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CHAPTER THREE: ROGUE OR REDEEMER?

“Pentiti; cangia vita, è l’ultimo momento!”

“Repent; change your ways; for this is your last chance!”

–Il Commendatore, from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni

 

“What do you mean?” I ask Savessk in a voice that’s even raspier than his. “How have the tables turned?”

 

“With every roll of the dice and every flip of the cards, there comes another chance. I’ve just given you one.”

 

“You’re freeing us?” The tall Exchange goon, now a piece of human merchandise, scoffs. “Bantha dung.”

 

“Do you really think that I’ll allow you to return to Citadel Station, and your criminal lives?” He fixes the five of us in turn with a pointed stare. “To your profit-skimming, bet-taking and mistress-stealing, Mouse? To your drugs, Maurtha? To your ‘reminders for loan payments,’ Orith? To your dalliances and schemes, Yeru? To your compulsive gambling, Vyshe? No. You are still slaves, and I am still your owner. I’m taking you to a place where you’ll be safe, and where the Exchange won’t nab you without a fight they’ll most likely lose.”

 

Orith calls Savessk a few choice words and then, “You scoundrel. You’re from the Exchange, too, and you just want the profits from our sale for yourself.” He stands up. “Come to think of it…” He charges the Trandoshan, who hurls him back with astonishing strength. Orith falls on all fours, drawing ragged breaths.

 

“D-did you even touch me?” he manages to stammer.

 

Savessk glares down at him.

 

“Unless I’m high right now,” says Maurtha, “that lizard man didn’t lay a finger on your big, stupid head.”

 

“A claw,” corrects Savessk. “I’d appreciate it if you would address my species by its proper name.”

 

Something’s very wrong here. “If you didn’t manhandle Orith, how did you propel him straight backward?”

 

We regard each other with wide, terrified eyes. None of us can believe what’s happening. First we were abducted and hauled into this tightly-cramped ship’s hold. Then we were drugged (or did that happen beforehand?). Regardless, when we woke up, Ribok got shot while trying to shoot me for disabling the security camera. Then Orith tried to attack Savessk, Ribok’s killer, and – It’s more than too much. It’s insane.

 

The only thing that can snap us out of our incredulous stupor is a sharp command from Savessk: “Come!” He enters the code for the hold door on a numerical keypad, the tips of his talons clicking efficiently. I’m surprised at how well he can do this, but I’m even more surprised when I see how big the ship really is.

 

“This is just a freight vessel for Czerka? Why is it so spacious?” asks Yeru Q’leth, echoing my thoughts.

 

The Trandoshan bares his teeth in what passes for a grin. “As you’ve seen, they haul more than inert cargo.”

 

Orith raises his eyebrows. “So, they pack more slaves in here when they need to. Why bother with us?”

 

“If you mean the Exchange, you already know that answer. If you mean me, I’m in the redemption business.”

 

“Count me out.” He inches closer to him, although with much warier steps. “I’m not a saint.”

 

“Neither am I. Would you prefer to be sold on Nar Shaddaa, as a heavy-machinery hauler for the Hutts?”

 

“What if I would?”

 

“You’ll be dead in three months. Four at the most, although I doubt you would last that long.”

 

“At least I’ll have a better chance of killing and escaping from my masters.”

 

“Do pride and ingratitude run that deeply within you? If I take you back to Citadel, the TSF will arrest you.”

 

“Let them. I didn’t get to be an enforcer for the Exchange without a hit or two on my hands. Next excuse.”

 

“Come off it,” says Maurtha. “Even Vyshe over here has enough sense to admit when she has lost.”

 

“Hey, cleaning lady! How did you know that?” I’m too proud to add, “Although it’s true.”

 

Maurtha smirks, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “I’ve heard your defeated sighs in the refreshers, dear.”

 

“As well as my defeated weeping?” She nods, and Orith snickers. Mouse and Savessk say nothing at all.

 

“What I’d like to know,” squeaks Mouse after a moment, “is where we’re headed, Master Jedi.”

