sure you do not become Sith. A sensitive like yourself, with no training, no control. The dark side comes easy to such people." Riff sighed heavily and folded his arms. "Just...tread lightly, for your own sake."
"I'm not joining any side but mine." Dax pointed her finger at Riff, "I don't trust him, and I don't trust you." Dax scowled at Riff, "Sometimes i'm able to see things before they happen. Sometimes I get a feeling for a person i've just met. I think you're a good person, Riff, but..." Dax trailed off as the computer beeped and a voice chimed.

"Final descent to Nar Shaddaa." 

"... i've got a ship to pilot." Dax muttered, and turned back to take the controls, leading the ship down to the planet's surface. It had been an eventful day, but 'any landing you can walk away from' she thought to herself. The clouds sped past her as they came within sight of the spaceport. Suddenly a voice barked out over the comm.

 

"Unidentified vessel you are bid welcome to Nar Shaddaa! Now land before our cannons blast you out of the sky, you are welcome guests to the illustrious Veshka the Hutt. You will be escorted to her presence and dine at her table. Resistance will be met--"
"--with lethal force." Dax banged her console in anger, "Don't people got any other way of saying 'hi'?!" 
"--additionally, Veshka is aware you are smuggling precious cargo. His name is Riff, bring him with you, that is not a request." The comm fell silent and Dax turned to look at Riff with an accusatory glare.

"You're a piece of work..." Dax growled, "Mind telling me why the de facto leader of an entire planet of thieves and smugglers knows who you are, and that you're on. My. SHIP?!" Dax paused, breathing heavily, her cheeks clenched tight. "Has to be a bug, or a stowaway, or...." She muttered, as the ship came in to land.

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Nar Shaddaa's neon skyline disappeared as the Jade Centurion descended in to the hangar, and Riff let out a heavy sigh. He reached in to his robes, and there was a light clicking noise. He retrieved a cylindrical object made of smooth, stainless metals. Small gaps between the frame showed the complex inner workings of the object, and the length of it was wrapped in dark leather material, that looked old and worn. At it's head was a cylindrical hole that lead in to the inner parts of the machine, and judging by the way Riff held it, it was clear to be a hilt of a weapon. He held it in offering to Dax. "This will likely be taken as soon as we leave this ship." He explained. "Take it. On the slim chance that you make it out of here alive, then consider this the rest of my payment. I'd sooner you had it than the Hutts."

 

"Is this a lightsaber?" Dax asked, taking the weapon. She held it in her hand, turning it over until she saw a small button and curiosity took the lead, she held the button down. A brilliant solid amber light surged from the end of the hilt with a surprisingly loud hissing crackle which faded into a dull thrum. "Slim chance i'm making it out alive?" Dax rolled her eyes at the Jedi, "Who do you think is walking out of there, old man? The noble jedi or the smuggler? This is Nar Shaddaa not Coruscant. This is worthless to me...  So you better pay me the rest when we leave here."  Dax lifted her finger from the button and the lightsaber instantly deactivated, appearing to recede into the hilt, then she stowed it and returned to Riff with an irritable sigh.

"It's me they want." Riff replied stoically. "If you cooperate then they might let you go. Hutts are greedy and cruel, but much smarter than they are given credit for. Nations have crumbled and fell countless times, and the Hutt Cartels have always managed to keep afloat. Play your cards right and they'll see your worth, letting you leave unharmed might be considered a good investment."

"This ain't my first rodeo, old man." Dax retorted, "I'm sure she'll be pleased to see me again."  She flashed Riff a devilish grin and opened the hatch and lowered the walkway onto the docking bay.

 

In a single graceful motion Riff pulled his hood back over his head and tucked his hands in to the sleeves of his robes. He moved quickly down the walkway, his head bowed and his pace steady, calm and non-threatening. It was a motion practiced over the course of his life, that had become natural to him. Jedi considered themselves peacekeepers, a notion Riff himself had found a little inaccurate. Underneath the loose fitting robes, he was a toned, strong man. Warrior was a better term for who he was, but he had been running for many years now. The sagely robes were his disguise, he found it much easier to move around as a kindly, harmless man. This particular situation was far from average, and when he looked to his future he saw that it was cloudy at best. He had to be patient. 

 

He stopped short of the well armed Gamorrean entourage that stood in formation, protecting their master who was a few yards behind. Veshka the Hutt was a large creature, her olive green skin covered in wrinkles and boils. A pair of large, frog-like eyes sat in the centre of a fat, shapeless head, with a thin and wide mouth underneath. She moved slowly along on her tailed body. Not that Hutts couldn't be quick. Riff lifted his head very slightly to meet her gaze, and she returned his while uttering something in Huttese.

Dax noticed the lack of understanding on the Jedi's face, so she translated, "She says she is at our service, which is a load of rubbish. Last time she tried to--" 
Veshka spoke once more, she sounded irritable. Whatever she'd said clearly annoyed Dax because she replied in Huttese and the two of them seemed to argue until Veshka rose her voice and Dax fell quiet. Veshka spoke again and pushed Dax when she remained silent, pointing at Riff.
"She wants to know where your rebel friends are. "
 
Riff furrowed his brow at the request. "Tell her..." he said, choosing his words carefully, "...Tell her I have no idea what she means. But assure her, that even if I did know, I would not tell her."
Dax replied, speaking directly to Riff, as Veshka, "Jedi are clever. But no need to become my enemy, Riff Suthra." Veshka followed her statement with a rumbling laugh that sounded like she was half-choking on her own spit.
"I mean no harm to anyone." Riff replied directly to Veshka, lifting his head a little more so she could see his face. "But I have already told you, I don't know what you are talking about. It has been a very long time since I had any dealings with the military, I assure you."
"You are not aligned with the rebels?" Veshka asked, she stroked one of her chins in contemplation. "Why are you here?"
"You know what I am." Riff said plainly. "The Core Worlds aren't safe for me. I move around the Outer Rim and Hutt Space, never stay in one place for too long. Keeping a low profile, I'm sure you understand."
"A law-abiding citizen like me?" Dax replied for Veshka, but licked the inside of her cheek in irritation. "Speaking plainly, Jedi...  you have brought a great deal of trouble in your wake. I don't like it when my business is interrupted."

 

"Apologies" Riff said with a nod. "I have no desire to be detected. I'm assuming that is what has happened, however. How can I fix it? Everything can always be negotiated, can it not?"

Veshka said something but Dax didn't translate. Footsteps approached, Veshka slithered to one side and a man in dark blue Mandalorian armor, complete with helmet and jet pack. 
"She said," The bounty hunter explained, "I found a bug planted on your ship, it belongs to the Empire." He showed the little device in his palm, then crushed it. Though at this point it was little more than an empty gesture.
"...This is my fault." Riff said, bowing his head. "I shouldn't have come. Do what you must, but please...let the Captain go. She didn't know."
 
"It's true, it's entirely his fault." Dax added. Veshka said something to the bounty hunter and Dax tried to reach for her blaster but the Mandalorian only needed to raise his arm. 
"Feel like getting a tan?" He asked, his voice tinny through his helmet. 
"Considering it." Dax snarled, half frozen. Veshka laughed and said something that sounded suspiciously derogatory and then began to slither away. 
"You're coming with me. You're both guests of the Hutt." Dax felt a blaster press into her back. They were surrounded. As they walked Dax muttered to Riff, "Still happy you left your light stick behind, old man?"
 
"Do you believe my lightsaber is what makes me strong?" Riff replied, and he extended his arms outwards in a gesture of submission. "Do what you must, Mandalorian. I will not struggle."
"I think it would help." Dax muttered. 
"Quiet, both of you." The Mandalorian interrupted.
Riff allowed himself to be restrained, and Dax as well, with perhaps a little more struggling. And the two were carried away by the Mandalorian. As he was walked further in to the facility, Riff could feel the dark side closing in around them. The Empire would be upon them eventually. Yet as he looked at Dax, and saw the fight in her, he felt also a glimmer of hope. Hope he had no felt in many years. 

 

======

 

Deep within the vast cityscape of Nar Shaddaa, in a dark room lit only be the glowing lights and screens of computers, a little astromech droid with old, maroon painted metal, sat quietly, it's probe connected to one of the computers, slowly spinning around gathering the constant stream of data. Suddenly the little droid sprung to life, the lights on it's chassis blinking softly before staying on. It made a whistling noise to itself, as it removed the probe and backed up on it's treads. Whistling and beeping again it rolled off out of the room and up the long corridor, and then up the ramp that lead to Dusty Wompa, a cantina. Energetic pipe music played in the room as the droid rolled across it, dodging and weaving through the various patrons until finally it bumped against a nearby barstool, rousing the attention of the person sitting on it. 

 

"D-7..." The young man said as he looked down at the droid. He was a Zabrak with pale skin, and dark markings around his yellow eyes. Instead of hair, his head was adorned with short, curved horns. He was dressed in red leather trousers and black boots, with a dark brown pilots jacket over him. "...What's all the fuss about?" The droid whistled again in response, and the Zabrak's eyes widened in response. "Are you sure?" He asked. The droid beeped in a way that sounded a little irritable. "All right, all right." the Zabrak said with a nod. He got up from the bar stool and looked across the Cantina until he caught the eyes of two other figures. A young human girl, no older than 16, with a heavily freckled face and red hair, and a pair of goggles hiding her eyes. Sitting next to her was an enormous furry creature. The Wookie gave a pleasant rumbling cry across the Cantina, and the Zabrak waved his hand, urging them to follow. 

 

The trio followed D7 back down to the dark computer room, closing the blast door behind them as they all sat around the cramped room. The young girl was the first to speak. 

"What's going on, Calen?" She asked. 

"D7 picked up an odd signal." The Zabrak, Calen, explained. "Show them, D7." The droid gave another whistle and then sent it's probe back in to the computer. The speakers in the room crackled for a moment, and then gave out a static sound. The Wookie gave an annoyed growl and Calen frowned. "Quiet, Shoraddik. Listen closely..." he said. Shoraddik give a little huff and fell silent again. 

"Oh...I hear it!" The girl said with a smile. "Hidden in the static...it's a signal, right?" She asked. 

"That's right, Ami." Calen said with a nod. "It's hidden in the ambient frequencies. It's an old trick used by the Republic to send secret messages."

"The Republic!? Really?" Ami said with a grin. "You mean...someone that could help us?"

 

"I'm not sure...but the signal doesn't say anything as far as I can tell." Calen said. "But we can track it back to the source. D7, if you please." The astromech beeped and whistled, and then fell silent for a brief moment. A light shone out from it, and the light projected cool, blue shapes in to the air around them. A hologram of the surrounding area of Nar Shaddaa appeared, and a red dot flashed at a location within the nestled hub of buildings. Shoraddik roared again in outrage, and Calen gave a heavy sigh. 

"That's Veshka's hangar, right?" Ami said. "But she's been helping the alliance bring in refugees...we haven't had any in months."

"I think we have, Ami..." Calen said, his voice sounding angry, and a little choked up. "months...how many has she hidden from us?" Shoraddik gave another reverberating growl. 

"Yeah, you're damn right we're going to do something about it." Calen said. "Spread the word, we're going to stop that low-down gangster...and save those people!"

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Her eyes scanned over the small cell which was just long enough to accommodate a ratty old bed and a bucket with room enough to pace beside the bunk. Dax didn't dare touch the energy wall that kept her inside, she'd made that mistake once already and it had given her a bad enough shock to put her on her back. She knew the Jedi had been put in the cell beside her own, but she couldn't see him. Nor could she hear him. She wondered what he was doing. After a few minutes of frustrated silence Dax picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it against the wall, making a sharp clatter.

"Hey, what are you doing over there?!" She asked, calling out to the silence.

"Meditating." Riff replied after a long pause. "Or at least trying to. Your nervous pacing is a little distracting."
"I'm not nervous!" She yelled back, "I'm pacing... thoughtfully." She growled at the wall, "At least i'm thinking of a way out... why don't you use some that Jedi magic to get us out of here, huh?!" Dax looked out the front of her cell, at the far side of the room she could see the Mandalorian talking with a pair of guards. "Hey, you hear me?!" She said in as loud a whisper to Riff she thought she could get away with.

 

"I thought you didn't believe in The Force?" Riff said, sounding a little amused. "Now is not the time, not yet. If we wish to leave with our lives then we must be patient, and wait for an opportunity. Why don't you start exercising your brain instead of your legs."
"Listen, you..." Dax felt like banging her fist against the wall in lieu of Riff's head, but that wouldn't help, "The Force might be a load of nonsense, but i'll take anything over spending my final hours in a dirty cell next to a crazy old monk!" She punched the wall regardless, and immediately regretted it. 

"If you wish to rely on The Force to solve your problems, then you have to ask it." Riff explained. "That is why the Jedi meditate, to communicate with The Force, to search for answers."

"I'm not the meditating type, old man." Dax replied, intending to follow up. However, as the Mandalorian passed her cell, she caught wind of the conversation he was having with the guards, choosing to listen in silence instead.

"I'll be back shortly," The bounty hunter stopped at her cell as the guards tried to keep pace. He turned and looked into her cell, studying her for a long time, she opened her mouth to speak when he pointed to the cell next to her own, "Keep your eye on that one, but don't listen to anything he says. He's a Jedi, he can manipulate your mind, so watch each other for signs and if he starts waving his hand around like this," The Mandalorian moved his hand from side to side, "Turn the energy barrier up so high it'll cook him. Understand?" Then he was gone. 

After a short period of silence Dax let out a long breathe she'd been holding and leant against her cell wall, "So, what are you asking the Force to do exactly?" She asked, her tone cautiously curious. 

There was another long pause before Riff spoke again. "Meditation is a practice to clear our minds, to be honest with ourselves, and reach a deeper connection with The Force. It is not a conversation in any literal sense. I do not ask The Force anything, I allow myself to connect with it, and answers tend to follow. It takes time, and the answers are rarely the ones you seek."

"Yeah, that's about the answer I was expecting to hear." Dax replied in a deflated tone. She sat back on her bunk and shook her head, "I don't want to die here..." She growled, and kicked the wall in frustration. Something grabbed her attention. She heard the sound of something hitting the floor on the other side of her cell wall. Dax stood up and walked up to the wall connecting their cells. Tracing her hand across the wall she found a small hole and pushed, some of the old stone fell away and she immediately withdrew her hand and thought for a moment.
"Hey!" She whispered, and hissed at him. She could see him kneeling on the other side of the wall, "Don't get up. Just listen, I think another good kick and I can knock this wall in. That bounty hunter said if you tried to mess with the guards they could cook your cell. Probably explains why the cell walls are so damaged... but look, if you freak them out, I can knock this wall down and pull you in when they set the energy barrier to high, we'll be able to escape." She paused, excitement taking hold, "They haven't used individual generators for the cells, probably trying to cut costs. When that cell gets overcharged I think my barrier won't be much worse than getting stung by a Kirillian beetle. It'll hurt, for sure, but we'll be out."

 

"And then what? Get ourselves blown to bits by blaster fire?" Riff replied, shaking his head. "There are only two of us, and a cell breach will alert every guard in this facility." Riff closed his eyes in contemplation. He understood Dax's frustration, and her desire to do something. But recklessness was not the answer. He took a deep breath, and stilled himself. He allowed his senses to stretch out beyond his physical body, connecting with The Force that was all around them. In that moment he saw it. Hope had arrived, and now was the time to act. 
"Okay." He said aloud. "Let's try it your way." He stood up from the cold floor and stepped closer to the energy field that blocked his exit. The guard posted nearby took notice of his sudden activity and came to stand in front of his cell, blaster rifle ready to fire. 
"Get back!" The guard barked. "Don't try any funny stuff!"
"You are right, I am very dangerous." Riff said monotonously, making only the most subtle of gestures with his fingers. "You should increase the output of this energy field, to ensure your own safety, of course."
"You... you are dangerous!" The guard said with a nod. He went over to the panel and increased the energy field, making it so harsh that Riff had to stand back a little. He turned his head just a fraction to look back at the wall that Dax stood behind. "Well?"
 
"I'm trying!" Dax shouted back over the sound of the energy barrier's whine as it grew hotter and hotter. Dax smashed her boot into the wall for a third time but it still wasn't down. The wall was a lot more solid than she'd anticipated. She pushed herself up against her cell wall, surged forwards and kicked a fourth and final time. As the wall fell in, a blast of heat rushed over her and Riff collided with her. "Hey!!" She growled, trying to pull herself up. "Come on!!" She grabbed Riff's shoulder - which was uncomfortably hot to the touch - and ran for her barrier. The guards yelped as her body pierced the barrier and it failed as they fell through to the other side. Dax kept running and collided with the closest guard, knocking him to his back. She punched him hard enough to knock him out, and grabbed his weapon just as she felt a blaster touch the back of her neck. Then suddenly it was gone. She stood up and turned around to face Riff.
"Well... thanks." She muttered, looking at the other guard on the floor. "Here," She threw the blaster to Riff and picked up the other one on the floor, "It's not a light stick, but it'll do, right?" She grinned at him and started up the stairs into the main compound.
"Yes, I have used one before." Riff said as he inspected the blaster. "Did you know we Jedi can also fly starships too? We also know how to wear shoes." He rolled his eyes. "Come, we have to move. Our allies won't make it this far, we need to go to them."
"Already ahead of you old man!" Dax called back over her shoulder, reaching the top of the stairs. She had to dodge to one side as several bolts of laser fire hit the walls around her, she quickly returned fire and two of Veshka's guards hit the dirt. "Allies?!" She yelled over all the commotion, Veshka's house seemed to be in turmoil. Blaster fire rang out in every direction and guards were running around in a panic. "I didn't know you even had any allies!!" Dax yelled, and just then a large ship flew into the hangar and started firing upon the gun encampments. "I stand corrected!!"
 