 

“Thank you for the homage, although I haven’t reached that rank. We’re on course for the polar region of Telos, which is one of the few areas that hasn’t had to be terraformed by Czerka. A veteran Master named Atris is the head of a Jedi academy there, well-concealed from the rest of the galaxy. I am her apprentice.”

 

I hold up a hand to stop him. “Wait – you’re going to have her teach us how to be Jedi?”

 

Savessk half-turns toward me. “Patience is not one of your virtues, I see, but hear me out. You are all too old to be considered for such training. Jedi traditionally begin their studies as children, even infants. The only reasons I’m an exception are because Master Atris was in dire need of students, and she required a goodwill ambassador as well. My kind are assassins, bounty hunters, enforcers, mercenaries, and the like. A Force-sensitive Trandoshan is as rare as getting five twenties in a row in pazaak without cheating.”

 

“So, if we’re not going to become silly do-gooders like you, then what’s the use of taking us to this place?”

 

“It is a sanctuary, a safe haven for those who need it. Namely, the five of you. I was on an undercover mission to infiltrate the Exchange network on Citadel Station. Now that I’ve succeeded, it’s time for me to find out if there are new paths for its victims. Yes, even you are a victim, despite your bravado. Czerka and the TSF wouldn’t hire you because of your criminal record, but this academy needs several skilled guards.”

 

“Whatever. Whether I’m a slave on Nar Shaddaa or here on this blasted planet, I’m still going to be a slave. Haven’t you ever heard of free will, or offering people a choice? Why don’t you leave me alone, lizard?”

 

Savessk’s nostrils flare, but he quickly gains control of his temper. “What have your choices earned you?”

 

“Tons of credits for one thing, and respect for another.”

 

“Fear is not the same thing as respect, Orith Vex. If you serve our Order, you’ll quickly learn this lesson.”

 

“What is this? School? No one has the right to teach me anything anymore, because I’m my own master.”

 

“I have an idea,” Yeru Q’leth says through clenched teeth. “Why don’t you return to bed in the cargo hold?”

 

Orith leers at her. “Only if you’ll come with me.”

 

“What about us?” asks Mouse in order to shut him up. “Will Maurtha and I have to clean refreshers?”

 

“No. I’ve found that the best instructors for our youngest pupils are often the eldest. Do you like children?”

 

“I’ve always wanted some,” Maurtha says, “but I never got the chance. Infertility problems, you know.”

 

“You wouldn’t be able to teach them the ways of the Force,” says Savessk, “but you would know a lot about galactic history and current events. You and Mouse could even take care of babies in the nursery annex.”

 

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Mouse laughs. “Except for the diapers. I’d love to give it a try, if you’ll have me.”

 

Yeru steps forward. “I’m sorry, Knight Guardian Savessk, but I have no skills except for smiling and plotting.”

 

He winks.“Espionage is not only for the Sith and unlawful organizations such as the Exchange. As secluded as we are on the polar plateau of this planet, we must be ever-vigilant for threats. The Jedi Order is recovering, but far more slowly than Master Atris wishes. Since the deaths of Masters Kavar, Vrook and Zez Kai-Ell, she is the only one left who has survived the reign of the Sith Triumvirate. If she perishes, I fear that all of our efforts to restore peace in this galaxy will be in vain. As a spy, you’d be marvelous. You know the art of the deal and the double-cross, not to mention…less-savory pursuits. Put them to good use, for the sake of the light instead of the darkness all around us. Are you willing?” Meekly, the Twi’lek nods.

 

All’s well that ends well, so far. Ungghh - why is my splitting headache coming back all of a sudden?

 

“As for you, gambler, you owe 100,000 credits to Exchange bosses. Have you heard of a second?”

 

“There are sixty of them in a minute, 3,600 in an hour, and 86,400 in a day.” Owww. Too much effort…

 

Savessk gives an amused snort. “Indeed, but are you familiar with seconds to a warrior or duelist?”

 

“They finish the fight if their master can’t.” My eyes are starting to water again.

 

“Uh-oh,” says Mouse. “You’re having an allergic reaction to the sedative. I’m sorry, but this kind’s fatal.”