"Neither did I." Riff replied loudly over blaster fire. "I might have mislead you earlier! My lightsaber, I hid an old signal beacon inside it. It's been sending out an old Republic signal this entire time. It was just a gamble but... it appears to have paid off."
"A Republic signal?!" Dax frowned, but quickly dived for a crate as a laser shot narrowly by, "Republic, Rebels, Sith, Jedi?!" Dax yelled out the names one after another with an incredulous anger and then quickly peeked over the crate, fired a few shots, downing several more guards before she ducked behind cover once more. The ship came to land and she peeked out just long enough to see a large Wookie of all things, charging down the gantry and ploughing through several unprepared guards before opening fire on several more with a bowcaster.
"Ooooh, great!!" Dax yelled, "I'm being saved by a bunch of furballs!" She fired into a crowd of guards, making them scatter.
"Get to the ship, quickly!" Riff yelled as he sprinted forwards. He lifted his blaster and sent a bolt through the air, whipping past enemy guards, before searing in to the console next to the blast doors they were filing out from. The doors sparked and then fell down, cutting off the enemies access point.

"I'm not leaving my ship behind!" Dax yelled back, and started running while trying to keep her head low.
Riff didn't reply but pushed onward. Blaster fire whipped past his head and instinct kicked in. He held up his free hand and an unseen force shot forwards, knocking the guards ahead of them off their feet and sending them crashing backwards along the hangar. He heard the Wookie roar over the noise of the assault and turned back. A young Zabrak had joined him and they were looking directly at Riff, and the Zabrak's expression was one of awe. 
"We can't leave them!" Riff called to Dax. "The Empire are tracking your ship. We'll stand a better chance leaving with them."
"The hell with that i'm getting my ship!" Dax roared back as she ran towards her pride and joy. She couldn't help but be confused and impressed by the strange power that Riff seemed to wield effortlessly. She still wasn't sure she believed in The Force, but then, she'd seen stranger things in the galaxy. So maybe those tall tales she'd heard growing up weren't quite as mythical as she'd been made believe? Not now, she reminded herself. She had to get to her ship. Forget everything else, she was leaving here in one piece, she was leaving here with her goods, her money, her ship and her life. Screw the rest.

Dashing up her ship's gantry, Dax disappeared inside. She ran straight for the cockpit, slammed into her chair and swivelled it around. Her fingers flew over the suite of buttons without hesitation as her engines purred to life. Her hands grasped the controls, and she was ready to leave. But she hesitated. Her breathing quickened, and she looked down at the control panel. For a moment, that seemed like an eternity, she was frozen. Then laser fire pushed her into making a decision.
"Dammit!" Dax snarled, her chair swivelled back around, and she ran for the exit, grabbing what she could, cursing all the way. A minute later she emerged sprinting from her ship and met back up with Riff. She saw the expression on his face and shook her head.
"Forgot this." She held up Riff's lightsaber, but then shoved it into her belt, "I'm hanging onto it for now, you still owe me, remember?!" She looked over Riff's shoulder to see the Wookie had stopped firing and was looking at Dax quizzically.
"What are you lookin' at, Furball?!" Dax growled. The Wookie, Shoraddik, let out a series of short rumbling calls. Even if nobody spoke Wookie, they could tell that what he had said was something quite unpleasant indeed. 
"Shoraddik, watch your mouth!" the Zabrak yelled over the blaster fire. "And you, stop pissing off your rescue party, got it, hot shot?" He added, looking at Dax. "I'm Calen, this is Shoraddik. You'll get a more formal introduction later, we need to move!"
"You'll be my rescuer when you actually get us off this rock!" Dax yelled back to Calen. A heavy rumbling sound brought the firing to an abrupt halt, on all sides. Dax looked up to the sky, and from out of the clouds, like an arrow piercing the sky, came an Imperial Destroyer. "I'm gonna take a guess and say that's Baal's ship!" Dax ran up into Calen's ship without so much as another complaint.

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As soon as Dax had reached the top of the walkway, Calen and Shoraddik followed her up, and finally Riff began to walk up. However, in that moment he felt a horrible sensation rise up in his chest. He turned around and held out his blaster to fire, but before he had pulled the trigger the pistol had exploded in a shower of sparks and flew from his hand. Across the hangar from Riff, the Mandalorian stood with his blaster pistol drawn, steely and confident, his face masked by the helmet he wore. 

"Get on, quickly!" Calen yelled at him. Riff shook his head. 

"He won't let that happen." He said, and then he lifted his hand in a simple gesture, and his lightsaber flew from it's position on Dax's belt, and landed softly in his hand. "Sorry, I need this right now." He said as he stepped off the walkway. "Calen, get this ship moving."

"Are you crazy!?" Calen yelled as he let off a round of blaster fire from his rifle, towards the Mandalorian, who moved effortlessly away from the trajectory. 

 

"Trust me." Riff said finally, and then there was a hissing rush as his lightsaber ignited, a burning amber blade humming with power. He walked forward with a purposeful stride, holding his lightsaber in front of him in both hands. The Mandalorian let of a barrage of laser bolts, but Riff moved his lightsaber with expert precision, deflecting the bolts back across the hangar as he steadily began to close the gap. As he drew closer, his deflected blasts became more precise, and the Mandalorian caught a blast to the shoulder, and ran to the left. Riff broke in to a sprint, chasing him down with alarming speed. He was faster than the Mandalorian in his heavy armor, and as he reached him he brought his saber down, but the Mandalorian nimbly sidestepped it, Riff dragged the saber back up in a horizontal slash, and the Mandalorain leaned back, narrowly avoiding a cut to the chest, before he exploded in to the air, propelled by a jetpack. He turned in the air and pointed his wrist at riff, and took aim. 3 heat seeking missiles shot out from his armour, and came hurtling towards Riff. 

 

With a push of his free hand he sent the first spiralling off course with The Force, but the other two kept coming. At the last moment he leaped into the air, amplified by the force he reached a great height, but the blast of the missiles forced him backwards, sending him crashing across the smooth hangar floor in a heap. As he began to get up he heard the whooshing noise of the Mandalorian's jetpack, and then the tap of feet hitting the ground. Riff got up, and realised he had dropped his lightsaber during the fall. He turned around to search for it, but found the Mandalorain holding his blaster, only a few yards away. 

"Give it up, Jedi." The Mandalorian said, "You're worth more to me alive, but don't think I won't cook you if I need to."

 

"I'm afraid I can't do that." Riff replied. "But I'll give you a fair opportunity to walk away."

"Didn't know Jedi told jokes." The Mandalorian replied. "Take a look around, even if I let you go you're not getting past that blockade."

"You didn't think I'd get out of my cell either." Riff said in an amused tone. 

"Enough talk." The Mandalorian said, gripping his blaster tightly. "Your time is up."

 

---

 

Meanwhile Calen was rushing through the corridor of his ship with Dax and Shoraddik in tow. "Ami!" He roared as he reached the bridge, "We need this bird in the air, now!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm already on it" The pint-sized pilot replied, her head barely reaching over the headrest of her chair. "Who's the green chick?"

"Who's the pint-sized pink punk?" Dax raised an eyebrow at the young girl.
"Name's Ami, and I'll be the one escorting you through that blockade the imps are setting up." Ami replied without turning to face Dax. "So is all of our cargo on board?"
"No, we're still waiting on someone. He's tangling with a Mandalorian outside." Calen explained
"Bucket heads..." Ami muttered. "Well what are you waiting for? Get on the main gun, I'll turn this baby around and give him a work out."
 
"On it." Calen said, as he disappeared down the corridor. 
"Okay Hotshot, you want to be useful? Take that console over there." Ami said, pointing directly to her right. "Good as I am, and I am good, Rogue took a bit of damage coming in here. You know the systems of a VCX-100 Light freighter?"
"I will in five minutes." Dax ran to the console. "What do you need me to do?"
"I'll need you to know it in three." Ami replied, "Rogue is an old pile of junk, but we've made some modifications. Baffled engines, energy dampeners, static jammers, and a combat retrofit. Our hull took a beating getting in here. I need constant diagnostic sweeps, we make a wrong move and we'll be in the dirt. D7 is surveilling imp comms frequencies, he'll let you know what they're up to."
 
D7, the astromech, was in the corner of the room currently probing a small port. After hearing his name the droid gave a little beep of approval and carried on. 
"Wonderful. I've gone from ship Captain to assisting a droid." Dax came to grips with the systems in a matter of moments, "D7 can you tell me why the scanners say we have an imperial fighter directly behind us?"
"Oh, whoops." Ami said, and she beat her fist down on the console in front of her. "There, fixed. It does that sometimes. Now hold on to your metaphorical hats!" Ami pushed the two levers in front of her forward, flicked a couple of switches and then ship came to life with a light, silent hum. After a moment the ship rose up in to the air and hovered in place. "All right Calen!" Ami said in to the comms, "Get that gun ready, now!"
 
---
 
Just before the Mandalorian opened fire, he turned at the sound of the Rogue rising in to the air. The freighter slowly turned on the spot, until it was facing the Mandalorian. The top of the ship opened up and a rotating turret popped out, with Calen at the helm. Red bolts shot out of the ship's cannons, and the lasers blasted along the ground, blowing up crates along the way, and the Mandalorian fled further in to the hangar. Riff saw his opportunity and ran towards the ship, a hail of blaster bolts flying over his head as the Mandalorian opened fire, with more of the guards coming to his aide. The Rogue turned back around, until it's walkway was facing him. The ship began to rise in to the air and Riff leapt up on to the walkway as it rose. He turned around to see the Mandalorian staring as the walkway slowly began to close. Then at the last moment, Riff saw it. His lightsaber was lying on the floor of the hangar a few yards away. He took a deep breath and reached out his hand, and the lightsaber flew to him, just as the door of the Rogue closed shut. 
 
Riff made his way to the bridge to see Dax and Ami, and the droid D7. 
"Introductions later, laserbrain!" Ami yelled before he had a chance to speak. "Hold on to your butts!" Then the ship lurched forward as it shot out of the hangar like a bat out of hell, flying low over the buildings of Nar Shaddaa. Shoraddik and Calen entered the room behind him. 
"Glad you made it." Calen said with a smile. "Let's get out of here."
"We'll never make it through that blockade." Riff said. 
 
"Well, duh." Ami said from her chair. "We're not going through the blockade. We're staying right here on Nar Shaddaa."
"What? They'll track us down!" Riff protested. 
"Chill out old man." Ami said. "We'll lose them through the city, and let Rogue's tech take care of the rest. Our static jammers are top notch. We can even replicate solar fluctation signals if we need to. But if we lose them and lay low, we can scramble our frequency, and then we'll just look like any other freighter on their scanners. Easy, right?"
"I...well that is quite impressive." Riff admitted. Then he tossed his lightsaber back at Dax. "Promise is a promise."
 
"True. I promise the next time you take that from me will be the last time you touch anything again." Dax snarled at Riff almost like a feral beast then returned her attention to the console. Riff shook his head, but a hint of a smile spread across his face. 
"So what's going on? What are you two doing on Nar Shaddaa?" Calen asked . 
"Bit of a misunderstanding to tell the truth." Riff replied. "Or a series of misunderstandings."
"You sent out a Republic distress signal, and The Empire is after you, and...well you're a Jedi. Don't pretend this wasn't your intention." Calen said
 
"Calen..." Riff said with a soft sigh. "Let me guess, ex-military?"
"Republic Commando." Calen confirmed. "I served on Correllia, until the end of the war at least."
"Well, Calen." Riff continued. "I'm not a soldier. I appreciate the assistance, but I don't want you getting any ideas."
"The hell you're not!" Calen snapped. "I know who you are, General."
 
"General?" Dax pulled herself from the console and almost felt like checking her hearing.
"That...was a long time ago." Riff said, his gaze falling to the floor. "It wasn't uncommon for Jedi Knights to lead forces as Generals. A formality, really."
"With all due respect..." Calen said. "You're General Riff Suthra. Your efforts let Republic Troopers drop boots on Balmorra. You set the Imps plans back by 5 years."
"I delayed the inevitable." Riff said. "And got a lot of men and women killed in the process."
 
"Jedi and a General...? Well, doesn't surprise me. He's almost gotten me killed a half dozen times today and its not even dinner time yet." Dax smirked at Riff and hopped up onto a console. Just as she did, D7 let out a whoop of distress and Ami slammed her fist on her console.
"Karabast!" She exclaimed, "We've got a couple of bogeys on our tail."
"TIE fighters..." Calen said as the horrendous wailing sound of their engines grew louder. 
"I prefer to call them 'target practice'." Ami said. "I can't lose a fighter in this ship. Shora, on the back gun. Calen, main gun."
"Is she in charge?" Riff asked. 
 
"No, I'm in charge." Calen said. "...bt she's right, I need to get up on the main gun." He added before running off down the ship. 
"We're not going to shake them on our own." Ami said frustratedly. "There's a shuttle attached in the back. It's been combat retrofitted with front facing artillery, and it can keep up with a TIE."
"Well I'm not pilot." Riff said, scratching his head. 
"Good, you can take over for Dax. She's rubbish as a co-pilot anyway." Ami said, before turning to Dax. "If you can fly, and you can shoot, then get in that shuttle and show those Imps how it's done."

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"Fly and shoot?" A wry smile spread across Dax's lips, and danced across her eyes, "I'll see what I can do." Dax ran to the back of the ship, dodging the crew with deft agility. She stepped down onto a ladder and lowered herself through the docking connector into the plucky little fighter. It was so small she had to pull herself into the pilot seat and awkwardly jam her legs into what little space was left. "Was this made for a Toydarian or what?!" She grunted, shoving herself down as far as she could and grabbing the helmet set to one side. She slipped it on and pulled the mask over her face and immediately felt right at home. Her fingers flew over the instruments, in a ship she barely knew, this still came naturally to her. She didn't need to know what she was pressing. She just knew what to do, she couldn't explain it.

The ship hummed with power, and lurched but didn't decouple from the main ship. "Fantastic." She muttered, "Who designed this thing..." She held onto the side of her cockpit as the ship rumbled hard enough that it felt like it was going to shake itself loose. A head's up display blinked into life, and she heard quiet static mixed with the sound of laser fire.

"Oh uh, hello?" She said out loud, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, hello!" Ami's voice crackled through the comms. "You want to have a chat or can you get back to zapping those imps?"
"I can do both..." Dax replied, her tone a little combative. Then she decoupled the fighter from the main ship and pushed the engines as hard as they would go. The fighter roared out from the ship, and two TIE fighters scattered in surprise as she threaded the space between them, came around and opened fire. A smattering of laser fire ripped through the air and destroyed both Imperial fighters. There was still several dozen more to go.
"So, what's the plan here exactly?!" She asked, rolling her ship as a barrage of lasers flew over her left wing.

 

"Keep those bucket heads off of our ship!" Ami said through the Comm. "Shora and Calen are on our guns, but the energy dampeners weaken our shields. Keep them focused on you and we'll back you up."
"Right, so i'll just paint a big target on my ship, then." Dax replied, "Gotcha!" Then she whirled the ship around, narrowly avoiding several TIE fighters that had been trying to lock onto her, losing all but one of them. The final ship turned and followed her back towards the imperial destroyer. "Yeah thats right slick, i'm right here..." She checked to make sure the TIE fighter was still following her. She got just close enough, the Imperial Destroyer fired upon her, and she banked to one side in the nick of time, sending the laser volley meant for her directly into the TIE fighter on her tail. In seconds, there was a sudden shift in the tactics of the TIE fighters, they stopped focusing on the main ship and turned their attention to Dax's little fighter. They'd obviously received a kill command after they'd destroyed their own ship due to her tactics.
"Alright, that's fine, that's what I wanted--" Suddenly a laser blast struck the side of her ship and Dax grunted as she tried to wrestle back control from her ship, sirens blared inside the cockpit and she deactivated them quickly. Dax looked out the side of her ship and saw something that looked like a gas. "Great! I'm leaking oxygen!!" And moments after saying it the fighter's on-board computer confirmed it.

"Oxygen reserves at 22% and falling." 
"I'm going to cut a path through this blockade!!" Dax told the crew of the Rogue and turned her ship back towards the mass of TIE fighters flying rapidly towards her.

 

"What are you doing laserbrain!? We're supposed to be flying away from the blockade!" Ami yelled over the comms. "I hope you know what you're doing..."

"Dammit..." Dax cursed, as she heard the computer proclaim she had fourteen percent air remaining. Every part of her screamed to lead the charge through the blockade and leave Nar Shaddaa. She didn't want to be there. She felt like a rat trapped in a cage, even if the cage was a planet. But as much as she hated to admit it, Ami was right. Biting her lip, Dax fired a final volley across the TIE fighters opposing her and fell back towards the planet. She could hear the scream of the TIE fighters in hot pursuit.
"Y'know what, I changed my mind." Dax said aloud to the crew, the computer notified her of eight percent remaining oxygen. "No particular reason." Dax added sheepishly, then she carefully aligned her fighter with the freighter ship and managed to dock while both ships were moving at speed - no small feat. The docking clamps engaged and Dax let out a long sigh. She deactivated the comm with a scowl.

"This close..." She grumbled, pulling herself out of the cockpit.