 

“Then we have no time to lose.” The Trandoshan Jedi rushes to me. “Take my hands.” I do and kneel. “Relax.” He pulls me close. “Try to empty your mind of frightened thoughts and panic. Breathe deeply.” As I inhale and exhale, the fog begins to clear from my senses, and my skull feels less likely to split in half. The only thing I can see right in front of me is Savessk’s face, and his orange eyes are filled with concern.

 

I don’t faint. I don’t vomit or soil myself. I’m enveloped in a warm cocoon of healing, or so it seems. When the gentle heat fades, all of my painful symptoms are gone. “That was close,” the Jedi tells me, hissing on the S’s. “Don’t try to stand yet. Remain kneeling. Vyshe Tanaria, do you pledge yourself to me as my qa’triv?” This word is pronounced “ka-TREEVE,” the latter syllable rhyming with “sleeve”. “My second?”

 

What? “I – I’m not worthy. Not only am I a criminal, but you’re a Jedi. I can’t even use the Force.”

 

“Never mind that. We Knights cannot take on Padawans of our own, but we are allowed qa’trivi. ‘Liaisons’ and ‘servants’ are also good translations of this term. It doesn’t matter if they’re Force-sensitive or not. All that is necessary is ability and willingness to work. I ask you again: Vyshe, will you pledge yourself to me?”

 

“Say no,” says Orith. “A debt to one of his kind is far worse than to some thug you can easily kill.”

 

His words fall on deaf ears. “You saved my life twice,” I tell Savessk, “so I accept. I’ll become your qa’triv.”

 

“Excellent.” He kneels down and helps me to rise. “Come with me to the main hold, along with the rest of you. We’ll be touching down upon the polar plateau soon, and we need to be harnessed in for a landing.” We follow the Trandoshan and strap ourselves into our seats. In a cargo vessel like this one, they’re pretty small. Here’s hoping Savessk is as good at piloting at he is at pulling people back from the brink of death!

 

“Here we go.” Mouse’s face turns pale. “I’m a landlubber if you ever saw one. If I get motion sickness – ”

 

“Then your puke is going to splatter all over…over…” Orith’s head droops, and he starts to snore.

 

I’m confused until I hear Savessk chuckle to himself. Maurtha sticks out her tongue at Orith. “Nighty-night.”

 

“Could you do that to me, too, if you DID do that?” The Jedi nods, and Mouse is soon snoring as well.

 

Only Maurtha, Savessk, Yeru and I are awake for the descent onto one of the massive Telosian ice caps. The Czerka cargo vessel sails down through a hazardous haze that I imagine is not made of snow, but of beach sand. It scours the entire landscape a blinding white, and I have to squint through the windshield. We can see nothing above or below us, but that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that everything that would give life to a world – grass, streams, rivers, and even mountains – has been erased. All is pure and empty. I shiver despite being inside the warm ship. Why does this scene make my blood run so cold?

 

“Ready?” asks the Jedi. The five of us square our shoulders against the taxiing of our freighter into port.

 

Mouse and Orith are jolted awake. “What? What? Where are we?” cries the old bookie.

 

“Don’t worry. We’re here at Master Atris’ academy upon the polar region of Telos. Time to disembark.” With great care, we unharness ourselves from our seats and exit the ship in single file. Savessk takes the lead.

 

My muscles are groaning. That was the roughest ride I’ve ever had on a vehicle that’s supposed to traverse the stars with the greatest of ease. Of course, in Czerka’s case, it’s only supposed to traverse the distance between Citadel Station and the nearest corporate outpost. Still, you'd think they could do better than this.

 

“It’s not very scenic out here,” Yeru Q’leth comments after trying to find the right euphemism. “It’s so – ”

 

“Kriffing COLD!” That’s Orith Vex, master of the obvious, throwing his hefty arms around his torso.

 

“I never knew you were such a wuss,” says Maurtha. “That’s a terrible trait in a future guardsman.”

 

“Shut up, you old bat.”

 

“Enough.” Savessk’s tone is enough to make us all close our mouths. “There’s the entrance. Follow me.”

 

Thus, we five unfortunate souls bound for slavery to evil prepare to become bondservants to good instead.

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