 

"Nice flying, hotshot." Ami said as Dax entered the cockpit again. "But I think I'll take care of the piloting from now on..." 
"Are you alright?" Riff asked.
"I'm pissed off!" Dax growled, throwing herself into a seat, she put her feet up on the adjacent table and rubbed her face. "There's too many of them, our ship isn't powerful enough to push through. I just thought..." She trailed off, shaking her head.
"It seemed more like you didn't think at all." Riff said. "I understand. It's easy to take risks when you're just out for yourself." Riff turned to Ami and D7 who were busy piloting the ship. "But these people aren't thinking about themselves."
"I wasn't thinking about myself!" Dax snarled back at Riff, "I just usually have good instincts, I get this feeling... I was wrong, is all." Dax sank lower into her chair, hoping it would swallow her up. The sound of the TIE fighters closing in on them however pulled her from her malaise. "Are we going to get out of here or what?!" She yelled to Ami. 
 
"Might have been a little faster if we hadn't taken a detour around the Imperial Destroyer!" Ami retorted, and then the Rogue suddenly fell in to a steep dive, spinning as it hurtled towards the city. With another sudden sweeping motion Ami directed the Rogue in to the busy traffic of the city skies, speeders and cruisers frightfully pulling out of her way. Another speeder was coming right for the cockpit, but then the Rogue made another last minute dive, and the engines groaned as Ami struggled to pull it back to a level position, and turning through a tight alley between two skyscrapers, the ship moving along on its side through the space.
"You're almost as good as me." Dax grinned at Ami then turned her attention to the forward view-screen and wondered what it would take for them to disappear. "Where are you gonna take us?" She asked, watching Ami work feverishly to control the ship.
 
"We've got hideouts all over Nar Shaddaa." Ami explained. "But first we've got to make sure the Imps don't follow us." Ami directed the ship in to the depths of the city, until all the Neon disappeared above them, and finally she docked the ship on to the side of a building, shrouded in darkness.
"D7 initiate the signal jammers. Energy dampener on full capacity." She ordered and the little droid got to work without complaint. A blueprint image of the ship appeared on her console, with text next to it stating: ID 26478QT Designation = Guernsback. The droid gave a little whistle and Ami leaned back in her chair. "And now we wait while the ship scans for a new ID."
"Fantastic." Dax let out a breath and looked up at the ceiling of the ship, imagining the dozens of TIE fighters searching for them at this very moment, and the Imperial Destroyer casting a shadow over Nar Shaddaa. "So what's the plan from here? We're going to have to leave at some point, y'know?" 
"Yup.... and..." Ami waited a moment, and then the image on her console suddenly changed to read: ID 64482ZH Designation = Hildegard. "And now we can just fly free. See, no problem!"
"Well that's something at least..." Dax scowled, wondering if Ami's ship really had a foolproof method for disappearing from something as big as an imperial destroyer. That being said, there had been no laser fire in their direction for a while now. In fact, there hadn't even been the whine of a TIE fighter passing overhead.
 
 

 
 
"General, would you mind explaining to me why their ship has just vanished from our sensors?" Baal thought it was a reasonable question. The Imperial Star Destroyer was a titan of modern ship technology. It had a multitude of scanners that could detect just about anything. So how had a little beaten up ship with a rudderless ragtag group of rebels managed to evade them? He was being quite reasonable. But the General didn't seem to agree. Baal watched as the General fell to his knees, but his subordinates dared not help him, despite the General's clutching hand grasping for them. They watched in horror, as the man's face turned grey and his eyes panicked until they rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed.
"Unpleasant business." Baal stepped over the General's body and looked at the view-screen of one of the bridge officers. "Do you mind?" He asked politely, and the man hurriedly vacated his seat. Baal leant over and touched his hand to the screen and concentrated. 

"I sense something..." He whispered. His eyes searching for something that didn't exist, while his force training slowly built an image of the city of Nar Shaddaa. He could see the outlines of buildings rising up before him, the traffic of the city scurrying about like insects. He could sense the pilots of his TIE fighters, for the fear they felt in failing to find the ship. But there was something else. Something...
"... familiar." He said at last. Then he saw it. The ship docked on the side of the building carried an unusual passenger. No, he corrected himself. There were two that were guided by the force. One far stronger than the other. But two all the same. The weaker of the two was the girl he had met on the ship. He knew that. But the other? He was unsure. Yet it felt familiar all the same. Had that presence always been on the ship? Had he really been so blind as to confuse the girl's force sensitivity for the other? No, she was powerful in the force, despite being untrained. But the other was a master to have hidden himself so expertly from him until now. Something nagged at him, but he had no time to question it. He had to answer the communication.
 
Baal signalled for the communication channel to be opened, and the entire deck was bathed in dark blue light. A figure cloaked in black suddenly appeared at the end of the room. He looked over them then slowly approached Baal. Despite being a hologram, Baal fell to one knee before it.
"Master..." He lowered his head. 
The man in black hid his face from the light of his room, only showing the bottom half of his features. His skin was the colour of blood, and he had a dual horn-like growth sprouting from his chin. He might have been in his fifties, but it was difficult to tell. His presence immediately humbled everyone in the room, including Baal. 
"Your assistance is required at Konda Base Six, Lord Baal." His voice was quiet, almost a whisper, yet it was all that was needed. Everyone in the room listened intently, and at this man's word, the bridge became a hive of activity as they readied the imperial destroyer for hyperspace.
"Master, i've sensed a disturbance in the force... I feel a connection to our enemy I do not fully understand." For a few moments the man was silent, he looked around the bridge once more, noting the activity with quiet contemplation. Then he spoke, every word was chosen with surgical precision.
"Return to Konda Base Six, my apprentice. Disobedience is ill-advised." 

The hologram faded, and the room returned to normal. Baal stood back to his full height and remained stationary for a moment, he touched his gloved hand to his mask in thought, then turned his attention to the crew. "What are you doing?" He asked of the room. Every officer present stopped immediately, without question. "My orders stand, continue scanning for their ship. I will not give them opportunity to leave because this battleship has afforded them a gap in our blockade. I will take my personal shuttle. I will return in two days." He looked over the room one last time, and pointed at the nearest officer, "You. Consider yourself promoted to the rank of General. Do not disappoint me." With that, Baal left the room, and the newly-appointed General looked to his predecessor with morbid resignation.

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As the night began to settle the Rogue hummed quietly through the low levels of Nar Shaddaa, away from the crowded streets, it passed through the dark and forgotten passageways, before finally dropping down in to a large tunnel. Local vermin scattered from the tunnels as the ship's lights scanned the interior of the pipelines, pushing forward silently and gracefully. After following the pipeline for a few miles, the ship pulled in to an intersecting pipe and began to descend until it finally landed, and the walkway extended outwards from the back. Ami was the first to disembark, moving swiftly with a blaster held at the ready in her hand. 

"C'mon Shora, you big furball, help me get the supplies." She said as the Wookie descended after her, responding with a resigned growl. The pair moved in to the smaller tunnel ahead and opened the blast door which lead in to a large warehouse, filled with crates of supplies. 

 

"What is this?" Riff asked as he stepped inside the warehouse with Dax and Calen in tow. "How has this managed to stay hidden?"

"Nar Shaddaa is sprawling, and millenia old." Calen explained, "With constant restructuring, and with ownership passing quickly from the different Cartels, there's a whole bunch of sectors that get lost along the way."

"Including us." Dax muttered, looking around the warehouse, "You remember where all this stuff is? You could get lost in here and they'd never find you..."

"We've had a lot of time to familiarize ourselves." Calen replied. "We've been at this for ten years. There used to be more of us, but..." Calen lowered his head. 

"Oh..." Dax bit the inside of her cheek and sighed, "I'm sorry."

 

"Not necessary, it was the Empire who killed them." Calen said, a bite of anger in his tone. "But they knew the risks, and they were dedicated to our cause."

"And what is your cause?" Riff asked. 

"To destroy the Empire, isn't it obvious?" Calen said. 

"Forgive me, but don't you think it a futile endeavour?" Riff said. "Three of you against an Empire that was sprawled across the galaxy like a wildfire, what hope is there in that?"

"Not a lot, sure." Calen said with a nod. "But we aren't alone."

 

Riff lifted his head at that. "So...this isn't just a rogue resistance group then?"

"Yes, and no." Calen said with a wolfish grin. "We're our own team, we don't take orders from anyone else. But...we're part of something bigger."

"You're part of something bigger? Well that's specific." Dax muttered, losing interest, "You can't win against the Empire, boys and girls. You just can't. You can run, you can hide, but as you've learnt today, just as your lost friends learnt - the Empire has already won."
"Geez, and I thought the Jedi here was a pessimist." Calen said, shaking his head. 
 
"I prefer the term realist." Riff said with a sigh. 
"Oh really?" Calen said, stopping and folding his arms across his chest. "So why did you send out that signal? Are you really so selfish that you wanted us to just come and save you, no questions asked?"
"Well I had hoped-" Riff began but Calen cut him off. 
"Hoped." He parroted. "Hope is all we have, General. But it can be a powerful thing. It saved your hide back there, you'd still be in that cell if it weren't for hope."
 
"No, we'd still be in that cell if it weren't for a couple of blasters, and a bunch of nut jobs willing to risk their lives for a signal that could have been anything or anyone." Dax corrected Calen, "That's being a realist."
"Fine, if you don't want to help then you can go." Calen said, shaking his head. "But before you do, I want you to meet someone."
"And who might that be?" Riff asked. 
"It's better if she tells you herself." Calen said. "Follow me." 
 
They walked together through the large warehouse, until they reached the other end and left through a set of blast doors. They moved through the corridor until finally they reached a room with a large console, and behind it a large, circular holonet. Calen stood at the console, typing away at keys for a moment. "We gave word that we were coming to get you. She'll have been trying to reach us no doubt."
"You've been communicating over holo?" Riff asked testily. "How can you be sure the Empire haven't been monitoring the channels?"
"We're careful." Calen said. "Or rather, she is. She provided us with the ID scrambling techniques for the Rogue, and she's been communicating with us by hacking Imperial Channels. She's truly a master...we'd be lost without her."
 
Calen opened up the channel and the holonet hummed to life. A flickering, blue image appeared before them. A woman was stood, dressed head to toe in a hooded robe that showed only the lower part of her face. "This is Valor." She said, her voice scrambled and distorted to further hide her indentity. "Rebel 8, come in Rebel 8."
"Valor this is Rebel 8." Calen replied. "We've returned from our expedition."
"And how is your cargo?" Valor asked immediately. 
"Safe." Calen said. "Party of two. A...smuggler?" Calen said, looking Dax over. "Also, someone we didn't expect. A Jedi!" 
 
Valor barely reacted, apart from her lips visibly tightening. She paused for a long moment, and then folded her arms in front of her chest. "A Jedi?" She asked. "Are you sure?"
"Positive." Calen said. "I have him here with me." He added, and he inclined his head to Riff, urging him to step forward so that he could be seen on the holo feed. Riff sighed, and begrudgingly stepped forward so that Valor could look at him. 
"You..." Valor said as she inspected him. "Can it be...?"
"It can." Riff said. "And you are?"
 
"I am Valor, and that's all you need to know for now?" She said
"We'll see about that." Riff said, unimpressed with the woman. "What do you want with me?"
"You reached out to us." Valor said. 
"I reached out to the good people around me." Riff replied testily. "I do not know you, or your intentions."
"Trustful sort, isn't he?" Valor said, looking to Calen
 
"I've had first hand experience with Watchers." Riff said. "Imperial Agents specially trained to intercept enemy cells."
"Give it up, Riff." Calen said. "Without Valor we'd have never accomplished any of this."
"That's what they do." Riff explained. "Help you, gain your trust. They allow you to succeed in small operations, and they wait until you give up something more valuable. Such as the locations of your allied cells."
"I don't trust anyone i'm not close enough to shoot." Dax scowled at the hologram.
 
"I like her." Valor said, a smirk forming across her lips. "So, Smuggler was it? Disappointing. You look capable, but we can't trust people who live for Credits."
"What makes you think either of us are interested?" Riff asked. "Before you decide whether you can trust us, you might want to try convincing us to trust you." Valor tilted her head slightly to the side, trying to assess Riff. 
"You said Watchers befriend rebel cells in order to gather further intel." She said. "Our operation works in quite the opposite way. I have all the intel, General Riff Suthra, accolades; Jedi Knight, Republic General, Watchman of Ord Mantell. Trained at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. Padawan of Jedi Master Asha Moren. I know everything about you, at least before you disappeared. I am Valor, the sole lynchpin that holds together the Rebel Alliance. I operate in this way, so that Watchers cannot infiltrate rebel cells and attempt to bring down our entire resistance."
 
Dax looked from Valor to Riff and then back again, "Y'know what? You say you can't put trust in people who live for credits, but you're cloaked and masked, on a hologram in who knows where, with a voice modulator, giving cryptic messages to thousands of people who fight and die for you every day. Where do you get off telling me how to live? People die never even knowing if they made a difference, if they could even trust you. I don't trust you." Dax put her hands on her hips and let out a quick breath, "I'll stick with the Jedi. At least the boy scout has a code."
"Oh, I really do like you." Valor said with another grin. "Perhaps I misjudged. I apologize for that. However it doesn't change anything. I can't show you who I am, because if you are captured by The Empire, then they will absolutely take that information from you. Whether you like it or not."

"Good plan." Riff said with a nod. "I hope it works well for you. But I'll be taking my leave."
"General...if you'll spare me just one more moment." Valor said, before turning to Calen. "Calen, can you take the smuggler and leave us."
"Uh...are you sure?" Calen asked. 
"Leave me with the Jedi, I may yet convince him." Valor said. 
"Then the hell with you," Dax growled, "Jump out an airlock." She muttered, as she walked off. Calen followed her out of the room and Riff turned to watch them leave. 
 
While his back was turned, the hologram of Valor removed the hood from her head, and looked down at Riff. Her skin was entirely hairless, and smooth, with only tattooed markings for eyebrows, but there were wrinkled marks around her eyes and lips. Instead of hair she had two, long tail-like lekku protruding from her head, which were clamped together with two thin braces. She smiled as she looked at him and put her hand on her hip. "She's strong in The Force, I could sense it from here." She said, and the distortion in her voice was gone. Riff spun on his heel at the sound of it, and he stared at her in utter surprise. 
"...Master!" He breathed. The Twi'lek standing before him was older than last he saw her, but she was still as beautiful as he remembered her to be. 
"Hello Riff." She said in response. "I'm glad you're alive. Surprised, I take it?"
"I thought..." Riff said, but he couldn't finish the sentence. 
 
"I'm not dead yet." Asha said. "But...it saddens me to see you like this. You've lost your way."
"I...the Order is gone, Master." Riff said. 
"Ah, so walls of stone make a Jedi then?" Asha said, raising her brow. "Look at who you are talking to. Excuses won't get you anywhere. You've turned your back on The Force."
"The Force abandoned me." Riff grumbled. "It stopped guiding me."
"In one day you have found yourself in the midst of the Rebel Alliance, and reunited with your Master. Not to mention the girl, she'd make a good Padawan, don't you think?"
"Too old." Riff said dismissively. "It can't be done, and what even makes you think I want to?"
 
"Yes, she is a bit old." Asha nodded in agreement. "But you can feel how strong she is. Without guidance...she could be a problem."
"Perhaps, but I;m dealing with that." Riff said. "I'm trying to keep her away from The Empire. I can at least do that much."
"You could do more, though." Asha said. "We're losing, Riff. We need all the help we can get."
"Well then tell me where you are." Riff said. "I'll come to you. I'll help."
"No...no, Riff." Asha said, shaking her head. "If my sources are correct, Baal's destroyer is the one chasing you. It is far too much of a risk."
 
"Baal, who is he?" Riff asked. "He seems familiar."
"I wish I knew." Asha said, shaking her head. "But you need to stay away from him. Both of you."
"I'm not training her, Master." Riff said with a tone of finality. "She doesn't even want it."
"Really? And since when were you the Master, hm?" Asha said. "Stay with her Riff. It could lead to salvation."
"I don't think she needs saving." Riff said
 
"I meant for you, Riff." Asha said. then she turned to look at something outside of the holo. "I need to go. Riff, nobody can know who I am, not even Calen. I trust them but...it's for their own safety, and the safety of the other rebels."
"I understand." Riff said. "Goodbye, Master."
"We'll speak again." Asha said, and then she was gone. 

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The warehouse seemed to go on forever. Calen, Ami and Shoraddik were busy making preparations, content to leave Dax to her own devices. That was how she liked it. She watched D7 potter about for a little while, helping them pack. When she lost interest, she took one last look over the group and then swiftly and silently walked deeper into a section of the warehouse. Their voices were distant but she could still make out where they were behind her. Dax reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a small flat metal disc. She swept her thumb over the top of it, and a little blue hologram appeared. The video and audio were badly damaged, and whenever there was motion the video blurred and vibrated to the point that it made it difficult to follow what was happening.

"Is it on?" The man asked.
"I think so, you should have asked how it worked before he left." She replied.
"He'll be back soon."
"I know..." The woman started crying, she was holding something.
"It's better--" The audio cut out. Dax watched the hologram in silence. "--life."
"But we'll--" The video hummed with static and Dax gave the hologram a little shake. But before she could watch any more of it, she heard footsteps. She didn't want anyone to see it, so she deactivated the hologram and turned to see Riff walking up to her. 

"Oh, it's you. Finished your little meeting, did you?" Dax asked, her tone a little hostile.

"Obviously." Riff replied. "So, what's next for you? No credits, no ship." Riff sighed. "I'm sorry for getting you in to this mess..."

"I don't know... i'll figure something out." Dax sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

"Well, I'll be helping this lot, at least for the time being." Riff said. "But I owe you a debt before I start any of that. How about we start with getting your ship back."
"I'd love to have my ship. But it's in that hangar, with probably a thousand bucket heads crawling over it. Or worse... that filthy slug has dismantled it and sold it for scrap." Dax grit her teeth as the image of her ship being torn apart flashed before her eyes. 

"Doubtful." Riff said. "The Empire won't let that ship get out of reach if they at all suspect that you'll attempt to come back for it. That doesn't mean it can't be done though." Riff removed the robe he had been wearing and tossed it aside. Underneath his trousers and tunic were in equally poor condition. His bare arms were tanned, muscular, and sporting more than a fair share of scars. "The Empire are looking for a Jedi and a Smuggler. A costume change might be in order, but we can attempt it if you're willing."
"What, exactly, are you suggesting?" Dax raised an eyebrow accusingly.

 

"I'm suggesting we do something a little more covert." Riff explained. "If you can bear to act like a good soldier of the Empire for a while, then all we need is a few uniforms. I know enough about military protocol, and I'm sure our new friends will have intel we can use. Access codes, updated security protocols, blueprints of the hangar. Do it right and we can walk right in and steal it from under their noses."

"It's not stealing when it's my own damn ship!" Dax growled, then shook her head, "I've never played a 'good' anything. But i'll give it a shot." She paused, looking Riff over for a few seconds, "So, back on my ship... why were you running?"

"Well I thought about just telling the Empire that I was retired, but somehow I didn't think they'd be up for listening." Riff said. "The Empire fear the Jedi. They aren't interested in where our loyalties are, they just want us exterminated."

"But why? I don't understand how they can fear something that is all but wiped out. I don't even understand why the Jedi and Sith fight each other. I thought you were peaceful? Not that i've gotten that impression from you..."

 

"That is a long story..." Riff said, scratching his head. "The Jedi aren't perfect, and our history has it's share of blemishes. We uphold our ideals as best as we can but, well, interpretations vary. I can't say I know how it all began. I've read a great deal of our history, from the New Republic, Order 66, The Clone Wars, The Eternal Empire, The Old Republic, Revan, Malak..." Riff trailed off from his list, realising it probably didn't mean much to Dax. "It goes back over several millenia. I haven't yet reached the beginning, I'm not even sure if such information is out there."
"So it's just another war, being fought by people who don't know each other, that can't remember why they were fighting in the first place." Dax laughed bitterly and then sighed, "Well great, I guess Jedi are no different from the rest of us then."

"You might have a point there." Riff said. "The Jedi I admire, they did not seek war. War is... ugly. You are perhaps too young to truly remember the extent of it but, if you think things are bad now, they were much worse during the war. I admire the will to fight for something better, like Calen has, however, I've had my fill of war."
 
"I don't really remember my childhood... I was adopted, but I ran away. I grew up on starships and spaceports. I fought all my life to survive, fighting is all I know. But war is different." Dax took a deep breath and let it out, "So," She smiled, "I'm really hungry. You can start paying me back by buying me lunch."
"Fair enough." Riff said with a nod. "Just let me see about a change of clothes." He walked off and found Calen, and asked him if there were any spare clothes. Calen directed Riff to another room, and Riff disappeared for a few minutes. When he returned he was dressed in a pair of black leather trousers, and brown boots, and wearing a brown leather jacket and had allowed his deadlocked hair to hang loose. "What do you think?" He asked, "Do I look like a scoundrel?"
"You..." Dax started to speak but stopped herself, putting a forefinger to her lips, "Yes. Absolutely." She coughed in trying to suppress a laugh. "Alright, let's go find some grub. Oh, on Nar Shaddaa, couple of tips for you - Don't stare at anybody unless you want to attract unwanted attention, and don't order the soup. Ever." Dax shivered in disgust, "Ev-er."

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Riff and Dax sat in the back of a taxi speeder as it cut through the busy skies of Nar Shaddaa. The sprawling, vertical city was bathed in a golden glow, with plumes of murky, polluted air glinting in the bright neon lights that bombarded them from every direction. The Ecumenopolis was smaller than Coruscant, but still managed to be one of the wealthiest planets in the Galaxy. Yet the two were in stark contrast to one another. Nar Shaddaa was an ancient city that had stood for millenia, controlled by the Hutt Cartels who had managed to maintain their neutrality throughout almost every galactic conflict. Yet even with all of it's riches, the city was full of poverty. It was the very embodiment of corruption. 

 

"Strange." Riff said as he looked over the edge of the speeder, down to the depths of the city, watching the layers of busy traffic go by. "To think that anyone would find hope here, in this dump."

"Hope is a luxury." Dax replied, folding her arms and looking out over Nar Shaddaa, "And a dangerous luxury to cling to."

"Hope is necessary, Dax." Riff said, shaking his head in disagreement. "All beings hope. It is needed to conquer fear, to achieve anything beyond mediocrity."

"You're wrong, Jedi." Dax sunk into her seat and stared into her lap, "You don't conquer fear. You come to live with it. You accept it as a part of your nature, and you live in spite of it. You use it if you have to, to survive. Fear helped me more than hope ever did. Down there, hope gets you killed." Dax nodded her head at the ground below.

 

"Correct." Riff said with a nod. "Although, I think you probably misunderstood me. Do you not think hope plays a part? When your life is in danger, you have fear, which is natural for most. But in those moments, what drives you to even act, if not hope? Fear is...easy. Hope is not."

"Fear drives you to survive. That's all i've ever known. Hope drives you to..." Dax struggled to find the word to finish that sentence, and eventually after a minute's silence she let out a breath and abandoned it altogether. "What happened to the Jedi? You're nothing like I imagined..." Riff drew in his breath and thought for a moment. He leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering that time of his life. 

 

"You would have been a child at the time." He said, "We were well in to the war when it happened. The time before the war had been peaceful, and for the Jedi this was a time of learning, a time of contemplation. Our Order had finally began to reclaim the knowledge that had been lost to us over the centuries prior. I am told that the Jedi were different back then, but I was born in a time of turmoil. The Jedi were guardians of the Republic, we had a duty to protect. When the Empire emerged, there was a call to arms. In times past a Jedi's training was difficult, and there was no guarantee of passing the trials for many." Riff opened his eyes and looked at Dax, a sombre expression on his face. "Younglings were trained far more quickly. Knights would take often take on two padawans at a time, and the focus of our training shifted more towards combat, and strategy."

 

The Taxi began to descend as Riff continued. "It was not the wish of the Jedi Council to do this, but it was something of a necessity. I am a child of that era, I am no sage in search of wisdom. I am not a teacher. My life as a Padawan was spent in conflict zones, and when I became a Knight I became a watchman, a solitary position that kept me away from home most of the time. I wasn't there when the Empire came in force, and took Coruscant for their own. I wasn't there when they systematically travelled through each system, wiping out every temple and academy they could find." The taxi finally pulled over on street level and Riff paid the driver and climbed out of the speeder. "I felt it, the death of all of my comrades, all of the younglings within the academies. Fear was a towering presence at that time, had I succumbed to it, well..." Riff shook his head. "I would be something far less than the broken man you see now. I'm not a Jedi, Dax. Not any more."

 

"Well, that's about enough sob stories for today. I need a drink." Dax coughed to ease the tension and stepped out of the speeder and looked around. Riff followed behind her, quiet. How could Asha even consider the prospect of training Dax? Sure, she was smart and capable. The Force was strong in her, too. Yet she had grown too old, perhaps impossible to teach. Fear clouded her judgement, she was quick to anger, quick to use force. He shook his head. It really was impossible. 

"So." He said, finally, "Where to?"

"I don't know /all/ of Nar Shaddaa, Riff." Dax laughed, "Despite what some of my friends might tell you." They started walking and Dax occasionally glanced at the ragtag stalls and shops they passed. "No, not there." She added, shaking her head. Despite the place looking clean and pleasant inside. "You probably won't come out of there with all your organs on the inside." She let out a smile, despite the comment and then saw something at the end of the street. "Hey there, look!" She nodded at an old alien with red skin and horns. A zabrak. "Hey old man, you cookin' Parth?"
"'Ey, depends, you got money?" He asked, looking up at them.
"Uh..." Dax turned to look at Riff expectantly.
 
Riff reached in to his pocket and retrieved a handful of gold coins. "I always carry Wupiupi." He said. "Credits won't get you very far in the Outer Rim."
"They'll get you dead is what, I tell you what you..." The old Zabrak rumbled off into muttering and grabbed a handful of something that looked like green string. But as he brought it towards the large steaming pot in front of him it writhed and wriggled and became frantic, sending out little green tendrils in all directions as it fell into the pot and a thousand little screeches echoed inside the metal container for a couple of seconds. "So, what you here for then? You're a local." He said, nodding at Dax, then looked at Riff, "You ain't." The Zabrak frowned.
"Nowhere's local for us." Riff said, folding his arms. "Just stopping by before heading to Nal Hutta for a shipment."
"Spacer, eh?" The Zabrak said. "Looks like you're in for a long stop over."
 
Riff glanced up at the sky, where the Imperial destroyer still sat on the edge of the atmosphere, and tiny moving objects whizzed around the sky. TIE Fighters. "Yeah, you don't have to tell me." Riff said, shaking his head in annoyance. "If I catch the sorry low life that's pissed off those Imps I'll put a blaster between his eyes. Some of us have a job to do, you know?"
"Oh, I hear that." The Zabrak said with a nod as he stirred the pot. "Word on the street is something went down at Veshka's hangar. The Cartel ain't gonna like that, that's for sure."
"Even the Imps would think twice about crossing the Hutts. Must be a big deal." Riff said. "Just one destroyer, though. If it was that big a deal you'd think there'd be a bigger fleet."
"Well don't ask me, I ain't know Moff." The Zabrak said irritably, and he slopped the food in to two bowls. "Here you go, enjoy."
 
"Thanks." Riff said as he took a bowl from the Zabrak. Without pause he poured some of the contents in to his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. "Mm, Haven't had Parth this good in years."
"You'll just keep surprising me." Dax stifled a laugh as she watched Riff eat, taking the second bowl and thanking the street vendor before drinking from the bowl as if it was a cup. Most off-worlders would turn their nose up at Parth. It wasn't exactly a visually - or even audibly - pleasant dish. But it tasted pleasant, it was hot and it filled you up. That's all that mattered. "When did /you/ last eat Parth?" Dax raised an eyebrow in curious amusement. Riff motioned for Dax to follow him and the two wandered a little out of earshot of the Zabrak. 
"A few years in to becoming a Knight I was stationed as a Watchman on Kal'Shebbol. A Watchman's job is to live discreetly as a guardian of their assigned territory. Gathering intel, protecting the innocent, and identifying potential initiates. Truth be told I haven't left the Outer Rim since. I've spent almost half of my life out here."
 
"Well, for a watcher, you seem to have done a lot, i'll give you that." Dax replied with a grin, enjoying her food with relish.
"You have to blend in." Riff replied with a shrug. "It's not really that difficult. Cultures change but people are the same, deep down."
True. They'll fleece you given half the chance." Dax reached out and managed to snatch the collar of the old man as he was trying to leave. She hadn't given him as much as a cursory glance. "This weasel charged you about ten times the cost of Parth on Nar Shadaa. And he was just about to sneak off."
"What are you talking about?! I turned around, that's all!!"
"You were practically running!" Dax barked, holding her empty bowl in her spare hand, she pulled her arm back ready to throw it at the vendor.
 
"Stop." Riff said in a calm but authoritative tone. "Let him go."

"Why?!" Dax yelled. Her raised voice barely registered to anyone around them, as disagreements were commonplace on this planet, and nobody wanted to get involved. "This scum-sucking thief was going to run off with our money!"

"Am I to assume you were a Judge all this time?" Riff said, shaking his head. He turned to the Zabrak and held up his hand. "You should go home. Best to forget all about this."

"I...I'm going home!" The Zabrak said nervously, and he ran off in to the crowd. Riff turned back to Dax, frowining. "What exactly would hurting him accomplish?"

"He was stealing from us!" Dax threw the bowl at Riff.

 

"He gave us food, I gave him money." Riff said. "Do you think you can sense deception where I do not? You, who doesn't even know how to use the Force in the way I do?" Riff looked around, noticing that people were beginning to stare. "The Force is strong in you, and as such your attuned senses come naturally, but without discipline you also cause, well, this..." Riff inclined his head to the staring people. "Even ordinary beings interact with the Force, innately, in small ways. When you feel strong emotions, you project it outwards, through The Force. They sense it."

"Stop talking to me about your--" Dax stopped almost immediately when she saw a man staring at her over Riff's shoulder. It was only then that she realised that in their little corner of Nar Shaddaa, the street had all but come to a stop. "W-what..." Dax frowned, and took a step back, looking like she was ready to bolt at any moment. "This isn't normal..."

 

"Calm down." Riff said, closing his eyes as he did. He began to breath slowly, and methodically. And with each breath he took, a sense of calm washed over the area. At first nothing happened, but slowly, after a while, people began to go about their business. And then after a few more moments, there were no more eyes on them. Riff opened his eyes and nodded to Dax. "Walk with me." he said, and he lead her out of the street and on to another, walking swiftly. "Through The Force we can impart our own emotions on others. Strong emotions ripple through The Force, and all living creatures take notice. It's actually the basis of the Jedi Mind Trick." Riff waved his hand in the same gesture to show what he was referring to. "With the right training, and discipline, a Jedi can bring a room of angry men and women to silence. The Watchman used this technique to manipulate local governments in their sector, for benevolent goals, of course."

 

"Wait--" Dax stopped Riff by putting her hand on his chest and she walked around in front of him, "Have you ever waved your hand at me?" She asked, eyeing him critically. Riff smirked in response. 

"If only I could." He said, shaking his head. "Your eyes are open to the effects of The Force. You can sense it happening, and as such you cannot be affected." Riff paused for a moment but lifted his hand for Dax to keep listening to him. "Well, I could, but not without you knowing. I would have to force you, by chanelling my own strong emotions, and the process would be very painful. Such an experience is what will await you with Baal, should he find you."

"I feel like I don't understand anything any more." Dax replied, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "Jedi, Sith, the Force... it's too much."

 

"That is why Jedi are trained at a young age." Riff said. "But...your power is greater than I have ever seen in a Force Sensitive. No doubt Baal wishes to use that power for his own gain. I truly wish that you could just walk away from all of this, but there is a good chance that it won't be possible. Jedi see glimpses of the future through The Force, and yours, despite your power, is clouded."

"Clouded how?" Dax asked, looking slightly concerned. "Anyway, and i'm not saying I am... but if I am, but i'm not--" Dax corrected herself, and gave Riff a look that said 'Don't say a word'. "If i'm really a... a force-sensitive? How would that help Baal?"

"He will bring you to the Dark Side." Riff said. "You would not be given a choice. The Sith use torture to bring you pain and fear. He would provoke pain, and anger from you. Turn it in to hatred. He would make you Sith." Riff sighed. "Being a Jedi is the harder path. The Dark Side would be easy for one such as you."

"One such as me?" Dax pushed Riff and pointed at him, "What are you trying to say, huh?"

 

"You're too emotional." Riff said, showing no sign of anger at the gesture. "For any normal person, that would be fine. But The Force flows through you, and if you allow it, it will corrupt you. The Dark side is very alluring. It can achieve things that a Jedi cannot, things that we are not meant to harness."

"But emotion can be a positive force as much as a negative one." Dax shook her head in disbelief, "I understand that hatred or, or... pain could lead to a dark path. But feelings like compassion? Love?" Dax shrugged, "Listen, I might be a cold-hearted, space-bred smuggler, but i'm not heartless."

"Love...do you have someone you love, Dax?" Riff asked. "Have you ever lost someone that you loved? Without discipline, and understanding, the pain of such a thing is unimaginable. Now consider that you have power, power so great that perhaps you could even conquer death itself. Look at that outburst back there. Sure, that man may have been overcharging, but look at your reaction. Even out of decency, emotion is very dangerous for people with power."

 

"Right..." Dax sighed, "It's about balance. I just don't think the Sith /or/ the Jedi are right. You talk about one group of people harnessing emotion to an extreme, and the other abandoning it to almost the same downfall. If balance is really what is sought, then it needs to allow both..." Dax took a deep breath and fell into quiet thought.

"Dax, I'm not saying you can't have emotions at all." Riff said. "I'm just saying you need to control your emotions. Part of that is looking at things a different way, and through understanding The Force. For example, it is wrong to say I do not fear. I have fears just like everyone else, but I have conquered them. I do not fear death, like most would, because I know there is nothing to fear. I do not mourn those I have lost, because there is no need. They have become one with The Force, something which should be celebrated. But, there are other fears we all still wrestle with, and in truth that is what makes us weak. There is no stronger Jedi than one without fear, I promise you of that."

 

"Trying to remove any part of you absolutely, even fear, doesn't make you stronger. You'll never convince me otherwise. But I understand what you're saying, Riff." Dax nodded quietly and then after a long silence she added, "Thanks. I feel better now." She let a smile appear in the corner of her lips.

"Oh good, you feel better." Riff said, rolling his eyes. "Next time see a shrink, I'm not telling you these things to make you feel better." Riff shook his head, turned, and began to walk away. "Come on, we better get your ship. The sooner we get you out of here the sooner you can go back to whatever you did before."

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